First Black-Owned Winery in Napa Has a Jamaican Connection

Brown Estate Vineyards is the first and only black-owned estate winery in the Napa Valley of California. It has established itself as a winery to watch in the Napa zinfandel space, receiving a score of 91 points in 2000 from Wine Spectator magazine. The Brown Estate also produces cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and petite sirah.

Parents Bassett Brown (passed April 2019) from Jamaica and Marcela Brown from Panama came to the valley in 1980. The couple purchased 450 acres in the Chiles Valley AVA of the Napa Valley after learning from friends that the property was for sale. It had been abandoned about a decade earlier, and the land and its two structures – a stone-and-redwood barn dating to 1859, and a Queen Anne Victorian house that dated from 1885 – were derelict. The Browns began by cutting roads and bringing in plumbing and electricity. Their efforts ultimately brought them an award from the Napa County Historical Society for restoring the residence.

The Browns then planted zinfandel grape vines and sold the produce to established winemakers in the area for over ten years. Brown Estate Vineyards was founded in 1995 by their children Deneen, David and Coral Brown and produced its first Napa Valley zinfandel in 1996. They then decided to move the winemaking process in-house. By 2016, the Browns had bottled their 20th vintage, and in April 2017, they introduced their Brown Downtown location on the First Street corridor in the center of downtown Napa. According to Deneen Brown, “it’s natural for the second generation to take it from vine to bottle.”

In 2010, the Browns celebrated 30 years in the Napa Valley and the 15th crush for Brown Estates. In commemoration of the event, the Brown family posted the following to their website:

“This year we celebrate our thirtieth year in the Napa Valley, and Brown Estate’s fifteenth crush. We thank all of you, with all of our hearts, for your continued enjoyment of our wines and your truly stupendous support of our once little endeavor. Each time you open and share a bottle of Brown Estate, you wrap your arms around us. It is an embrace that we cherish, a gesture that gives meaning to all of the passion and commitment we put into what we do. Thank you for making us a part of your lives, and for being a part of ours. Now onward & upward! The sky’s the limit!”

Photo Source: Brown Estate

Updated on August 28th, 2019 to include the April 2019 passing of Bassett Brown.