Interview with The Stewart Cellars Winemaking Team

Stewart Cellars
What was your first memory of wine and how did you know you wanted to be a winemaker?

Blair:  My first memory of wine was sneaking a sip of my mum’s boxed wine.  I didn’t like it then just as much as I don’t like it today!

I didn’t realize I wanted to be a winemaker until I had finished the first week of my enology class. After that I was hooked.

Caroline:  My first memory of wine was sitting around the dinner table with my family when I was around 11 or 12.  My parents would always pair our family dinners with an interesting bottle of wine and I remember being allowed a small taste and then trying my best to describe it.  I didn’t have near the vocab back then that I do now when it comes to describing wine!

I always had an interest in Chemistry, so the scientific side of winemaking is what drew me in.

What was your first wine job?

Blair: Pruning vineyards in Gisborne, New Zealand. I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet, early mornings, just slowly pruning row by row.

Caroline: My first wine job was working in Dallas, Texas as a wine rep for a large distributor.  It was interesting (and valuable) to see that side of the business.

What is your favorite wine?

Blair: Chardonnay is one of my favorites because the winemaker I worked for in Australia was so passionate about it and I guess it just rubbed off on me. I also love Syrah because it is really interesting and diverse.

Caroline: My favorite varietal tends to change quite often.. but I will always have a love for Malbec.  It was one of the first wines I made when I interned in Mendoza, Argentina.  And of course, it didn’t hurt that I was surrounded by some of the best Malbec in the world!  It is easy to fall in love with Malbec under those circumstances.

 What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?

Blair: At the end of a 18 hour day I dropped two of the most expensive barrels, with the most expensive wine in them, off the end of the forklift and exploded them all over the ground.  Absolute disaster.

Caroline: My biggest mistake happens to also be my most expensive mistake… and there is no way I am sharing it!  It goes with me to the grave.

 Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

Blair: I would have to say Brendon Keys of BK Wines in South Australia. He was the first winemaker I worked for. He taught me a lot about thinking outside the box when it comes to winemaking.

Caroline: Everything regarding winemaking that I still practice and believe in today was learned while interning for Paul Hobbs at his custom crush facility, Crossbarn.  It is all about attention to detail.

What is something you’d like to share about Stewart Cellars that many may not know if they’re not familiar with brand since you are fairly newly launched

Blair: That we are the real deal when it come to a small family winery. We do everything! From growing the grapes to selling the wine. There are not many family brands that are real and can say that, and we are proud of it!

Caroline: Because we do everything ourselves, we like to make wine that we are passionate about.   We don’t just make any old wine from any old vineyard.  We are meticulous about what vineyards we work with, and how the wine is made.

What would you like Stewart Cellars to be known for? What are a few words to describe your wines, your guest experience and your tasting room?

Blair: Consistently amazing wines.

When you taste our wines or come to the tasting room, I hope that you feel that you are getting truly hand-crafted, high-end wines without the pretentious vibe that sometimes comes with a high-end Napa brand.

Caroline: Definitely the quality of our wine, but also our willingness to go above and beyond for our customers.

Our wines are limited-production and hand-crafted from start to finish.  At our tasting room, we want our guests to not only be able to taste our wines, but to have an amazing experience.  We love it when we see our guests hanging out in the courtyard, socializing, and enjoying the beautiful weather, all with some amazing wine in their glass!

Can you share more about your story, how you both met and how you decided to create Stewart Cellars in conjunction with Caroline’s father and founder Michael Stewart?

Blair: Caroline and I met as cellar interns while working harvest for Paul Hobbs at his custom crush facility, Crossbarn, back in 2009.  Stewart Cellars was originally started as a hobby by Michael Stewart back in the early 2000s.  Caroline’s brother, James Stewart, started helping out on the sales side of things in the mid to late 2000s.  Caroline and I finally joined the family business to help grow it into what we have today.  We had all seen an opportunity to turn Michael’s hobby into an amazing business, and so that is what we set out to do!

What is your favorite after work drink?

Blair: Ever heard that saying “It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine”? Well it couldn’t be more true!

Caroline: I would have to agree with Blair… nothing better than a cold beer when it’s been all things wine all day long!

What is your favorite local spot in Sonoma where you live and in Yountville where your tasting room is located?

Caroline: Lately, I have been really loving The Harvest Moon Cafe in Sonoma.  Their menu is always fresh and delicious. In Yountville, we love grabbing pizzas from Redd Wood.  Our favorite is their pizza with prosciutto crudo and arugula.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you both?

Caroline: I grew up in Texas, but you’d never know it because I don’t have even the slightest accent.

 

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