Napa Redux: Spottswoode

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And then there was Spottswoode. Upon pulling up to this very unassuming little house I recalled with how much anticipation I made the appointment to visit this true “first growth” Napa winery. Spottswoode has been flying under the radar for years, and is one of the few estates with a woman leading the way in winemaker Jennifer Williams. That is not to say that Spottswoode has not seen serious critical success, with many of the vintages of their top wine receiving very high commercial scores in the mid 90’s; however, it seems the throng of cult afficionados has yet to turn Spottswoode into a project in false scarcity. This is probably due in large part to the integrity of owner Mary Novak.

Walking up the porch to find a glass of 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, I and the other few visitors were greeted by assistant winemaker Aron Weinkauf, who was to lead our absolutely fantastic tour through the winery and even the vineyard itself.

As we waited for the full group to gather, we sat and sipped perhaps the best Sauvignon Blanc in the valley, with wonderfully expressive nose of grapefruit, clay and mineral. On the palate this was incredibly clean and expressive, and very bright. With an intense citrus punch, the wine yet had sparkling clarity, and an uncommon spicy component that added tremendous depth. This was dry farmed, and sourced from a variety of excellent vineyards, including Tofanelli and Hyde. The vineyards have a range of soil types from sandy loam to deep clay to a mixture of loam and clay. 100% barrel fermented, this is aged in 70% steel and 30% oak. $36. Excellent to Excellent+.

As we finished sipping our Sauv Blanc we wandered into the first (overflow) cellar, where Aron talked to us about the process of aging the wine, and the various harvest conditions. Notably, the 2008 harvest was so sparse that there is an oak barrel glut in California right now.

We then moved into the fermentation building, where Aron explained that Spottswoode has begun experimenting with concrete fermentation tanks, which seem to have a special quality of microoxygenating the wine without the need of additional processes.

It seems as though concrete has a special quality to its sufrace area (more porous) that increases the amount of wine exposed to air at a miniscule level. Very interesting. Spottswoode then blends the wine from the resulting juices. Which leads us to the original stone cellar and the two cabs that Spottswoode prides itself on producing. First up was the 2005 Lindenhurst, which is essentially Spottswoode’s second wine. However, this is still sourced from estate fruit and made with the same care as the estate cab. Rather, it is made in a more forward ready to drink style, and selected from barrels that were deemed inappropriate for the Estate blend, which is meant to have the capacity to age for a considerable time. The Lindenhurst had a meaty, currant, raspberry and cedar nose. The palate was forward and full bodied with cassis, mint, and chocolate up front and herbs on the mid-palate. This, however, is distinctly very close to French in style. Killer mouthfeel and tastes like top cabs from other estates. 100% French Oak. Excellent and Highly Recommended. $60.

This left only the grand daddy of the tasting, the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with its superbly refined nose of cassis, eucalyptus, and coffee. The layering on the nose is absolutely stunning, and reminds me in many ways of a Pauillac Super Second. The palate was, to put it bluntly, insanely structured, replete with white pepper, cigar, leather, herbs, blackberry, and blackberry seeds. Fine tannins, balanced to perfection, with a perfectly inviting forwardness, and yet a floral, pretty mid-palate, and a deep cigar and leathery finish. Layered as hell and keeps on developing. What an absolutely killer wine, and something you very rarely see in Napa. The rival of any top Napa cab. Excellent to Excellent+. $130.

Luckily for us Aron was in a good mood and also gave us a tour of the vineyard, where he explained the organic farming methods employed by the estate, including using heavy cover between the trellises, including some pretty massive Daikon radishes!

This is mowed and plowed into the land, which provides an incredible amount of nitrogen to the vine roots, keeping them healthy. They have some pretty old vines for Napa Cab (40 years), and this is part of their process of keeping them going. I suppose for them wine is really all about expressing the organic process, and it shows in the care and attentiveness they clearly have for their vines.

Spottswoode is not only producing wine at the highest level in Napa, they are also very down to earth, have reasonable prices for what they are producing, and offer one of the best tour/taste experiences in the Valley. A must visit.
Posted in: Napa


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