The following historical research and documentation of Spring Mountain was commissioned in 1990 by Michael Marston, Marston Family Vineyards, and Fritz Maytag, York Creek Vineyards, to the support the proposal for establishing a Spring Mountain District (AVA: American Viticultural Area), based on the long history of vineyards and wineries in the region. The original document has many inserted historical references, maps and articles. However, for the purpose of this electronic version, they have not been included. The Spring Mountain District Association has a copy of this document for anyone seriously interested in the original content.
NAPA VALLEY’S “SPRING MOUNTAIN” APPELLATION:
A preliminary report covering the early history especially as it concerns viticulture and wine production
By William F. Heintz
June 15, 1991
The geographic names for many of California’s mountains, valleys, and other regions are often shrouded in mystery or confusion, as to their origins. Napa Valley’s “Spring Mountain” falls somewhat into this category.
There is no specific mountain in Napa Valley bearing the name “Spring Mountain”. Thus there is no reference to “Spring Mountain” under a heading such as “Geology” in the principal history books on Napa County: i.e. the 1873 published HISTORICAL AND DESCRIPTIVE SKETCH BOOK OF NAPA, SONOMA, LAKE AND MENDOCINO; the 1878 ILLUSTRATIONS OF NAPA COUNTY; the 1881 HISTORY OF NAPA AND LAKE COUNTIES; or the 1912 HISTORY OF SOLANO AND NAPA COUNTIES.
“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. Why this region of Napa Valley and county should, however, come to be so clearly labeled as “Spring Mountain” is somewhat bewildering.
Consider for example this excerpt from the 1881 HISTORY OF NAPA AND SONOMA COUNTIES: “Napa County is noted far and wide for the abundance and variety of Springs [sic] within its limits, they both being mineral and pure, cold and thermal. From every mountain side beautiful streams of water gush forth and find their way to the nearest brooklet, where their united rivulets form into a beautiful babbling stream, that sings a merry song as it dances over the pebbly bed….” (page 32).
Long before this was written, local residents and the weekly St. Helena newspaper, The Star, were referring to that general area west of St. Helena drained by York creek, as “Spring Mountain.” Spring Mountain must have had some very special springs.
Perhaps the simplest and most historically accurate explanation for the early identity of Spring Mountain goes back to Napa County’s first hot springs resort, “White Sulphur Springs”. Discovered in 1848, this is the same year gold was found at Coloma in the Sierras.
Some long-time residents of Spring Mountain do not consider “White Sulphur Springs” necessarily a part of Spring Mountain. Most of these individuals would have a difficult time defining Spring Mountain today. This is not the point. WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS almost certainly was the first spring named and identified in the general area and thus played a significant role in the perception of this region having many springs.
A brief description and history of the Springs is provided on the following two pages. There are dozens of similar references to be found in Napa county newspapers and history books. By September, 1880, Sallie R. Heath wrote in The Californian: “These springs, once California’s most fashionable resort, can now be said to be in their halcyon days, the term considered in its literal sense. One by one, those who for more than half a score of years frequented this resort, have deserted it in favor of the beach…”)
There is a specific spring on “Spring Mountain road” west of St. Helena which may be the true source of the name Spring Mountain.
Exactly 2.9 miles from the St. Helena Post Office, and driving up Spring Mountain road, this spring is easily identified by two tall redwood trees nearby which narrow the roadbed considerably.
Long-time residents like Ina (McCormick) Hart, Charles Verozza and Vera Lewelling recall this spring as a major source of water, for both man and animal. Ina Hart was born at the very top of Spring Mountain, on the McCormick ranch, more than 70 years ago. When her family traveled by horse and carriage to St. Helena, all stopped for water at this spring. Varozza, whose parents settled on Spring Mountain in the 1890s, recalls the spring serving the same purpose.
Vera Lewelling, who is nearly 90 years age, recalls that before World War Two, long before, many local residents of St. Helena drove to this spring with large barrels to be filled with the water for drinking and cooking.
Construction work now in progress (Summer of 1991) seems to have interrupted the flow of water, perhaps temporarily.
There are many other noteworthy springs in the general region of Spring mountain but the final spring which deserves special attention has to be that which is the origin of York Creek. York Creek once flowed so abundantly that the first two reservoirs built to provide water for the town of St. Helena, were constructed on York Creek, on Spring Mountain.
The Star (founded incidentally in September 1874 and published continuously since) describes this new reservoir in some detail in the issue of July 27, 1878: “It gives us great pleasure to record at last the formation of a company for the supply of St. Helena with water. It is something she has long needed. . . . .The movement come from a number of gentlemen who won water rights from York canyon . . . “
The issue of August 23rd described a 24 foot high dam, 225 feet long built “across York canyon”, located west of the town of St. Helena. John York was one of the directors of the water company, which also included Charles Krug, Jacob Beringer, Seneca Ewer and G. K. Gluyas.
From 1878 to the 1920s, when bell Canyon Reservoir was constructed on the opposite side of Napa Valley from the town of St. Helena, the principal source of water came from springs and a creek west of St. Helena. Spring Mountain was the source of St. Helena’s water supply for over fifty years.
The first published reference to the name “Spring Mountain” dates back to at least the year 1876. It seems certain the name was in common usage as early as the late 1860s.
The Star for March 18, 1876 carries a listing of budgets approved for Napa County schools and among the names is “Spring Mountain . . . 331.70”, plus $19.20 for the school library fund. The Napa County School System has no record of when various rural schools were established and no dating can be located for the Spring Mountain School. It does appear, from the March 18, 1876 and many subsequent similar articles that the school was in operation for some time before this story was written, certainly the early 1870s, possibly the late 1860s.
In the Star of January 9, 1880 there is a brief item headlined “Spring Mountain Notes” which reads: “Fifty eight tons of grapes were sold from Spring Mountain district last Fall, and it is calculated that 100 acres of new vineyards will be put in this Spring”.
Two years later, the Star of December 29, 1882 carried this brief item: “Wm. Jordan has purchased on Spring Mountain 500 acres from D.O. Hunt. He will clear 100 acres for vines.”
Newspaper stories in the Star headlined “Spring Mountain” or mentioning Spring Mountain in the lead paragraph became more and more common in the mid to late 1880s. The name was so well established by 1888 that the district was included by name in the 1888 published Annual Report of the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners of California. Page 44 of the Report includes a table showing “Varieties of Grapes Planted” in Napa County and “Spring Mountain” is listed second. There were 355 acres of vines on Spring Mountain by 1888 and 21,000 gallons of wines being produced.
It is quite clear that by the 1880s Spring Mountain was a well-established geographical region of Napa Valley and County. There appears, however, to be no documentation then as to the geographic limits or boundaries of Spring Mountain!
There were grapes being grown on Spring Mountain about the time of the American Civil War and the region had permanent settlers by the time of the Great California Gold Rush of 1849.
In the HISTORY OF NAPA AND LAKE COUNTIES, published in 1881, a listing of these early residents is provided and a brief explanation: “Through the kindness of Messers. J.H. McCord, John York and others we are able to give the names of all the settlers in the township (Hot Springs) in 1849 and their locale. Beginning at the head of the valley the first settler was John Cyrus . . .”
“David Hudson lived up on the hills, about half a mile west of where the Beringer brothers now have their vineyard, and also owned the land on which it is now planted. He had a family consisting of a wife and one child, now Judge Rodney Hudson of Lake County. His house was built of split redwood, and was located on the south side of Hudson Creek, and further up in the hills.” (page 323)
“. . . .John York lived on the south side of Hudson Creek, and farther up in the hills. He had a wife and two or three boys, and lived in a split redwood house.” (page 323)
(The Star of June 19, 1936 recorded the sale of the original York farm to Ralph McMasters. “The tract known as the old home place, has been in the York family since 1848 when it was bought by john York and there Charles York was born in 1858.”)
Dr. Irving McKee, of the University of California, Berkeley wrote in September, 1951 in California magazine that John York had “35,000 vines near St. Helena by 1867”. He offers no source for this information. McKee’s research generally is considered quite accurate.
Another Gold Rush settler in the Spring Mountain region was Col. M.D. Ritchie. He “located in Ritchie Canyon” in 1850 and moved to the city of Napa in 1865. (page 324).
York’s vine planting in 1867 came just as there was a boom in viticulture in Napa Valley, as documented in the San Francisco Alta California of March 11, 1866: “St. Helena. In this vicinity, there is quite a furor about grapevine planting. The soil for several miles around, both valley and hill, being well adapted to its growth, almost every landowner is putting in more or less the present season. Dr. Crane — just across the [White] Sulphur Creek from this village — besides owning what is considered the number one place for such purpose, is a sort of a leader in the enterprise, having a vineyard of considerable size, planted five years ago, and, of course, now in full bearing.”
Dr. Crane was St. Helena’s first vineyardist, followed by Charles Krug in 1861.
One German immigrant suspected the hillsides of Napa Valley would make the best wine and about 1863 set out to prove it. Jacob Schram purchased land just north of Ritchie Creek at the 1000 to 1200 foot elevation. Titus F. Cronise in his 1868 book THE NATURAL WEALTH OF CALIFORNIA provides more of the details: “Schram is a German by birth, and a barber by profession. When he arrived in the state, less than seven years ago, he had neither money nor friends, and could scarcely speak our language; but he had tact and courage. Believing that the hillsides around this valley would produce a superior quality of grapes, he procured a tract of land for a trifle — being covered with timber and underbrush, it was not considered to be worth planting. By dint of hard labor, acting as a barber at the springs [White Sulphur] on Saturday and Sunday . . . He now has, at the end of five years ‘1863 – 1868], 15,000 vines growing . . .” (page 181).
It may be that Schram took his inspiration from John York. York’s vines could predate 1867 by some years. Or did Schram influence York?
Charles Lemme appears to be the second vineyardist to plant vines on Spring Mountain and may deserve to be honored as its first winemaker!
This honor is documented, in part, by a story in the Star of December 7, 1877. In a column titled: Wine Making. The Season of 1877”, this paragraph appears: “CHARLES LEMME: The vineyards and cellar of Jacob Schram [sic] have heretofore been noted as the only one in Napa County on the mountain side. That distinction is about to be divided by another enterprise – that of Mr. Charles Lemme, a wealthy San Francisco gentleman, whose love of Napa scenery and climate has brought him out of the city and into the country when away up on the mountainside, far above the usual scene of human activity, he has made some of the most substantial improvement in the county.”
“Three years ago he bought Von Grafen (or Herbele) place in Spring Mountain District, three or four miles from town, directly up the side of the mountain range that borders the western side of the valley.
Here he has some 300 acres of land, and has got over 40 acres cleared, 25 of which is vineyard.
Last year he built a concrete cellar , 40 x 75, the lower story of which is finished and in use. He made last year and this 5,000 gallons of wine each . . .” (This property is now known as the Draper Vineyards).
The Lemme vineyards and winery continued in full operation at least until the year 1898 when the son, Rudolph W., died. The winery operations are documented frequently in the Star’s annual surveys of the vintage. Wine production is documented at 25,000 gallons annually in the 1880s.
There were other wine cellars founded on Spring Mountain after the Lemme winery but attempting to place them in some sort of sequence is almost impossible.
The October 23, 1881 Star recorded: “Next in order is the enfant cellar of Wm. H. Jordan, on the Brewery road, at the crossing of York creek . . . He made about 5000 gallons of wine.”
In the Spring of 1882, the Beringer brothers began clearing land high up on Spring Mountain road and planted 16 acres to vines. This was next to the Lemme winery, according to the Star. (This is now the site of the Streblow winery).
“The ground is rich and mellow and will produce more grapes than much of the valley land,” reported the Star of April 14, 1882. “There are never failing springs, that supply all year round abundance of water.”
In 1879, three Swiss-born brothers named “Baretta” purchased 34 acres of Charles Krug in the hills directly behind what is now the Christian Brothers / Greystone winery. The Star of March 7 recorded the entire story including the fact that the brothers planted vines on the property as early as 1875, Krug taking half of the production, the Baretta brothers taking half.
“In 1877, 150 gallons of wine were made” reported the newspaper, “last year 1,000 gallons and this year if all goes well, 5,000 gallons will be turned out.”
It is suspected this winery did not operate more than a half a dozen years. The vineyards were subsequently owned by several people, none of which appear in Napa records as producing wine.
On January 1, 1885 what would soon be the largest wine operation on Spring Mountain was initiated by Tiburcio Parrott. The quality of his wine, especially that made of the cabernet Sauvignon grape, would match the finest wines made in the valley below, wine from Inglenook, To-Kalen, the Napa Valley Wine Company and others.
In 1885, wealthy San Francisco banker and financier Tiburcio Parrott purchased 800 acres from A.B. Forbes. A small vineyard of Zinfandel was already growing on the place according to the Star of July 28, 1893. The newspaper also report: “Old vineyardists asked him what he expected to do among those hills and rocks, and when told by Mr. Parrott that he expected to raise grapes and produce wine unsurpassed in the world, they laughed at him and told him his hopes would never be realized.”
In the Spring of 1885 Parrott ordered the construction of a large and grand Victorian style home. (This later became the focus of the television nighttime soap opera ‘Falcon Crest’.).
How soon Parrott turned to wine making is just a bit uncertain. The Star recorded he had “two wine cellars”, one under his house, the second a tunnel into the nearby hillside. If he removed the small winery already on the property in 1885 or sold a few grapes, and began replanting and planting a new vineyard in 1885, the first year for production would have been 1888 (the third year) or more likely 1889.
The St. Helena newspaper for December 5, 1890 noted: “At Tiburcio Parrott’s . . . A cavern like a hole in the side of [of an adjacent hill] is the entrance to the wine cellar, not yet completed which will be tunneled into solid rock”. Nothing was reported of wine made and stored under the house. The Star of July 28, 1893 reported Parrott had 60,000 gallons of wine in storage. This seems to be the average production annually for Parrott.
Parrott’s wine subsequently took many awards at wine competitions including First Place at the San Francisco MidWinter Fair of 1893-94 and described as a “California red wine, Chateau Margaux type”. This was his cabernet sauvignon. He won a Diploma of Honor and Gold Medal at the Atlanta, Georgia World’s Fair of 1896 for his “White Burgundy”.
Tiburcio Parrott was Spring Mountain’s most famous resident and would have earned a significant reputation for the region for grapes and wine had he not died very suddenly. His death came in November, 1894, with only his fifth or sixth vintage completed!
Almost the equal of Parrott was Chateau Chevalier. Chevalier had come to San Francisco during the Gold Rush of 1849 and soon turned to importing fine French wine and brandy. When the phylloxera vine disease nearly destroyed his source of wine and brandy in France, he decided to make his own.
Why French-born Fortune Chevalier should choose the Napa Valley, has never been explained in any historical text thus far located nor did he state why he chose the hillsides of Spring Mountain rather than the valley floor.
Chevalier made his first purchase in August, 1884. He did not begin wine production apparently until 1891!
The Star of July 24, 1891 recorded: “Monday Charles York, foreman of G.F. Chevalier’s Spring Mountain place showed us plans of a fine new cellar which is now in the course of construction for that gentleman. It is being built out of grey stone, trimmed in pink and the front is an E shape. It will be two stories high and 79 x 56 feet in size. . .”
This same newspaper story claimed there were 25 acres of vines “from which a fine quality of wine will be made.” If construction of the wine cellar co-incided with full production of the vineyard, the grape vines date back to 1888 or 1887. Total capacity of the cellar was 50,000 gallons.
Another stone cellar dating back to this time was that of Oakland, Ca. Cigar dealer Carl Conradi. He purchased land on Spring Mountain as early as June, 1890.
A study of phylloxera damage in Napa County in 1892 and published in 1893 by the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners, documents this about Conradi: “Conradi & Co. St. Helena, Total 70 acres, all in bearing . . .This vineyard is on Spring Mountain which is a favored locality, as phylloxera has not yet made its appearance, and frost did no damage in the spring of 1892.”
The wine cellar was not built, however, until 1904. A Day-Book in the possession of the winery records the construction starting January 27, 1904 and documents what was paid to each Italian stone cutter, etc. Production at the winery was between 30,000 and 40,000 gallons.
The previously mentioned phylloxera study of Napa County by the Viticultural Commissioners of California provides additional evidence of vine growing on Spring Mountain in the 1890s.
This is a vineyard by vineyard study, quite comprehensive although some growers in remote locations were overlooked! The growers and wine producers in the Spring Mountain region are not separated from all growers, etc. in the “St. Helena District.” It is possible, however, by comparing the 1895 “Official Map of Napa County” property owners to the phylloxera study and determine some of the many Spring Mountain viticulturalists and vintners.
On the 1895 Official Map of Napa County, the following names fall within the Spring Mountain region: M. Traverso, Theodore Moding, W.W. Lyman (his vines, however, were probably below the 400 foot line), Mayrice Harnet, Frank Souto, D.O. Hunt, P. Conradi, E.A. Trefenthen, E.D. Welch, Wm. Sheehan, C.W. Corthay, Geo. Chevalier, H. Wirz, L. Zierngibl, J. Beringer, E. Siegeman, A. Parrott, J.H. Simpson, Tos. Tradett, M. Kilduff, and Paul Bieber (later owner of Baretta brothers property).
This list has been compared to the 1893 Phylloxera Study ad are marked on the accompanying photocopy of the Phylloxera Study for the St. Helena District.
(Care must be taken not to confuse a valley floor vineyard cited in the Phylloxera Study with land owned on Spring Mountain by the same individual but on which no vineyard has been planted.)
Copyright June 1991 by Wm. Heintz and the Spring Mountain District Appellation Group