Friday, September 1, 2023

Ladera Howell Mtn Cabernet with Beef Roast

Ladera Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with Beef Roast Dinner

Linda prepared a beef roast with roasted potatoes and haricot verts, and I pulled from the cellar this Howell Mountain Cabernet for an ideal food and wine pairing.

As posted in these pages earlier when I wrote about this producer and their other label, we discovered this wine and purchased it following our visit to the Ladera Vineyards estate and winery up on Howell Mountain in 2006 and then again during our Napa Valley Howell Mountain Wine Experience 2008

Owners Pat and Anne Stotesbery farmed two vineyards, one at either end of Napa Valley, the Lone Canyon vineyard on Mount Veeder and another on Howell Mountain, an estate vineyard that was most recently Chateau Woltner, but has a history dating back to the Brun & Chaix Winery in 1886.

The Howell Mountain vineyard was considered from the very beginning to be a little piece of France, and was named Nouveau Medoc Vineyard by the men who founded it. Jean Brun, a native of Bordeaux, and W.J. Chaix, whom he met in Napa, first planted 20 acres of Medoc grapes on Howell Mountain in 1877— among the first to plant vineyards up on Howell Mountain instead of down on the Napa Valley floor.

We'd driven past the historic formerly Chateau Woltner property many times over the years on our treks up Howell Mountain. 

The estate vineyards atop Howell Mountain are nestled around the ruins of the ancient stone winery with it’s 30-inch-thick walls, restored into the main winery building at Ladera. The fabulous historic building consists of production and barrel storage below and a rustic tasting room upstairs. It is surrounded by spectacular gardens, beds of lavender, and of course the vineyards. The structure was built entirely of hard, durable stone, three stories in height, roofed with shingles, and was partly dug into the side of the sloping hill to provide access by wagons or teams to all three floors.

Ladera means “hillside” or “slope” in Spanish, and in this single word you will find captured the essence of Ladera’s wines. The word “ladera” describes and unites both of these sites, characterized as they are by the steep slopes and dynamic micro-climates that make mountainside vineyards so special.

Each of their mountain vineyards were tucked in folds and creases of the mountains accessible only by the by tormenting winding roads far from the valley’s main highway corridor. The mountain winegrowing regions of Napa find cooler breezes and longer sun exposure days with restrained soils and well drained slopes that result in rich concentrated fruit.

Rick with Ladera owner/producer
Anne Stotesbery

The seeds for Ladera were planted in the early 1970s, when Pat and Anne Stotesbery fell in love while attending university in Northern California. Among their many shared interests, they discovered a passion for wine, and were soon taking wine classes together, and traveling to wine country for tastings.

The next two decades took them to Minnesota and Montana, where they ran a 3,200-acre ranch with 750 head of cattle, during which time, their interest in wine continued to grow.

With deep agricultural roots on both sides of their family, Pat and Anne Stotesbery acquired their first Napa Valley mountain vineyard in 1996. Their original vineyard was on Mount Veeder, the following year they purchased their second mountain vineyard, Lone Canyon.

In 1998, Pat and Anne made their first non-commercial vintage of 100 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon.

They moved their family to Napa Valley, and in 2000, they acquired a historic Howell Mountain property featuring an 82-acre vineyard. For the next 16 years, this property served as the home for Ladera.

Ladera primarily focused on Cabernet Sauvignon of which we still hold a several cases of four different labels across three vintages from this era. We also acquired some of their Pinot Noir which was sourced from Sonoma County, as well as their Malbec grown from estate fruit, of which we still hold a half case in our cellar.

The Stotesberys hired winemaker Karen Culler (formerly of Vichon winery, and her own label Culler Wines), and along with their vineyard manager Gabriel Reyes practice the sort of winegrowing and winemaking you might expect of a small family-run operation that makes about 12,000 cases of wine each year.

Around 2008, their son Dan visited us while on a wine promotion trip and we took him around to several of the local wine merchants in the area. 

In 2016, following the earlier sales of the Lone Canyon and the Mount Veeder properties, with their children grown and pursuing careers of their own, Pat and Anne sold their land on Howell Mountain.

Rustic Ladera tasting area in the historic
chai and barrel building back in 2006.

Ladera Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 

This bottle from our cellar is from the Howell Mountain vineyard located at an elevation of 1600 to 1800 feet, high above the Napa Valley floor, with gently rolling terrain. The soils are iron-rich, red, clay loam soils with an abundance of gravel for excellent drainage. At this elevation, the climate is very different from the valley floor. 

The fog line, at 1200 feet, is the demarcation point between what is designated as Napa Valley and Howell Mountain wines. Above the fog line in the summer, the grapes receive sun for a longer duration during the day and the temperatures are cooler in the day and warmer at night than the valley floor. The longer sun exposure and warmer nights allow Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen, resulting in wines that tend to be soft and elegant, with a finesse reminiscent of wines from Bordeaux.

We've had a dozen bottles of the mixed cases we acquired at the winery during our visits, and since, including the Napa Valley Cabernet and the Lone Canyon Cabernet. 

This is the first of this vintage Howell Mountain Cabernet we've tasted and it is by far the best, being fuller, more concentrated and rounded than the others. It was a perfect complement to the roast beef dinner.

At eighteen years, this is likely at the apex of its drinking window, not likely to improve with further age, but should drink well for several more years to come. 

The fill level, label, foil, and most importantly, the cork, were pristine, having been harbored in our cellar since acquisition.

About 2000 cases of this wine were made.

Dark garnet colored, complex and concentrated blackberry fruits with notes of cassis, licorice, vanilla, bitter chocolate and cedar, turning to full dusty tannins on the long bold finish.