Formerly known as the White Cottage Ranch property, this tiny estate on Howell Mountain was purchased in 2008 by Denise and Stephen Adams, who are also responsible for the resurrection of Château Fonplégade in Saint-Emilion. Their Howell Mountain property includes 28 acres under vine today, spread across five separate vineyards, all of which are located between 1,500 to 2,000 feet above sea level. While this is mostly red, volcanic soils, it’s a diverse terroir that has a mix of soil types and expositions. The vineyards are largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (25 acres) yet include a small amount of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

They produce a single Sauvignon Blanc and three Cabernet Sauvignon dominated cuvées from their estate. The largest production TÉRES release comes from younger vines and includes small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc; the QUINTVS release is the main cuvée of the estate and is all Cabernet Sauvignon from all of the estate vineyards; and the smallest production cuvée is the ADAMVS, which is an old vine selection of Cabernet Sauvignon. There are generally over 1,000 cases of the TÉRES, 600 cases of the QUINTVS, and around 100 cases of the flagship ADAMVS.

The winemaking today is handled by Sarah Donley who also gets consulting help from Philippe Melka.

While ADAMVS opted to not release any 2017s due to smoke taint, I was able to sit down with Denise and winemaker Sarah Donley in the fall of 2019 and taste through retrospectives of their top two cuvées.

We started the tasting with a single white and while the focus here is certainly on their reds, they’ve made one of the best Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tasted from California. Their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc was fermented and aged in 30% new cigar barrels, and despite being almost five years old, it’s still a baby and shows a vibrant gold hue as well as Haut-Brion Blanc like notes of crushed citrus, quince, lemon, white figs, and exotic flowers. Beautifully done, concentrated, with bright acidity and an age-worthy vibe, it can be drunk anytime over the coming 15+ years.

Moving to the QUINTVS cuvée, this can be thought of as the second wine of the estate, yet it sees the same elevage and winemaking as the top wine, spending 22 months in new barrels. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS certainly doesn’t taste like a second wine and offers incredible, full-bodied notes of chocolate-laced black fruits, violets, bay leaf, and loads of cedary herbs. This is a quintessential Howell Mountain Cabernet that’s drinking brilliantly today yet will cruise for another two decades or more. A more medium-bodied, elegant, Bordeaux styled effort, the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS offers a ruby hue as well as beautifully complex notes of spring flowers, cedarwood, tobacco, and both red and black fruits. It builds nicely on the palate, has wonderful complexity, resolved tannins, and a great finish. This elegant, complex, balanced beauty is ideal for drinking over the coming decade or so. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS shows the more ripe, sexy style of the vintage yet still has ample Howell Mountain structure and power. Lots of chocolate-laced fruits, spice-box, dried flowers, and tobacco notes flow to a full-bodied, voluptuous, seamless 2012 that’s drinking incredibly well today. Aged 21 months in new barrels, it’s going to evolve gracefully for another 20 years or more. More scorched earth, chocolate, graphite, and gravelly earth notes emerge from the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS and it’s a concentrated, full-bodied, structured, yet beautifully balanced 2013. It doesn’t quite have the power or dimensions of its big brother yet it’s not far off and is unquestionably a stunning wine. It’s just now on the early stages of its prime drink window and it’s going to evolve gracefully over the coming 20-25 years. The 2013 spent 22 months in 75% new French oak. I loved the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS and it shows the more seamless, polished, yet powerful style of this vintage brilliantly. All Cabernet brought up in 70% new oak, it offers a wonderful blue fruited quality as well as notes of violets, chocolate, and mountain scrub brush. Full-bodied, incredibly seamless, and just a great mix of power and elegance, drink this beauty anytime over the coming 20-25 years. From a hot, extreme vintage, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS is one of the riper, sexier, more overt wines in the lineup. This deep purple/plum hued effort offers up tons of ripe blackberry and plum fruits as well as notes of smoke tobacco, crushed rock-like minerality, licorice, and mountain herb aromas and flavors. Full-bodied, with sweet tannins and plenty of mid-palate depth, it’s a rocking effort from this estate that’s already drinking nicely yet should evolve for 15-20 years. More dark currants, blackberries, spring flowers, dark chocolate, and tobacco notes dominated the nose of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS and it’s a medium to full-bodied, beautifully balanced wine that shows the pure, classic style of the 2016 vintage. All Cabernet brought up in 75% new French oak, it has subtle oak, a beautiful mid-palate, silky tannins, and a great, great finish. It has shut down slightly over the past year and needs 4-5 years of bottle age, but it’s a stunning wine. Lastly, the not yet bottled 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon QUINTVS should be in the same realm as the 2016 and has a similar level of purity and elegance, as well as power. Lots of blue fruits, cassis, bay leaf, and bouquet garni notes emerge from the glass and it’s incredibly polished and balanced on the palate. It’s a beauty in the making.

Moving to the flagship cuvée, the Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS release comes from the oldest vines on the property and is a terroir and cellar selection. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS (100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in new barrels) offers a Château Latour-like level of depth and richness, as well as a certain austerity. Deep, full-bodied, and beautifully layered on the palate, it offers a formidable bouquet of blackcurrants, crème de cassis, smoke tobacco, graphite, and obvious minerality. Brought up all in new oak, give this rocking wine another 3-4 years and it’s going to evolve gracefully for another 20-30 years. As with the Quintvs release, the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS has an incredibly Bordeaux-like vibe in its lead pencil, tobacco, cedar, and sweet currant like fruits. While the 2010 reminds me of a top vintage from Latour, this is more Château Lafite-like with its medium to full body, flawless balance, and silky tannins. It’s beautifully done and will evolve gracefully for another two decades. From a great vintage for Napa Valley, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS is all Cabernet Sauvignon that spent 21 months in new oak. This full-bodied, powerful, yet opulent and showy 2012 has a boatload of sweet black raspberry and cassis fruit as well as notes of unsmoked tobacco, toasted spice, graphite, and dried herbs. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will. With loads of charm and personality, it’s drink nicely today, and will be drinking nicely in another 20 years as well. More backward, yet loaded with potential, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS reveals a saturated purple color as well as tons of blackcurrants, dark chocolate, truffle, and new leather notes. Full-bodied, structured, and backward on the palate, with building tannins, this majestic Howell Mountain Cabernet needs another 4-6 years of bottle age but should be a 40- or 50-year wine. I loved the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS and it’s a wonderfully complete, full-bodied, flawlessly balanced Cabernet that flirts with perfection. Offering classic Howell Mountain scrub brush, black tea, tobacco, and foresty notes, it has beautiful black and blue fruits, ripe, polished tannins, a great mid-palate and a monster of a finish. It’s one of those wines that carry incredible richness and power yet stays weightless and even elegant. Drink bottles anytime over the coming 20-30 years. The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS showed well, with the huge opulence and over-the-top character that’s common from this vintage. Rocking levels of blackberries, plums, graphite, spice, and chocolate are just some of the nuances here and it hits the palate with full-bodied richness, building tannins, and a ripe, seamless sexy texture that’s already hard to resist. Brought up all in new barrels, it’s going to continue evolving nicely for another 20-25 years or more. In the running for the greatest vintage to date at this estate, the inky colored 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS shows the incredible quality of this terroir as well as the vintage. Awesome notes of crème de cassis, crushed violets, and flowers all soar from the glass and it hits the palate with full-bodied richness and depth. Where the 2015 isn’t holding anything back, this beauty stays more focused and composed, with elegance paired with restrained power. It has charm even today yet is upwards of a decade away from maturity and will be 5o-year-wine. Hats off to winemaker Sarah Donley and consultant Philippe Melka for a sensational, magical wine! Lastly, the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ADAMVS is cut from the same cloth as the 2016 and has incredible purity and elegance matched up with serious power and opulence. Loads of blue fruits, bay leaf, violets, and chocolate notes dominated the bouquet and it has no hard edges, flawless balance, and enough tannins to warrant short term cellaring.

By Jeb Dunnuck
Founder & Wine Critic
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