August 31, 2016

Spottswoode - A Vertical Tasting of One of Napa Valley's First-Growth Wines

 - Robert Parker/August 2016

Spottswoode is a monopole vineyard, completely owned by the Novak family, who purchased it in 1982 and have managed it with the inspired leadership of Mary Novak and the rest of the family. Beth Novak Milliken is the face and strong operating presence of Spottswoode. The vineyard sits on the western edge of St. Helena, behind the small town at what is basically the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Right across the street is David Abreu's Madrona Vineyard, and nearby are other extraordinary first- growth quality vineyards, such as the Dr. Crane and Hayne vineyards.

The entire single block consists of alluvial/clay/loamy soils from what was once a river bed. Their 40 acres (37 in vineyards) are contiguous and broken into 22 blocks, with the oldest vines planted in 1991 when they began to replace the phylloxera-infected vineyard blocks planted on AXR1 rootstock. Spottswoode has been farmed organically since 1985, well ahead of the current trend for organic and biodynamic farming.

This tasting, which took place in August 2016, was a phenomenal look at what is truly a Napa first-growth estate. I broke the tasting notes into the different eras marked by their brilliant winemakers, starting with Tony Soter, and moving through a series of prominent women winemakers: Mia Klein, Pam Starr, Rosemary Cakebread and Jennifer Williams. For the last four vintages in the vertical, the winemaker has been Aron Weinkauf.

It is amazing that the alcohols have rarely surpassed 14.4%, with the highest at 14.7% in 2002, but generally in the 13.9% - 14.4% range across the board with all of the early vintages (when the AXR1 rootstock was still viable) coming in at less than 14% alcohol. Prices are striking to follow, which mirror what has happened with the top wines in California. The debut 1982 vintage was priced at $18, by 1994 the price had risen to $45, then jumped to $80 in 1998, $110 in 2002 and to its current price of $185 in 2014.

This is a wine of great classicism and quality with enormous aging potential, as the following tasting notes illustrate. Certainly one of the privileges in my profession is to have a winery present their entire, lifetime of work. This was one of the more fascinating and enjoyable tastings to which I have had the honor of being invited.