Stewart Cellars, Yountville
Author: William Rohrs
February, 2017 Issue
Stewart Cellars6752 Washington StYountville, CA, 94599
Stewart Cellars is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Gather Café by Stewart Cellars is open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tasting fees: $35/person in the Tasting Hall; $85/person in the Nomad Heritage Library
Wines currently offered in The Tasting Hall: Five Stewart Cellars wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Wines currently offered in the Nomad Heritage Library, include select library vintages of the Stewart Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Nomad Beckstoffer Las Piedras Cabernet Sauvignon
Appointment necessary: Not needed for the Tasting Hall; yes for the Nomad Heritage Library
Picnics: Outdoor seating available and in the café
Pets: Outdoor is allowed
It’s a Cinderella Story in Wine Country: Three Texans and their family’s winemaking hobby flourishes into a Yountville gem when combined with the winemaking prowess of a New Zealander seasoned by experience in Australian vineyards and a private chef from Connecticut trailblazing in the café. That, in brief, is the Stewart Cellars experience.
This isn’t the first time folks from out of town make a ripple in the ever-churning sea of the wine industry, but for founders Michael and James Stewart, Caroline Stewart Guthrie and Blair Guthrie, Stewart Cellars wasn’t just the start of a new life in one of the most competitive cities in Napa County: it was the culmination of a lifestyle more than 10 years in the making.
“We started Stewart Cellars in 2006, and it took about 10 years to establish our tasting room in Yountville. My father [Michael] spent a lot of time getting to know people in the wine industry well before we started building, though,” says James Stewart. “He was already making wines as a hobby, and gained a rapport with growers from all over. When my sister, Caroline, and her husband Blair joined the team, we were ready to make signature California wines with some of the best grapes available.”
The café is the entryway to Stewart Cellars. Helmed by private chef Sarah Heller, ingredients are prepped off-site and delivered fresh for assembly and made to order. “We were wrapping up a three-hour long construction meeting when Sarah swooped in with food. We wanted to hire her on the spot,” laughs James. The menu only had one permanent rule: There must always be color on the plate, never a single monotone dish. Heller creates power food for the active wine taster, with quick snacks for breakfast like green tea matcha bars, heavenly Belgian waffles (both sweet and savory!) and a constantly changing rotation of super food salads, soups and snacks.
Flanking the courtyard past the café are Stewarts’ two tasting rooms. The Tasting Hall is walk-in friendly and serves a flight of five wines. The Nomad Heritage Library, however, is by appointment only, and features a more intimate wine experience. “We didn’t want to create a tasting experience where people are rushed in, taste two wines and are ushered out,” says James. “The main tasting room is always available for anyone who wants to either have that experience, or stay for a while and learn about our family and our winemaking philosophy. The Nomad Heritage Library provides space for a small group to settle in, listen to a seminar-style guided tasting by our team and enjoy our library collection of both wines and books.”
That’s right; the Nomad Heritage Library is filled with books the family has collected over the years, and tasters are encouraged to pick them up and take their time tasting Stewart’s library vintages.
My tasting begins in the library, and as I write this, I wish I were still there, nestled by the fireside with Blair Guthrie geeking out over the wine process with me, talking about the importance of terroir and the spirit of the winemaker. Both Caroline and Blair studied under the legendary Paul Hobbs, who also acts as a consulting winemaker for Stewart, as cellar hands before joining the family business. Blair himself worked as an assistant winemaker in South Australia and does custom crush projects at Kunde, alongside his duties as winemaker at Stewart Cellars.
“I’ve learned a lot from my work abroad, but now I’m in California, making California wines, and there’s a regional identity I want to bring to light. That requires knowing exactly how to work the grapes from that area,” says Blair. “A successful winery could take 40 years to become reputable and nail their winemaking process. If one vintage is a chance, that means you get 40 chances to get it right, if you’re lucky. Understanding the smallest details of a vineyard, like knowing a specific clone you want to use because it’s at the perfect elevation or gets the best nutrients from the soil, gives me the opportunity to not only make a great California wine, but a wine that reflects me, and the heart and soul I put into it.”
We started with the 2013 Stewart Napa Valley Merlot, which benefitted from a brief decanting, with notable changes as the air evolved the vintage. The bouquet started off exceptionally fragrant, with roses giving way to more earthy, velvety aromas as the Merlot settled and breathed. What started with a presentation of sweet plum with tannins drawing out some acidity for balance mellowed into a soft finish that revealed wild raspberries and dark cherries behind the first taste.
Next came the 2013 Stewart Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Compared to the Merlot, this Cabernet brings bold flavors extracted from the 65 percent new French Oak barrels that aged it. Peppery spices combine with classic flavors of blackcurrant and toasted oak to smooth out the acidity on the front of the palate when tasting this wine.
The last tasting was a rare bird: Stewart Cellars made only 150 cases of its 2013 Nomad Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s only available in the library or through the wine club. Like the Merlot, a little decanting time was recommended to showcase the delicate balance of flavors achieved by this wine. What started as bone-dry on the tongue, with a surprising sweetness for a robust Cabernet transformed into a complex, full-bodied experience, with notes of ginger tiptoeing over bold swaths of stone fruit and dark berries. The finish was long and elegant, with a not-so-elegant lip smack and hushed “wow” under my breath after each sip.
The Stewarts, Guthrie and Heller have made more than a tasting room in Yountville. They put their hearts, minds and souls into each brick, each cup of chicken and dumpling soup, each glass of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They took California life and made it their own, bringing the best of their worlds for all to enjoy in an estate that feels like home.
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