Black Sears Winery & the Beer-Wine Hybrid, Tao

Black Sears Winery & the Beer-Wine Hybrid, Tao

Posted by Makenna Barris

4 years ago | December 31, 2020

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 4 seconds

A brewer and a winemaker walk into a bar…

While it may not seem like a brewery in San Diego and a vineyard in Napa have much in common, Pure Brewing and Black Sears Winery actually have quite a bit of common ground. As a brewery with a reverence for beer as an agricultural product, our collaboration with Black Sears—an organic, biodynamic winery atop Napa’s Howell Mountain—seems like it was destined to be.

Back in January of 2021, we released our first batch of this special ale with Black Sears—and it was years in the making. As its name suggests, Tao points “the way.” The way Black Sears strives to do right by their patch of earth that produces renowned grapes, the way Pure searches out the most sustainable ingredients, and the way we have come together to present something intellectually interesting (and delicious!).

Tao is a ground-breaking sour ale, a beer-wine hybrid built on organic Black Sears grapes and aged in oak barrels. These cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes come from an incredibly unique terroir on a mountaintop surrounded by hundreds of acres of wild oak forests. The dirt up there is filled with so much iron, Black Sears’ owner Chris Jambois says the dirt will “leap onto a magnet if you put it near.” This imparts the grapes with an unmistakable peppery spice. The unique nature of the diurnal shifts during the growing season (thanks to the marine fog layer that forces the warmer valley-floor air up at night) imparts the grapes with a bright, sunny acidity. But it’s also the incredible diversity of the flora and fauna that make the terroir so special. One of the winemakers who buys Black Sears grapes describes them as “containing the entire diversity of the forest.”

It is these grapes that made their way into Tao. During the 2019 harvest, Black Sears cold-soaked and fermented nearly four tons of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes in stainless steel. After the grapes were pressed, Black Sears shared a literal ton of their spent grape skins (known as pomace) with us. Lucky us! Their wine went into barrels, and we began brewing a beer.  

We took the wort (the sweet liquid that results from malt grain starches converting to sugar) and chilled it on the Black Sears grape skins. Using the pre-existing yeast on the skins from the wine fermentation, we open fermented the beer to create a feral ale. Once the beer reached terminal gravity, the skins were pressed and the beer aged for a year in Bordeaux wine barrels. Using our house strain of Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that imbues some of our sour ales with their characteristic flavor, we bottle conditioned the beer, allowing the yeast to consume the sugar and create carbonation within the bottle.

The result? A naturally effervescent, rosé-like hybrid, with essences of black cherry, plum, and cranberry, together with pronounced minerality and a fair amount of funk.

Black Sears VineyardsAbout Black Sears Winery

Black Sears is a family-run vineyard and winery started by Joyce Black and Jerre Sears in 1979. Farming and winemaking fulfilled their desire to commune more directly with the natural landscape through a combination of stewardship, agriculture, and contemplation.

After a decade spent growing grapes for well-known wineries throughout Napa Valley, their zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes became highly lauded and they began to produce their own wines.

Nearly thirty years later in 2008, their daughter Ashley Sears and fiancée Chris Jambois left their careers behind in Seattle and relocated to the top of Howell Mountain to build a new generation for Black Sears–one that is 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.

Today, Ashley, Chris and their three boys call this wild, remote mountaintop vineyard home. Among the highest vineyards in all of Napa Valley at 2,400 feet, the vineyard shares its home with black bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and golden eagles so big they could probably “swoop down and fly away with my 10-year-old in their talons,” laughs Chris. Various fruit and nut trees, herbs, and wildflowers are incorporated into the vineyard, encouraging the presence of beneficial insects and mitigating the detrimental effects that monoculture practices can have on the land.

When we asked Chris what organic and biodynamic farming means to the family, he shared: “This is our home; this is where we live and raise our kids, we need to keep this place healthy. Equally, this is the way we will make the highest-quality product. The grapes need to be an expression of this special place, and anything that deviates from what we can arguably call “natural” or “organic” is going to be inauthentic.”

And it is the role of their winemaker, Thomas Brown, to bring out the expression of the fruit and the unique terroir where it comes from. Chris describes the signature flavor characteristic of their vineyards to be white pepper. “There is a floral yet meaty aspect to the nose. Conifers, bramble, leather, tobacco, and a whole lot of spice, and then that unmistakable mountain acidity–I describe it as sunshine. It’s bright, joyful. In conjunction with the abundant mountain tannin, it gives the wines an incredible intensity and structure.”


And back to the beer…Tao in a glass

We love the way these grapes, so unique to that rugged and biologically diverse mountaintop terroir where they grow, shine in this special Pure x Black Sears collaboration. That’s why we continue to brew this one year after year—it’s truly a special brew, not only in the way it was created, but also in the way it tastes. Our latest batch, Tao Batch 4, is available now (while supplies last).

To learn more about our friends at Black Sears Winery, click here.