Visit to Dunn Vineyards – The legendary producer from Howell Mountain

Introduction to Dunn Vineyards

The estate was founded in 1979 by Randy and his wife Lori and they released their first commercial vintage in 1981 (this was the 1979 vintage). Since then they have gained a loyal following and Dunn is one of the names everyone brings up when I ask for recommendations of Napa-based producers matching my preferences for more transparent wines. This is a family business involving their children Mike and Kristina and they own their vineyards around Howell Mountain. They produce one Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain, but also one “Napa Valley” bottling that also includes some fruit from the Napa Valley floor sourced from other vineyards. The exceptions to this rule are the vintages from 2009-2011 that was produced only by Howell Mountain fruit.

When it comes to their vineyards it is worth mentioning that in spring 2014 they replanted their older parcel (Trailer Vineyard) and in the 2013 vintage this fruit was bottled as a single vineyard wine that is not yet released. So the 2012 Howell Mountain is the last vintage including the old vine fruit from Trailer Vineyard.

If you want to read more about their vineyards they have a good presentation on their website: http://www.dunnvineyards.com/vineyards/

During my meeting I met with Ben Hiza (working with all types of tasks, depending on season:), Mike Dunn and briefly with Randy. Their welcoming was amazingly friendly and you can definitely feel that this is a family business with an atmosphere of openness and jokes. We talked about everything from children (I had brought my one year old daughter to the meeting) to politics, differences between Scandinavia and the US, etc., but we also had some time to talk about vineyards, wines and the work in the cellar:)

A few short notes about how Dunn Vineyards produce their wines

  • The fruit is crushed and destemmed
  • Fermentation takes between 10-13 days
  • They press very lightly
  • Malolactic fermentation is done in barrel
  • They use 100% new oak
  • Wines are racked every 6 months
  • The wines are not allowed to go above 14% in alcohol. They take measure in the vineyard to ensure a lower alcohol level, but if needed they will do a de-alcoholization
  • The grapes from Howell Mountain has higher level of tannins than grapes from the Valley floor, but they never try to adjust this. Therefore their wines often are considered rough in the youth
  • Picking decisions are still made by Randy and it is based on tasting the grapes

Tasting notes for the wines from Dunn Vineyards

2011 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Restrained but intense wine with fresh currant notes, especially on palate but also on the nose. There are also some notes of cedar, blackberries and menthol. The acidity is incredibly cool and vibrant and tannins are fine grained but still very grippy. The wine is already approachable but will definitely improve with age and has a long life ahead. Would be very interesting to taste in 15 years from now.

2012 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

On the palate this is a rather lush wine with layers of both dark and red fruit and we find currant, blackberries and some blueberries. The nose is more careful than the palate but we find the same notes. There is a juicy and slightly broad acidity and tannins are sandy and very present. At the moment there are some oak notes but they are well integrated in the wine. I would expect this wine to integrate more with time and it is a great representation of Cabernet Sauvignon.

2010 Retro Cellars Petite Sirah

Very dense and pure fruit notes of mainly dark fruit, containing blackberries, cherries, blueberries. The tannins are grippy but of good quality and there is a juicy acidity. This is a rather fruity and dense wine but still with good balance.

Summary of impressions from the visit to Dunn Vineyards

We only tasted two wines from Dunn and one made by Mike Dunn under the name “Retro Cellars” (http://www.retrocellars.com). Still, these two wines was a great demonstration in how great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can be. The wines are fantastically well balanced and shows both energy and complexity. I have heard several times that the Dunn wines are rough and not approachable in the youth, but my opinion is that the two Howell Mountain wines I tasted are surprisingly approachable already, but they will require some decanting and a food pairing. My personal favorite of the two wines was the 2011 that showed more precision and attitude.
In the future I hope to be able to taste some of the older vintages from Dunn Vineyards. If you are in the Copenhagen region on the 18th of March you have a unique opportunity to taste the vintages between 1979 and 2013 at one of Scandinavias best restaurants, Geranium. Unfortunately I am still in the US then, so I will not be there.

 

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