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Extension of Wine District Causes a Flap

Times Staff Writer

A federal agency bucked influential Napa Valley vintners and decided on Thursday to include a group of grape growers and small wine makers in the Stags Leap district, one of the most prestigious wine-producing areas in the country.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms approved the boundaries of the Stags Leap viticultural area almost as proposed by vintners Robert Mondavi, John Shafer, Warren Winiarski and 19 others in 1985.

But the agency extended the boundary north by 500 yards to include two small wineries and a half-dozen growers who fought hard to be included and maintained that their grapes are the same as grapes within the proposed boundary.

Cabernet sauvignon from the area has topped some of the best French wine in tastings and has been served at state dinners. Perhaps the most acclaimed vintner there is Winiarski and his Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

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Now, all wine makers in the area will be able to say on their labels that the wine comes from Stags Leap, named after a rock outcropping. That likely will lead to increased prices for the wine and for land, which already sells for more than $40,000 an acre.

“It would have been a travesty if we were excluded,” said John Anderson, who, with his father, Stan Anderson, produces white wine and has fought to be a part of the Stags Leap appellation. “Whether it’s going to mean some huge jump in my sales, I don’t know. But we felt the consumer would be misinformed if we were not included.”

With Anderson’s land and that of his neighbors in Stags Leap, the district encompasses roughly 2,800 acres--less than half of it is planted--on the eastern edge of Napa Valley.

Stags Leap is the 104th viticultural area in the country. It also is among the most controversial. More than 150 lovers of fine wine wrote to tell the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms where the boundaries should be drawn.

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The dispute may not be over. The original Stags Leap petitioners can sue to have the lines drawn more to their liking.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that some kind of action would be brought. Pine Ridge will not be a party to that,” Gary Andrus, owner of Pine Ridge winery and one of the original Stags Leap vintners. Andrus said that while he was disappointed that growers and vintners to the north will be included, “it’s time to put away all the hatchets.”

Vintners who asked for the designation maintained that the land to the north, though separated in spots by nothing other than fences, produces grapes that differ from grapes grown within the original boundary. The petitioners also noted that many growers to the north produced white wine; Stags Leap is known for its Cabernet.

Viticultural areas, also called appellations, tell consumers where grapes used in wine are grown. To list an appellation on a label, 85% of the grapes must come from the area.

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Wine makers increasingly are seeking government approval of small boutique appellations, which are used to market more expensive wine.


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