Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars owns two driver vineyards, Fay and S.L.V., that are among the best in Napa Valley. But the celebrated winery hasn’t been getting great mileage out of either one as of late, and its flagship wine, Cask 23, has been underperforming as well. Artemis, a brand aimed at providing value, hasn’t worked well either.
Expect that to change rather abruptly, starting with the 2005 vintage.
Last week the subject of quality and style of Stag’s Leap's Cabernets came up when I met with Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Last year, Ste. Michelle and Piero Antinori teamed up to buy this famous Napa winery for $185 million.
It was an unusual deal, admits Baseler, since Stag’s Leap’s owner, Warren Winiarski, approached Antinori and in turn Ste. Michelle about their possible interest in one of wine’s most famous names.
Winiarski “effectively invited us [to buy] the winery,” said Baseler, and Ste. Michelle was more than happy to. Without heirs to take over the winery, Winiarski sought the best stewards of the land and brand he could find and I think he made a wise choice. Antinori’s long history of running a family owned winery appealed to Winiarski, but Antinori wanted to partner with Ste. Michelle in an arrangement similar to what they have in Washington State with Col Solare. Antinori also owns Antica Napa Valley.
Part of what makes that relationship work is Ste. Michelle’s philosophy of letting its wineries operate as independent companies with their own identities. And the goal with Stag’s Leap will be to raise the quality of its reds, including that of Cask 23, Fay, S.L.V. and Artemis, which have been notably earthy and sometimes funky to an extreme in recent vintages.
The focus with Stag’s Leap will be to honor what Winiarski created and improve quality.
“Warren never skimped on the vineyards, so there’s no problem with [excessive] yields,” Baseler said, adding, “I think there are some stylistic issues.”
One is he would like the wines to offer more fruit complexity and parts of the cellar needed an overhaul that will lead to a cleaner environment. “I think with the ’05 [Cask 23] we’ll bring out a little more fruit sweetness and less of the herbal [character],” Baseler said.
This will be worth watching, since the vineyards are capable of making great wines and Ste. Michelle and Antinori should be the team to turn it around.