Father and son team up at a new local winery
He was, by his own description, a weird kid.
At an age where most of his peers worried about the right type of sneaker, Chris Stewart daydreamed about the right type of wine.
He was 14, a full seven years away from drinking age, and yet fascinated by the grape and its popular product.
The son of a longtime consultant of the wine industry, Stewart said he can remember being in his mid-teens and already wanting to make his own wine someday, despite’s Dad’s best efforts to talk him out of it.
The day, for Stewart and for his father, Mike Stewart, has arrived.
Chris Daniel Winery, with the first and middle names of that precocious would-be vintner, now 29, made its debut last week with a two-day open house at its winery a few miles southeast of Quincy, 2743 Highway 283 N.
With Dad handling the business end and son handling the winemaking end, it is a partnership that has been years in the making. While Dad made a living as a consultant for the wine industry, the son earned his degree in viticulture and oenology from Washington State University and his stripes as a winemaker working in places as varied as Spain, France, California and Chile.
“I got the traveling winemaker bug,” Chris said, who works as an assistant winemaker at a winery in the Napa Valley area of California, and who will commute to Quincy several times a year.
“In winemaking you only get up to 40 times to make a wine. You can make beer thousands of time, in wine you get one shot a year,” Chris said. “If you want to be a world-famous movie star, you go to L.A. and if you want to be in tech you go to Silicon Valley. For me to be the best winemaker I can be, I need to be in the Napa Valley.”
When deciding to become a winemaker, it was the trip to Chile that did it for Chris.
“After going down to Chile, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. At 14, I was right.’”
The idea to at last go for it and make their own wine came to them while visiting Spain’s La Rioja wine country. Dad had tagged along for the tail end of the trip, and that’s when they began planning what five years later is Chris Daniel Winery.
“It was the right time for us,” Mike said. “I have been in this industry for a long time, but I didn’t have the skills to be a winemaker. So when he got the skill set, then we knew it was time for us to do this.”
In addition, the fact that Quincy is just beginning to become a wine destination makes it a perfect time for their brand to hit the market, Chris said.
The initial release includes a Viognier, a rosé, a Syrah, a Malbec, a Cabernet and a blended Syrah, with a Chardonnay expected to be released in late summer.
The goal is to create a wine that is true to the variety, the soil and environment (the “terroir” in wine-ese) and true to the vineyard, he said. At the same time, Chris said, they want to make a wine that is affordable.
The grapes come from Wahluke Slope, near Mattawa, and Royal Slope. The proximity of the vineyards plays in the Stewarts’ favor, given that they don’t have an estate winery.
“We are out there looking at our grapes since budbreak,” he said, “as soon as the grapes start growing as they come out of dormancy. We are out there intimately involved from Day One of the growing season all the way through harvest.”
Not having an estate winery is also a plus, Chris said.
“We are able to pick and choose our grape sources from where we think they are best grown,” he said. “When you have an estate vineyard, you have all that extra attention to detail, and a lot more flexibility, but you’re stuck with what you have on site.”
The flavors are developed with Dad knowing son and son knowing Dad.
“We have really similar tastes in what we like and expect of a good wine,” Chris said. “And because of that, we have really been able to hone in how we communicate with each other. When he’s talking to me about these grapes, I know exactly what these grapes taste like. It’s almost like I’m in his head. It’s really cool.”
Mike agreed. “It’s really nice having an adult son with whom you’re communicating all the time. We don’t argue too much because it’s a business. We have a game plan,” he said.
The plan is to stay fairly small, with Mom and Dad marketing the wine, Chris making it, and accountant and oldest son Shaun helping with the bookkeeping. The family is building a tasting room on site, as well, with the help of the youngest son, Brett.
“Our small production really allows no room for error,” Chris said. “We really have to be on our game 100 percent of the time.”
He later added, “It’s got my name on the bottle, it’s my reputation. It’s my family’s reputation.”
The label shows a clockwork showing 10:23. Chris was born Oct. 23. He even has a tattoo of it on his torso.
“Like I said before, I am a weird kid,” Chris said.
The winery may stay small, but the father-son bond has grown since the dream of the winery started becoming a reality, Chris said.
“I’m really happy doing this, and I hope to keep doing it for as long as I can,” Mike said.
“We are honestly looking, we are searching for perfection,” Chris said. “Of course, perfection is impossible; we want to get as close as we can to it.”
By Sebastian Moraga, firstname.lastname@example.org