Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, which vaulted to international fame when its Napa Valley Cabernet won the Paris Tasting of 1976, has been sold for $185 million to a partnership of Washington-based Ste. Michelle Estate and Tuscan vintner Piero Antinori. The sale includes the winery and the Fay and S.L.V. vineyards, but the Winiarski family, founders of the estate, will retain ownership of the Arcadia property.
The founder of Stag's Leap's, Warren Winiarski, said in an interview with Wine Spectator, "it was time" for his family to sell. The Ste. Michele-Antinori partnership would leave the winery "in good hands," he added.
"I'll be 79 in October," Winiarski said Monday, joking, "Don't you think it's time?
"We're making a transition," he continued. "We're not walking away. My life has been devoted to the kinds of things I feel passionate about and I'm feeling good about this. We spent 10 years thinking about this and we spent the last four years [trying to] determine the truth about [what our family] wanted," Winiarski said. "I'm kind of like a bridegroom. You lose something [in this sale] and you gain something. There's a mix of sadness and joy."
Winiarski, who founded the winery in 1972, gained global renown when his second vintage, the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon, bested a group of hand-picked Bordeaux wines in a blind tasting by French judges held in Paris during the American bicentennial. The tasting enhanced not only the reputation of Stag's Leap but that of Napa Valley and California as well. The tasting was the subject of a 2005 book, Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, by George M. Taber, and is being made into two different movies, one of which is based on Taber's book.
"The entire history of American wine can be defined as 'before the Paris Tasting and after the Paris Tasting,'" said Robert Mark Kamen, who is currently writing the screenplay for the movie to be based on Taber's book.
The announcement of the sale came late Monday as the parties gathered at the Stag's Leap winery.
"This is one of those special collaborations," said Ted Baseler, president of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which owns Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Domaine Ste. Michelle, Snoqualmie, Col Solare, NorthStar, Villa Mt. Eden, Conn Creek, Spring Valley Vineyards and Erath, along with an import company. "Piero [Antinori] came to us [with news] that Warren Winiarski was ready to transition," said Baseler. The companies are already partners in the Col Solare winery in Washington, and Ste. Michelle imports Antionri's wines into the United States. "This is probably the zenith of our partnership," he added. Antinori also has another Napa brand called Antica.
Stag's Leap is best known for its Cabernet, notably its Cask 23 Cabernet blend, which sells for $150, along with its Fay and S.L.V. bottlings, which sell for about $110. The estate produces a wide range of wines, including Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, along with a line of wines under the Arcadia and Hawk Crest labels.
Despite the sale, Winiarski said he would remain with the winery for the next three years. "I'm not going to let go," he said. "I know the vineyard as well as my right hand."