Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Tasting in the Garden of Spottswoode Estate

Story and photo’s by John Olney, August 22,2009Web site: E-mail:

***Copyright, all rights reserved by Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,1370 Trancas St., #409, Napa, CA 94558 Phone: 707-299-9548
Web site: E-mail:
[You can click on the pix's to see an enlargement]


It had been years since I last visited the graceful estate of the Spottswoode vineyards and winery estate.Click here for Web site>> ( ) My initial visit was back in the mid-1980’s when I was busily producing wine label poster-maps of Napa Valley wineries. My intention was to include their label on my third poster but I stopped after the second was released and marketed in 1989 amidst much controversy over my presentation of certain wine labels on the same product containing the Napa Valley Wine Train. Anyway, that’s another story under development at this time.

Site Background
The Spottswoode Estate dates back to the very early days of Napa’s development into one of the already most respected wine producing regions in the world of the wine industry. The estate was established in 1882 by George Schoenwald. He named the property “ Esmeralda.”

According to Irene W. Haynes, as she wriote in her photo-book, “Ghost Wineries of Napa Valley,” (1980) Schoenwald sold his wines to the Palace Hotel located in San Francisco. It was built in 1875, by William Chapman Ralston and William Sharon, wealthy bankers, and was described by others as “the largest, most luxurious and costly hotel in the world.”

Historian/Author, Lin Weber, in her book, “Old Napa Valley - The History to 1900,” Schoenwald was a San Francisco-based real estate developer who promoted the Del Monte holdings in Monterey, in 1880. It was said to be the” most elegant seaside resort in the world.” It burned down in 1887 and again 1924. It is now the site of the U.S. Navy Post Graduate School.

Frank Kraft purchased a northern piece of the original 31 acres of Schoenwald property in 1884, upon which he built a farmhouse and sandstone wine cellar known as the “Kraft Winery“. It operated until the 1890s.

Starting in 1906, the Victorian-style home estate property was sold to three succeeding parties: Schoenwald to a Joseph Bliss, who renamed the estate Stonehurst, Bliss to Dr. George Allen who named it Lindenhurst , then Dr. Allen sold to Mrs. Albert Spotts, who renamed it Spottswoode and finally in 1972, Mary and Jack Novak bought it. They moved their family from southern California onto the estate property. Her husband passed away before all the dreams could be realized but Mary Novak decided to go on and with her five children, built the elegant winery estate that is such a pleasure to visit today.

The Novak’s first winemaker was Tony Soter (1982-1991), who produced such fabulous wines that before the word “Cult” winery existed, Spottswoode “was, and remains cult “producing outstanding wines. It was during his tenure that Mary Novak and family reunited (1990) the original two parcels of the original Schoenwald estate when they acquired the former Kraft property. Today that property functions as the operations center for wine production, barrel storage, marketing and distribution.

Soter is acclaimed as one of great modern day consulting winemakers with a list of clients to be envied and are considered “cult” Cabernet Sauvignon producers: Araujo, Dalla Valle, Rubicon Estate, Shafer, Spottswoode and Viader. His own Napa Valley brand is Etude , located in the Carneros District and Beacon Hill winery represents his Willamette Valley, Oregon, production. Soter was followed by excellent winemakers such as Pam Starr (1992-1996), now of Crocker & Starr Wines and consultant to others, Rosemary Cakebread (1997-2005), now consulting Spottswoode, and Jennifer Williams (began in 2006) who is the current winemaker

Late Summer Garden Party, Saturday, August 22, 2009On a beautiful Saturday, in the heart of Napa Valley’s Wine County, with my associate, Maria Kitzmiller we walked under the entry gate and on to the 1882 estate of the Novak family to experience what would become one of my fondest tasting experiences to date.

After registering at the entry table, receiving our tasting menu and our complimentary Reidel etched wine glass, we immediately stepped to Table 1 where members of the Novak family (pictured here) greeted the guests and poured the first of six Spottswoode wines being served this day; the Spottswoode 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. That’s the matriarch, Mary Novak shown to the far right.

I am current writing a book tentatively titled “The Innovators of the Modern Napa Valley Wine Industry,” and Mary Novak is one of my 20 selected candidates to be interviewed. She has accepted to participate in my project. I have already interviewed Michael Mondavi and Andy Beckstoffer. 11 others have also agreed to participate and I wait for the remaining six to make their final decision.

This Sauvignon Blanc is perhaps the best my palate has tasted to date. Just enough grassy aroma to the nose and fruit forward taste, and slipping over my tongue with a very refreshing finish as I swallowed. There was no way this wine would be spat out!
I must confess, I actually went back for a second small taste just to be sure my first assessment was not a fluke. It wasn’t! As I finished off this second taste , the garden filled rapidly with guests. As I would later discovery, their office received over 650 RSVP’s confirming their desire to attend this event. This picture gives you an example of the crowd size about noon. An hour later there was barely elbow row to get by and go to a table to experience the next offering.

Because I enjoyed this wine so much, as soon as I got home and on my computer, I went to the Spottswoode Web site to look up its tasting notes. It is 67% SB, 24% Sauvignon Musque and 9% Semillion. I don’t recall having tasted such a blend before so I looked up the Sauv. Musque and found it to be a clone of SB that tends to provide a richer fruit taste to a wine. Well, I guess that is probably why I found the wine so good. I am now seeking out yet other wineries with such blends so I can verify that it is indeed the Musque that captured my taste buds.

Next up at Table 2 was the Spottswoode 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon. After my first sip of this wine, I wrote in my real time notes the following: “It is no wonder their wines were so difficult to get!” This wine was simply so smooth and balanced I just wanted to sip it all afternoon, but I still had four more wines to taste. Could it just keep getting better, I wondered? As I would discover, yes it could.

Table three contained the Field Book 2007 Rhone Style Syrah Grenache. It was very smooth but stayed on my palate until my next small sip. I confess I have not much experience with this varietal so when I got home, I checked their Web site to read about it. It was only released on August 1, and only 179 cases were bottled. It is a blend of 19% Grenache and 81% Syrah. I’m afraid I’m going to develop a strong liking to this wine, darn it!

It was time to experience some food so Maria went over to the first food table which offered cheesy duck pizza slices that were a piece of heaven. The pizza’s were made right there on site as shown here. This device was a center of attraction as many guests went up to the pizza makers wanting to know who manufactured the oven and where they might be able to purchase one. I think I heard the gentleman in black, who was the primary cooker of the pizza’s, say that he made the device but he only made it for his purpose. He didn’t want to be in the business of manufacturing them. I’m sure that on the Monday following the event, the Spottswoode office received many calls to find out which of the catering firms this guy and his oven belonged to and he’ll get lots of pressure to build more!

The pizza got us in the mood for some more food so I wandered over to look over the main station while Maria surveyed the desert area.

I took this picture where I crossed the garden to the long tables . It looked like the line was reasonable so I went back to our table to wait for my Associate. Bad move, indeed!

By the time we finally decided that we would go fill a small plate, the crowd had at least doubled and the line for the food represented about a 20 minute wait minimum. Obviously the food was great because so many were so willing to wait out the line to get to it. We are sure we missed out on some fabulous foods to go with the wines

We scurried over to the pizza table with a shorter line and snatched a couple of pieces which would hold over through the tasting of the remaining three wines, the next of which was the Lyndenhurst 2007 Cab. This wine was bigger than the previous Cab displaying more oak and tannin influence and was quite good. There were two ladies at our table who came in from out of county who stressed that the Lyndenhurst was their very favorite Spottswoode wine and I could see why they liked it so much..

The last two wines to taste were on the opposite side of the garden from our table so I started my walk to taste the Spottswoode 2006 Cab. I thought I heard the pourer say it was 100% Cab but a later check on their Web site shows a pinch of Cabernet Franc was blended in (1.5%), but I can tell you that I honestly would not have been able to tell you that at the time I tasted the wine. All, I can say is, “Wow!” These wine just keep getting better tasting to my palate which prefers smooth reds but bold enough to remain on your tongue until the next anticipate sip. Spottswoode reds certainly accomplish this.

Now I was ready to leap at the Spottswoode 2007 cab which was being spotlighted as a pre-release offering. It will undoubtedly be a popular wine for all Spottswoode patrons.

Here’s my problem! I’m blogger, a freelance writer, published only in a couple of resources and mostly not paid, just earning publishing inches. What do I go and do? I fall in love with wines that are currently out of reach but I’m confident I will eventually sell one of my books and I have a list of wines that will immediately be placed in my cellar. You can rest assured that all of the products of Spottswoode will be at the head of the list of my first purchases.

Thanks to the Novak team for a fabulous day with great wines and in a perfect setting.