Page 1 of 6
Napa Winery Elaborates Two Styles of Cabernet from its Steep Hillside Vineyards
— An Interview with the Talent Behind Spring Mountain Vineyard —
Grace and Complexity. Power and Intensity. These are the discrete expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon that we tend to associate respectively with the Old and New World. Yet one Napa Valley winery, in tapping the fullest potential of its mountainside grapevines, seems to have succeeded in articulating both. In doing so, Spring Mountain Vineyard, located on the eastern slope of the elevation bearing its name, has managed to carve a distinct niche for itself among the region's numerous other quality-driven producers. Having been struck by the craftsmanship of its recent vintages, I resolved to peel back the label of this premium brand in an effort to get to the root of its winegrowing strategy. And so, in the context of a visit to the charmingly bucolic estate high above the town of St. Helena, I met with winemaker Jac Cole, vineyard manager Ron Rosenbrand, and publicist Valli Ferrell, who collectively showcased all that lends panache to the wines of Spring Mountain Vineyard.
Spanning a total of nearly 850 acres, Spring Mountain Vineyard's estate is comprised of what were once three separate historical vineyards established in the late 1800s: Miravalle, La Perla, and Château Chevalier. In 1992, Swiss businessman Jacob Safra bought and combined the properties with the mission of crafting fine Cabernet-dominant wine in the tradition of Bordeaux. Today that wine is the elegant and seductive Elivette, the estate's flagship, exquisitely elaborated from the property's contiguous but vastly diverse patchwork of vineyards. It leads the portfolio of other mountain-grown wines, including the more recently added counterpoint of a bold and assertive California-style Cabernet. While touring the vineyards draped along the estate's steep, rolling hillsides and tasting through the wines inside the Victorian Villa Miravalle's grand salon, the winegrowing team relayed the story of what has come to define the brand to this day.
A Clear Vision: Expressing the Spring Mountain Identity
NM: You produce wines exclusively from Spring Mountain itself. But what is it that distinguishes wines produced from hillside fruit in general, and would you say they're inherently superior to those from the valley floor?
JC: It's a stylistic concept. Different people like different things in their wines. On the valley floor, you can accomplish more accessible wines earlier in their lifespans than you can on the mountains. The mountain fruit's intrinsically tannic backbone is going to require a bit more aging before the wines soften and become as pliable and approachable as the stuff on the valley floor, which when released are very plush and delectable to people who like that style. If you prefer wines with more structure and capacity for aging, which then reach a higher peak in their maturation process, then mountain fruit is going to be what you want to look for. It really turns out to be a stylistic and personal preference. Our wines are as soft and lovely five years down the road as wines made from the valley floor — but they're also much more complex, will last an extra ten years, and show much more dimension. If you're looking for something to go with that steak on the grill, then maybe a valley floor wine is what you want. If you're looking for something that's a more intellectual approach to wine, then mountain fruit is going to give you the basis to be able to create that.
NM: So, it's really a matter of taste and style preference, not quality. Could you then still generalize and say that wine from mountain fruit tends to age better and longer?