“Great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtlety, expression, qualities that keep you coming back for another taste. Rejecting a wine because it is not big enough is like rejecting a book because it is not long enough, or a piece of music because it’s not loud enough”.
Dunn vineyards in Howell Mountain was purchased in 1978 by Randy and Lori Dunn, producing their first vintage subsequently in 1981. A UC Davis graduate with degree in Enology, Randy Dunn, wine maker’s immersion into wine-making commenced with Caymus, Livingston, La Jota, Pahlmeyer, and Palmaz. Currently he also makes wines under the Feather label for the Long Shadow Vintner’s group in Walla Walla, Washington.
Fun Fact: Howell Mountain was Napa Valley’s first sub appellation – 1983. Randy Dunn was one of the founding vintners who laid the groundwork for creating the Howell Mountain AVA along with vintners’ Bill Smith, Mike Beatty and Bob Lamborn.
It takes a village to raise a child. In this case the entire Dunn family is intimately involved and dedicated to producing world-class cellar-worthy wines. Randy founder/owner and wine maker, Lori founder/owner, Mike (son) is the cellar master and assistant wine-maker. Mike started his own wine label with wife Kara called Retro Cellars. Kristina with a BS in Wine & Viticulture holds the title Director of Marketing. Katie Chauncy, honorary family member runs sales, marketing, and distribution.
Our resident traveler, Mr. Mikola was on-site with the lovely Ms. Chauncy to capture the exceptionally unique experience Dunn Vineyards shares with their patrons.
Dunn Vineyards produces two labels, Howell Mountain (2500 cases) and Napa Valley (1500 cases), both 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. All of the vineyards owned by the Dunn family are located on Howell Mountain, birth land of 29 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Trailer Vineyard backbone to Howell Mtn wine replanted in spring 2015. Henry Frank Vineyard managed by Dunn family. Park Muscatine Vineyard also farms Petite Sirah, which Mike uses in his Howell Mountain Retro Cellars. Lake Vineyard the coolest requiring overhead sprinklers for frost protection along with a wind machine. All the wines are aged thirty months in new French Oak and used only once.
Tasting Notes as listed on Dunn’s website.
2011 Dunn Howell Mountain: Dark red cherries, plums, menthol, tobacco, new leather and spices. Hints of lavender and licorice develop in the glass as the wine gradually opens up. In 2011, the Howell Mountain Cabernet offers plenty of depth and resonance, but the tannins are quite tamed by Dunn standards, making it a delicious wine to drink earlier.
2011 Dunn Napa Valley: Sweet red berries, cinnamon, wild flowers, cedar and tobacco are all laced together in a supple, racy Cabernet that is already drinking well. The 2011 is quite delicate today, almost uncharacteristically so. Once again, the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was made entirely from Howell Mountain fruit.
2003 Dunn Howell Mountain: Bright ruby. Very tight and high-pitched on the nose, hinting at cassis, minerals and graphite.Then lush, sweet and impressively concentrated, with densely packed flavors of kirsch, currant and minerals and noteworthy inner-palate energy. Finer-grained than the Napa bottling, with better integration of acids and tannins. Finishes sappy and very long, with a chewy, palate-staining texture.
2002 Dunn Napa Valley: Full ruby-red. Aromas of cassis, graphite, mint and chocolate, plus a whiff of band-aid. Then surprisingly pliant and creamy for a Dunn cabernet, with accessible flavors of currant, licorice and milk chocolate. Finishes with rather suave tannins and some juicy acidity. Suppler and considerably softer than the Howell Mountain bottling.
2011 Howell Mountain Old Vine Petite Syrah by Mike Dunn under his private label Retro. With 90% petite syrah and 10% syrah, aged in 100% new French oak for 30 months, with 12.8% alcohol is super expressive with blue/blackish fruit, lavender, mint, violet and sage overtones.
I find myself inadvertently attracted to mountain fruit. Distinctive climate primarily because of it’s altitude, sun exposure, wide diurnal temperature with cooler days and warm evenings, nutrient poor soils that stress the vines produce small clusters and berries that generates deeply intense wines showcasing an optimum balance between acid and sugar with commanding tannins making them note-worthy cellar contenders.
Mountain Cabernets are like a wise old man with a story to tell…who still remembers his best days, luring you in to listen to his glorious tales and at the same time appreciate the hardships and uniqueness of the road less traveled.
I admire and applaud Mr. Randy Dunn’s iron clad stance of keeping the price tag of his wines under $100 for thirty plus years especially since mountain fruit is considerably more expensive, due in large part to the increased amount of labor required to manage the vineyard from farming, canopy management, to harvesting. (There has a been a recent increase in price since their newest vintage, 2012).
Personally I am a high-acid kind of girl who won’t touch over ripe “fruit bombs” with a pole of stick. Yet another appealing factor of Dunn wines. Mr. Randy Dunn’s relentless pursuit and unyielding courage for producing Cabernet under 14% alcohol might not attract high scores by critics, still maintains a cult-like following. Break open the signature wax seal of a ten to fifteen year Dunn wine, and you will discover a wine that is like an iron cross Olympian with powerful strength and great balance that captures and symbolizes the powerful spirit of Cabernet Sauvignon.
PS: The vineyard tour and wine sampling is limited to only twenty people a week, soo book early – Reservations.
And if you can manage to snag a 1985 or 1991 bottle of Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet, you will truly understand the magic of Dunn’s signature wine-making thumbprint.
Until next time, have a delicious day!!