Howell Mountain Vineyards - Old Vines, Mountain Wines
The first sub appellation in the Napa Valley was Howell Mountain, yet the history goes back well before prohibition. Some of the early plantings flourish today due to dedication to restore what had been planted. Beatty Ranch and Howell Mountain Vineyards showcase that dedication in their wines.
June 9, 2013
It is hard to fully separate Howell Mountain Vineyards from the Howell Mountain – Napa Valley AVA as they have a deep history that binds them together. In 1977 Mike Beatty had purchased some old vineyards near the top of Howell Mountain, well before the AVA system was created and before Napa Valley AVA itself was formalized. Coming from a farming family in Ohio, agriculture was not new, but the vineyards that graced the ranch he purchased were not either, and they were not in great shape.
What was there at the start of Beatty Ranch, were pre prohibition really old neglected vines of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Today many of those head pruned Zinfandel vines are 100 years old or more and a large chunk of the Cabernet Sauvignon (mostly older clone 6) are nearly 50 years old. That they are still in place is tribute to the resurrection farming work Mike put into the vineyards to steward them into the future. Sure some have been replaced, but keeping with what was there was the mission. A very worthy mission indeed.
There was a natural fog line that seemed to break around the 1,400 elevation, remain sunny above to the 2,600 foot top elevations. The region was primarily Aiken Red Loam soils, a decomposed volcanic mix that red grapes adore. This is part of the Vaca Mountain Range on the east side of Napa Valley with the better known Mayacamas to the west.
Today Bryan Kane holds the post of winemaker and is passionate about letting these same vineyards tell their century old story. He focuses on making the wine in the vineyard and being a minimalist in the winery. Careful harvest decisions on ripeness, and it ripens late on Howell Mountain, natural fermentation with native yeast strains that have evolved in the vineyard and patient fermentation are all deployed. The pursuit is balance over power.
Howell Mountain Vineyards makes just two wines today, a single Zinfandel and a single Cabernet Sauvignon. A common thread of dark cherry cola has been described as present in many Howell Mountain Zins and the Howell Mountain Vineyards shows it well.
Want an old vine Napa wine, seek out Howell Mountain Vineyards for the real thing. Knowing these are mountain vineyards that got careful resurrection is a tribute to those who dared to preserve.