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Regional profile: Stags Leap District

Twenty-five years after it became an AVA in 1989, this narrow strip of eastern Napa continues to enjoy a near-mythical status. While its elegant yet powerful Cabernet-based wines command elevated prices, there’s never any shortage of demand, as Adam Lechmere reports

Stags Leap: Six producers to watch

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Canadian native Lede purchased 22ha at the northernmost tip of the appellation in 2002, employing David Abreu as his vineyard architect and planting to the five Bordeaux varietals. Although the vineyards are named after classic rock anthems (Stairway to Heaven, Born to be Wild…), the wines are surprisingly restrained, with winemaker Remi Cohen valuing precision and tension above all.

Ilsley Vineyards

David Ilsley runs the vineyards at Shafer next door, and from the family’s 9.5ha of ‘decomposing volcanic hillside’ produces a pair of Cabernet Sauvignons and a Malbec blend. A former grower for Mondavi, Ilsley looks for ‘suppleness of tannins and a little bit of herb on the nose’. The Malbec is particularly fine, with grainy tannins, cherry and sweet damson on the palate.

Odette Estate Winery

In 2012, Plumpjack Group bought 19ha of Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec from Dick Steltzner, the first man after Nathan Fay to plant vines in the region. There’s a new winery with a dozen tiny tanks and conical concrete fermenters. The first vintage, the 2012, looks very promising. Former Screaming Eagle owner Jean Phillips bought Pillar Rock next door.

Regusci

Jim Regusci (whose resemblance to the late, great James Gandolfini – or Tony Soprano – is so marked that he is frequently stopped in the street for photographs) makes a range of bold, classic wines in one of Stags Leap’s most historic properties, the handsome 19th-century stone Grigbsy-Occidental Winery bought by his grandfather in 1932.

Hartwell

Slick, classy operation owned by septuagenarian millionaire and Francophile Bob Hartwell. Bordeaux-trained Benoît Touquette (the cultish list of past winemakers includes Celia Welch, Heidi Barrett and Andy Erickson) crafts sophisticated, perfumed Cabernets with the help of the most up-to-date equipment on the market. Heavy investment in vineyard and soil research.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

This undisputed aristocrat of the district sold for US$187m to a joint venture of Chateau Ste Michelle and Antinori in 2007. Immediate changes included a new winemaker, a new cellar cooling system to clear brettanomyces (it was a problem, according to Ste Michelle boss Ted Baseler) and a new US$7m (£4m) visitor centre. Renzo Cotarella of Antinori insists the style will remain the same.

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