Perfect weather, amazing wines, music, and tasty bites marked this stand out wine event


Zinfandel Vineyard toward the top of the mountain at Outpost

The Howell Mountain Association held their 2013 Harvest Celebration at the V Wine Cellar in beautiful Yountville. 18 different wineries were pouring their wines sourced from the Howell Mountain AVA.

Nestled high above the Northern Napa Valley, the Howell Mountain AVA produces some of the best red wine in the world.  These wines do not yet have the cachet or notoriety of reds produced in The Valley, but it won’t take long for the public at large to discover that these wines stack up to the best reds produced anywhere.

Howell Mountain was granted its AVA in 1983 and has since grown in both stature and in the number of wineries producing wines from this region.  Vineyards here sit between 1,400 and 2,300 feet above sea level and are thus quite different in character from vineyards only a few miles away.  The growing season here begins much later than in the valley.  Early on, cool foggy nights and day time temps as much a 10 degrees cooler than the valley are common.  By mid-summer, however, the mountain enjoys much warmer temps as it is above the fog layer that dominates the valley in mid to late summer and early fall.  This produces big, bold, and very complex wines that have a unique character all their own.  Howell Mountain wines are truly unique and are among our favorites.  While the quality of these wines can rival any, their price points are quite a bit less than most top valley wines adding value to the list of reasons to try these fantastic wines!

The Event

howell2013-1On a beautiful sunny 75 degree day the confines of the V Wine Cellar in Yountville was a perfect setting for a showcase of 18 of Howell Mountain’s vintners. Tasty artisan breads, delicious cheeses, nuts, and meats were paired wonderfully with the wines by Winery Chefs. The winery booths were setup both inside and out allowing us to move about quite comfortably.

The Music


Our favorite wine event band The Hummingbirdz were tucked into the far corner of the patio. Their first two sets were acoustic renditions of some of our favorite blues tunes but then turned electric for the last half of the afternoon. Even though they were scaled down they brought their usual passion. The guests loved these guys as you could see them bopping about from winery station to winery station with quite few sticking around the patio to watch.

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The Wine

While we were disappointed our two favorite Howell Mountain wineries Robert Craig and O’Shaughnessy were not present, we did find some new favorites and reinforced our love for those that we discovered at last years tasting. Below we will outline some of our favorites but all the wineries listed below are exceptional and worth seeking out.

The Wineries

Atlas Peak
Blue Hall
Bremer Family
CADE Estate
Clif Family
Howell Mountain Vineyards
La Jota
Notre Vin
Red Cap
Retro Cellars
Rutherford Grove
Saunter Wines
Summit Lake
W.H. Smith

Top of the Tasting

Dunn Vineyards 2003 Howell Mountain Cabernet
Price: $110
Blend: 100% Cabernet

Randy Dunn founded Dunn Vineyards in 1979 and has been making exceptional wines vintage after vintage ever since. The Dunn style is “old world” in nature emphasizing ripe jammy fruit and nuance as opposed to the high-powered high alcohol wines produced by most in Napa. This concentration on balance and nuance rather than pure power makes these wines true classics.

Mike Dunn

Mike Dunn

The 2003 Cabernet is a perfect example of their classic style. This is a smooth and elegant wine that has aged beautifully and will continue to gain nuance for many more years. The 2003 came across as lighter to us than some of their other vintages and was our favorite of the tasting. Dark rich currant, blackberry, and nuanced hints of cedar and spice are the highlights of this wine. Very food friendly and will pair perfectly with grilled steak or braised beef ribs.

La Jota Vineyards

Named after the original 1844 Mexican land grant Rancho La Jota, this historic winery has been making outstanding wines since it’s inception in the 1890’s by Swiss immigrant Frederick Hess.

Sue Furdek - La Jota Vineyards

Sue Furdek – La Jota Vineyards

La Jota 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet
Price: $75
Blend: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7.5% Cabernet Franc, 1.5% Petit Verdot

Blended from two different Howell Mountain estate vineyards, this elegant but powerful wine was a standout. Dark blackberry, huckleberry, juicy currant abound on the nose and mid. Finish is long with hints of licorice, spice, and cigar box cedar. This is a very age worthy wine and will cellar and gain nuance for many years to come. Their 2000 Cab was a top cellar selection for us. See our review HERE

La Jota 2010 Cabernet Franc
Price: $75
Blend: 94% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon

Although Cab Franc is mostly used for blending, when done right, it can also be delightful all by itself. This is easily one such offering. On the nose nice floral and cedar notes greet with bold but elegant dark raspberry, black cherry, and plum on the mid. Finish has hints of red licorice and cedar. A smooth graceful wine that we really enjoyed.

La Jota 2010 Howell Mountain Merlot
Price: $75
Blend: 100% Merlot

We’ve been big fans of mountain Merlot for some time now. This is another for our list of favorites. On the nose dark blackberry and vanilla greet. The mid is full of lush dark fruit and finishes with subtle hints of chocolate and french roast coffee. Great for grill or braised dishes.

Outpost Estate 2010 Howell Mountain Zinfandel
Price: $48
Blend: 100% Zinfandel

As our readers know, we are huge Outpost fans. This 2010 Zin is yet another favorite from them. Winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown is a master of making mountain Zin. This wine is not as bold as the 2009 but has a soft elegant character to pair with the brambly tannins and spicy pepper on the finish. Lush mountain fruit is in full effect here. Our favorite Zin of the bunch for sure.

Notre Vin 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet
Price: $150
Blend: 96 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 % Merlot, 1.5 % Cabernet Franc, 0.5 % Petit Verdot

A classic old world style wine but with big Howell Mountain fruit puts this firmly in the best of both worlds category. On the nose blackberry and dark cherry gives way to more of both on the mid. Finish is long with hints of dark stone. Great balance and elegance.

Saunter Wines 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet
Price: $110
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Another stunning wine by winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown. This wonderful Cab is a fine example of its source – the Eagle Summit Vineyard toward the top of the mountain. On the nose dark mountain fruit and hints of oaky vanilla lead to big dark mountain blackberry and huckleberry on the mid. Finish is long and refined with hints of Italian roast coffee and cedar.

Red Cap Vineyards 2008/2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet
Price: $65
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Both vintages are fantastic and at $65 are a tremendous value for wines this polished. Big dark fruit and nuance abound with great balance and a lush mouth feel. A huge favorite.

Summit Lake Howell Mountain Zinfandel
Price: $30
Blend: 100% Zinfandel

This is our value pick for the tasting but don’t think for a minute that it lacks as much quality as the other offerings. Dark fruit with the right amount of jammyness for a Zin and a nice punch of pepper on the smooth finish highlights this terrific wine. We also loved the Emily Kestrel Cab. Another fine value and quality wine.

Some New Favorites

W.H. Smith 2010 Howell Mountain Purple Label Cabernet Sauvignon
Price: $64
Blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec

This is our first tasting of W.H. Smith wines and we were knocked off our feet! Bill and Joan Smith purchased the famous ghost winery La Jota in 1976 and began making wine with great success until selling it in 2001. Inspired to create new wine adventures they began the W.H. Smith Winery. The result is this truly stunning Purple Label Cab. Bold mountain huckleberry, plum, and blackberry come together in an elegant and lush wine. Finish is long and refined. This wine is amazing now on release but will gain nuance in the cellar as well. Decant to really make it sing.

Blue Hall Vineyard 2009 Camiana Howell Mountain Cabernet
Price: $75
Blend: 100% Cabernet

This was a surprise on several levels and we love surprises. Dark bold plum and blackberry on the nose with hints of cigar box cedar lead to big lush dark berry on the mid. The finish has a surprising pop of white pepper (unusual for a Cab) and dark chocolate with a nuanced hit of espresso. Fine balance. If you’re looking for a perfect pair to pepper bacon wrapped filet mignon (we are!) then here it is.

Other Favorites
All the wines we tasted were fantastic. We loved the Atlas Peak 2008 Cab, the CADE Estate 2010 Cab and the Clif Family 2010 Cab (a great value at $50). The Spence 2009 Cab is also amazing and is a staple favorite in our cellar.



To Sam, Bob, and all the staff we give our profound thanks for a terrific afternoon of wine music and food. The summer like weather really added the perfect touch to close out the tasting event season for 2013. Winery Chefs and The Hummingbirdz were also amazing and of course the wines were world class. Seems like it will be forever until next time but we’re counting the days until the spring tasting. Very well done everyone!