Lamborn Vineyards are located high up on Howell Mountain on a “ridge peninsula” which overlooks Pope Valley 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).
This very scenic location is reminiscent of some of the foothills in California’s Sierra Nevada, both with climate and vegetation. The vineyard is quite unique in that there is a 50 degree drop-off on three surrounding sides drops down over 1000 feet. The Lamborn vineyard story starts in 1971 when Bob Lamborn and his son Mike purchased two separate plots of land for a total of 40 acres (14 of which were plantable). 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 area.
One of their original purchases is now home to Outpost Winery – located a bit further up on Summit Lake Drive. Mike and Terry later purchased what is now their home vineyard – its high point is about 2,200 feet.
This 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 famed Howell Mountain wine master, Randy Dunn. Only 100 cases were produced this first year. Unfortunately disaster struck in the fall of 1991 when the huge Oakland firestorm destroyed Bob’s house. 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 given a name, usually relating to an event during the growing season.
In conjunction with this are their “back label” stories; for general interest, all of these stories are available on their website. Production then was very small and although it has grown a bit since; today Zinfandel is still their primary production (about 1000 cases) with about 500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Zinfandel rosè. The fruit is all estate grown on this ridge line – predominately Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. The approximately 10-acre vineyard is farmed organically.
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 his wife 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 and his attention to detail is amazing. Each vine is handled on a case by case basis when it comes to crop thinning, dropping of fruit, pruning and suckering. The third generation is a part of this business as well with Mike and Terry’s sons actively involved in to the day to day operations.
With the exception of their well-known winemaker Heidi Barrett, this is an entirely family run operation. Both Mike and Terry’s children are involved. Matt has a masters degree in landscape architecture and helps manage the vineyards as well as running his own mapping and data analysis company, Pacific GeoData. Brian has been involved for many years with 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). The details and micro management that go in to the farming and caring for these grapes, plus Heidi’s considerable wine-making skills produce excellent wines.
Their main focus has always been and remains Zinfandel (the bulk of their production). However, considering the fact their vineyards are on Howell Mountain – they also grow and produce Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet is all that you expect in a high quality hand crafted Napa area Cabernet; it is soft, smooth and an elegant wine. The 2005 contains layer upon layer of fruit with a slight dustiness towards the long finish. The demand is very high for this wine and is not even sold through their website.
Lamborn Family does not see visitors for tastings at their Howell Mountain property. If you find yourself on the valley floor and want to sample their wine, visit Ma(i)sonry in Yountville – a premium collection of boutique mostly Napa wines (representing producers who typically do not have their own wineries or tasting rooms).
The Lamborns are some of the most hospitable people you will meet and it doesn’t hurt either, that their wine is stellar! As a result if you meet them for a tasting at Ma(i)sonry, the experience is very personalized and tailored towards your interest and knowledge level. Regardless of whether the Lamborns meet you for a tasting – Ma(i)sonry will create a highly personalized tasting during your visit – opening up current release wines and possibly and older vintage (if available). Tasting here is either indoors (a wine tasting space + art gallery) or outdoors in their garden space behind the old stone building.
For more information or to joint their wine club, visit: www.lamborn.com
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing a major update.