binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog
R. Stuart & Co. Winery | Willamette Valley
by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML
Red Thread™ | R. Stuart & Co. Winery | McMinnville, OR.
Third in a four-part series celebrating 50 Years of Willamette Valley winemaking history and Oregon Wine Month.
What happens when a free-spirited wine maker and Renaissance man meets his match in a highly grounded, fiercely spirited woman – both joining forces with two other super-savvy marketing and business partners?
Meet R. Stuart & Co. Winery and Wine Bar in McMinnville, Oregon, a winery dedicated to crafting high-quality, affordable, artisan Willamette Valley wines.
Rob Stuart and Maria Stuart lead the way, a dynamic duo charged with putting a face on all things R. Stuart & Co., each as effervescent as their specialty wines.
Meanwhile, food and wine pairing expert and partner Patricia Rogers-Ridgeway heads up national sales as partner Frank Blair keeps things going under the radar.
Long a fan of R. Stuart Winery’s unusual palette of wines, including pinot, port-like tawny dessert wine, and Vin Tardive, I especially prize their highly addictive Rosé d’Or dry sparkling rosé – which, for my money, kicks any favorite Saumur dry sparkling to the curb.
The Red Thread ™ recently caught up with Rob Stuart at R. Stuart Wine Bar to talk terroir, balance, and a 1961 Bollinger that still haunts him…
RT™: Who or what brought you to wine making?
RS: Jezda Miljkovic (formerly of Yugoslavia, WWII era) introduced a young and impressionable 17 year old (me) to 1961 Bollinger in 1971. He was one of 32 MW’s (Master of Wine) in the world at the time. Later I worked for him in his vineyard in England in 1976 and he taught me about the world of wine. I became completely enamored, and the rest is history.
RT™: Tell readers a bit about the history of R. Stuart & Co. Your artful empire includes wine making, a wine bar, tours and food and wine pairing classes, cool graphics, plus bubbles! How do you manage it all?
RS: Really good question. I don’t know the answer because if I think too hard about it, I might realize that we must be crazy. The truth is that we have a really good team. Maria deserves the compliment regarding the Wine Bar because she is the one who had that vision and nurtures it still. She is also the one who reminds us who we are when we start to go astray. Trish Rogers, our partner responsible for national sales is the creator of Zing! a scientific method of pairing wine and food together. In fact, she has just published her second book on the subject. And Frank Blair, our fourth partner has been supportive beyond expectations for all these years.
RT™: R. Stuart sources your fruit from some stunning vineyards in the Willamette Valley and beyond. What are some of the determining factors you use when choosing a site for sourcing?
It’s really quite simple and is basically the litmus test I use for anyone I work with. First I have to like and respect the people. Second I have to like what they have to offer, in this case fruit. And third, there has to be integrity and quality from beginning to end.
RT™: Talk about your wines. You have entry level, super accessible food wines (Big Fire), you have sophisticated, elegant dinner party wines like Autograph, and you have a series of charming specialty wines such as Vin Tardive, Klipsun Vineyards Tawny Dessert wine, and bubbles (blanc and rosé)! Do you have a favorite?
RS: My answer to this is always the same. I can’t pick a favorite. I love all of the wines we make, each for their different qualities. They each have a place in our world and they are all made with love and integrity. They all have a place in our culinary lives, as well. It’s true that some are a study in something I am interested in, perhaps a folly of mine. And some are about striving for perfection that may never be achieved, but as the wise people say, “It’s the journey, not the destination”
RT™: How do you feel about the latest trend in ‘mobile’ sparkling wine production in the Willamette Valley?
RS: I am really quite excited about it. Andrew of Radiant Sparkling Wine has made sparkling wine production accessible to many for the first time. Finally Oregon will be recognized as THE PLACE, GROUND ZERO, for sparkling wine produced in the US. And Andrew is the catalyst that brings the synergy to make that happen here.
I have been making sparkling wine since 1983. I have made many mistakes along the way and still have a lot to learn. I have done it all with a very minimalist approach. I don’t even freeze the necks when disgorging due to the lack of equipment. But that has not stopped me. And I have a beacon that guides me to my impossible goal…that 61’ Bollinger. I tell people that making sparkling wine is my Holy Grail and that I will die trying to recreate that 61’ Bollinger because it can never be. But I will at least try to make something that is as complex and beautiful, our beloved Rosé d’Or. I refuse to make something that does not say, “ I did my best.” That does not mean I can’t have fun along the way, and that’s what I make Bubbly.
RT™: Talk a bit about the R. Stuart & Co. “House Rules.”
RS: Well, Maria, Trish, and I wanted to find a way to encapsulate the reasons we left our very safe jobs to start this venture. A mission statement, so to speak, but not so stuffy. We essentially laid out our goals and they were all about the things we care about and some of the things that we don’t care for in the wine industry.
For instance, we care about the growers that we work with and respect what they do, and the beautiful fruit they grow. We’ll always value our relationships with them. And once we’ve turned their beautiful fruit into wine, we won’t clobber it over the head with a bunch of new oak that completely masks the fruit. Here’s one that surprises a lot of people, we never submit our wines to be scored. We believe that the “scoring trade” is seriously flawed, and the system discourages consumers to think for themselves.
It was in distilling these and other values of ours, that the House Rules were born.
RT™: What are your greatest challenges at R. Stuart & Co.?
RS: Making high quality wines and keeping them priced so real people can afford to buy them – this has become increasingly difficult. Also it’s important to stay nimble, to respond to the ever changing tides in the national marketplace like the consolidation of so many distributors across the country.
RT™: What motivates you to keep going?
RS: What else would I do? I love my work and I love my life. I remember reading Gilgamesh in high school, and I remember the line that goes something like,” Love and work should be the same thing. To not love your work is to not love.” How could I be happy if I didn’t do this thing I love?
RT™: Anything else you care to share?
RS: Our wines. With the world.
RT™: One final question: “If wine making has taught me anything, it’s taught me…”
RS: To persevere and to have faith in what I think is right. And to know that if I’m wrong, I can always learn something.
Listen to more about what wine making has taught Rob Stuart in the video below…regrets for the ambient construction noise towards the end…
Care to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.
Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Rob & Maria Stuart | R. Stuart & Co. Winery & Wine Bar
Deven Morganstern | R. Stuart & Co. Business Manager & Barkeep Extraordinaire
Note: Trade samples were provided by the winery for this interview.