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by Fred McMillin
for December 23, 1999

 

Bet The Ranch On This One

 

Prologue

Stags Leap  
"The Stags Leap Distict lies east of the Napa River, five miles north of the city of Napa along the Silverado Trail. It is dominated by an imposing 1,500-foot basalt bluff, flanked by hills which open to the southwest, creating a unique microclimate. It produces superb Cabernet Sauvignon, a soft, supple, low-tannin libation, with delicacy, elegance and a pronounced cherry flavor.

...Dr. John Baxevanis, The Wine Regions of American


The Rest of the Story

Would you believe, for a hundred years the Stags Leap problem was not enough demand for the grapes. Let's go back and see.


A Barn Burner

At a brisk seven miles an hour, the oxcart headed west from Missouri. Aboard were the wife and seven children of Terrell Grigsby. The family arrived in 1852 at the eastern Napa Valley. By 1876 he had lots of wine grapes but no market. He proposed the construction of one or more coop wineries. Other growers were receptive, but too slow for Terrell. Consequently, two years later he built a huge stone winery...walls were two feet thick...the doors were eight feet wide to accomodate horse and wagon...the floor was 112' long, 58' wide...the roof was 54' above the ground.

But problems arose. Terrell's use of Chinese labor resulted in his barn being burned, with a warning note that there would be more of the same. Furthmore, the devastating phylloxera insect had arrived. The only positive development was that not long after, the area acquired its now-prestigious name. Based on the legend of a stag escaping from hunters by a prodigious leap across a chasm, in 1893 one Horace Chase built a winery nearby and named it Stags Leap.


Prohibition

Milk production replaced wine in the 1920s (though it's said there was a bit of [illegal] brandy production on the third floor). with Repeal, Gaetano Regusci purchased the historic building and land. He produced some wine, but had to grow corn, hay, prunes and walnuts to stay afloat. Son Angelo continued the tradition as did grandson Jim and his wife, Diane. However, just four years ago Jim and Diane made their own Leap. They revived the winery; the doors to the Regusci Winery swung open about a year ago. We'll soon report on our tasting of their '97 Cab. Meanwhile, if you can't wait to try the wine that would make Mr. Grigsby smile...

1997 Regusci Cabernet Sauvignon
Stags Leap District, Napa Valley
Price—$42 range
Contact—Susan Ferrin, (707) 963-5050, FX (707) 963-8527


Postscript

When Mr. Grigsby built a winery, he didn't fool around. His original plant had a capacity to produce enough wine to fill over 100,000 cases a year.
Credits—Research: Diane Bulzomi; Wm. Heintz, Wine Country

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

WineDay Annex

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