Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Spottswoode Matures

I'm sitting in the Founders' Room at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, gazing up at a ceiling that does a remarkable impression of a pale gray orchid in full bloom, and sipping Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc while a gaggle of fastidious waitstaff pour their way slowly down two long tables festooned with glasses. Eight glasses at each place, each holding a sample of Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon: the '04, '03, '02, and '99, made by Rosemary Cakebread; the '96 from Pam Starr; the '91, '86, and '84 from Tony Soter -- winemaking luminaries all. The vintages span close to Spottswoode's entire history as a winery, but they're being poured to mark the 125th anniversary of the Spottswoode Estate.

Spottswoode began as Esmeralda, the property of one George Schonewald: a grand house, 17 acres of grapes, 4 acres of formal gardens. In the years that followed, it passed through various owners and various names: Joseph Bliss named it Stonehurst in 1906, then sold it in 1908 to Dr. George Allen, who called it Lyndenhurst. Allen headed back to San Francisco in 1910, and Mrs. Spotts, the new owner, named the place Spottswoode in honor of her late husband. That was still its name in 1970, when it caught the attention of Dr. Jack Novak of Rancho Santa Fe.

"We had never been to the Napa Valley," recalls Mary Novak, Jack's widow and Spottswoode's proprietress. "We came up for Thanksgiving to visit some friends, who had moved up from Pasadena, and we thought, 'This is really, really beautiful. We could do this, too.' I think my husband" -- who was 40 at the time -- "had it at the back of his mind that he didn't want to practice medicine all his life." He also had a sense of what was coming to his childhood neighborhood. Back then, says Mary, Rancho Santa Fe "was small, and fairly rural. We had 13 acres, and there were minimum 4-acre lots. It was not what you would call a chi-chi, wealthy community. It didn't seem that way to us; it just seemed like a very nice place to live. We had just built a Mexican-style home, and I thought we would live there forever, but then we got the bug to move up north."

So north they went, taking their five children with them. ("We had more screaming and kicking from some than others," says Mary. "It was a very, very agricultural, rural community, and not very sophisticated at the time. We had a daughter who was going to be a sophomore in high school; that's a hard time to move from an environment like La Jolla Country Day to St. Helena. There was not much going on.") The five children were part of what made Spottswoode -- with its grand-scale house -- attractive. That, and the gardens, and the acreage for Jack to ride his tractor. "He liked his little machines. He used to race in the Baja 1000."

From the start, the plan was to make a go of it in the wine business -- first, by selling grapes. "There were existing vineyards on the property, but they were very old, old vines, probably planted in the '40s. Non-irrigated, non-frost-protected, head-pruned. The varieties were French Columbard, Green Hungarian, and a field blend of reds."

"By the time we moved here in the early '70s," recalls Mary's daughter Beth Novak Milliken (also the winery's president), "Gallo was the biggest buyer of grapes in the valley. They controlled what was then the co-op. We just picked the grapes and took them down there. They paid about $300 a ton -- based purely upon sugar levels. The more sugar, the better. Flavor was not a question."

The Novaks made that trip to the co-op just once, in 1972, the year they arrived. Gallo was still the chief player in Napa, but the new guard -- Mondavi, Chappellet, Mayacamas, Heitz, Stag's Leap -- was already digging in. By 1973, the Novaks were replanting the vineyard to Cabernet Sauvignon. "We just followed advice," says Mary, "mainly from Justin Meyer at Silver Oak. He and Jack met early on, and they became good friends. And Rick Forman lived across the street. They're the ones that said, 'You've got to plant Cab.'" The Novaks also planted a fair-sized chunk of Sauvignon Blanc, despite its second-tier status at the time. "The idea was to have a white varietal in the vineyard," says Beth, "and it wasn't going to be Chardonnay..."

"Too warm," offers Mary.

"...and it wasn't going to be Gewürztraminer."

"And Sauvignon Blanc was a Bordeaux varietal," notes Mary -- a white to complement the new focus on Cabernet.

But Jack didn't get to see Spottswoode come into its own. He died of a heart attack in 1977. "I had to choose what to do," says Mary. "I was living there with five children on this vineyard. We'd taken some day courses at Davis, but we were not oenophiles; we didn't know a lot about it. But I opted to stay. First of all, because I loved the property. And I loved the growing -- more than I loved the winemaking end of it. I could see that I had a salable product. If I went back down to Rancho Santa Fe, I didn't have anything; I was a physician's wife who raised five children. It was basically an economic decision." She dug in. Five years later, she decided it was time for Spottswoode to start making its own wine and hired Tony Soter.

"He'd been around the valley, at Chappellet and various places. He seemed like the right kind of guy. He was a philosophy major, not a Davis graduate. He liked to get the feel for an estate. He started managing the vineyards, because he thought it was important to know everything that was going on." It was Soter who, in 1985, convinced Novak to go organic in the vineyard, a risky move in several ways, including aesthetically. "Everyone liked to see their vineyards looking perfect, without one weed. It was hard to start; you knew you were going to be untidy. But it certainly worked for us." A newish trade sheet called Wine Spectator named the '85 Spottswoode Cab one of the top ten wines of the year. In '86, they dropped into the top 20, but '87 saw them back among the elite. "That kind of put us on the map."

The map has changed considerably in the ensuing 20 years; it's gotten a lot more crowded, of course, and there's a lot more fretting over buzz and cult status as a means of standing out. But, says Beth, Spottswoode hasn't had to play the game. "We've always gotten really good scores from Parker, so I wouldn't say we're under the radar. But there's an incredibly successful model out there -- wineries that are inordinately successful" without much fanfare from the press. "Think of Groth, Duckhorn, Stag's Leap -- very strong brand names that have been around a long time. They don't need buzz to sell the wine; they have it. It's been created because they've done the work for 25 years or more. We sell absolutely everything we make, and demand remains extraordinarily high, and we feel really good about that."

So, when the 125th anniversary started looming, it seemed like a time to throw a party -- and to gather up some history. "I had so much," says Mary. "People gave me little clippings and pictures and things." They hired a historian to sift through the material and a graphic designer to make a book out of the best of it. "I think it's important to leave that for my family, so that everybody knows where we started from and what happened on the property. I think that too often, that stuff gets lost for the future generations. They never do have a history. It's kind of fun to have it all down here."

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Royal Albert Home Virtual Country Concert, Comic-Con at Home

Events July 18-July 22, 2020
Next Article

Essential views in Del Mar

City council retreats on plan to suspend complaints

I'm sitting in the Founders' Room at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, gazing up at a ceiling that does a remarkable impression of a pale gray orchid in full bloom, and sipping Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc while a gaggle of fastidious waitstaff pour their way slowly down two long tables festooned with glasses. Eight glasses at each place, each holding a sample of Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon: the '04, '03, '02, and '99, made by Rosemary Cakebread; the '96 from Pam Starr; the '91, '86, and '84 from Tony Soter -- winemaking luminaries all. The vintages span close to Spottswoode's entire history as a winery, but they're being poured to mark the 125th anniversary of the Spottswoode Estate.

Spottswoode began as Esmeralda, the property of one George Schonewald: a grand house, 17 acres of grapes, 4 acres of formal gardens. In the years that followed, it passed through various owners and various names: Joseph Bliss named it Stonehurst in 1906, then sold it in 1908 to Dr. George Allen, who called it Lyndenhurst. Allen headed back to San Francisco in 1910, and Mrs. Spotts, the new owner, named the place Spottswoode in honor of her late husband. That was still its name in 1970, when it caught the attention of Dr. Jack Novak of Rancho Santa Fe.

"We had never been to the Napa Valley," recalls Mary Novak, Jack's widow and Spottswoode's proprietress. "We came up for Thanksgiving to visit some friends, who had moved up from Pasadena, and we thought, 'This is really, really beautiful. We could do this, too.' I think my husband" -- who was 40 at the time -- "had it at the back of his mind that he didn't want to practice medicine all his life." He also had a sense of what was coming to his childhood neighborhood. Back then, says Mary, Rancho Santa Fe "was small, and fairly rural. We had 13 acres, and there were minimum 4-acre lots. It was not what you would call a chi-chi, wealthy community. It didn't seem that way to us; it just seemed like a very nice place to live. We had just built a Mexican-style home, and I thought we would live there forever, but then we got the bug to move up north."

So north they went, taking their five children with them. ("We had more screaming and kicking from some than others," says Mary. "It was a very, very agricultural, rural community, and not very sophisticated at the time. We had a daughter who was going to be a sophomore in high school; that's a hard time to move from an environment like La Jolla Country Day to St. Helena. There was not much going on.") The five children were part of what made Spottswoode -- with its grand-scale house -- attractive. That, and the gardens, and the acreage for Jack to ride his tractor. "He liked his little machines. He used to race in the Baja 1000."

From the start, the plan was to make a go of it in the wine business -- first, by selling grapes. "There were existing vineyards on the property, but they were very old, old vines, probably planted in the '40s. Non-irrigated, non-frost-protected, head-pruned. The varieties were French Columbard, Green Hungarian, and a field blend of reds."

"By the time we moved here in the early '70s," recalls Mary's daughter Beth Novak Milliken (also the winery's president), "Gallo was the biggest buyer of grapes in the valley. They controlled what was then the co-op. We just picked the grapes and took them down there. They paid about $300 a ton -- based purely upon sugar levels. The more sugar, the better. Flavor was not a question."

The Novaks made that trip to the co-op just once, in 1972, the year they arrived. Gallo was still the chief player in Napa, but the new guard -- Mondavi, Chappellet, Mayacamas, Heitz, Stag's Leap -- was already digging in. By 1973, the Novaks were replanting the vineyard to Cabernet Sauvignon. "We just followed advice," says Mary, "mainly from Justin Meyer at Silver Oak. He and Jack met early on, and they became good friends. And Rick Forman lived across the street. They're the ones that said, 'You've got to plant Cab.'" The Novaks also planted a fair-sized chunk of Sauvignon Blanc, despite its second-tier status at the time. "The idea was to have a white varietal in the vineyard," says Beth, "and it wasn't going to be Chardonnay..."

"Too warm," offers Mary.

"...and it wasn't going to be Gewürztraminer."

"And Sauvignon Blanc was a Bordeaux varietal," notes Mary -- a white to complement the new focus on Cabernet.

But Jack didn't get to see Spottswoode come into its own. He died of a heart attack in 1977. "I had to choose what to do," says Mary. "I was living there with five children on this vineyard. We'd taken some day courses at Davis, but we were not oenophiles; we didn't know a lot about it. But I opted to stay. First of all, because I loved the property. And I loved the growing -- more than I loved the winemaking end of it. I could see that I had a salable product. If I went back down to Rancho Santa Fe, I didn't have anything; I was a physician's wife who raised five children. It was basically an economic decision." She dug in. Five years later, she decided it was time for Spottswoode to start making its own wine and hired Tony Soter.

"He'd been around the valley, at Chappellet and various places. He seemed like the right kind of guy. He was a philosophy major, not a Davis graduate. He liked to get the feel for an estate. He started managing the vineyards, because he thought it was important to know everything that was going on." It was Soter who, in 1985, convinced Novak to go organic in the vineyard, a risky move in several ways, including aesthetically. "Everyone liked to see their vineyards looking perfect, without one weed. It was hard to start; you knew you were going to be untidy. But it certainly worked for us." A newish trade sheet called Wine Spectator named the '85 Spottswoode Cab one of the top ten wines of the year. In '86, they dropped into the top 20, but '87 saw them back among the elite. "That kind of put us on the map."

The map has changed considerably in the ensuing 20 years; it's gotten a lot more crowded, of course, and there's a lot more fretting over buzz and cult status as a means of standing out. But, says Beth, Spottswoode hasn't had to play the game. "We've always gotten really good scores from Parker, so I wouldn't say we're under the radar. But there's an incredibly successful model out there -- wineries that are inordinately successful" without much fanfare from the press. "Think of Groth, Duckhorn, Stag's Leap -- very strong brand names that have been around a long time. They don't need buzz to sell the wine; they have it. It's been created because they've done the work for 25 years or more. We sell absolutely everything we make, and demand remains extraordinarily high, and we feel really good about that."

So, when the 125th anniversary started looming, it seemed like a time to throw a party -- and to gather up some history. "I had so much," says Mary. "People gave me little clippings and pictures and things." They hired a historian to sift through the material and a graphic designer to make a book out of the best of it. "I think it's important to leave that for my family, so that everybody knows where we started from and what happened on the property. I think that too often, that stuff gets lost for the future generations. They never do have a history. It's kind of fun to have it all down here."

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Moved to tears by Dave’s Hot Chicken

Nashville hot chicken ranges from no spice, to hot, to the indemnified “reaper”
Next Article

Royal Albert Home Virtual Country Concert, Comic-Con at Home

Events July 18-July 22, 2020
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close