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Stags Leap AVA
Stags Leap AVA
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Stags Leap AVA
Stags Leap AVA
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Stags Leap AVA
Stags Leap AVA

Images Courtesy of Suzanne Becker Bronk

The Stags Leap District AVA is a Napa Valley Appellation that is known for being the first American Viticultural Area in the United States to be created based on the distinct qualities of its soil.

Appellation Details

Stags Leap District is an American Viticultural Area located within Napa Valley, about six miles north of the City of Napa. Considered to be a valley within a valley, Stags Leap District is located between the Stags Leap Palisades on the east side and the Napa River on the west. The Stags Leap District covers an area that is three miles long and one mile wide, with over half of its 2700 acres planted to grapevines.

Stags Leap District wines are known for being an “iron fist in a velvet glove.” The wines are like this for several reasons. First of all, this area is low in the valley so has regular access to breezes and fog from the San Pablo Bay which makes for a cooler environment. Secondly, the knolls and the Palisades work to form a wind tunnel. Above a certain mph, wind will actually shut down the vine and thereby slow photosynthesis and ripening. This extends the growing season considerably.

The region’s soils are a mix of sandstone, shale, gravelly loam and volcanic material. It is home to one of east Napa Valley’s few alluvial fans and is the only valley floor appellation to not extend the full width of the valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape here and the wines tend to be soft with plush fruit and ripe tannins, but a sometimes strident acidity.

The rocky hillsides of the Stags Leap Palisades reflect heat and cause the vineyards to grow hotter more quickly than other areas in Napa Valley, but in the evening the cooling, marine breeze from San Pablo Bay sweeps through like a funnel. The nighttime cooling breeze from San Pablo Bay and surrounding hills produces lower overnight temperatures which allows grapes to achieve a desirable balance of acid and sugar. These conditions produce a longer growing season of warm days and cooler nights, which is beneficial to the cultivation of late-maturing grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon.


  • 400 to 2663 ft (122 to 793 m)


  • Volcanic gravel loams on valley floor
  • Rocky hillsides
  • low to moderate fertility
  • hard clay subsoils


  • Moderately warm with cooling afternoon marine winds
  • Warm air radiates off the bare rocks of Stags Leap itself and the surrounding hillsides
  • Mid-summer high temperatures can reach 100°F (38°C)
  • Typical normal temperatures are in the mid-90s°F (35°C)


  • 30 inches (75 cm) annually

Principal Varieties:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Sauvignon Blanc

Stags Leap District AVA History

General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo

General Mariano Vallejo

The region now known as Stags Leap was once part of Rancho Yajome, a Mexican Land Grant given by General Mariano Vallejo in 1841 to Damaso Rodríguez, a soldier in his army. Following his death, the property was eventually acquired by Salvador Vallejo, the brother of General Vallejo.

The origin of the name "Stags Leap" has several theories, but the most popular one is attributed to a native Wappo legend of a wild stag who would leap from peak to peak to avoid hunters, or would leap to its death instead of being killed. A different version was of a stag who evaded an entire generation of hunters by leaping and vanishing at the last moment.

The history of viticulture in Stags Leap goes back to 1878, when Terill L. Grigsby established the area's first winery called Occidental Winery. Later, in 1893, entrepreneur Horace Chase built the first winery in the area to bear the Stags Leap name. By the mid 1890's, Chase's winery was producing over 40,000 gallons of wine per year, but the onset of Phylloxera and then Prohibition caused most of the area farmers to convert their vineyards to orchards. In the early 1960's, a resurgence of winegrowing began when Nathan Fay planted the area's first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. Then, in 1976 at a blind tasting held in Paris, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars was awarded first place in a competition against renowned French wine producers. In 1989, the Stags Leap District was officially designated as an American Viticultural Area. Since then, the area has continued to be renowned as one of Napa Valley's finest sub-appellations.


"As Napa's smallest appellation, Stags Leap District boasts a tight-knit community of vintners dedicated to expressing the region's unique terroir. Extremely rocky soils combine with warm days and cool nights to produce wines with intense fruit qualities balanced by freshness and delicate tannins."
- Allison Cellini Wilson, Lede Family Wines

"There is a thread that connects these wines and it is the Stag's Leap regional personality. All the wines have velvety texture - a lushness that is nicely balanced by a firm acidity. They are big without being clumsy and awkward"
- Anthony Dias Blue, The Tasting Alliance

Notable Wines sourced from Stags Leap AVA

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 2017 'ELIA' Cabernet Sauvignon

Derived from the Greek word for “olive,” symbolizing peace and prosperity, the ELIA Rosé is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the iconic FAY Vineyard. The FAY vineyard is where the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars story began. Established by pioneering grape grower Nathan Fay in 1961, it was the first planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in what is now the Stags Leap District.

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Terlato Vineyards
Terlato Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine comes from the Stags Leap District, hailed as the best Cabernet Sauvignon appellation in California. The unique soil and climate allow Stages Leap Cabernet Sauvignons to rival the great Grand Crus of Bordeaux.

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Nickel & Nickel
Nickel & Nickel 2016 'Copper Streak Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon

Copper Streak Vineyard is located in a protected hollow at the base of the palisades in Stags Leap District. The soils are composed of Perkins gravelly loam mixed with red, copper-like streaks, which is how the vineyard got its name. The vines receive a western exposure and are of moderate size, yielding loose clusters with small berries. The climate in Stags Leap is very warm. Mid-afternoon breezes, however, sweep in to cool things down, allowing for excellent ripening. We produce wine from seven of the vineyard’s 30 acres.

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Cliff Lede Vineyards
Cliff Lede Vineyards 2016 'Stags Leap District' Cabernet Sauvignon

The backbone of Cliff Lede Vineyards, our Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon represents the character of our estate, from the steep, rocky volcanic slopes of our Poetry Vineyard to the gravelly, alluvial soils of our Twin Peaks Vineyard.

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Stags Leap Resources and References

  1. "§ 9.117 Stags Leap District" (Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Part 9 — American Viticultural Areas; Subpart C — Approved American Viticultural Areas). Code of Federal Regulations. Retrieved October 31, 2007.
  2. "AVA Spotlight: Stags Leap District". The California Association of Winegrape Growers. February 11, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  3. Napa's Stags Leap District AVA novusvinum.com
  4. Palmer, Lyman L.; Wells, Harry Laurenz (1881). History of Napa and Lake Counties, California. Slocum, Bowen & Company. ISBN 978-1363000555.
  5. Weber, Lin (1998). Old Napa Valley: The History to 1900. Wine Ventures Publishing. ISBN 9780966701401.
  6. Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association | Napa’s Neighborhood for World-Class Cabernet. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.stagsleapdistrict.com/

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