On the Trail

The Majesty of Spring Mountain

David Driscoll
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On the outskirts of St. Helena, rising behind the town on the west side of the Napa Valley, is Spring Mountain — one of the most coveted sources of Cabernet fruit in the state and a site that has produced a number of my favorite California wines over the years. Upon that hillside sits the Spring Mountain Vineyard Winery with a 226 acre vineyard on the eastern slopes that's broken up into 135 blocks, each with its own unique terroir. As you can imagine, this gives the winery a vast set of tools with which to construct their annual Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon release. I'm always preaching the gospel of "mountain fruit" to our customers, whether it's Spring, Howell, or Diamond, because of its concentration and complexity compared to what's grown on the valley floor. Mountain wines also tend to have more power and drive with the potential to age decades in the cellar. When fruit is grown on a hillside, it tends to ripen more slowly due to less direct sunlight (think of simmering your stew versus boiling it), plus the drainage is better during rainy months as the water will flow downhill rather than bog down the vineyard soils. The best Cabernet wines from California come from the mountains, no matter which mountains you're referring to. Spring Mountain, however, happens to be one of the best locales and the appellation has become world-renowned for wines with pureness of fruit and elegant, balanced tannins.

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Spring Mountain Vineyard Winery as it exists today is actually the composition of three formerly separate vineyards and wineries, known as Miravalle, Chevalier, and La Perla, that date back to the late 1800s. In the early to mid-1990s, the current owners of the winery purchased the three vineyard sites and combined them into one estate, then replanted much of the property into closer rows of high-density Cabernet and Merlot, as well as other Bordeaux and Rhone varieties, many of which use the "Gobolet method," a technique that trains vines to grow vertically (therefore allowing more per row) and was the method of choice in the region during the late 19th century. The first crop of Gobolet vines was harvested in 2000 and since 2010 the estate has been certified organic, making some of the purest and eco-friendly wines in the valley. We had a chance recently to revisit the outstanding 2012 Spring Mountain Vineyard Winery Cabernet and I was truly taken aback by both the fleshiness of the fruit and the secondary characters beyond it. What's fascinating about the 2012 release is how soft and silky it is on the palate and how precocious the flavors are at such a young age. The wine is rich and plush at first sip, but it unwinds slowly into classic Cabernet flavors of earth and spice with hints of brush on the finish. All around this is a grade A Napa mountain fruit specimen, but the value really comes with a new discounted price we managed to negotiate for recently. You could grab a case of this and drink well on birthdays and anniversaries for the next decade, knowing that you're getting a wine from one of Napa's oldest and finest sites for serious Cabernet.

-David Driscoll