Johnny B. Goode at 2200 Feet
Whenever we get together with Phil Coturri, the conversation always seems to begin with art, literature or rock 'n roll. Coturri, a high-energy mix of Didier Dagueneau and Jerry Garcia, counts Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead among his oldest friends. He once said that the Dead weren't "just the best at what they did, they were the only ones who did it." Many on Magic Road say the same of Coturri.
If you have time when next in the valley, take a day off from the tasting rooms and spend it walking the rows of Coturri-tended parcels. At the top of Magic Road, Phil's vines aren't so much cultivated as tailored, each plot manicured like some sort of Bonsai Cabernet field.
Still, when you speak with Phil, he remains understated about his work, loathe to provide the names of the Napa blue chippers who enter into annual 5-figure-per-ton bidding wars for his fruit. Press him to utter the names of Bill Harlan, Robert Kamen, Dalla Valle or Laurel Glen, and he shifts gears in a deft conversational riff, somehow finishing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
So when we heard that Phil was farming Korbin Kameron's property, set high above the fog line on Mt. Veeder, we didn't expect much. We figured Coturri would do as he always does, downplaying his accomplishments, moving from Cabernet to Monet, then on to Johnny B. Goode. But after a couple minutes of small talk, even the self-effacing grape grower to the stars wouldn't hold back.
Coturri couldn't have been more emphatic in explaining what makes this high-elevation upstart one of the most exciting properties on Mt. Veeder. The elevation is nearly 2200 feet, the green Bonsai Cabernet blanket lapping over each side of the mountaintop. "There's only one other property on this side of the valley with a microclimate that so imitates Howell Mountain. That's Pride. The warm nights are key. Elsewhere in the mountains, in the weeks before harvest, the days are warm and the nights are cold. Not at Pride. Not on Howell Mountain. And not at Korbin Kameron."
For those of you who have packed your cellars with the fabulously concentrated, age-worthy powerhouses from Randy Dunn, O'Shaughnessy, Cade and Duckhorn, you know all about the plush power of Howell Mountain. You've fallen in love with the deep, dark black fruit attacks and the sturdy, mountain backbone. But most of all, you understand that Howell Mountain -- more than any other Napa AVA -- is home to Cabernets locked in suspended animation, holding on to their primary fruit opulence years after bottling.
As Coturri would explain, Korbin Kameron is in Howell Mountain's boat, as is so evident in these two superb library selections.
In the 2007 vintage, veteran winemaker Bob Pepi fashioned a Mt. Veeder blockbuster. No surprise given that unforgettable harvest. Opaque purple to the edge with explosive aromas of boysenberry and mountain blueberry, the attack is deep, dark, dense and polished. Showing no sign whatsoever of its four years in bottle, the black fruit core remains bright and primary, the finish braced by fine mountain tannins.
Pepi's 2005 is one of the most stunning mountain Cabernets we've tasted in some time from that superb harvest. Purple-black in color with more compact aromas of blackberry, black cherry, violets and cedar. The attack is massive, yet finely honed -- and in keeping with the vintage -- packed with black fruit preserves, still completely primary, showing no signs of its six years in bottle. Finishes finely muscled and firm, ready for the long haul. Drink now-2020.