Howell Mountain Cabernet has a special place in my heart!

There is something so special about mountainside fruit in Napa Valley.  With both Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain boasting some famous vineyards & producers, and a very different flavor profile emerging from both of these unique areas, they are both small AVAs that hold a special place in my heart.

Napa Valley has been making Cabernet Sauvignon for over 100 years.  Napa can be, and generally is, synonymous with New World Cabernet.  But, for some people, the stereotypical big, fruity, over powering valley floor fruit can be too much.  Now of course, there are always expectations to this rule (Titus are you listening?), but in my personal and professional opinion, there is a lot to be gained by looking up.

Why?  In the case of Howell Mountain, the rolling hills and steep slopes have created several micro climates.  Each small clearing is above the fog.  When the white stuff rolls off of the ocean, and my house is socked in the pea soup, the weather on Howell Mountain is sunny, but cool.  Sitting on this inversion layer, the weather flip flops, and evenings are warmer than the days, which help to maintain the heat spikes that can be more extreme down the hill.

Located on the eastern side of the Napa valley, and north of Atlas Peak, Howell Moutain is roughly parallel but north of Chiles Valley and east of Srping Mountain, and St. Helena.

Rocky, dry soils on the mountain are well drained, and the cooler temperatures and later bud break lead to warm summer nights.  All of these factors help to create balance between acidity and sweetness, which means, complexity and richness in your glass.  Yum!

In the Cornerstone Cellars, the 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet really shows these elements.  Farmed organically, the Ink Grade vineyard is on the east side of Howell Mountain at 1800 feet.  Producing smaller berries with an intensity of flavor, a touch of Oak Knoll Cab and Carneros Merlot are blended in.  I adore this wine, and found it deep, and earthy with beautiful blue black notes of blackberry and blueberry, with cracked black pepper and dutch cocoa.  The word that came to mind immediately was unctuous.

At $80 it’s a splurge, but well worth it for wine lovers and a special occasion.  

 This wine was provided by the winery for consideration, and while all opinions are my own, seriously, this is the good sh&*!



On a mountain top

Haber Family Vineyards, which sits high atop Howell Mountain, near the village of Angwin, was founded in 2004 by Ron and Sue Marie Haber, a couple of summer refugees from the East Coast.

My blogging friend Melissa Dobson, of Melissa Dobson PR & Marketing, was kind enough to arrange a bloggers tasting day up on the mountain.  Sue Marie and Ron were gracious and welcoming, and the usual suspects (Randy, Michael, Marcy, and Ashley) made our way out of the Napa Valley for an unforgettable experience.

The estate on Howell Mountain is a lean 5.5 acres, which was painstakingly developed 1 acre at a time due to local zoning laws at the time.  My personal opinion is that slow and steady wins the race however, and this turned out to be worth the slow development.  The Howell Mountain AVA was the first sub-appellation in Napa Valley to be officially recognized, and is known for it’s Cabernets.  The rocky red volcanic soil sits above the valley fog, which creates long mellow growing days.  The estate vineyard is between 1550 and 1650 ft, which is smack dab in the middle of the Howell Mountain vertical AVA.

While the fruit grew, and the estate developed, the 2006 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon was released earlier this year . This bottle was decanted the night before our visit, and it was simply stunning.  Those of you who know me well know that I don’t like the typical overblown overdone overextracted Napa Cab, and this wine was the elegant, silky antithesis of that.  I tasted chocolate, smoke and salami in the wine.  Or was that the nibbles I was chowing down?  Sue Marie put on an amazing spread for us.  The wine continued with pepper and subtle blackberry, with juicy plum notes.  As the wine opened up further in the glass, and as we ate lunch and drank more, the rich mocha flavors came out to play and evergreen notes teased me.  At one point I had an overwhelming aroma of Earl Grey tea, which was followed by fig, black cherry and root beer.  I really enjoyed this wine, and for $80 it is worth it.  I would certainly buy another bottle to hold for a special (or not so special) wine drinking occasion.

If you have an opportunity, try to catch Sue Marie and Ron while they are in town and make it a point to taste their beautiful wine.  The Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet will be released next year, and I look forward to going back and tasting that offering as well.

Happy drinking!


Howell at the moon

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!