Co-Recipient of the first annual Boca Bacchanal Award of Excellence
One could say that Warren Winiarski was meant to make wine—after all, his last name translates “son of a vintner” in Polish. As a child he recalls pressing his ear to the barrels in which his father was fermenting wine, listening to the mysterious sounds. Little did he know that one day, he would change the way the world regards California wines.
After obtaining a graduate degree at the University of Chicago and gaining an appreciation for wine at the casual dining table while living in Italy for a year, he and his wife Barbara began to ponder a way to live a more rural lifestyle, a place where they and their young children could grow and perhaps be involved in a family business. Fast forward to 1964, when the Winiarski family relocated to the scenic Napa Valley. Warren had a vision of creating a new wine from the fruit of an American vine, rather than the storied vineyards of Italy and France.
The Napa Valley was experiencing a winegrowing renaissance. Warren managed to secure an assistant position at Lee Stewart’s Souverain Cellars, working closely with the winemaker to learn the craft. A year later he planted a three-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, and in what was to forecast his future success, Warren was the first to plant the varietal in an area that would later become known for its great Cabernets. After being invited as assistant winemaker at Robert Mondavi’s winery in 1966, the first new winery in the Valley since Prohibition, Warren began to search in earnest for the perfect terroir, a place to create his dream wine.
After a long search, he found just the place on the Eastern side of the Valley, by the rocky Stags Leap Palisade. Here, he and his wife, along with a group of partners, purchase the land that would become build Stags Leap Vineyard (S.L.V.). After planting to Cabernet and Merlot, in 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars opened its doors. Just three years later, the fruits of Warren’s labor would pay off.
In a world where the great vintages of Europe reigned supreme, few would have even dared to consider that California wines could compete. But at the now-famous 1976 Paris tasting, a panel of French experts chose Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon in a blind tasting of red wines, over some of the most highly regarded Grand Cru Bordeaux—leaving both the audience and judges awestruck! The event made news around the globe, and both Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and the Napa Valley became internationally recognized.
Since that time, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has continued to produce wines that have won critical acclaim, including its white wines. It is best known for estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignons including CASK 23, regarded among the finest Cabernets in the world. Warren, always dedicate to elevating the quality of wine, has lectured, authored articles, and been instrumental in encouraging a more sophisticated method of scoring California wines. In 2001 he served as president of the London-based International Wine & Spirit Competition, where he has sponsored the Cabernet Sauvignon trophy since 1986. Warren continues to teach, tutoring a week each summer with the St. John’s College Summer Classics program at the college’s Santa Fe campus.
And the values of preservation and philanthropy can clearly be seen in the work of Warren and his family, fighting for the creation of an Agricultural Preserve to prevent urban sprawl, which became law in 1968 in addition to more recent efforts. In 1998 Warren began a tradition of matching auction bids at the annual Napa Valley Wine Auction, and putting the funds towards philanthropic causes. Clearly, Warren has helped make California wines and the Napa Valley what they are today, and the consummate co-recipient of the first-ever Boca Bacchanal Award of Excellence.