Stags’ Leap Winery
“It’s Stags apostrophe” anyone who represents this winery will start out explaining. There are Stag’s Leap wineries (two) there is Stags Leap District (a specific region in Napa) and there are several wine labels with the likeness of a Stag or Deer on them. The Stags’ Leap we are referring to is the original winery estate that began growing grapes in the 1890’s. One of California’s earliest wine estates, the property features a historic wine cave. Founded by Horace Chase, the name is attributed to a native American Wappo Indian legend- about a Stag leaping to escape hunters, where the mountains behind the property became known as the Stags leap Palisades. The winery has continuously produced grapes for winemaking with only short interruptions- whether it be financial issues of the family, Prohibition, and war. A huge stone manor was built by Chase and his uncle WW Thompson, which later became a resort for the rich and famous of Hollywood. The property boasts legends of bootleggers, gangsters, ghosts and gypsies. The estate has been home to only three major family groups through the modern revitalization of the 1970’s.
In the 1920’s Frances Grange established Stags’ Leap as a resort destination for the wealthy looking to escape the city of San Francisco. Winemaking had ceased but grapes were still grown and sold to other wineries. In the 1940’s the resort became a rest and reunion destination for US Naval officers and their families. And in 1972 Carl Doumani produced the first wine since 1908 at Stags’ Leap. In 1989 Stags Leap District was established as an American Viticultural Area. To use the AVA designation a wine must have 85% fruit grown within the district. Stags’ Leap is located 5 miles north of the town of Napa, east of the Napa River and along the Silverado Trail. Stags Leap District covers an area three miles long and a mile wide with about 1300 acres planted to vine. Erosion from the palisades is considered the source of the volcanic soil that has made the reputation for distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap District.
Today Stags’ Leap Estate is managed by Treasury Wine Estates, and is 85 acres divided into 23 blocks based on soil type and sun exposure. The rock face of the palisades gives off stored heat after sunset, radiating down over the entire ranch. This warmth combined with the cool climate of Napa makes for exemplary winemaking. An ideal balance of acid and sugar in the fruit gives these wines a soft texture and intense flavors.
In the 1980’s the winery undertook DNA testing to uncover the identity of heritage vines found on the property. Most especially the 1930’s field planting of Petite Sirah and other Rhone varietals found on the property. Today Stags’ Leap Winery is known as famously for its Petite Sirah as its Cabernet and Chardonnay. With a 145-year history of grape growing these wines are nothing short of stellar. We are featuring wines from this historical, iconic winery Stags’ Leap in March.
By Brunello Giancola as told to CRBrown