on 13/06/14 at 7:36 pmEVENTS, Wine
by D.R. Stewart
Arriving into Napa a day before the wine/music festival BottleRock, thought I’d try out the Spring Mountain District. It’s an appellation that goes back to 1993 and defines an area that sits up above the city of St. Helena with some unique characteristics — ocean winds, fog, intense shade, intense sunlight, nutrient-stressed soil — most of these vineyards have many microclimates contained on one parcel of land.
Starting out with Orin Swift before I headed up the mountain, downtown St. Helena proved to be a charm bomb of bourgeois cutneness. Known for developing and subsequently selling off The Prisoner brand, they maintain this pour room in the heart of picturesque Main Street in St. Helena. The gal pouring immediately warned me about the impending BottleRock — “Napa’s gonna be crazy!” and this was a general theme throughout the day, with many people indicating they were leaving the next morning for vacations, etc.
I did the Heads Flight because I had been tipped off to their 2012 Abstract Not unlike the early abstract artists, it was a wine that seemed to be ready to make a statement, but not a coherent one. Maybe over time, this blend will better.
Towards the end of their flight, the 2012 Papillon was back on track, and set up their desert wine — the NV Mute’. Often time these desert wines feel like your drinking Coke syrup, but this one was not overpowering on the alcohol or the sugar. I wish I had this to finish off my lunch at ad hoc’s — addendum. Situated behind Thomas Keller’s less-famous ad hoc restaurant (you know, “French Laundry” is his bellwether) addendum is open on Thurs/Fri and you can bring your own beverage to drink on the picnic tables surrounding their stand.
Made my way up the mountain and stopped at Barnett Vineyards. Smart entrance, where they make the guests walk through the work-a-day-world of the barrels. Instead of the overly-conscious efforts made by many glug-glug wineries to greet your guests with a Disneyland experience, this one reminds you — you are coming to a working winery to taste their latest. Barnett seems to be saying to you — “Walk past these barrels from this back entrance into a real place of wine-making and we’ll pour for you the latest and greatest.”
There was only one wine on their pour list with grapes from the property — their 2011 Cab Sav. It was solid, but I was much more excited by the 2012 Pinot, with grapes sourced from the Russian River Valley. Had a cherry bomb explosion going on, like Luden’s cough drops when you were a kid (and didn’t want the more medicinal ones). Pinot can get too chalky and less berry, and the Barnett 2012 stands out in a very crowded field.
I jogged back down the hill to Schweiger. Their 2008 Dedication blend was the winner for me here, and I also picked up a little gossip re Bottlerock — apparently last year’s festival did not pay a lot of bills, and one restaurant was owed so much they went under. [Found out that new management came in and righted all the wrongs]
Finished up at Pride Mountain. Interesting that they had started out with intentions to be gentleman farmers, but response turned them commercial. The 2011 Merlot was a revelation, restoring the luster to the grape that refuses to be buried. This grape has done its penance, and is ready for a renaissance with wines like Pride Mountain’s 2011 Merlot.
Pride has a vast array of micro-climates on its property, and best off all — straddles both Napa and Sonoma, thus bound to adhere to each appellation’s rules. See wine steward Andy Nies’ demonstration of a man torn between two counties.
Nies gave a masterful tour (the guy’s a former Universal VIP guide and Supervisor) and it really helped separate Pride Mountain from other wineries, beyond the stellar product. The tour hit different staging areas throughout the winery, not overly long, but quick locational stops that give you a stronger affinity to the place and its wines. Almost like a technique from the pick-up book — The Game — moving people around and having conversations and tastes at different staging locations makes for an elevated experience. People were pulling out their wallets and buying cases with a liquidity that I had not seen at the other wineries.
When you watch a show like American Idol, it’s usually so incredibly close between the talent. At the level the singers are operating, the smallest differences end up making a performer rise to the top. The same with these Spring Mountain wines. They were all at a superior level where a refined and clever presentation of their product could result in a differentiation that results in increased sales. The Spring Mountain District is a relatively young appellation, but their Pride is showing well.