Three years ago, Robert Brittan, winemaker and general manager at Stags' Leap Winery in California's Napa Valley, had one of his many sudden inspirations. As custodian of the 240 acres of vineyards, gardens and wilderness that make up the 107-year-old Napa estate, Brittan was already hard at work, blasting new caves into the side of a mountain and replanting entire vineyards hit by phylloxera. But this time he was struck by something intimate and ordinary--the kitchen garden, bounded by low stone walls, visible from the Stags' Leap manor house. He knew he wanted a garden that was more than herbs and vegetables, but he didn't know exactly what it should be.
Brittan recruited the aptly named Napa-based landscape designer Jonathan Plant to be his partner. Plant, whose projects have included estate compounds and wineries with formal gardens, was in the midst of redesigning and restoring all the Stags' Leap gardens, but the kitchen garden seized his imagination as well. Together, he and Brittan devised what they called a winemaker's apothecary garden. It was to be a very private garden, befitting a winery without signs. It would be a sensory, not a medicinal, garden, in which each plant, from fruit tree to herb to scented-leaf geranium, evoked the aromas and flavors of Stags' Leap wines.
"All the red wines in the Stags Leap District have a briarlike component," Brittan says. "It's a vegetal smell, like the fragrance that's released when you walk through briars. I can try to explain that, or I can grab someone and walk them down to this garden and show them."