Standing on a windswept Spring Mountain ridge top among redwoods and madrone trees, one can almost make out the traffic jam in downtown St. Helena 2,000 feet below. As the crow flies, it’s about five miles from this rocky ridge to the daily lineup at Model Bakery on Main Street. In between are patches of contoured vineyards bordered by lush forest, steep canyons and shaded creeks.
Like many regions bordering the valley floor, Spring Mountain highlights the climactic and topographic diversity of Napa County and its world-renowned wine industry.
Named for the natural springs that surface throughout the region, Spring Mountain is a group of mountains rather than a single peak, according to a history written in 1991 by William Heintz.
“Spring Mountain is a broad, general geographic area lying west of the town of St. Helena and apparently well known for more than a century for its numerous springs,” Heintz writes. “Why this region of Napa Valley and county should, however, come to be so clearly labeled as ‘Spring Mountain’ is somewhat bewildering.”
Bewildering, too, is why anyone would take up the challenge of carving vineyards out of this formidable, forested landscape.
Wine grape growing officially began in the area in 1874 when Charles Lemme planted the 25-acre La Perla Vineyard near York Creek, according to Heintz. Other Spring Mountain vineyards followed, including those planted by the Beringer brothers and Fortune Chevalier, who also built a small winery. San Francisco banker Tiburcio Parrot planted the Miravalle estate and built a spectacular Victorian home, still magnificent today. The La Perla, Chevalier and Miravalle vineyards are now part of Spring Mountain Vineyard.
Other early vineyards and wineries continued to pop up in the Spring Mountain area ranging from St. Helena up to the ridge-top Napa/Sonoma county line. Modern-day vintners and residents have found old grape stakes and winery ruins scattered throughout the region.
In 1920, Prohibition effectively wiped out Spring Mountain grape growing and wine making until the 1940s, when a new generation of vintners and soon-to-be vintners slowly began returning to the area. The area continued to develop along with the entire Napa Valley wine industry and, in 1993, earned its official designation as an American Viticultural Area. Today, the Spring Mountain District AVA covers 8,600 acres — including about 1,000 acres of vineyards — and has about 30 members.