Howell Mountain Vineyards
2001 Beatty Ranch Zinfandel
Zinfandel •Beatty Ranch Vineyard
California: Howell Mountain (Napa)
What we say
FINAL ALLOCATION ALERT
We are pleased to bring you what are likely the final remaining cases of this fantastic wine. Before the winery runs out, scoop some up, dear Operative!
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Mission Codename: The Secret Cache III
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Investigate the reports that Howell Mountain Vineyards still has a small handful of cases of its 2001 Beatty Ranch Zinfandel. If true, procure ALL remaining cases for our thirsty Operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Howell Mountain Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2001 Beatty Ranch Zinfandel
Winemaker: [REDACTED] TOP SECRET, EYES ONLY
Backgrounder: During our last two years, we have had the great fortune to feature fantastic wines from our friends at Howell Mountain Vineyards. For today’s wine, we were to be able to raid their remaining stash of the wine. Howell Mountain Vineyards makes wines of incredible quality and today Agent Red returns from another covert mission to the winery, victoriously clutching the few remaining cases of Howell’s 2001 Beatty Ranch Zinfandel, a wine so special that we caught him trying to hide a few cases away from himself. Read our greedy agent’s tasting report below, followed by his mission report
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep ruby red in color, with perfect clarity. The wine has a taught surface that, when swirled, slows at the edges – but continues to spin at its core. When it finally slows down, it leaves behind skinny legs that move slowly down the edges of the glass
Smell – Dark and earthy, with concentrated black cherry, smoky raspberry and dark mixed berries. These sit gently atop additional aromas of dried meats, cedar, soft pine and delicious vanilla blueberry tart
Feel – Slick and fast across the front palate, then slightly grippy at the mid-palate and edges of the mouth, as fine grained tannins take hold, drying the cheeks and lips
Taste – Darkly rich, with slightly foreboding (in the best possible way) flavors of smoky cherry, black plum, blueberry, blackberry, soft pepper, vanilla and spice
Finish – Flavorful, dark and delicious, with flavors that linger for a long interval as the generous fruit and soft spice lead to a mineral dryness that invites you to take another loving sip
Conclusion – Another intriguing offering from our friends at Howell Mountain Vineyards, this wine is drinking beautifully. I always love the opportunity to pick up a wine with some bottle age on it. These ‘pre-aged’ wines afford the wine drinker the chance to time travel, and enjoy a wine immediately – without requiring them to have the patience to lay bottles down for an extended period. We have enjoyed other vintages of this fine wine, but today’s 2001 Beatty Ranch Zinfandel is a dark and mysterious wine that invites you to sip and discuss. Not a jammy bomber of a wine, this Zin shows off a bit of a dark side, with a depth and richness not found in a younger Zinfandel. This wine has enough acidity to make it a great food companion. I enjoyed mine with a grilled tri-tip, slathered with buttery wild mushrooms. Delicious and darkly alluring, there is still plenty of freshness to its fruit. Enjoy a few bottles now, hold a few to see how it keeps developing!
AGENT RED: Greetings, [REDACTED]. We are thrilled to be showing your 2001 Beatty Ranch Zinfandel today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today. We know that you are keeping covert and we promise not to blow your cover!
WINEMAKER: Thank you very much for having me.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
WINEMAKER: I don’t know that there was a specific experience, but I do remember growing up with wine always being on the table during family dinners. It takes me back to those times, with the laughter and the conversation and just the warmth of it all. Later on, when I was actually able to drink wine, I think I made a conscious effort to try to share that with my friends. Partly because it made me feel grown up too! But it just took. And that’s really what I associate wine with: great times spent with friends and loved ones.
RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?
WINEMAKER: The winemaker I admire most, just for his basic approach and philosophy, said it best: “Even a mediocre winemaker can make a good wine from the best fruit, but the best winemaker can’t make a decent wine out of (lousy—have to paraphrase here) fruit.” It’s something I’ve taken to heart, paying attention to what happens in the vineyard, and I’m lucky to have had great sources and as importantly, growers to work with. I’d say I try to stay out of my own way, and let the character of the vineyard and the fruit come through, trying to maintain that balance that’s so important.
RED: How long have you been making wine?
WINEMAKER: About five years now. A blink in the eye compared to a lot of people here.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
WINEMAKER: The customers, honestly. I think we’ve developed a house style, particularly with the Zins, that really stand out from others—wines that don’t hit you over the head, that have nuance. That’s the wine our longtime customers keep coming back to us for, and that’s the kind of wine we want to continue to make. Especially in this day and age, when there are so many choices, we’re especially grateful for our loyal fans.
RED: Tell me, what makes Howell Mountain so special?
WINEMAKER: It really does have a distinct microclimate, and was the first sub-appellation in Napa. Because it’s so high up, it’s above the fog so that it’s cooler than most of the Valley during the day, but warmer at night. Also, the soils on the vineyards we source from are mostly volcanic rock, but with good drainage, so the vines struggle but have deep roots. What this all translates into is that the fruit is tighter, smaller and more concentrated, resulting in intense fruit flavors and better tannin development, which leads to better aging.
RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?
WINEMAKER: Get out and work a harvest first. It’s like you hear about getting into a career as a chef; you can go to culinary school, but you won’t know whether you’re up to the task until you get in a live kitchen. During crush, you’re going to be exhausted by the end of the day. But if you can’t wait to get out of bed the next morning, aches and all, it might be the kind of thing you want to do for the rest of your life.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
WINEMAKER: Just making sure everything is on course in the vineyards. We’re about two months away on Howell Mountain, at least, but those two months can fly by pretty quickly. While other wineries are getting going this month, it’s pretty much the calm before the storm for us.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today
WINEMAKER: It’s one of my favorites, and it really shows the depth of the Beatty Ranch. Typically one doesn’t expect much ageability out of Zinfandel, but I think this wine is still at its peak, eight years down the line. It’s made from the oldest vines on Howell Mountain (96 years old). It’s a bit closed when it’s first released (if you try the 2005, you’ll see what I mean), but by this point, the tannins have really softened and the wine has opened up and filled out.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
WINEMAKER: It’s easy to say roasted meat, but I’m thinking about one dish in particular. At one of my favorite local restaurants here, they have a wood fired oven special every night. On occasion, they will break out their brisket of beef—it’s super tender, with fantastic marbling and a smoky flavor that really takes on the best qualities of this wine. And just so that everyone knows, it’s Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Now that I’ve told you, make sure you save me a portion of the brisket.
RED: That might be difficult! What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
WINEMAKER: It changes depending on the season, but even though we’re heading towards the tail end of summer soon, it’s Sauvignon Blanc. Besides for it being great for the time of year, I have a bit of an ulterior motive, as we have a vineyard in Rutherford that was recently planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet, from which we’re expecting the first harvest next year. So I guess I might be subconsciously anticipating that.
RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?
WINEMAKER: For wines in general, I’d say to trust yourself and to drink what you like. I really do mean that—if you like wines that other people look down on, who cares? The main thing I hope for from the consumer is that they’re having something they really like, not something someone tells them they should like. I understand that’s tough when certain elements out there decry an oaky chardonnay, for example. OK, maybe I might not enjoy that, but that doesn’t mean someone else shouldn’t. At the same time though, I would say to broaden your horizons. Try something you haven’t heard of. Keep an open mind. It’s all something to be enjoyed, so let’s keep it fun and not intimidating.
RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?
WINEMAKER: This also changes, but right now it’s Champagne. There are so many quality producers that once you’ve tried some of the smaller houses, it’s tough to go back to some of the grand marques that trade on reputation alone. It’s also very versatile with food, and fun to have—kind of adding a bit of ceremony to any occasion.
RED: What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?
WINEMAKER: How about: ”What am I most excited about at the winery?” I’d say we’re going through some pretty big changes, which I think are for the better. I can’t say much about it now, but stay tuned!
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – well not your identity! – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
WINEMAKER: Thanks for your time, especially if you’ve read this far down. We’ll keep on trying to make the wines that our fans enjoy.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Howell Mountain region in Napa County can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the winery says
About This Wine:
This wine is a dark purple red in the glass and has a surprisingly subdued nose right out of the bottle, but one that after a couple hours opens into scents of vanilla, anise, and blackberries, as well as a very heady sweet oak smell. On the palate it is extremely well balanced between the pepper and fruit extremes of Zinfandel: lush but not overly jammy flavors of blueberries and blackberries with hints of the vanilla from the nose, balanced by leather and tar elements mixed with some peppercorns.
About The Winery:
Howell Mountain Vineyards was acquired in 2005 by Rutherford Bench LLC, which is owned by the Chow Family. The Howell Mountain Vineyards brand was originally established in 1988 to handcraft limited releases of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beatty Ranch and Black Sears vineyards in Napa Valley’s renowned Howell Mountain region. From their elevations of over 1,800 feet, Howell Mountain grapes are known to produce exceptionally bold, full-bodied and rich wines.
Howell Mountain is located northeast of St. Helena, above the Silverado Trail, with the Napa Valley to the west and Pope Valley to the east. With its high elevations, the mountain avoids the influence of fog that blankets the valley floor beneath, creating a climate that is cooler than most of Napa Valley during the day, but warmer at night. Because of this, Howell Mountain grapes have a character distinct from those grown on the Napa Valley floor, and have led to the region being recognized in 1983 as Napa Valley’s first sub-appellation.
The appellation encompasses around 14,000 acres, yet only 600 acres are planted due, in part, to the rugged nature of the region. The soils of this area are mostly well-drained tuff and volcanic rock. Water retention is poor, producing vines with low vigor and deep roots. These conditions are ideal for growing grapes that are small, tightly clustered and powerfully concentrated, for intense fruit flavors in the wines. In addition, the grapes develop thick skins that yield rich tannins. Tannins are important in the production of good red wines as they provide flavor, structure, and texture.
At an elevation of over 1800 feet, the Beatty Ranch has the oldest Zinfandel vines on Howell Mountain. Planted on 2m x 2m spacing with head trained vines, the vineyard is carefully cultivated using minimal chemicals and no irrigation and has produced top quality Zinfandel fruit for over 80 vintages. The Beatty Ranch consists of 18 acres of Zinfandel and 14 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Black Sears Vineyard, situated 2400 feet above the Napa Valley, is one of the highest vineyards in Napa County. Its vines were planted with budwood from the Hayne Vineyard in St. Helena, and are also head trained and dry farmed. The Black Sears Vineyard uses only organic cultivation practices, and its low-yielding vines create fruit that is fully mature and ripe. The Black Sears Vineyard has 20 acres of Zinfandel.
Appellation: Howell Mountain