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No Bottleshock – Stag’s Leap Cellars Opens new Visitor Center To Acclaimed Reviews

Wednesday, March 25, 2015
What’s New: Despite change in ownership and winemakers, one of Napa’s most famous and celebrated wineries, Stag’s Leap, keeps getting better with age. After 14 years of conceptualization, the $7 million, 6,000 square foot FAY Outlook & Visitor Center broke ground early July 2013 and officially opened to the public in September 2014.  Renowned architect Javier Barba (named one of the 20 top Global architects by Architectural) designed the center to highlight of the stunning views of the vineyards and the Stag’s Leap mountain palisades. The center is natural and modern with ample glass built in to the design for ample natural light.  The center shares a similar contemporary aesthetic as the Wine Cellars; both were built using stones from the surrounding land to showcase the natural beauty of the environment.
The Experience:  The winery offers an experience for everyone from casual outdoor seating overlooking the vineyards to elegant food and wine pairings in the private reserve tasting room. We were graciously hosted on the guided “fire and water” tour experience where we explored the property winery, finishing with a seated tasting of the current release estate-grown wines paired with a sampling of seasonal appetizers. If you have time, the tour is worth the extra hour. The winery caves are really one of the more unique in Napa and the history of Stag’s Leap is fascinating. If you are navigating along the Silverado Trail and wish to just pop in to visit and taste the iconic Cabernets, there are still many options to choose from now that the Visitor’s Center is open – I recommend the outdoor terrace overlooking the vineyards - the setting is idyllic for a photo opp!  Despite the renovations, the Winery tends to learn towards traditional and formal, perhaps in part due to the French influence or legacy, but the new visitor’s center offers more opportunity for casual drop-in tastings at the tasting bar and democratizes one of Napa’s most famous Cabernets.   

The Current Team: In 2007, The Antinori Family from Italy (with 26 generations of winemaking experience) joined a partnership with Chateau St Michelle Wine Estates and purchased Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The sale included the estate’s historic brand, the winery, and estate vineyards, S.L.V. and FAY.  A new winemaker joined the team in 2013 - Marcus Notaro. Known as a seasoned Cabernet specialist, he’s now in his second harvest at the winery. His style favors “balance and complexity, richness and elegance while capturing the unique characteristics of the vineyard.

The Wines: If you’ve watched the movie Bottleshock, you may remember the Judgement of Paris. For those who haven’t, Stag’s Leap’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon, the vineyard’s first commercial crop, shocked the wine world when, tasted blind, it ranked highest, besting four top-ranked Bordeaux wines in the Paris Tasting. There are now only 2 bottles of the 1983 SLV left in the world, one at the Smithsonian Museum and one that you can view at the new Visitor’s Center!  Since 1973, Stag’s Leap has continued to produce wines that are in the same class as the best French wines and the winery remains best known for Bordeaux style Cabernets.  Attribute the high quality and balance in the wine in part to the unique Stag’s Leap terroir, as well as to the care and precision practiced throughout the winemaking process.  All blocks are pruned and harvested separately before blending, the grapes handled gently, allowing free run juice just enough time on the skins to produce color and depth without leaving harsh tannins.  These distinct lots provide the winemaking team with a rich palette from which to construct each blend. All of our wines aged in 100% French oak, selected from a variety of coopers to achieve the best harmony with the wine. The result: wines known to be “an iron fist in a velvet glove,” a reference to the balance between softness and structure that yields wines of ageability and beauty.  2007 marked the first releases made under the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates/Marchesi Antinori partnership and the 2008 vintage featured the first wines crafted from farm to bottle. The 2009, 2010 and 2011 Estate-Grown Cabernet Sauvignons are enhanced with more upfront purity of fruit character while retaining the winery’s hallmark balance, complexity and elegance.

The Credo: It’s all in the details.  From the beginning of the winery’s renovation, the owners made sure that Barba incorporated unique details into the architecture and interior with the belief that details add complexity and richness to both wine as well as the experience of tasting the wine.  Examples of this abound: look carefully on the exterior of the caves and you’ll discover a trapdoor that opens up to the cave’s soil layers– intended to share with visitors what the cave soil looks like naturally. The caves took 5.5 years to build, requiring 20-30 foot rods to stabilize the cliff and moving at a speed of just 3 feet per day.  Inside the winery, the Great Room is breathtakingly adorned with starry sconces and ceilings that sparkle like the sky - an intentional homage to the seasons, the sun, moon and stars. Antinori’s love for the seasons is shared with his affinity for time (related to harvest, time wine is aged in oak, etc.  100 feet below ground and deep inside the wine cave is one of the most exceptional spaces to host an event in the Napa Valley. The dramatic Round Room offers guests a unique experience where guests have a private viewing the estate wines aging in barrels while observing one of only fifty Foucault Pendulums in the world. The flagstone floor in the cave has “crevices” that were intentionally etched into the ground to represent all the winery properties in Napa Valley. The layout of the Cave itself is designed to simulate the roadmap of Napa (with main thoroughfares such as Silverado Trail, Trancas, Highway 29).
Visit Details: The tasting room is open daily 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for tastings, excluding major holidays.  Wine educators will guide you through three beautiful estate Cabernets in the new tasting center set against a gorgeous backdrop of historic estate vineyards and the Stags Leap Palisades.
Winery tours and groups of five or more require an advance appointment. Reservations are accepted Monday – Friday during business hours via email tours@cask23.com or by calling 707.261.6410.
Tasting Notes: My personal favorite wine that we tasted was the 2010 Cask 23, followed closely by the SLV 2011. The 2013 Arcadian Chardonnay undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation, and is creamy while maintaining crisp acidity and was perfect paired with the marcona almonds.
From SLV:
Arcadian 2013: This elegant Chardonnay is crisp, clean and focused with bright green apple and pear notes. The wine has a distinct floral aroma with a citrus background that is persistent all the way through the finish. On the palate, there is a light oak component to the wine that adds hints of baking spice and vanilla.
Cask 23, 2010 (wasn’t produced in 2011 as there wasn’t enough fruit):
This wine combines the signature perfume notes of FAY vineyard with the structure and minerality of S.L.V. The wine opens with deep red and black cherry aromas along with notes of juicy strawberry, cocoa and spice. The wine has an elegant texture with very fine tannins and great acidity. On the palate the wine is full bodied with rich dark berry fruit with hints of cedar and white truffle that lead to a long fruit and spice driven finish.

SLV 2011. This Cabernet Sauvignon offers vibrant chocolate-covered cherry aromas along with notes of roasted chestnuts and black tea with clove spice. The wine has a lovely core of red berry fruit along with bigger tannins and a pleasing cardamom note on the finish. The wine’s structured tannins, concentrated fruit core and pleasing minerality point to this wine’s ability to age.

Fay 2011: This wine opens with inviting aromas of dark raspberry, mocha and vanilla with a hint of red licorice. This vintage also shows the signature bright cherry note of the vineyard. The aromas are followed by red and blue fruit flavors that meld with black licorice, black raspberry tea and sage on the palate. The wine has a sweet fruit entry with structured tannins – promising long life in the cellar – and a lingering floral note on the finish.


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