Recently, I was invited to participate in a tasting of all Howell Mountain wines here in San Francisco.  This rare opportunity to taste such a selection was presented by Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers, and featured over 25 producers from this gem in Napa Valley, pouring primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, with a few other treats as well.

The Howell Mountain appellation is located due east of St. Helena, and is in the heart of the Vaca Mountain range.  Anything that is grown above the 1400 ft elevation mark is considered Howell Mountain, and this elevation is what gives it it’s distinct style.  the appellation boundary is formed where the marine layer fog) rises up from the valley floor, while the mountain top is poking above the fog.  When the fog rolls off the ocean and into Napa, the weather up on teh mountain is cool.  Due to teh altitude, the temperatures are warmer in the evening, and cooler in teh day – teh exact opposite of the valley.  There arent’ as many heat spikes, and it gets twice as much rainfall as the valley floor.

There are two distinct soil types on the mountain and rocky, porous soil allows the water to drain, and warm summer nights produce fruit that has a great balance of acidity and sugar.  The first consists of decomposed volcanic ash, called “tufa”, and the second is red clay that is high in iron. Because both soil types have poor nutrients, they stress the vines, producing intense wines from small clusters and berries.


I tasted through some interesting wines, and the overall dominant flavor in the Cabs was graphite and vegetal.  this doesn’t tend to be my favorite flavor profile, but there were some stand out winners.  Here are some highlights.

Atlas Peak – 2005 Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in 50% new French oak for 20 months.  A 98%, 2% Petite Verdot, i tasted black fruit, smooth, big & juicy.  It was a very purple wine, tasting and in color.  It had a slightly tannic finish with dark earth.

Blue Hall – 2005 Camiana Cabernet Sauvignon.  BEST OF SET (CAB)  With only 160 cases produced, this tiny winery practices sustainable and organic farming techniques.  This 100% Cab was planted in 2000, and is aged 2 years in all new French Oak.  2 separate blocks – one of clone 7 and one of clone 337, were blended in to this wine tasting of blackberry juice, baking species and earth.  It was complex and smooth and one of my faves.

Howell at the Moon – 2005 Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon  Chocolate, blackberries, smoke, deep & rich, firm structure, blueberries, dark fruit.

La Jota – 2004 Howell Mountain Selection Cabernet Sauvignon – Rich and dusty fruit, bright sweet berries.  chocolate, blackberry, very fruit forward with cherries, strawberries.  Soft and lush.

Neal Family Vineyards – 2005 Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – Coffee, smoke, brambly blue and black fruit.  Fresh and lush with red and blue berries.  Logan berry, blueberry, sweet plums.

Go out and explore Howell Mountain!


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