My last post about Paris Judgment was fairly inspiring, so I decided to go on with it and tell a couple of words about that tasting winners  - Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap.

Stag’s Leap was the youngest winery participated in that legendary tasting - it was founded in 1970, just six years before the event. But what is even more interesting is that the wine participated in Paris tasting was the wine of the very first vintage. It was actually the first wine produced by this young winery. Perhaps, this very fact was highly offensive for French winemakers honing their skills for centuries.

The winery was founded by Warren Winiarski.

His name in Polish means ‘a son of winemaker’, but neither him nor his family had no connection to wine at all. Before he caught any interest to winemaking, Warren Winiarski got his degree in political theory and spent some years in Naples studying Macchiavelli’s notes. This is where young quy got to know wines. He went back home with a firm decision to become a pro. He started to work on wineries and in a few years was offered to become an assistant at Souverain winery. This way Warren and his family moved to Napa.


For a short period of time he used to work with Robert Mondavi at his new winery. This is where Winiarski first met a ‘Maestro’ Andre Tchelistcheff. Along with Robert Mondavi they became Andre’s student.

In 1970 warren Winiarski started his first personal business with purchasing  ...  a plum orchard! It was not a business U-turn at all, he just found a lost land on Stag’s Leap hill and immediately realized that it was going to be a great spot for vineyard. So he uprooted the trees and planted cabernet sauvignon vines.

Three years later, by the time the first harvest might be used for wine production, Winiarsky invited Tchelistcheff  to work as his consultant. They used to do their usual winery job, blending fermented wines and looking for the best results when once found that a cask #23 was unusually good. So they decided not to blend it with others and left alone. And just in  a couple of years namely this cuvee won Paris Judgment Grand Prix.

It is not clear, by the way, how exactly Stag’s Leap attracted the attention of Steven Spurrier who was selecting Californian wines for Paris tasting then. The most correct guess is that it happen due to Tchelistcheff’s recommendation.

However, what happened next known in tiny details. Stag’s Leap surpassed half a point the most famous Bordeaux names, including Chateau Mouton-Rotschild, to become a best red wine, and in fact  - one of the greatest wines of 20th century.

Over the years, as Californian wines were getting more and more popular, big corporations, like Constellation brands, started to buy wineries. Thus all estates founded by enthusiasts and students of Tchelistcheff become parts of big brands.  Warren Winiarsky was the last to surrender. It appeared that none of his children was interested in this business and in 2007 Winiarsky made an offer to  Antinori family. It really was the offer they could not reject. Now Stag’s Leap is in joint management of Antinori and Chateau St. Michelle.

Warren Winniarsky is 89, he still works as a consultant at Stag’s Leap. In 2009 he was included to Hall of Fame of American winemakers.

Warren Vinyarski wine making approach was always based on ‘terroir first’ concept. He neither tried to produce the high alcohol  wines, nor tried to get as much as possible by aging them in barrels. Perhaps, his wines nay be named one the most honest Californian wines. Some calls them “an iron fist in a velvet glove” due to an extraordinary combination of elegance and power.

By the way, a winelover has to know that there’re actually three Stags Leap. How come? Here’s Winespectator answer to this  questions:

Q: Stags Leap, Stag’s Leap or Stags’ Leap? Which is it?

A: All three, actually. First there’s the Stags Leap District American Viticultural Area, one of Napa Valley’s subappellations. The distinguishing feature of the Stags Leap District AVA is its rocky soils, eroded from the Vaca Mountains that border the region to the east. Many wineries make terrific wines from Stags Leap District vineyards, including Shafer, Hartwell, Bevan, Pine Ridge, Cliff Lede and Odette. There are also two Stags Leap District wineries with very similar names: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Stags’ Leap Winery (note the singular vs. plural possessives).

Winemaker Warren Winiarski founded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 1970, and the winery is best-known for its S.L.V., Fay and Cask 23 bottlings. The 1973 Cabernet took top honors among the French and California reds at the famed 1976 Paris Tasting. Today it’s owned by Washington’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Stags’ Leap Winery has an even older history, situated on a property that was originally planted in 1872. It’s also known for terrific wines, including some long-lived Petite Sirahs. The brand is now owned by Treasury Wine Estates.

The two wine brands battled it out in California Supreme Court more than 30 years ago for the right to use their respective names, but recently they were back at it, thanks to a new label called The Stag, introduced by Treasury Wine Estates.

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