Once retired from his successful business in 2014, Stu’s attention shifted in a different, but related, direction. In the process of amassing a collection of some of the most sought-after wines ever produced in Napa Valley, his wife Karen recalls him saying many times that if he ever made a wine, it would have to be something he’d also want to buy himself. It’s hard, demanding work – the opposite of retirement. But, being a hands-on kind of guy, he wouldn’t change anything about the artisan nature of Lerner Project.
When it came to his winemaker, there was only ever one person in Stu’s mind: “I handpicked our winemaker. I’ve bought from all the top winemakers in Napa Valley and Russell Bevan was my choice because his palate and my palate seemed to fit best.”
If, as some people like to say, Oakville were “the Rodeo Drive of Napa Valley,” then the Tench vineyard would have to be one of its finest boutiques. It’s certainly in the right neighbourhood. Located among some of Oakville’s – and the world’s – best sites for Cabernet Sauvignon, the red, volcanic soils produce concentrated grapes and classically dark, juicy Cabernet Sauvignon with fine tannins and an abundance of pure fruit flavours and intensity. The pristine vineyard sits adjacent to a rocky knoll just west of the Silverado Trail, near Oakville Cross Road. This picturesque knoll and surrounding hills of eastern Oakville allow Tench to boast its own unique microclimate and is home to Lerner Project production, where Russell Bevan can keep an eye on everything from grape to glass. Tench is also the source of the first single-vineyard Lerner Project Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley’s stellar 2016 vintage.
Located just to the southeast of the city of Napa, the Sugarloaf vineyard is on the receiving end of the breezes and cooling effects of the nearby San Pablo Bay, rising up to 1600 feet in elevation on what Russell Bevan lovingly describes as a “pile of rocks. Literally, it’s a vineyard on top of a quarry.” The steep mountainous terrain, diverse soils and varied exposures all provide an ideal growing opportunity for Merlot and Cabernet Franc with immense depth, energy and complexity. As a viticultural property, Russell and Stu find it quite useful for the spicy-minerally fruit character that predominates in the blending grapes. It tends to add complex notes to the rich, full-bodied Tench and RMS Cabernet bottlings.
The Houyi Vineyard is located on the iconic Pritchard Hill, just east of Oakville, rising above the fog layer on a perfectly situated southern facing slope. These well drained, rocky, volcanic soils produce intensely concentrated grapes with massive, mineral-laced black fruits and distinct varietal character. This pristine vineyard site has garnered a cult-like following among collectors in recent years and is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after sources of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in Napa Valley.