February 28, 2023
Note: The article excerpted below was originally published in Robb Report and can be found here.
“The 9 Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons From the Storied Howell Mountain Appellation”
by Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
Long before the 1976 Judgment of Paris put Napa Valley’s vinous treasure on the wine world map, bottles from Howell Mountain were taking home medals at international contests. In 1889, a wine made by Jean Adolph Brun and Jean V. Chaix, pioneers in what is now the high-altitude AVA in the northeast of the valley took home a bronze medal from the Paris World Competition. Ten years later, two other early hillside settlers, W.S. Keyes and Frederick Hess, were awarded gold and bronze medals, respectively, for their Howell Mountain wines. It took almost another hundred years for official government recognition; in 1983 Howell Mountain was named the first AVA within the greater confines of the Napa Valley AVA.
What sets this small American Viticultural Area near Saint Helena apart from many other wine regions is that its perimeter is delineated not just by geographic borders but by altitude: All vineyards must be a minimum of 1,400 feet above sea level. And while many wines from Napa and neighboring Sonoma benefit from cooling Pacific fog that rolls in each morning, Howell Mountain’s vines sit above the fog line, offering full sunlight throughout the day. Mountain conditions create berries with thick skin, offering a higher peel to juice ratio and stronger tannins. At the same time, cooler temperatures at higher altitudes aid in retaining acidity; this balanced tannin and acidity create wines that are made to last. That said, picking at perfect ripeness and a judicious use of oak means that while these will age beautifully for years, no one would fault you for opening a bottle now. Back in the day, Howell Mountain wine was likely to be Zinfandel, but today its vineyards are mainly planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties for blending. Among the region’s 66 member vineyards and wineries you will find familiar faces with national distribution and small volume cult wines that take a little work to acquire. Here’s a selection of Cabs to get you started…
The name Dust & Glory is to honor founder Flora Komes who often used this phrase borrowed from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This delightful wine is purple ink colored when poured from the bottle with very concentrated aromas of blueberry, cassis and dark chocolate. It has flavors of black plum, blackberry and a touch of bramble. The tannins are plush yet firm and the lingering finish has notes of cedar, smoke and mocha. Enjoy now until 2029.
This is the second vintage of our Dust & Glory Cabernet Sauvignon from the Howell Mountain AVA, the first new Single Vineyard Cabernet to be added to our portfolio in over two decades. We always admired the wines of Howell Mountain, an appellation that sits to the east of St. Helena in the Vaca Mountain range. But we also learned that growing fruit on Howell Mountain comes with its challenges; the grapes are typically late-ripening and the tannins can be overwhelming. But as John and Nat Komes explored and experimented, they identified a wine from one of the highest elevation sites in the AVA that met their criteria, a beautifully expressive mountain Cabernet, distinct from our other Single Vineyards but no less prized.
Why Dust & Glory? Read more.