What Wine Is Meant to Be

Today’s Story: Red Cap Vineyards

Red Cap Vineyards’ story begins in 1998 with Tom and Desiree Altemus when they purchased a 10.5 acre property on Howell Mountain. Though Tom’s background is originally in finance working for IBM, he grew an appreciation for fine wine during business trips and ultimately quit to pursue a career as a chef in 1991. After graduating from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Tom worked for famed chefs and restauranteurs including Michel Richard and Bradley Ogden before settling in at Brava Terrace in St. Helena. With the birth of the couple’s first child, Tom left the restaurant industry and the birth of their second child created the need to expand from Napa to Howell Mountain.

Having purchased their property, the Altemus family started planning their vineyards in 2000 with viability studies and archeological, biological, and botanical surveys. Due to seemingly endless regulations, the land was finally cleared and prepped in 2003 and the first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon released in 2005 with 50 cases. Having personally visited the property, I can attest that the land is not only beautiful but the vineyard rows are stunning to look at. The vineyards are planted on iron-rich volcanic soil that in person is very red and rocky, while all fruit is grown organically and hand-farmed.

I’d now like to take an opportunity to discuss my visit to Red Cap Vineyards, because as one stop of many in Napa it was my favorite.

I visited Red Cap in September of this year, and my family and I were promptly greeted by Tom at his family’s home. Tom took us around the vineyards and described the soil, fruit, and his wines with such passion that I immediately became more excited to taste with him than I already was. Amongst chit chat, we got to taste grapes off the vine while Tom explained the seed color in relation to how soon he and his team would begin the harvest. After this tour of the property, we went inside to taste the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and 2014 and 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon.

This tasting was the most intimate I have experienced, with my family and I sitting in the Altemus family home at their table. With wine in front of us, Tom brought out fresh homemade bread (made with yeast from the Red Cap fermentation process) alongside butter and sea-salt. The entire experience made my family and I feel as though we’ve been lifelong friends (or even family) with Tom as the conversation ranged across vast topics and we never felt we were there as visitors of a winery. Comically, we went dramatically over our “scheduled” time for the tasting but to me that is what made it so special. Add this all to the fact that Tom and his winemaker Rudy make mindbogglingly good wine and you can find me in heaven.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.6% ABV

Deep ruby (almost purple) in color with moderate staining on the glass. Due to its youth, I let this decant for three hours before drinking it over the following two hours. Once the nose opens up, I get incredibly concentrated aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and red berries alongside licorice, graphite, dried volcanic earth, white pepper, cedar, slight truffle, and green herbs. The palate showcases gorgeous mountain fruit of blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry accompanied by cigar box, baking spice, green underbrush, mint, and earth. This Cab is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high yet refined tannins, and a long finish dominated by notes of black cherry. Though this is already drinking beautifully with some air, I will wait at least 3-5 years before opening my next bottle and stagger them every couple years from there. 398 cases produced.

Price: $100 ($85 if you’re a club member). I have been very vocal with my friends and family for several years of the screaming value that Red Cap Cabernet is. Compared to some of their neighbors on Howell Mountain, Red Cap produces utterly incredible wines at a lower price-point. Pair this with steak, beef short ribs, lamb chops, or a high-quality burger.

From My Visit:

Note the red soil.
More rocky, red soil.
Tom giving us a tour of the vineyards.
Tom explaining how seed color can indicate harvest timelines.
THE swing.

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