Back to beginnings this week with one of Napa’s originals: Stags’ Leap Winery (not to be confused with Stag‘s Leap Wine Cellars).
We started our 8th anniversary with Freemark Abbey (read here). Like Stags’ Leap, Freemark shares fame for breaking the French 40 years ago this Spring at the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Since then, both wineries have inflated production, prices, and quality, while selling themselves to biggies (Freemark to KJ, Stags’ to Beringer). But one constant in Napa is ownership change.
The Chase family built the stone Manor House in 1890 and planted vineyards in 1893.
Our visit feels part historic home tour, part winery tour. We enter and get a glass of 2014 Viognier (dry, pale, soft pear, white peach, lemon blossom: very good 4 of 5 $32). Stags’ interior oozes Victorian oak and moodiness. I feel like I forgot my top hat, pipe, and misogyny.
In 1913, widowed Mrs. Frances Grange bought and turned Stags’ into a resort for Hollywood elite. Prohibition halted wine-making but didn’t halt Frances. She sold fruit to other producers and turned Stag’s basement into an underground speakeasy with a trap door.
To absolve patrons’ sins, both lawbreaking and religious, widow Grange built a non-denominational church. Today, church Grange serves as winery:
Through those unassuming wood doors, we cram into a closet brimming with stainless tanks:
By now we swirl 2012 Block 20 Estate Merlot ($65.00 dense strawberry jam, clove, plum, and tea, silky but packed 4 of 5). Past the shiny tanks, we entire the barrel cave. Batman would approve:
While being dripped on we manage to capture a gratuitously adorable couple’s photo:
Back outside we walk the grounds and then visit their 90 acre vineyard. It spans across Stags Leap AVA to the hill ridge (where Pine Ridge hangs out).
Then they break out the big guns: 2012 Twelve Falls Estate Red
What makes Twelve Falls Estate Red cool is that it mimics their plantings: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Petite Sirah, 10% Merlot. ($75.00 Dense blackberry syrup, treacle, mocha, vanilla, inky, complex, long, way too young but outstanding 5 of 5). Tracy loves it but as this panorama shows, Napa makes more than tasting a challenge:
Dumping hurts the heart.
We head back to the castle. Next, Stags’ 2012 “The Leap” Cabernet Sauvignon ($90.00 again, manages to feel massive yet lush, even soft and approachable with dark plum, dense purple fruits, and fine coffee. Outstanding 5 of 5).
All this perfect, dense, balanced, ripe red wine starts to blur for us. Back inside, we try 2012 Ne Cede Malis Estate Petite Sirah ($115.00 all tannic grip, this dry red smells and tastes dusty, of mushrroms, black treacle, cocoa powder, and, oh yeah blackberry fruit leather. It’s outstanding but a beast: 5 of 5).
Procession over, we seat ourselves at a long table with, yes, stags’ horns of glass:
We make moderately casual conversation with our betters across the table (“Really? Your child has two yachts? That must be such a burden.”).
Audentia 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (with, of course, 25% of Stags’ Petite Sirah). At $200, Audentia Cab better impress us. The high, best bits of each vineyard fermented and aged separately for 20 months in 75% new French Oak barrels. Then magician Christophe Paubert blended the best into 247 cases.
If this sounds like Napa’s broken record, you’re not alone. Our week in Napa has unleashed one no expense-spared monster cab after another. Each charges according to demand’s willingness to pay for exclusivity.
Yes, Audentia 2010 is outstanding (5 of 5). But it has to be. The glass fills inky purple, ruby rimmed, and red-stained tears. It smells and tastes stultifyingly complex. Every black berry and dark fruit imaginable fights for attention. Tobacco and mint, cocoa and vanilla powder all frame the fruit. Audentia is serious, too serious: Batman without the camp.
Stags’ Leap is still special. The castle, although tidied up, retains its warm, dark Victorian anxiety. The wines, especially the Viognier and Petite Sirah, stand out, although most seem too clean, too perfect. Regardless, visit Stags’.