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A Napa Valley Pioneer, Better Than Ever
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 22, 2015
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Spottswoode, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($150):  Some people believe that terroir -- the particular growing conditions of a vineyard -- encompasses only natural factors such as soil, slope, climate, weather and so on, whereas others believe that the human element is also part of a vineyard’s terroir.  Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery is a solid argument of the latter point of view.  When I think about Spottswoode and its consistently fine Cabernets, I find it difficult to distinguish how much of the excellence derives from the historic, 132-year-old vineyard and how much derives from the family that has tended that vineyard with such devotion for the past 43 years.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Novak family, who moved to Napa Valley from southern California in 1972 to farm the Spottswoode estate, with five children in tow.  Only five years into the family’s new life, Jack Novak died unexpectedly.  His widow, Mary, decided to carry on their dream, raising the children and maintaining the vineyard, which at that time provided grapes to several of Napa Valley’s most admired wineries.  After five more years, she founded Spottswoode winery and produced the estate’s first Cabernet Sauvignon, with Tony Soter as winemaker.  Today, she is still involved and her daughter, Beth Novak Milliken, is President and CEO of the operation.  The vineyard itself has gone organic (in 1985, well ahead of the curve), survived replanting necessitated by phylloxera without ever being completely out of production, and -- under current winemaker, Aron Weinkauf -- transitioned to biodynamic growing.
Today, Spottswoode produces two Cabernets.  Lyndenhurst 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) is the tenth release of the wine bearing the name that the property had in the 19th century.  Originally made from younger vines of the estate, today it also contains a small amount of purchased Napa Valley fruit.  It is intended as a readier-to-drink Cabernet than the Spottswoode Cabernet itself.  The wine’s expressive berry, floral and fresh-herb aromas and flavors, and its soft tannins, make this wine delightful now, but it has the balance to hold for several years.  It is entirely Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2011 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon marks the 30th vintage of the estate’s signature wine.  Cool temperatures and some rain near harvest made 2011 a challenging vintage for many in Napa Valley, but apparently the Spottswoode vines rose to the occasion, producing a wine with more concentration and richness than the vintage might suggest, in a finessed rather than brawny style.

One of the most captivating aspects of this wine is its aroma: the scents arrive in layers: earth and tobacco, then dark blackberry fruit, then nutmeg and coffee, then black tea leaves and graphite.  The flavors echo these aromas, with blackberry, spice and coffee dominating, and some dark plum joining the parade.  The wine is full-bodied and has a significant amount of tannin, but these young tannins are not harsh.  Furthermore, the silky texture of the wine’s ripe fruit coats your mouth to mask the tannins, even at this early stage of development.  The wine’s overall effect is an all-togetherness of components that promises impressive harmony with a few years of age.  This is a wine of integrity that commands attention even as it softly, gently expresses itself.

This 2011 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon has 13.9 percent alcohol and sacrifices nothing for that fairly low voltage.  Its composition is 89 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc at 8 percent and Petit Verdot at 3 percent.  The wine aged 19 months in French oak barrels, 62 percent of which were new.

This superb wine from a challenging vintage proves the excellence of the Spottswoode terroir -- Nature’s gifts but also the human devotion that sustains them.

93 Points