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Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association

Our History

Stags Leap District

Grape growing in the Stags Leap District extends back to the mid-1800s when the Silverado Trail was a quiet horse path. In 1878, Terrill L. Grigsby built Occidental Winery, the region's first winery, and the current home of Regusci Winery. Several years later, in 1893, San Francisco entrepreneur Horace Chase built the first winery to bear the Stags' Leap name. Theories abound as to the origin of the name Stags Leap but the most well loved and oft-repeated is the legend of a stag who successfully eluded hungry hunters by leaping to freedom across the District's landmark peaks.

Phylloxera and Prohibition

By 1895, Chase was producing 40,000 gallons of wine under the Stags' Leap name. The Napa Valley wine industry was booming, but before long phylloxera and Prohibition changed everything, and many of the region's farmers converted their vineyards to orchards.

Cabernet Sauvignon

In 1961, a quiet renaissance began when pioneer Nathan Fay planted the region's first Cabernet Sauvignon. At the time, conventional wisdom held that the area was too cool for Cabernet Sauvignon and when Fay planted this vineyard there were only 800 acres of Cabernet planted in the entire United States. By comparison there are roughly 95,000 acres in California and 22,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. Fay sold most of his grapes to Joseph Heitz, and it was the Heitz Cellar "Fay Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the Valley's first vineyard-designated wines, that first brought attention to the region followed by the 1976 famed Judgement of Paris tasting where a Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors. The Stags Leap District American Viticutural Area (AVA) has a mere 1250 planted acres, 90% of which are the Bordeaux varietals.

To honor Nathan Fay's remarkable vision and contribution to what would eventually become the Stags Leap District sub-appellation, the Stags Leap District Winegrower, in 2000 for his 90th birthday, was privileged to present Nathan with a fellowship at UC Davis in his name. With an initial endowment of $10,000, each year a graduate student in the School of Viticulture and Enology is awarded the Nathan Fay Fellowship to assist with expenses to pursue their studies and research.

Power and Grace

A turning point in the recognition of Stags Leap District wines as something special came in 1976. At a blind tasting held in Paris, nine French judges awarded first place to the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon over such formidable French producers as Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion. The staggering impact of this event was reinforced ten years later when exactly the same wines were tasted a second time. The winner was yet another wine from the Stags Leap District: the 1972 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon.