For us life’s path has been anything but a straight line.  Through luck, vision, and hard work we have carved out an idyllic lifestyle in the mountains above Napa Valley. Tom’s interest in fine wine was sparked while he was working in finance for IBM, sampling wines on business trips and trading recommendations with friends. But it wasn’t until he changed careers in 1991 that his appreciation for wine really took off. Tom left his IBM financial career to pursue a career as a chef. He attended California Culinary Academy in San Francisco where he graduated with high honors. He then went to work in some of California’s best restaurants for such culinary legends as Michel Richard (Citrus) and Bradley Ogden (One Market); eventually taking a position at Brava Terrace Restaurant in St. Helena.  Cooking for some of the most prominent vintners and winemakers in Napa Valley, Tom tasted the fruits of their labor alongside great wine country cuisine.  It was here that his love of California wine was cemented.

After the birth of our first child, Tom left the restaurant business to be a stay-at-home dad while I continued telecommuting as a technical writer. It was during this time that the dream started to take shape. Outgrowing our Napa residence after the birth of our second child, we purchased a 10.5-acre property on Howell Mountain in 1998. Vineyard planning began in 2000 with viability studies, archeological, biological, and botanical surveys and mountains of paperwork required for the permitting process. The land was finally cleared and prepped in 2003, the same year our third child was born.

The grapes and the kids are thriving in this precious part of the world. The vineyard has garnered much praise from vintners and growers in the Valley and the grapes have been incredible. Red Cap Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet showcases this special fruit and the land on which it is grown.  Enjoy!

Our Vineyards

Red Cap Vineyard

The Altemus family planted Red Cap Vineyards on a beautiful site near the summit of Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. The rocky, volcanic soils and the uniqueness of the Howell Mountain microclimate produce fruit of exceptional character and quality.

Planted on virgin land in 2003 at an elevation of 1900 feet, the Aiken loam soil is deep, red, and peppered with fractured rock. The terrain is a rolling plateau at the top of the mountain. The vineyard yields about two tons of grapes per acre. Cabernet clones 4,7 and 169 were used on 101-14 rootstock and the vine spacing is five feet by seven feet.

The grapes are organically grown and hand farmed. Alfonso Elena manages the vineyard. He has been farming grapes in Napa Valley for over 35 years with extensive hillside experience. His knowledge and experience is invaluable.

Alsace Vineyard

Red Cap sources the fruit for its Sauvignon Blanc from the McGah Family’s Alsace Vineyard located in Rutherford, an appellation widely considered to be one of the premier sources of Napa Valley fruit. Nestled just north of Oakville and bordering the Silverado Trail, the estate produces beautiful Sauvignon Blanc as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon and Petite Verdot. Recent development includes the addition of Zinfandel as well as plans for Grenache, Syrah and Petit Sirah.

The vineyard soils from this upper east-side bench are a mix of red and brown gravelly loam with excellent drainage. The Rutherford AVA provides the perfect amount of heat to ripen the Sauvignon Blanc but also provides cooler evenings necessary for uniformity and full maturity at harvest.

Red Cap Vineyards’ Winemaker, Rudy Zuidema

Tom and I met while working in a local restaurant called Brava Terrace. I was mentoring under two winemakers by day and waiting tables and cooking by night. Tom was the chef de cuisine for many of my shifts. He taught me much about the art of cooking and this closely paralleled my winemaking efforts. We became very good friends and laughed at the idea of one day making some wine together.

Years later, I was working full time for Robert Craig Winery when the operation was out of a custom crush facility in Napa. We were searching for a site to build a winery of our own. One location we considered was a beautiful site on Howell Mountain with very good vineyard potential. We ultimately passed on the property but in the meantime told Tom about it. It is now the estate vineyard for Red Cap Vineyards.

I was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up in the nearby agricultural community of Davis. Building on a love of the outdoors and an interest in farming, I studied Plant Science and Agricultural Management at the University of California, Davis, where I focused on viticulture.

Upon graduating from UC Davis in 1991, I moved to Napa and took a position at the famed Oakville Grocery.  Working alongside wine buyer Mary Danielak, I tasted thousands of wines, refining my palate and expanding my base of knowledge about vineyards, vintages and winemaking styles. In 1993, eager to gain hands-on winemaking experience, I traveled to Australia’s McLaren Vale to work at Wirra Wirra Winery.  Under the guidance of Australian winemaker, Ben Riggs, I learned techniques for achieving ideal ripeness, cap management and extraction—techniques that I still employ.
After returning to the United States, I worked for St. Clement Vineyards and White Cottage Ranch under my mentor Dennis Johns.  From there I moved on to Cuvaison and Honig Vineyard, where I was the assistant winemaker working alongside James Hall, of Patz and Hall Wine Company. In 1996, I joined Robert Craig Winery as winemaker, where I spent the next seven years focusing on terroir-driven Cabernet Sauvignon production from Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, and the Napa Valley floor.  Eager to combine my love of agriculture and winemaking, I moved to a post as the winemaker and vineyard manager for Ehlers Estate from 2003 to 2008. My ideal approach to winemaking,begins with guiding the farming of the land.  This was an incredible opportunity to feel the luxury of an estate run program.

As a consulting vineyard manager and winemaker for small estate programs, I get to combine a passion for agriculture with an expansive knowledge of winemaking. In the vineyard, we follow organic and biodynamic farming practices to naturally enhance the flavorful diversity of the estate’s rich tapestry. This natural approach continues in the winery, where we emphasizes classic, small-lot techniques and gentle handling to craft balanced wines that embody a sense of elegance, purity and power.