Day 3 – Guilty Pleasures Day
This day the theme was Guilty Pleasures because both Donna and I got to pick out long time favorite vineyards to visit. For Donna the choice was easy as she is addicted to the lush, rich and creamy flavors of Rombauer Chardonnay (The favorite drink of Cougars everywhere). For me, we ventured up Howell Mountain and through the quaint town of Angwin to visit the Dunn family of Dunn Vineyards – Howell Mountain Cabernet fame.
Another day of wine tasting (drinking) on the job started promptly at 10AM at Rombauer. The understated sign off Silverado Trail pointed past a beautifully pregnant patch of old vine Zinfandel and on up the hill to the tasting room and winery. The view down to the Napa Valley floor is breathtaking. As we walked in, we bumped into Rombauer’s winemaker Richie Allen. We had met in March when our son, Conch, and I came out for him to see the Napa side of winemaking. Richie looked up and without missing a beat, greeted us like he saw us every day. We chatted for a bit and Richie reported, like most other wine makers we’ve spoke with, that this will be one of the latest harvests in recent memory and for many is still 10 to 14 days away.
We were met in the tasting room by Rombauer’s social media director and fellow Texas Ex-Pat Hailey Cook. We had corresponded via Facebook over the past few months so it was nice to meet her. Hailey, like many others you meet along the way in Wine Country is passionate about her winery and very energetic. Hailey took us through the selection of Rombauer’s delicious new releases. She then poured two stems of their sumptuous desert wine, Joy, and we strolled along the wooded paths that surround the winery property. We ended up at the Lord of the Rings style cellar door where we met K.R. Rombauer, founder Koerner Rombauer’s son who serves as the National Sales Director
The real treat was the samples we tasted of Rombauer’s two single appellation Cabernets from Atlas Peak (2004) and the other from Stag’s Leap (2003) which in our opinion was the better of the two. One of the real benefits of traveling to wine country is the opportunity to taste and purchase very limited production wines that will never make to a store or restaurant. We spent a wonderful two hours at Rombauer. Hailey, thanks for showing us a little Texas Hospitality in Wine Country.
After a quick take out lunch of poppy seed coated seared tuna and smoked turkey at Dean and Deluca we headed up Howell Mountain to Dunn Vineyards. Dunn is a very small production winery making about 5,000 cases a year of some of the richest, best structured Cabernet you will ever taste. Before we arrived we had heard that the winery had a reputation as being unapproachable. Our experience was the polar opposite. We were greeted by the very friendly and enthusiastic Kristina Dunn, daughter of founder and legendary winemaker Randy Dunn. Randy was a true pioneer of fine Cabernet in Napa and much of their early days were chronicled the James Conway classic Napa – The Story of an American Eden.
Kristina walked with us around the small winery operation. No glitz or glamour here, just a family that knows how to and takes great pride in producing smokin’ good big boy Cabs. The family lives on the property along with barns, horses, dogs and critters. The vineyards snake around the property and are surrounded by one the most beautiful forests I’ve seen.
As we sat down to taste, the door in another room opened and in walked Randy Dunn in shorts and a tequila logo t-shirt. I probably would have less excited if Mick Jagger walked into the room. Randy sat and joined us for about 45 minutes and shared many stories of the early days of Napa and personalities that I had only read about. One interesting conversation we had was about the trend toward high alcohol wines. Dunn wines are surprisingly low alcohol at around 13.5% which brings out more terroir in the fruit and creates a cooler sensation on the palate.
With Randy and Kristina, we tasted their 2003, 2004 and 2005 Howell Mountain releases along with the 1998. It’s like being a kid in the candy store. Our preference was the 2003, probably just because it was aged longer. The 2005 was much more approachable than I expected it to be but will still age well for 15 or more years to come.
We spoke to Kristina about or son, the V&E major, and she offered to sell us a bottle from their library of his birth year wine, 1989 as a Christmas present. Of course, we bought it. I mention this to see if Conch and our other two really read the blog like they say they do.
The afternoon was growing late, long shadows from the enormous pines surrounded us and the horses were baying to be fed so we said our goodbyes and headed down Howell Mountain to the valley floor. Our guilty pleasures were nearly satisfied but there was one more treat to come.
We enjoyed an early dinner at the fantastic Go Fish Restaurant in St. Helena. More on this later but suffice it to say the food is a wonderful blend of sushi and non-Asian fish along with some beef and pasta entrees and a bartender, Jay, who is makes it all even better. Glenn Close, eating at a table behind us, seemed to be enjoying her meal, too.
We headed back to our B&B just after dark. The cloudless sky was full of stars and so we had no choice but to pull out a couple of wine glasses, sit on the grounds, watch the stars and enjoy a bottle of 1998 Dunn, a gift from Randy Dunn himself. Our guilty pleasures were now fully satisfied.