Spring Mountain Wines You Need to Try


Spring Mountain wines come in all shapes and sizes. The Spring Mountain District AVA, located just west of downtown St. Helena comes with a variety of facings and altitudes. There is a variety of attitudes too; some wineries go for bold and ripe, others lean and bright.

On November 17, the Spring Mountain District held an appellation-wide trade and media tasting in San Francisco and I tasted most every wine in the room. Here are my thoughts and top picks from that event. Walk-around tastings aren’t ideal for scoring wines, but I’d rate all of the wines mentioned below at 91 points or higher.

Barnett Vineyards offers wines with great ripeness enabled by long, sunny mountaintop days. The wines are impeccably made. Fruit is balanced by oak-derived notes and the tannins are structural and soft enough for early drinkability.

The 2014 Barnett Vineyards Merlot Spring Mountain District has red cherry at the core, whereas the 2014 Barnett Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District
 and 2014 Rattlesnake Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District are driven by black fruit. The fruit in all three is complemented by rich chocolate but each wine shows unique character. And each of them is worth of 92 or more points.

To get to Cain Vineyards, you have to turn off the main road going up Spring Mountain to one less traveled. Cain’s estate wines, made from the five Bordeaux varieties planted in their dramatic vineyard, go their own way too. The result is unique, easily recognizable wines of balance and complexity. Their new release, 2012 Cain Five Spring Mountain District, is medium-bodied with graceful structure and comforting flavors and aromas of persimmon pudding and coffee.

I don’t believe I’d ever had a Castellucci Napa Valley wine until this tasting. They are a very new producer. Their 2012 Castellucci Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District is a juicy wine of med
ium+ body with flavors of licorice, mint, black currant and chocoloate. The finish is very long.

In 2002, Luscher-Ballard selected their site on Spring Mountain on the advice of Maggy and John Kongsgaard. Their wine, made from 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and one each of Merlot and Petit Verdot, is also made
by the Kongsgaards and it is extremely good. The 2012 Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon Seek No Further Vineyard Spring Mountain is nearly full-bodied with luxurious tannins of very soft chalk. Flavors of ripe black currant and mocha predominate.

My favorite wine of the day, though, was the 2013 Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon Seek No Further Vineyard Spring Mountain. It’s a superb, full-bodied wine loaded with very fine, chalky texture balanced by vibrant acidity. The flavors or dry leaves, black currants, earthy spice and coffee go on and on.

Pride Mountain Vineyards sits at the very top of Spring Mountain, straddling the Mayacamas Range ridge which defines the border between Napa and Sonoma Counties. Some Pride bottlings, such as the Cabernet I’m about to mention, can’t be designated as Spring Mountain wines, because the AVA pertains only to Napa County.

The 2011 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon Napa-Sonoma shows the benefit of their location in a cool year. There is a moderate amount of attractive, leafy spice but plenty of ripe black cherry thanks to all-day sun. Medium+ body and satisfying soft, chalky tannins with barrel-derived chocolate notes. Full-bodied with robust, chewy tannins of fine chalk and flavors focused solely on fruit (cherry, black currant) and mocha, the 2012 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon Napa-Sonoma expresses the drier, bounce-back 2012 vintage. Then came 2013, a remarkable vintage for Napa Valley. The 2013 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon Napa-Sonoma is well-structured but very juicy, a long-lasting mouthful of carob, mint, dark chocolate and ripe black currant.

Schweiger Vineyards is a small, family-owned winery with a father-son viticulture/winemaking team. I was delighted by both red wines they poured. The 2012 Schweiger Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District has medium+ body, rich tannins with fine, soft, chalky texture and concentrated flavors of mocha and black fruit. The 2011 Schweiger Dedication Spring Mountain District is a juicy, yet full-bodied, proprietary red blend showing earth, coffee, drying leaves and dark fruit.

Another mountaintop grower, Sherwin Family Vineyards poured their 2013 Sherwin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District. A blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc, it’s a very drinkable wine with tasty flavors of chocolate, black currant and spice.

Smith-Madrone Winery is a true pioneer of Spring Mountain wines and is still going strong. The 2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District is a fresh, dry, medium-bodied wine with alive with lemon-lime and under-ripe apricot. The 2009 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Cook’s Flat Spring Mountain District is a powerhouse of black currant and chocolate which drinks very well now but will age for 15+ years.

Spring Mountain Vineyard demonstrated how well wines of the Spring Mountain wines can age. The 2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District is fresh and still structured with a core of stewed black currant and forest floor. The 2001 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon “Library Selection” Spring Mountain District is still vivid with a beautiful, earthy character and medium+ body. It remains juicy and velvety in the mouth.

I covered Stony Hill, on this site in August. Both poured excellent Spring Mountain wines at this tasting. Please check out the link for my comments on them.

Winemaking star Martha McClellen worked with Wesley Steffens to produce the two fabulous wines Vineyard 7 & 8 poured. The 2014 Vineyard 7 & 8 “Estate” Chardonnay Spring Mountain District is made from 35-year old Wente Old Vine grapes. It has medium+ body with very fine texture and tingly freshness. The aromas and flavors are vibrant, rich and long-lasting with golden apple, toast, baking spice and pear. The 2013 Vineyard 7 & 8 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District is a very sophisticated, 100% varietal wine. Medium-bodied with elegant, fine-grained texture, the wine offers savory dark mineral, dusty black currant and dark chocolate.

Copyright Fred Swan 2016. Photo courtesy of Luscher-Ballard. All rights reserved.

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