The Elusive Apostrophe

January 03, 2019

Stag's Leap Cask 23

Is it Stag’s Leap or Stags’ Leap or Stags Leap? Are they all the same or are there three different wines? If you’re confused, you’re in good company. And it turns out, they are all correct. Two wineries - Stags’ Leap Winery and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars - and an AVA, Stags Leap District (no apostrophe!), all take their name from the eponymous district.

Stags Leap District, in Napa Valley, is home to some of the most famous and highly regarded wineries. Located immediately north of Napa town, Stags Leap is in a very particular spot on the valley's eastern side. It occupies a narrow, strip of the valley floor sectioned off from the main valley by a range of small hills running roughly north to south. These form the district's western edge and separate it from Yountville. The AVA is just three miles long and one mile wide, and covers 2700 acres, making it one of America's smallest. Determined not to waste any of this precious real estate, the 19 Stags Leap wineries have covered the valley floor with a dense patchwork of vineyards, broken only by access roads and winery buildings.

The Stags Leap name comes from the legend that a great stag, being pursued by hunters, made a seemingly impossible leap between the two rocky peaks that sit high above the valley. This name has been a source of some controversy – specifically the absent possessive apostrophe. Two producers founded in the 1970s – Stags' Leap Winery (now as well known for its Petite Sirah as for its Cabernet Sauvignon) and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (founded by Warren Winiarski) – came to legal blows in the mid-1980s over the name, with the former accused of benefiting from the publicity gained by the latter in the infamous Judgement of Paris tasting. The ruling was that each would keep the Stags Leap name, each with a distinct apostrophe placement. In the late 1980s, the two producers banded together to fight the creation of the official Stags Leap District in 1989, with the outcome that the AVA would eschew the apostrophe altogether.

The area's reputation has grown steadily since the 1970s, when a Cabernet Sauvignon wine made by Stag's Leap Wine Cellars was named the top red wine in the landmark Judgment of Paris tasting, beating out the likes of Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion.

When the application was made for an official Stags Leap AVA title (which was granted in 1989), a great deal of emphasis was put on the area's geology, which is made up of alluvial and colluvial soils underpinned by clay and volcanic substrata. These loose, free-draining soils force the Cabernet vines to grow strong, deep roots, ultimately leading to healthier vines and higher-quality fruit. Climate also plays a key role – located 15 miles from the northern edge of San Pablo Bay, the AVA is well placed to receive cool, moist breezes that blow northwards up the valley from San Pablo Bay. These bring the famous Napa Valley fog rolling in on summer mornings and afternoons, which provides refreshing relief from the otherwise hot, dry days.

Apostrophe mystery solved. Cheers!

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