The Story of Napa Valley’s Iconic Stagecoach Vineyard

The Stagecoach Vineyard is one of the most iconic and important in all of Napa Valley. It recently changed hands, purchased in April 2017 by E. & J. Gallo Winery for $180 million. More than 90 top wineries including Chateau Montelena, Plumpjack and Quintessa have for decades relied on the prized fruit from Stagecoach for their Cabernet Sauvignon and other wines, but that may soon end, with Gallo’s potential decision not to renew purchasing contracts.

What makes this historic vineyard and its fruit so desirable?

The story of Stagecoach can be traced back to the 1800s, when a bandit named Charles Earl Bowles – aka “Black Bart” – robbed the daily stagecoach as it made its pass over the hill from St. Helena to Monticello.Soon thereafter, German settlers discovered the property and planted it to wine grapes that fetched record-breaking prices for the time. But in the early 1900s, the growing deer population overran the property and by the time Prohibition kicked in, all viticulture was abandoned on the property.Enter Dr. Jan Krupp. In 1991, Krupp, a medical doctor and wine enthusiast, saw a real estate ad for land in Napa Valley high above the valley floor in the eastern hills, on Atlas Peak. For decades, no one thought it would be worth the cost or effort to restore the land to a vineyard — it was chock-full of rocks, boulders, and scrubby vegetation. But Dr. Krupp saw potential. He and his brother spent years clearing the property, planting vines along the way. In 1995, Dr. Krupp snapped up the entire property.

As wine journalist James Laube of Wine Spectator wrote in a Nov. 15, 2000 story, “Under Krupp’s guidance, Stagecoach Vineyards ranks as one of the most ambitious vineyard developments to be undertaken in Napa Valley in the past two decades.” The property is massive – 1,300 total acres, with 600 acres planted to grapes – mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but other noble varieties also are planted. Krupp spent $4 million planting 500,000 vines and celebrated his first harvest in 1996. Over the years, top wineries from all over Napa Valley have lined up to purchase grapes from Stagecoach Vineyard – more than 90, in fact. Of those, more than 30 wineries use the Stagecoach Vineyard name on their labels. The fruit fetches top prices for many reasons. Firstly, its geography and topography are unique. The entire Stagecoach vineyard has been described as a “hanging bowl” – sort of a mountainous valley that Atlas Peak itself looks down upon. In addition, Stagecoach Vineyard benefits from other key elements: climate (cooling breezes of San Pablo Bay help keep temperatures down); altitude (it spans 1,200 to 1,750 feet above sea level); volcanic soils allowing efficient drainage and forcing roots deeper seeking nutrients; deep water sources beneath the vineyard and south-facing exposures for maximum sun.

Together, these features make Stagecoach a very special vineyard that is home to some of the best fruit in all of Napa Valley. Wines featuring Stagecoach fruit exhibit unmistakable terroir, richness and intensity and are enjoyable when young but also very ageable. Stagecoach wines are celebrated by winemakers and wine enthusiasts alike as some of the most unique and interesting in the world.

By Wine Writer Liz Barrett

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