Field Trip Report: Dunn Vineyards

Summer is gone, and school kids are handing in their book reports.  So have this report for you: a field trip report from Dunn Vineyards. Dunn is one of Castro Village Wine’s longest standing offerings.  It is a monster cab, with a reputation some find a little intimidating.  Why?  Because Randy Dunn is an auteur.  Like Orson Welles, Fassbinder, and Jodie Foster.  A Dunn wine is the product of a great person taking complete ownership of the process and making great art.  We’re not using a Hollywood analogy just to get your attention.  “The Dunn” is truly a blockbuster.

Today the Dunn property is larger, and stunningly beautiful.  The office sits in a restored Wells Fargo coach building.  The ridge top is planted with vines, and forest climbs up the hills (the family has donated forest land they acquired with growing land to the Napa Land Trust).  Everywhere, form follows function.  Horses drink from bathtubs, and chickens are locked away from the bobcats. There are no starchitect commissioned buildings, or Italian stone terraces.  Instead, a late-model tractor guards the gateway (for sale) and the crusher/destemmer sits next to the fermentation tanks on a concrete pad.  On the other side of the deer fence, fields of Petite Syrah and Cabernet ripen.

The no-nonsense approach is carried through to production.  Everything (walking the fields, thinning the vines, shoveling, transferring, crushing) is still done by the family.  The Dunn is famous for its flavor, but you know when you drink it that this wine was made from scratch, by dedicated people with vision.  All around we saw evidence of hard work.  Mike, Randy’s son, now heads up the effort, and does the heavy lifting.  We saw him in the caves, hauling hoses and transferring wine for its barrel aging.

Did we learn some secrets?  Sure.  The Dunn is aged 30 months in French oak, way more than usual.  Mike claims that the extra time in the barrel gives the wine its structure and age-worthiness. Dunn Vineyards is very careful with its barrels.  Choosing only premium, French product, Mike has a relationship with all his coopers, and constantly looks for improved product.  We got to taste from the “experimental barrels” where   Dunn wine is aged for at least two years to guarantee the barrels  will do the trick.  The Dunns are also very careful about choosing when to pick, shooting for a lower alcohol level than most power cabs. This allows the bold flavors to stay in the foreground, acidity to remain, and helps with the aging process.

Did we mention aging?  Yes we did.  Unlike many new world wines, the Dunn can go years in the bottle.  In fact, Mike cautioned against drinking any of his wines until at least six months after they are released.  We can attest to this.  When we drank the 1986 in 1996, it needed an hour in the decanter.  The 1994 didn’t open up until after desert.  So decant this wine, or open it up very early.  And while we’re giving advice: don’t chip the wax enclosure off the bottle, just pull the cork through.  Then wait.  Ultimately you will be rewarded with one of California’s greatest, most storied, most powerful wines.

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