The Spring Mountain American Viticultural Area has more than a dozen wineries, which lie along or just off Spring Mountain Road a few minutes west of St. Helena. To aid in your explorations, wine writer Karen MacNeil, a Spring Mountain resident and frequent Sunset contributor, offers her pick for a must-try wine at each place. Be sure to call for an appointment before you visit.
Barnett Vineyards. At the very top of the ridge, the pretty Tuscan-looking winery has perhaps the best views on Spring Mountain and a picnic table where you can take it all in.
MacNeil's pick: The powerful 2002 Spring Mountain District Merlot ($45), packed with cassis and cocoa flavors, makes Cabernet fans sit up and take notice.
Info: Tastings Thu-Mon; $20. 4070 Spring Mountain Rd.; www.barnettvineyards.com or 707/963-7075.
Cain Vineyard and Winery. Tastings take place in the dining room of the home that serves as winery headquarters.
MacNeil's pick: Cain's 2001 Concept ($46) is a Bordeaux-style blend with a chocolate-raspberry character.
Info: Tastings and tours Fri-Sat; free. 3800 Langtry Rd.; www.cainfive.com or 707/963-1616.
Paloma Vineyard. Tastings are done in Barbara and Jim Richards's own kitchen or on the back porch, where hummingbirds swarm around feeders that Barbara carefully tends.
MacNeil's pick: The 2002 Merlot ($51). If you love thick, opulent Merlots, this one's for you, with black-cherry pie, dark chocolate, and espresso flavors. Very saturated and concentrated.
Info: Tastings daily; free. 4013 Spring Mountain Rd.; www.palomavineyard.com or 707/963-7504.
Pride Mountain Vineyards. The Napa-Sonoma county line runs right through the grounds of this beautiful mountaintop property.
MacNeil's pick: The exotic and irresistible 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($62) offers cocoa and cassis flavors infused with fascinating notes of spices and minerals.
Info: Tastings Wed-Sat and Mon; $5. 4026 Spring Mountain Rd.; www.pridewines.com or 707/963-4949.
Ritchie Creek Vineyard. Since 1974, Pete Minor and his son Tad have been making fewer than 1,000 cases a year of traditional Bordeaux-style wines.
MacNeil's pick: The 2003 Ritchie Creek Blaufränkisch ($28). Made from an Austrian red grape, this wine is dense and exotic―loaded with black licorice and espresso flavors.
Info: Tastings daily; free. 4024 Spring Mountain Rd.; 707/963-4661.
Smith-Madrone. Rave reviews of Rieslings from brothers Stuart and Charles Smith haven't gone to their heads: You might get a foldable picnic chair to sit on, and Stuart's likely to use his Swiss Army knife to open the wine.
MacNeil's pick: The 2004 Riesling ($17). Like its neighbors, Smith-Madrone makes excellent Cabernets, but its hauntingly dry Riesling is terrific―a fresh, pure burst of apricots and minerals.
Info: Tours and tastings Mon-Sat; free. 4022 Spring Mountain Rd.; www.smithmadrone.com or 707/963-2283.
Spring Mountain Vineyard. The only way to visit this winery, which opened to the public last year, is to sign up in advance for a 11⁄2-hour walking tour of the beautifully maintained 1885 estate.
MacNeil's pick: "Masculine" justly sums up the intense, boldly structured, rich 2001 Syrah ($50).
Info: Tours and tastings daily; $25. 2805 Spring Mountain Rd.; www.springmountainvineyard.com or 707/967-4188.
Stony Hill Vineyard. It's white wines only at the first Napa winery built post- Prohibition.
MacNeil's pick: Stony Hill's Chardonnays were among the first "cult" wines in the Napa Valley. Pure, crisp, and precise, the 2002 Chardonnay ($30) is exactly the opposite of others' big butterball Chardonnays.
Info: Tastings Mon-Fri; free. www.stonyhillvineyard.com or 707/963-2636.
Terra Valentine. Fascinating guided tours of this elaborate stone edifice end in an oak-paneled tasting room, where wines are paired with cheeses and chocolates.
MacNeil's pick: Ripe cherries and dark chocolate come together in the velvety, medium-bodied 2001 Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon ($35).
Info: Tours and tastings daily; $20 (waived with wine purchase). 3787 Spring Mountain Rd.; www.terravalentine.com or 707/967-8340.