Napa Valley Mountain Cabernets: More Depth and Individual Character

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  • By Chris Costales
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Napa Valley Mountain Cabernets:  More Depth and Individual Character

The wines of Napa Valley's Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain have always been quite impressive, so I wanted to do a quick recap on what makes these mountainous regions so special.

Howell Mountain

Howell Mountain was the first region to be recognized as an official sub AVA (American Viticultural Area) within the Napa Valley in 1983. Elevation is key as vineyards must be at 1,400 ft elevation to be part of this AVA. While morning fog rolls along the valley floor blanketing vineyards from the sun, the cool high elevation grapes of this region bask in the warm sunshine. Heat spikes that occur right before harvest that push fruit out of balance with an overly stewed quality full of high alcohol potential is less common here, helping to achieve a great vintage year after year.


One producer that consistently releases amazing Cabernet Sauvignons from Howell Mountain is Dunn Vineyards (pictured below) which began in 1978 when owner Randy purchased 14 acres on the mountainside with a small parcel already planted to Cabernet. His style of darker fruit mixed with floral currant aromatics along with a dusty earthy quality quickly became a hit with wine lovers.  Today the Dunn family continues their legacy of quality mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with daughter Kristina, a graduate of winemaking and viticulture with Cal Poly and stepson Mike taking over the day to day operations with Randy still the heart and soul of his Howell Mountain Estate.

Spring Mountain

Spring Mountain shares many characteristics in common with Howell Mountain such as low vigor, and well drained soils that receive much of their rainfall during the winter dormant season for the grapevines. This helps to lower disease pressures such as mildew that can occur in regions that receive rainfall in the summer growing months.


The cooler elevation here comes across as refreshing red fruit with crisp acidity in the Cabernet Sauvignon from Spring Mountain.  The tannin profile in these wines also is more robust which combined with the elevated acidity can make for an impressively cellar worthy Cabernet.

Smith Madrone Vineyards (pictured here) has been a steady producer for this mountain AVA since its founding in 1971 by Stuart Smith. Vineyards here are dry farmed on steep sloped elevations from 1,300 to 2,000 ft.  For anyone who hasn’t had the Cabernet Sauvignon from this producer before, make sure to try one soon by coming to our upcoming Napa Mountain Cab tasting as the wine is a refreshing lower alcohol break from the big jammy Cabernet largely being produced from the Napa Valley floor today.


We hope to see you as this tasting on Friday August 23rd is sure to impress with these great producers and others like Stony Hill and Cade.  $55 starting at 7:30, please call to make reservations at (562) 597-8303.


Enjoy these Cabs to get a preview:



This wine is a blast from Napa Valley past with its elegance and long-term cellaring potential. Stony Hill started planting vineyards on their Spring Mountain estate in 1948, inspired by the white wines of Burgundy. Customer demand for a red convinced them to plant 5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon at their highest vineyard known as the Top Block in 2004. Farming and winemaking follow the same low alcohol, lean terroir expressive style that first made them famous for their white wines.  High elevation fruit of red and black cherry and crisp acidity drive this wine with violet, graphite, dried herbs and leather aromas.

$65.99 per bottle



Named in tribute to the Smith brothers who have been farming this 100 yr old ranch for nearly 40 years, and the majestic Madrone trees that dot the property, this small production venture pumps out elegant and balanced wines from 100% estate fruit. This wine is such a great value: Napa mountain fruit for this price?! The entry is lovely with just ripe blackberry and a little cassis and boysenberry, violet, lavender, and a dried herb, woodsy cedar. This wine is richer than the 2011, but still maintains great acidity and a medium plus body. This a great Cab for the money with plenty of stuffing, pretty layers, and complexity!

$50.99 per bottle



The consistent quality of CADE since its start in 2005 has won the winery many awards and adoring fans. High elevation vineyards in Howell Mountain provide natural acidity and concentrated black fruit character but the wine drinks polished with a supple velvety texture with just a short decant. Cedar spice, cocoa nib and licorice provide a wonderful assortment of aromas and flavors. The winery is the first in Napa Valley to be LEED Gold Certified with a 67% reduction in water consumption and almost all energy needs provided by solar panels. Small amounts of Merlot (11%), Malbec (7%) and Petit Verdot (5%) were added for increased flavor, texture and complexity. 19 months of barrel aging in 79% new French oak.

$103.99 per bottle



Winemaker Randy Dunn saw an opportunity to purchase a small property in Howell Mountain in 1978 that was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine he would craft from this high elevation vineyard would go on to be in high demand, selling out each vintage due to its dark fruit character, lifted floral aromas and a dusty earthy minerality to balance the blackberry and mocha mouthfeel. Today Dunn Vineyards is a family business with daughter Kristina graduating with a winemaking and viticulture degree. This vintage is unique in that the tannins are much softer and easier for the wine being this young. The wine is aged for 32 months in 100% French oak barrels.

$145.99 per bottle


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