The Stags Leap District AVA in Napa Valley is world renowned for its plush, luxurious Cabernet Sauvignon wines. This prestigious sub region can be considered a valley within the wider Napa Valley, home to America’s greatest wines. It’s nestled between the Napa River on the west and the Stags Leap Palisades to the east.
Historically, the area was part of Rancho Yajome, land which General Mariano Vallejo gave to one of his soldiers, Damaso Rodríguez, in 1841 as part of a Mexican land grant. Viticulture began on one of Napa’s most illustrious terroirs only a few decades later in 1878. That’s when Terill L. Grigsby founded Occidental Winery, the first winery in the future AVA. Next, in 1893 entrepreneur Horace Chase started the first winery to bear the Stags Leap name and was soon producing 40,000 gallons per year. However, early progress was soon dampened by the arrival of phylloxera and prohibition.
Later in the 1960s, Nathan Fay planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the area. Notably, the wines that bested their French counterparts and put Napa Valley on the map at the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 came from Stags Leap Wine Cellars. In 1989, the Stags Leap District AVA became officially recognized.
Soil & Climate
Fun fact – the Stags Leap District AVA was the very first American Viticulture Area in the United States to be established based on its distinctive soils. The soils here are a mix of sandstone, shale, gravelly loam and volcanic material. Gravelly loam soils dominate the valley floor, whereas hillsides are rockier. But the soil which truly distinguishes the AVA are the hard clay subsoils offering low to moderate fertility.
Since this AVA sits on the valley floor, vines benefit from early morning and evening fog that help preserve acidity and flavors in grapes. A reprieve from lots of sunshine hours during the day. Though the Palisades and the knolls encompassing Stags Leap create a wind tunnel with breezes coming up from San Pablo Bay. A lot of wind can actually cause the vines to shut down photosynthesis and slow ripening.
On the other hand, Stags Leap Palisades’ rocky hillsides have a countering warming effect as they reflect heat and sunshine onto the vineyards below. In short, the warm days and cooler nights here are ideal for producing premium Cabernet Sauvignon.
What Are the Main Grapes of This Napa AVA?
Cabernet Sauvignon dominates production here and some of my favorite Cabernets come from this AVA. Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are also widely planted.
What are the best Stags Leap Wineries?
If you’re looking for some of the best views in Napa Valley with top notch hospitality to match, head to Silverado Vineyards. I had a fabulous time at their stunning winery where they’ve been making estate-grown wines in the heart of Stags Leap for over 40 years. With over 300 acres of vines planted across some of Napa’s most prestigious AVAs today, Silverado Vineyards began as just one of four wineries to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in the Stags Leap District AVA in the 1960s.
The winery was founded in 1981 by Ron and Diane Miller, and her mother Lillian Disney. Yes, that Disney. Originally, they sold their fruit to other renowned Napa Valley wineries until they decided to dive head first into making wines of their own, and the rest is history.
We were treated to a luxurious caviar experience and tasted through a selection of wines including:
- 2019 Vineburg Vineyards Chardonnay (Los Carneros)
- 2019 Mt. George Cabernet Franc (Coombsville)
- 2017 Henry Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville)
- 2016 Geo Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville)
- 2016 Solo Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District)
Winemaker Alison Rodriguez, who joined the team right before the 2022 harvest and is only the 3rd winemaker in Silverado Vineyards history, also poured us a taste of their juicy, stone fruit laden Kerner. An absolute delight and unique variety to find in Napa Valley.
Other Must Visit Wineries
- Stags’ Leap Wine Cellars
- I especially love their Merlot
- Clos du Val
- Taylor Family Vineyards
- Steltzner Vineyards
- Quixote Winery
- Regusci Winery
- Pine Ridge Vineyards
What does Stags Leap mean?
There are different theories about the origin of the AVAs name. The most popular of which comes from the native Wappo people recounting how a wild stag would leap from peak to peak to avoid hunters.
Where is Stags Leap District?
This notable AVA is nestled below Atlas Peak with Oak Knoll AVA to the south and the Yountville AVA to the west.