Perched 2,300 feet above the valley floor on the summit ridge of Howell Mountain, Robert Craig Winery produces small lots of superb Cabernet Sauvignon from some of Napa’s top mountain vineyards.
Bob Craig’s interest in the unique nature of mountain-grown fruit took hold in 1980, when he was involved in the creation of both the Spring Mountain District and Mount Veeder AVAs. With this fascination driving him, he founded his eponymous winery in 1990, releasing the first vintage in 1992. The early wines were made by Bob Egelhoff in a style that showcased the sturdy nature of the Howell Mountain fruit. According to CEO and partner, Elton Stone, the wines then went through a stylistic change, as Egelhoff tried to tame their natural tannic structure. He pushed ripening by picking late and employed various winemaking processes to create a riper, more seamless style of wine.
Stone, who describes himself as having an “Old World” palate, decided to reverse all that. His goals were twofold: 1) for the wine to better express its unique terroir, and 2) to make a very ageworthy wine. He did so by moving harvest dates back up, looking to pick at 24.5-25 brix rather than 30 as Egelhoff had done, and by working to improve the vineyard, changing to cane pruning, and revamping the winery equipment.
The work in the vineyard is key but expensive. Stone notes, “It costs us almost $15,000 per year to farm the Howell Mountain vineyard, all for an average yield of about 1.5 tons per acre.” That’s in comparison to $9,300 per acre for the gently sloping 17 acres they own in southern Napa on the slopes of Mount George.
Recently, a neighboring property was added to the original 9.5-acre vineyard surrounding the winery, bringing their total holdings on Howell Mountain to more than 100 acres, 35 of which are planted. The estate wines are made from both the Howell Mountain vineyards as well as their 17 acres on the slopes of Mount George. Winemaker Stephen Tebb also produces a mountain Cabernet from Crowley Vineyard on Spring Mountain, a Mount Veeder Cabernet from a single vineyard at about 1,800 feet, a Chardonnay from Gap’s Crown in the Sonoma Coast, and a Howell Mountain Zinfandel from Black Sears Vineyard, just down the lane from the winery.