-The first official wine trip of the year took myself and my good friend and colleague Scott Beckerley up to the Spring Mountain District of the Napa valley. I find that January in the northern hemisphere is a good time to visit wineries. Generally activity in both the vineyards and the cellar are a less hectic, and for this reason winemakers have more time and energy to take visitors and chat. Yes, the weather can sometimes be a bit inclement (see above), but this doesn’t really phase me. Afterall, I am not on a beach holiday, I’m tasting wine.
Located about 2 hours north of San Francisco and on the northwestern side of the Napa Valley, the Spring Mountain District is not one that is visited by the the throngs of wine tourists to the Napa Valley each year. This relatively small AVA (1000 acres planted to vines) and its “mountain fruit” are famously known for producing intense yet elegant wines that, like Helen Mirren, age oh so gracefully. Once you reach the northern Napa town of St. Helena, the hills of the Spring Mountain district are directly behind and above you. Turn left at Madrona, and then a right onto Spring Mountain Road, and you enter a land of circuitous country backroads, creeks, springs and oh yes.. beautiful vineyards planted on mountain slopes.
For our Spring Mountain route du vin, Scottie and I visited several wineries whose wines we have grown to really appreciate over the years. Philip Togni, Guilliams, Terra Valentine and Smith-Madrone. I will cover our adventures and each of these visits in posts to come. However before we get started, here are some factoids on the Spring Mountain District.
District: Spring Mountain
Region: Napa Valley
A.V.A. granted: 1993
Location: On the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain. The general slope of Mayacamas range in the Spring Mountain district runs west to east..
Latitude: 38.5 degrees
Elevation: Vineyards lie above the town of St. Helena, between 400-2100 ft. Many vineyard sites lie above the fog line.
Climate: Cool days and warm nights. Maritime with significant influence of winds from Pacific Ocean. A long growing season, with bud break around mid March, veraison around the first of July and harvest between mid September to November. Mornings are generally warmer than temperatures on the Napa Valley floor (most vineyards lie above the fog line), however afternoon temperatures can be cooler due to Pacific maritime influences.
Soil: Sedimentary and Igneous (volcanic) divided into 2 zones:
Upper Zone/Slopes: Extrusive Igneous (formed from volcanic activity)
Lower Zone/Slopes: Sedimentary (formed largely from sandstone and shale)
Soil Depth: Between 6-40 inches to bedrock. Large % of vineyards possess less than 20 inches to bedrock.
Chief Hazards: Water shortage during the growing season, Pierce’s disease, phylloxera,
90% planted to red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon 56%, Merlot 18% predominantly
10% planted to white varietals: Chardonnay predominantly
Other Varieties: Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier
Total area under vine: 1000 acres
Winemaking: Various, although leaning more towards traditional winemaking practices. Vinification mostly in stainless steel tanks for reds and most whites, ageing in barriques (225L) for 12-20 months. Barrel ageing and batonnage for Chardonnay. Many wineries do not fine or filter their red wine.
Number of wineries: approximately 30
Producers of note: