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Chateau Souverain Winery (Alexander Valley)

Chateau Souverain History. Nestled on a vineyard-covered hilltop overlooking the Alexander Valley, Chateau Souverain Winery was designed and built by architect John Marsh Davis in 1973. Constructed on 25 acres that now feature the winery’s estate vineyards, the inspiration for the design combined the feel of a French chateau with elements of the historic Sonoma hop kilns that were once common to the area. The design won Davis an American Institute of Architects Design of Excellence Award in 1974, and features two prominent towers. The first tower is home to the winery’s Tasting Room and gourmet restaurant, and presents exquisite views of the estate vineyards, the Alexander Valley and Mount St. Helena to the east. The history of Chateau Souverain Winery begins in the Napa Valley in 1944 when J. Leland “Lee” Stewart harvested his first crop of wine grapes from his Howell Mountain property in the northern part of the valley. From the next vintage, he produced his own wines, surprising many by winning medals at the California State Fair. Stewart was a trendsetter. He was among the first in California to concentrate on single-varietal, estate-style wines; introduced Petite Sirah as a varietal; produced style-defining Zinfandels and German-style Johannisberg Rieslings, and, mirroring the French, insisted that Chardonnay be fermented in wood rather than stainless steel. In the years that followed, Stewart used innovation and a natural gift for winemaking to establish Souverain as one of the great California wine brands. At the suggestion of his young daughter, Stewart named his winery “Souverain” (taken from the French word for “sovereign,” or “supreme”), and his Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings from the 1960s were considered by many to be just that. The winery moved to the Alexander Valley when Stewart eventually sold it to a group of investors in 1973, who in turn sold to Pillsbury Co. Stewart stayed on as a consultant, seeing Pillsbury through the construction of the new facility in the Alexander Valley. In 1976, Pillsbury sold to a limited partnership of growers, who renamed it Souverain Cellars. By 1981, Stewart had fully retired from winemaking and moved to his native Fresno. Stewart died at the age of 82 in 1986, the same year Nestle’s Wine World Estates purchased Souverain and added “Chateau” to its name. In January 1996, Beringer Wine Estates purchased Chateau Souverain Winery. While the name, faces and location of the winery have changed, the tradition of fine-wine production continues at Chateau Souverain today. Just as Lee Stewart championed varietal bottlings, Chateau Souverain winemaker Ed Killian continues to produce outstanding wines that showcase the best grapes from the best Sonoma County viticultural areas for each variety. Alexander Valley, where the winery estate is located, is the chosen growing region for Chateau Souverain’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The cool-climate Carneros and Russian River Valley are the sources for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel hails from old vines in the Dry Creek Valley.

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