Vol 7: Secrets of Stags Ridge Vineyard

“Stags Ridge is a winning recipe,” 

~ Don Dady, Seven Apart Founder

The Journal | Vol. 7

Like most good stories, this one starts with a few glasses of wine. And then a few walks through a vineyard. As a lover of fine wine and a seasoned businessman, Seven Apart founder Don Dady had always wanted to return to his roots and find the right piece of land to craft world-class wines. The perfect opportunity came about in August 2018 in the form of a very special vineyard located at the apex of Atlas Peak – an appellation that sits on the highest elevation in Napa’s wine region. This is the story of Stags Ridge Vineyard.

Great Wine Starts In The Vineyard

“I knew that to make great wine, you’ve got to begin with great fruit. You can make bad wine out of good fruit, but you can’t make good wine out of bad fruit. Everything starts with the vineyards,” opens Don. “I had been looking for the right property for some time when I heard that a winery called Beau Vigne was up for sale.”

Situated in a region called Atlas Peak, Beau Vigne had access to two vineyards in one of Napa’s most sought-after appellations. Located at the very top of Beau Vigne’s property was a vineyard called Stags Ridge. Located right along the back of the Vaca Mountain Range, Stags Ridge is named after the thousands of male deer that have inhabited the neighboring land. According to Don, the vineyard neighbors Pritchard Hill and has an enviable terroir, with four key contributing factors that offer a leading edge: 

  1. Peak Location: Located at the very top of Atlas Peak, this vineyard is some of Napa’s most prime real estate. Defined by big, round tannins, the mountain fruit lends itself to producing wines of a complex structure and velvety texture.
  1. A Cut Above The Rest: Only 3% of the wine grapes grown in California are grown at altitudes above 1,000 feet in elevation, making this vineyard a particularly attractive one. At 1,400 feet elevation, Stags Ridge vineyard is situated above the morning fog line. This aspect provides access to rich yet delicate early morning sun that encourages the grapes to ripen to optimal sugar levels.
  1. Maritime Climate: The vineyard faces the Pritchard Gap, which is an opening to the San Francisco Bay. Every afternoon around 3 pm there is a refreshing maritime breeze that flows-in on the San Francisco Bay. This breeze cools down the vineyard and helps balance the sugar levels and acidity of the grapes.
  1. Sought-After Soil: Only select parts of Napa’s vineyard growing areas contain intense and nutrient-rich basaltic red volcanic soils. The soil composition is a direct result of volcanic eruptions, which tend to be shallow and rocky. This volcanic soil offers the perfect growing conditions for world-class Cabernet Sauvignon, which are complex, complicated, balanced, elegant, and much less tannic.

Don didn’t need any more convincing. Stags Ridge was the exact opportunity he had been searching for. In 2018, he purchased Beau Vigne Winery, which included the treasure that is Stags Ridge vineyard. By November  2019, Don had completely rebranded the winery and Seven Apart was born. First on the task list was refocusing the winery’s attention to extracting the best performance from the Stags Ridge vineyard.

The Winning Recipe

The truth is that Stags Ridge’s reputation did precede itself. Having previously been operated as a small, family-run business that produced wines at a custom crush facility, the results were astounding. Almost all the wines produced from Stags Ridge earned mid to high ninety-points from Robert Parker. In fact, in 2013, Stags Ridge produced the elusive 100-point winning wine. With this knowledge, Don knew he was taking a calculated leap of faith. 

 “For me, as we had these walkabouts in the vineyard, I found that the fruit would surprise me as it had these big, round tannins and that the concentration really came from the soil. In fact, the soil is more like a cobblestone street. There are giant rocks scattered throughout – some so large, that we couldn’t install trellising into the ground!” shares Don. 

For Don, a long-time devotee of Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Ridge offered a unique chance to experiment and refine. When esteemed winemaker  Andy Erickson, of Screaming Eagle fame, joined the Seven Apart crew, the team decided to make three different Cabernet Sauvignons from the same vineyard. These are the Seven Apart Shale, the Seven Apart Summit, and the Seven Apart Basalt Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Don, it’s the same rootstock, the same year, the same vineyard manager, and the same winemaker, yet depending on what part of the vineyard the grapes are selected, you get three distinctly different expressions of wine. 

“Stags Ridge is a winning recipe,” he adds. 

In It For The Long Run

While surrounding Napa appellations such as Pritchard Hill have really made a name for themselves, Atlas Peak is still a burgeoning region. According to Seven Apart General Manager Yannick Girardo, this is the most exciting part. 

“Don and the entire team love a good challenge, and we all believe in the potential of Atlas Peak. The fruit is top quality, and the vineyard is on this big, volcanic mountain with vines that are only around 22 years old. In my mind, they are just starting to produce their finest yields. You can only begin to imagine what’s to come!”

As it stands, there are three varieties grown on Stags Ridge: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The vines have been growing there since 1999, and nothing has been replanted since. This element of practically untouched territory in some of Napa’s most prestigious and sought-after land is what makes Stags Ridge such a gem. It can only get better. 

“One of the characteristics of the vineyard is that obviously, the root system doesn’t go as deep as it should as you’re peeling away this volcanic layer right underneath,” explains Yannick. “So irrigation is something we are focusing on improving. Andy and the vineyard team are busy setting up a double irrigation system to ensure that any vines that were previously lacking in water can now be properly irrigated.” 

It’s small changes and improvements such as this that will, with time, produce the most beautiful fruit. 

Don adds: “Wine is a slow game. It requires patience.” 
While Stags Ridge is still in its early days, for a businessman and wine lover, there’s no doubt that Don’s return on investment will be priceless.