Spring Mountain Vineyard is arguably one of the more photogenic wineries in all of Napa Valley. The winery is located just outside of the St. Helena town limits – off of the narrow windy Spring Mountain Road connecting St. Helena to the city of Santa Rosa to the west. The oldest winery on this sizable property (La Perla Winery) dates from 1873. Several other historical buildings all from the late 1800’s include an old barn with a vintage horse drawn carriage & miscellaneous winery equipment. The storied history of both this winery and property can be simply described in two words: intruiging & extensive.
Modern day Spring Mountain Vineyard dates back to 1969 when founder Mike Robbins (died 2013, unfortunately we never met him) produced his first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon. Mike’s background was in real estate with projects in Los Angeles and San Francisco. At one point he was also an investor in Mayacamas Winery. Mike did not establish Spring Mountain Vineyard in its current location, rather it was founded in an old Victorian house and hillside property located north of the town of St. Helena (he purchased this site in 1964).
This historic Victorian can still easily be seen while driving Highway 128 (on the west side of the highway just north of Markham Vineyards); it was built in 1878 by Fritz Rosenbaum (with the proceeds earned from his glass and mirror company based in San Francisco at the time). He called this mansion Johannaberg – named in honor of his wife Johanna. He made wine here (fermenting primarily Riesling and Zinfandel in the basement of the home) but never sold the wine. William Casey, an ophthalmologist (who we met years ago at a tasting in St. Helena) founded St. Clement in 1976 and built a winery behind the iconic historic home. He chose the name St. Clement to honor his ancestors who helped found the state of Maryland. He eventually sold St. Clement to the Japanese brewer Sapporo USA in 1987. Treasury Wine Estates was the previous owner – they sold the winery, home, land + vineyard to current owner, Huneeus Vintners in late 2016.
Despite getting his winery bond for the Victorian, Mike did not produce his Spring Mountain Vineyard wines here, because the cellar was so small. Rather he produced his earliest vintages at Heitz Cellars – located at the end of Taplin Road, west of St. Helena. The first vintage of Spring Mountain Vineyards was a non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon ‘made’ in 1971 with grapes from both 1968 and 1969, from wine already aging in barrels purchased from Joe Heitz of Heitz Cellars. A small portion of this blend was from the acclaimed Martha’s Vineyard in Oakville. And Mike’s early source for grapes was from a vineyard in Rutherford on site of what is now Mumm, Napa Valley. The image of the old Johannaberg Victorian was used on the label on several of the Spring Mountain Vineyard early wines up through the 1973 vintage.
In 1974, Mike purchased what was called the Parrott Estate. Tiburcio Parrott was born in Mexico; his mother was his father’s mistress. Much later in life, Parrott made his way to the Napa Valley; he was a prominent vineyardist who along with his father John, owned the Sulfur Bank Mine in Lake County to the north – whose products were borax & cinnabar. Because of his ownership of the mine and a strong moral compass, it was Parrott who would make labor history in 1880. Earlier that same year California legislature has passed a law prohibiting businesses from hiring Chinese employees. After the law passed Parrott refused to fire his employees and was arrested, imprisoned, released on bail and later went to trial. Ultimately his decision was validated by the courts and he was able to rehire all the employees that were forced to resign.
But back to the Napa Valley. Parrott hired prominent architect Albert Schroepfer (responsible for designing the Niebaum home and the Rhine House at Beringer Vineyards) to design a mansion that he called Miravelle. This impressive structure was built in 1885. Parrott died in Miravelle prematurely in 1894 (only 54 years old).
Soon after acquiring this historic property, Mike restored the stately old Victorian and built a winery – moving Spring Mountain Vineyards to its current location. And astute long time followers of the Spring Mountain Vineyards wines will notice that the image on their bottles appropriately changed from the 1973 vintage to the 1974, now reflecting the Miravelle mansion.
In addition to producing excellent wines under Mike’s ownership, Spring Mountain Vineyards was one of several Napa wineries to appear in the TV Show, Falcon’s Crest. Mike even released several wines under the Falcon Crest label in the early 1980s. And the winery was one of a select few featured in the 1976 Paris Tasting – the 1973 Spring Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay took 4th place.
Switzerland based businessman, film producer, investor in Encyclopædia Britannica and Merriam-Webster among numerous other interests, Jacqui (Jacob) Safra purchased and combined three historical wineries (four adjoining vineyard sites) between 1992 and 1996 – La Perla, Chevalier, Miravalle and Streblow, totaling 845 acres of which 225 is planted to vine.
Topping out at about 1,600 feet is one of the older wineries in the Napa Valley; La Perla dates from 1876 and is where the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in what is now the Spring Mountain District. Interestingly the Schilling family (known for founding Schilling Spices in San Francisco – now Mcormick Spices owned this particular part of the property) are related to another Napa Valley winery family, the Steltzners (as told to us by Allison Steltzner). In 1903 the Schilling family incorporated their vineyards as Spring Mountain Vineyard Company. And Draper Vineyards operated here for a number of years beginning in 1944 when Jerry Draper purchased this property. Wine was made under the Draper Vineyards label and grapes were also sold to a number of prominent wineries. No relation to Paul Draper, who coincidentally began purchasing grapes from Stanford University college classmate Fritz Maytag on Spring Mountain starting in the 1970s for some of his wines at Ridge Vineyards (a relationship that continues today).
Dropping in elevation to around 1200 feet is the Beringer brothers’s original vineyard site, planted in 1882. Dropping a bit further to about 1000 feet is Chateau Chevalier – with its vineyards and winery both planted and completed in 1891. Napa Valley vintner Gil Nickel and his brother John owned the site in the 1980s – they were going to rename this site to Nickel & Nickel but then John decided to move back to Oklahoma and with vines infected with phyloxxera at the time, they sold the property. And at 400 feet is Miravelle (where visitors to the property are hosted).
Spring Mountain’s property lies just west of Beringer Vineyards and extends from near the valley floor to the upper reaches of the Mayacamas mountains. Few contiguous winery owned properties in the Napa Valley span such a diverse elevation gain. Due to the differences in altitude, this property offers a wide diversity of soil types and growing conditions including the inherent differences in micro climates based on the elevation differences from the near valley floor to the upper most steep hillsides.
The vineyards are farmed extremely sustainable using cover crops, no herbicides or pesticides, using organic compounds to protect against mildew and protecting and nurturing beneficial insects.
It should also be noted that the vast majority of their vineyards are planted on steep or terraced slopes. The vineyards are sub-divided into small blocks based on each block’s unique fruit characteristics or soil types. These blocks are kept separate during fermentation and the subsequent aging and it is only during the blending trials will the wine from the various blocks be blended together.
Along with a full time winemaker, Spring Mountain Vineyard has employed several wine consultants from both Bordeaux and Burgundy. These consultants make the trip over to the winery several times a year. Associated with several winemakers over the past few decades including Craig MacLean, Craig Becker and Jac Cole.
Guests can opt to reserve a tasting only, but we highly recommend the combined tour and tasting which takes about 90 minutes. This is one of the nicer tours and tastings in the valley but be sure to book well ahead of your tour date, as these experiences generally fill up weeks in advance.
The grounds are beautiful – featuring a wide variety of Mediterranean shrubs and trees including numerous olive trees. In complete contrast to the Mediterranean foliage is their sub-tropical garden containing palms and bananas; it is remarkable these plants do so well in Northern California. Also look for the Norfolk Pines growing outdoors; since this is a sub tropical tree, you rarely find it growing outside in this part of the state.
The tour briefly visits the wine cave; guests will notice that the original cave is dwarfed in size when compared to their much expanded modern cave. However, it is worth seeing from a historical perspective as this was hand cut with pick axes by Chinese workers in 1885 (one of a very select few wine caves in the Napa Valley that date from the 1800s). What used to take years to tunnel out a rather short cave using hand tools – is today a much quicker process using modern cave drilling machines. The “new” cave is about 20,000 square feet.
Mr. Safra spends much of his time in Europe; a few rooms in his private residence are included on the tour if he is not actually staying on site. His “carriage” house is a real gem; it underwent a major renovation and shows very nicely now. The entire property was closed to the public for almost 10 years during these renovations. No expense was spared in this house. Visitors will taste in a beautifully furnished room; the chandelier that sits above your head used to be in one of Rupert Murdoch’s homes (later purchased by Mr. Safra). A number of sports players and other celebrities have also toured this property over the years.
Spring Mountain Vineyard concentrates on red wines (although they do make an estate Sauvignon Blanc). Some Pinot Noir is also grown on site which is extremely rare in this “hotter” part of the valley, but they have found a cool spot on their property for this. Only several other Spring Mountain wineries actually grow Pinot Noir and all in small amounts.
Spring Mountain Vineyard produce excellent Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. One of their Cabernet Sauvignon blocks still producing was planted in 1954 – along with select vines at Scarecrow in Rutherford (1945), a one-acre part of the Monastery Block in Robert Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard (1945), a section within the MacDonald Vineyard in Oakville (1954)and a small block at Grgich Hills (1959), these are among the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in all of Napa Valley.
The wine that they are most known for is the Elivette Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine which is blended with small amounts of various Bordeaux varieties; the varieties and blend percentages change from year to year.
The 2004 Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette Reserve is a very aromatic wine both with fruit and its floral characteristics. Dark fruit is at the core of the palate with structured firm tannins anchoring a long finish. This Bordeaux styled wine has excellent natural acidity, fruit and structure to age for many years.
Spring Mountain Vineyard’s prices are quite reasonable based on the fairly small quantities of wine actually made each year. What is also fairly unique among Napa wineries is they have select older vintages available for purchase – both onsite and online (discounts are given for club members).
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing a major update. We have toured the property several times, but for our next visit, we need to accompany someone for most of a day – who really knows the property, history and viticulture. Tasting notes from select wines coming by end of 2020 or 2021.
For more information, to join one of their wine clubs or simply spend time browsing their extremely informational rich website including what contains probably the best viticulture and enology section of any Napa winery website, visit: www.springmountainvineyard.com
OTHER SAFRA OWNED PROPERTIES
Parknasilla Resort & Spa + Rossdohan Island
A visit and a stay, and our photographs coming by 2021 or 2022 when we take yet another trip back to Europe specifically focusing on Napa Valley connected properties. UGG, we were just near here in 2019 following the heritage of Chase Family Cellars.