An Unusually Approachable Dunn Howell Mountain Cab

Today’s Story: Dunn Vineyards

Dunn Vineyards dates to 1979 when Randy and Lori Dunn purchased a 14 acre parcel in Angwin with about 5 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Randy worked as a winemaker in Rutherford for his day job, he spent the nights and weekends with Lori and their young son Mike farming their vines. The Dunn family also farmed Harry Frank’s adjacent vineyards and purchased the fruit resulting in a first harvest of 9 tons of fruit. With an additional purchase of 3 tons from Beatty Ranch, the Dunn’s were on their way to producing their first vintage.

The family moved onto their property shortly thereafter with another young child, Jennifer, and Dunn Vineyards was officially bonded in 1981. After their second daughter, Kristina, was born, Randy was still working in Rutherford when the winery’s success picked up and encouraged him to leave his job in 1985 to move into a new family house and put all of their effort into Dunn Vineyards. By the late 1980s, Randy was consulting for other wineries, their wine was selling out, and the family needed to burrow into the mountain in 1989 to create more room for barrels.

Mike returned in 1999 and three years later became a full-time employee at Dunn Vineyards and after Kristina graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in winemaking and viticulture she joined as well. Today, Kristina’s daughters play in the vineyards and Mike’s son helps bottle the wines, making it seem the family tradition at Dunn Vineyards is set to continue into three generations and beyond. Today, the family farms 42 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon high up on Howell Mountain and the resulting wines are elegant yet profound and built for cellaring.

I previously reviewed the 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Dunn, which is a generally more accessible bottling made from mountain and valley floor fruit.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.9% ABV (though it seems like it’s actually slightly higher)

The 2011 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color and opaque. Given a couple hours to decant, this wine blossoms into a complex and approachable bottling. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, anise, menthol, lavender, leather, tobacco, and chocolate. There’s a touch of brett as well but not enough to detract. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of black cherry, plum, blueberry, blackberry, dried tobacco, menthol, licorice, dried green herbs, and a touch of oak-driven spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $160 (I paid $112). I’ve long been a fan of Dunn’s wines, and I think they offer solid value next to their counterparts in other mountain AVAs and especially those on the valley floor. Though you have to be very patient with the Howell Mountain bottlings, this 2011 was rather approachable given the vintage conditions and I will certainly try to buy more.

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