Honest Howell Mountain Cabernet

A family-owned winery located on Howell Mountain, Dunn Vineyards may be Napa Valley’s best analogy to a Bordeaux Grand Cru but operated by a man with all the pretense of a humble, countryside vigneron. Like great Bordeaux, the wines are consistent in quality; deep with dark fruit and earthy flavors; chewably tannic, moderately alcoholic and refreshingly acidic – that is to say elegant, structured and honest. They are aged for up to 30 months, primarily in new French oak, and they reward patient cellaring. Dunn offers just two bottlings: Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (the “grand vin” – austere when young but built to last) and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (the “second label” – more approachable with the inclusion of around 15% valley fruit). Unlike many Napa wineries, there’s no edifice grander than a cave bored deep into the mountain, no tasting room, and marketing or sales staff. Almost all the work is carried out by Dunn, his wife, Lori, and his son and daughter. Sadly, there isn’t very much wine, for Dunn Vineyards produces less than 5,000 cases per year.   

In 1978, when Randy purchased five acres of abandoned old vines on Howell Mountain, it may have looked like new territory for Napa Valley viticulture. After all, most of the local community belonged to the non-drinking Seventh-Day Adventist Church. But in the 1890s, Howell Mountain had more vineyard in the than even today, and a “La Jota Red” made by the Liparita Winery won the gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1899. At the core of Dunn’s Cabernets is the unique terroir of the Howell Mountain. The vineyards in this AVA begin just above the fog line at 1400 feet (400 meters), and average temperatures are cooler (because of the high elevation and afternoon winds) than the valley below. On the other hand, summer mornings are sunny and evenings pleasantly warm. The soils, consisting of compressed, white volcanic ash as well as volcanic loam and red clay, retain little water. The grapes are “stressed” into producing tight clusters of berries with thick skins that yield rich tannins. Full bodied red wines, principally Cabernet and Merlot, are the main produce of Howell Mountain vineyards. Some vintners work with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and a small number try their hand at Chardonnay and Viognier. Randy Dunn may appreciate the effort to diversify, but he sticks with what he knows best: Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine Maker

Mike Dunn





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Wines from this Winery

2017 Dunn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The difference between Dunn Napa Valley and Dunn Howell Mountain is that the former contains a small amount of fruit from the valley floor in a wine that is largely sourced from the estate vineyard on Howell Mountain. Both wines age for the same 32 months in 100% new French oak. Nevertheless, Randy Dunn believes the Napa Valley is usually more approachable when young. The 2017 Napa Valley is brilliant. Focused, precise, layered and complex, it’s a wine not to be missed. Antonio Galloni called this wine “a total knock-out. What a wine!” And he continued, “in some recent vintages, the Napa Valley Cabernet has been a bit light, but in 2017 it boasts tremendous richness, power and depth. Plush dark fruit, gravel, dried herbs and spice all flesh out in a decidedly intense, kicked up Napa Cabernet. Give it a few years for the baby fat to melt away. This is such an impressive wine.”

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¥17,600 (incl. tax)
2014 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Rich, earthy, firm and age-worthy, Dunn’s venerable Howell Mountain Cabs are the product of vineyards planted in nutrient-poor, well-drained, volcanic soils. The balance of fruit, acidity and substantial tannins makes for a wine that can provide pleasure for decades. On the other hand, recent vintages, made under the leadership of the son, Mike Dunn, appear slightly softer and more approachable. As noted by Antonio Galloni, “The 2014 has all the Dunn signatures in its flavor profile, but in the mid-weight style of the year. This is an especially restrained, young wine for Dunn with far less of the tannic heft that readers familiar with these wines are likely to expect.” If you do choose to open a bottle sooner than later, be sure to decant for a couple hours before serving. 

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¥24,750 (incl. tax)
2017 Dunn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (1.5L)