September 12, 2018|In Winery Spotlight

Spottswoode: A Guiding Light for Napa Valley Cabernet

Spottswoode Estate Entrance

If ever there was an estate that so perfectly embodied family values and the idyllic winery dream, it’s Spottswoode. This iconic piece of Napa Valley history is located on the western edge of St. Helena at the foot of the Mayacamas mountains, and is home to the Novak family and their beloved grapes.

With a history stretching back to the 1880’s, Spottswoode has long been an integral part of the Napa Valley Wine Region but perhaps the most special part of Spottswoode and its success, was the presence and influence of their matriarch, Mary Novak. A force of ingenuity, warmth, passion, determination and kindness – Mary is touted to this day as being a guiding light for Napa Valley.

The Novaks came upon the Spottswoode estate in the 1970’s, when Dr. Jack, Mary and their young children moved onto the land after searching for the perfect rural retreat. “I’ve always been a person who loves the land,” said Mary, “walking in the gardens and through the vineyards, I knew we could make our home here.”

The Novaks planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc on the property to restore it to its pre-Prohibition glory, but tragically in 1977, less than five years after their big move, Dr. Jack passed away suddenly. Faced with the difficulties of running a vineyard while raising five young children, Mary Novak decided – against the odds – to stay and pursue the vision she and her husband had shared. She began managing the Spottswoode Vineyard herself and successfully completed her first harvest, and selling the grapes to various Napa Valley families, including the Shafers and the Duckhorns.

This system was maintained for a few years, until in 1982 when Mary decided to take a leap of faith and become a fully fledged winery – she officially founded Spottswoode Estate and they released their inaugural vintage – a Cabernet Sauvignon. This was to be the first stepping stone on a long path of success, praise, and delicious wines.

Spottswoode Cabernet Grapes

Over the next 30 years, under Mary’s insightful and loving guidance, Spottswoode flourished. The estate moved to organic farming in the 80’s – an insightful and rare move for the time. Her daughters, Beth and Lindy both came to join the team and keep the legacy strong. Lindy says “When you own a family winery like ours, the cellar is like a photo album, each vintage of our Spottswoode Estate Cabernet is a picture of a year in our family’s life, and a testament for our love of this place. This is why it has always been so important to us that our wines reflect who we are, and what we believe in.” The estate went through extensive replanting efforts to replace vines that had been lost to phylloxera, Mary began to be known in the surrounding areas as the smiling lady who zipped around St. Helena in her little electric red car, and most notably the estate expanded its portfolio and started garnering attention from critics and enthusiasts.

In 2016, Robert Parker, one of the most well known and respected authorities in the world of wine, awarded many of their wines with scores in the high 90’s during a vertical tasting, and in fact honoured two wines with 100 point scores, the 2010 and 2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignons. Since this monumental tasting, the 2015 vintage has also received a 100 point score. Stephen Tanzer, another notable name in wine writing, wrote for Vinous that “From the outset, the Spottswoode wine has been a distinctly graceful style of Napa Valley Cabernet, particularly in light of its very warm site… Recent vintages here have been consistently outstanding.”

Spottswoode is one of those producers that captures your mind, body and soul. Their family story is heartfelt, and their love for Mary Novak and her legacy is palpable. The passion that the new generation of Novaks embodies is clear when tasting their wines. Beth Novak Milliken perhaps can articulate why this is better than we ever could. “At the highest level, wine is somehow ethereal. A well-crafted wine possesses a truly timeless quality. In a very real sense, its life stages mirror our own—wines can live as fully as we do… This parallel between the interesting, graceful evolution of a wine and that of one’s personal life makes me think of my Mom, Mary Novak. She passed away in late 2016, at 84 years of age, nearly perfectly developed and at a pinnacle in the long trajectory of a meaningful, gracious, well-enjoyed existence. Like the wines made from her Spottswoode Estate, she progressed from her birth to a very graceful and lovely old age, reflecting impeccable character, authenticity, and beauty throughout. Happily, Spottswoode wines seem to age much in the model of their founder! Wines do live and breathe, and at their best, they offer a visceral, intellectual, and emotional experience. Like people, they have something compelling to offer at each stage.”


Dhall & Nash feel honoured to be the sole NZ representative for this truly remarkable and soulful estate producing exceptional Cabernets. With wines from the 2014 vintage in stock and more from 2015 on their way, we are can’t wait to show you just how good they can be.