Fall 2023 Release Wines
A Note from Elton Slone |
Dear Cabernet Clubber,
In this business, you never stop learning. I was honored to be selected as the moderator of a panel of Howell Mountain founding fathers this week in celebration of the founding of the Howell Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) forty years ago in 1983, making it the first of sixteen “nested AVA’s” currently within the Napa Valley. Napa Valley was established as California’s first official AVA just two years earlier in 1981. Fun fact. On the panel was Randy Dunn of Dunn Family Vineyards, Mike Beatty of Howell Mountain Wines and Bob Brakesman of Summit Lake Vineyards. They were convinced forty years ago that Howell Mountain was unique, and as in Bordeaux, this appellation should be formally recognized by the United States government and the world. Chris Carpenter, winemaker for La Jota, Cardinale and Lokoya wines for the Jackson family’s Spire Collection, was also on hand to speak about the 125th anniversary of La Jota Winery and the historical significance of the wines grown on Howell Mountain since the late 1800’s.
I asked (brilliant) questions to the panelists such as: “What is the defining characteristic of Howell Mountain terroir?”, “Why do these wines demonstrate such age-worthiness?”, “What are the biggest challenges and greatest rewards in farming in such marginal sites?”,” Why did you decide to found the AVA?” “Why the 1400’ of elevation requirement?”,” Naked or with suits in Mike Beatty”s hot tub? (After finishing drawing boundaries on the topo maps on his kitchen table)?”, “Who is your least favorite producer on Howell Mountain?” I couldn’t get any bites on that last one. The discussion flowed, and the three founders present (sadly absent were founders Bob Lamborn, Bob March, Bill Smith, and Gary McConnell) took us on a journey back to when there were 400 acres under vine on the mountain as opposed to the roughly 1,800 acres currently planted.
Chris Carpenter spoke about how unique the Howell Mountain AVA is in terms of the minerality, tannin and acid in the wines, even when compared to great vineyards with which he works on Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain, and Diamond Mountain. From 1890 when Chaix and Brune struck Bronze at the World Wine Competition in Paris with their Howell Mountain Red from what became Ladera, and then Cade 13th recently, to 1904 when Hess and W.S. Keyes of La Jota took silver at the Paris Expo against the best of Bordeaux, Howell Mountain has kept its place at the top rung of the Napa Valley, and the world, for intense, complex, long-lived wines.
After the panel wrapped up, the fifty wine directors and sommeliers and the 15 or so press present mingled with 20 different Howell Mountain producers and enjoyed wine and small bites. I took time to taste all of the wines there, ranging in price from $350 to $45, while Scott and Jason manned the Craig table. It was thrilling to taste the range of wines; from La Jota 2011 Cabernet to Dunn 1993 Cabernet to our own 2009 Cabernet (stunning), the wines were singing and my nerve-wracking time on the panel was complete. Could a French Dip (the world’s best) at Rutherford Grill with Jason and Scott be in the cards? Why yes, it could.
A year into my wine career in 1990, an odd bottle of La Jota Cabernet 1985 was propped outside of a full case where I was doing a physical inventory count in the warehouse of National Wine and Spirits in Indianapolis. My boss, Mike Pyle, said, “Take this, and show some customers. This Howell Mountain wine is ser-i-ous shit.” I’ve not forgotten how that bottle of Bill Smith’s produce tasted when I opened it up for my people at St Elmo Steakhouse back in Indianapolis. It was just so dark and savage and unlike anything I had tried from Napa at that time. It was a revelation. I went on to be a fan of their extraordinary viognier as well. The winery sold to Markham soon after followed by a sale to KJ and a welcome return to the standard that Bill Smith set long ago. Though I do miss the wild, untamed streak that ran through Bill’s wines, that high elevation wine put the hook in me for all time. Here I am, producing the stuff thirty-three years later at the summit of Howell Mountain.
Enjoy these Howell Mountain wines from us in the spirit that they are offered. They show how the mountain despite its ups and downs, can create unrivaled qualities in perfect conditions, classic conditions, and challenging ones. The 2009 Robert Craig Howell Mountain Cabernet and the 2011 La Jota Cabernet reminded me of how great Howell Mountain can be when the vintage chips are down, and so it is with the 2020 and the tiny bit of fruit that came in before the flames hit. The 2016 is a cellared classic that is showing beautifully after seven years, and a treat for our clubbers at current release pricing. As for the 2019 Stick, well, don’t pass on that one. It’s a towering stunner from an iconic vintage with all the trappings of greatness. There’s even a bit of Cote de Craig available for the few that come first.
I’m not too far away from having a moderator ask me some questions about Howell Mountain on a stage after twenty years of slugging it out with mother nature (and an asshole or two from the county). I love all of the mountain wines that we make, but Howell Mountain is first in my heart. It’s our blood of the stones, or “Sange de Cailloux” as they say in France. I look forward to your reaction to these fantastic wines, and I look forward to seeing you soon in downtown Napa or up on the mountain. Truly, there’s no place like Howell.
Love and Peace,
Fall Release Wines
Available to Members Only October 1-31, 2023
2020 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon | Retail: $118
When the temperatures soared in September on Howell Mountain, the early ripening blocks on Candlestick Ridge Vineyard and at the Winery Estate Vineyard needed to be picked and processed. The Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec that hit the crush pad was deeply colored and high in tannins and acidity. In other words, the wine had excellent structure. After a careful ferment that Jason managed with an eye on preventing harsh tannin extraction, the resulting wine has proved to be a classic rendition of Howell Mountain Cabernet featuring red stone minerality, thorny vine black fruit accents and suppleness in the mid palate.
2016 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon | Retail: $118
Although it is painful to part with our seven-year-old library selection, it makes us all excited here at the winery to send our best customers an extraordinary Howell Mountain wine that has been perfectly cellared for immediate enjoyment. The 2016 Howell Mountain Cabernet will certainly go another decade plus in a good cellar, but it is showing beautifully right now. The initially hard tannin and tight fruit have released into a wine with harmonious density and weight in the mid palate and a perfume of dark mountain violet, red stones and mint. Enjoy this privilege of membership while we look forward to the return of Mount Veeder next year.
Optional Fall Wine
2019 “The Stick” Candlestick Ridge Estate Blend | Retail: $165
Our 2019 “The Stick” from Candlestick Ridge Vineyard is simply a tour-de-force Howell Mountain red wine.The wine is a giant in its scale without ever losing its Craig polish or precision. The 2019 vintage was close to perfection on Candlestick featuring a long, moderate growing season where the low-yield clusters progressed in ideal fashion. The explosive, black mountain fruit is coupled with an exuberant bouquet of exotic floral and mineral notes. Do not miss this opportunity to acquire one of the very best reds to be produced in the Napa Valley. As a Club member, you receive the first opportunity to bring “The Stick” home to your cellars and tables.
Enjoy First Access to All New Releases
Craig Cabernet Club Members get first dibs on all New Release Wines, plus special member pricing & shipping offers. Join the waitlist to learn when membership is available.