Dunn Vineyards dates from 1979 when Randy and Lori Dunn purchased their original 14-acre property high on the slopes of Howell Mountain. The old home on site was actually used as one of the Stagecoach stops between Pope Valley and the Napa Valley and used to be owned by Chuck Wagner (owner of Caymus Vineyards) and Warren & Barbara Winiarski, the founders of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars lived here for a short while. Today the old home houses their offices. This is one of the oldest continuously producing wineries on Howell Mountain. Dunn Vineyards is a small family-owned winery. They aren’t listed on most tourist maps; this is a private wine estate. .
Over the years that we have been working on 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, or provided advice on a particular variety, vineyard layout details or wine-making matters. Randy was originally studying Entomology (a branch of Zoology focusing on insects) at UC Davis when he made some home wine with a professor. Hooked by the process of making this initial wine, Randy soon switched his major to Enology. He took his first job in Napa Valley working for Caymus Winery.
Howell Mountain was Napa’s first sub appellation – gaining its status in 1983 (same year as Carneros). Randy was was one of the founding vintners who laid the groundwork for creating the Howell Mountain AVA along with vintners’ Bill Smith, Bob Brakesman, Mike Beatty and Bob Lamborn. Over the years Dunn has played important consulting roles or winemaker for several of his Howell Mountain neighbors including Lamborn Vineyards and WH Smith and others around the valley including Pahlmeyer, Palmaz and the old Livington Moffet winery, (present day site of DANA Estates).
Randy and Lori’s children are actively involved in the business – their son Mike, who has his own label Retro Cellars, and daughter Kristina both work for the winery.
Dunn Vineyards is located in a very rural part of Howell Mountain and the vineyards are 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 regard to keeping a natural balance between the native vegetation and their vineyards. During several visits, we have walked some of their vineyard blocks; between all of their vineyards, the vines are planted at an elevation of approximately 1800 to 2000 feet. Their vineyards do not dominate the landscape like on the valley floor – rather there is plenty of nearby forest land. Today the family farms 43 acres of vines spread over 5 distinctive Howell Mountain sites, four of which they own. Under their ownership is the Alta Terra Vineyard (the original vineyard the family purchased in 1978 which originally was called the Trailer Vineyard), Lake Vineyard (next to the physical winery), Park Muscatine Vineyard and their most recent acquisition in 2018, Eagle Summit Vineyard.
Vintages 1979, 1980 and 1981 were made at Caymus Vineyards and then each year, trucked up to their property to age. In 1981 Dunn Vineyards was bonded as a commercial winery. Even early on Dunn was garnering some excellent press. An article in the October 9, 1985, issue of the San Francisco Examiner had this to say about his wines, “Dunn wines are difficult to find, even in California. But they are worth a special look, as they are among the best California has to offer.”
The Park Muscatine Vineyard was previously owned by Charles and Doris Muscatine. The Muscatine’s were culinary experts. Doris was one of California’s food and wine culture pioneers – having wrote a number of culinary books including co-authoring the thick book The University of California/Sotheby Book of California Wine with Maynard A. Amerine and Bob Thompson. This vineyard originally produced Carignane and Zinfandel. Well known, Ridge Vineyards made wine from this vineyard in the early 1980s.
As Dunn Vineyards outgrew their storage facilities, they built a cave for barrel storage in 1989. Since the early 1980s they have always specialized in two types of single varietal wines, a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines are not blended and are 100% varietal. As of the time of this review, their total production is about 5000 cases annually.
The 2018 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color; right on the front of the bouquet are aromas of bramble, blackberry, boysenberry, along with old cedar box and a light toasted oak nuance. The bouquet is dark fruited with its fruit core showing more as the wine evolves in the glass along with notes of chocolate and darker baking spices. There is a dried herb note here also including sage. This wine offers flavors of black cherry, blackberry and chocolate. The textural reputation of the Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings can be somewhat intimidating. The Dunn trademark texture is clearly evident on this wine – if we were to choose one word to describe its textural characteristics it would be: density. The tannins clearly envelop the palate fully, are densely packed, and one can feel their broadly distributed pixelated and persistent grip for quite some time. We don’t make a habit of tasting old parchment paper, but perhaps the sensation of doing so is what one experiences with the dusty character on this finish. There is also a light tobacco spice note. This wine is best served with some protein in its youth or with 15-20 years of proper cellaring. We don’t always describe Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon under 14% alcohol as a meal in a glass, but this wine is a good candidate for that description. For reference we tasted this 5 years post vintage. This wine was aged for 32 months in 100% new French oak barrels.
The 2011 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon shows a noticeable character on the nose with layers of aroma including a dusty nuance and slight dark pepper component. On the palate the wine is mouthwatering and juicy showcasing great acidity with broad shouldered (somewhat chalky) long lasting tannins. The structure on this wine is perhaps not quite as robust as some of the other young Dunn wines we have tried.
The 2004 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is crimson ruby in color with an elegant nose showing dark chocolate and 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, bright acidity and plenty of structure. While full of flavor now, this wine still needs some time to cellar, and it will continue to evolve and show new complexities.
The 2002 Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon shows notes of red cherry, baking spices and hints of mocha on the bouquet. After 13 years this wine still shows bright lively aromatics and smells younger than it actually is. The wine is becoming balanced with tannins that perhaps have softened over time and are now fairly well integrated into the structure of the wine (lingering pleasantly for some time). On the palate notes of red cherry and cranberry show anchored by a nice acidity.
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 Sauvignon is always coated with wax, which definitely makes it stand out while their Napa Valley Cabernet features a foil seal.
The Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have softer tannins whereas the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a bigger wine with more robust tannins and intensity of 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 in his wines lower than most area vintners, typically in the mid to high 13 range which is done by several processes including de-alcoholization, a process that can be conducted by reverse osmosis. Each vintage is different of course and some years they are able to pick early enough that no manipulation is needed to keep the final alcohol reading below 14%.
Randy’s focus is on terroir driven wines; his philosophy is that one needs to be able to taste where the wines are from. Wines that are high in alcohol often lose the distinguishing characteristics that allow one to distinguish a sense of place. In addition, the Dunn wines are not trophy wines meant to catch high scores or produced in a riper style, rather the Dunn wines are made to be enjoyed with food. As Randy told us, these are not “cocktail wines”!
Randy has developed a style of wine that is often enjoyed by collectors – these are wines that are meant to be aged. We have enjoyed some of his wines 10-15 years old and they are still very much full of life – the tannins have smoothed out during this aging but are still structurally very noticeable. Even after a decade+ of aging, some of these wines probably can go another decade+ before peaking.
Long Shadows Winery
This winery was founded in 2003 by Washington wine luminary Allen Shoup (former CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle for 17 years and a member of Washington’s Vintner Hall of Fame). Long Shadows produces their wines at their winery outside of Walla Walla and operate two tasting rooms, one at the winery and one in Woodinville (about a 4-hour drive between both locations).
In a unique winery offering – Long Shadows works with 5 well-respected and accomplished vintners to create 7 different labels from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley Appellation. Randy Dunn has been involved since 2003 – he creates Feather, an always 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon each year. Napa Valley’s Philippe Melka also produces a wine, Pirouette and master winemaker Bordeaux-based Michel Rolland crafts Pedestal each year.
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. They offer a very limited number of tours and tastings by appointment from Monday through Friday. And during busy times of the season, such as harvest in September and October, tastings book up a month or more in advance due to demand.
Dunn maintains a very popular mailing list that is currently full, however interested parties can contact them to be placed on the wait list. For more information about their wines, to schedule a visit or to purchase wine, visit: www.dunnvineyards.com
The Dunn Cave
Long Shadows Winery, WA