Profound expressions of the best terroir in Napa Valley, the wines from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars are highly prized. (photos courtesy of the winery)

Since its founding in 1970, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has exhibited an unwavering commitment to crafting true expressions of its historic S.L.V. and FAY estate vineyards. The house is as close as any place could come to Napa royalty.

Today, the CASK 23, S.L.V., FAY, and ARTEMIS labels are among the most highly-regarded and collected Cabernet Sauvignons in the world. As the lauded winery celebrates its golden anniversary, we asked winemaker Marcus Notaro about his vision for the next 50 years.

When you joined Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 2013, were you fully aware of the winery’s rich legacy?

I visited Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars for the first time when I was in college; I knew I had to see this iconic winery and taste its wines. When I was the winemaker at Col Solare (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ sister property), I started tasting the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars wines and visiting more often. When the winemaker position came open, I jumped at the chance.

Winemaker Marcus Notaro oversees the stunning property’s bottlings.

What was your approach to taking the reins?

What makes Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars so special is our two historic, adjoining estate vineyards, FAY and S.L.V, each vastly different in soil composition and flavor expression. With each vintage I learn more about how Cabernet Sauvignon expresses itself in the microclimates on these vineyards. Everything begins in the vineyard and then it all comes together in the cellar. You need to do what the vineyard and the vintage tell you to do.

How has your approach changed over the years? How have you made the wines ‘your own,’ while adhering to their iconic profiles?

I’ve put greater emphasis on matching the type of oak to the wines from the individual estates to heighten the vineyard characteristics. It’s important to me that when you taste our FAY and S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignons you are tasting the true vineyard character. I want to marry the barrel type and toast level to bring out the distinct vineyard notes.

We have also done some replanting; we added some Cabernet Franc in FAY and S.L.V.  2016 was the first vintage I added a hint of Cabernet Franc to the FAY Cabernet Sauvignon. I did this again in 2017 with 2% Cabernet Franc. 

We added some new equipment at the winery to enhance quality winemaking, including a basket press for our Estate wines and all new destemming equipment for ARTEMIS. We installed internal screens on all the fermentation tanks and have changed our pump-over techniques to better match the flavors and tannins coming from the grapes for the vintage. 

Any specific plans for stewarding the winery into its next 50 years?

It is an absolute honor and privilege to craft the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. My team and I work hard every day to raise the quality bar for the wines. We are devoted to ensuring the next 50 years are as great as the first 50!

Cabernet Sauvignon can make a rich, powerful wine without being heavy, while truly expressing where it was grown. My wine style favors balance and complexity, richness and elegance, and captures the unique characteristics of the vineyard. That’s my winemaking goal. By making this style of wine that ages well, I’m confident that our current fans will continue to love our wines and that we will make new fans along the way.