Continuing Excellence in Napa: A Chat with Stags’ Leap Senior Winemaker and General Manager Ludovic Dervin

May 26, 2023

Napa has maintained a position of championing quality and sustainability for centuries throughout history. With the region’s popularity growing and the competition of the wine market rising, how do Napa wineries stay ahead of the game? By keeping its standards, solidifying its legacies, and making sure to work with only the best talent in the industry like Stags’ Leap past “flying winemaker,” Ludovic Dervin.

Dervin hails from France just like the last leader of Stags’ Leap, Christophe Paubert. Dervin is inspired by the traditions of his hometown Champagne, where Old World techniques and the historic viticulture and landscape has shaped his methodology.

“I realized going through winemaking school, I wasn’t in the vineyards myself. My parents did not have vineyards, but I was sitting next to kids and 80% of them already had a job set up after graduation. They were from a family seven generations into making wine,” Dervin explained. “At the time, it was becoming a trend for young winemakers to do the ‘flying winemaker’ gig. You have a backpack and you're working in the Northern Hemisphere for one harvest. Then right after that, you start another harvest in the Southern Hemisphere. You're able to do two, sometimes three, harvests in one year and learn from other people’s mistakes.”

After all Dervin’s international learning and traveling, he still saw something special in California and was very excited to land in Napa-- especially at Stags’ Leap-- with all its history.

“When I first visited Napa in the 1990s, you could see the potential just in the climate, the soil, everything that makes quality wines,” Dervin said. “But most importantly, the culture of wine was still in its infancy and still is today, when you think about it. In America, you all are from a culture that's more beer and bourbon oriented, and people are still slowly going into wine. I could see all the passion and energy that could be harnessed.

“What has happened in Napa Valley is very unique: from being a rural farm area to one of the most luxurious wine regions in the world. Napa Valley itself is a very small area, and Stags’ Leap is even smaller. There are 14 different sub-appellations in Napa Valley and Stags’ Leap is the only winery that goes back to the 1800s and that gave its name to an entire appellation.”

The latest releases from Stags’ Leap exemplify the beauty of Napa and Dervin’s devotion to letting the fruit and vines speak for the wines, using fruit that grows in the mountains for some varietals—atypical from fruit winemakers typically use.

“Suddenly, you're not just copying history like you do in Europe. Very often your freedom of creativity is a little bit limited by the regulations when making Old World wine,” Dervin said. “Of course, you're making wonderful wines and have a lot of pride in them, but I’m more of a creative mind and being able to not just duplicate history but write a new page of another valley is just a super exciting opportunity. The biggest regulator in America is the market. They leave you a lot of freedom to make something, but now you have to succeed. Cause if you fail, you fail," says Dervin.

“That kind of pressure ensures you make really good wines. The thing about Napa Valley is that it’s such a special place. Everybody really works together to make sure no one is making any weak wines. There’s no need to produce anything less than quality when you have people used to having something exceptional.”

Learn more about Dervin’s journey and Stags’ Leap’s legacy in wine here. 



Napa Vintners

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