"Anyone who examines the historical background of the premium wine boom in
California that began in the 60s must look to Lee Stewart's Chateau Souverain."
A Companion to California Wine by Charles Lewis Sullivan
- Miserable as a sales exec in San Francisco, Lee Stewart buys thirty acres and an old winery on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley.
- 1st Harvest. Lee names his winery Chateau Souverain—a name suggested by his daughter—as a play on the French word for "sovereign."
- Lee Stewart hires Mike Grgich, giving him his first job at a Napa winery. Mike later becomes head winemaker at Chateau Montelena. His Chardonnay wins 1st prize at the 1976 Judgment of Paris.
- Over a period of 10 years, Chateau Souverain wins 93 medals at the California State Fair.
- Chateau Souverain crafts a series of benchmark Cabernets that help put Napa on the map (examples are on display at the wine museum at the CIA Graystone).
- The Chateau Souverain winery moves to Sonoma's Alexander Valley.
- Lee Stewart retires as winemaker for Chateau Souverain.
- Ed Killian joins the Chateau Souverain winemaking team.
- Ed Killian is named head winemaker for Chateau Souverain.
- Chateau Souverain moves to the historic Asti winery under Ed Killian's stewardship.
- Chateau Souverain relaunches with a new label, logo and crest to pay homage to Lee Stewart, his signature black glasses and his home state—California.
The history of Chateau Souverain begins with our founder, J. Leland Stewart, who was born in California in 1905. Stewart's mother came from the Leland family (founders of Stanford University), while his father was a businessman from Scotland. A man of the people, J. Leland was never comfortable with the pretension of the name 'Leland' and all that came with it. So he simply called himself Lee.
Lee was a trendsetter, opting to grow grapes rather than the predominant crop of the day—prunes. He became an advocate of clean winemaking practices. He was among the first in California to concentrate on single-varietal, estate wines; introducing Petit Sirah as a varietal, and taking a page from the French by insisting that Chardonnay be fermented in oak rather than stainless steel. Lee shared his knowledge with the small winemaking community in Napa that informed such esteemed contemporaries as the Mondavi Brothers, Jack Davies of Schramsberg, Brother Timothy of Christian Brothers Winery and André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu.
In the years that followed, Lee Stewart used innovation, a commitment to precision and craftsmanship and his natural gift for winemaking to establish Chateau Souverain as one of the great California wineries. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lee’s Cabernet Sauvignon helped to establish Napa Valley as the cradle for the varietal outside of France.