From deep in the cave of memory comes a sympathetic beast, a friend, a counterpart. He has partnered with those who work their craft in the aging cellar, patiently watching for the moment to play. He brings recollections, retentions of scents and flavors almost forgotten. He is the Cave Dog.
Michael Havens, creator of Havens Wine Cellars, which he founded and ran from 1984 to 2008, is known as a champion of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the Napa Valley. A desire to return to this tradition has led him back to a vineyard he knows well and a wine style he reveres. Much has changed in the Napa Valley and in Michael’s life, but Cave Dog continues his focus on graceful, elegant expressions of these varieties.
While teaching English at UC Davis in the early 1980s, Michael Havens and his late wife, Kathryn, started their eponymous winery on Hoffman Lane, just south of Yountville. Captivated by Bordeaux and Rhone varietal wines, Michael decided to take advantage of southern Napa’s cooler climate to showcase their restraint and balance, a maverick move that lead him to produce one of the valley’s earliest single-varietal Merlots and the first Carneros Syrah. Years later, he would also pioneer the first Albariño grown and bottled in the United States, sparking interest that has led to the cultivation of over 220 acres of the grape in California today.
Over the course of his career, Michael also served as winemaker and consultant to many different producers, from family wineries like Truchard Vineyards to industry titans such as Foster’s Wine Group. His experiences have allowed him to work with nearly every varietal grown in California, giving him plenty of opportunities to experiment. His clientele has also extended to American importers of Chilean, Argentine, and South African wines, who have sought his expertise in selecting, blending and directing cellar techniques. Always the professor at heart, Michael has also reviewed candidates’ dissertations for London’s prestigious Institute of Masters of Wine.
When the Havens decided to sell their winery in 2006, it allowed Michael to develop his consulting business. Though a bittersweet rite of passage, the sale of the winery allowed Michael’s creativity to flourish in new ways. Besides consulting, he has collaborated since 2009 with Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company on his newest incarnation of Albariño, Abrente. In 2011, Michael purchased California Terroirs, a brokerage of West Coast wines to Europe and Asia, and began directing operations.
He kicked off the Cave Dog label with the 2014 vintage, rebranding himself with renewed energy and far more romanticism than he’d like to admit. Today Michael continues to work his export business, consults in Northern California, and can be found enjoying wines with the delicious food made by his wife, chef Mari Havens (www.marilavernes.com), in their Napa Valley home.
A number of people have asked me, what’s the story behind the name, Cave Dog? So here it is: Since 1983, I have had the privilege of sharing my space and running the vineyards with a family of Golden Retrievers. This began in 1978, when I met a marvelous Golden pup named Montrachet, owned by my friend John Williams at Glenora Winery in New York’s Finger Lakes region. John moved out with “Shay” to Napa Valley, founding Frog’s Leap Winery, and in 1983 I moved from teaching at UCLA to living in Napa and teaching at UC Davis. Shay’s first litter of pups (with mate Romanee) was too tempting, and in November of 1983, we brought lovely Gevrey Chambertin (“Shamber”) into our home. Since then, we’ve also had his pup Mazis Chambertin and his niece Beze in our lives. Beze is now 11 and still acting like a puppy.
Mazis often reminded his humans of dogs' wolfish origins by curling up in anything resembling a cave, and by rubbing his body up against everything in his home to "mark" it as his own. This lupine behavior led us to call him “cave dog.” One day I had Mazis in the winery, and he was getting into something he shouldn’t (as he often did), and I yelled over to him, “Hey Cave Dog, get over here!” One of my worthy cellar crew heard it and said, “’Cave Dog’? That’s a better name than ‘cellar rat’! I’m using that!” So it stuck: A Cave Dog is one who works in the wine cellar. But it always implies to me someone who explores the deep places and who, like a Golden Retriever, rejoices in being alive.
Beze asking for the next Frisbee toss.