Not far from the quaint Napa Valley town of St. Helena, Howell Mountain is renowned for its big Bordeaux varietals and Zinfandels. European settlers were reportedly drawn to the land because its rocky landscape reminded them of the terraced vineyards of home. Wine from the mountain won the Gold Medal at the 1890 Paris Exposition, and the winery continues to produce spectacular vintages. So, what makes Howell Mountain such an ideal climate for winemakers? Apart from the pleasant cool Pacific breezes and moderate temperatures, the secret may be in the struggle of the vines.
Consisting of mostly volcanic rock, water retention is poor, allowing for excellent drainage while at the same time stressing the deep-rooted vines and forcing them to focus their resources into the production of fruit. The resulting fruit is smaller, lower in yield and higher in quality, producing wines that are rich, well-balanced and deeply concentrated. Smaller berries have higher skin-to-juice ratio, making for more intense wines and flavors.
The mountain also has a reputation for its therapeutic properties. In the 1870s, Ellen White, a co-founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, proclaimed that a spring-fed area of Howell Mountain was the very site she had seen in a vision of how the church's ministry of healing would come to the West.
It was on that property in 1878 that fellow Adventist Dr. Merritt Kellogg, brother of breakfast food magnate and nutritionist William Kellogg, opened the Rural Health Retreat. The retreat quickly grew a reputation for miraculous cures and preventative medicine "largely credited to a strictly enforced diet of locally-grown fruits and vegetables" and was renamed St. Helena Sanitarium. It grew to a multiple-story structure built in the style of a grand hotel, and has remained in operation since that time and is currently known as the St. Helena Hospital.