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Hit the Spotts

Cab on the quieter side of the street at Spottswoode Winery

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After Memorial Day is a fine time to visit Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena, because you'll want to be wearing a seersucker suit or a big hat when you arrive at the namesake Spottswoode Estate.

The winery is swank enough as it is. A big, restored old farmhouse functions as the staff's enviable office environment, and the fermentation room is detailed in warm, knotty cedar. Look closely and you can even spot a utility box that has been faux-painted to match the stonework of the 1884 cellar. But the highlight of the visit—besides tasting high-end Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, if that's your bag—is a short walk down a shady lane.

Located in a quiet residential area a few blocks from downtown St. Helena, Spottswoode offers tours only during business hours—while the owners were deemed troublemakers by locals from the start (for altering the gate to this grand old estate to make it wider than a horse cart), they're the best of neighbors now. Certified organic since 1992, the vineyard is a vast backyard to the park-like grounds, which are planted with palms, linden trees and topiary.

Just when the tour group is ready for a mint julep, we march back to the winery. Founder Mary Novak, who found herself widowed only a few years after she and Dr. Jack Novak moved into their dream property in the 1970s, built up the winery in steps. The inaugural 1982 vintage was made by Tony Soter, and the adjacent winery was added in the 1990s. Now run with the help of Novak's daughters, Spottswoode employed a succession of women winemakers, including Rosemary Cakebread. Current winemaker Aron Weinkauf bookends the gentlemen—not that the traditionally refined, non-monolithic style of Cabernet here is any correlation, says the low-key Weinkauf.

Settling around a long table, the group gets a taste of the brambly, smoky, steely and, yes, entry-level 2013 Lyndenhurst Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), which is named for the estate's bygone moniker. The flagship 2013 Spottswoode Estate St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon ($185), made from free-run juice only, combines dust, tobacco and blackberry with a quality that some like to call creamy oak.

But the 2014 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc ($38) is Mary's favorite, our host tells us. "It's all she drinks!" A big hit of green aromas and melon rind soften with air, coming around to hint at sweet shortbread. Good thing it's available in magnum bottles for long summer evenings—in the shade of linden trees, naturally.

Spottswoode Winery, 1902 Madrona Ave., St. Helena. Tour and tasting by appointment only, Monday–Friday; $75. 707.963.0134.

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