100 Most Iconic Wine Estates:
California & Argentina

Spottswoode Napa Valley
There is something distinguished about the Spottswoode set up. Their Cabernets are the antithesis of the hectic, showy, oft-gaudy wines often made in the valley. The Novaks, who own this 40 acre family winegrowing estate, are some of the most discreet, modest, passionate, skilful and environmentally responsible people in the business.
100 Iconic wine estates_California and Argentina_main image
The original 31 acre estate was established back in 1882 by George Schonewald and he named it Esmeralda. He built the historic Victorian house which was inspired by Hotel Del Monte, in Monterey, where he use to work. He designed a stunning garden and planted a 1t acre vineyard. He sold a slice of land adjacent to the property to Frank Kraft, who built a farmhouse as well as a magnificent stone wine cellar. After Schonewald’s wife died he sold the property to Joseph bliss and in 1908 sold it to Dr. George Allen who renamed the estate Lyndenhurst – a name which appears on one of the wines today.
Two years later Mrs. Albert Spotts settled here and renamed the property Spottswoode in memory of her late husband. Mrs. Spotts gifted the property to her daughter and grandchildren until 1972, the present owner Mary Novak and her husband Dr. Jack Novak bought Spottswoode and raised their five children there.
Fired with a new-found enthusiasm for wine the Novaks bought a further 15 acres and this is the estate we know today. They set about replanting the vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Then, suddenly. Jack tragically passed away and Mary made the brave decision to soldier on alone and pursue a shared dream. She sold grapes to the Duckhorn & Shafer families amoung others in in 1982 she released her first Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, exactly 100 years after the estate’s founding. Tony Soter was brought in as winemaker and they decided to graft over the Zinfandel to Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
In 1985 they undertook an organic viticulture regime, which at the time was considered to be radical; reflecting the property and its unique soil and setting in the wines. In 1987 Beth Novak, the youngest daughter, took on the presidency of Spottswoode. An economics graduate with experience in the wine trade, too, she fast became a fervent spokesperson for sustainable viticulture and she and Mary took the estate to a new level of creativity and professionalism. Phylloxera, the vine root-eating louse, started to march through the valley, wreaking havoc, and so Spottswoode started its own vine replanting programme with earnest.
In 1989, they bought the Kraft property next door and renovated the beautiful old pre-Prohibition barn, making it into a new barrel hall and office. A women by the name Pam Starr made their wines from 1992-6, with Tony Soter consulting. In 1997 Rosemary Cakebread took over as winemaker, continuing in the same vein, replanting judiciously and working organically with Jennifer Williams joining as assistant winemaker in 2002. This period marked an increased layering in flavour and grace in the wines which took the Spottswoode Cabernet to a new level. In 2005, a Lyndenhurst Cabernet was released (the 2002 vintage) using younger vine fruit from the replanted material and those barrels which don’t quite ’fit’ into the Estate wine. It was meet with rave reviews only equalled with immense frustration as production was, and is, tiny! Jennifer took over the helm as winemaker followed by Aron Weinkauf who succeeded as winemaker in 2011. With Lindy Novak, Beth’s sister overseeing marketing, the Novak ladies masterminded a successful recruitment drive of passionate wine lovers to the Spottswoode cause. 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Novaks owning this great estate. You are unlikely to meet anyone focused, passionate and holistically enlightened in the wine world as Mary Novak, so make sure that you track down one of her family’s rare wines and toast her and Jack’s gift to the wine world.
Shafer Napa Valley
John Shafer retired from publishing back in 1972 and he decided to romantically dive into the wine business, buying a 210 acre estate in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District. Most people who do this usually fail, while others fail to make a profit and they limp along. A very rare group of people succeed in this life change and this is because they are wedded to the project; working night and day to make it happen and picking the right ’dirt’ in which to work. John is part of the latter and with typical commitment and passion, replanted the old vineyards at the property and terraced the precipitous hillsides, creating a stunning estate.
The first vintage came in 1978 and Shafer made only 1,000 cases of wine .The 1978 Cabernet was a legendary wine and it blew local competition away in a San Francisco Vintners Elias graduated from U.C. Davis as an open Club event. It also trounced a handful of First Growth Bordeaux in an international blind tasting held in Germany in 1993, and instantly put the Shafer name on the global wine stage. John’s son, Doug, became the winemaker in 1983, and was joined by an assistant winemaker, Elias Fernandez whose story is a fascinating one. Elias graduated from U.C. Davis as an oenologist after having spent his youth working in various Napa vineyards with his father, who was a Mexican farmer.
The vineyards have been developed and expanded over the years and now Shafer boasts sites in the Oak Knoll, Stag’s Leap and Carneros districts. The winery has grown too, and there are incredible and extensive caves carved into the hillside, giving them perfect barrel and bottle ageing conditions.
Elias was appointed head winemaker in 1994 when Doug took over the reins as president of the company. John became chairman of the board and it must have been an incredible moment for him. Just over 20 years into his new job he had already achieved some stunning successes. His team was complete and the consolidation and finessing period then began. It is a rare talent for one winery to be so proficient at a wide range of disciplines, but Shafer manages to amaze not only with its serious red wines, but also with ‘Red Shoulder Ranch’ its epic Chardonnay coming from a 70 acre property in Carneros. This is a ripe, rich, sultry wine with masses of charm overlying a stunning mineral chassis. You would expect a Cabernet specialist to dabble with Merlot, but Shafer doesn’t treat this difficult variety as a second-class citizen. Instead, it lavishes it with attention and ensures that the fruit is intense, but fresh and harvested without it becoming too jammy or porty. This may fly in the face of highly rated Merlots from other producers, but it certainly makes sure that the wine is balanced, age-worthy and also downright delicious. A second bottle of Merlot is also within mere mortals’ grasp such is the controlled alcohol in display in this wine – and this is a rare statement these days. ‘One Point Five’ is a Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon named after John and Doug’s combined generational input to their creation. Made from fruit predominantly sourced from the Hillside Estate surrounding the winery, as well as a 25 acre vineyard two miles away called Borderline, this is a more forward-drinking Cabernet than the flagship wine. ‘Relentless’ is a wine named after Elias’s relentless pursuit of perfection and is a smokey, meaty, hedonistic Syrah / Petit Sirah blend which comes from a remote ridge-top vineyard in the southern hills of Napa Valley’s Vaca Mountain range. The star at Shafer is ‘Hillside Select’. This Cabernet is picked from very low yielding amphitheatre shaped vineyard, dotted with rock and only bearing a foot or two of volcanic topsoil. The warm days and cool nights, thanks to its aspects, geographical peculiarities and proximity to San Francisco Bay, means that the grape here are sensationally complex, small and packed with intense mineral and fruit notes, Unsurprisingly this is one of the world’s most revered and slavishly followed Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Ridge Santa Cruz
Paul Draper joined Ridge in 1969 by which time this estate already had an 80 year pedigree of wine making at the Monte Bello winery. Ridge hit the headlines when its 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet performed extremely well against stern French opposition in a tasting known as the Judgement of Paris, in 1976. Draper is one of the world’s most talented and inspiration wine pioneers. Drawing fruit from different and distinct sources, Ridge is also the preeminent producer of Zinfindel blends in the world. Geyserville, in the Alexander Valley, and Lytton Springs, in the Dry Creek Valley, made from field blends of Zin and other ancient vines, are a exemplary examples of this variety.
Au Bon Climat San Luis Obispo
Jim Clendenen was supposed to have been a lawyer, but a gap year tour around Europe resulted in him stopping off in Burgundy for a month, and to some extent he is still there! The confluence of a highly intelligent and thirsty man and France’s greatest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs had a profound effect on him. On his return to California, he moved into the wine business and launched ABC in 1982. He sources incredible fruit from top-flight vineyards in the States and crafts stunning wines in a sun-kissed Burgundian model. Every wine in his portfolio hits the spot highlighting just how complex and subtle Californian Pinot can be. His Isabelle Pinot Cuvess is one of the most alluring wines that you could ever hope to taste.
Bodega Catena Zapata Mendoza
With no other Argentinian or Chilean estates in our 100 list, Bodega Catena Zapata is out on its own, largely because pioneering is what Nicolas Catena has done all his life, putting world class Argentinean wine on the map. As well as being a pioneer, he is a thinker and a doer. His family has helped him too, as have well-chosen consultants but it is one man who has taken his bulk-wine producing estate to the edge of the stratosphere in just forty years and this is his story.
Nicolas’ grandfather, Nicola, left Italy for Argentina in 1898. He planted his first vines in Mendoza in 1902, favouring the Malbec grape which seems to ripen well, but internationally was more familiar as a blend component., and certainly not a star performer in the wines of Bordeaux. He had faith that this stalwart and unglamorous grape would do well in the sunny, dusty, virgin land. The estate flourished and his son Domingo developed it into one of the largest in the region, supplying bulk wine to a thirsty market.
By the 1960’s Argentina’s economy had taken a turn for the worse and Domingo had to take the heart-breaking and difficult decisions regarding the business. There was even the question, one year, of whether or not it was even worth picking the grapes such as the dismal outlook. His son, Nicolas, a gifted mathematician, had just received a PhD in Economics, but put his academic career on ice; deciding to join the family firm after his grandfather and mother tragically died in a car crash. Nicolas decide to concentrate on growing their customer base in spite of a very difficult climate. This work, raising the profile of the estate, bottling their own blends and introducing the Catena brand to the market in the late 60’s and 70’s paid dividends. At this time Catena was fortunately, regularly, invited to the Argentinean Consulate to discuss export strategies and there he was poured Chateau Lafite, Latour and Margaux – these flavours inspired him greatly. An academic at heart, Nicolas decided to take up an offer as Visiting Scholar in Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. It was at this time that Nicolas discovered new and exciting styles of wine while rambling round the Napa Valley with his wife Elena.
These tastings let to meetings with great winemakers, like Robert Mondavi, and he was convinced that his family operation in Mendoza could raise the bar from table wine to world class wines. Times were tough with the outbreak of the Falkland war, but he returned to Argentina and sold his table wine company, only keeping Bodegas Esmeralda to make his intended fine wines. Argentina had on record of making fine wine, and yet he was driven to plant Cabernet, Chardonnay and Malbec at much higher attitudes than ever before. With strict irrigation utilising Andean water, he could minutely control quality of this fruit and the harvest dates, drawing them out to engender more complexity in the bunches.
When Domingo died in 1989 Nicolas threw himself into proving that his father was right about his hunch that Malbec could rival the great wines of Bordeaux. In 1994 he made his first Catena Malbec. Cabernet Sauvignon was performing well, too, and in 1994 he bottled a small batch from the oldest vines, calling it Catena Alta Cabernet. It was slippery, deep, lusty and multi-layered – clearly inspired by his time in California. With French Chardonnay clones giving him excellent results in his high altitude Tupungato vineyards he again amazed his critics, by producing silky smooth, classy wines not dissimilar to a fine California Chardonnay and in 1995 Catena Alta Chardonnay was born. Catena Alta Malbec followed in 1996 showcasing the finest fruit from the harvest. The following year Nicolas Catena and Jose Galante, his winemaker since 1975 were rewarded with a stunning crop. Nicolas was in; spired to create a top cuvee which he named 1997 Nicolas Catena Zapata ( Zapata is his mother’s maiden name); a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. He toured the world hosting a series of comparative tastings with this wine, pitching it against First Growths clarets and top Californian Cabernets to rave reviews and this cemented the Catena reputation forever in the eyes of the world’s most discerning collectors.
Nicolas has continued to research and develop his wines aided by his son Ernesto and daughter Laura. A total of 145 different clones of Malbec were planted in the La Piramide vineyard; the five best used to determine the best soil and altitude combinations for success. Over the years they have sought advice from Paul Hobbs, the superb Californian winemaker, and Jacques Lurton, of Bordeaux fame. In 2004 a series a three spectacular new Malbec’s were created using the incredible fruit from the Nicasis and Adrianna Vineyards
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