The holiday season is fast approaching, which means it’s time to start thinking about what wines you’ll be gifting, whether bottles to thank holiday party hosts, what you’ll bring to enjoy your festive celebrations, or what wine will make the perfect wrapped gift. This year, I’ve been fortunate to find two delicious and affordable wines from STEL+MAR that are perfect for the Holidays. These wines come at a great price point for buying in bulk to enjoy throughout the holiday season and help make your holiday shopping a breeze. If you think that the name STEL+MAR sounds familiar to you it could be because of this Toronto based winery’s canned and tetra pack wine production. Their wine production expanded in April of 2021 when they incorporated bottled wine into their portfolio.
Photo Courtesy of STEL+MAR
STEL+MAR Winery embraces the 1950’s California vintage beach culture with a fun and laid-back vibe of sun, friends and good times. Founded by friends, Chris Noll and Justin Dumitrescu in 2019, STEL+MAR is a modern winery that specializes in single sourced wines that are produce with the purpose of enjoying affordable wine with good food and great friends.
Prior to launching STEL+MAR, Chris founded a cider brand called Brickworks Cider, which was later acquired. At the same time, Justin was managing the turnaround of a beauty brand that was founded in the 60s. When they decided to work together their shared passion of wine seemed the obvious choice. Wanting to get the inside scoop on this new and upcoming winery, I had an opportunity to interview Chris and Justin and asked them a few questions about how they got started, their selection of wines, and what is next for STEL+MAR.
Chris Noll & Justin Dumitrescu (Photos Courtesy of STEL+MAR)
Can you share a little background on how you two of you met and what drew each of you to the world of wine?
“Both of our previous projects came to an end at the same time and we were looking for something new. We happened to live on the same street and our kids are the same age. We actually met through our eldest kids: Chris’s daughter Stella and Justin’s son Marcus. We realized we had a lot in common including a life-long love of wine and so decided to venture into the wine industry together.“
What was the inspiration for your winery and the name STEL+MAR?
“The winery name came from how we met (our kids): Chris’s daughter Stella and Justin’s son Marcus—STEL+MAR. The inspiration for the winery was to make approachable wines that would impress connoisseurs and newcomers alike. We also wanted to use local modern artists for the labels instead of the often dated and tired branding of older wineries. The idea was to attract a younger demographic with the label art and attract the older demos with 90+ point ratings.“
You began STEL+MAR with a collection of Canned and Tetra Pak boxes, why did you chose this type of packaging to introduce your wines to consumers?
“We really love the can and tetra formats for wine and think there is a real need for them. However, back in 2018 when we were considering the idea, there was a real lack of high quality wine in can and tetra—we knew we could put high quality wine in portable packaging and help evolve this emerging category.”
How did the last year and a half navigating the pandemic affect STEL+MAR?
“We launched our cans and tetra wines as the pandemic started….so terrible timing. Unfortunately the pandemic really put an end to most of the benefits of cans and tetra (hanging out at parks, concerts, parties, etc) so we decided to concentrate on our light-glass bottle offering.”
Veteran Winemaker Philip Zorn has built up an incredible winemaking reputation, how did you meet and what about Philip’s style of winemaking was the deciding factor in asking him to join the STEL+MAR family?
“We met Philip through a mutual connection and asked him to help us put really good wine in cans as a project. Philip was semi-retired but we enjoyed working so much together that we convinced him to be our winemaker full-time. We really like Philip’s diversity as a winemaker; not many people have been trained in the old world and the new world as Philip has. Philip was classically trained in Germany and then emigrated to Napa where he’s spent the last 30+ years making wine.” (Photo Courtesy of STEL+MAR)
Toronto artist Stephanie Cheng (Photos courtesy of STEL+MAR)
You mentioned that you wanted to use local modern artists for the labels, what was the inspiration for the labels on your bottled wine and what attracted you to the work of Toronto artist Stephanie Cheng?
“The inspiration was laid-back California surf / beach culture. Nothing is more Californian than that! We also wanted to offset some of the gloom of the pandemic with our label art. Steph is really good at doing light, airy and colorful illustrations and she was able to capture our theme perfectly.“
Your Cabernet Sauvignon has gotten some impressive 90+ ratings in recent months, what made you choose this “lighter” style of Cabernet and how did Philip’s winemaking style compliment your goals for this California Cabernet?
“Our first goal is to make wines that we want to enjoy at home with our families. Our personal preference is for wines that our low in residual sugar, aren’t masked by things like oak and really let the terroir come through. We also strive for a high level of typicity with our wines— so a cab should taste like a cab and pinot should taste like a pinot. Often times, California red wines in our price range tend to blur into a standard red wine profile regardless of the varietal listed on the bottle. We partnered with Philip because he embodies this style of winemaking perfectly and our cabernet sauvignon from Lodi is really representative of the wines we enjoy and are trying to make.”
Photo Courtesy of STEL+MAR
Can you share some information about your California Chardonnay? Where are the grapes sourced and what makes this the perfect California Chardonnay for you?
“Our Chardonnay is from Lodi, California and similar to the Cab, it’s got classic typicity and hasn’t been over-done. It’s got hints of oak and ML but all very balanced with nice expression of fruit that is typical from this region.”
Photo Courtesy of STEL+MAR
STEL+MAR also produces an interesting Rosé blend of Petit Sirah, Barbera and Syrah. What is your favorite characteristic in this Rosé ?
“We really like the Provence style of Rosé (and we’re clearly not alone!). What we really like about this Rosé is how versatile it is—it’s great on its own but can match up well with food, which is really important to us when making wines.”
Photo Courtesy of STEL+MAR
Trader Joe’s is well known for budget-friendly and affordable wines, here in Washington your Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Tetra Pak boxes are now available to TJ’s, what makes Trader Joe’s a perfect fit for carrying your wine?
“Trader Joe’s is really ahead of the curve when it comes to ESG (environmental social governance). All of our wines come in environmentally-friendly packaging formats, which was important to TJ’s. Also, the whole laid-back, not-too-serious TJ vibe is very similar to our vibe with STEL+MAR so it’s a great match overall.”
What is next for STEL+MAR? Any new releases coming soon, exciting events that you have planned or new areas that STEL+MAR will soon be available to consumers?
“We’re working hard to get our wines more widely distributed in Washington and throughout the U.S. We want to align with partners who share our vision— like Trader Joe’s. We’re active on social media so definitely keep on eye on our channels for upcoming events and new product releases.“
One last question, can each of you share your favorite wine and food pairing?
Justin: Rosé with smoked turkey and roasted butternut squash
Chris: Cabernet Sauvignon with Grass fed rib eye steak and charred Brussel sprouts
I want to thank Chris and Justin for taking the time to talk with me about STEL+MAR and their wines.
Chris, Justin and Winemaker Phillip’s philosophy when it comes to wine is to let the terroir speak for itself, allowing the wines to show off their best assets from a particular region. This is especially true in the STEL+MAR 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon which takes advantage of the cooler western sub-region in Lodi and showcases how diverse this varietal can be. Winemaker Phillip Zorn does an outstanding job conveying this unique region with the use of American redwood tank barrel fermentation, followed by ageing in both new American and French oak barrels.
With layers of interesting qualities this affordable well crafted California Cabernet is sure to become a classic. Beautifully colored and aromatically inviting this may be my new favorite California Cabernet under $25.
Incredibly light but delivering all the power of a full bodied Cabernet I was instantly enchanted by the aromas of a multitude of black fruit, vanilla and wisps of smoke that worked their way out of the glass. The palate confirms all of the aromatic notes with the addition of coffee, caramel and delicate tannins.
With both their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay it is clear that STEL+MAR is producing wines that are refined and exhibit the varietal, region and winemaking craft. The wines have all of the components you want in a wine including their exceptional balance, which is often the hallmark of a memorable wine.
A bottle of STEL+MAR Chardonnay would certainly be a crowd pleaser during any holiday get together. Aromas of green apple, warm spices and hints of pear along with the bright zest of lemon can be found with each swirl of the glass. On the palate you are treated to a creamy smooth and rich mouthfeel with notes of tropical fruit, toasted spices and layers of minerality and a zesty acidity. A really charming Chardonnay that is incredibly food friendly.
2019 STEL+MAR Chardonnay sells for under $15.
STEL+MAR has done a great job in creating amazing value wines that can easily be present on any festive holiday table or designated as a gift to the winelover on your holiday shopping list this year.
Whether it was a good time in or a good time out, good times with friends and family is always something to cherish.
You can learn more about STEL+MAR and how to find their wines on the STEL+MAR Website.
This post is sponsored by STEL+MAR Wines and wine samples were provided. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.
Images and content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.