The rich history of Napa Valley wineries dates to the first commercial vineyard established by John Patchett in 1858, which was followed in 1861 by the winery of Charles Krug. The diversity of the soil and Mediterranean climate of the Valley made it a likely setting for those with vineyard ambitions. Although historical records verify that wine production was occurring in the mid-19th Century, it was not until the 1960’s that premium wine production was happening in Napa Valley.
The early 1900’s saw several setbacks to the growth of wine production in the fertile Napa Valley. The wineries had to fight off an outbreak of phylloxera, a pest that attacks grape vines. Prohibition and The Great Depression also were major setbacks for the growth of wineries in Napa Valley.
Expansion of the industry continued in Napa Valley over the decades with the steady growth of planted grape vines, wineries and production. The wines of Napa Valley captured the Spotlight of World Class Vintages at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. Organized by a British Wine Merchant, French wines were pitted against the California wines in blind tests, which became known as the Judgement of Paris and the Napa Valley California Wines were highly awarded.
The nine blindfolded judges who were chosen owing to their impeccable credentials selected the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon as the best. This extraordinary victory by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars with only their second production of S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was an esteemed accomplishment for the winery and a victory for Napa Valley.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was founded in 1970 by a Warren Winiarski, who although educated in scholarly classics decided that his life’s mission would be wine making while on a visit to Italy. The now more than 400 wineries of Napa Valley, California are happy that he chose winemaking over scholarly pursuits. The historic win by the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon put Napa Valley on the world wine stage as a producer of premium wines that could compete and beat the vineyards of the old world.
The story of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars begins with a tasting with winery owner Nathan Fay, whose vineyards were nestled below the Stags Leap Palisades, named from an Indian legend that claimed the Stag or Stags would leap from peak to peak during the full moon.
In 1970 Mr. Winiarski purchased 44 acres of prune orchards, replanting them with grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Merlot vines and naming his new venture Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The first vintage of S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was produced a mere two years later, followed by the historic winning vintage of 1973. In 1996 a bottle of the renowned winning vintage was placed in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.
This historic winery located at 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa CA 94558 is open for walk-in tours and tastings. A new Fay Outlook and Visitor Center designed with Barcelona influenced architecture opened in 2014 adding to visitor enjoyment and comfort while sampling the award-winning wines and vistas of this diverse vineyard property.
Cameron guides the tour.
Providing an informative, interesting and exciting tour, guides are well versed in intricacies of vineyard care, grape harvesting and wine making. Just inside the entrance to the wine caves is the Great Room, lit by hammered copper sconces shining off the shimmering quartzite floors. The ARCADE, which continued the design of Barcelona Architect Javier Barba, features graceful arches opening to the exposed rock formations and soil for extraordinary views of the Stags Leap Palisades.
During the tour, visitors will be mesmerized by 34,000 square feet of tunnels within the caves, which protect the approximately 6,000 barrels of various vintages marking time until their unveilings. The focal point of the cave network, hanging in the Round Room, is one of only 50 Foucault pendulums that meticulously marks the passage of time required to produce fine wine.
"The Greeter" by Larry Shank
Throughout the decades the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has amassed a collection of other fine arts to compliment the art of wine making. The living architecture of the caves and ARCADE is only the beginning of the many art forms showcased on this historic vineyard property. Visitors are treated to the whimsical sculpture of the Greeter as well as the delicate watercolors of the celestial maps by Andreas Cellarius that represent the world views of Ptolemy and Copernicus. These are a few of the artisan collections that are housed and displayed at the winery that put Napa Valley on the map of premium wine connoisseurs.
The 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon is on display and there are numerous other pieces of wine history available for visitor enjoyment. While absorbing the history, art, and architectural nuances of this winery, you will partake in sampling an iconic wine collection that highlights a perfected ARTEMIS Cabernet Sauvignon, KARIA Chardonnay, and an Aveta Sauvignon.
Tastings of the Estate collection are also available as well as specialty events such as, The Cellarius Kitchen Experience by Chef Travis Westrope for $175 per person, 25 Years of FAY Library Tasting priced at $125 per person, Fire & Water Tour and Tasting costing $95 per person, as well as the daily tasting events Estate Wine Tasting & Cave Tour at $75 per person or Estate Collection Tasting Flight for a price of $45 per person.
Fire & Water Tour and Tasting
Estate Collection Tasting Flight
When visiting Napa Valley make some historic memories and add some of the Valley’s finest vintages to your collection by visiting Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
Story by Daniel Dachille and Laine Page
Some photos courtesy of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar