Archive for the ‘Howell Mountain’ Category

Hughes – 176

Sunday, October 9th, 2005

Hughes_label_with_loyalLoyal Hughes is a warm, charming, and gregarious gentleman. I had the tremendous pleasure of sitting down with him and his lovely wife, Linda, during a local harvest party at a winery not far from Loyal’s own Howell Mountain five-acre vineyard. Harvest parties are potluck affairs with most local winemakers bringing their own bottles to share. Lucky me, as Loyal’s wines have a whopping production of only 125 cases.

Hughes_label_3_1Some of you are doing the math; five acres should produce a whole lot more than 125 cases, shouldn’t it? Normally it would except that Hughes is one of those persnickety, finicky winery owners who will only put his name of the best quality product he can. That means only using grapes from one small lot, maybe an acre’s worth, of his five acres of grapes. The rest of it — quality fruit, I’m sure — gets sold off every year to waiting buyers, anxious to acquire premium Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Using a 100% new French oak, Loyal Hughes likes sharing his wine even though he doesn’t make very much. He is also deeply philosophical about his wine, believing in consistency and making a wine that is exceptionally food-friendly. With no plans to expand production quantities, this will be a wine you will have to hunt for — fortunately, he shared with me the three stores that are currently carrying Hughes Howell Mountain Cabernet; Dean & Deluca in the Napa valley, Wine Country in Southern California, and 34 North Wine Merchant in Healdsburg.  No website and no intention to ever have one, Hughes sells a bit off a mailing list and that’s about it…

2000 Hughes Cabernet Sauvignon – Spicy core of uber-rich, dark fruit; black cassis, black currant, and black plum. Rich and developed, the tannins are soft and easy without the tell-tale bite of a young Cab. Some rich earthy qualities in the mid-palate with a long, silky finish. $55.00

Hughes ~ 165 Olive Avenue ~ Angwin ~ CA ~ 94508 ~ 707-965-1907

Robert Craig Wine Cellars – 160

Friday, September 16th, 2005

Rc_bldg_entranceI’ve know about Robert Craig Wine Cellars for a while, in a back-handed sort of way… When I was working up at Ladera, Robert Craig’s winemaker, Chad, would come over and visit as he and Tres are really good friends. I’ve been privy to a tasting now and then but never got to visit the actual facility up on Howell Mountain. Fortunately for me — and now for you! — they have opened a tasting room in downtown Napa, making it a lot easier for all concerned except for maybe Chad, who still drives up the mountain to make their extraordinary wine.

Rc_tasting_roomThe downside to the tasting room is that it is quite off the beat-and-track. Although technically downtown, it is located in a small building essentially surrounded with some of the more downtrodden Victorians (although there is hope as signs of renovation abound). An additional note on the tasting room; because of its slightly remote location, it is technically appointment-only, Tuesdays through Saturday. Although Rachel Miller, their manager, assures me that she tries her best to never turn anyone away.

The day of my visit was a special open house so there were some munchies and Ms. Lynn Craig there to welcome visitors. Rachel advised me that normally the table is set-up for a more informative sit-down tasting which is always complimentary (yet another rarity in Napa!). And knowing my penchant for mountain wines, how could I not be impressed…

2002 Syrah – Rich, sweet aromas of smoke and bacon with a tease of mint. Chocolate taste at first, then dark fruit streaks of blueberry, blackberry, and plum. Rachel explained this was a the blend of two vineyards; a cool Los Olivos and a warmer Paso Robles. Being younger than I normally drink Syrah, I was impressed that it already showed supple, smooth characteristics. Medium-bodied, it was not over-the-top with heat or alcohol, but already well-developed. $28.00

2000 Affinity – Their name for the Bordeaux blends that are made, which are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. In this case 76% Cabernet, 22% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot. The wine displayed some dark, twiggy, rustic brambleberry aromas with a whisper of chocolate. Initially sweet on the entry, an earthy core was balanced with dark blueberry and a rich, long, silky finish. Sold Out

2001 Affinity - 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 2% Pertite Verdot. Intensely rich dark core of blackberry and smoke with a hint of sweetness on the back of the nose. Tight entry blossoms to show bright, engaging fruit with some oak and a currant finish. $Available only as part of a vertical

2002 Affinity – Over-the-top black fruit with tones of black licorice. Bright, sweet entry is concentrated with layers of herbs. Darker finish with a touch of cocoa. $40.00

2002 Mt. Veeder Cabernet – 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. Classic Veeder with tons of dark cherry, leather, and tobacco. A touch of hot twig and herbs showing the wine’s youth. Mouth entry has tons of up-front fruit with flavors of dark cherry and cranberry. $50.00

2002 Howell Mountain Cabernet – Purple in color, spice dominates the intense dark fruit aromas. Silky smooth entry is velvety and rich with developed structure and perfectly balanced tannins. Supple. Wine club members only.

Robert Craig Wine Cellars ~ 880 Vallejo Street ~ Napa ~ CA ~ 94559 ~ 707-252-2250

Neal – 103

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

BldgNeal Vineyards and Winery is another neighbor on Howell Mountain. In fact, if you could drive through our vineyard manager’s house, you would drive right into the back of  Neal’s vineyards. Mark Neal has been in the agriculture business since he was a little boy, as it was actually his father, Jack Neal, who started Jack Neal and Sons as a vineyard management company back in 1968. He now farms to organic standards, while working towards certification.

Mark_gofIt is somewhat surprising that it took Mark Neal so many years to have the wine-making bug to bite him. With Gove Celio as his winemaker, Mark completed construction on his state-of-the-art facility in 2001. While they were making wine as early as 1998, the facility is just now becoming finalized with the installation of a bottling unit.

LandscapingBeing in the agriculture business, I was not surprised at the beauty of the landscaping and the architecture. A tour of Neal includes a walk in the caves and the surrounding facilities. Take note of the hand-wrought door handles, chandelier, and bar step. Indeed, this is a facility that has a reputation for quality and even before you taste the wine, you know it to be true.

I know there is a huge demand for many of Neal’s vineyard specific wines as he not only produces a Howell Mountain Cabernet, but those on his mailing list are first in line for Cabernets from Chafen, Wykoff, and Second Chance vineyards. On the day of my visit, all I was able to taste was the 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet, a blend of nine different vineyards. It was exceptionally purple in color with dark cherry, black fruit liqueur, and anise notes. Smooth, easy, and complex, the dark fruit showed even, layered flavors in the mid-palate with a rich, menthol finish that demonstrated longevity. $45.00 While not tasted, I purchased a Rutherford Zinfandel for future tasting.

Neal Family Vineyards ~ 716 Liparita Road ~ Angwin ~ CA ~ 94508 ~ 707-965-2888

Ladera – 93

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

Ladera_signI waited a long time to blog Ladera. Why? Well, for starters, this is where I work. Also, I wanted it to be #93 for entirely personal reasons as the number 93 is very special to me. The estate is between 1,500 and 1,800 elevation on Howell Mountain. Historically, it was started by two Frenchmen, Jean Brun and Jean Chaix in the 1880s, when they planted Zinfandel on Howell Mountain. Several years into hauling the grapes down into the valley for processing, they built their three-story, gravity method winery.

Ladera_bldgThe winery stayed in business up until Prohibition when, like so many others, it shut down. The business passed through a number of hands in the 1950s and 1960s, but was ultimately acquired by Frederique and Francoise DeWavrin in 1970s. They re-named the estate Chateau Woltner and, for some reason which no one has yet been able to explain, planted Chardonnay in an appellation known for big, opulent red wines. For the twenty-five-some-odd years that Chateau Woltner was in business, the DeWavrins produced five vineyard-specific Chardonnays in the Burgundian style. However, at this point in the building’s life, it had fallen into such disrepair that it had long since ceased to be used as a wine-making facility.

In 2000, the estate was purchased by Patrick and Anne Stotesbery who not only restored the building to its intended use, but also replanted the now phylloxera-diseased Chardonnay with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. They had started Ladera (which means hillside in Spanish), in 1998 with the purchase of the Lone Canyon vineyard which is on the flanks of Mt. Veeder at elevation 1,100.

Karen_tres_2The Stotesberys hired Karen Culler as their winemaker. She is well known for her own label, namely producing Syrah wines. Just last year, Tres Goetting, who also is developing his own label named Tom Cat, joined the family and I think the wines are only getting better. But for me, what’s not to love?

2001 Ladera Lone Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon – Known as "The Cowboy" Cab, this wine is chewy and complex with bright cherry, tobacco, and leather notes both in nose and mouthfeel. $65.00

2002 Ladera Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – Known as "The Gentleman" for its softer tannin structure and velvety mouthfeel. Complex layers of roasted fig and blueberry with concentrated spices like cinnamon, clove, and allspice. $65.00

2002 Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – A blend of the two vineyards, once you know the characteristics of the two, it is easy to discern qualities from each; cherry from the Lone Canyon, elegant spice from Howell Mountain… Easy to drink with depth and balance. $35.00

2002 Ladera Malbec – Somewhat of a fluke. This was grown as a blending grape for our Cabs, but the 2002 vintage was so exceptional that the Malbec was not needed. It was also so exceptional as a stand-alone varietal, that it was bottled with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon blended in to round out. Intense dark berry of black raspberry, cherry, and black plum dance with hints of barbecue and soy sauce in a wine that is meaty, like a Syrah, yet velvety and soft in its complexity. My current favorite wine. $38.00

Ladera Vineyards ~ 150 White Cottage Road South ~ Angwin ~ CA ~ 94558 ~ 866-523-3728

Lamborn Family Winery – 70

Monday, May 2nd, 2005

Lamborn_signWorking on Howell Mountain, I admit a certain affinity to the neighbors and styles of wine being produced. Much of the wine made on the mountain is created either by families who feel a close connection with the terroir and all that the mountain has to offer, or by larger corporations who are producing very small lots of a Howell Mountain wine from either their own small acres or by grapes purchased from the families who are part of the landscape. The Lamborn Family Winery are such a family, holding a unique position with an impressive history on the mountain.

Mike_terryI had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mike and Terry Lamborn and hearing their story: Mike’s father, Bob (affectionately known as "Papa"), started by buying nine acres of property in 1971 and seriously considered planting melons. Fortunately, they decided on Zinfandel instead and by 1975, sold their nine acres and moved up the mountain a bit to a 15-acre parcel.

CrossWell, with no consultants to tell them how or in what direction to plant their vineyards, divine providence must have been work. For there is an old addage that aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway. This applied to Bob because with what he did in setting up his property, he should never have been able to create wine. Mike marvels to this day the good fortune that has shined down on them in their success — but with Heidi Peterson Barrett as winemaker, how could they fail?

ViewSeveral years and another move from those 15 acres to a larger, 30-acre parcel has seen the growth of the Lamborn Family Winery. Bob passed away just a year ago, in April of 2004, but son, Mike, as well as Mike and Terry’s sons and daughters-in-law AND grandchildren are all devoted to continuing the legacy as well as moving onward and upward. While they have been concentrating on Zinfandel all these years, a Lamborn-made, Howell Mountain Cabernet is in the works and I, for one, hope to be first on the list for tasting.

Angel_statueIf you decide to visit, be prepared to laugh and become one of the family, for there is no formal tasting room — if you visit, you are invited into the family home to sample the wine. Sitting in the living room, next to the fireplace which is embellished with the family crest. Mike readily admits to cave-envy and instead of the classic cave tour, suffices to show off his amazing view and vineyards. Or, if you are like me, one can marvel at the array of stunning antiques and artwork which reflects the warmth of the hosts hospitality.

Until that Cab is released, one must suffer with the Zinfandels, if you can call it suffering…

1999 Lamborn Family Zinfandel; "The Solar Factor" – Aromas of dried fruit and dried flowers in a well-integrated, well-aged offering. Raspbery and lavender notes teased in the nose and in the entry. Bright acids were tempered with even, balanced tannins. Very soft and teasing at delicacy for a Zinfandel, the smooth mouthfeel provided a finish that included opulent dried spice and dusty heather qualities.

2001 Lamborn Family Zinfandel – Overt, rich mineral tones which subside to demonstrate dark fruit of blackberry, black raspberry, and cassis. A teasing of cocoa in the bouquet anticipates a darker, more structured spice in the mid-palate, showing cinnamon and clove which is musky and deep. Well balanced and integrated, a brighter Bing cherry tantalizes on the finish.

2002 Lamborn Family Zinfandel; "Platinum Anniversary" – Bright, smoky qualities show toasty oak and developed vanilla with are layered and complicated. Very silky on the palate, complex dark berry flavors predominate with a heightened, sweet finish that begs for a second and third taste. $36.00

Lamborn Family Winery ~ Summit Lake Drive ~ Angwin ~ CA ~ 94508 ~ 925-254-0511