When Mike and Kara Dunn decided to make a wine of their own, they knew that they wanted to honor the history of the vineyard as well as their family's foundations in the Napa Valley wine industry.
The historic Park Muscatine vineyard on Howell Mountain was chosen in part because Mike has known this vineyard since his childhood, pruning the vineyard in winter, and harvesting the fruit in the fall. With its scant ton per acre production, this vineyard is a gem.
They chose the Retro name to pay homage to the generational groundwork that’s been laid for their endeavor, and with a vision for continuity in the future literally illustrated by the artwork on the label, which came from the hand of their then 11-year-old son, Alex. Alex, now 28, is a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, and part-time cellars hand at Dunn Vineyards and Retro Cellars.
For the aging of the Petite Sirah, Mike selected French oak barrels from four prestigious coopers: Tonnellerie Garonnaise, Tonnellerie Damy, Tonnellerie Billon and Richelieu. Located on the outskirts of Beaune, France (Burgundy region) the Tonnelleries produce wine barrels of superior quality. They maintain control over the forest origin of the wood, manage their own stave mill, air-dry the staves for a minimum of 24 months, and implement strict quality control measures. The fine grain and mellow toast of the barrels complements the Petite Sirah with vanilla and spice, while allowing the fruit core to shine through.
Our long-time family friend Vincent Bouchard of the family Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy represents the Damy and Richelieu cooperages to US winemakers. According to Vincent “The Richelieu barrel is hand-crafted using a unique, proprietary blend of oak from small micro-climates within three of the finest forests in France, all sourced from independent family suppliers with trusted, long-established relationships. One forest contributes a noted minerality, another imparts structure, texture and spice, while the third brings softness, freshness and elegance”.
The Garonnaise barrel “is designed to enhance the density of your wines and concentrate their aromas, limiting redox potential for a richer sensory experience”.
Retro Cellars was founded in 2003 when Mike and Kara Dunn, natives of the Napa Valley wine industry, decided to make a wine of their own. Their current production includes two Petite Sirahs, one from the historic Park Muscatine Vineyard on Howell Mountain, and a Napa Valley Petite Sirah from the valley floor. Their wines embody the concept of “terroir”, a wine’s expression of the place of origin in the bottle, and an old world winemaking style that Mike learned from his dad, Randy.
Quality wine starts in the vineyard. The French know this, with their concept of “terroir”, a wine’s expression of the place of origin in the bottle.
The Howell Mountain sub-appellation of Napa Valley was established in 1983, when Randy Dunn (Dunn Vineyards), Mike Beatty (Howell Mountain Vineyards) and Bill Smith (La Jota) petitioned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Randy, a pilot, surveyed the region from the air and observed the climactic and geological uniqueness of the area above 1400 feet in elevation to the east of the town of St. Helena. Volcanic soils, milder temperature-swings from day to night, and being above the fog-line are factors contributing to the uniqueness of the area, as compared to the Napa Valley floor. Today, there are many vineyards and wineries in the appellation producing the “big mountain reds” the area is known for. The Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association promotes the appellation. Click here to visit their website. For further information on the Howell Mountain appellation, here’s a link to an article by Steve Pitcher from the San Francisco Chronicle entitled, “GROWLIN’ GOOD GRAPES – Howell Mountain’s intense fruit attracts winemakers and bears alike ” Click here.
In 2005 Mike took budwood from the original Park Muscatine Vineyard and planted one acre of Petite Sirah next to the winery cave. As it turned out, there was a considerable amount of Peloursin in the budwood, so the resulting vineyard has about 15% Peloursin vines. The Peloursin adds a nice acidity to the wine, creating more balance and elegance than is typically found in Petite Sirahs. We call this vineyard “Los Abuelos”, meaning “the grandparents” in Spanish.
Starting with the 2012 vintage, we added the name “Elevation” to our Howell Mountain Petite Sirah label. We want to bring attention to the fact that the grapes for this wine are grown between 1800 – 2100 feet elevation on Howell Mountain. We also began moving toward a blended wine, adding some Syrah from the one acre vineyard next to our house on Summit Lake Drive, and some Zinfandel from the Rust Ridge vineyard in Chiles Valley to the east of us.
Starting with the 2007 vintage Mike sourced 4 tons of Petite Sirah from a ranch in Pope Valley, the valley to the east of Napa Valley within the Napa Valley appellation. The principal difference between the old vine Howell Mountain and the Pope Valley Petite Sirah is the terroir. The Pope Valley vineyard is about 1,300 feet lower in elevation than our Park Muscatine Vineyard on Howell Mountain, has more alluvial soil than the iron-rich red clay of Howell Mtn., and has a warmer growing season and younger vines which produce great fruit without the heavy tannins. 195 cases were produced that vintage, and have met with great enthusiasm by restauranteurs in particular who are looking for a more fruit-forward Petite Sirah. We are especially pleased to have the wine on the list at the famed French Laundry.
Our winery is proud to be supported by Vinebase, a Public Benefit Corporation.See how a purchase from Retro Cellars is helping Vinebase build a bright future for independent producers.