Stags Leap District has reputation for excellence
NAPA — Within the confines of a three-mile-long stretch of terrain that is one mile wide grows some of the world’s best cabernet grapes.
The Stags Leap District became an official wine growing appellation in 1989. More than 100 years earlier, grapes were first planted in this area on the southern end of the Silverado Trail. The trail parallels the more famous Highway 29 that takes tourists through the heart of the Napa Valley.
Cab reigns supreme in this area. And more winemakers are trying to make a go of it — taking advantage of the soil, weather and continued desire of consumers to keep consuming.
The Reynolds Family Winery, at the start of the trail heading north, had its grand opening in August. Dentist Steve Reynolds purchased the property eight years ago, with 1999 being his first year of commercial production. Now he is working on teeth only one day out of the week.
“Some day we may be at 8,000 cases a year,” said Kathy Wood, winery manager. “That is what our license is for. Steve is not into getting big fast.”
For 1999, 4,000 cases were produced, a hair more than that in 2000 and close to 5,000 in 2001. Wood said the 2002 harvest is looking good.
Cabs are Reynolds Family Winery’s specialty, though all 56 cases of pinot noir they bottled were bought up on opening day.
The three cabs they are tasting cost $25, $48 and $72 a bottle. The wines aptly rise in price according to their flavor and potability. Officially they are sold out of the higher-priced reserve; however, a distributor did not pick up its supply, so in early October there were a few bottles available at the winery.
All of their cabernet grapes are grown on-site, with the pinot grown in the Carneros area.
The grounds are ideal for picnicking, with tables outside near the pond full of geese and swans. It costs $5 to taste.
Just up the road is Darioush winery. Even though it looks more like a construction site, they are currently offering complimentary tastings.
Darioush Khaledi immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s, having grown up in Iran’s shiraz wine-growing region.
In 1997, he bought the property and renamed the winery after himself. That same year, he produced the first bottles with his name on the label.
Under construction is a 22,000-square-foot building that is being added to the original winery that was built in 1985. It is designed to have an old-world feel. According to Aleta La Borie, marketing director of the winery, 850 new French oak barrels will be added to the cellar, with the opening expected to be in 14 to 18 months.
This release year, 6,500 cases were bottled. The goal is to top out between 10,000 and 15,000 cases, La Borie said.
At the beginning of the month, they released the 2000 chardonnay that sells for $20 a bottle. It is a mild wine that even as a white could be laid down for a couple years.
The 1998 estate cabernet costs $28, while the 1999 signature cab retails for $62. Wine Spectator gave the latter 94 points. The winery suggests it sit in the bottle another 18 months to 10 years.
La Borie was correct when she said, “The reds are tasting very nice for a young wine. You can taste the structure.”
Chimney Rock offers four tastings for $6, which includes a souvenir glass.
Only one white — a fume blanc — is produced there. The 2001 goes for $18. The grapes are from the Rutherford area. All the grapes used in their red wines are grown on the estate.
The 2001 rose defies common perceptions of a pink wine.
“We are demonstrating it is possible to make a wine this color that is not sweet, but fruity and dry,” said Jim Craig, tasting room employee.
It costs $15. The rose and cabernet franc ($40) are only available at the winery. The 1999, now on sale, is the first time Chimney Rock has bottled a cabernet franc.
In 1998, the winemaker started to change some techniques. He redid the trellising to allow more sunlight, according to tasting-room worker Colleen Hales.
“The winemaker said this is one of the best wines he’s made,” Hales said of the 1999 cabernet that sells for $48. “It is one of the best vintages he has seen in the last 20 years. It is really rivaling ’97 — the last superb vintage.”
Pine Ridge, which opened 24 years ago, harvests it grapes from five appellations in order to produce 85,000 cases a year.
“Our style is more French with narrow-spaced vineyards,” said concierge Ingrid Owen. “There is less fruit per acre, but the quality is more intense.”
Three chardonnays can be tasted — the 2000 from the Carneros area at $25, the 1999 from the Stags Leap District at $40 and the 2000 Epitome from the Carneros Collines area at $45.
Each has a distinct flavor. An employee was right-on when he said they go “from lighter to medium to a life of its own.”
A wine gets the Epitome designation if it is the best of that year’s production.
However, the 1999 Epitome cabernet ($95) is rather blah compared to the 2000 cabernet that sells for much less at $39.
It costs $10 a person to taste the current releases at Chimney Rock.
These are just a sampling of wineries in the Stags Leap District of the Silverado Trail. Many wineries are open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with more details on their respective Web sites or at http://www.stagsleapdistrict.com.
Kathryn Reed may be reached at (530) 541-3880, ext. 251 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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