Visiting Dunn Vineyards

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Augusto’s Visit to Dunn Vineyards

This post comes from our Wine Director, Augusto Ferrarese, who recently took a vacation to Napa and spent some time on Howell Mountain.

Visiting Dunn Vineyards the past Saturday was a blast. When I made the appointment, Mike, Randy Dunn’s son, told me not to expect the classic Napa winery with bells and whistles. I reassured him that was not what I was looking for. We just wanted to experience one of the most coveted wineries in Napa.

First a little background on Randy Dunn, he’s a long time wine rebel and one of the most iconic producers on Howell Mountain. Ever since his first release in 1979, he’s been producing low alcohol Cabernets in sharp contrast to the decades’ long tendency of picking over ripe grapes with high sugar content. When Randy Dunn first bought land in Angwin, near Howell Mountain, there weren’t many Cabernets coming from that area. Certainly, there were no wines that needed time to properly age and become approachable. Today, nearly 50 years later, it seems a new generation of sommeliers and millennial wine drinkers are abandoning the high alcohol, soul-less Cabernets and rediscovering the pleasure of waiting. Recently, I was reading an article in which a journalist interviewing Randy mentioned he was going to a vertical tasting of 20 vintages of Dunn the day after. In classic form, Randy’s response was, “Let me know if any of them are ready to drink yet.”

It was amazing to meet and spend time with Mike. We walked the property together, a small fenced field with horses and a small barn surrounded by agricultural equipment. It’s a modest compound for such an important producer. The tasting room doubles as the winery’s office, or maybe it’s the other way around? We walked through their caves that were completed in 1989. Mike was a real entertainer – simple, funny, honest, and never pretentious. Our group of eight totally got sucked in by the mystical atmosphere you could feel up on that mountain. Such a special place!

To the wines! We tasted four vintages of Dunn’s ‘Howell Mountain’ Cabernet, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2003, plus some Petit Syrah from Mike’s own label, Retro Cellars. All of the wines were great. The 2003 stood out as my favorite, of course, due to the austerity that the most recent ones weren’t ready yet. I believe that in ‘03 the winery decided to increase the level of new oak to 100% new French Oak.

Upon leaving Dunn, we purchased a Magnum of their 1993 Vintage to bring home for dinner. The wine was really tight at first with a whiff of smoke, campfire and camphor. After opening up, herbal tones, tar, anise, clove and ripe tannins came out in what I would define as a massive Cabernet (with just 13.9% alcohol). While our dinner pairing, ‘pasta all carbonara,’ may not have been the best, the experience certainly was and sometimes that’s all that really matters.

Overall, it was a great day with family and friends, up on the Mountain, in an ancient place that screams of farming and winemaking tradition. We’ll be definitely be back and I encourage you to visit if you’ve never been.

Looking for a bottle of Dunn Vineyards’ Cabernet, 2000 and 2012 are available at CUCINA enoteca Del Mar‘s wine shop.