...and don't forget to email your questions or comments!
Click here to EMAIL!

Shangri-la in Stag's Leap

Does this house look familiar to you? (February, 1998) Keep reading if you want to find out why. It's part of the Stags' Leap Winery estate in Stags Leap District, Napa Valley – recently acquired by Beringer.

    The estate is so well hidden by the hills as to be invisible from the road. But once you get there, what a place! It's like diving down a time-tunnel into California history.

    First you notice the old gardens planted with spindly palms and exotic fruit trees. Then a stone manor house with a castellated turret, built back in 1880-1890. Then a concrete hole in the ground, which is said to be one of the first freshwater swimming tanks built in California. The winery itself was constructed way back in 1893, complete with caves hand-dug from the mountainside.

    The estate has seen various incarnations. Originally it was home for a wealthy family, who erected most of the structures and subsequently lost their fortune on the silver market. Then it fell to a set of somewhat weirdly enterprising aristocrats, who ran cattle, made cheese, and raised hogs and turkeys – all this in addition to the grape ranching. They turned the place into Napa Valley's poshest resort. Film stars came out in the summer to take in the scenery. In the 40s, they say it was a bordello – easy to believe, since it's so well concealed.

    We explored it all, especially the manor house, which had been boarded up for years, presumably for tax purposes. Neat place. Big closets. Beautiful staircase. Secret trap door.

    You wander around on the grand front porch and imagine parties long ago. Shrieks of laughter. Live jazz bands. Ice clinking in glasses. Guests waking up, hung-over...taking a dip in the tank and a late breakfast... nibbling on bowls of fruit from the nearby trees.

    The view from the "power spot" in front of the manor house belongs on a label. Rolling  field of grapes, hills in the distance. We felt a little like visitors to an abandoned Shangri-la. So concealed. So romantic. Or maybe, given this is California, it's more like a movie set?

    Well, actually, it is a movie set. The house appeared in This Earth is Mine, Killer Bees and the TV serial Falconcrest. But I remember it best from Walt Disney's Pollyanna – yes, this is the house where Hayley Mills played the little girl glad about everything. Remember how she climbed out of the upper-story window and shinnied down the tree?

    We sat in one of the outbuildings and sampled a couple of Stags Leap Winery releases while snacking on pate, smoked salmon and cheese. Time flew fast. I've had worse afternoons.

The STAGS' LEAP WINERY 1996 CHARDONNAY will not make you forget Beringer Private Reserve. Bland and kind of neutral.

But the STAGS' LEAP 1994 CABERNET SAUVIGNON reveals the potential of the place. Deep purple, with soft tannins, and forward black cherry notes, it shows the flavor profile of other Stags Leap District Cabs I like -- and I have little doubt that the wine will attain new heights under Beringer management.

     Somewhat regretfully, we finished our goodies and headed back to the present. This will be a winery to follow.

Top of page

Back to articles contents page



     Tasting Notes     Articles
Main Contents     Under $16     Search     Blog