Places Endure – An ode to Cain

Places Endure – An ode to Cain

Thursday 29th October 2020
by Mark Dearing

Places Endure - An ode to Cain 

It was with particular poignancy that we drank a recent bottle of Cain. At home, in a convivial setting, we were reminded of just how confidently the Cain wines celebrate originality. In fact, this estate is known - feted even - by the more thoughtful of tasters, for producing a slightly wilder style of wine. These are Bordeaux blends layered with intricate fruits, earthy herbs, and spicy ferric notes – not your average Napa. In youth, what some commentators might describe as “strident” tannins in the Californian context, we view as classicism – true ripeness allied to freshness – an approach that yields sophisticated wines of presence, with nimble, wind-swept acidities and smooth, engaging fruit flavours. 

There is no makeup in the Cain output. If there is something that marks them out, it is perhaps a rugged complexity, hewn so clearly from the thin, residual soils of the spectacular Cain vineyard: an isolated amphitheatre situated at up to 675m overlooking St Helena on the south-western edge of Spring Mountain. This stunning patch has, in our opinion, been quietly turning out some of California’s most enticing wines for decades, and long-deserved greater recognition. There is something almost elemental about the place: the contours, the bracing wind, and the feeling that this unique vineyard, posited at the end of a long and winding mountain track, lives and breathes, perhaps best left to its own devices.

In the Cain wines you can taste all of this. As long as they are given the time to shine. For they are not flashy, or even pristine in the purest sense, but they are imbued with a character so compelling and individual that they make for some wonderful, thoughtful drinking experiences. In the Napa world, where consultants, technology and micro-vinifications reign supreme, there is something in their minor imperfections that makes them all the more convincing. Taking the view that wine is about more than polished fruit and intensity, the Cain wines seem in tandem with nature, allowing new flavours, edges and textures to develop, supported by the gentlest of winemaking practices that work to enhance that natural complexity. As anybody who has drunk older bottles will know, the fact is that they know what they are doing, and by making high level wines with minimal intervention, Cain caters simultaneously to no one in particular, and everyone. They are individual but subtle and, above all, the two most important qualities in fine wine are on point. They are as drinkable and delicious as they are pensive and ageworthy. An achievement testament not only to the magical Cain vineyard but also to a winemaking team with the confidence to just let things be.  

It fell to Chris Howell to deliver the tragic news to the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month (from which our title was inspired) that Napa’s devastating Glass Fire has claimed the Cain winery, all its contents, and worst of all, their family home. For those of us watching in shock from abroad, it is impossible to imagine not only the scale of the damage, but the enormous sense of loss felt by the thousands of affected people in the Napa Valley. Not least all those linked to the Cain estate.

So it was, that as we enjoyed our bottle of Cain in the spirit in which it was intended, it was impossible not to reflect on, and admire, the courage of the Cain company statement.


“Though buildings have burned, all that makes Cain what it is—the culture, the wines, the vines, above all, the Place—all that is truly Cain—remain.”


Our thoughts are with all those at Cain Cellars at this difficult time.