Howell Mountain Appellation
When the fog rolls off the Pacific Ocean and into the Napa Valley, the weather on Howell Mountain is generally sunny and cool. This appellation owes its distinctive climate to the fact that it is positioned well above the Napa Valley floor. Because of its altitude, evening temperatures are warmer and daytime temperatures are much cooler—thus, leveling out temperature spikes that tend to be more exaggerated at lower elevations. Although it gets nearly twice as much rainfall as the valley below, the soil tends to be dry, due to the rocky, porous soil conditions. These conditions allow for excellent drainage and less accumulation of moisture in the soil. Cooler spring temperatures allow buds to break later than average, and warm summer nights produce fruit that demonstrates a great balance between acidity and sugar. All of which, translates into the rich diversity and complexity in flavor that you will discover in each bottle of our wines.
From the ground up, soil can have as much of an effect on the variety and intensity of grapes as the weather. This is clearly evident on Howell Mountain, where there are two main soil types. The first consists of decomposed volcanic ash, called “tufa”, and the second is red clay that is high in iron. Because both soil types are nutrient poor, they stress the vines, producing intense wines from small clusters and berries. In the end, the altitude, thin rocky soil coverage, and dry soil conditions create wines with firm structure, incredible varietal intensity, and excellent aging properties.
Among those moving early onto Howell Mountain to establish vineyards were Jean Adolph Brun and Jean V. Chaix— two experienced vintners who planted hundreds of acres of vineyards and made a success selling the wine they produced. Because they also owned an Oakville operation (today the location of The Napa Wine Co.), they were among the most successful local wine businesses during the boom of the 1880s. Eventually the operation sold out to others and was closed during Prohibition. Since then, however, the Howell Mountain operation has been completely renovated, and is now home to Ladera Vineyards. Other notable winegrowers who moved into the area were Charles Drug, W.A.C. Smith, Frederick Hess, and W.S. Keyes who started Liparita Vineyards and then built another stone winery, known as La Jota today. By the end of the decade, there were more than 600 acres of wine grapes planted, and the vineyards on Howell Mountain had developed an excellent reputation for their wines.
In 1889, the Howell Mountain region made history when Brun & Chaix won a Bronze metal at the Paris World Competition. Ten years later, Keyes took gold and bronze, while Hess walked away with bronze for his La Jota Vineyard Co., Blanco table wine. Later, in 1904 at the St. Louis Exposition, Keyes repeated his Paris triumph by winning the grand prize for his renowned red wine. Collectively, these medals proved the longstanding reputation of Howell Mountain wines.
Where rivers, creeks and property lines usually define an American Viticultural Area (AVA), the Howell Mountain boundaries are defined by a 1,400 foot elevation contour line. Upon review of requests and evidence of the boundaries and elevation of the region, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) ruled that Howell Mountain was, indeed, worthy of one of the few AVAs granted in the early 1980's. And so, in 1983, the Howell Mountain Appellation was officially designated an AVA—making it the first AVA within the greater Napa Valley AVA. And the rest, as they say, is history.