The Defining Moments in California’s Wine-Making History

By 1895, the Napa Valley wine business was booming and Stags’ Leap was producing upwards of 40,000 gallons of wine annually. Before the 19th century, no one would have ever imagined that a small district right in the heart of California would one day become a worldwide sensation, known for the finest wines in the United States and beyond. Indeed, Napa Valley has come a long way. This region has witnessed both good and turbulent times. 

When George Yount first arrived in Napa Valley in 1839, hopes were low. Napa Valley was not a particular favorite in the grand scheme of things. But thankfully, George was daring. He planted his first set of grapes full of confidence, and the rest is now history. 

Today, Napa Valley hosts over 3 million wine lovers every year. In fact, this region has enabled the emergence of more than 500 wineries! 

Without a doubt, all wineries in Napa Valley are top quality. But this does not mean that there won’t always be a first among equals! Over the years, Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap have constantly been in the mouth and heart of every wine lover in the States. And that is not simply because of their unmatchable artistry but their common history. 

So, what exactly is so fascinating affair about this historic rivalry? What could lead to two companies in the same business bearing almost identical names? These and other related issues are examined in this piece. But first, we must trace the origins and development of Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap.

Stags Leap Winery, Napa Valley, California, USA

How Did Stag’s Leap Come About?

Stag’s Leap is the brainchild of legendary wine connoisseur Warren Winiarski. For years, Warren poured his heart and soul into his business. He massively enjoyed working with tractors, especially the Ford 4000. 

In 1970, Warren founded Stag’s Leap. A born visionary, it was not long before his business became a household name. But in 1976, Stag’s Leap launched itself to true stardom. At a wine-tasting competition in Paris, Stag’s Leap was announced as the competition’s winner, to people’s amazement! This win is often credited to the winery’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon. On the back of Warren’s victory, the whole of Napa Valley became popular as the new hub for the best wines in California. 

After many years of outstanding success in the wine-making business, it was time for Warren Winiarski to take a bow. In 2007, Ste Michelle and Antinori of Washington and Tuscany indicated an interest in taking over the winery. The duo later took ownership of Stag’s Leap. 

Now in his 90s, Warren Winiarski still enjoys recognition as the founder of Stag’s Leap. Right above his winery, this gentleman takes in the beautiful scenery of Napa Valley. 

Of course, Stag’s Leap has been around for some time. However, there’s a competitor with an even longer history. Stags’ Leap is one of the true grandmasters of California’s winery. 

What about Stags’ Leap?

It did not get its name by accident. The business took its name from a popular American legend. In this legend, a hunter set out for an expedition, looking for prey. Upon sighting the hunter, the stag sensed danger and immediately leaped to safety.  Unlike other wineries in the valley, Stags’ Leap does not enjoy quite so much popularity. We attribute this to the peculiarities of the winery. Stags’ Leap imposes restrictions on the number of customers it hosts per day.

Similarly, visitors cannot simply walk in as they please. The estate is deliberately removed from public attention. On one of Stags’ Leap’s glass windows, the company’s slogan is inscribed in Latin, Ne Cede Malis, meaning Never give in to misfortune.”Stags’ Leap Winery was founded in 1893 and was bought by Napa Vintner and Carl Doumani in 1970. Before Carl took over, wine was not actually produced by the company. But Carl made good on his promise to restore the former lost glory. 

As it stands today, Stags’ Leap Winery is managed by Treasury Wine Estates. This company also manages quite a good number of historical wineries in Napa Valley. 

War of the Apostrophe

Perhaps one of the more interesting moments in wine-making history, the war of the apostrophe must have been a tremendous spectacle to witness!

Warren Winiarski and Carl Doumani from Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap, respectively, had originally founded their wineries around the same time in the 1970s. Known for its rocky soils, the area hosted both companies. Therefore, both owners decided to honor their district, keen to name their wines after the area. 

Initially, no one was bothered by the fact that both wineries had similar names. The wineries coexisted and were looking to expand in California. But trouble soon began in 1976 when Stag’s Leap won the 1976 Paris wine-tasting competition, otherwise known as the Judgment of Paris. Laying claim to the name, Winiarski implored the court to grant him ownership of the name. But Doumani would not have it. He countersued, and a long cycle of litigation commenced. 

The legal battle became so intense that the California Supreme Court eventually had to step in as the final arbiter. In its wisdom, the court held that both parties had a lawful claim to the name. Furthermore, it was held that the apostrophe in each name sufficed to differentiate the brands from one another. 

In the end, none of the parties really lost out. Instead, they actually became friends. As a mark of their friendship, Stag Leap’s and Stag Leaps’ collaborated and released a vintage of the Cabernet Sauvignon in 1985. This was named the Accord.

Notwithstanding the resolution of the battle of the apostrophes, confusion persists. For example, if you go to a store to get Stag’s Leap wine, chances are you might mistake it for Stags’ Leap wine. Perhaps annoyingly, their logos are also very similar. 

If your love is for Stags’ Leap, you should have a taste of their popular Petite Sirah. But, likewise, you could be missing out if you fail to grab a bottle of Stag Leap’s award-winning wine – the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Above all, it is immaterial whether or not you are getting either wine. What matters most is that you are going “Stag!”

More Reads:

The Judgment of Paris and Its Revolutionary Implications in the Winemaking

History of Napa Valley

On This Day

May 24, 1976 – The widely acclaimed Judgment of Paris put a Californian winery on the world map. Steven Spurrier, an innovative wine merchant, was curious to know how well California’s wine could fare beside its French counterparts. To this end, Steven organized a blind wine-tasting competition in Paris. This event was in honor of the American Bicentennial activities. 

French tasters were chosen to ensure fairness. At the end of the competition, the 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon outmatched French wineries. Everyone was amazed at how a vintage wine, barely three years old, managed to outrank even the supposedly favorite wines of the competition. Since that day, California’s wine history has never remained the same. Accordingly, Barbara Ensrud of Wall Street Journal has quipped that the Paris tasting occasioned a revolution like a vinous shot heard around the world. 

February 20, 2020 – Stag’s Leap celebrated its 50th founding anniversary. From the 20th to the 22nd of February, the winery held several festivities to mark Stag’s Leaps milestone. The anniversary kicked off at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

March 9, 2021 – Having made his mark in the wine industry, Steven Spurrier took his final bow from the world. He was the coordinator of the famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris,” a blind-tasting competition that brought fame to Napa Valley’s wines and the United States wine industry.  

To read more about Napa Valley, read the book below!

Crush- The Triumph of California Wine The Essential Guide to Bordeaux Wines



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