Chimney Rock, in the Stags Leap district of Napa Valley, California, was founded in 1980 when Sheldon Wilson, a former Pepsi executive, and his wife Sheila bought the Chimney Rock Golf Course and bulldozed half of it to make way for vineyards. The first vintage was in 1984. In 2000 the Terlato Wine Group of Chicago, one of the nation’s largest importers of high end wine, bought into the estate. In 2004 the Terlato group took full ownership of Chimney Rock. The closely-held Terlato Wine Group also owns Rutherford Hill, Alderbrook and Sanford Winery. Today the winery is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, though it also produces Fume Blanc, Rose, and several Bordeaux-style blends. Wine Advocate has often complimented the estate’s wine, as in 2005, when the reviewer wrote that “elegant reds and whites routinely emerge from Chimney Rock. In fact, those who claim California wines lack finesse and delicacy should check out these offerings.”
Stags Leap District AVA in southern Napa Valley has a storied history. It is home to Stag’s Leap Cellars, whose 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won the famous Judgment of Paris blind tasting that included several of Bordeaux’s most exalted First Growths. Vineyards were started in area in the late 19th century, but the district’s rise in prestige started in the late 1960s when Nathan Fay planted Cabernet Sauvignon. Fay later sold his estate to Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Cellars. The district was given its own AVA designation in 1989, and today there are 1,400 vineyard acres. The AVA is especially notable because it was the first in the U.S. to be granted AVA status based on terroir. Its distinctive soils is a mix of volcanic soils, river sediment and loamy clay-like soil. Because the soils don’t retain water well, vineyards in Stag’s Leap tend to grow fruit with great intensity and flavor. Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 95% of the grapes planted in Stags Leap.
The Merlot grape is such a deep blue that it is named for the blackbird. It’s an early ripening grape and one of the primary varietals used In Bordeaux. Merlot is also grown in the "International style," which is harvested later to bring out more tannins and body.