The ancient Greeks had the Symposium, but the Romans had their own version: part celebration and part ritualized banquet, the Roman Convivium functioned as a formal occasion to bring people together to promote cordiality and communion. It was a designated space for philosophical discussion and celebration, and it served to promote friendship and prevent strife through conversation and the sharing of stories. 

Regardless of the occasion, wine was the essential component of a convivium. Hosts poured only their finest, most concentrated wines, which they believed to be imbued with divine power. The wine was not merely pleasurable and comforting to the attendees, but liberating, primal, spiritual… what Plutarch called “a sharing of earnest and jest,” and what Cicero called “a communion of life.” 

This is what we are striving to cultivate.

Distinctive Terrain

The Black Sears ranch sits atop the Howell Mountain region in northeastern Napa County and is comprised of 420 acres, of which 24 are vineyard (5.7%). At around 2400 feet, it contains the highest vineyards in the Howell Mountain AVA, where it sits among some of the most biologically diverse acreage in all of North America, bordering the Napa Land Trust’s WildLake-Duff Preserve (Shout out to the Dunn Family – Big UP!). Nestled high above the Bay Area fog, the unique climate produces wines with a firm structure, intense fruit, and bright, sunny acidity. The volcanic, iron-laden soils are high in kaolinite and comprised of such a diverse biomass that they are unique even for Howell Mountain, and perfectly suited for growing dynamic, peppery Zinfandel and spicy, earthy Bordeaux varietals. 


As far as the wine biz goes, we are growers… not show-ers. We prefer the dust and dirt of the vineyard to the endless sanitization of winemaking. And we certainly don’t think doing the unspeakable things necessary to sell thousands and thousands of cases across the nation would be any fun. So we keep our wine production limited, and mainly serve as growers for other local wine producers (so we can drive our tractors, which, let’s face it, is the fun part). 

We farm our vineyards using only organic and biodynamic methods, and produce the highest quality wine grapes possible, carefully managing the crop to reach optimal ripeness and maturity. We keep only about 25% of our production for our own Estate label—from our very favorite swaths of vines—while the other three-quarters supply a number of Napa’s larger wineries.    


It doesn’t matter how many cow horns you bury or how many organic certifications you maintain or how many carbon off-sets you purchase. No matter what the winery’s marketing department says, monoculture is simply not “sustainable.” 

We therefore strive for a balance where our vineyard and winery production serve as the beating heart of the larger, holistic farm organism as well as the natural ecosystem atop Howell Mountain. Our vineyards’ production is the engine that allows us to continue to serve as in-house stewards of this land. It allows us to also grow an array of other fruits and vegetables; to raise goats and chickens and our own free-range children. And most importantly, it allows us to maintain a ranch where monoculture (viticulture) is a mere 6% of our acreage and the other 90+% is preserved in its pristine, natural state; where agriculture and the wild can co-exist in harmony.


We believe that the role of a winemaker is to bring out the truest, most authentic expression of the fruit, the wine’s terroir, and the unique character of each vintage; to serve as a guide, not a master. Possessing a preternatural ability to recognize the potential and characteristics of a given site, and understanding how to actualize a vineyard’s very best during the winemaking process are essential qualities of a great winemaker. But vinification is also an endeavor that rewards a light touch—something derived only from the wisdom of experience.

Thomas Brown began making our wines back in 2008. To be honest, we were so dumb, we hired him mainly because he was already here. We met Thomas when he used to lease space from us here at the winery, back when he was getting his Rivers-Marie label off the ground, and frankly, we just liked him (he also hates golf). So, it seemed to make sense.

Turned out he was on his way to establishing himself as one of Napa’s most acclaimed winemakers ever, and we were even luckier than we were dumb. His oeuvre speaks for itself, particular with Napa’s king, Cabernet Sauvignon. But for us, it was one of his earliest jobs in wine production that sealed the deal: as a kid looking to break into winemaking, he was as an assistant under Ehren Jordan with Turley in the mid-90s, where he helped craft the Turley “Black Sears” SVD Zinfandels that shattered the very idea of what Zinfandel could be. 


There are very few wild spaces left in the Eden that is Napa Valley. Vineyards span nearly the entire valley floor, and the hundreds of wineries we’ve crammed into a mere 70 square miles have done their level best to encroach upon even the steep hillsides where agriculture can have its most devastating ecological results in terms of erosion, pollution, displacement of species, and destruction of habitat.

We therefore take our roles as stewards of Napa’s wilder side very seriously. Like the black bears and the golden eagles and the mighty oaks and the deeply-rooted madrones, we also live here. We breathe the same air and drink from the same waters. Ultimately, the preservation of this land and the health of the ecosystem that thrives here is inextricably bound with our own fate. It is exponentially more important to us than any artistic impulses involving fermented grapes, or economic impulses involving numbers on a screen, both of which can seem trivial by comparison.  


To us, what’s cool about wine is the way an infinite set of variables and conditions—biological, geological, meteorological, astronomical, human—miraculously produce something so evocative and visceral as a fine wine: an intoxicating, alluring elixir capable of inciting actual joy. What’s so cool is that where it’s grown is the single greatest influence on one’s sensual experience of any wine. And therefore, a truly special wine will not only be delicious, exciting, poetic, but it will also be, in some sense, self-referential—the singular aesthetic expression of the land and the conditions that created it. 

This is why we are so eager for our customers to visit us and to experience the magic of this place. It is why we are generous with our time, our wines, and our home – we know that while the finished product in the bottle is incredible on its own, to bear witness to the wine’s source and inspiration is to truly know its character and the spirit contained therein. 


Wine’s single greatest attribute is its ability to connect us with one another – through shared experience, lively conversation, the sharing of stories and ideas, and our very human quest for meaning, love, and happiness. To be a wine producer is the ultimate mixing of business with pleasure. It is both a philosophical journey and a celebration; an act of love and community as well as of whimsy and frivolity. And why dip a toe  

We have very intentionally decided that we want our customers to be an extension of our family, connected to us and to the land through the magic of what is in every bottle of Black Sears. It’s why our production is kept small and limited. It is why we do not have salespeople or hosts. It is why we sell our wines directly to you. It’s why we invite you to visit us here.  

And it is what we hope to achieve with a “wine club”: an extended family of wine lovers and fun lovers, who, regardless of stripe or ilk or belief or creed, are able to find connection and togetherness through the (un)common ground in which Black Sears is grown.