By Terry Hall, St. Helena Star, April 25, 2013
Photo by Thomas Heinser
Many know of Napa Valley’s storied Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery, but unless one has occasion to wander off the beaten path just west of downtown St. Helena, pin-pointing the location of the historic property may be a bit of a challenge.
Today, there is a compelling reason to seek out Spottswoode because the winery has just completed and opened a new tasting room.
The adventure begins with finding your way there, as only a small plaque on the mail box on the street leads into a gravel driveway. If you are looking at the iconic early-20th century sign over the gate, ignore your instinct to pull in here as this is matriarch Mary Novak’s home.
The short gravel driveway off Madrona Avenue is the nexus of the winemaking at Spottswoode. There is the ghost, stone Kraft Winery, used today for barrel storage beside the more humble, yet state-of-the-art modern production winery. Pass under a stately oak and park facing the vineyard. The house’s ground-level entrance is where the visit begins. A short, easy stroll to learn about the wine production is accompanied by a vineyard walk to see where it all begins.
The winemaking areas are impeccable, and the vineyards are a model of sustainability that have been farmed organically since 1985. A restoration of Spring Creek on the property is an example of the region’s groundbreaking Napa Green Certified Land. Consider wearing sensible shoes for the walk.
Finished in February, the tasting room, designed by Napa Valley architect Karen Roberts, is an addition to the charmingly restored pre-Prohibition house located at 1902 Madrona Ave.
Each weekday at 10 a.m. wine lovers may join Nicole Knoth, Hospitality & Events manager, for a 90-minute tour and tasting. The experience is intimate with no more than 10 guests, and no more than six per party. Knoth joined Spottswoode last summer after managing Direct to Consumer Sales & Marketing at Clos du Val for the past three years. She and her husband moved from San Diego to the Napa Valley in 2008.
The tasting is $45 per person (which is credited to each six-bottle purchase of cabernet sauvignon) and is a tasting of not only the estate’s highly-regarded cabernet sauvignon, but also its Lyndenhurst bottling named for one of the estates past identities, and its refreshing sauvignon blanc.
The tour includes a very personal look at Mary’s gardens which have been a labor of love of hers for the past 40 years, from the time she and her late husband Jack brought their five children to the Napa Valley from Los Angeles. There is something imparted on the garden by each of the home’s previous owners over the past 130 years or so. It is a testament to the property’s beautiful setting that it seems each previous owner, from the early days in 1882 when it was known as Esmeralda to later when the Spotts family christened it Spottswoode, added something of note to the gardens. Those who came before the Novaks are honored in the estate’s storytelling creating a rich and layered history.
For the Novak family, the work has been challenging as well as rewarding. Not long after they arrived in St.. Helena, Jack suddenly died leaving Mary with not only five young children to raise, but a vineyard in disrepair and a winemaking venture just emerging. They pulled through, and last year celebrated their 30/40 anniversary. Forty years since they arrived to restore the property and thirty years since their first wine — a cabernet sauvignon — was produced.
A visit to Spottswoode is a special treat; even today their permit allows just 50 visitors per week. To book a tour and tasting, visit spottswoode.com or call 963-0134 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
(Terry Hall is a Calistoga resident who runs his own communications, branding and event planning company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)