Great Tastes, Spring Mountain Vineyard
North Bay Biz

Spring Mountain Vineyard

A visit to Spring Mountain Vineyard is all about you. OK, it’s about the wine, too, and the absolutely beautiful surroundings. But what your experience entails will depend on what you seek.

The estate has 850 acres, 225 of which are planted to vineyards. You’ll only see a small part of the entire place while you’re there, but in doing so, you can visit the winery, caves, the estate gardens, home and vineyards. Questions are encouraged, so don’t be afraid to ask. It’s your chance to learn as much about the winemaking process—and about Spring Mountain Vineyard—as you want.

Three types of appointments are available. A $25 tasting-only appointment takes place in a small cottage that faces the winery and caves and is surrounded by vineyards (Merlot is on the level and Sauvignon Blanc is on the hillside). The tasting begins with the Sauvignon Blanc (2006 is the current release). The wine is aged sur lies and barrel fermented, meaning acidity is reduced and the wine is more rounded and lush, with elements of stone fruit, figs and melons. This is followed with three other selections of current releases. If you want to get straight to the wine and aren’t interested in a tour, this is the tasting for you.

For the same price, however, you can experience the estate tour and cave tasting. This also begins in the cottage, and then moves into the winery’s fermentation room and adjacent caves.  Next you’ll walk through an extensive network of garden pathways, surrounded by all sorts of foliage, fruit trees and flowering plants. It leads toward an 8,000-square-foot 1885 Victorian main home, called Villa Miravalle (which translates from Spanish to “view of the valley”), complete with its original stained glass, inlaid  floors and moldings. Situated on the mountainside just above St. Helena, it overlooks the pool, vineyards and beyond.

If you choose the more popular reserve tour ($50), you’ll also experience a barrel tasting, where you can sample individual lots, then discuss each component and how it contributes to the overall blend. There’s also a seated salon tasting in Villa Miravalle (your only chance to see the inside of the home), which features library and current vintages paired with artisan cheeses. Tours and tastings last 30 to 90 minutes, depending on which you choose.

Regardless of what you decide, you’re assured one-on-one, personalized service (you won’t be grouped with strangers).

About the wine

The property extends in altitude from 400 to 1,600 feet, and the vineyards are broken up into 135 separate blocks and span 13 different microclimates. Owner Jacob Safra’s aim is to produce wines that are  immediately drinkable, but also age-worthy. His idea is to combine Old World elegance and structure with New World fruit—the best of both worlds. Winemaker Jac Cole works closely with vineyard manager Ron Rosenbrand to make that happen. Each block is fermented and cellared separately prior to blending, and 100 percent French oak barrels are used. All wines produced are estate grown and bottled. Plantings are sustainably farmed (there are sheep that control the cover crops and bluebirds that handle the insects, for example).

Some of the wines are available only at the winery, including library releases, the Pinot Noir and the Syrah. The Pinot Noir (released in April) is grown in an 8-acre vineyard at the highest elevation on the property. Light and elegant, its nose has red fruit and rose petal elements. There were 250 cases produced of the 2006 vintage, which offers a bright, lively palate layered with spice and a hint of wood.

The 2006 Syrah “co-ferment” is 80 percent Syrah and 20 percent Viognier. With floral and spice elements on the nose, it rounds out smooth on the palate with stone fruit and cherry flavors.

Only 213 cases were produced. The 2005 Syrah (2006 will be released in the fall) has a spicy nose that jumps right out of the glass, and its blackberry, plum, cedar and pepper flavors and nice acid balance make it an age-worthy choice (if you can wait that long).

Cabernet Sauvignon makes up half of the winery’s production, with 4,000 cases produced of the 2004 vintage. A blend of 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, it has leather, tobacco and anise on the nose, with a rich, dark and full palate that’s almost chewy with ripe, dark fruit flavors. Elivette (a blend of Safra’s parents’ names) is the reason Safra purchased the property. It’s made from the choicest blocks on the property, and took almost 10 years to perfect (2000 was the first release). The current release is the 2004, and the 2005 comes out this fall. It’s an excellent choice for those who want a bold, rich red wine that’s full-bodied, has a refined character and can age up to 20 years. About 3,400 cases were produced.

Spring Mountain is one place that’s off the beaten path in many ways. The wines have a true sense of its magical terroir. And not only is your experience individualized, but when you return (notice I didn’t say “if”), your next visit will be just as unique and memorable.

Members only

Spring Mountain Vineyard Wine Club members get a 20 percent discount on all wine purchases, exclusive access to limited and large-format wines, admission to special events, complimentary tastings, vineyard tours, barrel sampling, blending seminars and annual gifts. They choose from three levels of membership, each with four regular wine shipments annually.