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Wine

Stags’ Leap Winery ~ A Napa Valley Icon

When PS I Love You began in 2002, I was told by a wine writer that this group wouldn’t have any real legs until Stags’ Leap Winery became a member. This was a tall order, but it was within reach, because I love a challenge.

[Stags’ Leap Winery has the apostrophe after the “s,” while Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has the apostrophe between the “g” and the “s”… There were evidently lots of stags on the property, when the original owners purchased the land and then named it. I can easily see this, because the land is cradled in a valley that would be beautiful grazing for a herd of deer.]

Why was I told that? Because Carl Doumain, the founder of this winery had set a benchmark quality over the years for producing Petite Sirah that defined the cultivar in this writer’s mind. And many others, I was soon to learn.

Carl is always quick to tell everyone that he’s not the winemaker, however. He takes no direct credit for the evolution of flavor and/or style as the hands-on person. If I make any references that might lean a conversation or story in a direction that suggests Carl as a winemaker, I’m  told something like this:

“I am not a winemaker. I did (and do) work with the winemakers to maintain a style that was developed by Lee Stewart in 1972-1973 and 1974. Any improvements in the wine quality were because of their [sic: winemakers with whom Carl’s worked over the years] intelligence, not mine.”

This quote demonstrates how passionately Doumani protects those who are the true masters of crafting what he appreciates as beautifully produced and balanced wines. Carl’s a completely selfless man in this regard, and makes no bones about it. He’s a gentleman’s gentleman; I completely respect his humility and passions and wish there more men with this interdependent consciousness. The world would be better for it.

And the winery’s wine at Stags’ Leap today? Stellar is still its hallmark.

When Wannabewino was headed to California, I knew of her initially from a Petite Sirah tasting she held using her wine blog. The mission of PS I Love You, when Louis Foppiano and I founded it, was written to suit my background in education, so I could successfully guide it within my competencies:

To promote, educate, and legitimize Petite Sirah as a noble variety, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.

To that end, turning Megan Kenney onto more Petite than she might already know fit the mission perfectly.

With her coming to California and giving me a day of her time, off we went… Right to the winery known by so many as a benchmark source. I wanted her palate to be dripping with splendor. The day unfolded with even more wonderful examples of Petite Sirah. And, had we had more time, I would have taken her to a few others in the valley, because there are some absolutely gorgeous examples of Petite Sirah within PSILY’s Napa brands.

(Robert Biale and Judd’s Hill are mentioned below, because they completed this day’s outing.)

They’re next on my list, when I head into Napa for a Petite day. They’ll all eventually reach the light of day on this blog… I just need more time on the other side of that mountain that separates us, and the ability to push away from this computer for time in the sun.

Stags’ Leap’s history is long and colorful. I’m going to quote from a publication that Stags’ Leap has produced, because I can’t write this better than what’s already written… And, to get the full story, you need to visit Stags’ Leap Winery, either on the Internet or in person:

There was a once upon a time, and a place, on the east side of the valley of Napa that lay quiet under the hand of history until 1888, with the arrival of a young couple. Horace and Minnie Mizner Chase named the land Stags Leap. They left no record of the reasoning behind this naming, whether it was whimsical or solemn, although they left an abundance of historical photographs that show the newlyweds lounging about the property in attitudes of enjoyment and leisure, entertaining each other, their friends, and their family.

The story continues on about the family, then comes to the part where Carl Doumani has purchased the property:

A century after the Chases planted their first vines, the estate was revitalized as a winemaking property under the ownership of Carl Doumani. He hadn’t intended to make wine when he first arrived, but it happened, as he likes to say, “accidentally.” He was visiting John Henderson, assistant winemaker at Souverain, who brought out a bottle, pulled the cork, tipped a deep red wine into a glass, and handed it to him. Doumani tasted it and was intrigued. “What is this?” he asked. The winemaker stared at him. “That’s Petite Syrah. You’ve got almost forty acres of it on your property.”

And so began the love and appreciation of Petite Sirah for Carl Doumani, who not only went on to create that benchmark style that wine writers have come to recognize as quintessential, but he also went on to sell the winery, and create another one on part of the land he owned within the Stags’ Leap estate – Quixote

This was our very next stop on our PS Napa adventure. There will be another wine blogging about Quixote next, then Judd’s Hill, and Robert Biale… the day.

For now, find a Stags’ Leap Petite, and you’ll taste what this story is all about… Style and grace… (Yes, Petite can be very graceful… I just had my mind blown yesterday with a Foppiano 2008 Estate barrel sample. Young as that vintage is, a new day is dawning at Foppiano and the wines are headed toward a velvet glove experience for us all.)

SIDEBAR: Stags’ Leap is one of the few wineries that uses a “y” for Petite Sirah. They’re grandfathered into its use with the “y.” Petite Sirah with a “y” will no longer be  approved on labels when submitted to the BTT, in order to help eliminate some of the confusion for which this variety is so famous. When you’ve read Petite Syrah in this story, I’ve been directly quoting their material, not going out of my mind.

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4 Responses to “Stags’ Leap Winery ~ A Napa Valley Icon”

  1. Sonadora says:

    Trying again, your code keeps tripping me up! Stags’ Leap was an excellent way to start the day. Great history, I went straight into the wines we tasted in my write up! We got so wrapped up in touring the grounds, that I didn’t get a chance to go buy anything. My next trip I suppose! I loved the Rosé and the White Label PS.

  2. Jo says:

    Sorry about the code thing, Megan. I’ve got numbers, because it seemed the easiest to read. sounds like it was a problem? Sorry for that. Yes, I saw your write up, and it was really great.

    Please tell me which wine you wanted, and I’ll try and arrange a shipment to you. I didn’t realize that you were also going to be wanting wine that day, until after we had left the property. (My bad.)

    It was a beautiful day, and I’m inching toward our Quixote visit… There’s so much to do out here, and so little time.

  3. Jo,

    Stags Leap really is a cool place, isn’t it? I had a chance to visit and work with Robert Brittain when I was at UC Davis and marveled not only at the quality of wines produced there, but at the passion they take in caring for their vineyard. I LOVE the head trained vines that you see as you pull into the property – the vines they use to make their high end petite/durif blend . . .

    Thanks again for sharing!

    Cheers!

  4. Jo says:

    Larry,

    Because of PS I Love You, I’ve been able to build relationships with all Stags’ Leap people like Carl Doumani, Robert Brittan, and also Kevin Morrisey during is his tenure. It’s to everyone’s credit that the integrity of Stags’ Leap Winery through the years, and with different proprietors, has stayed true to its original intent… To produce the highest quality of wines.

    Cool… indeed…

    Thanks for your sharing, too, Larry!

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