The man behind the iconic Cain Five, Chris Howell of Cain Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley talks terroir and natural winemaking with Stephen Brook, explaining why he thinks wine is ‘intrinsically human’

Standing on a hillock overlooking the Cain vineyards on Spring Mountain, Chris Howell, slight and trim in build, is lord of all he surveys. Vines are planted in blocks among mountain meadows and rocky outcrops, and in the distance lie the Newton vineyards and the outline of Howell Mountain (no relation) on the skyline.

Howell has been the general manager here since 1990, and this is also his home, as the owners, Jim and Nancy Meadlock, do not live on the property. Most Napa winemakers have been rigorously trained at one of the California wine colleges and then enriched by experience in various parts of the world before being offered the plum jobs that they now occupy.

For Howell the journey to Cain was more circuitous. He was born in Washington state, and although his father’s work took him to Europe frequently, Howell was slow to follow. After studying philosophy and cultural criticism in Chicago, he began to visit France, as his first wife’s parents lived in Geneva and encouraged their wine travels. At the same time Howell was studying biochemistry, immunology, and other subjects in Seattle and working as an environmental chemist.

 

Brook’s pick: five to try from Cain