A Piece of Auction Napa Valley History

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The War of the Apostrophes and its Accord

The Napa Valley Wine Auction, or Auction Napa Valley as it is now known, has featured in its lots many interesting, rare, and original wines over the years.

Several of those wines have come with stories as compelling as the vintages themselves: historic reunions of long estranged family members, scarce cult wines, elbow-rubbing opportunities with Hollywood celebrities, and accords between feuding neighbors. One such wine, offered to the highest bidder during the 1986 wine auction, was the result of the settlement of hostilities over . . . an apostrophe.

An apostrophe, spoken on a dramatic stage, is a comment to someone not present. It is a convention allowing actors to make thoughts known to the audience or provide information not possible through normal dialogue.

When apostrophes enter language, they do so to show things hidden. When words contract, an apostrophe points to a painless removal of letters (she mustn't and I can't). When words contract in history, the apostrophe rests in space pointing to a particular removal which we now know as possession.

The spelling and punctuation of Stags' Leap was in constant flux from its founding in 1888 until a legal decision in the mid-1980s. Before the court decision, Stags' Leap Winery, then owned by Carl Doumani, had been referred to under a series of names. Along with the original coining of the term, Stag's Leap, by the estate founders Minnie and Horace Chase, there was: Stags Leap, Staggs' Leap, Stags' Leap Vineyard, Stags' Leap Vintners, Stags' Leap Winery, Stag's Leap Ranch, Stag's Leap Resort, Stags' Leap Manor, Stag's Leap Associates, and so forth. The name of the place was contagious, and eventually the nearby palisades came to be known as the Stag's Leap Palisades, as is now Stags Leap District (no apostrophe).

Decades of grammatical flux were finally settled with the help of a bit of controversy. In the 1970s, Warren Winiarski purchased land adjacent to the historic Stag's Leap Ranch and planted vines, naming his new venture Stag's Leap Vineyards, basing the name on the nearby Stag's Leap Palisades. A disagreement arose between Doumani and Winiarski over the right to use the name. The issue was finally resolved in 1985 in court, with a judge's decision that both wineries would be allowed use of the same root name, along with the image of a stag on their labels, but that each must use their apostrophes differently. Carl Doumani was to use the plural possessive -- Stags'Leap Winery and Warren Winiarski, the singular possessive -- Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. Both the geographical feature and the viticultural district are a plural group of unpossessive stags.

Their historic struggle came to be called, "The War of the Apostrophes."

In 1986 Doumani and Winiarski symbolically settled their feud, collaborating on a combined vintage they called Accord, intended to be sold to the year's highest bidder at the Napa Valley Wine Auction. Accord was made by blending wine from grapes of both vineyards'1985 vintage, which both vintners believed was destined to make superb wine.

Whoever was the lucky high bidder at the wine auction that year has a rare treat on their hands, if they haven't already enjoyed it. To have one's wine and drink it too? That would be good use of apostrophe.

The above content was excerpted from A Note on Apostrophes, Copyright © 2006 Theresa Whitehill, all rights reserved, and is part of Stags' Leap Winery: The Estate Letters. Volume Six Number One, Spring/Summer 2006. You can access the complete article at www.stagsleap.com/art/literature.html. This has been reprinted with permission from the winery and the author.

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