Fire & Ice: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Timeless New Visitor Center
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars changed the world of wine in 1976 when its 1973 S.L.V. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon bested Bordeaux Grands Crus Classes in a blind tasting in Paris, the event immortalized by Time Magazine writer George Taber as “The Judgment of Paris”. The stunning victory emboldened leagues of vintners, media, designers and marketers to grow the Napa Valley wine industry to what it is today – world-class. Until now, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has kept a physically low-profile off the Silverado Trail, the modest tasting room hidden behind a small knoll of rocks and trees. With the grand opening of the new 6,000 square foot Fay Outlook & Visitor Center on September 23, the winery emerged from the shadows to cast a brilliant light on its legacy and the source of its great wines: the vineyards and the mountains.
The new stone and glass Visitor Center was over a decade in the making, the design conceived by world-renowned Barcelona architect Javier Barba soon the after the cellars’ Arcade, Great Room and Round Room, also designed by Barba, were completed in 2000. At the time, then-owner Warren Winiarski commissioned Barba to design the next phase – a new tasting room on an adjacent plateau with sweeping views “that responds to the rocks” of the mountains in the distance.
The final $7 million design - financed by current owners Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Marchesi Antinori - converses with the mountains through its stone structure, its angular buttresses echoing the carved façade of the iconic Stags Leap District palisades directly opposite while at the same time, directing one’s view to them. Nearly 300 tons of the stone used to construct the building was sourced directly from the property creating a natural transition to the landscape. Barba in fact is known for his integrated designs using materials from the site and loves to work with stone in particular for its “solidarity and individuality”.
The Visitor Center complements the existing Arcade and caves in design. While the Arcade shows strength in seemingly supporting the knoll, it is “hidden” per Barba. The new Visitor Center on the other hand, rises confidently “from the earth to the sky” providing mesmerizing, elevated views of Fay and S.L.V. vineyards, the mountains and the sky, their colors and textures changing dramatically during the day and over the seasons.
Ideally, the aspect is cooler north-facing, providing the best possible light with a minimum of shadows. It also allowed Barba to extend the crystal-clear Starphire glass onto the angled roof of the tasting room, adding to the natural light and sense of spaciousness inside. Reclaimed redwood, donated by Mr. Winiarski, adds warmth to the interiors.
The views from the long, curved tasting counter allows guests to connect with the terroir. S.L.V. Vineyard at the foot of the palisades contains younger, well-draining and warmer rocky soils – the fire in the alchemist’s equation – resulting in more concentrated and structured Cabernet Sauvignon. Closer up in Fay Vineyard, the richer, cooler alluvial soils around Chase Creek create more lush and fragrant wine. Each makes distinctive single-vineyard wines while the blend of the two in Cask 23 is the essence of Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon.
With the strength of the mountain stones and the magnificence of its endless views, the new Visitor Center captures the enduring legacy of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars for the ages.
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' Fay Outlook & Visitor Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa.