Spring Mountain Vineyard
Spring Mountain Vineyard, home of Miravalle, is located on the west side of Napa Valley towards St. Helena. I am in the vicinity weaving down quiet little neighborhoods. Taking in the diverse composition of homes and the vibe of the area. It’s off of Highway 29. It is the most well-traveled road leading to the busiest wineries in Napa Valley. I’m thankful to be at a leisurely pace on side roads away from the hubbub.
As I arrive I stop at the entrance, protected by a black metal gate. I push the button to the speaker and announce myself and wait. During this time I look for a camera (can’t see one), look at the speaker box and wonder who is on the other side. The area is so quiet, the loudest noise is the wind ruffling the pine needles overhead. A scratchy voice from the box greets me and gives me a quick welcome as the gate magically opens and I drive on.
The visits at Spring Mountain Vineyard are by appointment. What sometimes strikes a spontaneous visitor as inconvenient should truly be seen as an opportunity to engage with intriguing wineries off the well-traveled road. Due to licenses and location, appointments are required. Keep in mind this is simply to follow licensing rules, not to inconvenience you.
From the moment I am beyond the gate, the sense of history is everywhere. It feels like time is standing still…. as if I’ve traveled back in the past 50 years. There are trees surrounding the road and letting sunlight in but at the same time I feel sequestered, protected. It is eerily peaceful. No sounds of traffic or people. The insects have a symphony buzzing happily along. This is paradise for those with wings. There is a quiet elegance of this property unlike any other. I am in awe of Spring Mountain Vineyard’s gardens. A short path around the clear sunlit windows of a greenhouse draws me in.
In my youth, I loved watching the intro to a show called Falcon Crest a drama based in wine country. I loved the moment the resplendent Victorian complete with bell tower was shown. Miravalle. I wanted to know every nook and cranny of what existed beyond the facade. To step inside, to see what life was really like in that home. Today, I am about to learn a little more about this mysterious place.
Spring Mountain is it’s own AVA (American Viticulture Appellation). It is a group of wineries and vineyards just southwest of St. Helena. Located up on a hill in the Mayacamas Mountains of Napa Valley, exists this beautiful slice of earth. It is part of the Spring Mountain AVA, but not all wines are equal even when they come from the same AVA. The winds, positioning to sun, soil, and weather all contribute to the success of the vines. Spring Mountain Vineyard (in the Spring Mountain AVA) has exceptional soil and it’s highest vineyards go 1600 feet up. It is located in the gap of the Mayacamas Mountains, which gives it more exposure to the sunshine and coastal wind.
In 1881 Tiburcio Parrott, a Mexican-American businessman purchased this magnificent estate and made it home. The detail of the grand structure and the fortitude with which it was made are breathtaking. His nearest neighbors were the Beringer Brothers who themselves had an incredible home. Tiburcio hired their architect to build him the grand Victorian which exists perfectly preserved today. Strong and sturdy in structure and intricately detailed. On the interior, the hand carvings & chandeliers lend a feeling of opulence. The grounds were initially planted with roses, 6000 olive trees and tobacco for Parrott’s cigars.
Spring Mountain Vineyard consists of (Miravalle) 257 acres (where I spent my time tasting). Chateau Chevalier (Chevalier) 120 acres, and Draper Vineyards (La Perla) 435 acres. All told the properties which were acquired along with a few smaller ones in 1990. The owner, Jacqui Safra methodically acquired each of these properties. Overall, the property consists of 8 different soil types and 135 vineyard blocks. The fruit that comes from them is extraordinary.
Part of the efforts to embrace a sustainable practice have had wonderful benefits on the community. They achieved their Organic Certification in 2010 in the Elivette Vineyards. Have built bat and bird houses to avoid the need for chemical sprays. Take for example the need to control voles, a squirrel-like rodent that attacks the vines. Spring Mountain Vineyard brought in feral cats from the local Humane Society, acclimated them to the area and released them into the habitat. They’ve also used 70 acres of vineyards to plant a vertical vine training known as Gobelet, to preserve the top soils of vineyards.
I’m touring with the assistant winemaker Justin Hirigoyen and their PR Director Valli Ferrell discussing the property, the 22,000 square feet of barrel aging space and its history. As we’re talking we round the corner of the back of a house. I don’t yet know it’s Miravalle, I don’t even know it’s the Falcon Crest house, and then I see it. Like a magnificent jewel, it shimmers in the sun, this well preserved Victorian. Its depiction on television could not do it justice. Surrounded by the mysteries of the past, situated perfectly before a large estate pool,and surround by Royal Palms. The estate stretches out past the vineyards and stretching out before the house are the magnificent stretch of vineyards.
It’s a lot to take in. The history, the past, and the present, in addition to the divine wine. The winemaker, Susan Doyle, has extensive experience in the winemaking space. She has been the Technical Director of Vineyards & Winemaking becoming the GM in 2015. Born in Tasmania, she was exposed to the world of farming early on. Australia was the foothold for gaining winemaking experience at Pipers Brook and Yarra Ridge in Victoria. She worked in Champagne at the famed Moet Chandon. Arriving in California and working in the Russian River Valley she took the helm at MacMurray Ranch in 2003. Her passions are travel, sailing, and champagne.
”I see winegrowing as both science and art. The science is to know what you are doing. The art is to know when to allow terroir to speak. The unmatched beauty and diversity of Spring Mountain Vineyard make true terroir possible.” Susan Doyle, GM
The Wine Siren: For a consumer who usually sips traditional Napa reds, why should they try a Bordeaux blend from Napa?
Susan Doyle: The Elivette shows the beauty of mountain terroir for all 5 varietal blend options found in our signature wine. Each variety contributes to the aroma, structure, acidity, power and grace that make a complete wine, versus the better known powerful Cabernet Sauvignon from the valley floor.
TWS: Spring Mountain Vineyard also produces a Cabernet Sauvignon. Tell us about the current vintage.
Doyle: Our Estate Cabernet: The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon has great structure and approachable youthful tannins that make it a pleasure to drink now, but it will cellar well over the next 5-10 years.
TWS: How do you believe your broad experience in making wine from Australia, New Zealand, France, and more recently, Napa and Sonoma has made you better at winemaking?
Doyle: Experience making wine in other parts of the world allows for a different approach to blending in terms of structure and how a blend will come together not for immediate pleasure, but longevity. At Spring Mountain Vineyard, we aim for wines of power, structure, and grace. We work with the terroir and consider what each component will contribute as we blend. More broadly, we consider what varietals we will plant for the future vintages of Elivette and Cabernet Sauvignon, given climate change and potential growing seasons with water constraints.
TWS: Are there any varietals you hope the opportunity to tackle in upcoming years?
Doyle: As we have done for 25 years, we shall continue to focus on the classic red and white Bordeaux varietals that perform so well in our mountain vineyards. However, the increase in temperature may allow for Italian varietal experimentation.
TWS: What is your current read on the 2016 vintage?
Doyle: My expectations are for an excellent early season. It will be less rushed than 2015. The cooler foggy mornings have allowed for balanced flavors & acidity. There is no need to adjust in the cellar as the fruit is beautifully balanced.
We harvested Sauvignon Blanc on August 16 and expect to harvest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in early September. The Bordeaux reds will be harvested from mid-September through mid-October unless the weather cools. We expect these varieties to show the power and density typical of Spring Mountain terroir.
TWS: Looking at your job, what are the most challenging aspects of it?
Doyle: One of the biggest challenges is also a great opportunity for making distinctive wine vintage after vintage. On the Spring Mountain Vineyard estate, we work with 135 unique micro blocks across 225 acres of mountain terrain.
At harvest, we taste in the vineyard from 7 am until lunch, selecting the blocks with optimal ripeness. We try to ferment each lot without losing terroir and keeping the varietals separate. This gives us optimal blending choices before bottling.
Post-harvest, we evaluate the myriad wines, allocating blend styles for both the Elivette and Cabernet Sauvignon labels.
TWS: What is the most magical aspect to you of Spring Mountain Vineyard?
Doyle: The beauty of the hillside terroir ranging from 400 feet on the slopes near the valley floor to the vineyard peak at 1600 feet. The magical mountain flavors as we move up the hillside across 8 various soil types.The beauty of the terrain that gives us magical moments when it rains and the fruit takes on the freshness of forest floor and moist earth. Watching the fog slowly slide down the mountainside to reveal the valley floor when we are walking the Malbec and Cabernet Franc at 1600 ft. Time to pull out a bottle of SB and enjoy the beauty rather than rush harvest.
Seeing the fruit on the sorting table and listening to our crew sing as they work to bring the next vintage to life!
*When a team works and sings at the same time it truly says something genius about the culture. TWS
2011 Elivette This exquisite red was my personal favorite. A complex red Bordeaux it rivals some of the industry’s best. Chocolate, cherry and bright acidity with a long delicious finish, highlight this superior blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 77%, Cabernet Franc 13%, Petit Verdot 10%. It truly is a brilliant bottle of Napa Valley wine.
2013 Spring Mountain Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Tropical fruit, perfect acidity, mouthwatering with light notes of orange blossom.
All the wines I tasted at Miravalle were incredible. Each with its own extraordinary personality and nuances, a consistency of which you rarely find in each and every wine you taste. They are very selective of the grapes they use & only the best make it in the bottle.