Dunn Vineyards: Howell Mountain, and Napa Valley

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020 — We are excited to present this month a tasting of Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the early 2000s.  These are the epitome of Napa Cabs, beginning to reach maturity, combining power and elegance without the excesses of alcohol and American oak that engulf many cult Napa “cocktail wines”. No Eagles are harmed in the production of these wines!

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Dunn is one of the oldest Napa wineries.  Randy Dunn purchased his first vineyards to be the nucleus of his estate on Howell Mountain in 1978, just a couple of years after the famous “Judgement of Paris” tasting that served notice to the world of the quality of Napa  Cabs (and Chardonnays).  It truly was a different world back then.  This was no California lawyer vanity project; after graduating from UC Davis he learned winemaking at a number of top tier wineries particularly as winemaker at Caymus, but also at Pahlmeyer and La Jota before starting his own venture.

Randy Dunn’s philosophy is that wine should have a sense of place.  His regard for terroir shows in the bottle, as well as his management and preservation of his estates.  They own far more land on Howell Mountain than is planted to vines so as to protect the environment. This informative article has more information on the winery and Randy Dunn and his role in preserving Howell Mountain.

The first vintage from Dunn vineyards was 1981.  Over the years Dunn has established a stellar reputation.   For example, Parker gave the 2003 Howell Mountain Cabernet 95 points, writing “Rich with surprisingly soft tannin, this dense plum/ruby/purple-colored 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits lots of briary mountain fruit, blackberries, blueberries and cassis, outstanding purity, full-bodied power, and nicely integrated tannin. There is no evidence of toasty oak to be found in this beauty from Randy Dunn. Drink it now or cellar it for 15+ years. It finished at 13.8% natural alcohol.”   Parker’s notes on all the wines are reproduced below.

Another measure of the very high regard that collectors have for these wines is their current price.  Over the last decade and a half these wines have doubled in value, with Howell Mountain fetching over $200 Canadian (before taxes or shipping), and current releases are priced similarly.  Mid 2017 was the last time Dunn wines were offered through the LCBO. At that time, the 2013 Dunn Napa Valley sold for $160 per bottle and the 2013 Howell Mountain sold for $260 a bottle.

The focus of the winery is almost entirely on Cabernet Sauvignon, with two principal cuvées: Howell Mountain, and Napa Valley; both are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The former is the flagship, exclusively from their own estate and built for aging, the latter includes about 15% fruit from Napa Valley floor, giving a softer style that is accessible earlier – although it’s definitely age-worthy as well.

This being Toronto Winetasters, we will, of course, be pouring both cuvées – from 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 vintages.   All four were excellent in Napa, Berry Bros rating them 8/10 and Parker gave the Howell Mountain 89, 95, 94 and 94 points respectively in those years.   The wines are entering their mature phase and will be revealing their true magnificence while still having many years ahead of them.

One of our Directors, Victor Rudik, assisted by Kim Berdusco, will lead through this exciting tasting.

To kick the evening off, we will, in addition, be pouring a reception wine, Domaine Chandon Brut (keeping the California connection), which will give everyone a chance to mingle before the tasting proper.

This should be an excellent tasting of iconic wines.  If you love classic Napa Cab you cannot miss this tasting!  If you are new to Napa Cabs and want to learn what they are really about, you cannot afford to miss this tasting!







Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Limit: 120 people
Members: $150 including HST of $17.25*
Guests: $200 including HST of $23.01*

*Also includes Eventbrite processing fee of 2% + C$0.59 per ticket

North York Memorial Community Hall
5110 Yonge St. (under the library)
North York Centre Subway

GST/HST account: 844742619 RT0001
Business Name: Winetasters Society of Toronto

Refunds net of Eventbrite fee up to 7 days before the event. Inquiries, cancellations — (Cindy Taylor, 416.458.3147 evenings only). No reservations by phone, please. First, come basis with a priority for members.


Here are Robert Parker’s notes on these wines:

2002 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley

The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa reveals muted aromatics of mossy earth and herbs. In the mouth, the wine is medium-bodied and well-balanced with crisp acidity, but it does not possess the depth or richness one expects from top vintages of this iconic brand. The Napa Cuvee will last for another decade, but I do not believe it will improve. Robert M. Parker, Jr. 86 points

2003 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley

The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa, which all comes from Howell Mountain, possesses deep, dark, primordial, blackberry and cassis fruit intermixed with notes of flowers and minerals. It is impressively built, rich, and intense with the gorgeous fruit purity evident in all the Dunn Cabernets. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2020+. Robert M. Parker, Jr. 90-92 points

2004 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley

I don’t know whether it’s me, the vintage character, or whether Randy Dunn and his son have intentionally softened their wines, but these 2004s are more opulent and up-front than previous renditions. Yet, they lack neither concentration nor richness. Those of us who have been cellaring Dunn’s wines for twenty years, waiting for them to reach maturity should be thrilled by this new development. The Howell Mountain is denser and richer with blacker fruits as well as more body. Both are full-bodied, powerful Cabernets very much in keeping with his style. However, the tannins are softer and the wines reveal surprisingly developed aromatics. Look for the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa to drink well for 15 years. It is a brilliant achievement. Robert M. Parker, Jr. 91 points

2005 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is gorgeous. It is a soft, caressing wine laced with expressive dark fruit, blackberries, spices, leather, and flowers, all of which come together beautifully in the glass. This is a surprisingly soft, open young wine with lovely inner perfume and a mid-weight structure that makes it approachable, even today. It is a great starting point for readers who are new to the Dunn wines. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2025.

I tasted a large number of wines with Randy Dunn this year. These are some of the most powerful, age-worthy Cabernets being made in Napa Valley today. Dunn is very much an iconoclast who follows his own convictions. Picking is a bit earlier here than elsewhere throughout the valley. Dunn isn’t too concerned if stems occasionally make it into the fermenter. A fervent advocate of lower-alcohol wines, Dunn makes no apologies for removing alcohol from his wines if they come in above 14%. Personally, that strikes me as a totally unnecessary intervention, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of what is in the bottle, and ultimately that is what counts most. The Napa Valley bottling includes purchased fruit from the valley floor and is typically a slightly more accessible wine, while the Howell Mountain is a much tougher wine that typically demands 20 years to enter its early peak. These Cabernets are for the patient, but make no mistake about it, in top vintages the Howell Mountain is one of the great wines, not just of California, but of the world. Readers who want to explore these wines without waiting several decades may want to start with the 2005 or 2007 Napa Valley bottlings, both of which are somewhat accessible at this stage. Antonio Galloni 92 points

2002 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain

I liked the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain slightly more when I tasted it from the barrel. It appears to be fully mature, which is atypical of Dunn Cabernet Sauvignons. I even purchased another bottle at a local wine shop in St. Helena, and it was no different. As a huge fan of Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, I have reviewed over two dozen with many meriting ratings in the high nineties. The 2002 exhibits a deep ruby/purple color, medium body, and a shallow, superficial style without the concentration and intensity one would expect from this producer. It needs to be consumed over the next 5-10 years. (Amazingly, I recently had a bottle of the 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, which tastes younger than 2002. Go figure?) Robert M. Parker, Jr. 89 points

2003 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain

Rich with surprisingly soft tannin, this dense plum/ruby/purple-colored 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits lots of briary mountain fruit, blackberries, blueberries and cassis, outstanding purity, full-bodied power, and nicely integrated tannin. There is no evidence of toasty oak to be found in this beauty from Randy Dunn. Drink it now or cellar it for 15+ years. It finished at 13.8% natural alcohol. Robert M. Parker, Jr. 95 points

2004 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain

Reticent but promising blackberry and black currant fruit, as well as licorice aromas, jump from the glass of this inky/purple-colored 2004. Rich and broad with sweeter tannins than one expects in a ten-year-old Dunn Cabernet, it reveals impressive richness, power, and purity, but is still an adolescent in terms of its evolution. Slightly more evolved than the Dunn Cabernets of the early and mid-1980s, it can be drunk now or cellared for another 20-25 years. Robert M. Parker, Jr. 94 points

2005 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain

This iconic wine, consistently made since it was first released in 1979 by Randy Dunn, is always aged 30 months in barrel and then an additional six months in bottle prior to being released. It is always 100% Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Randy Dunn is one of the first advocates of alcohol levels under 14%. (This one is listed at 13.8%.) I just can’t comprehend the obsession and polemics about alcohol. Unless the wine lacks balance and character, it is rarely even a legitimate issue. Anything between 12.5% and 15.5%-16% can work well, and even some higher ones seem to carry their alcohol extraordinarily well, especially if they are made from grapes such as Zinfandel or Grenache.

Dense purple in color and still looking like a barrel sample, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain has a nice, cedary, new saddle leather-infused blackcurrant richness, outstanding purity, medium to full body, sweet tannin and layered, lush texture. The level of concentration is impressive. I don’t think there’s a wine taster that could tell whether this is 13.8% or 15.8% alcohol, given this level of richness. This wine is certainly accessible, but probably won’t hit its prime for another 5-7 years, and like most Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons, it will have a good 30+ years of longevity. (Keep in mind that his 1982 is just now hitting that peak of quality to my palate.) Robert M. Parker, Jr. 94 points