Stags’ Leap Winery: A Must-Visit, Appointment-Only Napa Valley Wine Experience
For a wine lover, visiting northern California’s Napa Valley can be like a dream come true. You can spend a very nice weekend simply driving down St. Helena Highway or Silverado Trail, stopping at each winery along the way and spending time in their tasting rooms, which are open to the public during normal business hours. But if you’re looking for a more exclusive and personalized experience, you can plan ahead and make arrangements to stop for appointment-only tastings at wineries that aren’t open to the general public. At the top of this list should be Stags’ Leap Winery, tucked back along a narrow private road off the Silverado Trail.
We had the opportunity to spend some time at the winery (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars just up the road – long story) at their invitation, and it’s a stunning place to experience. The winery and its main house, the Manor House, date back to 1892, when it was established by Horace Chase and his wife Minnie Mizner. In 1913 the property was purchased by Frances Grange, who turned it into a country retreat for well-to-do San Franciscans (wine was produced here during this time, but wasn’t a major part of the business). It wasn’t until Carl Doumani purchased the property in 1971 and started winemaking operations back up that it began to become known for its wines, and today the winery is turning out some spectacular bottles under the stewardship of winemaker Christophe Paubert. The best way to experience them? Book an appointment at the recently renovated Manor House.
The Victorian-era stone Manor House boasts a spacious wraparound front porch and an interior that’s filled with period details including original fixtures, stained glass, and massive fireplace, a historic speakeasy with a pool table, and plenty of rich dark woods. It’s surrounded by lush gardens, one of California’s first in-ground swimming pools, a bocce court, fruit trees, and, of course, acres upon acres of vineyards. To say it’s a hidden Napa Valley gem would be an understatement.
When you visit, you’ll be treated to a tour of the grounds as well as one of three rotating tastings that last up to two hours: the Heritage Library Tasting ($150, December – March); the Winemaker’s Apothecary Garden Tasting ($125, April – June); and the Ne Cede Malis Vineyard Tour ($125, July – November). A $65 90-minute estate tour and tasting is also available. No matter which one you choose, you’ll be treated to a personalized, high-end experience that’s without rival. During our Heritage Library Tasting, we sampled the winery’s 2014 Barrel Selection Chardonnay, 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 and 2013 Ne Cede Malis Estate Petite Sirah, and 2012 Audentia Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (many of which are only available on the property or through the wine club).
Our knowledgeable and friendly guide, Tammy White, knew the winery and its wines inside and out, and the stories behind some of these wines are amazing. Take the Ne Cede Malis, for example: This vineyard was planted back in 1929 with a mix of 16 different varieties of grapes, including many Rhône varietals but primarily petite sirah. Every year on one specific harvest day pinpointed by Paubert, every grape is picked whether it’s under ripe or overripe, and it all goes into the press to create a one-of-a-kind field blend. The resulting wine, dubbed Ne Cede Malis (the Chase family’s motto, meaning “yield not to misfortune”), has been hailed as the gold standard of Napa Valley petite sirah, and during the Ne Cede Malis tour, guests can visit the legendary vineyard while drinking a glass of the wine itself. Audentia, another jewel in Stags’ Leap’s crown, is comprised of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent petite sirah (a rather uncommon blend); Paubert crafts the wine from the best-performing lots, and each is aged separately and blended right before bottling. The resulting blend is rich, concentrated, elegant, well-balanced, and a perfect representation of the winery’s unique terroir.
Comparing a visit to Stags’ Leap to a roadside tasting room is really like comparing apples and oranges. Only 40 guests are allowed to pass through the Manor House’s doors daily due to traffic restrictions on the unmarked private road, and all visits need to be arranged in advance, so it’s guaranteed that you’ll be receiving a personalized guided tasting through an impressive portfolio of wines in a stunning Victorian mansion on one of the most beautiful hidden properties in the region. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?