Spottswoode Estate

  • Country

    USA

  • Region

    St. Helena, Napa Valley, California

  • Founded

    1982

  • Farming

    Organic (certified since 1992), biodynamic (practising)

Established in 1882 the beautiful pre-Prohibition Victorian property, now known as Spottswoode Estate, was acquired by Dr Jack and Mary Novak in 1972. Jack passed away suddenly five years after the couple moved to Spottswoode. Mary, widowed and with five young children, went on to release the first vintage of Spottswoode in 1982, exactly one hundred years after its founding. Prior to this she had been selling grapes from the estate to Shafer and Duckhorn. Today Spottswoode Estate is one of the oldest family-owned wineries in Napa and is considered a true “first growth” of California.

Mary was a pioneer of organic viticulture when she began farming the vineyard organically in 1985. The Estate received certification in 1992 (the first estate in Napa to do so) and embraces biodynamic principals, including composting, bringing in animals, and incorporating the lunar calendar.

Mary also played a role in championing women in the wine industry by encouraging two of her daughters to work alongside her and through the hiring of women winemakers throughout Spottswoode’s storied four-decade history. Today the winery is run by Mary’s youngest daughter, Beth Novak Milliken and she has been the Estate’s President and CEO since 2007, while her sister Lindy is the Marketing Ambassador. Mary sadly passed away in 2016.

Spottswoode Estate has seen a string of talented winemakers – Tony Soter made the first vintage back in 1982 and was followed by a series of prominent female winemakers: Pam Star, Rosemary Cakebread, Mia Klein and Jennifer Williams. Aron Weinkauf is the current vineyard manager and winemaker; he champions restraint and has created beautifully tight-knit wines since he took over as winemaker in 2011 (although he joined Spottswoode back in 2006 as assistant winemaker). He has reduced leaf picking in order to encourage more shade in the canopy and picking dates have generally been brought forward.

Spottswoode is a monopole vineyard located on the western edge of St. Helena at the foot of the Mayacamas mountains where it meets Spring Mountain, there is therefore a gap in the hills which regularly allows in cooling Pacific influence – one of the contributing factors as to why Spottswoode Cabernets are always around a modest 13 to 14 per cent.

The entire single block consists of alluvial, clay and loamy soils from what was once a river bed. The 16 hectares are contiguous and broken into 22 blocks, (see vineyard map below) with the oldest vines planted in 1991, as California was ravaged by phylloxera in the 1980s and Spottswoode, like many others, had used the AxR1 rootstock, not resistant to the aphid.

Spottswoode is “grand cru” site and one of the truly great producers in Napa. Their signature is elegant yet structured wines. They are refined with great poise, energy and persistence. Balanced, expressive and cerebral.

Winemaker Aron Weinkauf likens the wines to a yogi master – strong, enduring and balanced; in contrast to the overbuilt, muscular bodybuilder.

The wines always have bright acidity (a ‘normal’ pH here is 3.5, even in the ripest years) and are intensely complex. Perhaps the most impressive element is their ability to age – on a number of occasions we have tasted verticals dating back to the early nineties and the freshness and vitality is remarkable.

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017:

Made of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is deep garnet-purple in color and prances out of the glass with vivacious blackberries, crushed black cherries, warm black currants and red currant jelly scents plus exotic hints of cassia, cardamom, fenugreek and star anise with a waft of underbrush. Medium-bodied, the palate has fantastic energy and beautiful poise, with bags of bright, crunchy black and red fruit plus a firm, fine-grained texture, finishing long and spicy.” 97+ pts

Lisa Perotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate, October 2019.

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017:

“Spottswoode’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon has been simply tremendous on both occasions I have tasted it so far. Sweet red cherry, red plum, flowers and mint give the 2017 striking freshness to complement its decidedly mid-weight structure. The intense heat of the vintage caused ripening to slow down and yielded a wine with just 13.7% alcohol, which is low for both the estate and Napa Valley in general. Spottswoode was one of the first estates in the valley to adopt a more moderate approach to farming and that really paid off in 2017, as a wine of this level in that year could have only resulted from impeccable farming. In a word: magnificent!” 96 pts

Antonio Galloni, Vinous, January 2020

Other wines in the range include Lyndenhurst, one of the names the Estate has been known by, inspired by the fragrant linden trees still at the property today. Lyndenhurst has been made since the 2006 vintage. It was initially the produce of younger vines but is now made from fruit expressly chosen to yield an earlier-maturing wine than the main ‘grand vin’ Spottswoode Cabernet and includes about 15 to 20% fruit bought in from Oakville.

The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Lyndenhurst is blended of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. Deep garnet-purple in color, it offers soft spoken notes of dried lavender, wild blueberries, fresh black currants and kirsch plus hints of dried herbs, unsmoked cigars and spice cake. Medium to full-bodied, the palate has a solid structure of ripe, grainy tannins and plenty of freshness to support the muscular, beautifully retrained flavors, finishing on a lingering earthy note. 92+ pts

Lisa Perotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate, October 2019.

The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Lyndenhurst is a very pretty wine. Bright red-toned fruit, floral notes and veins of tannin give the 2017 a real sense of energy; the purity of the flavors is just striking. The Lyndenhurst is easily one of the best 2017s in its peer group. This vintage has almost 1% less alcohol than the 2016, and a bit more tannic grip, which gives it a real feeling of energy. The Lyndenhurst is a blend of roughly equal parts declassified Spottswoode barrels and purchased fruit. 91 pts

Antonio Galloni, Vinous, January 2020

The Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc comes from a mix of Napa and Sonoma fruit from the Hyde (Carneros) and Tofanelli (Calistoga) vineyards in Napa, plus Joe Votek’s rocky Farina Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, which is also used by Tres Sabores and Scholium Project. It is a serious offering and considered among the best in California and gets even better with a few years in the cellar.

NOTE: Spottswoode is released annually on September 1st on an allocation basis. Please get in touch to register your interest for the next release.

This is a wine of great classicism and quality with enormous aging potential…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.

Robert Parker Jnr, having tasted a vertical of every vintage of Spottswoode in 2016

Technical Information

WineBlendVine ageSoil typeVineyard area
Sauvignon BlancSauvignon Blanc 98%, Semillon 2%n/a
LyndenhurstCabernet Sauvignon 84%, Merlot 10%, Cabernet Franc 3%, Malbec 2%, Petit Verdot 1%n/a
Estate Cabernet SauvignonCabernet Sauvignon 89%, Cabernet Franc 7%, Petit Verdot 4%Oldest vines replanted in 1991Benchland soils: alluvial, clay & loam40 acres

Viticulture & Vinification

  • Organic certified (1992), biodynamic practices incorporated
  • Hand-harvested
  • Estate Cabernet is aged in French oak barrels for 20 months (60% new)
  • Lyndenhurst Cabernet is aged in French oak barrels for 20 months (40% new)
  • Grapes for the Estate Sauvignon Blanc are picked from a variety of vineyard plots from Napa Valley and Sonoma mountains.
  • Clonal selection – clone 1, clone 6, rauscedo 3, 15 % Sauvignon Musqué
  • Estate Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in a combination of French oak, small stainless steel barrels, a clay amphora, and one ceramic and two concrete cuves