As Denise Adams sought an apropos name for the Howell Mountain winery she and her husband Stephen purchased in 2008, she came across the Latin word ADAMVS. Its meaning – ‘borne from our red earth’ – was a more-than-fitting reflection of the estate’s high elevation vineyard blocks comprised of iron-rich red soils that produce wines of balance, structure, and distinction.
“I poured over thousands of possible monikers, and when I found that word and read its definition, I knew we had the perfect name for our winery,” said the charming proprietor of Napa Valley’s premier ADAMVS wines, located within 80 verdant and bucolic Angwin, California acres of which 27 are planted to vines.
The winery’s lush, high-end estate Cabernet Sauvignon also bears the ADAMVS name while two additionally superb Cabernets follow-suit with their apt Latin titles: TÉRES, meaning ’round, smooth, polished,’ and QUINTVS, meaning ‘five,’ and featuring barrel selections from each of the property’s five soil types. All three possess the purity, precision, and elegant tannin structure that produce the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, yet each offers its unique expression of the spectacular ADAMVS estate. And each is a prized addition to the collections of wine lovers the world over.
No strangers to winemaking when they founded ADAMVS, the Adams’ perfected their vinous technique as proprietors of the highly esteemed and historic Château Fonplégade in the legendary Saint-Émilion wine region of Bordeaux where Denise organically and biodynamically oversees their vineyards. The two Francophiles met more than three decades ago on a blind date and subsequently married in the Dordogne. They honeymooned in the region, where they eventually planted literal and proverbial roots. Today, the duo splits their time between the Napa Valley and France, where they painstakingly renovated and revitalized a time-worn chateau ravaged by World War II, and in doing so, earned respect and esteem of the residents and vintners of their adopted country.
In Napa, though, team buy-in of biodynamic practices was a breeze, as opposed to the persuasion needed to get her traditional-minded French crew on-board. “Once they started, and witnessed the difference that this sort of holistic, ecological, and ethical farming approach made with the vines and subsequently the wines, they were hooked, as was I,” said Adams, whose background as an accomplished landscape artist lends to her discerning vision for her wineries. “I knew when we started ADAMVS that to do right by the rich tapestry of Howell Mountain elements, we had to farm responsibly and in harmony with our mosaic of five vineyard sites. In our hand-tended vineyard, we practice a simple but exacting philosophy – that there are no shortcuts; excellence is earned through hard work and fervent, passionate attention to the smallest details.”
Those exalted Howell Mountain elements include altitude, rolling hills, unique microclimates, and five prominent soil types that serve to produce balanced fruit. ADAMVS’s 27 acres are planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, with nine hand-selected clones spread over an array of exposures and elevations. The remainder is small plantings of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and two small blocks of Sauvignon Blanc used in their French oak barrel fermented, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, crafted in an age-worthy style to produce a wine of textural and aromatic complexity.
ADAMVS’s artisan method of farming extends beyond the soils, vines, and orchards to every aspect of the business, ensuring a vibrant ecosystem in harmony with its community and environment. The property features bluebird boxes and hawk perches, an extensive insectary, and free-range chicken and sheep. Honey is captured from the cache of beehives, olive oil is pressed from the property’s olive trees, and fig jam is made from the fruit trees.
To actualize her vision of creating the highest quality Napa Valley wines, Adams assembled a ‘top-of-their-game’ crew, each of whom appreciates the remarkable characteristics of ADAMVS’s Howell Mountain terroir and shares the passion for organic and biodynamic farming. “Our extraordinary team is singularly focused on building a great wine estate which uniquely expresses our land,” said Adams. That team includes Winemaker Sarah Donley, General Manager Kit Gilbert, Culinary Director Elisabeth Russell, Director of Estate Relations and Hospitality Amy Particelli, and Consulting Winemaker Philippe Melka, who is routinely named as one of the world’s top viticultural talents and whose Bordeaux background and consultancy with numerous Napa Valley wineries made him a natural choice for Adams. “Working with ADAMVS is one of those great organic fits,” says Melka. “It starts with a premium vineyard where the complexity of the soils and diversity of microclimates brings such a great palette of colors for the winemaking team to work with. It continues with the tradition of winemaking by the ownership to produce wines of finesse and elegance, which concerts perfectly with my philosophy.”
Winemaker Donley’s impressive resume includes winemaking positions in South Australia, and more recently, at Napa’s Colgin and Wheeler Farms. “Great wine can come only from a great vineyard that is in harmony with Mother Nature and the roots of a well-pruned vine,” said Donely. “ADAMVS is a true reflection of how wine can be made working with nature’s gifts.
I am humbled and honored to come to work every day in the presence of such a high-caliber team of professional women. Excellence in winemaking is all about the experience, passion, sensibility, hard work, and patience – qualities enjoyed by everyone on this stellar team.”
The ADAMVS guest experience is as special as its wines and takes place in either the innovative and stunning Cypress House Tasting Room or the adjacent Wine Library. Both were designed – with Adams input – by San Francisco architect Kurt Melander. An open glass room surrounded by a freestanding cypress log wall sculpture, the Cypress House is an iconic structure of distinction that artistically filters light. The Wine Library resides in a 12-inch solid concrete wall structure revived from a historical agricultural building by Melander, who removed each piece of wood from the original, numbered them, cast them in concrete, and then reconstructed the layout. The building conceals a jewel box-like space containing a small tasting room and the Adams’ wine collection. A completely retractable roof (the inspiration of which came to Adams in a dream) creates an alfresco atmosphere. These two iconic structures combine modern and classic elements to create spaces of nuanced beauty that are experienced differently depending on the season, time of day, light, and all the natural elements that make Howell Mountain an ideal home for Cabernet Sauvignon.
“We have a tapestry here that creates the perfect convergence of geology and geography, which in turn creates beautiful wines,” says Adams. “As dedicated vintners, our mission is clear – to create profound wines with longevity, elegance, and a purity of expression. That expression is of this beautiful place. It’s a privilege for us to do so. It’s the ultimate for me.”