Howell Mountain AVA Celebrates 40th Anniversary with a Seminar and Tasting

Wines from appellation’s early and newer producers shine at Charles Krug Winery showcase.

The Howell Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) celebrated the appellation’s 4oth anniversary with an August 2023 seminar and tasting at Charles Krug Winery. On the seminar’s panel, moderated by Elton Slone, the president and CEO of Robert Craig Winery, were AVA founding members Bob Brakesman of Summit Lake VineyardsRandy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards, and Mike Beatty of Howell Mountain Vineyards, along with Chris Carpenter, the longtime winemaker at La Jota Vineyard Co. The lead photo shows the energetic Slone getting pumped up before what turned out to be a casual conversation among old friends about the appellation’s establishment.

From left, panel members Chris Carpenter, Bob Brakesman, Randy Dunn, and Mike Beatty, with moderator Elton Slone.

Brakesman recalled surprising his wife with a 1971 birthday card containing the deed to their Howell Mountain land, Dunn the informal discussions that led to the AVA proposal, and Beatty  his ranch’s old-vine Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Carpenter waxed poetic about what distinguishes a Howell Mountain wine: “From a flavor perspective . . . it’s got this incredible depth and middle body and textural component, and minerality that’s like when you take two tufa stones and smash ’em up against one another, and that dust gets in your nose. That’s in every glass of wine. It’s got dark fruit that screams California but that herbalness . . . reminiscent of Bordeaux and the origins of Cabernet.”

Seminar wines included a 1993 Dunn Cabernet that showed how well Howell Mountain wines age, along with four 2019s. The $43 for the Summit Lake Zinfandel is not a typo.

Following the seminar, nearly two dozen early and newer members poured wines that shined individually but collectively embodied the characteristics Carpenter described. Below are photos from Instagram and Facebook posts of some that stood out among those tasted.

2011 La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon.


2013 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
2018 Tobias Pauli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (2019 was good, too), by second-generation vintners Dawn Pauli-Forman and Tobias Forman.
2018 Clif Family Croquet Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
2018 Almacerro Cabernet Sauvignon and 2019 Estate Proprietary Red Wine, held by winemaker Matilda Scott.
2019 Ink Grade Estate Merlot and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon.
2020 Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc, and 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon.
2021 Red Thread Wines Rosé of Zinfandel and 2021 Red Wine Blend, the latter held by winemaker Brian Brakesman (he also makes his dad’s Zinfandel mentioned earlier), with his wife, Gretchen, who sells them.

I cover Howell Mountain wineries for Fodor’s Napa and Sonoma and other media outlets.

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