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Stags Leap AVA

by Staff Writer - A. Heinzman | February 08, 2012

When discussing the Napa Valley with anyone, quality wines always come to mind. This is partly due to the market value that the Napa name commands but also due to the quality of wines produced within the Napa Valley. It is a fact that the Napa Valley produces some of the finest wines in the world. In particular, Napa is known for its quality Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

With all of the quality and fame that the Napa valley is known for, one potentially negative side effect does exist. Conditions found at most of the Napa Valley floors are very similar. While this is a very good thing for winegrowers, it has created a situation where differentiating wines has become difficult. Based on the saturation of wineries within the Napa valley, it is very difficult to declare with any certainty that a particular wine would have come from the Napa Valley. This is where the Stags Leap District American Viticulture Area (AVA) comes into discussion.

More than any other variety, when one hears Stags Leap one assumes Cabernet Sauvignon. When compared to the rest of Napa Valley, the Stags Leap District AVA--along with the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs--Cabernet wines are truly works of art. As mentioned earlier, many different wineries have a difficult time with making wines that stand out among the crowd of Napa wineries. This is where Stags Leap succeeds, as wines produced in the Stags Leap District AVA do stand out among others. In popular descriptions, critics have described the style of Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon wines as being "an iron fist in a velvet glove". A less metaphoric description would have to focus on the characteristics of the wine itself. Stags Leap wines feature a yielding lavishness of the fruit with hints of chocolate, black currant, raspberry and dark cherry flavors.

History

The Stags Leap AVA was officially designated in 1989, however, winemaking in the Stags Leap area had begun back in 1893. It was during this time that a man known as Horace Chase established the Stags Leap winery in the area of the current Stags Leap District AVA. By the late 1800s the winery had failed due to the onset of Phylloxera. Not much else happened in the Stags Leap region until around 1972 when two wineries issued their first wines. The wineries were named Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stags' Leap Winery. It should be noted that both of these wineries were in fact completely separate business ventures. Naturally, both wineries felt that they had legal claims to the Stag's Leap name. This was especially true after the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars won a major award for their Cabernet Sauvignon in France. Due to the increased friction a lengthy session of lawsuits ensued. Eventually the courts ruled that both wineries could use the disputed Stag's Leap name. Things remained at this state until the AVA movement began to attract attention. With new wineries opening for business, many winemakers began to press for a specific Stags Leap AVA. With this new threat, both Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stags' Leap Winery found themselves on the same side and pressed for the protection of their trademark. In the end the process of creating a new AVA proved to be too strong and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stags' Leap Winery lost. Both Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stags' Leap Winery did however retain the use of an apostrophe in their names, separating them in essence from the Stags Leap District AVA that does not have an apostrophe.

Today the Stags Leap District AVA contains 16 different wineries with 1,200 acres of planted vineyards. The Stags Leap District AVA is located completely within the Napa Valley AVA, roughly 6 miles north from the town of Napa. The overall size of the Stags Leap AVA is 2,700 acres and sports a slightly different soil and weather patterns than that of its neighboring Napa AVAs. This has led to the distinguishing characteristics found within Stags Leap wines.

The weather patterns found within the Stags Leap district have a profound effect on the production of quality wine. More importantly, the topography of the Stags Leap area allows for the climactic actions that control grape development. In particular are the important afternoon cooling breezes from the San Pablo bay. These breezes are an unique and important attribute of the Stags Leap district as they provide a cooling effect that might not otherwise occur.

Another unique feature of the Stags Leap District AVA has to do with soil types. Studies have been performed to determine the makeup and uniqueness of the soils of the Stags Leap District AVA. One such study performed by Deborah Elliot-Fisk has shown that Stags Leap District AVA valley soils do not have similarities with other Napa Valley floor soils. The different soil types combined with the unique weather patterns of Stags Leap AVA are responsible making Stags Leap wines stand out among other wines.

Related Topics

As is the case with most of the other AVAs found within the Napa valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed champion of wine produced in the Stags Leap District AVA. Different varieties of wine grapes are grown but are ultimately not as popular as Cabernet Sauvignon. This includes varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Ultimately these other varieties are giving way to Cabernet Sauvignon, which seems to becoming the dominant wine grape of the Stags Leap District AVA.

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