The character of Howell's wines...is long-lasting, and only now are the wines that were made in the previous decade beginning to reveal their true personalities.
“Three to Cellar,” Departures, 2014:
Wine collecting used to be pretty simple: Buy first growth Bordeaux, grand cru Burgundy and “cult” Napa Cabernet, wait a decade or two and then either drink the bottles or sell them for many times the original price paid. And costs in these categories have indeed gone from expensive to stratospheric as global demand has soared; in fact, the current auction sales record was set in Hong Kong last year when a case of 1978 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grand Cru from Burgundy, France, sold for $476,280.
Even for those who have thousands of dollars to spend on a Domaine de la Romanée-Conci La Tâche upon its release, it can be more interesting to build a cellar that will appreciate in value by looking for underrated gems. Some of the best options of this kind are actually being turned out now in California.
Chris Howell studied winemaking in France before moving back to California, but he ended up on the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains, at Cain Vineyard & Winery, in the Spring Mountain district, in St. Helena. Unlike many of his neighbors, who add enzymes and use filtration to control the microbial life in their wines, Howell is not afraid of the wild nature of the process—including an acceptance of the dreaded Bretcanomyces, a yeast strain that is often derided in California but is present in many old-world wines. The character of Howell’s wines, especially the Cain Five ($125), blended from five Bordeaux varieties, is long-lasting, and only now are the wines that were made in the previous decade beginning to reveal their true personalities.
By Chad Walsh