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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 vineyards. At the time Fay planted his 70-odd acres of Cabernet in coarse volcanic soil along the Silverado Trail, there were only 800 acres of Cabernet planted in the entire United States. By comparison, today there are more than 34,000 acres of Cabernet in California and 9,800 in Napa Valley alone. 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.

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.