Iconic Wine Club: Stags’ Leap Winery

“Terroir is what makes wine. For me, that is everything. We make big wines here, but they are a true testament to Napa Valley’s climate and soil. We seek refinement, always.”

- Christophe Paubert | Winemaker & General Manager Stags’ Leap Winery

WHEN WINEMAKER AND GENERAL MANAGER Christophe Paubert walks the property at Stags’ Leap Winery, he steps on soil that’s been growing vines for hundreds of years.

He moves through the incredible landscape of Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District in view of The Palisades — a horseshoe-shaped dome of rugged cliffs that trap the cool air, making conditions ideal for wine production and aging. It’s the combination of Paubert’s meticulous attention to the old-world ways of making wine and Napa Valley’s unique climate that have set Stags’ Leap Winery apart, even from some of the most respected winemakers here in California’s most famous region.

 

Setting the scene for us, Paubert describes the land and the impression of being there as one both surprising and serene. It is unlike any other place in Napa Valley and the history is prolific.

You arrive from the Silverado Trail, which is a two-lane, country road, stretching 30 miles through some of Napa Valley’s most highly regarded wineries.

“You have your first view of Stags’ Leap, which is a little elevated, south of the Valley,” Paubert says. “The Palisade of rock is very old and you see a long alley of trees. We are in a peaceful bubble in Napa Valley, which we call the small valley within the big. It has a lot of importance in terms of climate for the wines that we produce. There’s a beautiful arch of walnut trees. You must drive slowly, because of all the squirrels and, during the season, you might see a few wild turkeys, too. You arrive at our 1880s Manor House, and we cherish this place. We just celebrated our 125th anniversary of the very first vintage at Stags’ Leap Winery. On our appointment-only tours, you get a lot of our stories and anecdotes. There’s a private tasting, and it’s much more of an experience than people expect. We really bring you into this very special place,” he says.

Stags’ Leap Winery (not to be confused with the similarly spelled Stag’s Leap) is, indeed, a very special place. Founded and planting as far back as the mid-1800s, it is one of the oldest and most historic wine producers in America.

This land’s story begins first with the Grigsby Family, who consolidated a 700-acre parcel of land and began planting grapes in 1872. In 1886, it became the property of Horace Chase, who married his beloved, Mary Ysabela “Minnie” Mizner just two years later.

The family was very well-connected, with her father being a Senator and an ambassador to Latin America, and Horace Chase dividing the land and stepping in as sole owner of a 385-acre parcel.

The winter parties were lavish and the guest lists top-tier in San Francisco, where they spent each season attending the opera and the best theater performances.

 

In the summers, the Chase family lived at Stags’ Leap Winery, and they began building what is, today, The Manor House — a striking, impressive stone home, beset by Horace’s 80 acres of grapevines. Eager to age his wines on site, he blasted the volcanic rock of the Palisades with dynamite and that original 150-foot wine cave still exists on the property. It is beset by a new, larger cave that will debut this year, with 3,000 barrel storage capabilities.

“The Chase Family loved to entertain and to party,” says Paubert, warmly. “They had a tennis lawn, and the first concrete swimming pool in California, fed by natural spring water.”

The story of Stags’ Leap Winery, however, is a true American tale. It’s one not only of lavish, old-world parties, fine wines and historic acheivements. It’s also a tale of hardship, bad luck and a testament to the spirit of adventure that defines so many legendary families of this time.

Horace Chase was thwarted by a downturn in the Mexican silver mines. By 1909, the party was over, and he was forced to sell his property.From 1913 to 1956, Stags’ Leap Winery was underneath the careful eye of the Grange Family. Clarence and Frances Grange were similarly statured in California society, but unlike the Chase family, they made the Manor their permanent home, raising children and overseeing vines. During these years, Stags’ Leap Winery doubled as a resort, and well-heeled travelers from around the nation came to stay and soak in the stunning beauty of Napa Valley.

Again, that spirit of adventure is a risky one. The owners that followed the Grange Family could not maintain the expense of the resort and lands. The Manor was abandoned, boarded up and sadly left to rot. Other than the movie “The Earth is Mine” being filmed there in 1958, and rumors of squatters circulating, the house and land were dormant.

“Kids would break in and play,” Paubert says. “One kid painted a bunch of marine animals in the empty swimming pool. And, that woman actually came to visit the winery when she was in her 70s. She told us she was the one who painted them, and you can still faintly see those little marine animal paintings on the concrete today.”

There’s a magic to this place — it could never stay empty for long. Carl Doumani and his wife Joanne restored Stags’ Leap to its former glory, purchasing the property in 1970, reviving the vineyard over nearly a decade. They lovingly revitalized the old home, the winery, the cottages and the landscape of the grounds. It was the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s that saw Stags’ Leap Winery realize its full potential. From a few workers to a grand staff; from a few bottles to nearly 85,000 cases annually.

Stags’ Leap blossomed, gaining notoriety worldwide, and today, they are renowned in particular for Cabernet Sauvignon. However, a cult following for the Petite Sirah among discerning wine drinkers has flourished, too. You’ve got a bottle of that cult classic — the 2017 Stags’ Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah. The name comes from the Latin for “Don’t give into misfortune,” which was a favorite motto of Horace Chase. The brand adopted it, as a reminder that with good times come the bad, and back again.

This intriguing varietal was planted on the property before the winery was even established, way back in 1893. Today it remains an essential part of the Estate’s winemaking story.

Now that we’ve educated ourselves as to the illustrious history of the brand, the men and women behind it and the beauty of the estate, let us get into this actual box of bottles, shall we?

The Wines

“The six bottles you have are a nice array of what our winery has to offer. It’s a collection that spans two different whites, three Cabernets and that Petite Sirah. This is a collection representing the most important bottles that we make here at Stags’ Leap.”

Napa Valley Chardonnay 2020

The grapes for this Napa Valley Chardonnay were sourced from the cooler southern appellations within Napa Valley, where fog from the San Pablo Bay helps to cool the vineyards throughout the growing season, allowing for ideal preservation of freshness and acidity. The majority of the fruit comes from the Carneros AVA, which provides citrus, mineral, and crisp apple notes, with a smaller percentage coming from the Oak Knoll AVA, which contributes more tropical and stone fruit characteristics. This lively and aromatic Chardonnay is bright and crisp with notes of fresh green apple, Meyer lemon, white peach, and melon, accompanied by delicate notes of Tarte Tatin and brioche toast — a nod to the well-integrated French Oak.

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2020

This third vintage of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is lovely and bright, offering the variety’s classic citrus fruit characteristics with notes of Meyer lemon and white blossoms. A lean backbone of racy acidity supported by a steely minerality adds to the wine’s crispness and complexity. On the palate, stone fruit notes of white peach, young plum, grapefruit and zesty lime peel are interwoven with hints of white jasmine and elderflower, as well as spicier ginger and white pepper notes, adding layers and depth to the round, soft texture, leading to a lengthy mouthwatering finish. Elegant and savory, this Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful expression of Napa Valley fruit, and the perfect thirst-quencher when dining al fresco, or enjoying on its own.

Deep Thoughts by Daniel Curtis,Vices Founder and CEO and Fahara Zamorano, Vices Sommelier

"When most think of Sauvignon Blanc, they think that it is limited to thirst-quenching and big sips. This wine will play that part, but it is certainly profound enough to show that the right expression of Sauvignon Blanc can be a main attraction and a complex wine." - Zamorano

"Yes, a gorgeous white wine for dinner, yet we wouldn’t feel inappropriate cracking this as a pairing for a smoked salmon eggs benedict on a Sunday ...or a Tuesday." - Curtis

Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Earning a 93 by Wine Advocate, Christophe Paubert’s Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon was released first in 2012, as a small-lot bottling. Fruit sourced from Coombsville is marked by a deep concentration and fresh aromatics. This wine captures a pure expression of Napa Valley’s southeastern corner and its unique elevation and cooler terroir. The majority of the blend comes from Garvey Vineyard, and long-standing relationships with some of the most highly regarded growers in Coombsville ensure this wine exemplifies the excellent structure, concentrated fresh flavors and significant tannins of this celebrated appellation.

Deep Thoughts by Daniel Curtis,Vices Founder and CEO and Fahara Zamorano, Vices Sommelier

"Coombsville soils are volcanic and alluvial, which imparts a rich earthiness. This is beautiful and you should drink this now. But this is absolutely a wine that you should buy another case of and let sit, because it is going to do wonderful things for quite some time." - Zamorano

125th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 

A mainstay of Stags’ Leap, you hold a bottle of history in your hand with this one. A combination of estate fruit and grapes from select Napa Valley growers with a focus on sourcing from the valley floor, it specially labeled to honor and commemorate this that milestone. The Napa Valley region enjoyed a stunning, near picture-perfect 2018 growing season including good winter rains, mild spring weather and steady temperatures throughout that allowed for even flowering and bud break. These ideal growing conditions were followed by a cool, even and slow-paced harvest which allowed the winery to vinify wines at a gentle pace. The resulting 2018 wines are of very high quality with lower alcohol, concentrated flavors, color and excellent acidity.

Deep Thoughts by Daniel Curtis,Vices Founder and CEO and Fahara Zamorano, Vices Sommelier

"Not an overt fruit bomb. but the nose evokes a bowl full of ripe, dark berries sitting next to a half-smoked cigar and a leather wallet. Silky yet structured tannins with a smooth, creamy texture. Subtle earthiness. Oolong tea. And a cocoa powder finish." - Zamorano

"I would be confident pouring this in any situation." - Curtis

Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah 2017

Never give into misfortune. Ponder that deeply while drinking this, the brand’s cult favorite. In a place famed for big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine represented that sense of bold adventure, planted on the property even before the brand was realized, in 1893.

“A foursquare wine with lots of fruit, delivering blackberry and pine-needle character, yet framed in firm, fine tannins. Full-bodied and flavorful with a tight finish. Old-vine character from a vineyard planted in 1924. 85% petite sirah with lots of other things. Special wine. 500 cases made. Drink or hold.” - James Suckling

Deep Thoughts by Daniel Curtis,Vices Founder and CEO and Fahara Zamorano, Vices Sommelier

"Red licorice. Stewed fruit. This is a cigar wine. It will stand up to the fattiest steak, the longest cigar, and the most robust personality that you are enjoying it with." - Curtis

"If Winston Churchill were coming for dinner...this is what we would serve with the main course." - Zamorano

Audentia Estate Grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 

 

This Audentia Cabernet Sauvignon offers power and concentration while maintaining that signature elegance found across the collection. This label, like the Petite Sirah, is also a nod to Horace Chase. He had a second motto, “Always push harder.” Sed Contra AudentiorIto in Latin is the translation and it gives this wine its name. It is crafted from the Estate’s most select Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah vineyards, pushing to produce the most expressive and distinct fruit. Winemaker Christophe Paubert drew on his curiosity to capture the essence of Stags’ Leap and all of its cherished nuances, hand-selecting only the finest lots and barrels for the unique blend.

“This is the most valuable of the group,” says Paubert. “You might think to shelf it. You might open it. I cannot tell you what to do, because that decision to open any bottle is so personal. I have friends who will leave a Chardonnay but would open this. I joke all the time that the best option is just to buy two bottles of each.”

 

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