Stag’s Leap Cellars literally leaped into fame when it was a mere six years old. The winery stunned the wine world when its 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was selected as the best of the best at the famed 1976 Judgment of Paris. The Stag’s Leap Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon topped the first-growth French Bordeaux wines, shocking the French. The event gave credence to the Napa Valley as a bonified wine region of the world. Stag’s Leap Cellars has always touted this 1973 wine as its first vintage. But my wine friend Mike Beltran recently discovered something very interesting that had been hiding deep in his wine cellar, three bottles of 1972 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. How could this be?
As the story goes, Stag’s Leap Cellars made a 1972 Cab but it was never released to the public. Warren Winiarski, the famed founder and winemaker of Stag’s Leap, felt the wine needed more time to age and released his excellent 1973 Cabernet as the first official vintage of the winery. So how did Mike Beltran get three bottles of this mystery 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Cellars? While Mike was working at the Pacific Wine Shop in San Francisco, Warren Winiarski was good friends with the owner and apparently let him sell some of this wine. Mike had the good sense at the time to purchase three of these bottles. The price tag of $5.15 is still on the bottles.
Mike has a solid collection of wines and is always interested in wheeling and dealing treasured wines from his cellar. With that in mind off Mike and I went with his three bottles of 1972 Cab to Stag’s Leap Cellars to see if there was a chance for a good wine exchange. When we arrived, the two men working the tasting room were absolutely astounded to see the wine. They called in the tasting room manager who also eyeballed the wine with excitement. The tasting room manager explained that he was sure the winery would be interested in a trade, but he could not make the decision. He told us that the next week management would call Mike to negotiate. Indeed they did call early the next week. They told Mike the company has a no trade policy. Sorry Mike, but no thanks. That struck us as a little odd. Why not keep every historic bottle you could get your hands on? If it had been Warren Winiarski, he may have made the trade. But Warren sold the winery in 2007 to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Antinori Wines. Apparently, the corporate wine world sees things much differently. The “Mom and Pop” sentamentality does not necessarily translate into corporate strategy or higher profits. No matter what anyone says, a winery is going to be different once it is taken over by a big wine company.
It is sad to see many a winery in California sold to the big wine business world. The latest victim of this trend is the famous Sebastiani Vineyards of Sonoma County. The family claims the sale to the Foley Wine Group will keep the winery with its same family philosophy. When you are running several wineries, identities are lost and the history begins to fade as we witnessed with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar, not even making a minor attempt to keep some interesting memorabilia.