If you like powerful, tannic Cabernet that can age gracefully for many years then head up over the clouds into Napa’s first sub-AVA, Howell Mountain.
Howell Mountain Wines to Know
This area is off the beaten track, nestled about 1,400 ft (425 m) above sea level, though there are vineyards as high as 2,500 ft (762 m).
This means that all the vineyards sit above the fog that covers the valley floor many days of the year. This, mixed with the well-drained red, iron-rich soils and the decomposed volcanic ash soils makes for some very powerful Cabernet Sauvignon.
The berries of these grapes are tiny with very thick skins, meaning you get deeply colored wines that are considered some of the most concentrated and age-worthy in all of Napa Valley. They are also very high in tannin, though the tannins tend to be silky.
Flavors range from ripe blackberry, herbal and floral notes, cigar box, and intense minerality.
There are other grape varieties grown here too, try out Malbec, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Franc.
Notable Wineries in Howell Mountain AVA
Robert Craig has the highest winery in the area at 2,300 ft, and the highest vineyard is Black Sears at 2,500 ft. Robert Craig is a mountain AVA specialist.
La Jota was one of the first wineries to plant in this area in the late 1800s.
Dunn - 100% Cabernets with almost 3 years in oak - iconic producer with a very unmistakable earthy style.
Howell Mountain Terroir
There are two key things to note about Howell Mountain terroir:
All vineyards sit above the fog layer that blankets the valley below.
There’s a mixture of volcanic ash (tufa) and iron-rich red soils.
What’s that mean?
Being above the fog and sitting at 1,400 ft or higher means that the daytime temperatures are cooler (elevation) but the diurnal range isn’t as high (nighttime temps don’t drop that much because of lack of fog). This means that we get ripe flavors, and can achieve delicate floral and herbal notes in the wines.
Lack of fog and elevation also means we get higher UV levels - the grapes produce thicker skins and that means more color and tannin for us.
What about the soils?
These are pretty nutrient-poor and thin, which means the vines struggle - making tiny berries that are mega concentrated.
These two things combined create ultra-concentrated grapes with thick skin. Result? Concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon, with ripe fruit flavors, big-yet-silky tannins, and the potential to evolve for decades.
Howell Mountain AVA Facts
- Vineyards and Wineries in Howell Mountain have to be above 1,400 feet (427 m) to be considered part of the AVA.
- Howell Mountain AVA is 14,000 acres with 1,500 acres planted.
- Howell Mountain AVA was established in December 1983 – the first sub-AVA of Napa Valley.
- The two main soil types on Howell Mountain are decomposed volcanic ash and red clay.
- There are 47 wineries located within the Howell Mountain AVA.