Arkenstone Winery and Howell Mountain's Delicious Mountain Fruit
It's crazy to think that when the Krausz family first purchased this property on Howell Mountain in 1988, not only was it just grazing land sheltering "bear, coyote, mountain lion, rattle snake, scorpion and raptors of all sorts (as well as voracious grape eating wild turkeys) (Arkenstone Website)," but its designation as the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley AVA had only just occured in 1983. With the intention "to do something agricultural on the property," even though they bought it for the view, Jake Krausz said, his parents were eventually urged to check the soil and to grow grapes with a promise that "they would never regret it."
It's a story that is most likely familiar to many wine makers in the Napa Valley, and ongoing. California as a wine region is still so young. It was in 1994 that the Krausz finally moved up to Howell Mountain, changing their lifestyle completely, and in 1998 their first vineyards set root. To be honest, I'm not a zealous California cabernet drinker like many seem to be, however, after relishing over my first bottle of Dunn Vineyards, a 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, at the Crabtree Kittle House (killer wine list), I discovered that there is a perfect Cabernet land in Napa Valley with an emergent terroir that has perhaps already become: Howell Mountain -- and I love it. Eager to explore this legendary mountain fruit region, and as life's synchronicity tends to reward me when I know what I want, I practically met Jake Krausz moments after moving from NYC to Napa.
Besides the gorgeous grounds and astounding wine cave, the wine is delicious. I salivate every time I think about them . . . because they have this pristine acidity, pocketed inside this enveloping deep juicy black fruit and wrinkled earthiness. They are big but glide to the back of your mouth singing folk melodies while simultaneously whispering sweet nothings. The quintessential characteristics Howell Mountain is known for, Jake says, are being balanced with concentrated intense fruit, graphites in the reds, dried tobacco, and saddle-leather.
Arkenstone Winery has always practiced organic, "the short answer because my mother insisted on it." We like Jake's mom. Jake says, "We weren't going to clean any wooded area. The property has an incredibly healthy ecosystem that's sustainable. We didn't have to disrupt anything. Owls are a big part of rodent control. We spray with mineral oil and cover crop for nutrients. We plant a variety of grasses in between rows and cut and till them. All volcanic soils do not hold water. We use very little drip irrigation and stress the plants right to the point of shutting down."
Obsidian, the name of Arkenstone's estate blend, is also the black volcanic glass that can be found all over Howell Mountain. Arkenstone Winery produces four wines in total (tasting notes courtesy of Arkenstone Winery):
Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon (270 cases). The sauvignon and semillon are fermented separately all sur lie. One third of the sauvignon production is aged for eleven months in a French concrete egg "which activates convection and keeps the lees in motion;" one third in new french oak; and one third in used French oak. They only make one barrel of the semillon which spends eleven months in new French oak. Eveyting is then blended and bottle aged for a year and a half before release. Tasting notes of sweet pea, white flower, hints of tropical fruit, honey suckle, lemon curd, wet stone.
Obsidian, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot & Malbec (450 cases) Eleven months in barrel before blended and eleven months in barrel after the blend. One year in bottle before release. On the nose -- dusty, earthy, with minerality as well as mocha, black cherry, and violets. On the palate -- red cherry, ripe red berries and pomegranate blend with white lilac and jasmine on first sip leading to smooth espresso, blackberry, wet river rock, and mandarin orange spice.
Syrah (50 cases). Twenty-two months in French oak and one year bottle aging before release. On the nose -- mocha, tar, new leather with lavender, rose essence and a hint of white pepper lingering. On the palate -- juicy plum, blueberry, red cherry with a mid-range of caramel/molasses, blackberry, black cherry, nutmeg, and a trace of menthol.
Coliseum Block, their only non-estate wine from Hossfeld vineyard, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (100 cases) -- sourced from Soda Canyon on "very similar terrain and exposure" to their Howell Mountain property. Thirty three months French oak and one year in bottle. Longer aging because it's 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose -- mocha and leather with a hint of rose petal, nutmeg and cinnamon. On the palate deep black cherry and violet moving into chocolate and black cherry with dried tobacco on the mid-palate.
In 2005 The Arkenstone family decided to "break ground" and build a wine cave to eliminate the "limitations of picking and transporting" to a custom crush facility. They decided instead to build their own custom crush which was a more "sustainable business plan." Their first harvest at their own winery was 2008 where everything is gravity fed from the crush pad into the fermentation tanks. Right now they have 7 clients who use their facilities and their winery "processes about 300 tons total."
The last question I asked Jake during my interview with him for this blog post was what was his favorite routine about being a wine maker of which he gave me an incredible answer: "having something you can wake up and be passionate about. It's a lot of work but exciting and incredibly fulfilling."