By now, many people have heard that boutique winery Stuart Cellars was sold and is now Bel Vino. (And if you haven’t, then you heard it here first!) When winery ownership changes hands, people end up wondering who the new owners are, what’s going to be different, and – most importantly to those who consider Stuart Cellars a “must-visit” when in wine country – what is happening with the wines?
We are here to assure you that all of your favorite Stuart Cellars wines are still there and will continue to be sold under their label. That’s because Winemaker Marshall Stuart is staying on and Susan Stuart is also there as the Sales and Marketing V.P. Indeed, new owner Mike Janko kept the entire staff, many of whom are Stuart family members. So worry not – when you walk into Bel Vino, you will see the same familiar faces and enjoy the relaxed, friendly atmosphere that’s always made Stuart Cellars so popular.
However, there are also some fun changes to check out. Almost every weekend you can now find Mike’s wife Debbie conversing with visitors and treating everyone to Port Shooters, which are little cups of Stuart Cellar’s delicious port, topped with tiny dollops of vanilla ice cream. These little delights go down nice and easy, and are a great way to sample the winery’s famous port wine. Also on Saturdays from noon to close the winery is now offering a very tasty Tapas and Wine Pairing for just $20. Then, in about 90 days, Bel Vino will be releasing their own wine made by Marshall Stuart. The details on this release are still top-secret, so you will have to stay tuned here for more. When we know, you will know.
In any event, there’s a lot going on here. So Taste of Temecula recently sat down with Mike to learn more about him and find out what else is in store for the New Year. As it turns out, he has some big plans for this little winery.
ToT: I understand that you kind of “stumbled” into Temecula in a way. Tell me about that.
MJ: I’ve had a long running interest for several decades in wine and wineries, and every chance I get I go tour a wine country somewhere and do a wine tasting. And my wife and I were on a vacation in San Diego, and I had heard that there was wine country in Temecula. So on our way back to Salt Lake City, which was where our home was, we were going up the 15 and I decided to take quick run out to wine country to see what it was all about. And I took the wrong exit, we exited Winchester instead of Rancho California, so I saw a bit of the city and thought “wow, it’s really pretty here.” So, we had lunch at Wilson Creek and we had a nice time. Simultaneous to that, my wife and I were looking for a place to have a new winter home so while we were eating lunch, I looked at her and said, “This is it. This is the place. We are going to buy a home and move here.” So, we bought a home and moved into it in November of last year.
ToT: What appealed to you about Stuart Cellars? Why did you buy this particular winery?
MJ: It has a fabulous location, it’s just a little over a mile from the edge of Temecula, and it’s on the right hand side of the road so when people drive out, it’s on their right. It has a fabulous view, one of the best views out here. It’s a well established winery; it has a good wine club, a good base of customers. It has a tremendous reputation for red wines. The winery is 40 acres, about 35 of which are planted. It has a very, for lack of a better word, robust production capability. We have a ton of tank storage – approximately a one-hundred thousand gallon tank storage. We have a great crushing facility, and a fabulous bottling line.
ToT: What changes can we expect to see in 2012?
MJ: We are going to completely redo the exterior of the building and give it a Tuscan look – an Italian villa look. We will be adding a large outdoor patio. We’re going to do extensive landscaping to the lawn area across the drive – make that a lot more beautiful. Something we are really focusing on are weddings and special events. We have the most beautiful view in wine country and a great venue for that – that’s been here all along. Once we re-landscape it’ll be a beautiful garden for the wedding and reception. Of course we have the barrel room for receptions too. We’ve cleared out excess inventory in the barrel room and we’re already holding special events there. And I’m going to take the residence that the Stuarts lived in and turn it into a day rental property for brides, or corporate guests – or anybody. Anyone will be able to rent that for the day.
There you have it – with Bel Vino there will be changes both big and small but everything that you love about Stuart Cellars is staying the same. So next time you’re in wine country stop over there and check it out. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
Rendering and landscape photos courtesy of Bel Vino Winery
Other photos by ToT Photographer Sarah Herrera