Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – the alchemy of fire and water

Fay Vineyard. Photo Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
Fay Vineyard. Photo Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Among the “must visits” in the NapaValley is Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Stags Leap district. Founder Warren Winiarski’s 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon bested Premiers Crus Classes Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Haut Brion in the now classic 1976 Paris tasting. It was one of many seminal moments in NapaValley’s history that have brought renown to the region’s wines.

The history, the wines – so typical of Stags Leap district character – and the unique locale are worth the trip. Many times I have driven north on the Silverado Trail and stared up at the stark, dramatic Palisades above Stag’s Leap on the eastern mountains. To one’s left are the knolls that create the “valley within a valley” that funnel in the cool Bay breezes and create freshness in the wines.

The cabernet sauvignon grapes come from the famed vineyards Fay and S.L.V. (for Stag’s Leap Vineyards) that lie between the winery and the Palisades. These vineyards are planted on one of the few alluvial fans on the eastern foothills that are ideal for growing cabernet sauvignon. S.L.V. soils, in particular Block 4 from whence the 1973 winegrapes were produced, are generally younger, coarser soils from erosion of the Vaca mountains directly above it. These warmer, well-draining soils create concentrated berries that result in structured wines of great intensity – the “fire” in the alchemist’s equation. The meandering of Chase Creek through Fay Vineyard on the other hand, creates cooler, more fertile soils that result in soft, fragrant and fruity wines – the “water”.

SLWC_EstateGroup_vt10_NVIt’s terroir that you can taste in the 100% cabernet sauvignon estate wines. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars produces single-vineyard Fay, a single vineyard S.L.V. and the best of both worlds, the Cask 23. The 2007 Fay Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) is fresh and supple, with floral aromas and black cherry fruit. The 2007 S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) is a well-balanced wine with great clarity of fruit, fresh with rich blackberry fruit, full body and lively tannins. Long finish. The 2007 Cask 23 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($195) has lifted floral and black currant aromas with hint of cocoa and spice, ripe black fruit, balanced acidity and long finish.

Warren Winiarski sold Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 2007 to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates of Washington and the Antinori family of Tuscany. Under their stewardship, enhancements have been made to the winery that continue the legacy of quality while retaining the classic style. For example, addition of a sophisticated Mistral berry sorter, updating barrel aging rooms for temperature control and a new Tom Beard barrel washing system, all of which serve to preserve the purity of fruit in their wines. The current release 2007 vintage reflects the transitions and clearly honors the tradition and terroirs of the wines.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is located at 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558. Open daily from 10 am to 4:30 pm for tastings and tours. Estate tours are held at 10:30 and 2:00 pm daily with appointment, call 866.422.7523/707.261.6422 or check out the website for details.