Spottswoode Estate has a long history, dating back to the late 1800s when George Schonewald, a German immigrant, purchased a 31-acre property on the western edge of St. Helena and planted 17 acres of wine grapes there. Over the next hundred years, the estate would change hands, and names, several times. In Schonewald’s era it was known as “Esmerelda,” then “Stonehurst,” “Lyndenhurst,” and finally, “Spottswoode.” It was one of the few estates that survived prohibition, only by selling grapes to Christian Brothers Winery for their sacramental wine. When prohibition was repealed, Spottswoode began its resurgence by selling fruit to the Gallo winery.
The modern era at Spottswoode kicked off in 1972, when Dr. Jack Novak, and his wife, Mary, purchased the estate, seeking a country setting to raise their children in (and a place where Jack could potter about on the tractor as a gentleman farmer). This was of course back when St. Helena was still rural. Over time, Jack got to know some of his neighbors in the wine business, including Louis Martini, Justin Meyer, and Ric Forman. They all agreed that Jack had stumbled upon some special terroir. With their endorsement, Jack and Mary purchased another 15 acres to add to the estate and began to replant the vineyards to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc. As their daughter Beth tells it, “We could have just as easily ended up on deeper fertile soils near the river, as we knew nothing about farming, let alone grapes and wine!” Lucky for them, they landed on some of the best soils in Napa.
Not everything came easy to the Novaks, however. The expenses began to pile up shortly after Jack and Mary purchased the property, and Jack was forced to take a job as an emergency room doctor to pay the bills. Then, In 1977, at the age of 44, Jack passed away from a sudden heart attack. Mary was left alone with the property, her children, and a big decision to make. Fortunately, the vineyards were just starting to produce some income, so she decided to stay and tough it out. She kept the business alive by selling grapes to some of the top wineries of the day (Mondavi, Martini, St. Clement, Shafer, and Duckhorn), and the vineyard eventually gained a very good reputation for its fruit. Many clients even encouraged Mary to make her own wine.
In 1982 Mary did just that, bringing on Tony Soter (who was at Chappellet at the time) to make the wines. The first vintage was made that same year, and having no place else to put them, the wines were aged in the basement of the family home. Things took off soon after and Spottswoode joined the cadre of early Napa wineries to take advantage of the valley’s newfound fame and the attendant boom in American wine consumption.
Under Tony Soter’s guidance, Spottswoode began farming organically in 1985, receiving full certification in 1992. In 1999, construction was completed on a beautiful estate winery just across the street from the vineyards. After more than 30 vintages, Spottswoode wines have earned “icon” status. They are adored far and wide for their classically styled and well-knit structures, their tension, energy, and ability to improve for decades. With the next generation of Novaks leading the way at Spottswoode, it looks like the estate will be doing much of the same.