Stag’s Leap gets its name from the mountain behind the winery. The mountain takes its name from an evocative ritual. The local men would chase a stag onto the mountainside,
while the women would light fires at the base. The stag was driven upward as it tried to escape, until it was forced to jump a v-shaped notch at the summit, only to plunge inevitably to its death. The whole region is now called Stag’s Leap District. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was founded in 1972 by Warren and Barbera Winiarski but was recently bought by Antinori and Ste Michelle Wine Estates, the largest wine company in Washington State. The vineyard first became well known at the 1976 Paris Tasting, which helped pave the way for Californian cabernets. Their flagship cabernets are FAY, S.L.V and Cask 23.
The character of their wines comes from the very special terroir, a mixture of hot volcanic soil and alluvial soil which ensures both structure and rich fruit. Cask 23 gets its name from the barrel sample that Warren fell in love with from block 4 in the vineyard. Stag’s Leap, unlike Ridge, only uses French oak.
SLV Block 2C Merlot 2003 – rich and smooth with creamy caramel, red fruits and a subtle hint of spice
FAY Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 – 100% CS. Beautiful aroma of dark cherry and plum with chocolate layers and savoury notes of tobacco. Silky smooth tannins.
Joseph Phelps founded his vineyard in 1972 in Spring Valley, near St Helena. The vineyards in this area are surrounded by mountains and get the cool ocean breeze from the Pacific.
Phelps also has estate vineyards in the Stags Leap, Rutherford, Oakville and Los Carneros districts. There is great volcanic soil here that seems to add great depth to his wines. The volcano that was on this site blew its top and left a sunken caldera, now the location of the vineyard. Before Jo Phelps arrived, there was just a cattle ranch on the site. Jo Phelps is still involved with the winery to a certain extent but it is his son who looks after the fort. The Phelps style is geared towards luxury cabernet blends and Rhone style wines.
Chardonnay Los Carneros 2002 – rich and honeyed with toasty oak flavours.
Insignia 2004 – 72% CS, merlot, petit verdot and malbec. Dark black fruits, with a masculine meaty backbone and chunky texture. This is the first vintage that Insignia’s grapes have come from 100% estate vineyards.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 – luscious and fruit driven with cassis and sweet spice.
Le Mistral “˜Monterey County’ 2005 – syrah, grenache, carignan, petite syrah and alicante bouschet. Spicy black fruit and chocolate with a creamy finish.
Perseverance is certainly needed to find this hidden away, extraordinary vineyard.
Ritchie Creek is a far cry away from the lavishness of the wineries below on the valley floor and yet Pete Minor was one of the first to settle there in 1965. You could be fooled in thinking that you were in Burgundy for a moment, if it weren’t for the heat, as the winery is understated and very traditional with just several wooden sheds housing all of the winemaking equipment and cellars. Pete planted his vineyard with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and strangely enough blaufrankisch.
Pete sells most of his wine to the eastern side of the US. He shunned the valley floor for the cooler climate of this elevated site in the hills. The vineyard is operated by and large by Pete Minor and his son. They know the vineyard inside out and have a totally hands on approach making this vineyard a real gem.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 – a fresh CS that is rich in dark plum and chocolate flavours.