In addition to receiving a number of requests for the names of wineries to visit in Napa Valley, a good friend called the other day and asked, “If I only have one day to spend in Napa, what would you suggest?” and I immediately responded: Spring Mountain.
Anyone who has driven north on Highway 29 through Napa Valley will recall the two-lane highway that is dotted with the entrances to some of the most well-known California wineries such as Robert Mondavi, Neibaum-Coppola (now called Rubicon), Opus One and Louis Martini, just to name a few. Every time I make this drive, I almost feel the exhilaration of using some of those old “E” tickets from the early days of Disney World, but instead of screaming down Space Mountain, I am slowly driving up Spring Mountain.
Just before you reach the downtown area of St. Helena, you come across an old drive-in restaurant, Taylor’s Refresher, which is a destination of local families and tourists alike. Driving just a bit farther north takes you into downtown St. Helena, which has the look and feel of 1950s small-town America.
Turn west off of Highway 29 in the downtown area and you will come to a street named Spring Mountain Highway. After a right turn onto Spring Mountain Highway, you’ll soon realize that it’s anything but a highway, but more of an old, winding country road that leads you several thousand feet up through a very rural area, leaving behind all of the commercialization of Napa Valley and into the realm of the 30 plus wineries that comprise the Spring Mountain Appellation.
At one juncture, you approach an area where it narrows to one-way traffic because two extremely large, tall and beautiful redwood trees have overtaken the pavement that used to allow two cars to pass. The drive takes you through a number of hairpin curves and is lined with giant redwoods in some areas and vineyards in others as you pass the wineries that comprise this appellation.
This drive is one of my favorites in the valley and is absolutely beautiful in the summer, when all the plants and vegetation are a lush green. It leads to stops such as Spring Mountain Winery, Robert Keenan Winery, Schweiger Vineyards, Pride Mountain Vineyards and Barnett Vineyards. Each of these wineries is open to the public, but they require an advance reservation.
Due to the mountain environment, the grapevines struggle for water and other nutrients, causing their roots to travel deep below the surface in search of moisture. Vineyard managers have to be careful just how much their growing efforts “stress” the fruit. They provide the vines with very little water, making the vines struggle to obtain the necessities that allow them to grow in a healthy manner. This creates a smaller crop than normal and also results in smaller grapes, but with much more intense flavors in the fruit. In my opinion, Spring Mountain wineries produce the some of the best-tasting merlots due to the intensity of their flavors.
During a visit to Spring Mountain Winery a few years ago, my party had the opportunity to observe a coyote frolicking in the vineyards. Pride Mountain and Barnett sit at the top of this area and offer visitors the ability to look down upon the vineyards and even see the fog rolling in from below.
There are not any restaurants or stores on Spring Mountain, so you are on your own for food and beverages other than wine. I would suggest putting together a picnic basket at one of the markets on the valley floor, because many of the wineries have designated picnic areas and they can be reserved when you schedule a tour and tasting.
Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.