Wine & Travel

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Up to Spring Mountain, thanks to a good friend to have on Snooth!

Posted by Richard Foxall, Dec 7, 2015.

Took the day off Friday--my seniority means lots of vacation, my house project means I took very little of it this year.  Wife and I headed up to Spring Mountain Vineyards, courtesy a most-excellent Snooth-friend, who made us a gift of one of his annual visits and tastings--as a member of their wine club, he receives several and he was unable to use this, so he asked if I wanted to take it.  Nice perk up there:  If you can't make it yourself, you can donate it or give it away.  (I'll leave his name out, not out of lack of appreciation, but so he doesn't get bombarded with requests.)

Now, I'm nearly forty accumulated years (of my 52 1/2) a resident of the Northern part of the state, and a long-time visitor to Napa and wine country, but I've never been to Spring Mountain Vineyards and never tasted their wine.  So I was eager to take our friend up on this generous offer.   I now know why I haven't been there before:  Visits are only for members or guests of members of the wine club, and a few select others.  Distribution is incredibly tight, apparently,  and the winery flies pretty under the radar, although SMV (under previous owners) was one of the competitors in the Tasting of Paris in '76.  The winery itself was closed for about eleven years after the old owners lost it in bankruptcy while the new owner upgraded and conceived the direction for it.

We pulled up to the gate right at 11, as scheduled, and called the tasting room via the intercom.  They opened the gates and we entered the incredible grounds.  The estate is 845 acres, with 225 acres planted.  It's hard to imagine (in Napa) what all this is worth or what it costs to farm.  But  cost seems to be no object for the owner, and it's also his home--complete with botanical garden to shield the estate house from prying eyes.

The blocks that we could see surrounding the winery, tasting room cottage, and estate house were mostly on very steep slopes and planted such that almost all the work would have to be done by hand.  Row spacing was very tight even on the gentler slopes, suggesting that machinery could not really pass.  Our tasting host, Ish Rivera, gave us a general idea of the history of the estate and its unique place on Spring Mountain--it accounts for something like 10% the acreage within the AVA and almost a quarter of the planted acreage.  They could plant even more, but choose not to. 

We learned that the wine club party was scheduled for the next day.  I knew that there was an event scheduled for Saturday because OT told me he was going to be there.  The event coordinator and planner for the winery is Leah Smith, Mike Smith's wife; Mike is OT's good friend and a star winemaker in Napa.  We hoped to see Leah while at the winery, but she was obviously rather busy. 

So instead we repaired with another party (Glen and Julie from Texas) to the mansion where Ish poured five Cab Sauv-based wines.  We started with a 2001 CS.  One of my favorite vintages in Napa ever (second in my adult lifetime to 1990), and this wine was singing.  The fruit was still there, but the wine is heading into its full maturity.  In five or so years, it will taste like leather, dried mushrooms, and maybe some dried dark cherries, but right now it was teetering on that edge, with fine, fully resolved tannins, a hit of sour cherry, and just those hints of secondaries.  Very promising start to our tasting.  Next up, a 2005 Elivette:  This is the "reserve" wine, that can also include more non-CS Bordeaux grapes in the mix, so it does not say CS on the front label.  This was headier in aroma, as might be expected of a wine with more Cab Franc, but it was a little simpler in profile.  Easy drinking, with light (for CS) tannins and  smooth entry.  My wife wanted something a little more chewy, and would have paired it with a strong, chewy grain like farro and squash or a root vegetable.  Amazingly, Ish had served it with a very similar dish just a couple night earlier.  Next, on to the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Ish explained that this benefited by being the vintage next after 2007, a perfect growing vintage.  Since the bud development happens out of sight the year before, the canes had stored all their energy in 2007 under perfect conditions.  The next year was also a fine year, but the wines were not as hyped.  The wine was (for Napa Cab) a very reasonable $64 at the wine club price, and it was as "luscious" as Ish said it would be.  What was most memorable about the wine was the incredibly long finish that perfectly married the fruit, sage, and oak flavors that I associate with Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was about as textbook perfect a cab as I've had this year.  Moving on to the 2009 Elivette, the purpose in the two wines was clearly different.  The Elivette wants to be Bordeaux, subduing the individual grape varieties for a harmonious whole.  The 2009 Elivette (another highly hyped vintage) had a higher proportion of merlot and cab franc, leading to a discussion of the best producers of cab franc in the valley.  The cab franc gave it wild aromas, but on the whole I liked the typicity of the '08 CS better. 

Ish had a surprise up his sleeve.  He poured a wine blind--the bottle marked it as a Bordeaux blend or Cab, but otherwise we knew nothing, no vintage, no label.  There was a marked amount of fruit, but I nailed it as an older wine based on the secondaries.  It was clearly not the same as the '01 Cabernet Sauvignon, as it retained a higher fruit profile and less tannic structure.  He revealed it as the '01 Elivette, a wine they don't generally pour for tastings. 

Ish asked the group their overall impressions.  Pretty universally we loved the fruit forward but elegant '08, but all the wines were excellent.  And both parties purchased a handful of bottles (2 750s of the '08, one magnum of same, and two Sauv Blancs for us--we had a glass before the tasting and I thought it was stunning) and signed up for the club.  The tastings and the ability to give them as gifts or donate them to worthy causes, plus the reasonable tariff for premium Spring Mountain Cabernet, made it an easy decision. 

Spring Mountain Vineyard, or SMV, hews to a more Bordelaise model:  Estate grapes, one (or two) grand vins blended to get the most out of the vineyards, rather than a "single vineyard designate" model, although one wine also uses a varietal label.  (The Elivette leaves off the variety on the front label, but some vintages where the cab content is high enough seem to designate it on the back label.)  The underlying theme is plainly quality above all, and the pricing is far from aggressive.  I was very happy to have the opportunity for a first rate tasting experience, and recommend the wines to anyone who is looking for "first growth" quality Cab at a less than culty price.


Reply by dvogler, Dec 7, 2015.

Sounds like an awesome experience.  You deserved it Richard!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 7, 2015.

DV, you get first shot at my gift of a visit to SMV. since I owe you for the equally excellent, in a different way, visit to Hendry.  Need to go back there when you are here, but let's make it a day and go to SMV, too.

Reply by dmcker, Dec 7, 2015.

Great report, Fox, thanks. It's a winery I've been aware of for years but it was always hanging just barely out of sight on the periphery of my vision, so with time priorities and all, never seemed to warrant being chased down. Your relay of their story, however, shows that judgment was mistaken.

Also your sixth paragraph explains why the '83 Bordeaux vintage (discussed in another current thread) was such a steal for so long since it was totally overshadowed by the '82. I love those under-the-radar good vintages. Talked about a '79 Barbaresco I had just a day or so ago in yet another thread just an hour or two ago. Then there's such as the '97 Napa which we've talked about before here, too, though that's perhaps a more complex issue...

Reply by outthere, Dec 7, 2015.

Nice report Richard. Did they take you into the caves or were they too busy setting up for the party? Back vintages are plentiful as they hold back a lot of wine. Our favorite from the party was the '09 Elivette.

Reply by vin0vin0, Dec 7, 2015.

Sounds like you two had a great time, also thanks for the excellent report.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 7, 2015.

Couldn't go to the caves; things were hectic setting up for the party, or so it appeared. We'll probably get a chance in the not too distant future.  We did like the Elivette, especially the 2009.  Really, everything was excellent.  I tend to prefer Cabs that have a high percentage of Cab Sauvignon over blends with higher percentages of other Bord varieties.  Probably just because that's what I grew up with; explains why Bordeaux hasn't really wowed me.  JD brought a Pape Clement to a tasting in NYC at Snooth a few years back and it did nothing for me.  It's a Michel Rolland wine, and has a pretty high percentage of merlot for a left banker.  With the amazing CS fruit they have up on Spring Mountain, my preference is to see that shining through.

Reply by EMark, Dec 7, 2015.

.Excellent report, Fox.  Thank you.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 7, 2015.

Some pretty high praise Fox.

Always good to hear of operations like this existing, in Napa especially in this day and age. 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 4, 2016.

In the spirit of paying it forward, I have now made a gift of a tasting for the second time.  First was for an on again, off again member of the boards, now for a colleague.  It makes me more thankful to my benefactor, because I would not have had the pleasure of sharing myself if I hadn't found out about SMV from him. 

I'll probably head up there myself after Thanksgiving as a treat for my wife and myself and pick up the cases of wine that they are holding.  That's going to be our present to ourselves this year. 


Reply by bostonlobsterman, Nov 4, 2016.

Fox- very classy, and thanks for posting follow up which got me to read the old thread. 

Reply by dvogler, Nov 5, 2016.


Mike Hendry is in Victoria this weekend and I was trying to get my old racing buddy (Mike's cousin) to bring him to my place and I'd open any big wines they wanted.  Unfortunately it's looking like mostly family time and visiting.  Hopefully he brought some Hendry with him to leave!  If I do see him, I'll tell him you said Hi.

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