Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery is located on the original homestead of German immigrant George Schonewald who settled there in 1882 and built the Victorian home that Mary Novak, current owner of the estate winery, calls home today. When she and her physician husband Jack Novak arrived in 1972 to start a new life in the Napa Valley with their five young children, daughter and current President Beth Novak Milliken recalls that her dad just wanted to drive a tractor and mom wanted to be a gardener. They acquired the 46 acres of vineyards, never fully appreciating what George Schonewald and the other 19th century European immigrants knew in their day, that these lands at the foothills of the Mayacamas were some of the best vineyard lands in the valley. The Novaks replanted the vineyards to cabernet sauvignon, selling their first fruit in 1977 and bottling their first estate wines in 1982.
They led a fairly conventional life in the traditional and ‘sleepy town’ of Saint Helena in the 1970’s and by all outward appearances, the family is still conventional in every way. Except that matriarch Mary Novak runs around town in a bright red electric car, just one sign that Mary and her family live in the moment and set trends without ever meaning to do so. When Mary embraced organics in 1985 at the recommendation of then winemaker Tony Soter, it was viewed by many like biodynamics is viewed today – a little strange. They were among the earliest wineries in the valley to have “certified” organic vineyards in 1992. In more recent times, Mary and Beth were gratified by their successful efforts to restore neighboring Spring Creek which had been impacted by housing development. Today the creek’s banks are stabilized with natural grasses, willows growing back and ecosystem health improved.
Spottswoode is “green”, recycling and conserving resources and using solar power and biodiesel for energy. Their sustainable practices include contributing to 1% for the Planet which funds environmental causes (one of ten American wineries to do so) and community welfare through their participation in Auction Napa Valley which funds local healthcare and child/youth programs for the underserved in Napa Valley. Mary Novak and Beth Novak Milliken are co-chairwomen of the 2010 Auction Napa Valley.
No one would ever say that Spottswoode was active in the women’s movement, but since 1992 when Pam Starr signed on as winemaker, the winery has essentially been run by women. Beth says it just worked out that way, with her father passing away suddenly in 1977 and Beth and sister Lindy, currently national marketing director, eventually joining the winery and working alongside their mother. The team includes VP Peah Armstrong and current head winemaker Jennifer Williams. While it is coincidental that the best person for the job is usually a woman, Beth says having a women-driven winery results in a more collaborative work environment.
Spottswoode’s flagship wine, the grand vin, is the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon which can represent anywhere between 30-70% of bottling depending on vintage. The vineyards are at the apex of the Sulphur Creek alluvial fan at the foothills of the Mayacamas, among the most northern fans on the west side of the valley. These well-drained sandy and gravelly soils are ideal for ripening cabernet sauvignon grapes. The 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($130, September release) is full-bodied and finely structured, but neither powerful nor voluptuous in style. It is simply elegant with a purity of black currant fruit, hint of spice and vanilla, balanced acidity, finely grained tannins and long finish.
Public tours of Spottswoode include a visit of the winery and sit-down tasting. It also includes a visit of the original 1882 estate grounds with many of the ‘exotic’ plants the Victorians loved an integral part of the landscaping. Of the perpetually stunning views in the Napa Valley, the views of the vineyards towards the Mayacamas in this narrow part of the valley is one of my favorites.
Due to its location in residential areas, tours are limited to two days a week, Tuesdays and Fridays at 10:00 am, maximum 10 persons per tour. Advance reservations are required, no drop-ins. 707/963-0134 ext. 18 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, 1902 Madrona Avenue, St. Helena CA 94574