Napa Valley is well known for its excellent wines. But high in the northeast side of the Napa Valley, above the fog, is the lesser-known Howell Mountain AVA. This region’s wines are produced through a combination of its nutrient-deprived soil (a combination of volcanic ash and red clay), high elevation (above 1,400 feet), generally lower, but relatively constant temperatures (lower than in the valley during the day and higher at night) and relatively high (at least for Napa) rainfall (twice that of the valley). The result: a relatively limited range of grapes that can be effectively grown, but incredibly big and robust cabernets and merlots.
More than 30 wineries poured at the recent spring wine tasting event in San Francisco. While the vast majority of the wines were Cabernets and Bordeaux blends, other varietals including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc were also represented. One winery (Prim Family) even managed to find a particularly cool and shaded parcel of land from which they produced a big, extracted Pinot Noir!
As mentioned, however, the region is best known for its big Cabernets and Cabernet blends. And there were plenty to choose from as many vineyards offered vineyard designates, in addition to their estate wines. Among our personal favorites of the Howell Mountain wines at this event were:
- Bravante Vineyard’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Estate Merlot, 2009 Estate Cabernet Franc and 2009 Estate Cabernet
- Clif Family 2013 Croquet Vineyard Cab;
- Cresta Velia’s 2013 Cabernet;
- Hindsight 2012 Bella Vetta Cabernet;
- Howell at the Moon 2012 Estate and Knoll Mountain Cabernets;
- Howell Mountain Vineyard’s 2012 Cabernet;
- Kris Todd 2009 and 2011 Cabernet;
- O’Shaughnessy 2102 Cabernet;
- Prim Family 2011 Cabernet and 2013 Pinot; and
- Summit Lake 2012 Zinfandel and 2006 Clair Riley’s Pirate Reserve Zinfandel Port (the only port in the tasting).
The venue took place at the Golden Gate Club, the historic, beautiful setting in the Presidio. It is a pleasant, intimate setting that was perfect for the number of wineries.
The event provided a great opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with some wonderful Howell Mountain wines. We only wish that the wines were more in our price range as many of the most complex and interesting Cabernets and Bordeaux blends are priced at $95 a bottle or more—some at $150 (like La Jota 2012 Keyes Vineyard Merlot) and even a $500 1992 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet.
However, we did find some real bargains. These included the 2009 Brevante Estate Cabernet ($75), Hindsight 2012 Bella Vetta Cabernet ($75), Howell Mountain Vineyard’s 2011 Cabernet ($75). If you are looking for Howell Mountain wines significantly below these price levels, you will have to look to other varietals, especially the Zinfandels and the Sauvignon Blancs. But that is one of the big advantage of going to this type of tasting. They provide perfect opportunities to sample and experience many special occasion (at least for us) wines.