The Long and Winding Road to Napa Valley

Out contributor visits Cain Vineyards in California wine country
Abbey Wade
Abbey Wade

Chris and Katie Howell (far left and far right) are the winemaker and GM/National Sales Director of Cain Vineyards in Napa Valley.

It was my first day in Napa Valley and the motion sickness pills were still in my system from the long day of travel.  I had been up since 4 A.M., East Coast time, so I was only running on pure excitement when our flight arrived.  We loaded into the small cars that will take us up the mountain to Cain Vineyards.  Having never been to a Napa winery before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Cain Winery produces fabulous wines, some of them quite pricey, so I at least knew that I was about to have a quite exclusive experience.

Chris Howell and his wife, Katie, greet us at the top of the long and winding road that led us to them.  They accepted us with casual warmth, smiles, and hugs wrapped in loose cotton clothing before taking us on a short tour of the winery.  We loaded into Chris and Katie’s old SUVs and again headed up the long and winding road that would lead us to the vineyard and to the famous Cain rock.  The bumpy ride up the mountain knocked around old water bottles and shoes that littered the floors of their car, just like in the car of any normal person.  I was wondering where all the glitz was.

I rode with Katie on the way up and with Chris on the way down.  Katie, her brown hair blowing in the wind through the open car windows, spoke like an artist (wild eyed and colorful) while gesturing with her hands like they were stroking a canvas.   And Chris, the more reserved of the two, appeared to be two parts farmer, one part scientist.  In fact, when you talk to Chris about the winery, he refers to himself as a farmer, with a very grassroots take on winemaking.  If you look at their website, a quote reads, “Take sunlight, add water, and you have wine.  It’s so simple, yet, at the same time, it is infinitely complex.”  He told me how he likes to assign one person (another farmer, I would presume) to one row of vines and that person is forever attached to those plants.  In doing this, he believes a delicate relationship grows between person and plant, producing better fruit and subsequently better wines.

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Chris says he doesn’t like the new approach to wine tasting, meaning the dissecting and the analyzing used to distinguish certain flavors and smells. He says drinking wine is not an intellectual sport, but rather a sensual sport.  He really seems to enjoy his wines, and the process of making them.  As we tasted his wines later that evening he said, Wine shouldn’t always be about the separate, distinct flavors, but instead about how they blend to become one.”  And what’s unbelievable about the Cain wines is that he accomplishes just that.  Instead of detecting what the malbec brought to the wine, or how much petit verdot can be detected in the blend; you simply taste one delicately harmonious wine.