Lamborn Family Vineyards are located high on Howell Mountain on a “ridge peninsula” which overlooks Pope Valley to the east and on an extremely clear winter’s day one can even see parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains far in the distance (one of several locations on Howell Mountain and on Atlas Peak where one has such views).
The Lamborn Vineyards story begins in 1969 when Bob Lamborn purchased an acre of land from one of his friends who owned a weekend property on Howell Mountain. Two years later Bob and his son Mike purchased two separate plots of land for a total of 40 acres (14 of which were able to be planted). Neither one had any experience in the wine industry but Bob was looking for a change of pace from his job as a Private Investigator in the San Francisco Bay Area. And the wine industry would certainly be quite a change from Bob’s previous career; through his PI work, he worked with the FBI and the CIA. The most notorious case he worked on was when he was hired by Patty Hearst’s mother after her daughter was abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Existing vines had been planted on Bob’s property in the late 1800s by Italian immigrants and were still growing at the time of their purchase. Bob nursed these vines back to health as they had not been cared for since the beginning of prohibition.
Howell Mountain was Napa’s first sub appellation – gaining it’s status in 1983 (same year as Carneros). Along with Bill Smith, Randy Dunn, Mike Beatty and Bob Brakesman, Bob Lamborn was one of the founding vintners who laid the groundwork in creating the Howell Mountain AVA.
Bob’s original land is now home to Outpost Winery – located a short drive up Summit Lake Drive from Lamborn Vineyards. Mike and his wife Terry purchased the property for what is now Lamborn Vineyards in 1973. They have been farming this piece of land ever since they acquired the property – initially on weekends since Mike had a full time time at the time.
This very scenic location is reminiscent of some of the foothills in California’s Sierra Nevada, including the red soils, similar vegetation and even some of the same smells. The vineyard sits at 2,200 feet; this location is unique in that there is a 50 degree drop-off on three surrounding sides falling off dramatically over 1000 feet down to Pope Valley.
Their property had never been planted to vines before; the Lamborn family spent several years clearing and planting the land (the first Zinfandel vines were planted in 1979) and released their first commercial vintage in 1982 with the help of renowned Howell Mountain wine doyen, Randy Dunn. Only 100 cases were produced this first year. Unfortunately disaster struck in the fall of 1991 when a massive firestorm destroyed Bob’s house in the Oakland hills and some 2,800+ other homes (the precursor event to what unfortunately has become more common in the state of California in recent years).
As a result of this, in 1991 Lamborn released an appropriately titled wine called the “Phoenix Vintage”. This vintage led to a trend among Lamborn’s wines – every vintage from that year on is now assigned a name, often relating to a memorable event during the growing season. These names are told in their “back label” stories; for general interest, every one of their vintage stories are also available on their website.
Production in the early years was minuscule and although it has grown a bit since – today Zinfandel is still their primary production (about 800 cases) along with 500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Sauvignon blend and a small amount of Zinfandel rosè. The fruit is all estate grown – predominately Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 10-acre vineyard is farmed organically (using only certified organic products).
They have made their wines at several wineries over the years including at Napa Wine Co – as of our latest update to this review, they currently make their wine at a small winery just south of Calistoga on Highway 128.
The vineyards are managed by Mike and Terry – they are farmers and spend hundreds of hours in the vineyards each year carefully managing the vines and grapes. We had the opportunity to walk the vineyards with Mike; his attention to detail is remarkable – fueled by his passion for farming. Each vine is handled on a case by case basis when it comes to crop thinning, dropping of fruit, pruning and suckering.
With the exception of their well-known winemaker Heidi Barrett, this is an entirely family run operation (although over the years Heidi has become like family to the Lamborns). Mike and Terry’s sons Matt and Brian (the third generation) are also actively involved in to the day to day operations. Matt has a masters degree in landscape architecture and helps manage the vineyards as well as operating his own mapping and data analysis company, Pacific GeoData. Brian has been involved for many years with the Lamborn marketing and sales. Perhaps the 4th generation will be involved sooner rather then later.
Heidi has been making the Lamborn wines since 1997 (formerly at Screaming Eagle, Grace Family among many other premium wineries). Their particular site, the details and micro management that go in to the farming and caring for these grapes, plus Heidi’s considerable wine-making skills produce exceptional wines.
The 2019 Lamborn Family Vineyards “Mary-Hāna” Rosé is 100% varietal Zinfandel, fermented completely dry. This wine is the pinkish orange color of salmon – immediately offers attractive aromatics including notes of strawberry, tangerine and hints of jolly rancher watermelon. Also somewhat floral with hints of dried rose petals. It smells vibrant and fresh. Refreshing and superbly balanced across the palate. Also pleasant is a slight textural creamy note. Lingers with flavors of citrus, raspberry and a minerality nuance; shows very clean on the finish. This thoughtfully made rosé is one of the nicer rosés from Zinfandel that we have tried from the Napa Valley. Named after Mike and Terry’s granddaughters, Mary & Hāna.
The 2016 Lamborn Family Vineyards Zinfandel (this Happy Dirt Vintage is a tribute to the utmost importance of farming with healthy soils). Medium ruby in color, the aromatics are opulent showcasing ripe fruit but are not overripe. There are no noticeable jammy notes in the bouquet that often higher alcohol wines from this varietal exhibit. Dark cherry, cassis, blackberries, toasted cedar plank, meaty, gamy and white pepper. As the wine breathes further, shows notes of espresso and mocha.
The aromatics make one want to reach for some BBQ ribs. And be hanging out next to a pool in the late afternoon catching the lingering warmth from a hot summer day. Very flavorful across the palate and nicely balanced – lingers softly with surprisingly gentle fruit and oak tannins along with both darker fruit and spice notes. Good acidity.
The Lamborn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is what you would expect of a premium hill-side hand crafted Napa Valley wine. It has power yet also grace. During our first visit with Mike and Terry we tried the 2005 Lamborn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (this Vintage Vintage year is a testament to growing old). Offers layer upon layer of fruit showing a slight dustiness towards the long finish. Remarkably smooth across the palate.
Lamborn Family Vineyards does not see visitors for tastings at their Howell Mountain property. For several years select wines from Lamborn Family Vineyards were available at Ma(i)sonry in Yountville (now the RH Wine Vault), a premium collection of boutique mostly Napa wines representing producers who typically do not have their own wineries or tasting rooms. Since the transition to RH Wine Vault a number of changes have been made including eliminating a number of wine producers that used to be represented here (as of our latest update, several Lamborn wines are still be available, served by the bottle).
The Lamborns are some of the most hospitable and gracious people you will ever meet and it doesn’t hurt either, that their wine is outstanding. As a result if you meet them for a tasting at RH Wine Vault, the experience is highly personalized and tailored towards your interest and knowledge level.
RH Wine Vault will create a curated tasting during your visit – opening up several wines and possibly an older vintage (if available). Tastings are either held indoors (a wine tasting space + art gallery) or outdoors in their garden space behind the old stone building.
And what was a common story line regarding the 2020 vintage, due to a never seen before scope of wildfires that burned up and down the state of California, and again in both the Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County, Lamborn Vineyards elected not to make any wine commercially from this particular vintage.
For more information or to join their members list or one of the wine clubs, visit: www.lamborn.com