Saturday, March 12, 2011

Howell Mountain, Angwin, and Cade Winery

I was drawn to a corner of Napa Valley I had not visited yet, due to an enticingly-low priced home in St. Helena -- but technically in Deer Park, near St. Helena Hospital which is up Deer Park Rd. to the northeast of Silverado Trail. This home was priced at $299k (extremely cheap for St. Helena, where average homes are $800k+) and was described as a fixer-upper, but I was curious to see what extent. Also, I figured even if the home was awful (it was -- horrible, horrible nightmare of a place, people clearly living in squalor there. And they still owe over $500k on the mortgage!!), I would make a day of it because, even though I turn onto Deer Park Rd. every time I drive to Calistoga, I am cutting west to 29, not northeast up into the hills.

It happens that this is the route up to the Howell Mountain AVA, an up-and-comer (like Atlas Peak) mostly known for some rich and fruit-forward examples of cabernet sauvignon. This is also the region of Angwin, a very small town known for Pacific Union College and a lot of Seventh Day Adventists. We drove around Angwin a bit, just to see what it was like, and to be honest it had a strange, eerie vibe to it... like a closed, conservative community that eyes strangers warily. I don't know. A very different, secluded, otherworldly feeling from Napa Valley; it felt like something out of a Stephen King novel.

On the way back down the mountain, we decided to try a winery we had passed: Cade Winery. The sign said Appointment Only, but we figured we'd give it a shot; a lot of the newer wineries post this "By appointment only" requirement but don't really stick to it. And isn't that a bit of a gray area, anyway?? What's to stop me from driving in, seeing if they have room for us, and saying "Hello, I'd like to make a reservation for a tasting 5 minutes from right now."?

Well, it turns out that Cade Winery takes the cold and pretentious stance when it comes to things. There were several overly pretentious visitors hanging out (all of them at least 50 years old), and when we announced that we did not have a reservation but were curious, if they had room, we got a very cold reception and were told "They are very strict about that here, it is part of the laws." To which I said "Well, can I make a reservation for just about right now?" Yes, she said, it was $20 per tasting, and were we okay with that.

No, no we're not okay with that. We're not okay with the pretentiousness of a new (3 years old), unestablished winery assuming they can charge $20 per tasting without having that fee applied to or waived with a purchase. Out of curiosity, I checked their wine list and noticed it was mostly cabs, with the cheapest being $60. So let me get this straight: I have to pay $20 for something which may or may not suck, and then if I like it I have to pay $60 more to get a bottle? No thanks.

So... we left. The view up on Howell Mountain is nice, and faces west overlooking the valley so it could be pretty spectacular at sunset. However, between the spooky reclusive communities and the pretentious and sparse wineries, I wouldn't see much of a reason to come back up here. Most of the wineries located up here either do not do tastings, or have tasting rooms down in the valley (like La Jota, which tastes in Oakville). And Howell Mountain cabs tend not to be as good as other local appellations (like Rutherford, Oakville, and Stag's Leap) anyway, so why shell out the dough?

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