Shared from the 7/1/2018 Wenatchee Foothills eEdition

Making fine wine is a family affair at Chris Daniel Winery

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Chris Daniel Stewart, a graduate of Washington State University’s enology and viticulture programs, has traveled the world learning his trade.

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Chris Daniel Stewart, namesake for Chris Daniel Winery in Quincy, is a full-time winemaker in California’s Napa Valley.

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Winemaker Chris Daniel Stewart, left, and his father, Mike, pour wine for patrons during spring release at Chris Daniel Winery near Quincy.

My last tasting stop at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine & Food Festival was a booth promoting a wine I had never heard of. Chris Daniel Winery is named for their son, his parents told me. The two red wines I tasted — a Malbec and a Petite Sirah/Syrah blend — stood out from other wines I had tasted that night. I had tasted many delicious wines that night, and perhaps the light buzz I felt was why these seemed so good.

And yet, there was something different going on here.

After talking to Chris’ parents — Michael and Dianne Stewart — for awhile, I learned the wine was something much more than a tribute to a lost son or something else so grim. The winery is a family enterprise in support of their son, who not only tailors the wine bearing his name, but also works as a full-time assistant winemaker for a prestigious Napa, California, winery. He also manages two leased vineyards in the Napa area.

Fast forward several months and I’m visiting the Quincy area winery where those outstanding wines are produced. Chris Daniel Winery is situated at the Stewart’s home along Highway 283, the short link between Ephrata and I-90. Pretty much the middle of nowhere. But like The Gorge Amphitheatre not far away, this little tasting room inside a building that once housed an indoor swimming pool is destined to attract more people than those only looking for a shortcut to the freeway that runs between Seattle and Spokane.

“When we decided to do this, we wanted to make something special. We didn’t want to just make another wine,” said Chris Daniel Stewart, talking on his father’s speakerphone from Napa.

Chris, it turns out, is a 30-year-old winemaker schooled at Washington State University’s enology and viticulture programs who has interned in France, Spain and Chile. He challenged himself and his willing parents to make exceptional wines that can show off Washington’s unique wine grape growing capabilities using some of the best traditional and modern winemaking methods. And he seems to be doing just that.

Father and son hatched the long-nested plan to start their own winery in 2011 — the year Chris graduated WSU — over glasses of wine and Cuban cigars in Spain, where Chris was working in a winery. It would be another six years, much research, investment and effort before Chris Daniel Winery would open to the public with its first releases: four reds, two whites and a rosé.

The winery was off to an auspicious start with its first entries in the 2017 Wenatchee Wine and Food Festival, where its 2014 Malbec won a Double Gold Medal, a 2014 Petite Sirah/Syrah blend won a Gold Medal and a 2014 Syrah — fermented in the French style with 3 percent Viognier — won a Silver Medal.

Although Chris lives most of the year in Napa, 1,000 miles apart from his parents, he considers himself a hands-on winemaker. Despite the distance, the winery endeavor, they agree, has brought them closer together than they could have imagined.

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Chris Daniel Winery boasts a wine for every palate.

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Proud mother Dianne Stewart pours wine with her winemaker son, Chris.

Michael is an independent vineyard and orchard irrigation consultant for the Columbia Basin region. His clients include some of the Columbia Valley’s best vineyards. Michael reports to Chris daily on the progress of grapes in each vineyard that will become sources for the winery’s coming vintage.

Chris makes several visits home each year to oversee the work, but also directs the family effort by phone, often several calls a day. Together, they determine appropriate harvest, sorting, crushing, fermentation and storage regimes for each grape variety.

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The Stewart family converted an indoor swimming pool room to a cozy wine tasting bar at Chris Daniel Winery in Quincy.

Grapes are hand sorted and cold soaked for optimum color and flavor. The grapes are loosely crushed to remove stems but preserve whole berries that will release maximum flavor and unique nuance during long fermentation in open 50-gallon oak barrels rather than large plastic or steel tanks. Portions of the red grape crush are siphoned off early to intensify flavor of the reds and create the light pink juice used for a rosé wine, a process called saignée.

During fermentation, the wine is punched down and stirred with the yeast three times a day in small batches. Gentle handling of the grapes and wine is a primary concern throughout the process. Once the juice becomes wine, Michael sends weekly samples to Chris to taste and test.

The fermentation process takes much longer and is much more labor intensive than that used by most wineries geared to handle much larger production. Chris Daniel Winery only produces about 750 cases and has no plans to grow much bigger.

“Wine is a living organism, and we want to treat it as such,” said Chris. His goal is to find the best procedures that work best with Washington’s terroir — that mix of soils and climate that make wines made from Washington grapes unique in aroma, flavor and texture.

“Plus, I tried to think of the most difficult methods of making wine to keep my dad busy. It’s my way of getting even for having to pull all those weeds as a kid,” he said with a laugh, quickly adding, “Seriously, we wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t beneficial.”

Chris said he feels fortunate to be involved in the Washington wine industry as it develops its status as one of the world’s finest wine producers.

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Dianne Stewart, right, serves wine to guests during the Chris Daniel Winery spring release in Quincy as her son and winemaker, Chris, standing at left, chats with guests.

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Left: Wine by the glass or by the flight — your choice at Chris Daniel Winery.

He believes his experiences making wine in Napa, Europe and Chile offer him tools to craft wines that can fully express what Washington grapes can achieve.

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Above: Wine is paired with chocolates during spring release at Chris Daniel Winery in Quincy.

“We’re not trying to make a Napa wine or a French wine. We do want to make a Napa-caliber wine at a price that is affordable,” he said. He believes the quality of a good $35 Washington wine can compete with a wine one would have to pay $200 for in Napa, largely because of the differences in land and production costs, but also reputation.

“It’s incredible the resources we have. Our wines are truly unique,” he said. “We’re working hard to produce something truly special.”

For Michael and Dianne — Dianne manages the tasting room and handles marketing — it’s the perfect family experience. Their two other sons live and work elsewhere but return home to help with the crush each fall, as do other family members and close friends.

“It’s a family thing. We’re all able to do this together while helping Chris along in his career,” said Michael. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding. We wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.” F

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