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Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN



Spring Mountain Wine

Worth the Drive

Looking to up the adventure quotient in your next trip to wine country? Then head up switchback-laden Spring Mountain Road for jaw dropping views of Napa Valley, world class wine and hospitality reminiscent of a time gone by. Just be sure you use the spit bucket while you’re there, because getting back down the mountain will take all your driving mettle.

Or, better yet, bring a designated driver.

However you get there, you’ll be astonished at the difference a little elevation makes in your wine country experience. Encompassing 8,600 acres of territory - of which just about 2,000 are planted to vines – situated between 400 and 2,600 feet elevation above the Napa Valley floor, Spring Mountain is one of Napa’s most exciting – and difficult to get to – sub-appellations.

Few travelers make the trek, and wines made there usually bear the more well-known “Napa Valley” designation on their labels, so as a region it’s relatively little-known. And besides the harrowing drive, most wineries on Spring Mountain are open by appointment only (due to vigilant local laws), which can make getting there still more complicated yet.

But all of this is actually good news for visitors, because the hospitality once you get there is among the best in the area – in no doubt due to the fact that the wineries receive fewer guests. And the views! Once you’ve experienced the awesome vistas the spot affords you’ll no doubt agree it’s worth taking the time to book an appointment and negotiate the tricky mountain road.

Tempted yet? If so here’s more on where to go and what to do.

Heading back in time at Smith-Madrone
Known for producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon from terraced vineyards planted on the steep east-facing slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, Spring Mountain is a fascinating mix of old and new.

At Smith-Madrone, a 5,000 case-a-year operation situated about halfway up Spring Mountain Road, the property owned by brothers Charlie and Stu Smith is dotted with hundred-plus year-old olive trees planted by folks who were making wine there back in the nineteenth century.

Prohibition took its toll on Spring Mountain winemakers, however, and by the time the brothers purchased their 200 acres of wooded terrain in the early 1970s there was almost no one left making wine on the mountain. Today that’s changed dramatically, as the Spring Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) now boasts more than 30 resident wineries.

But in spite of these updates, Spring Mountain retains a delightfully perceptible sense of the past, as evidenced in Smith-Madrone’s insistence on traditional winemaking practices such as eschewing irrigation (dry farming) and foregoing fining and filtration. Visitors to the quaint no-frills winery will enjoy laid-back tasting and, in all likelihood, first-hand accounts of Napa history from Charlie or Stu himself.

Try this
The Smith-Madrone 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a muscular but beautifully balanced red that’s won more gold medals than you can shake a stick at. With just 1,135 cases made, it clocks in at a reasonable $40. One for the cellar.

Walking the line at Pride
I’ve heard a rumor that there are t-shirts that boast “I survived the drive to Pride,” and now that I’ve been, I totally get it. Once named “Summit Ranch,” Pride Mountain Vineyards is situated at the top of Spring Mountain Road at the crest of the Mayacamas range that separates Napa Valley from its neighbor Sonoma to the west. In fact, the county line between Napa and Sonoma counties runs right through one of their vineyards!

Visitors can, if they wish, have their picture taken while standing in both counties.

But the real attraction at Pride is the wine. Few wineries can boast as many top ratings by influential wine critics as can Pride, and the evidence of their hard work is in the vineyards. Visitors are treated to a walking tour amongst the operation’s 80 acres of hand-tended vines (there are over 90,000 of them – just think of all the hands required!), before wrapping up the tour at a picnic table with a stunning view of the Napa Valley below.

Named by a local sommelier as the best picnic spot in all of Napa Valley, this gorgeous spot is indeed available for picnicking, but only for folks who’ve made an appointment to taste at the winery. So, in addition to bringing along your designated driver, make sure you head up Spring Mountain with a well stocked picnic basket. You’ll benefit from the sustenance before you brave the drive back down the hill.

Try this
An astonishing 15 to 40 percent of Pride’s vineyards is comprised of stones and gravel, which provide ideal drainage for Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pride 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon offers pretty cassis and blackberry fruit alongside toasty French oak; $66.

Getting there
Smith-Madrone
4022 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
Tasting: by appointment
Tel: (707) 963-2283
www.smithmadrone.com

Pride Mountain Vineyards
4026 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
Tasting: by appointment
Tel: (707) 963-4949
www.pridewines.com