Vineyard & Winery > Estate History


1882 George Schonewald, A German immigrant who settled in Napa Valley during the 1870s, plants 17 acres of wine grapes on a 31-acre property in the community of St. Helena. Intending to use this idyllic estate as a summer home, he christens it “Esmeralda,” which means “Emerald” in Spanish.

1884 George Schonewald sells several acres of property adjacent to “Esmeralda” to Frank Kraft, who constructs a Victorian farmhouse for his family and a beautiful stone wine cellar that serves as the Kraft winery until the late 1880s. Renovated in 1990 by the Novaks, the former Kraft winery is now Spottswoode’s wine cellar, used for barrel-aging the Cabernet Sauvignon.

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1885 George Schonewald builds a majestic Victorian home in the Colonial Revival manner with several Queen Anne architectural features popular in the 1880s, including a side-gabled roof, square porch pillars, and an asymmetrical style porch. The house design emulates the luxurious Hotel del Monte in Monterey, California, a resort that Mr. Schonewald managed during an earlier career in hospitality.

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1886 Designing and planting formal gardens on his “Esmeralda” property, George Schonewald chooses an exotic mix of flora inspired by the park-like grounds of his former place of business, the Hotel del Monte. Date palms, native oaks, cedar, elm, and linden trees, walnuts, olives, bay laurel and a Japanese Pagoda Tree all provide fragrant shade in the summer heat while a tall Washingtonia palm stands guard over the entryway. Many of these plantings still flourish at Spottswoode today.

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1906 Upon the death of his wife, Catherine, George Schonewald sells his beloved “Esmeralda” estate to Joseph Bliss. Perhaps in admiration of the beautiful stonework on the Kraft wine cellar, Bliss renames the estate “Stonehurst” and settles into the Victorian house on Hudson Avenue.

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1908 Joseph Bliss sells the estate to Dr. George Allen. Drawn to its gentle, idyllic nature, and in honor of the four linden trees that grace the garden, Dr. Allen and his wife rename the property “Lyndenhurst.” According to the St. Helena Star, many elegant afternoon teas were held in the shade of these lovely trees. The Allens make many improvements to the estate, including the construction of a beautiful wrought iron gate with “Lyndenhurst” forged in elegant arching letters—a precursor to the Spottswoode nameplate that exists today.

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1910 Dr. George Allen and his wife return to San Francisco after selling the “Lyndenhurst” estate to the Mrs. Albert Spotts family. Finding solace in the quiet gardens and soft light of the surrounding St. Helena countryside, Mrs. Spotts renames the property “Spottswoode” in memory of her late husband.

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1916 With the threat of Prohibition looming, the Spotts family nevertheless plants the Spottswoode vineyard to a field blend of Green Hungarian, French Colombard, and Petite Sirah, perhaps with the hope that the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, banning the manufacturer, sale, and transport of alcohol, would not be ratified.

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1919–1933 Prohibition takes hold in the United States and the Spottswoode Estate falls into disrepair. Reluctant to part with the property and unable to earn money through the vineyard, the Spotts family survives by selling grapes to the Christian Brothers Winery (who make sacramental wine, suddenly very popular at this time), growing mushrooms in the cellar, and raising frogs for frogs’ legs, popular in San Francisco restaurants during these years.

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1930 With no descendants and unwilling to sell her beloved property, Mrs. Spotts gifts the Spottswoode Estate to her niece, Florence Holmes and Florence’s daughter, Constance Price, who continue to reside in Berkeley but use Spottswoode as their second home.

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1933–1971 After the repeal of Prohibition, Spottswoode begins to sell fruit from their revitalized estate vineyard to the St. Helena Wine Cooperative, at that time controlled by Gallo, for under $300 per ton. Florence Holmes makes the estate her permanent home in 1942 and Constance and her children join her there in 1951.

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1972 Seeking a rural community setting in which to raise their family, Dr. Jack and Mary Novak purchase the 31-acre Spottswoode Estate and move their family of five children to St. Helena. Encouraged by the temperate climate and the remarkable composition of the soil, the Novaks immediately purchase an additional 15 acres of bordering farm land, increasing the estate’s total acreage to its current 46 acres.

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1973–1975 Knowing little about winegrowing but pleased to have found a property with a beautiful garden, a home large enough to raise five children, and a vineyard for Jack to drive his tractor, the Novaks decide to replant their pre-Prohibition vineyards to Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc using AxR1 rootstock. Located on well-drained alluvial soils with an ideal climate for the production of fine wine grapes, their decision to replant the Spottswoode vineyard is extremely fortuitous.

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1977 After realizing his dream of moving his family to an agrarian community, Jack Novak tragically and suddenly passes away. Faced with the difficulties of running a vineyard while raising five young children, Mary Novak decides—against the odds—to stay and pursue the vision she and her husband shared. She begins managing the Spottswoode Vineyard, successfully completing her first harvest, and selling the grapes to various Napa Valley families, among them the Shafers and the Duckhorns.

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1982 Exactly 100 years after the estate’s beginnings, Mary Novak officially founds the Spottswoode Winery and produces its first Cabernet Sauvignon. She brings Tony Soter on board as her winemaker (his association with Spottswoode will continue through 1997) and cellars the wine in the cool basement underneath the estate home. The 1982 vintage numbers 1,200 cases and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. At this time, Mary also grafts the existing Zinfandel grapes on the property to Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

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1985 Tony Soter takes over management of the Spottswoode Estate vineyard. Believing that in order to produce a premium wine that reflects the true nature of the terroir a winemaker must also have a critical role in growing the grapes, Tony extends his role as Spottswoode’s winemaker into the vineyard. Tony also introduces the concept of organic farming to the estate, an uncharted idea at the time.

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1987 Beth Novak, the youngest Novak daughter, steps into the role of President of Spottswoode. Beth’s interests in wine started when studying abroad during her college years at UCLA. After graduating with a degree in economics, she worked for a wine brokerage company before joining forces with her mother at Spottswoode. In addition to helping Mary run the business, Beth served as the first female President of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and continues to participate in numerous philanthropic events.

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1988 The Novaks look to the future of the business, building on the organic farming methods begun in 1985, and hiring Peah Armstrong as Vice President to help manage accounting, sales, and to incorporate technology into the business operation—and to toss out Mary’s old typewriter!!

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1989 The Novaks purchase the historic Kraft property adjacent to Spottswoode. They begin restoring the pre-Prohibition Victorian home and stone winery, the latter to use as their new barrel room and the Victorian home as Spottswoode’s business office. Two large palms on the property that have been overwhelmed by a beautiful Valley Oak are moved to the west side of the stone building.

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1991 Spottswoode produces its 10th Anniversary Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, an extraordinary vintage. Spottswoode begins extensive replanting to replace vines lost to phylloxera. To ensure continuity of their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the Novaks initially replace acreage devoted to Sauvignon Blanc with Cabernet Sauvignon.

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1992 Spottswoode begins replanting to replace vines lost to phylloxera, an aphid-like insect that ravaged the finest vineyards in Napa Valley. The winery receives organic certification from the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and completes their renovation of the old Kraft stone cellar. Barrels are moved from Mary’s estate home cellar to the newly restored barrel room.

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1992 The Novak family completes their restoration of the historic Kraft home and moves Spottswoode’s offices from the estate home to the newly refurbished Victorian farmhouse. Pam Starr joins the team as winemaker while Tony Soter continues as Spottswoode’s consulting winemaker. Lindy Novak, Mary Novak’s oldest daughter, begins to oversee the winery’s sales efforts nationwide.

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1996 Reviving the old history of olive farming in California, Spottswoode releases its first olive oil made from the estimated one hundred and fifteen olive trees planted on the estate property. As with the estate vineyard and gardens, Spottswoode’s olive trees are farmed organically and are certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).

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1997 The Novak family engages Rosemary Cakebread to make the Spottswoode wines. A graduate of UC Davis in 1979, Rosemary brings over twenty years of experience in wine production to her new position. Embracing Tony Soter’s philosophy that a winemaker’s most important job is to allow the fruit’s fullest expression of its origins, she dedicates equal time to vineyard and winery. Soter spends his final year at Spottswoode serving as winemaking and vineyard consultant.

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1999 The Novak family finalizes construction of their new Estate Winery comprised of a production facility and barrel cellar. The architecture is awarded a preservation award of merit for “Exemplary New Winery Buildings in a Historic Setting” from the Napa County Landmarks Association. Spottswoode is now a full-fledged winegrowing estate—no more custom crushing!

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2000 Beth Novak Milliken invites Evan Engber of Bioengineering Associates to draft a plan for the restoration of Spring Creek, a local watershed bordering Spottswoode’s vineyard. The study kicks off a seven-year, highly successful effort that demonstrates how communities can work together to sustain ecological balance. “Restoring this community creek has been extremely gratifying,” says Beth. “It’s an opportunity to further our stewardship of the land by playing an integral part in balancing natural resources with residential and agricultural uses.”

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2001 Spottswoode produces its exceptional 20th Anniversary Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

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2002 Jennifer Williams works with Spottswoode as a harvest intern, and is hired the next year as Rosemary’s Winegrowing Assistant. Rosemary is thrilled to have someone with whom she can work closely and rely on in the farming of the estate vineyard and in the production of the Spottswoode wines.

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2003–2004 After 21 vintages we are excited to announce an update of Spottswoode’s wine label! The new design retains the classic look and feel of our original label, and brings to it a greater sense of elegance and grace. Due to Jennifer Williams’ great enthusiasm and ability, the management of the Spottswoode Estate Vineyard is brought in-house. Greater control over our farming has been a goal of Rosemary’s for some time, and Jennifer adds Vineyard Manager to her title.

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2005 Spottswoode premieres its new Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon—a 2002—made from young vines on the estate. This is a charming and approachable Cabernet Sauvignon brimming with fresh raspberry, cinnamon, marzipan, and red berry flavors—delicious and ready to be enjoyed! Lyndenhurst is a commemorative name dating back to 1908, during one of the estate’s earlier incarnations when it was named in honor of the lovely linden trees that still grace the gardens today.

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2006 Spottswoode produces its 25th Anniversary Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the first vintage with Jennifer as Winemaker! A transition planned by Beth and Rosemary for many years, Rosemary becomes Spottswoode’s Consulting Winemaker, while Jennifer steps into the role of Winemaker. In preparation, Aron Weinkauf is hired as Assistant Winemaker at the beginning of the year. Jennifer will continue to build upon Rosemary’s ten-year tenure here, during which many strides were made in the quality of the estate vineyard and winery.

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2007 Spottswoode celebrates its 125th Anniversary and founder Mary Novak’s 75th birthday. Spottswoode as we know it today—a winegrowing estate that includes the family’s home, vineyard, and winery—is truly the result of Mary Novak’s enduring commitment and passion. In 2007, we took the time to celebrate and reflect upon the remarkable achievements of all the families who have lived here.

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2009 Spottswoode releases the inaugural bottling of its 2007 Field Book, Spottswoode’s first-ever Rhone style wine. Field Book is named to reflect the detailed notes recorded as we explored California in search of a stellar Rhone vineyard. Grenache and Syrah from the Terra Bella Vineyards in Paso Robles were blended to make this classic wine. Only 179 cases were bottled.

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2010 Mary Novak, Spottswoode owner, and her daughter Beth Novak Milliken, Spottswoode president, chair the 30th anniversary of Auction Napa Valley. Held each year in June, Auction Napa Valley raises much-needed funds for local charities in the areas of health care, children’s education, and low-income housing.

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2011 Aron Weinkauf assumes the role of Winemaker from Jennifer Williams five years after joining Spottswoode as Assistant Winemaker in 2006 (he added the title of Vineyard Manager in 2009). Aron holds a Viticultural and Enology degree from Fresno State University and is passionate about Spottswoode’s commitment to organic farming and producing our elegantly structured wine.

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2012 This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of our move to St. Helena and the 30th anniversary of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery. Looking back, we are filled with awe and gratitude over all that has transpired during this relatively short period in time. We look forward to what the future holds!

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2014 Spottswoode proudly presents its 30th vintage of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery’s precise, hands-on management and the vineyard’s rich, healthy, organic soils helped mitigate the vintage’s extreme weather conditions, contributing to the wine’s balance and exceptional quality.

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