Stags Leap District, California, USA

Although it only represents only one percent of the Napa Valley appellation, the Stags Leap District is a point on the map where Cabernet Sauvignon fans flock. Set along the Silverado Trail approximately 5 to 7 miles north of Napa, the appellation covers 2,700 acres, with only half, planted to grapes.

The name of the region is based on the legendary story of a stag that was able to elude hunters by jumping to safety on the jagged cliffs of the Vaca Mountains, that today represent the eastern side of the district.

The first grapes were planted in the region in the mid-1800s. In 1878, Terrill Grigsby established the Occidental Cellars on a site that is now home to Regusci Winery. Down the road, after developing his mansion a few miles up the road, Horace Chance planted vineyards for what would eventually become Stags Leap Winery in 1893.

The distinctive features of the region are, volcanic soils, and a smaller amount of gravelly riverbed soils, on the western edge of the appellation. But during Prohibition, much of this promising vineyard land was converted to fruit trees and walnut orchards. In 1961, that changed when Nathan Fay planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the district. The success of the grapes inspired more vineyards to be planted in the 1970s. A major turning point occurred in 1976, when a wine made by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in the district, won over the highly touted French wines of Bordeaux in the famous Paris tasting.

In the years that followed, more vineyards were planted, and because of the distinct mixture of volcanic, gravelly clay loam soils, the Stags Leap District was designated as an appellation in 1989. Today, the district features a couple dozen wineries and other wineries that source fruit from vineyards planted along the three-mile area along Silverado Trail.

Grape Expectations

Whites: The small blocks of Sauvignon Blanc are primarily planted in the ancient riverbed soils on the western edge of the district.

Reds: Bordeaux varietals represent 90% of the grapes planted in the region. Of that number, nearly 80% of the vines are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Other varietals to watch for include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Sangiovese.

Taste Sensations

White Wines: Sauvignon Blancs tend to have fragrant floral aromas and expressive flavors of ripe melon, mango, guava, grapefruit, fennel and mineral.

Red Wines: The Cabernet Sauvignons from the region are bold, rich and delicious. Characteristics include: blackberry, black raspberry, dark cherry, plum, blueberry, cassis; wild sage, mint, dark chocolate; toffee, mocha, cigar box, mineral and earth. The wines are typical intense with firm structure, chewy tannins, velvety texture, dry finish, and worthy of cellaring. Merlots can be equally powerful, but with softer tannins, and more emphasis on red and blue fruit flavors. Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are primarily used in complex Bordeaux-style blends. Petite Sirahs tend to be fragrant, ripe and opulent with deep flavors of dark fruits, blueberry, boysenberry, black olive, clove and black pepper. And the Sangioveses are mainly limited release gems grown on estate properties, including the Steltzner Estate and the Shafer Firebreak Vineyard.

Food Pairings

With Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc, think oysters with citrus-based mignonette, expressive salads, fish tacos, seared scallops, Ahi tuna with tropical salsa, and chicken skewers with tarragon aioli. When working with red wines from the Stags Leap District, match with rich and bold foods which can handle the power and intensity of the wines. Great examples include blue cheese, brick oven pizzas, roasted vegetables, expressive pasta dishes, duck breast, grilled meats, rack of lamb, and hearty stews.