Cain Vineyard & Winery is located high in the forested Spring Mountain District with a somewhat isolated location away from most of the other Spring Mountain wineries. The winery was founded in 1980 by Jerry and Joyce Cain and presently produces about 20,000 cases. Friends, of the Cains, James and Nancy Meadlock became partners in the winery and assumed full ownership in 1991. Cain is located about 2.5 miles in on the extremely narrow sometimes one lane windy Langtry road. Cain is not the only producer located on Langtry Road. One will pass by School House Vineyard (one of the longest continuously producing wineries in all of the Napa Valley), York Creek Vineyard and some of Fritz Maytag’s olive trees and eventually by the driveway for Flying Lady Winery. This road does not continue through to Sonoma County despite what online maps sometime indicate.
The winery is situated on a ridge line in the Macayamas Mountains; as with other Spring Mountain hillside wineries they sometimes receive snow in the winter. The vineyards range in elevation from about 1400 to 2100 feet with these uppermost vineyards among some of the higher vineyards found in Spring Mountain. Their total acreage is significant; five hundred in total of which about ninety are planted to vine. Their water source comes from the rainfall each year – two ponds on property store water for use throughout the season on the vines as needed. Springtime is a wonderful time to visit this winery as there are many picturesque flowers in bloom around the main building including dogwood, azaleas & rhododendrons.
The property used to be part of the 3,000 acre McCormick sheep ranch originally settled in the 1870s as a homestead. After the Cain’s acquired the property they hired noted Napa viticulture pioneer Laurie Wood to plant their vineyards to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Unfortunately much of these vines were planted on AxR rootstock and were not resistant to phyloxxera so over time most of the vineyard has been replanted. Because of the site’s location featuring numerous contours and exposures and elevation range, harvest usually lasts from 4 to 6 weeks.
This is a scenic location with excellent views of the ridge tops and of their vineyards – some of which extend almost 1000 feet below the winery. Views are into part of the Napa Valley floor in the distance as well as into neighboring Sonoma County to the west. A prominent rock stands out by itself far below their upper vineyards – this is called La Piedra. Their vineyards are low yielding growing on very rocky shallow soils. Up to 1.5 tons / acre is a good yield. All their vineyards are certified organic. Ten vineyard workers manage the vines year round.
All visits are by appointment – for either a sit down tasting or a sit down tasting combined with a vineyard walk and a tour of their wine making facilities. Visits are private for your party – you sit down with your host around a table – in a very personalized setting. The tour of the winery stops in their fermentation tank room, barrel aging room and ends in an elegant room containing several tables where you will taste four wines.
Part of the tour is about how they make their final blends – whittling down the choices from over 70 vineyard blocks to the three wines. Blending is a critical component of their wine making. Their are a number of philosophies on when to blend; Cain tends to blend early allowing for maximum integration of flavors. Their flagship wine is the Cain Five which is a blend of the five classic Bordeaux varieties each of which is planted in their vineyards. This is the wine they are most known for – it has been hand crafted down to the smallest of details.
The fining of their wines is done with egg whites (generally no filtration is done to allow for maximum color and flavor) and all their wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts inherent on the skins of the grapes. All their wines are blends with the percentages listed on each bottle.
Winemaker and General Manager Chris Howell has been with Cain since 1990. Some of his former experience is formable, with time spent at Château Mouton Rothschild and much closer to the Napa Valley, Peter Michael Winery.
We first visited Cain Cellars in the early stages of beginning the Napa Wine Project – we did not yet have the very unique perspective that visiting and tasting with more than 1,000 unique Napa Valley based wineries and producers gives. Now we have a much better grasp of the various nuances of wine styles in the valley.
During a revisit we could clearly tell these are wines that are different from many of Napa’s producers, hillside or valley floor. These are wines that have their own style or “Cainess” as one of their tour guides simply stated. Chris calls his style of wine making as “wine beyond just the fruit”. And the proof of this is clearly in the glass.
The 2012 Cain Five shows a nice mix of both blackberry, a pine component and a subtle toasted cedar note interwoven on the bouquet. An earthiness (forest floor) along with mushroom aromatics both continue onto the palate. Good acidity, mouth watering. Well integrated tannins feel nice on the palate on the finish – somewhat savory finish of great length.
With just a few years more age, the 2007 is a perfect example of the importance of aging Cain’s wines and balance and beauty as a result (coupled with this excellent vintage). This wine (tasted 9 nears after vintage) shows harmonious notes straight out of the bottle. The fruit is lively and seems like a younger wine then it actually is. The bouquet shows an elegant nose with hints of white pepper, aromas of rose petal, dark cherry and blueberry. Balanced on the palate, it features long lasting somewhat chewy tannins. A crowd pleaser!
The Cain Concept, the Benchland features “valley floor” grapes they purchase from premium vineyards growing in alluvial deposits or bench land soil deposits from Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena. The 2012 Cain Concept, the Benchland shows an earthiness mixed with a mushroom / truffle note on the bouquet – almost meaty reminding us of a number of Syrah’s we have tried (but this wine has no Syrah in it). The palate shows a darker grip of black fruit (blackberry, black cherry) and a dustiness – along with a subtle herbal component. The mouth feel is soft and velvety – the tannins are noticeable but not gripping in feel.
The very reasonably priced Cain Cuvée is always a non vintage of two years – bottled as NV (for non vintage with a number representing the most recent of the two harvest used to make this wine). The NV12 included the 2011 and 2012 vintages; this is a lighter styled wine – easy drinking and certainly easy on the pocketbook. Aromatically it shows a sweaty leather/animal note to the bouquet, almost foxy/racy like. This wine needs time to breathe – as it opens this aromatic ‘mustiness’ dissipates, replaced by elegant fruit and a noticeable floral component. Fairly soft on the palate with polished tannins – this wine drinks well young.
They use longer premium corks – each of their bottles are laser etched with a few relevant details about the wine. All labels are still adhered with glue.
Sring House Tasting Salon, St. Helena
NOTE: as of our latest update, Cain Cellars is no longer hosting visitors at the Spring House salon in St. Helena. They occupied part of this building for only a short while. Tragically the winery and hospitality center burned down in the fires of 2020. As a result, Cain downsized and moved their hospitality operations in the summer of 2021 to the historic Spring House in St. Helena located directly across from Goose and Gander restaurant. This family home has rich history; it dates from the late 1880s and was built by Battista Salmina, brother in law of one time owners of Larkmead Vineyards, Felix Salmina and his family. Incidentally, Felix Salmina was one of the seven founding members of the Napa Valley Vintners in 1944.
And along with Felix Salmina, Battista also helped build and operate the old wooden William Tell Hotel just down the street from the Post Parade tasting room in 1878. Remarkably this building is still standing – located at 1228 Spring Street.
The home features two other producers, Lang & Reed and The Debate – both offering tastings by appointment in one of several spaces including a shared room and a porch overlooking Spring Street. As of our latest update to this review, Cain Cellars is now producing their wines at Raymond Vineyards, but hopefully the winery and tasting room will be rebuilt in the coming years.
For more information, to schedule an appointment or to signup for their mailing list, visit: www.cainfive.com