Spotted Owl Vineyards are run by the husband and wife team of Mikhail & Jill Gishizky. This project began when they acquired a 4-acre Chardonnay vineyard at about 1200 feet on Mt. Veeder. Mikhail used to ride his bike on the windy roads of Mt. Veeder and as luck would have it, their vineyard sits right near where he would stop to view one of the best overlooks of the surrounding hills and valley in the distance. They purchased the vineyard in 1999 and knowing how well Syrah grows on Atlas Peak (aside from having a passion for this varietal) they replanted the entire vineyard the next year to a number of Syrah clones and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their name comes from a Spotted Owl which lives on the property.
This is a rare Napa producer whose primary focus is on hand-crafting premium Syrah. Mikhail has found that Mt. Veeder is an excellent area for growing this varietal. Compared to some of the mountain grown Cabs in this appellation their Syrah is big but not quite as big or explosive as a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in similar conditions.
Despite the small vineyard it has a variety of soil types (cobble, shale, clay etc) and the Gishizky’s have noticed distinct differences in the wine depending on the vineyard block used. Mikhail is the vineyard manager – without a direct background in the wine industry (his grandparents grew up around vineyards in Poland/Russia) he has learned by doing and by reading a number of viticultural books. Winemaker Rolando Herrera (Mi Sueno) has made the wine every year since the first vintage. After falling in love with some of Rolando’s Pinot’s Mikhail was convinced he wanted Rolando to make his own wines.
The Mountain Cuvee is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend that makes a great every day drinking wine. It is quite approachable young. The 2007 was almost an even blend of each varietal. This wine has lots of nice spice in both the nose and the palate. Notes of cloves, a hint of white pepper and vanilla show on the bouquet with lots of dark fruit on the palate. It is medium to full bodied. Subtle hints of toasted oak, cedar and earth tones round out the structured finish. This is a very versatile food wine.
Lev’s Cuvee is a big wine that expresses their vineyard terroir. The same blocks are used each year to create this wine. The 2006 is dark in the glass and the bouquet is very aromatic showing mostly black fruit with notes of espresso. The palate is layered with explosive fruit including blackberry and black cherry. This is a juicy voluptuous wine with a finish of great length. Toasted oak, notes of forest floor and robust but balanced tannins anchor the finish. This wine is certainly approachable young but with great natural acidity and structure has the potential to age well.
Mikhail likes to mention the “ABC’s of Spotted Owl Wines “Aroma, Balance and Character” – this wine certainly has all three. They don’t over oak any of their wines; rather they use a judicious amount of both new and used French oak.
The 2004 Alexandria’s Cuvee was their first release, named in honor of the birth of their daughter. They have not made this wine every year; it is only made when the fruit and barrel selections are of the quality and style they desire. This is 100% varietal (Syrah). The wine shows a “pretty nose” of elegant fruit including candied cherry and notes of caramel and mocha. It is also somewhat floral – a thread of both rich red and dark fruit aromas carry throughout the bouquet. The palate is layered and complex and all about the fruit. The finish is rounded and slightly dusty with lingering flavors of red cherry and dark berry.
A 93 point rating by the Wine Spectator right out of the gate certainly did not hurt this first vintage!
New wineries in the County of Napa can be prohibitively expensive, require a minimum of 10 acres and the paperwork can seem endless not to mention its an extremely time intensive process. Several towns in the Napa Valley allow for bonding your garage as a commercial winery which is relatively easy and cheap in comparison to building a new winery in the county. The Gishizky’s have bonded their garage as a commercial winery in the town of Napa and will be making part of their 2010 harvest here.
Their total production is less than 700 cases. Jill’s has a background in packaging and graphic art and she designed all of their labels. You can find their wine on the wine club from Vintner’s Collective in the town of Napa and also from the Napa Valley Wine Exchange. The most direct way to acquire their wine is via their mailing list. For more information visit: www.spottedowlwine.com