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

DUNN Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Both of Dunn’s Cabernets are 100% Cab and aged 32 months in 100% new French oak. But the Napa Valley bottling, which combines Howell Mountain fruit with some smaller percentage from the valley floor, is known for being softer and more approachable than the Howell Mountain. But 2019 looks to have been a special vintage. Rating the wine 93+, Antonio Gallioni called it “a powerful, tannic wine… a bruiser… (in which) swaths of tannin wrap around a core of dark fruit, gravel, spice, dried flowers, lavender and charred earth are pushed forward, with firm, chocolaty tannins that wrap it all together.” You may want to lay this one down for a few years. If you can’t wait, decant and give it time to open up. It should taste great with a rib-eye steak, Wagyu beef, or roasted portobello mushrooms.

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¥24,200 (incl. tax)
DUNN Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

#6 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2023! The 2019 Dunn Howell Mountain is making critics swoon! Vinous (98): “Outrageously beautiful… dazzles right out of the gate.” Jeb Dunnuck (98): “Incredible aromatics of pure créme de cassis, scorched earth, graphite, bouquet garni, and hints of plum, it hits the palate with full-bodied richness carrying ultra-fine tannins, a flawless sense of balance and purity, and incredible length.” On the other hand, it’s worth knowing that the 2019 Howell Mountain is less of a tannic monster than in years past. While a few years of cellaring is highly recommended, you no longer need to consider it a wine best left to a future generation. 

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¥39,600 (incl. tax)
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DUNN Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain (1.5L)

Grown in well-drained, volcanic soils at high elevation, Dunn’s Howell Mountain Cabernet is well-known for being rich, earthy, firm, and age-worthy. Indeed, the signature tannins may lead some to regret opening a bottle that’s under ten years old. On the other hand, recent vintages, made by second-generation Mike Dunn are often described as slightly softer and more approachable. Nevertheless, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate describes the 2018 as “a typically long-term proposition, coated in dusty tannins and cedary oak. It will take time for the cassis, blueberry and slightly pine-scented backbone of this wine to emerge, as for the moment it's almost difficult to taste. Yes, the concentration is present, the tannins are almost silky-ripe, but the structure of this medium to full-bodied wine is unassailable. Hands off for at least five years, and probably more, to judge by how past vintages have evolved.”

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¥74,800 (incl. tax)