In the late 19th century, there was a boom of activity in the wine business in the Napa Valley. European wines were expensive and in short supply. San Francisco was a bustling boom town and a train ran from Oakland to Calistoga. Dozens of wineries were started and thousands of acres of vineyard were planted. In 1873, a German immigrant, Charles Lemme, bought about 285 acres of land on Spring Mountain. He began clearing the land in 1874 and he planted about 65 acres of vineyard. Two years later Lemme, built a small winery of stone and redwood and named it La Perla, "the pearl." After Jacob Schram, who settled earlier on Diamond Mountain, Lemme was the second man to move into the western hills. Lemme became the first person to grow and make Cabernet Sauvignon on Spring Mountain.
The vineyard was sold in the 1890s to the Schilling family, who owned an important spice company in San Francisco. Together with the McPike Vineyards, they were incorporated in 1903 as the Spring Mountain Vineyard Company. The winery was expanded to handle the larger production of some 350 acres of vineyard controlled by the Schillings. The vineyard has been continuously farmed since it was first planted, surviving Prohibition. The large stone winery, La Perla, stands today, much as it did a hundred years earlier; still holding most of the original farming and winemaking equipment.
In 1882, Jacob and Fritz Beringer had purchased a winery, but they only had 20 acres of Mission grapes, a grape variety unsuitable for quality wine. Grapes were in short supply so the two German brothers bought a 150 acre parcel just below La Perla. They terraced 70 acres of vineyard, in and around stands of redwoods, and they planted 30 vineyard blocks with 15 different grape varieties. These early plantings included superior grapes such as Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Charbono and Pinot Noir, as well as some losers like Burger, Palamino, and Lenoire.
The Beringers soon became good friends with their Spanish speaking neighbor, Tiburcio Parrott, who called the two German brothers, "los hermanos." The humor of these two Germans with a Spanish nickname was not lost on the locals and the name stuck. Eventually Beringer came out with the Los Hermanos brand of wine.
This majestic vineyard has also been continuously farmed since its first planting and its vineyard blocks and terraces remain as they were a hundred years earlier.
In 1944 and 1945, La Perla and the adjoining Beringer hillside vineyard were purchased by Jerome Draper, a Bay Area developer. Since the 1940s acquisition, the Drapers, who did not make wine, sold their grapes to several Napa Valley wineries. In the early 1970s Mr. Draper retired and built a beautiful home at the top of the La Perla vineyard overlooking the Napa Valley. It's surroundings were landscaped by Thomas Church, the noted American landscape architect. Mr. Draper loved the vineyard and was a great steward of the property.
The senior Mr. Draper passed away in 1984 and the property went to his two children, Jerome Jr. and his sister, Jane Keresey. Together, they continued to operate the vineyard and grow some of the best grapes in the Napa Valley until the early 1990s.
La Perla was planted entirely on AXR rootstock. The roots of this hybrid were susceptible to the soil borne insect Phylloxera. In the mid-1980's, a mutation occurred in this insect population and the new form began to kill vines with AXR roots. Facing this and the mounting costs of replanting due to the new Napa Valley Hillside Ordinance, the Drapers reluctantly decided to sell the property.
Spring Mountain Vineyard was officially purchased by its current owner in 1996. Preparing to make a total replant of such an important wine property, we studied the different vineyard blocks and the wines that were made from them.
We knew the wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon were stunning, though often black as ink and frequently a bit ponderous in tannin. We also knew that "too strong" in reference to grape flavor is a nice problem to have to address. We sought to put more subtlety into the wines while retaining their strength.
Over a dozen weather stations were installed and hundreds of holes were dug to study the climate and soil of the new property. We discovered a wide diversity in temperatures. The higher slopes were cool in the evenings, as cold air was carried over Spring Mountain and across its slopes. Mornings were often warm on the upper slopes, as the cold air settled to the valley floor and pushed warmer air upwards during the night. During the growing season, there is as much as a 70 degrees difference between different spots in the vineyard.
We then set out to design a vineyard that would optimize wine quality by putting the best clone of the best grape variety on the most appropriate rootstock for each vineyard block. Several consultants, including the renowned French viticulturist, Pierre Galet, were brought to the property to review the plan and make suggestions. Finally, in 1998, the first big chunk of La Perla was redeveloped.
The vines are being trained to the freestanding vertical gobelet form. This ancient method of training the vine has been with us since the Romans spread grape culture across their empire. While there are methods of training vines that will produce higher yields and reduce farming costs, there is no method of vine training that will surpass the gobelet for wine quality.
Planting density has been dramatically increased. The older plantings were on 11 foot rows with the vines 8 feet apart. This spacing yielded about 495 vines per acre. The new plantings are on rows from 39 inches to 59 inches apart with the vines a meter apart in the rows. The vine density of the replanted acreage ranges between 2,700 vines and 4,050 vines per acre. The first wines from these new plantings will be made in the 2000 vintage.