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Fall Back on Spring Mountain

Wine Tourism
Written by Fred Swan
Tuesday, 23 December 2008 21:59

It was the kind of pre-Thanksgiving day that makes us feel very fortunate to live in this area. Somewhere in Wisconsin, moon boots were stepping gingerly out onto snow-covered lakes to see if the ice was thick enough for fishing. On the east coast, cars did graceful pirouettes through frozen intersections. Meanwhile, we sat in short sleeve shirts atop Spring Mountain drinking wine. We had just one weather-related concern. If we leave our wine in the car, will it cook?

It is sometimes said that we don’t get “real seasons” out here. It’s certainly true that we don’t get a lot of snow in the coastal wine country. We have to head to the Sierra Foothills if we want to go wine tasting and skiing on the same day. That isn’t a very long drive though. And if it’s Fall colors that people fear we miss, those colors are vivid on the grape vines. The grape leaves change from green to shades of gold and red just like a Pennsylvanian tree.


Eventually, the leaves fall. But, by then, we know Spring isn’t far away. We can sip wine made from those grape vines and look forward to bud break. And we can drive to the wineries in Sonoma County or Paso Robles or so many other places without strapping on chains. Or we can just look back on another good year in Northern California wine country and the great times we’ve had.fall-on-spring-mountain

Today, we’re thinking of the Fall, back on Spring Mountain. The weather was perfect. The wines were delicious. The wineries were hospitable. And we were very happy to be there. If you’ve not been to Spring Mountain, add it to your list of places to go. If you have, you know you should go again.

Spring Mountain is actually a series of peaks in the Mayacamas Mountains. The appellation falls within Napa County and the mountains form one part of the border between that area and the Sonoma Valley. To get to the wineries, head into St. Helena and follow the signs through a residential area to the scenic and winding road that takes you up the hill. There are about 30 wineries up there, ranging in altitude from 400 to 2600 feet. Just shy of 9000 acres are planted with vineyards that mostly face east. When the sun rises above the peaks on the opposite side of Napa Valley (Howell Mt., Atlas Peak) it burns off Spring Mountain’s morning fog.

The grapes don’t get as hot on Spring Mountain as they do on the valley floor. That lets the sugars develop more slowly, in sync with the flavors and pigments. The wines can have great character and color without being too big or falling short in acidity. It is important, though, for growers to make sure the breeze has every opportunity to help dry the vines and fruit, especially the Merlot. That said, in the past few years the moisture in the air has been fine but there hasn’t been enough in the ground. Continuing drought is a serious concern.

Spring Mountain became an official appellation in 1993. However, there have been wine grapes grown there at least as far back as 1874. Charles Lemme planted 25 acres near York Creek then. Just a few years later, the Beringer brothers followed suit. Before long, there were more. One of them was Tiburcio Parrott who planted a vineyard he called Miravalle and then won a gold medal with the resulting wine at the 1895 World’s Fair. Some of these oldest vineyards are now part of the property belonging to Spring Mountain Vineyard. Parrott’s home still stands and was used as the family mansion in the Falcon Crest television show.

The Spring Mountain wineries are geographically above Napa Valley. One gets the sense that they also feel somewhat above the fray emotionally. Things are just different on the mountain. It is much quieter. They get fewer visitors and it would be an amazing feat if a tour bus could even navigate the road to the summit. Gift shops are few. In bad weather, it can be hard to get down the hill, let alone up. The road has been known to wash out. In a way, it is as much island as mountain.

Though its inhabitants have an amazing vista of the whole valley and opposing hills and could literally count the cars as they drive Hwy. 29 or up to Atlas Peak, those views are mostly ignored. The locals prefer to focus on their vineyards and the resident wild life, not worrying about the hive of activity down below.

This is not to say that the wineries aren’t friendly. They are. They just have a different style. They are more about farming than marketing. Some neighboring wineries actually help each other during harvest. All of those that are open to the public require appointments. They simply don’t have the physical space to accommodate large crowds and the proprietors want to be able to give personal attention to their guests. In some cases, the “tasting room” is the owners’ dining room or back deck.

Visit Spring Mountain. Call ahead. Take a cave tour at Pride Mountain Vineyards. Taste wines while sitting on deck chairs next to the vineyard at Guilliams, looking out at the valley below. Hear about, and taste, the difference between mountain fruit and valley fruit. It may be the easiest way to understand how distinct one appellation may be from its neighbors. And you can go during Fall.

This article is original to Copyright 2008 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.