Stags’ Leap Winery Review
Address: 6150 Silverado Trail Napa,California 94558.
Phone Number: 800-395-2441
Tasting Hours: By appt.
Region: Napa Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Anthony Marocco
Review Date: 5/4/2014
Reviewer: Anthony Marocco
One of the highlights of our recent trip to Napa and Sonoma was Stags’ Leap Winery. The first thing that a lot of folks I speak to say is, “Yea, the Artemus right?” No, not THAT Stags’ Leap. My fiancé likes to remind people that this particular Stags’ Leap positions the apostrophe after the S (not before) and was established approximately a year prior to the Artemus-producing Stag’s Leap.
Now that we have that clarified, what makes this particular winery such an exciting venue to visit? To begin, their Petit Sirah is amazing! It’s dense, lush, and an absolute gem year after year. Second, the estate itself is rich with history and nothing short of stunning. Given the somewhat expensive tour and tasting fee ($55) and the amount of Stags’ Leap wine we purchase during the year, it only made sense to join their wine club prior to visiting. The perks? Free tours and tastings for a group of 4 as well as use of the grounds
The property has a rich history which includes tales of gangsters, prohibition era operations, gypsies, and even a few ghosts. The estate has belonged to three families since the late 1800s. The first owner was the Chase family of JP Morgan Chase, and the house itself was built by Horace Chase and his wife, Minnie Chase. Mr. Chase’s vacation home for his young bride was acquired by Mrs. Frances Grange around 1913. When Mrs. Grange took over the estate, prohibition and, eventually, the Great Depression followed. As a result, the property and manor house went through several transformation and was used at various times as a hotel, resort, post office, and a brothel and “speak-easy”. To this day, the speak-easy is still in existence underneath the left side of the house. It is accessible not only by the outside door but also by the hidden trap door that resides underneath the guide booth at the head of the great dining room.
The beauty of this property is that given all of the circumstances, never once did the owner give up on the property. In fact, the estate’s motto “Ne Cede Malis” is Latin for “Never give in to misfortune” and is inscribed in the stained glass windows in the main tasting area. Following the speak-easy days, the home was boarded up until it was purchased by Carl Doumani in 1971 and resurrected into the powerhouse it is today. In 1997, the winery was purchased from Doumani by Beringer Wine Company, and, in 2000, by Foster’s Group to form Beringer-Blass Wine Estates (currently Treasure Wine Estates). Big companies tend to ruin sacred gems, especially in many wine industry ventures, but not so much here. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The vineyard consists of approximately 90 acres spread across the 240-acre estate, producing nearly 85,000 cases of wine annually. Currently, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot make up the core varieties planted in the vineyards, while Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Petit Verdot, and Syrah enhance the remainder of the estate.
The tours, which usually need to be scheduled months in advance, generally last an hour and a half and are historically intense. Another detail to know is that you will be given a glass to carry around the property to taste multiple wines throughout the tour which culminates with the grand tasting. Those who make appointments should be aware that there really are no signs pointing the way to the winery. As you pull off of the trail, you will travel almost a mile up the walnut tree-lined road with stone walls and vineyards on both sides. As you approach the Stags’ Leap property, you will also notice to the left the entrance to Quixote Winery, a specialized Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon producer started by the previous owner of Stags’ Leap. As you head to the right, the enormous castle-like tower of Stags’ Leap’s manor house is clearly visible. As you near the manor house, you’ll notice gardens on both sides with additional guest houses in the rear, to the left of that, the large production facility and caves.
Once parked, the breathtaking views of the vineyards below and the gorgeous structure instantly pushed a smile to our faces. We made our way to the home and found out that our group would simply be us due to a couple of no shows (Their loss!). We took our glasses with a pour of Viognier and were told to explore the house. After our self-guided tour, we began the official tour with a historical overview of the home as we made our way down to the porch area and the rear patio. Each stop on the tour was accompanied by a different wine to taste.
We made our way up the walkway to the production facility and passed a few of the guest houses that are routinely occupied by celebrities and certain influential industry folk. As we approached the production facility, we were stunned by the stone building with large, wooden doors. We made our way past large, steel vats to one of the old wine caves that was decorated with oak barrels filled with fermenting wines. Our next stop was the speak-easy. This gorgeous, under-the-house room was quite sizable and contained leather furniture, a long dining room table, a wraparound bar, and plenty of space for guests. We sipped on another sample of wine before making our way to the gardens.
The gardens contained produce, trees, flowers, and herbs that are often used in tasting notes. Directly across from the gardens, we set foot onto the bocce court. This gorgeous, perfectly manicured court is available to any guest looking to play bocce by the vineyard. It was nothing short of gorgeous and very hard for me to keep myself away from it. We walked from there down the property line of the vineyard and came upon one of my favorite plants on the property – a cork tree bearing fresh cork.
Along the edge of the vineyard were seats for people to sit and enjoy their wine near the vines. As we moved up the driveway, we were presented with one of the first swimming holes in Napa Valley. It’s not currently in use but will likely be restored soon. We took a walk behind the manor house, where the pool is located, and eventually made our way to the grand tasting – the exciting part of the tour.
Stags’ Leap produces wine under two labels – the black label representing the estate produced wine and the white label representing Napa Valley-sourced fruit. We started with the 2012 Napa Valley Viognier ($32). Youthful and moderately aromatic, apricot-dominated fruit with floral and tropical aromas are followed by an off-dry, medium bodied structure. The wine’s rich, creamy citrus and apricot flavors are balanced by crisp acidity. Excellent white and well worth the purchase.
We followed the Viognier with four red offerings, beginning with the 2011 Winemaker’s Muse Malbec ($43). This deep purple wine exhibits plenty of layers. The palate is full-bodied with fresh, smooth acidity and medium soft tannins. Raspberry, blackberry, and hints of chocolate flavors lead to a silky smooth finish. Excellent wine! Another gem was the 2010 Block 20 Estate Merlot ($50). Deep ruby in color with moderate aromas of dark fruit and spice, this single vineyard gem boasts medium-to-full bodied flavors of cherry, blackberry, and fresh herb. A very smooth, yet bone-dry red. The next powerhouse that we were presented was the 2011 Twelve Falls Estate red blend ($65) which consists of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Petite Sirah, and 10% Merlot. Very aromatic with dense, deep color, this wine shows off soft plum and blackberry aromas with notes of black pepper. It is full-bodied and amazingly smooth. It finishes bone dry with gorgeous, velvety tannins and an extremely lengthy finish. It’s rare to come across a tasting with so many estate-grown wines, but why stop now? Next was the 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon labeled “The Leap” ($85). With plenty of dark fruit and peppery notes on the nose, this full-bodied wine exhibits blueberry, cassis, dark fruit, herb, and pepper flavors followed by chewy tannins.
The curveball of our tasting was also our last red – the 2010 Estate Petite Sirah labeled Ne Cede Malis. Intense in every sense of the word, this red boasts plenty of dark fruit and spice on the nose and a big, rich, full body. Dark fruit, including plum and blackberry, is capped with nuances of black cherry and silky smooth tannins. There are not enough words to describe how amazing this wine is. Not surprising, this wine is produced from some of the oldest vines in one of the most sacred blocks of the vineyard. We concluded our tasting with the 2010 Late Harvest dessert wine ($60), comprised of a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. Mandarin orange zest and a nutty quality provide the backbone for this sweet wine (11% residual sugar). It boasts big aromatics and a palate of juicy melon and zesty citrus notes. It’s a pleasure to drink and would accompany dessert perfectly; although it could easily assume the role of dessert itself.
Overall, the tasting and tour was unbeatable, even if you aren’t a club member. It’s well worth the price of admission and should be considered a spot to post up for lunch and enjoy a bottle while relaxing and letting the stress melt off. Be sure to visit this historical landmark; it will not disappoint!