Sun. May 19th, 2024

Since opening its doors in 2015, Brasswood, a mixed-use property just off Highway 29 in St. Helena, has quietly been building a reputation among locals as a gathering place serving the St. Helena community. It also attracts its share of visitors on a typical jam-packed wine-tasting itinerary.

Now, approaching nine years of operation, the property has come into its own, with a lively buzz of activity all day long.

Locals may remember the location as “where the outlets used to be.” Still, they would probably not recognize the property in its current form.

Stacia and Edwin Williams purchased the 54-acre parcel in 2012, initially for the Cairdean wine brand. (This was also the project’s name for the first several years.)

At that time, they hired architect Juancarlos Fernandez of Signum Architecture to undertake a large-scale re-design, including the five-year construction of 17,000 square feet of wine caves and a new multi-use complex, which included a restaurant, retail and gallery space.

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After years of investment, construction and some tweaking of the concept, including the re-branding to Brasswood, the transformation from a former premium outlet mall to a cutting-edge winery and entertainment complex is complete, said the owners. 

The website for Brasswood (Brasswood.com) introduces itself as a “Wine and Food Village” with a winery, a restaurant, a bakery and a retail boutique.

In this regard, it is unique in Napa Valley as a non-hotel, self-contained property offering a one-stop experience for visitors, said the owners. 

One could potentially spend the entire day here, beginning with a coffee and a house-made pastry at Brasswood Bakery, moving on to a tour of the expansive caves and wine tasting of Brasswood wines at Brasswood Cellars, followed by a leisurely lunch at Brasswood Bar and Kitchen, and ending with a shopping spree at the latest addition to the village — the Brasswood Boutique.

Meet Mayor Marquez

If Brasswood is a village, Marcus Marquez, general manager, must be considered the village mayor.

A long-time friend of the owners, he joined the project from the earliest days and has been the author of the Brasswood story, heralding it to its latest iteration.

According to Marquez, “Brasswood is a lifestyle brand,” but it took a few years to develop the concept and get it to its current point.

“At first, it was so confusing,” he explained, referring to the early days and the disparate parts of the project; “There was Cairdean, the winery, Rosgal, the art gallery, the restaurant was Farmer & the Fox, and the bakery was called Butterscotch.”

Recognizing that this was also confusing to the consumer, he established the Brasswood brand and pulled the concepts under one umbrella.

“We have never used a marketing company, but in 2020 (during the closure due to the pandemic), we hired a PR firm to help us unify our brand. In 2021, we hit the ground running.”

He explained the origin of the name: “I was sitting in the restaurant and was inspired by the design. We used a lot of brass and wood,” he explained.

“It is both sophistication, represented by brass, which is slick and refined, and rustic, represented by wood, which is like wine. Thus Brasswood.”

The moniker seems appropriate for the blending that Marquez is trying to achieve — a casual sophistication, what he calls “approachable luxury.”

But do you know about the fresh mozzarella? 

The restaurant, Brasswood Bar and Kitchen, consistently gets rave reviews on Google and Yelp but is truly sustained by the locals and industry trade, most of whom are aware that the tableside prepared fresh mozzarella, “a secret menu item,” is borrowed from the much loved Tra Vigne restaurant that has since closed.

Marquez explained that as a regular at the bar counter of Tra Vigne and close friends with the staff, he was sad to learn of its plans to close and what it meant for the jobs lost and local farmers affected.

In a happy coincidence, however, the closure timing coincided with his plans to overhaul the restaurant at Brasswood.

“I hired them all,” he confided.

In 2016, Brasswood Bar and Kitchen opened with the entire Tra Vigne team intact, including the executive chef, general manager and the iconic restaurant’s former staff.

In addition to its a la carte menu, Brasswood Kitchen offers food and wine pairings and Brasswood Wines on tap. The butterscotch panna cotta with caramel sauce is almost as popular as the fresh mozzarella.

Next door to the restaurant, the Brasswood Bar and Bakery (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) offers homemade pastries, sandwiches, coffees, and “amazing breakfast burritos,” according to Marquez, and it “nourishes the winery and the neighborhood.”

It has become the hub of the village, and “Mayor Marquez” is often sitting outside chatting with locals who have stopped in for their morning coffee on their way up or down the valley.

Boxed lunches, sandwiches and charcuterie boards are also available to travelers who want to stop for a quick lunch between wine tastings. There are picnic tables on the lawn or the heated patio with its fireplace for chilly days. Marquez spends long days in the village.

“I see croissants and corks daily,” Marquez joked.

And of course, wine

A food and wine village would not be complete without a sophisticated wine program. The property has a custom crush program home to nine, 100-point winemakers, some of whom are “real heavy hitters,” Marquez pointed out.

In addition to the custom crush, Brasswood is home to the Brasswood Cellars label. Angelina Mondavi is the winemaker, and the fruit is “only from vineyards we own; there is one acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard on the property that goes directly to the restaurant and our other vineyards are in Coombsville, Calistoga and Crystal Springs.”

Marquez explained that Brasswood Wines, which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, “are 100% one variety, never blended.”

The winery distribution is on-site only and by allocation. “It is approachable luxury wine; we want people to drink the bottles they buy, and we like to see the reactions of those who try our wine,” Marquez explained.

It is open to visitors for tours of the 17,000 square-foot caves and tasting experiences, ranging from in-depth sommelier-led tastings to express tastings. There is even a 30-minute “Taste of Napa Valley” experience.

Boutique offers ‘approachable luxury’

The Brasswood Boutique by M. Fredric is just next to the bakery and is “the final puzzle piece to the property,” Marquez explained.

Debi Gollan, manager of the boutique, echoed Marquez in describing the boutique as “approachable luxury” to describe the concept.

Popular brands that appeal to the Brasswood customer include Michael Stars, Elan, Frame, and Z Supply. These are high-quality brands at an accessible price point.

“It is great pricing for Napa,” she explained. Though it is a small boutique, its importance to the village is undeniable, as there is an excellent symbiosis between the restaurant, the winery and the retail.

Gollan points out that “Sip and Sales” events bring in locals, while visitors getting coffee or lunch also tend to stop in.

She also tries to identify large groups of women holding events elsewhere on the property and offers targeted discounts. Gollan described the clothing as “playful” with a “hip LA spin. Everything is really soft to the touch,” she said.

Loungewear (by PJ Salvage), beachwear, rocker tees, soft sweatshirts and jeans (by Joe’s Jeans and Hudson) are staples.

Fred and Lisa Levine, along with Fred’s sister, Mardi Fox, are the founders of M. Fredric. It is an LA-based, family-owned company with retail boutiques primarily in Southern California. Under the licensing model, the boutique owners (in this case, Brasswood) provide the staffing and space, and M. Fredric provides merchandise and 40 years of retail know-how.

They always hoped for a presence in Northern California, but besides the airport retail at SFO, this is the first Northern California M. Fredric location.

Fred Levine explains the serendipitous story of how the boutique ended up at Brasswood. “I am a huge Napa fan; my family knows it.”

In November 2022, the family surprised Fred on his milestone birthday with a trip to Napa, orchestrated by his son, Adam Levine, who is also a big fan of Napa. Adam (yes, of Maroon 5 fame) is also the founder of Cali Rosa Tequila, which happens to be carried by Brasswood Bar and Kitchen.

The family rented a vineyard home and treated Fred to a three-day birthday weekend in Napa. Fortuitously, Adam brought his father to Brasswood for a birthday luncheon in the private room.

“The food was the best we ever had in Napa. I met Marcus, who gave us a tour after lunch, and we fell in love with Brasswood. It is magical: mixed-use retail in the highest standards … from the architecture to the cuisine. It is one of the most innovative concepts in Napa.”

When they came to an empty retail space, Marquez half-jokingly asked, “Why don’t you guys put a store here?”

Before the tour was over, Fred was on board with a licensing agreement based on a “good solid handshake between two upfront guys,” Fred recalled.

A month later, the merchandise was on the shelves. “That’s how the relationship is today; we have not just a friendship but a phenomenal business relationship,” Fred explained.

Two years later, the store has increased month-over-month sales volume, and new women’s fashion items arrive weekly. The Levines are the primary buyers in constant contact with Gollan, the manager.

“We send her the best of the best and adapt to what the customers love,” said Fred.

Lisa has almost weekly calls with Gollan to guide her through the clothing lines. Gollan is new to retail sales, “though I have always loved shopping and fashion,” she admits she is still learning.

“I am on the phone every week with Lisa, and I have learned so much,” she explained.

“We love the store, and it gives us a connection to Napa; it also gives us an excuse to keep coming up to Napa,” Fred joked, though they are still trying to find the right mix for the Northern California market.

“The climate is different; the attitude towards fashion is slightly different. Napa is not quite as quirky (as LA); it’s a little more grounded,” explained Fred.

Lisa added, “We are trying to diversify the store with accessories, home goods, candles — so there is something for everyone. Sometimes it’s the locals coming in, but sometimes girls come in after lunch looking for something fun — maybe a new hat!”

Looking ahead

With Brasswood looking at a 10th anniversary next year, the road ahead looks promising to Marquez. He is looking forward to some high-profile hotels soon opening Upvalley to bring visitors.

“We are looking at additional programming, including wellness, and I like the idea of ‘quiet luxury.’”

He will continue the rollout of the wine program. “I would love to get to the point that our wine is as sought after as our mozzarella,” he joked, “but it is still young.”

The boutique will continue to be a focus. That relationship seems to be enduring and based on mutual admiration on behalf of both Fred Levine and Marquez.

According to Levine, “Marcus does a knockout job,” and Marquez is just as effusive. “Fred and I have the same spirit of entrepreneurship and fun — carpe diem.”

He truly appreciates the couple’s contribution. “Having them involved is like getting a Master Class in retail,” he said.

To learn more about all things Brasswood, visit brasswood.com.

Footage of St. Helena and Calistoga swimmers at a home meet against Fort Bragg and Mendocino on March 14.



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