If you’re passing through north Washington Street in Yountville and wondering whether someone reclaimed the remnants of an old stone barn, that’s just what the Stewart family wanted. Though all new construction with innovative design, Stewart Cellars was actually inspired from stone abbeys in Scotland that James Stewart and his sister Caroline would visit as children. For them, it’s still a vivid and fond memory.
Though Scottish heritage is just one of many themes threaded in the grand experience of the new Stewart Cellars. Inspired by their deep well of cultural curiosity, the environment is a juxtaposition of patina amongst polish, discipline with whimsy and maybe most importantly, pays homage to the patience and respect for Mother Nature and her influence over the vines. Hence, their namesake library wine Nomad, stands for all these elements with a spirit of exploration and quest for new experiences.
So it’s very fitting the dramatic twenty foot high doors welcoming guests to the main tasting room also transition them to a unique place by leading one to gaze up towards vaulted ceilings and then the view back out at majestic Mount Veeder. The incredible effort that went into bringing this vision to life was driven by a deep desire to give people a memorable experience beyond tasting finely crafted wine. Given their Nomad 2013 Cabernet was just awarded a remarkable Wine Spectator rating of 94, the bar is high. Thankfully that goal was readily met.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with James Stewart and learning about the inspiration behind the family’s first physical manifestation of their viticulture vision. James is of course passionate about the juice they bottle but this endeavor was really personal as it represented the commencement of a legacy. It was about delivering an experience representing both their family journey as wine makers and the roller coaster of challenges nature throws your way as a vintner. James refers to it as “controlled chaos”, a constant tango to turn the unpredictable into perfection – a balance of art and science that goes into every bottle. This appreciation of nuance and perseverance for exceptional results is what you’ll both taste in the wine and feel from every turn throughout the flowing tasting spaces.
Though beyond all the discipline and rigor of wine making, James also stresses “we’re soulful about what we’re doing”. Always seeking to tap the human side of us all to explore, question and embrace the unfamiliar. Likely why James was a filmmaker before taking up the family business and he’s done a masterful job at bringing that curiosity and storytelling to making wine. Each vintage being an expression of purposeful intention for what the Stewart label represents, coupled with accentuating what nature offered in the harvest.
In addition to all of the great insights on Stewart Cellars, my conversation with James surfaced a few key revelations on Napa overall. First, the dichotomy of Napa being bucolic and serene on the surface yet incredibly industrious behind the scenes. Much like a duck on a pond, floating across effortlessly while furiously paddling underneath. Second, simply building a beautiful winery does not produce noteworthy wine. There must be the passion, patience and talent to be victorious amongst the controlled chaos. Third, there is much to discover in Napa despite what might be perceived as polished or presumed. Rest assure great stories lie behind every label and depth to their hospitality. And that is actually why The 29 exists, to scratch the surface of Napa’s vast bounty, share it with you and hopefully encourage everyone to come experience it firsthand themselves.
Hopefully your interest is piqued and Stewart Cellars will be on your shortlist when you visit Napa next. A great spectrum of varietals await – chardonnay, merlot, pinot and cabernet. All of which reflect the great passion and hospitality of the Stewart Family.
Stewart Cellars- Tasting Room and Cafe 6752 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599 Phone: 707-963-9160
-Mike Casey, The 29 Napa