Great wines should evoke a sense of place and an expression of time. At Black Sears, that sense of place is a wild, remote mountaintop our family calls Home. And the expression of time is measured both in vintages and in generations, where history and tradition find a modern interpretation. 


A Return to Land

Though winemaking in the Black Sears family tree goes back centuries and crosses the Atlantic, the Napa Valley branch began in earnest with Elsa and Robert Black’s move from San Francisco to Oakville in the early 1930s. Driven by a desire to return to the land and to nature, they built their own home with their own hands and began a new life on the Oakville grade in the western foothills of Napa Valley. 


Family Tree

Decades later, their daughter Joyce, along with her husband, Jerre Sears, followed a similar dream to the upper reaches of Howell Mountain in order to live more directly and in concert with the natural world. Despite Joyce’s Napa roots, it was this Enlightenment-era quest that drove them, and never a desire to produce wine—something she and Jerre had been content to do with friends as garagistes.

So it wasn’t until they realized that the newly abandoned Zinfandel vineyard next to their modern-day Walden might result in noisy neighbors and an intrusion into their monastic tranquility that they entered into the world of winegrowing… by purchasing that abandoned Zinfandel vineyard… mainly so that no one else would.   



Having acquired a diseased, neglected Zinfandel vineyard planted on top of a former apple orchard, Joyce & Jerre spent the first decade in their new home nursing what they originally called the “Hard Luck Vineyard” back to health. And in their new roles as farmers, and ultimately as vintners on Howell Mountain, they discovered the perfect combination of stewardship, agriculture, and contemplation to satisfy their longing for a more deliberate, connected life. 

As the health of the vineyard improved and the character of the site become more apparent, and as Joyce and Jerre honed their craft and planted seven additional acres, the fruit from “Black & Sears,” as they were then known, became highly lauded and sought after for single-vineyard-designate wines from some of Napa’s top producers. And thus, “Black Sears” was born.


The First Vintage

It wasn’t until the mid 80s, however, when Joyce and Jerre partnered with fellow Howell Mountain pioneer, Mike Beatty and winemaker Ted Lemon—and neared completion of a new winery facility—that they became wine producers. With the goal of producing wines that were “an uncompromising expression of the terroir of Howell Mountain,” they bottled their first vintage for their new label, “Howell Mountain Vineyards.”

Nearly a decade later, Joyce and Jerre decided that they wanted to put their names on the highest possible quality expression of the land they called home. Hand-selecting fruit exclusively from their very favorite sections of the vineyards, in 1997 they also began to bottle a few hundred cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel under a new “Black Sears Estate” label along with the “Howell Mountain Vineyards” bottlings.



Then, in the mid-2000s, with 25 years under their belts as vintners, Joyce and Jerre decided it was time to slow down and enjoy the fruits of their hard work and dedication. They sold the “Howell Mountain Vineyards” label, and when winemaker Ted Lemon left Black Sears after the 2006 vintage to pursue his own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay project, Littorai, they decided to retire… and to sell the ranch.

But the very next year, their daughter, Ashley Sears and her husband Chris Jambois decided to take a chance and see if they couldn’t foster a new generation of what Joyce and Jerre had created—a true legacy. Though they had little experience, what had originally drawn Joyce & Jerre, and Robert & Elsa before them—the search for meaning and expression through agriculture and a closer connection to nature—beckoned Ashley and Chris back as well. So in 2008, they left their lives behind in Seattle, and re-located to the top of Howell Mountain to build a new generation for Black Sears—one that is both an expression of their own philosophy and communion with the land, as well as a celebration of the winegrowing traditions entrusted to them by Joyce and Jerre.

Someday, Ashley and Chris hope that their three sons will continue the legacy. 



The land high in the Howell Mountain region of Napa Valley is a timeless piece of paradise, where no wine or vineyard or winery could possibly be so sublime as to rival the natural beauty on display. Surrounded by thousands of Napa county’s most wild and biologically diverse acres, any discussion of what makes Black Sears special or unique begins and ends with the land and the other species that inhabit it. To have the opportunity to share our fruit with the local black bears… to see the earthworms surface by the thousands during a February storm… to forage wild matsutakes and chanterelles… Even the wildfires, the rattlesnakes, the yellowjackets, the poison oak… Even with the unyielding encroachment of Nature in all of its violence and transgression against our more civilized dispositions… what a Gift!  

 Our goal here is to keep it that way: to grow a few grapes and share a little wine and make some friends along the way…  so that this very special part of the Napa Valley can remain timeless.