Dunn Vineyards dates from 1972 when Randy and Lori Dunn purchased their original property high on Howell Mountain (which as an appellation came into existence in 1984). Their first commercial vintage was in 1981 making them one of the oldest continuously producing wineries in the Angwin area. This is a small family owned winery and they are not setup for general visits & tastings. You won't find them on any tourist maps; it is a private wine estate. If you have enjoyed their wine before and are a serious wine enthusiast and collector you may request a visit but note that they are not open to the public. During this project, we have met a number of Howell Mountain vintners who have been influenced by owner Randy Dunn - i.e. he has helped them with their initial winemaking and provided advice on a variety of vineyard and winemaking matters.
The second generation is actively involved and Randy and Lori's son and daughter are working within the winery. Dunn Vineyards sits in a very rural location surrounded by native vegetation. Randy and Lori actually purchased 63 acres of additional nearby land and then quickly donated it to the Napa Land trust so it will never be developed. This is the refreshing type of philosophy they have in regards to keeping a natural balance between the native vegetation and their vineyards. We recently had a chance to walk the vineyards; these are all small hillside vineyards at about 1800 feet and do not dominate the landscape as there are always parts of the natural forest nearby.
As they outgrew their storage facilities they built a cave for barrel storage in 1989. Since the early 1980's they have always specialized in two types of wines, a Howell Mountain Cabernet and a Napa Valley Cabernet. Both wines are not blended - they are 100% varietal. As of press time, their total production is about 5000 cases. We recently had the opportunity to try the 2004 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. It is crimson ruby in color with an elegant nose showing dark chocolate and even nuances of raspberry as the bouquet opens. There is a lot of fruit in this wine especially up front with black currant and plum flavors. The tannins are dusty and structured - there are rich layers of flavor in the wine, good acidity and good structure. While full of flavor now, this wine needs some time to cellar and it will continue to evolve and show new complexities.
Note the unusual design and placement of the labels - they are set on the bottles at an angle and spiral around the bottle. This design has not changed since the founding of the winery. In addition their Howell Mountain Cabernet is always coated with wax, which definitely makes it stand out while their Napa Cabernet has a foil seal. Their Napa Cabernet tends to have softer tannins whereas their Howell Mountain Cabernet is a bigger wine with larger tannins and more fruit. Both wines are built to age for a long time and will only become more complex if you are able to cellar these - but can certainly be consumed now. Dunn keeps the alcohol percentage lower than most area vintners, typically in the high 13 range which is done by several processes including de-alcoholization if need be, a process that can be conducted by reverse osmosis.
Randy's focus is on terroir driven wines; his philosophy is that you need to be able to taste where the wines are from. When you have wines high in alcohol you lose the distinguishing characteristics that allow you to distinguish the "home terroir". In addition, his wines are not trophy wines meant to catch the high scores or wines that will put you under the table due to the alcohol as they are made to be enjoyed with food. As Randy told us, they are not "cocktail wines"! Dunn has a very popular mailing list that is currently full - however you can contact them to be placed on the wait list. For more information about their wines, visit: www.dunnvineyards.com