Brief Napa reports: Cain
I arrived at San Francisco airport on a gorgeous late autumn day, just after 2 pm. After clearing homeland security and picking up a hire car, it was already 3.15 pm – travelling with just hand luggage, something I was very proud of, hadn't really saved me any time. According to my schedule I was supposed to be at my first visit, Cain, by 4.30pm, which wasn't going to happen, even given a nice steady drive out of town. Oh well.
This was to be my first visit to Napa, and so by the time I crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge, I was getting excited. The sun was dipping, and my only cause for regret was that it would be dark by the time I got to Spring Mountain, where Cain are located, and so I'd miss the views. It's about a 90 minute drive to the town of Napa on a good run, and the vineyards begin as you leave the town limits.
I called ahead to let Chris and Katie Howell at Cain know my progress. Very kindly they offered to pick me up from my accommodation, which turned out to be a lovely cottage at Cakebread Cellars just south of St Helena. In my jet-lagged state, not having to negotiate a windy mountain road was a real relief.
Their home is idyllically situated at the top of Spring Mountain. Even though it was dark, we could see the general layout of the valley, and over a ridge we could see to Sonoma. Katie was cooking – she'd spent the last year training in chef school, so the food was close to perfection. This was a really good start to the trip.
Chris Howell (above) is an interesting, thoughtful person, and this is reflected in his wines. Cain Cuvee NV6 is a Merlot-dominated blend of two vintages and is fresh and elegant. 'I think Napa Valley Cabernet is stereotyped as being very oaky, very ripe and high in alcohol', says Chris. 'The goal with Cuvee is to get a lighter style, although this is all in context.' It's picked a little less ripe and extracted less.
Cain Five 1996 is a really thrilling wine, with intense, savoury, spicy character and just a hint of animal. The purist might call this as bretty, but it's definitely good brett. It reminds me a bit of Trevallon, but maybe a bit more refined and focused. Cain Five 2005 is beautifully focused and structured, and I really like it. Cain Concept 'The Benchland' 2005 is poured by Chris to compare with Five – this is from the valley floor, as opposed to the mountain vineyards. It's sweeter and purer, but perhaps a little less intense and compelling.
Cain make proper wine. I was impressed.