Archive for June, 2014

“A finer Flower was never drank”: A Look at Early Advertisements of the Wines of Chateau Haut-Brion 1705-1717

June 27, 2014 1 comment

The London Gazette has widely been referenced in discussing the history of Chateau Haut-Brion.[1]  This is due in part because the earliest known advertisement in Britain for the wine of Haut-Brion was published here in May 1705.[2]  This and other advertisements feature Haut-Brion as prize wines that were captured then condemned and sold by the Exchequer.   The London Gazette maintains free online access to the archive making it an open source for contemporary historians.  However, the London Gazette was not the only publication to feature these advertisements for they also appear in The Daily Courant , The GuardianThe Spectator, and The Tatler.  It is possible that these publications have not yet been referenced for they are a part of the 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers which requires paid access.  The Daily Courant was the first daily British newspaper,  originally produced by Elizabeth Mallet.  Richard Steele had a hand in publishing The Guardian, The Spectator, and The Tatler.  It appears that these were all Whig publications.[2.5]  Whether any advertisements appear in Tory publications remains to be investigated.

The first known advertisement for Haut-Brion in the London Gazette. []

The first known advertisement for Haut-Brion in the London Gazette. [2]

Several of the Haut-Brion prize wine advertisements appear simultaneously in these publications.  This suggests an effort by the government to reach a larger audience than commonly thought.  A quick comparison also reveals that the London Gazette did not run the advertisements of Haut-Brion imported by private individuals during the period of interest.[3]  Additionally, there is at least one instance where Haut-Brion prize wine was not advertised in the London Gazette.   A potential reason for this stems from the format of the publication.  The early issues of the London Gazette feature two printed pages.  The advertisements appear after the news on the second page.  Thus the amount of news dictated the space leftover for the advertisements.  This varied from as much as one and a half columns to half a column.  This suggests that when advertisement space ran low the Haut-Brion prize wine was advertised in other publications.

A Rake's Progress (plate 3) 1735 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Transferred from the reference collection 1973

See Pontac’s portrait in the upper-right of A Rake’s Progress (plate 3) 1735 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Transferred from the reference collection 1973

An example of an advertisement for Haut-Brion prize wine that appears in in both The Tatler and the Daily Courant and not the London Gazette was published on the December 23, 1710.  Here we find some 60 hogsheads and 12 tierces of “new excellent French Obrion claret of the very last vintage”, being 1709, advertised for sale by the broker Thomas Tomkins of Seething Lane at Lloyd’s Coffee House on December 29, 1710.[4]  It is possible that at least two hogsheads of Haut-Brion were sold and other top growth wines included because the December 27, 1710, advertisement in The Daily Courant lists some 58 hogsheads and 16 tierces of “Obrion and other very good growths”.[5]  The wine was the cargo of a French prize ship taken by a Guernsey privateer. [6]

Charles Ludington writes that the Haut-Brion advertised between 1705-1707 represent wine sold at government-sponsored auctions. While the lots condemned by the Exchequer continued to be advertised throughout the years, other merchants began to sell Haut-Brion as well.   In 1711, there was one parcel sold by a wine merchant at his house.  Amongst his Hermitage and Burgundy in flasks was “Obrion Claret” at 3s. per bottle.[7]  Whether this merchant imported the wine himself or bottled it from casks taken from a prize ship is not specified.  Messieurs Tourton and Guiguer imported “Margaux, Obrion, and other of the best growths” for sale by the candle on May 21, 1712.[8] In 1716 Peter Rafa imported a parcel of “extraordinary good old Margaux, and Obrion French Claret” of the vintage 1714.[9]

A Prospect of the City of London, 1724 (with key). PAH9880. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

A Prospect of the City of London, 1724 (with key). PAH9880. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

What did Haut-Brion taste like that caused it to be sold at such high prices?  In 1712, 87 hogshead of “la Fit, la Tour, Margaux, Obrion” were described as “deep, bright, and of the true Flavour, fit for perfecting drinking, having been racked in France.”[10]  Peter Rafa described his wines as “deep, bright, strong and fresh, of a curious Flavour and taste”.  In 1713, a merchant at the Golden-Key described the “very last vintage” as “bright, deep, strong, and of a most delicious Flavour…and is certainly the noblest Flower for Colour, Taste and Smell that was ever imported.”[11]  One parcel of “New Pontack French Claret” advertised in 1717 was described as “perfectly neat, strong, deep, bright, and of the right delicious Flavour peculiar to that Growth”.[12]  This merchant continued to claim through 1719 that there was nothing in London to compare it to, even at 7s. per bottle.  The reader might be relieved to find he offered it for sale at only 42s. per dozen or 3s. 6d. per bottle.[13]  These flavor descriptions of “curious”, “delicious”, and “peculiar” echo what Samuel Pepys described in his diary some 50 years earlier, “Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with.”[14]

[1] In such books as Asa Briggs’ Haut-Brion, Clive Coates’ Grand Vins, and Charles Ludington’s The Politics of Wine in Britain.
[2] Classified ads . London Gazette (London, England), May 14, 1705 – May 17, 1705; Issue 4123
[2.5] Harris, Michael. The Press in English Society from the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries. 1986.
[3] The London Gazette did run advertisements for wine that appears to not be condemned such as that of Nathaniel Wood.  The London Gazette. Publication date:19 December 1710 Issue:4785Page:2. URL:
[4] Advertisement. (1710). The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., (267) Retrieved from and Classified ads .  Daily Courant (London, England), Saturday, December 23, 1710; Issue 2861.
[5] Advertisement. (1710). The Daily Courant, (2863) Retrieved from
[6] This parcel is not to be confused with the claret from the two prize ships captured by Captain Daniel Nastell of Gurnsey that appears in the London Gazette on December 30, 1710.  We know they are separate parcels because they simultaneously appear in the Tatler on December 23, 1710.  See: The London Gazette. Publication date:30 December 1710 Issue:4790Page:2 and Classified ads . Tatler (1709) (London, England), December 23, 1710 – December 26, 1710; Issue 268.
[7] Advertisement. (1711). The Spectator (1711), (199) Retrieved from
[8] The London Gazette. Publication date:17 May 1712 Issue:5006Page:2. URL:
[9] Advertisement. (1716). The Daily Courant, (4581) Retrieved from
[10] Advertisement. (1712). The Spectator (1711), (281) Retrieved from
[11] Advertisement. (1713). Guardian, 1713, (34) Retrieved from
[12] Advertisement. (1717). The Daily Courant, Retrieved from
[13] Advertisement. (1719). The Daily Courant, (5610) Retrieved from
[14] The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 10 April 1663. URL:

Lirac From Mordorée and Alain Jaume

The pair of Lirac featured in this post represent good value for wines that will develop in the cellar.  The 2012 Domaine de la Mordorée, La Dame Rousse, Lirac is clearly a young wine in need of age.  Right now, the mineral flavors take on an extra dimension from the orange citrus and incensed wood notes.  This will become the more complex of the two wines.  The 2010 Alain Jaume et Fils, Roquedon, Lirac proved to be the more powerful of the two.  It is a fruitier wine that mixes attractive baking spices both on the nose and in the mouth.  I would cellar this until the fall then drink is a daily wine for years to come. These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2012 Domaine de la Mordorée, La Dame Rousse, Lirac – $18
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.  This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah sourced from 40 year old vines.  Alcohol 14.5%.  There were minerally black fruit flavors before a mixture of tart black and raspberry fruit.  As the wine became redder it took on a little orange citrus, dried herbs, and more levity.  The acidity was bound in.  With air, notes of incensed wood and vermouth developed inside a moderate structure of very fine, dry, and spicy tannins.  **(*) 2016-2024+.


2010 Alain Jaume et Fils, Roquedon, Lirac – $16
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.  This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, and 10% Carignan.  It was aged for 15 month in oak casks.  Alcohol 14.5%.  The nose revealed aromas of mixed-fruit cobbler along with some attractive baking spices.  The flavors began with black fruit that was dense and powerful.  The wine was a little spicy and smoky before taking on ripe baking spices in the finish.  The structure was evident as dry, wood tannins.  **(*) 2014-2020.


A West-Coast Trio: Sbragia, Ch Ste Michelle, & Ridge

I continue to purchase the wines that are featured on this blog.  Hopefully this gives you a good sense of my interests one of which led me to pick up the 2007 Ridge, Zinfandel, York Creek.  There is an uncanny ability for Ridge wines to develop and age but I feel this particular bottle drank at its peak.  Indeed the back label reveals a development forecast to 2014-2016.  The wine was a bit soft at first but once it firmed up the fruit, minerals, acidity, and structure were in pleasing balance.

Andy has been recommending wines as of late including the 2010 Chateau Ste Michelle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canoe Ridge Estate, Horse Heaven Hills.  This bottle must sport the largest ratio of mouthful-of-flavor to price out there.  It is a seamless wine with dense, dark fruit matched by a chocolate vein.  This will surely be a crowd pleaser, it was a bit too much for me though not fatiguing.  Another recommendation from Andy is the 2011 Sbragia Family Vineyards, Zinfandel, Gino’s Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley.   I had never heard of Sbragia before so if you have not then try this wine.  It is more elegant but has complexity.  I particularly liked the subtle orange and tobacco flavors.  If you drink it now give it a few hours in the decanter otherwise try it at the end of the year.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2007 Ridge, Zinfandel, York Creek – $23
This wine is a blend of 78% Zinfandel and 22% Petite Sirah sourced from vines planted between the 1970s and 1990.  It was fermented with indigenous yeast then aged for 12 months in new and used American oak barrels.  Alcohol 14.6%.  There were rather ripe aromas of macerated fruit.  In the mouth there was a certain softness at first but the wine firmed up with air.  There were minerally flavors of red and black fruit, appropriate acidity, and a supportive structure.  The maturity came through with the cedar and wood-box infused finish.  Drinking well right now.  *** Now-2015.


2010 Chateau Ste Michelle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canoe Ridge Estate, Horse Heaven Hills – $22
This wine is a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 2% Syrah, and 1% Malbec which was fermented with both indigenous and inoculated yeasts in French oak barrels then aged sur lie for 10 months.  Alcohol 14.5%.  The nose revealed dense, ripe aromas of musky chocolate.  Tasted over four nights the silky flavors of dense, dark fruit mixed with moderately ripe tannins and had no edges at all.  This completely integrated wine was rich, smooth, and full of flavors including chocolate.  The ample oak influence was matched by the fruit.  *** Now-2016.


2011 Sbragia Family Vineyards, Zinfandel, Gino’s Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley – $30
This wine is a field blend of 85% Zinfandel, 10% Carignan, and 5% Petite Sirah sourced from 55 year old vines on the 5 acre Gino’s Vineyard.  It was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.  Alcohol 14.4%.  The lighter but complex nose made way to brighter red fruit in the mouth.  The flavors were slightly tart but still ripe with strawberry notes and an orange hint.  There was some tobacco as well as freshness from a little menthol.  With air a lipstick component came out.  *** 2014-2019.


David Sampedro Gil’s Unique Pasolasmonjas

The unusual 2008 David Sampedro Gil, Pasolasmonjas, Navarra hit the shelves just several weeks ago.  David Sampedro Gil aims to produce wines the way his grandfather did which translates to biodynamic farming and minimal intervention in winemaking.  His efforts caught the attention of The Wine Spectator who listed him as one of six leading the way in the October 2012 issue.  The particular wine featured in today’s post is produced using fruit from 60-70+ year old vines from a single mountainous vineyard.  I have already opened several bottles and find that the dried herbs and generally dry nature of this wine are evocative of scrubby land.  You should try this wine if you are at all curious.  This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2008 David Sampedro Gil, Pasolasmonjas, Navarra – $16
Imported by Bacchus Importers.  This wine is 100% Garnacha aged 12-16 months in oak.  Alcohol 13.5 %.  The nose combines dried herbs and cherry aromas to provide vermouth like complexity.  In the mouth were rather dry flavors and drying tannins on the gums.  The dense flavors mixed with dried, green herbs, integrated acidity, and wood notes.  The dry flavors and tannins coat the back of the mouth leaving an aftertaste evocative of vermouth.  Rather unique. *** Now-2018.


Oddities from Italy IncludingBarrel-Aged Rosato, Muller-Thurgau, and Sulphur-free Wines

A recent selection of Italian wines has once again proved interesting.  My favorite of the group is the 2012 Radoar, Etza, Vigneti delle Dolomiti Bianco.  This wine was produced by Norbert Blasbichler on his farm in the Dolomite mountains.  His family has been farming the land for centuries and currently tends cows, grows cereals, walnuts, apples, and of course grapevines.  While there have been vines on the farm for two centuries it had only been since 1999 that the wines were bottled and sold.  His white Etza is a lovely wine that changed with air.  While it is full of white fruit and citrus flavors it is the ample component of stones that elevates the wine.  Definitely worth checking out.  I have had a few aged rosé wines both from forgotten bottles and robust regions like Bandol.  However, the 2007 Fondo Antica, Vina Memorie Rosato, Sicily is certainly unique.  The 2007 vintage is the current release for a wine fermented and raised in oak barrels!   With its autumnal aromas and vintage perfume infused flavors this is more of a wine to contemplate one glass at a time.

Reading about the 2010 Cantina Giardino, La fole, Campania Aglianico entices curiosity for each vintage is produced differently employing an array of oak and cherry barrels, stainless steel, fiberglass, and home-made amphoras.  The wines are typically bottled as-is but sulphur is sometimes added.  The nose was somewhat interesting with its strong funk that morphed into earthy aromas.  But then there was that piercing natural-wine aroma, flavor, and powerful tannins that I just do not like nor understand.  There was a sense of that naturalness in the 2009 Masseria Guttarol, Lamie Delle Vigne, Puglia.  This wine was also bottled without sulphur and though the piercing natural aroma came through on the nose it sported finely scented spices and berries.  The flavors in the mouth were good with a pleasing mineral note.  This is certainly worth trying as an unique take on Primitivo.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2012 Radoar, Etza, Vigneti delle Dolomiti Bianco – $29
Imported by Louis/Dressner.  This wine is 100% Muller-Thurgau which was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Alcohol 12.5%. The wine was initially round but with air white fruit and ample stone flavors came out.  There was a puckering start followed by drying, citrus flavors, lovely stone notes, and citric pith and tannins on the gums.  It became slightly floral with salivating acidity.  Nice wine.  *** Now-2016.


2007 Fondo Antica, Vina Memorie Rosato, Sicily – $22
Imported by.  This wine is 100% Nero d’Avola which was fermented and aged in barrels.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The wine had a dried rose color.  The aromas of Nero d’Avola mixed with autumnal notes and yeast.  The wine smooth out with air to reveal tart flavors, vintage perfume notes, acidity, and almost fine, drying tannins.  ** Now-2017.


2010 Cantina Giardino, La fole, Campania Aglianico – $23
Imported by Louis/Dressner.  Alcohol 12.5%.  On the first evening the nose was overtly funky with some tobacco notes.  On the second evening it revealed earthy aromas in a sea of piercing natural aromas.  In the mouth were bitter fruit flavors that became black with drying spices.  There were notes of new leather, red-black fruit, along with strong tannins and citric-pith that coated the gums.  Not my style but perhaps better with a little age.  * 2015-2018.


2009 Masseria Guttarol, Lamie Delle Vigne, Puglia – $23
Imported by Louis/Dressner/  This wine is 100% Primitivo sourced from 25+ year old vines on soils of limestone and clay.  It was fermented with indigenous yeasts then aged for 20 months in stainless steel.  It was bottled without sulphur.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose was more aromatic on the second night with natural wine aromas, finely scented spices, and tart berries.  In the mouth were tarty, grapey red fruit flavors then blacker fruit as the acidity became more noticeable.  The light flavors were tart on the tongue tip.  The wine finished with mineral notes in the dry finish.  **(*) 2015-2019.


Homicidal Winemakers: Images from Speculum Humanae Salvationis

June 19, 2014 2 comments

In the late 1830s Adam Lindsay of Washington, DC exhibited a grape cluster as detailed in my post Bomford, Lindsay, and Smith: The Early Vineyards of Washington, DC.  The Columbian Horticultural Society wrote that it “contained such abundance of the finest grapes as would have puzzled Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, the son of Nun, to have borne off from the land of promise without detection.”  At the time I did not understand what this and a few images I had seen referred too.  In this post I featured two sets of images from different editions of the popular Speculum Humanae Salvationis.  The first set features the man-sized grape cluster of Grappe de la Terre Promise.  Given the illustrations, Adam Lindsay’s cluster must have been gigantic!  While this image may be familiar to some of you that of Les Vignerons Homicides may be unfamiliar.  It is helpful that the French manuscripts preserve Vignerons whereas many English versions note Land Owners or Tenants.  Homicidal winemakers and sommeliers left for dead….the early history of wine in France sounds deadly!

Grappe de la Terre Promise

La grappe de la Terre Promise apportée par les espions de Moïse. Speculum humanae salvationis. 1482. #Rés Inc 1043, f. 422v-423. Bibliotheque Muunicipale de Lyon.

La grappe de la Terre Promise apportée par les espions de Moïse. Speculum humanae salvationis. 1482. #Rés Inc 1043, f. 422v-423. Bibliotheque Muunicipale de Lyon.

And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.[1]

Grappe de la Terre Promise rapportée par les espions de Moïse. Speculum humanae salvationis. de Choquez, Jacques. 1462. #Ms 245, f. 142. Bibliotheque Municipale de Lyon.

Grappe de la Terre Promise rapportée par les espions de Moïse. Speculum humanae salvationis. de Choquez, Jacques. 1462. #Ms 245, f. 142. Bibliotheque Municipale de Lyon.

Les Vignerons Homicides

Parabole des vignerons homicides. Speculum humanae salvationis. de Choquez, Jacques. 1462. #Ms 245, f. 142. Bibliotheque Municipale de Lyon.

Parabole des vignerons homicides. Speculum humanae salvationis. de Choquez, Jacques. 1462. #Ms 245, f. 142. Bibliotheque Municipale de Lyon.

Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.[2]

Parabole des vignerons homicides. Speculum humanae salvationis. 1482. #Rés Inc 1043, f. 421v-422. Bibliotheque Municipale de Lyon.

Parabole des vignerons homicides. Speculum humanae salvationis. 1482. #Rés Inc 1043, f. 421v-422. Bibliotheque Municipale de Lyon.

[1] Spies Sent to Canaan (Deuteronomy 1:19-25). Bible Hub. URL:
[2] The Triumphal Entry(Zechariah 9:9-13; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19). Bible Hub. URL:

Vignes Tropicales and Vignes de l’Extreme Orient: The Top Wine Producing Countries in 1889

June 18, 2014 1 comment

Statistics are fun particularly when Russia, Algeria, Turkey, and Serbia are detailed as producing more wine that the United States.  However, it is the accompanying map that I find fascinating.  For Vitis Vinifera the legend differentiates between vines cultivated in vineyards and that which grows wild or is propagated in gardens.  The later of which is a subject worthy of exploration.  The inclusion of Cissus, Vignes Tropicales, and Vignes de l’Extreme Orient demonstrates how exotic the history of wine is.



IN THE WORLD (1889) Hectolitres

  1. France                          29,677,095
  2. Italie (1889)                   21,139,100
  3. Espagne, Baleares et Canaries   20,509,942
  4. Austriche-Hongrie               10,300,000
  5. Allemagne                        3,643,000
  6. Russie                           3,500,000
  7. Portugal, Acores et Madere       3,000,000
  8. Algerie (1889)                   2,512,198
  9. Turquie d’Europe et d’Asie       2,500,000
  10. Serbie                          2,000,000
  11. Grece (1887)                    1,760,000
  12. Etats-Unis et Californie        1,505,000
  13. Roumanie                        1,505,000
  14. Chili                           1,200,000
  15. Suisse                          1,000,000
  16. Republique Argentine              807,930
  17. Cap de Bonne Esperance (1888)     255,000
  18. Australie (1888)                  104,843
  19. Bresil                            100,000
  20. Mexique                             8,750
  21. Tunisie                             3,263

[1] Mouillefert, Pierre. Les Vignobles et Les Vins de France et de l’Etranger. 1889. Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), 2012-234328. URL:

Categories: History of Wine

Vendange Divine:Divine Vintage

June 17, 2014 1 comment

I was captivated by the image featured in today’s post.  At first I did not know what the picture symbolized with the man harvesting grapes, two devilish beasts trodding the grapes, and wine flowing to a pair of horses.  The wine itself is an orange color compared to the red background in the left-half of the image.  Most of the images I review in books, photographic archives, and blogs are all very practical with their exhibits of pruning, a winemaker in a vineyard, or barrels resting in a cellar.  Though a divine image there are practical aspects to it: the two harvesting knives and the pole to support those crushing the grapes.  Fabulous!

Ange sortant du Temple et Ange tenant le feu de l'autel ordonnant la vendange divine. Vendange divine. 1220-1270. [1]

Ange sortant du Temple et Ange tenant le feu de l’autel ordonnant la vendange divine. Vendange divine. 1220-1270. [1]

“And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.  And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.”

[1]  Bibliothèque municipale de Toulouse, Ms 815 – fol. 034v. URL:
[2] From “The Harvest of the Earth” Revelations 14. BibleHub. URL:

As the Crow Flies: Historic Images of “Les Quatre Premiers Grands Crus du Medoc”

June 16, 2014 1 comment

Pierre Aussel published his La Gironde a Vol d’Oiseau Ses Grands Vins et Ses Chateaux in 1865.[0]  This was a comprehensive treatment of the wines and vineyards of the Gironde that included history, production methods, and commerce.   Pierre Aussel then collaborated with Alfred Danflou in producing a second edition of his book.  Together they explored the vineyards and chateaux marveling at both the monumental and picturesque.  They were captivated by the crenellation, turrets, porticoes, and pinnacles such that they wondered why they had never seen photographs of the chateaux in a gallery.  They decided to capture “ces monuments ancients et moderns de notre viticulture national” as photographic art.  This effort was manifested in the first edition of Les Grands Crus Bordelais which was published in 1866 and focused on 15 of the first and second growth wines.[1]  The second edition was published one year later in an attempt to be complete.[2]  This edition spanned two volumes which covered the first, second, third, and fourth growths as well as Sauternes.

I have included images of the four first growths from both editions for comparison.   The photographs that appear in the first edition are more casual.  That of Chateau-Lafitte contains a road in the foreground where a horse and cart are stopped on the side.  The driver has turned his head to watch the photographer.  The photograph of Chateau Margaux was taken outside the gate and is slightly angled, leaving the sense of being an observer looking in.  The image of Chateau Haut Brion is of the now uncommon side.  The photographs in the second edition show more studious composition.  The name of Chateau Lafitte changed to Chateau Lafite.  The images are immersive with better perspective such as that of Chateau Latour that may have been taken on a ladder.  Chateau Margaux was photographed within the gate and Chateau Haut Brion now features the famous facade.  Please review the pictures I have included in this post but I strongly recommend you review the archive quality images referenced below.

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac

Chateau-Lafitte a Paulliac [1]

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [1]

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Lafite a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [1]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [1]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [1]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [1]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [2]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [2]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [1]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [1]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [2]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [2]

[0] Aussel, . La Gironde a Vol d’Oiseau. 1865. URL:
[1] Danflou, Alred. Les Grands Crus Bordelais.  1866.  Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL:
[2] Danflou, Alred. Les Grands Crus Bordelais.  Premiere Part.  1867.  Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL:

A Visit to Dunn Vineyards with Mike Dunn

June 12, 2014 1 comment


Jenn and I first tasted the wines of Dunn Vineyards well over a decade ago.  We were attending a New Year’s Eve party thrown by a student who was minding the substantial house of a venture capitalist.  We were allowed to raid the small wine closet by the bar.  One random grab resulted in a wax sealed bottle of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.  I clearly remember sitting outside, drinking it out of cups.  Our recent experience is due to the annual California Barrel Tasting arranged by MacArthur Beverages.  Though Dunn Vineyards releases separate Howell Mountain and Napa Valley bottlings, there has always been a single unlabeled barrel sample.  I have consistently found them remarkably approachable, already complex, and somewhat earthy.  It was always clear that we would visit Dunn during our spring vacation to Sonoma and Napa Valleys.



The drive up to Howell Mountain was longer and more winding than I expected.  Only Kak’s phones managed to maintain a single bar of signal so when we unknowingly kept passing the drive to Dunn Vineyards we were able to reach Mike Dunn on the phone.  There are no signs marking the entrance for this is not only a vineyard and winery but the home of Randy and Lori Dunn.  This is very much a family run winery so it was Mike who met us that afternoon.  We started off by exploring the barrel caves or tunnels that were built one decade after the winery was established in 1979.  These tunnels are completely passive and feature a sloping floor so that any excess moisture or water can drain out.


Mike began assisting at the winery in 1997 then working full-time back in 2000.  Though he still works under his father’s watch, this is very much his territory.   Mike moves all the barrels himself, racks them, and cleans them such that the physical aspects of winemaking give him an aura of strength.  The barrels are stacked two-high, demonstrating his sole physical ability.  There are a lot of barrels in the tunnel.  His son even included a scene of Mike moving the barrels on the mural that appears on the side of the barn.  There was a lone, five gallon glass carboy, they are more fragile than a keg, that he pointed out is used to produce the barrel sample for MacArthur Beverages.  There was at least one larger hogshead that seemed innocent enough until the barrel cleaning equipment needed to be modified to account for the increased diameter.



The fermentation tanks lie just outside the entrance.  They are exposed to the elements but can be covered if needed.  The grapes are sorted in the vineyard so no sorting table is used at the winery.  Mike explained that a sorting table itself introduces one more potential source of contamination.



The winery was originally located in the old white house.  Today the basement is used to store equipment like the pump, bottling device, hand operating corking machine, and packing material.  While the Napa Valley bottles feature a capsule the Howell Mountain bottles are sealed with wax by hand.  The tremendous amount of effort required to farm the vineyards and produce the wine is always evident here.



We followed Mike upstairs.  Despite the presence of the large office, the kitchen and tasting room, which is essentially a dining room, made me feel like I was in the Dunn family home.  They were currently evaluating ten different samples from the 2011 vintage.  Mike poured us one of them and later on we smelled several others.  The samples are followed over several days.  The glasses are covered and periodically freshened from the relevant bottle.  Recent vintages have experienced more variable weather but the mountain location of the vineyards has buffered them from any extremes.


Mike is quite candidate and practical about the work in the vineyard, making the wine, as well as factors that directly affect the price to the consumer.  Mike has been learning more about the vineyards as of late and how they directly influence the wine.  The parcels are generally planted around 2,000 feet in elevation with deep volcanic soils at three feet. The roots take up potassium which results in particularly high levels in their wines.  Potassium acts as a buffer, resisting changes to pH, so this can affect how they vinify.  Mike will use Round-Up to treat weeds and may apply at night not to be secretive but to take advantage of minimal winds.  Randy Dunn has long been opposed to wines over 14% alcohol and openly employs reverse osmosis to lower his alcohol levels.  Mike still follows this tradition as well as employs the use of commercial yeasts and acidification if needed.


In addition to the sample we also tasted three vintages of the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon as well as two bottles from Retro Cellars.  The 2010 vintage of the Howell Mountain was young with good personality and grip.  The 2007 and 2005 vintages were more expressive on the nose giving just a hint of what is to come.  We finished with the 2009 vintages of the Retro Cellars Howell Mountain and Napa Valley Petite Sirahs.  This project was started in 2003 by Mike and his wife Kara so everything is done according to their preferences.  Of these two wines the Napa Valley bottle was more forward and fruity but the Howell Mountain had juicy acidity and a saltiness I very much enjoy in wine.  In retrospect it is not surprising that Mike has produced such excellent Petite Sirah for over the years he has made wine from other varieties such as Sangiovese.

I definitely recommend you take the drive up to Howell Mountain to visit Dunn Vineyards.  During our trip we even met a couple who had travelled all the way from Hong Kong!  Thanks again to Mike, Kara, and Kristina for arranging our visit.   Please find my brief tasting notes below.


2011 Dunn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sample B
There were good dry black and red fruit flavors along with good acidity and tannic structure.  The flavors had initial red hint before picking up midpalate density, lovely acidity, and a black, minerally finish.  It was slightly spicy with a hint of smoke.


2010 Dunn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
Alcohol 13.9%. There was a little greenhouse aroma with a subtle tobacco leaf note.  In the mouth the red fruit mixed with greenhouse flavors.  The wine had good grip, lively acidity, bright fruit, and a little weight.

2007 Dunn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
Alcohol 13.9%. The nose was starting to relax and reveal perfume.  The flavors were a little more generous with a ripe cote of fruit, nice structure, and character.

2005 Dunn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
Alcohol 13.8%. There was more on the nose followed by rounder flavors in the mouth.  It had gentle delicate spices, greenhouse flavors, and a hint of drying structure.  It left nice, ripe tannins in the mouth.


2009 Retro Cellars, Petite Sirah, Napa County
There was fruit on the nose.  In the mouth the fruit mixed with a dry structure then took on ripe spices.  This was a fruity wine, ripe and sweeter towards the finish.  It had a lot of texture.

2009 Retro Cellars, Petite Sirah, Park Muscatine, Howell Mountain
There was good fruit in the mouth that became tart and black in the middle.  There structure was there but it had a round finish with juicy acidity and a little salty flavor.  There was a bright lift at the end followed by tannins and minerals in the aftertaste.