Exquisite Cabernets the hallmark of Stags Leap District -Spring 2008

A profile of the wines from the eastern edge of Napa Valley

by: M.R. Stanton

Some of the most important wines in the world are coming out of California these days, not France. And when it comes to choosing a Cabernet Sauvignon, discerning palates often look for wines produced within the Stags Leap District on the eastern edge of the Napa Valley.

John Shafer, founder of Shafer Vineyards – one of 15 vineyards within the district – spearheaded the creation of a distinct appellation.

“How the appellation came about is that the Cabs produced in this region became well-known – so much so – that they were described as having a ‘Stags Leap District character,’ that is rich and fruity with very soft tannins,” said Shafer, whose background was in marketing and publishing.

The appellation is quite small, with only 1,300 planted acres and 15 wineries in a relatively new area. In fact, most of the wineries have been there 30 years or less.

“It truly has a neighborhood feel,” said Jack Bittner, general manager of Cliff Lede Vineyards, on the northern edge of the district and not far at all from Shafer. “It’s small, so we all know each other and help each other out. That’s especially true at harvest time, when things tend to happen. The same way that a neighbor might borrow a cup of sugar for a cupcake recipe when they find they are missing an ingredient, we try to help each other out too.”

The small size of the district also makes it very accessible for the visitor, who, with advance planning, can visit half a dozen of the wineries in Stags Leap in an afternoon and taste and compare the power and elegance of the Cabernets produced in this area. Silky, supple and soft are all words used to describe the SLD Cabernets, and visitors can detect those qualities and the differences from vineyard to vineyard in an afternoon of tasting.

Running along the Silverado Trail on the eastern edge of the Napa Valley, bordered by the Yountville Cross Road in the north and hard against the Stags Leap Palisades to the east, the Stags Leap District is just a mile wide and less than three miles long. It is the exemplary soils and growing conditions in this sliver of earth, those combined qualities known as the terroir, that produce world-class Cabernets.

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