Because no one arrives here by accident, everyone arrives here intentionally. That’s an integral part of the trailblazer story at O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery on Howell Mountain, an appellation that starts at an elevation of 1,400-feet, with their winery at 1,800-feet. While it’s a geological fact that Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder, like all of Napa, lay under a primordial sea for a hundred million years, the O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery story is primarily a 21st-century one. Sean Capiaux is the founding winemaker, who recounts that modern-day story.

“I remember when we started with 800 cases a year, so there’s been considerable growth since that first vintage in 2000,” said Sean. “We’re a small, family-owned winery with a production of about 10,000 cases a year, known for three bold, complex, and intense mountain Cabernets: Howell Mountain and the smaller production Mount Veeder as well as our Napa Valley, a blend made from these two estates plus our property in Oakville. These are rich wines that age incredibly well that continue to evolve with cellaring, and yet are contemporary, accessible, and drinkable early on.”

Betty O’Shaughnessy made her way from Minnesota to Napa Valley in 1990. Based out of her Oakville home, she bravely (and wisely) chose this remote, virgin mountaintop after several years of searching, researching, and gathering recommendations from esteemed Napa experts, including Jean Phillips and Ren Harris. There was nothing planted, a true virgin estate —no water, no electricity, no erosion control plan, no permits—and the need of a dynamite crew to remove some volcanic rocks to create the beautiful vineyards on the property today.

“It was an eight-year process,” Sean explains. For several years he commuted long distance while his wife completed a degree at Cornell Medical School in New York City. “First, we put in the vineyards, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, and then we built the 12,000-square-foot semicircular cave, which took about two years. Next, another two years were dedicated to the construction of the 7,000-square-foot winery.” By 2001, the Capiaux family was able to return to make their home in Napa Valley.

Friends of the winery (typically called wine club members elsewhere) can secure an allocation of the Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignons personally bottled and selected by Sean Capiaux. Because these wines are limited in production and in high demand, O’Shaughnessy Friends have priority ahead of release to the public and the trade.

O’Shaughnessy Winery is up in the eastern hills above St. Helena, available to guests by prior appointment only for tours and tastings. Plan ahead for a visit, as the winery is frequently booked several weeks in advance during popular times and seasons.


Story By: Lauris Jo Miller Farr