"My feeling as to why I do it is this: one, I like physical work; and two, I can literally say that I touched every bottle in some way." As a major wood pallet vendor to Napa Valley and Sonoma County for over four decades, Stu enjoyed a career as an important player in the wine industry supply chain. His connections with such wineries as Silver Oak and Robert Mondavi, including the iconic Opus One, put him in the unique position of being both a purveyor and a collector. 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, 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.
“I was all in. There was no way I wasn't going to be Stu's winemaker.”
"When I think of our wine journey over the years, it's about memories," says Karen Lerner. "We have scrapbooks of pictures—not only of wine-tasting in Napa Valley, but for the tastings we've done in our travels," Now, with Lerner Project off the ground, the focus is very much back on Napa Valley. As she describes it, "This is all about sharing that journey with our friends and our family." Her Italian heritage means that wine has always been a part of meals and gatherings, maintaining the notion that wine is best when shared with friends.
Karen's professional journey with her husband goes back many years through her detailed involvement in their past business. For the couple's newer foray in Napa Valley, she is continuing that tradition, applying her wide range of skills to cultivate the brand.
The last decade has been very good to Russell Bevan. Having collected 100-point scores from Robert Parker and being chosen Wine Spectator's Wine Maker of the Year in 2015, it's no surprise that he caught Stu and Karen's attention over the years. Russell's winemaking story began with a single ton of high-quality Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, gifted by a grower friend during the 2004 harvest. Russell made the most of the opportunity. With another friends' help, he crushed 200 cases worth of wine for his debut vintage of Bevan Cellars. The Parker scores and attendant notoriety followed several years later, but only after a lot of effort and focused dedication to the craft of fine winemaking. Russell hasn't forgotten the excitement of that first grape crush in '04. "I knew it was going to captivate me, but I wasn't prepared for exactly how overwhelmed I was by different clusters of Oakville Cabernet grapes. It blew my mind, and here I am to this day at each and every harvest, just like I was during that first one."
“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.”