I’m back in the Napa Valley after an extended trip down to the Santa Ynez Valley for some wine tasting. It was a successful journey, and one that I plan to embark upon annually. But before I rehash the details of my venture down to Santa Barbara County, I still need to acknowledge my trip to Spring Mountain last week, where I tasted the wines of Behrens Family, Pride Mountain and Paloma. Each of these three wineries is most certainly worth a visit, and I’ll preface my notes with a helpful caveat for anyone who wishes to journey up Spring Mountain Road: Plan your appointments carefully, and definitely pack a lunch. The drive up Spring Mountain Road is somewhat steep and winding, and since there’s nowhere to buy food on Spring Mountain, it’s far more relaxing to bring your lunch than it is to drive back down to the valley floor in between winery visits.
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Behrens Family Winery, formerly known as Behrens and Hitchcock, was the first stop of the day, and I tasted a grand total of eight wines that morning (all but one being a Bordeaux-style Cabernet). My four favorite wines of the tasting were the 2007 Drinkward Peschon Cabernet ($55, and a small side-project of Behrens Family co-proprietor Lisa Drinkward), the 2007 Erna Schein “Spare Me” Cabernet ($45, and another stellar Napa Cab for under $50), the 2007 Erna Schein “Knock Out” Cabernet ($75, and the last vintage of this particular bottling), and the 2007 Erna Schein “Cemetary” Cabernet ($80). It’s worthwhile to note, however, that all of the wines in the tasting were well-crafted, and this relatively new Spring Mountain winery warrants some serious recognition.
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Compared to an upstart winery like Behrens Family, the wines from Pride Mountain have long lured folks up to the summit of Spring Mountain. The hook to describe Pride is an easy one: It’s actually equal parts Napa and Sonoma, since the winery straddles the Napa-Sonoma County line. Of course, this location leads to some interesting labeling scenarios. The 2007 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon ($66), for instance, is blended with 50% Napa fruit and 50% Sonoma fruit, which they must specify on the label, even though the vineyard itself is one contiguous plot (the alternative would be to give the wine a generic “North Coast” appellation). Although the minutiae of California wine labeling laws might be interesting to wine geeks, it’s best to ignore the silly details if you choose, and simply remember this one plain fact: Pride Mountain makes great wine across the board, and their 2007 Pride Cab is delicious.
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The last stop of the day was at Paloma Vineyards to visit with proprietor Barbara Richards, whom I consider to be a Napa Valley legend and a treasure trove of information. Paloma has always been famous for its estate-grown Merlot, although the winery also produces small amounts of Dry Creek-sourced Syrah for its wine club members. During this most recent visit, I tasted the 2007 Paloma Merlot and the 2006 Paloma Merlot (both $55). Both wines were fantastic, although Barbara says that the 2006 vintage is her favorite of all-time (a bold statement). Considering that Barbara has been a steward of the property since 1983, this endorsement carries a ton of weight, and although I had already purchased a few bottles of 2006 Paloma Merlot during my last visit, the experience warranted an additional bottle.