Saturday, 29 June 2013

a hop, sip, and leap away...

If ever you find yourself veklempt in a group of oenophiles and need them to talk amongst themselves, here is a topic you can give to discuss: Stag’s Leap is a winery, a wine cellar, and an AVA….discuss…

The answer to the ensuing discussion is that Stag’s Leap is all three. Each is named for the Stag’s Leap Pallisades; a craggy hilltop formation that is imagined to represent a leaping stag (go figure). While each the winery, the wine cellar, and the AVA are entities unto their own, the biggest difference is in how the apostrophe is used:

·         Stags Leap: When coming across the spelling sans apostrophe, you are looking at the AVA (American Viticultural Area). Just as with Oak Knoll, Oakville, or St. Helena, Stags Leap is a clearly defined region in Napa with vineyards that share a general geographical and climatic similarity. Stags Leap is the smallest of Napa’s AVAs and is located on the eastern side of the Valley along the slopes of the Vacas Mountains. Vineyards here benefit from western facing slopes, slightly higher altitude, relative proximity to the ocean, and fresh mountain water. The result are a combination of deeply ripened grapes, lifting acidity, and incredibly expensive land. The artery of this tiny appellation is the famed Silverado trail, along whose lanes lay a small collection of premium cellars including:
SLV Vineyard: America's Grand Cru

·        Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars ( One of the two wine producers in the AVA, it is to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars that Napa owes much of its fame. The top prize-winner in the revolutionary 1976 Judgement of Paris (where a blind tasting by prominent French judges had Napa producers beating the French at their own game), Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has a solid case to argue as one of America’s first Grand Cru. Single-vineyard Cabernets from the feminine, Margaux-esque Fay and the more masculine, Paulliac-y SLV are among the best in the Valley; you can only imagine how stunning the blend Cask 23 is!  A fantastic Chardonnay programme and Gaudi-inspired architecture make this an absolute must when visiting Napa.

·       Stags’ Leap Winery ( The “other” winery to share the name, Stags’ Leap Winery stands on its own by specialising in a different programme than its sort-of namesake neighbour. Look here for classic Napa Petite Sirah or Rhone-inspired Syrah and Viognier, but low-key and slightly out of the way make this winery a special find.

Before more wineries emerged with names like Leaping Stags or Stag Leaps, California wine law decided that no winery could name itself after a geographical landmark. Since both the Wine Cellars and the Winery existed before this law came into effect, they are allowed to keep their names. Nevertheless, a leap down Silverado trail will bring you to a collection of other amazing wineries.

Robert Sinskey ( – Although most of the wines are sourced form 100+ acres in the Los Carneros AVA (closest to San Pablo Bay), 100% biodynamic viticulture is the calling card to Robert Sinkey’s wines. With most vineyards close to the water, Robert Sinskey has a unique white wine programme that focuses on aromatics more commonly seen in Alsace or the Okanagan. For pure Stags Leap expression, however, the SLD Cabernet Sauvignon (a clever way to get around not using "Stags Leap") is sourced from the 4-acre plot you see around you (with a ½ acre splash of Merlot). Their biodynamic garden also yields for an excellent tour followed by a food-and-wine pairing session.
Stags Leap AVA at Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock ( – Another Stag’s Leap favourite located at the southern end of the appellation, it is hard to believe that the vineyards home to a failing 18-hole golf course until the 1980s. When reduced to a 9-hole course, the remaining 9-holes were converted to vineyard land that, when given years to recover from over-fertilisation, yielded excellent quality fruit. This brought an end to the front-9, and the result is an excellent Cabernet programme. If you ever had troubles on a 7th hole, look for the Clone 6 Cab; a low-yielding, highly-concentrated single varietal clone wine that now occupies what was once one of the most difficult greens on the now-defunct course.

Clos du Val ( – At the very southern edge of the AVA, Clos du Val has a large portfolio of grapes sourced from throughout the Napa Valley (and a touch of Carneros). At each level, the Carneros-based Chardonnay and Pinot Noir show very well for their price point, and, like elsewhere in the AVA, their Cabernet programme is not to be missed. At it's pinnacle, the SLD label is capable of long-term aging, but a 1992 Reserve Cabernet tasted back home shows that even the "second-label" is worth the wait. 

The above make up about one-third of the wineries in the small stretch that is the Stags Leap AVA. With concentrated fruit in a concentrated area, it is quite easy to hop, sip, and leap your way through Stags Leap AVA.

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