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Howell Mountain
A Harmonious Interplay Between Terroir and Tradition


Published On: April 05, 2024
view of Duckorn vineyards
Duckhorn vineyards. Photo courtesy of Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association

Atop the fog line draped over Napa Valley, the Howell Mountain AVA commands attention on the northern frontier of the Vaca Range around the town of Angwin. Spanning elevations from 1,400 to 2,200 feet, its rugged topography and volcanic soils epitomize terroir-driven winemaking. Blessed with a microclimate ideal for nurturing wines of unparalleled depth and complexity, the region’s cool temperatures and generous sunlight allow grapes to ripen slowly, yielding wines with concentrated flavors and impeccable balance.

For generations, Howell Mountain has been a haven for pioneering winemakers who embrace the challenges and rewards of mountain viticulture. But long before the first vines were planted, Howell Mountain stood untouched. Its towering peaks and rocky slopes endured centuries of geological upheaval. It left behind a landscape rich in mineral deposits and fertile soil until the mid-1800s when settlers began to carve out homesteads and established small farms amidst the rugged terrain.

Among these early settlers was a man named Jacob Howell, the namesake of the mountain itself. Howell saw the potential of the land for agriculture and began planting vineyards on the mountain slopes. As the years passed, more and more vineyards began to dot the landscape of Howell Mountain, including the families of La Jota and W. H. Smith, who recognized the region’s unique terroir and devoted themselves to cultivating grapes.

Sam Peters, Executive Director for the Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association (HMVGA), offered praise to Jean Adolph Brun and Jean V. Chaix— two experienced vintners who planted hundreds of acres of vineyards and were among the most successful local wine businesses during the boom of the 1880s. At the 1889 Paris World Competition, the Howell Mountain region made history when Brun & Chaix won a bronze medal for a red wine produced from Howell Mountain. The momentum of Howell Mountain’s awards continued until Prohibition shuttered the wineries.

Regaining momentum in 1983, Howell Mountain received official recognition as the first sub-appellation designated within the larger Napa Valley AVA, thanks partly to Bill Smith’s pioneering research. His work helped to define the boundaries of the AVA and showcase the unique characteristics of its terroir that would produce unparalleled Cabernet Sauvignon.

Central to its identity is the volcanic soil, a testament to the area’s tumultuous geological past. Rich in minerals and well-drained, these rocky soils impart a distinct character to the wines— marked by robust tannins, pronounced acidity, and a profound sense of place— forming the cornerstone of Howell Mountain’s winemaking tradition and home to some of the most prestigious wineries in Napa Valley. From the iconic Tom Eddy Winery to the historic Charles Krug Winery, each producer brings their own unique style and vision to the mountain’s wines.

Tom Eddy Winery, helmed by winemaker Tom Eddy, produces two Cabernet Sauvignons sourced from Howell Mountain grapes. Summit Lake Vineyard, perched atop Summit Lake, and Great Oak Vineyard near Pacific Union College offer distinct flavor profiles, highlighting the mountain’s diversity. Winemaker Tom Eddy utilizes both vineyards to exhibit different flavor profiles for his wines and is set to release his first vintage from Great Oak.

“I’m pleased to have secured opportunities to harvest from both Summit Lake Vineyards and Great Oak Vineyard,” he shared. “From the red soil at Summit delivering powerful structure and complexity to the cooler sections of the mountain at Great Oak enlisting bright black cherry nuances, we have nothing but exciting wines that are long-lived.” // www.tomeddywinery.com


interior of wine cave at Tom Eddy Winery

Tom Eddy Winery cave // Photo by Chuck Harrity

Charles Krug Winery, located in St. Helena, acquired Cold Springs Vineyard on Howell Mountain in 2004, harnessing its fruit to enhance the body and structure of its wines. The estate’s Howell Mountain wine, part of the Family Reserve, epitomizes the region’s concentration and intensity.

“It was love at first sight,” said Angelina Mondavi, Charles Krug consulting winemaker. “What makes Howell Mountain stand apart is the microclimate in our vineyard, a 200-foot elevation differential from the top to the bottom of the vineyard, further enhancing and amplifying the wine with our one acre planted solely with Petite Verdot.”

The winemaking artistry begins in the vineyard before the estate-grown Family Reserve Howell Mountain wine is bottled, labeled, and distributed nationally in limited production. “The concentration, the intensity, and the tannin structure make Howell Mountain rival the elite in the world,” said Mondavi. “Since we first purchased and developed our Cold Springs Vineyard, we used this Howell Mountain fruit to increase body and structure in our valley floor wines, but we also craft a wine as a single vineyard.”

Within the Charles Krug portfolio of wines, no two are alike, thanks to access to myriad Cabernet Sauvignon clones. This blending adds to the complexity and personality of their wines. // www.charleskrug.com

Celebrated for its single vineyard wines’ depth, concentration, and intensity, a pour of HALL Wines Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon unveils aromas of ripe blackberry and dark chocolate. On the palate, the same fruit compote and well-integrated tannins lead to a graceful finish with a hint of crushed rock and iron minerality. // www.hallwines.com


Moone Tsai in Howell Mountain Cold Springs Vineyard at sunset

Moone Tsai – Howell Mountain Cold Springs Vineyard at sunset // Photo courtesy of Moone-Tsai Wines


Crafted by their winemaker-collaborator, Philippe Melka, Moone-Tsai Wines upholds Howell Mountain’s prowess in crafting world-class Cabernet Sauvignon while also exploring the terroir’s potential with other varietals, including Merlot, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. The 2019 Moone-Tsai Howell Mountain Hillside Blend is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes harvested 2,200 feet above the Napa Valley floor. // www.moonetsai.com

Paraduxx winery’s Howell Mountain Red Wine, sourced from Stout Vineyard, highlights the region’s iconic red volcanic soil and steep slopes, resulting in a rich, age-worthy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Cardiff Scott-Robinson, Paraduxx Winemaker, shared, “Wines from Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain sub-appellation are distinctive and highly regarded. With its iconic red volcanic soil and steep slopes, this vineyard embodies the essence of Howell Mountain.” // www.paraduxx.com

Duckhorn Vineyards echoed the sentiment, praising Howell Mountain’s distinctive Cabernets for their density and structure. Duckhorn Vineyards Vice President of Winemaking, Renée Ary, shared how “working with the wines is relatively easy. It’s all about allowing the natural beauty to shine through while polishing the wild tannins to create a balanced, age-worthy wine.” // www.duckhorn.com

Beyond its viticultural significance, Howell Mountain’s winding roads lead to a tapestry of vineyards that seem to touch the heavens. High above the Napa Valley floor, this AVA is where the air is crisp, and panoramic views of the valley below are breathtaking.

To taste the outstanding wines of Howell Mountain, the 29th annual Taste of Howell Mountain event will be held at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena on June 15th. For tickets, visit: www.howellmountain.org


Howell Mountain Member Wineries

Designated an AVA in 1983, Howell Mountain owes much of its recognition to the research spearheaded by Bill Smith, formerly of La Jota, and later W. H. Smith Wines. A unique aspect of the Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association is that in addition to promoting its member vineyards and wineries, part of its mission is to raise money for community needs. For a complete list of Howell Mountain wineries and upcoming events, visit www.howellmountain.org

map of Howell Mountain