It was May 24,1976 when a simple, blind wine-tasting, organized by an English wine merchant in celebration of the American Bicentennial activities in Paris, changed the world of wine forever. Known as the Judgment of Paris, the tasting pitted high quality French red Bordeaux and white Burgundies against California Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. The identities of the wines were concealed and the labels revealed only after the jury of nine French tasters had voted its order of preference.
Lo and behold, 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was declared the best. The Cabernet topped four highly-ranked Bordeaux, including first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. (A 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from California bested its French counterparts.) The result at the time was inconceivable, and today continues to be cause for celebration in the Napa Valley, home to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, founded in 1970, and considered a Napa Valley first-growth estate.
The 40th anniversary of the historic event in May saw Napa wineries pulling out all the celebratory stops, but no celebration was greater than that at the home of the victor. Welcoming party guests to their Fay Outlook and Visitor Center, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars used the occasion to release a 2013 vintage of its iconic S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with a commemorative label replicating the original 1973 Paris-winning S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon.
Guests mixed and mingled among the vines while enjoying Stag’s Leap wines and gourmet bites prepared by Meadowood Catering. Live music added to the festive atmosphere. Toasts were made and glasses often raised.
“The surprise win in 1976 by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – and Chateau Montelena Winery with their Chardonnay – truly changed the course of history,” said Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. “What the Judgment of Paris did was give credibility. It was a trigger event that gave validity to the quality of American wines. It set a high benchmark and legacy for the winery, and one that we work every day to respect and take to new heights.”
Winemaker Marcus Notaro agrees that wine quality is the primary focus today. “Stag’s Leap has made significant investments in technology and vineyard replanting, and quality is at an all-time high,” he said. “The fact that the 2013 vintage was one of the best in Napa Valley makes the release of the 40th Anniversary vintage even more special.”