Red Cap Vineyards are owned and operated by the husband wife team of Tom and Desiree Altemus. They manage a 6 acre vineyard nestled among the Ponderosa Pine trees, high on the ridge line of Howell Mountain at about 1900 feet.
Tom has become a vintner in a fairly short amount of time. His first introduction to Napa was when he was working at IBM in the San Jose area; a number of business trips allowed him to try fine wines. Making a complete career change in the late 1990’s Tom enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and after graduating soon thereafter started working at some of California’s finest restaurants from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It was during a stint at a restaurant in St. Helena that he met his current winemaker Rudy Zuidema. Rudy has made the wine each year.
In 1998 Tom and Desiree purchased land on Howell Mountain and at the time much of it was literally covered in a dense thicket of brush. After securing all the necessary permits, they planted the vineyard in 2003 and released their first vintage in 2005 which was merely 50 cases. With production this limited, the wine of course does not go far! 2006 was their first official release and total production as of press time has been increased to over 200 cases. Tom also sells fruit to several high end Napa wineries and as a result has the ability increase his own production down the road.
Once you have seen the soil of these vineyards you will quickly determine how they decided upon the name Red Cap. The soil is very red and rocky, lava in nature. Also note the swinging boy on the label. Tom & Desiree have three children and were inspired to create a label such as this one to “…represent the spirit of wonder and fun that we all try to embody on a daily basis.”
Tom’s true passion is in the vineyard and as he says, “this is his best job to date”! We can see why after visiting; the vineyards are in a very peaceful location and are surrounded by tall pine trees; this is hillside Napa at its best. During harvest he often picks at staggered intervals and harvest can easily reach a month or more. The reason being is Red Cap only picks when the fruit is ripe and often this may mean picking just several rows or blocks of the vineyard. As a result, all wine is fermented in small lots with whole berry fermentation (no jacks or stems) and punch-downs are done by hand.
Some of Napa’s hillside wines can be quite tannic – not so with Red Cap’s Cabernet’s. Native yeasts are used, the fruit is picked perfectly ripe and cooler longer fermentations are conducted. The typical aging is 20 months in French Oak.
Coming from a culinary background Tom understands the importance of pairing food with wine. The 2006 vintage is a perfect food wine; it is not an in your face Cabernet Sauvignon, i.e., huge fruit bomb and as Tom says, it has a “power combined with elegance”. All their vintages are 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from the 3 distinct clones that are planted on site.
We initially tried the 2006 about a month after bottling – so this wine still had some time before being released. However, it was already drinking quite nice with bright lively fruit and great acidity. The wine is dark ruby in color with a nose showing notes of cocoa, cherry cola and floral nuances. As the bouquet opens up even additional layers of fruit aromas are released. The palate is rich with cherry and plum and just a touch of vanilla from the oak. Their oak program is structured to not dominate, rather to let the varietal characteristics show. The finish lingers with notes of spice; the tannins are structured, in balance and fairly delicate.
We had the opportunity to also try this wine again after it had seen another year of bottle age and after it was officially released. Along with the rich fruit it shows a pleasing earthiness both in the bouquet and on the palate. The flavor profiles are very well integrated and layered – with good balance throughout. This is a rather impressive first vintage and the year of bottle age has treated it well.
Locally you will be able to find the wine at the St. Helena Wine Center in downtown St. Helena or also consider joining their mailing list on line. Visit: www.redcapvineyards.com