Maria Stuart, co-owner of R. Stuart & Co. in McMinnville. ##Photo by Carolyn Wells-Kramer

In Memoriam: Maria Stuart


By Maria Ponzi

The Oregon wine industry lost a significant treasure with the recent death of Maria Stuart of R. Stuart & Company on Oct. 13, 2021. Often described as remarkable, exceptional and extraordinary, Maria passed suddenly after living with a rare form of cancer for 20 months. A true industry leader and mentor within the Oregon wine community, her wine career dates nearly 30 years. 

Born Nov. 6, 1964, in East Lansing, Michigan, Maria Eileen Czamanske graduated from Valparaiso University in 1986 with a bachelor’s in English and journalism. After a brief career in public relations and event planning, she started her wine career in Chicago as a sales representative. While there, she discovered the magic between food and wine and had the pleasure of befriending the wines of Oregon and their makers. During her first visit to the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in 1990, she was smitten with Oregon, the Willamette Valley and local winemaker Rob Stuart. Shortly thereafter, Maria moved to Portland, and, in time, she and Rob married.

Eventually, they made their home in McMinnville, where Maria worked in various marketing and event positions in the industry, including coming full circle as executive director of the IPNC.

In 2001, the couple started their own winery, R. Stuart & Company, in what’s now known as McMinnville’s Granary District.  It was her vision to create a winery that produced amazing wines for all occasions in an inclusive environment where growers, staff and customers are equally honored.

Always the entrepreneurs, the Stuarts opened one of the first wine bars in 2007 on historic Third Street in downtown McMinnville. Maria quickly gained a reputation as one of the Valley’s most gracious hosts. With her effortless approach and appreciation for how wine and food bring people together, Maria crafted a bar menu of fresh, local products to serve alongside the handcrafted wines. R. Stuart Wine Bar continues to be a favorite among locals and visitors alike, a place people gather to discover amazing wine and celebrate life.

Her passion for cooking good food is evident in “The Life and Times of a Pinot Mom,” her blog about food, life and the wine business. This down-to-earth, humorous, inside view has inspired others across the country to indulge in her recipes and her elegant yet comfortable entertaining style.

Maria was a leader in the development and welfare of the Oregon wine industry and local community at large. She served on the IPNC board of directors from 2012–2017, and was board president in 2016. Maria also served on the boards of Oregon Pinot Camp, McMinnville Downtown Association and was the vice chair of Visit McMinnville, an organization she was instrumental in creating. These groups, along with Maria’s tireless dedication, have brought national and international attention to McMinnville, the northern Willamette Valley and Oregon wine industry as a whole.

It’s not an exaggeration to say Maria championed most local service organizations and causes in McMinnville. She proudly served on the board of the McMinnville Education Foundation and participated in countless committees and fundraisers that have made the community a better place for everyone. Whether it was sponsorship, wine donations, creative inspiration or sweat equity, Maria could always be counted on to lend a hand.

Beyond devotion to her professional life and community, Maria cherished her family: husband Rob, daughter Charlotte and sons Joe and Ben. Maria created a life of love and comfort for everyone she knew, nurturing friendships around the globe with her wit, charm and talents. She made all the hard work look easy, frequently sharing her gratitude while recognizing her own good fortune. As she described it, “Lucky for me, I get to cook for the people I love, throw parties and pour a little Pinot. Nothing makes me happier than gathering people around my table and serving them food that nourishes both body and soul.”

Throughout her cancer journey, Maria proved herself far more than a business owner, community leader, marketer, writer, entertainer, chef, mother and wife; she demonstrated incredible strength as she dealt with the constant challenges of the disease, while continuing to run the business and develop Daffodil Hill Vineyard. Purchased in 2018, this was the Stuarts' first vineyard holding and Maria was actively involved in renovating the property’s farmhouse. This special place, its lush gardens and Valley views, provided Maria a sense of peace during her most difficult hours.

Her family, friends, community and the Oregon wine industry deeply mourn the passing of Maria. A gathering to remember and celebrate her remarkable life and contributions will be announced soon. Any contributions can be made in her name to ¡Salud! The Oregon Pinot Noir Auction, McMinnville Community Action Partnership or the McMinnville Education Foundation.  She is survived by her husband and children, sister Lisa and brothers Paul and Peter, as well as 13 nieces and nephews who adored her.



Web Design and Web Development by Buildable