Miracle on Howell Mountain

ADAMVS produces a sensual version of mountain-grown Cabernet

Think the grand era of California Cabernet is over? Uncork a bottle of ADAMVS and learn that the saga continues: famed viticulturalists, superstar winemakers, and owners with a high level of financial and emotional investment who take no shortcuts.

Denise and Stephen Adams purchased 80 acres on Howell Mountain in 2008. The land had previously belonged to White Cottage Ranch Winery, who farmed it organically and biodynamically. The couple hired Michael Wolf to plant more vines and oversee the property; when the time came to make wine, Philippe Melka came on board to assist Sarah Donley. The Adams were no strangers to the wine business: they had owned Château Fonplégade, a St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé, since 2004, and added Pomerol’s Château L’Enclos to their portfolio in 2007.

Attempting to make world-class wine at elevations between 1,600 and 2,000 feet on Howell Mountain was a difficult task, but no more challenging than succeeding as American vintners in Bordeaux. Denise and Stephen saw the potential in the iron-rich soil, and their results take our standard view of mountain-grown Cabernet and stand it on its head. There are no rough edges here, which you could rightly expect. The wines are delightful to drink at a young age, while integrated tannins promise a long life. Production is low (less than 2,000 cases in a typical vintage), and much of the wine is sold through a mailing list.

The 2015 TERES ($125) is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from each block of the ADAMVS (pronounced “Adam-us”) vineyard. The densely colored, purple-black wine reveals scents of bramble, blackberry and menthol on the nose. Despite a forbidding appearance it is surprisingly rich and supple in the mouth, with a ripe core of fleshy dark berries, anise, fresh herbs and vanilla; flavors of cocoa and espresso linger on the long finish. This is a sensual rendering of mountain-grown Cabernet.

2015 QUINTVS ($175), while also 100% Cabernet, is a blend of five different soil types and ten vineyard blocks. The appealing nose offers up whiffs of black plums and baking spices, with a fine herbal edge. Herbal notes continue in the mouth, accenting a wine with unctuous texture and bright, balancing acidity; tart red berries, baked apple and hints of citrus dominate the mid palate. The finish is exceptionally long, with echoes of earth, briar and forest floor. Complex and charming is the only way to describe it.

The flagship wine, 2015 ADAMVS ($350), is produced in “miniscule” quantities (think 150 cases annually). Aromas of fresh herbs, anise, mint and new oak rise from the glass. The wine is concentrated and formidable in the mouth, layered with flavors of vanilla, spiced blackberries, mocha, ripe plums  and a coulis of red raspberries that combine seamlessly on the palate; fine-grained tannins permeate the texture and carry the flavors onto the finish, which seems nearly endless. It won’t be easy to find a bottle of this, but you’ll be richly rewarded when you do.


Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first two novels, Friend of the Devil and The American Crusade, are available on Amazon; his third novel, Impeachment, will be released this fall.

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