After our deliciously eventful day on Silverado Trail, I woke up with the slightest of hangovers (probably because of the cocktails I had the night before) on Saturday, but still very excited for another day of wine tasting with my family. After making a small breakfast, my mother and I ventured out of the house into the morning cool air to pick up sandwiches for the family to bring for our lunch. At the advice of a friend and part-time resident of St. Helena, we decided to check out Giugni’s – known for some of the best sandwiches in St. Helena. We opted for some simple turkey sandwiches with the fixings, which were efficiently made in an assembly line manor by a less than cheery young lady behind the counter (I would be grumpy too if I was making sandwiches at 9:00am on a Saturday).
We walked back to the apartment and gathered the men to embark on Day 2 of our Ultimate Family Wine Weekend:
9:40am – leave apartment for Spring Mountain District
10:00am – arrive at PRIDE for tasting and tour
11:30am – arrive at SMITH-MADRONE for tasting
12:40pm – arrive at KEENAN for picnic, 1pm tasting reservation
2:00pm – arrive at TERRA VALENTINE for tasting in barrel room
3:00pm – arrive at PALOMA for tasting
4:00pm – head back down the mountain
4:30pm – tasting at HALL, no appointment needed
6:00pm – walk to dinner at MARKET on Main St. in St. Helena
The Spring Mountain District is very unique because it is above the fog line, and therefore has different climates year to year. What was considered to be a “bad year” in Napa Valley (i.e. 2010) could actually be considered one of the best years on Spring Mountain. The climate is slightly cooler because of the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, but it is also warmer than the valley floor because the heat rises above the fog. This allows for a more balanced growing season and a complex flavor development of the grapes.
Saturday was certainly a bit more relaxed and allowed for more time between wineries, because everything is so close together on Spring Mountain. But beware: it’s a very winding road! That’s why it’s best to start early at the top of the mountain and work your way back down – which is exactly what we did.
The ninety minute tour at Pride was without a doubt the best tour I have ever experienced at any winery, and the perfect way to start off the day. Our excellent guide gave us the history of the winery and explained the unique placement on the county border line of Sonoma and Napa. He showed us through the grounds and wine caves, offering us tastings along the tour, including two from out of the barrel! My favorite of the wines we tried was the Vintners Select Merlot, but I also loved the Cabernet Franc. It’s unusual for a winery to bottle a wine that is almost entirely Cabernet Franc because it’s mostly used for blending, but Pride’s Cab Franc is very well-blanaced and smooth. All of the wines were delicious and the views spectacular. I would recommend this experience to anyone visiting Spring Mountain, but be sure to make an appointment as all of the wineries on the mountain are appointment-only and book up pretty quickly on weekends.
After Pride, we continued down the road to our appointment at Smith-Madrone, a cabin-like tasting room (which also serves as the office and barrel room) run by two older brothers and Berkeley grads. The older Smith brother, Charles, gave us the history of how they came to own the land, explaining that they tasted one single French Pinot Noir and it changed their lives, causing them to drop everything and start up a winery in 1972. The land on Cook’s Flat (named after the original land owner) wasn’t ideal for Pinot Noir so eventually the vines were grafted into Chardonnay, and they now grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and a little Cabernet Franc. Charles poured us tastes of their delcious Chardonnay, Cabernet and Riesling. We all particularly enjoyed the Alsatian style Riesling, and bought several bottles of it.
While Keenan may have been the perfect place to picnic with our lunch, the wines were less than impressive. Our hostess was very kind and knowledgable and had been working at Keenan for almost thirty years. Our tasting also included a cheese plate, which was a nice touch. Unfortunately all of the wines were a little too robust, and hard to distinguish from one another. Still, it was a nice experience and they do make decent wines.
I had been to Terra Valentine before so I knew what to expect; but it was a first for the rest of my family and they were blown away. After tasting their Riesling on the patio while learning about the history of the property and their vineyards, we were escorted into the barrel room where we were joined by another nice couple at a seated tasting – with more cheese plates! We tasted the Estate Cabernet Franc, the Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, the Yverdon Cabernet Sauvignon, the Wurtele Cabernet Sauvignon and the Marriage (they were sold out of the Amore, which they usually pour in place of the Marriage). The Wurtele Vineyard is on the valley floor, and you can actually see it from the balcony on the Terra Valentine property. The Yverdon Vineyard is on the Terra Valentine estate, and the Spring Mountain District Cab is a blend of Cabernet from both the Wurtele Vineyard and the Estate Vineyard. It was very interesting to taste all three Cabernet Sauvignons side by side, as they all had different qualities and tastes. We all preferred the Yverdon Cab because it was slightly more smooth with fewer earth tones, but all of the wines were fantastic and I ended up purchasing a bottle of the Cabernet Franc.
Our final stop on Spring Mountain was Paloma, the hidden gem of the district. I had booked this appointment through email, and got a sweet response from a woman named Barbara with directions on how to get to the house. Initially I had assumed she was the tasting room coordinator or something similar, but after talking to some people at various other wineries throughout the day, I realized that Barbara was in fact the 85 year-old owner and winemaker of Paloma, along with her son Sheldon (whom we did not meet). After driving through three gates on a winding road leading up to the property, we finally arrived at Paloma – which was actually Barbara’s home. She welcomed us into her living room and brought us out to the deck where she told us about her vines and the history of the property. She had moved from Texas in the 80’s and purchased the property with her husband, hoping to plant their own vineyards. What they never expected was to create Wine Spectator’s 2003 Wine of the Year, their 2001 Merlot. After talking with Barbara and gazing over her beautiful vines for about thirty minutes, we finally tasted some of her famous Merlot and Syrah, both of which we all loved. Barbara speaks and moves a little slowly, but she is sharp as a tack! Still, you must be patient when tasting with her – and trust me, it’s worth it! We purchased nearly a combined case of the Merlot and Syrah, and my father and I will be sure to send all serious wine collector’s to Paloma – but only if they intend to buy the wine, because she doesn’t like to waste time! It was truly a magical experience for my family, and as my father accurately stated, “I felt like I was going to see the wizard!”
Back down in St. Helena, we decided to pop in at Hall for a quick tasting before dinner. My father has been a fan of Hall for years, so he knew what to expect of the wines. We sat outside on the gravel patio and enjoyed several of their wines, both on and off the tasting list. Our server was very friendly and accommodating, and he was the one that recommended we dine at Market that night.
Market is one of two places (the other being Rutherford Grill) in the entire valley to offer free corkage at their restaurant. We certainly took advantage of this and brought a cold bottle of the Hall Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the Syrah from Paloma. My mother and I shared the lobster spring rolls, while my brother and father opted to split the famous mac & cheese. I enjoyed my roast chicken with polenta and Brussels sprouts while my brother destroyed some baby back ribs. My mother got the fish special and my father selected the lamb for his entree. We loved all the food and even shared a little dessert. Our waitress was very friendly and informative, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the exposed stone in the walls, and the beautiful long wooden bar. I would certainly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the valley for the weekend, especially if you have your own wine to bring!
After dinner my family and I walked back to the apartment to get a good night’s sleep before my parents had to head back to NY in the morning (my brother stayed behind with me to watch the Super Bowl). It was while my mother was sleeping that my brother and father and I came up with a new version of Charades where you have to guess what winery we’re acting out. It was the perfect ending to the first annual wine weekend, and I can’t wait to keep the tradition going.
I hope that you enjoyed my recommendations, please leave a comment if you have any questions. Cheers!