Altamura Winery is located about 20 minutes east of the city of Napa in Wooden Valley and was established in 1985 by Frank and Karen Altamura. Their early focus was on Chardonnay; in fact, the first vintage of Altamura Chardonnay earned a 91 point score from the Wine Spectator. The first Altamura red wines were from the 1988 harvest.
Perhaps this is the furthest winery from the city of Napa that still has a Napa address; it is also one of the more easterly located wineries within Napa County. However, with that said, despite being in the country, the drive from the city of Napa is usually not a long one. This was not the first location for Altamura Winery; originally the winery was located on Silverado Trail on 70 acres on the site of what is now Darioush Winery until this property was sold in 1997. The early Altamura wines were from several family owned sites next to the Silverado Trail.
It is the only winery located in Wooden Valley, although there are other vineyards in the valley besides their own. The property is 400 acres. The winery was built in the late 1990s. This valley most likely will never become dominated by vineyards like other parts of Napa Valley due to the fact there is not a lot of ground water here. The drive here is through wooded oaks and the nearby roads are quite windy. While merely 9 miles from the town of Napa, a visit to Wooden Valley is certainly not the “wine strip” you find on Highway 29. The roads here are little traveled, cattle still graze some of the hills, and natural vegetation by far outnumbers vineyards.
Napa attracts people from all over the world due to its fine wine and excellent cuisine. It seems like it is becoming rarer when we discover a vintner who actually grew up in Napa Valley and has historical family ties to the valley. Such is the case with the Altamura’s; Karen’s (maiden name: Bacigalupi) family is deeply rooted in Napa Valley. Her family has owned their Wooden Valley property since 1855. A mention in The Napa Register dated December 22, 1893 refers to an Isola and Bacigalupi being granted a liquor license to open the Liberty Saloon on Main Street above the Napa Hotel.
Frank’s family has been in Napa Valley since his father George Altamura first visited with friends in 1947 and then hitchhiked here the following year from his home in Buffalo New York at age 17. George began what would eventually become a migration west for other family members including his parents Cataldo (Carl, born in Corato, Italy) and Mary who moved to Napa Valley in 1961. Like many Italians of his generation, Carl used to produce home wine in Buffalo. With little money, no college education and having never read a book in his life, George Altamura has become a very successful local businessman.
He is now one of Napa Valley’s most influential citizens, a real estate developer but more importantly, an investor in community and people. He has operated numerous businesses in Napa starting in the early 1950s with Knotty Pine Drive-in, which was located at 2508 Jefferson Street across from Napa High School. It should also be noted, what was Napa Junior College was also located on the Napa High School campus in those days. An ad in The Napa Valley Register dated June 19, 1953 listed hamburgers for 19 cents and cheeseburgers for 29 cents, appropriately priced for the Napa High School students. The drive-in was also known for their thick creamy shakes and Sunday specials.In 1957 Altamura founded Alta Cleaners, a dry-cleaning business; in 1959 he became chairman of the North Napa Merchants Association. He ran for Napa city council in 1968. Over the years he has bought and sold countless numbers of properties in the city of Napa, primarily in the central business district. Some of his most prominent holdings in Napa have been what was Napa Town Center (now First Street Napa), the Uptown Theatre which he had completely restored in 2005 and the historic Gordon Building. He was also an investor in the early 19990s in what was called Table 29 Restaurant which soon transitioned into one of Napa Valley’s most popular restaurants, Bistro Don Giovanni. Altamura also owns the Strack Vineyard.
In 1994 he and his wife Jacqueline (Jackie) founded what has since become an annual event, Hands Across The Valley. Its inception was when George discovered that the Napa Food Bank was running low on funds due to reduced commitments from the Federal government. So George decided to do something about this and organized a fundraising event hosted at Bistro Don Giovanni on May 6th of that year. Celebrities in attendance including Francis Ford Coppola who was cooking his ‘godfather’ wood-fired pizzas, 49ers quarterback at the time, Steve Young (just before what would be a super bowl winning season) hand pro-golfer Johnny Miller, helped create a buzz of excitement. The next year the event was hosted at Francis & Eleanor Coppola’s home. In recent years, the main fundraising gala and event has been held at Charles Krug Winery. To date, Hands Across The Valley has raised more than 2 millions dollars, supporting Napa Valley’s food programs.
George turned 90 years young in 2021.
Frank was born and raised in Napa Valley; however, he is not to be confused with his uncle, also Frank Altamura (died 1996), a New York transplant, and artist who moved to Napa Valley in 1964. This Altamura taught at Napa High and then spent 22 years teaching at Napa College including as the chair of their art department. He was one of the founders of the Depot Gallery in Yountville. And Frank’s uncle oversaw a small vineyard, made home wine bottled under the label Villa Alta Vineyards.
But back to the subject of this review; Frank Altamura began working in the vineyards with his cousin right out of high school including five years working for Charlie Wagner, co-founder of Caymus Vineyards. Altamura later gained invaluable experience by learning from some of Napa’s notables who already had established careers in the 1970 and 1980s – vintners such as Randy Dunn, Ric Foreman, and Chuck Wagner. His first winery viticulture job was working for Sterling Vineyards in 1976.
In 1990 he and his brother George Jr. raced a 1948 Chevrolet Woody from Reno to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, placing third in what was called the Great American Race. Seventy cars participated in this unique race; automobiles were limited to those built prior to 1955.
Having grown up in Napa Valley but trying to plant vineyards in an area with few existing vineyards, Frank found himself identifying soil types on his property similar in nature to those found in some of Nap Valley’s more premium terroir – i.e., Howell Mountain, the Rutherford bench, Mt. Veeder, etc. Once the soils were identified this allowed him to tailor particular rootstalks and clones.
The outside of their winery is all stone, quarried from the many rocks that “grow” on the property. Plans may eventually include a new tasting room closer to Wooden Valley Road. The actual winery is located about 1/2 mile in on a gravel road which winds its way past the vineyards. Tastings are hosted in a small room next to the cave. Altamura concentrates on Sangiovese and their flagship wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon – both of which have been well received by some of the best-known wine critics. Their vineyards are entirely dry farmed other than a small block of Sangiovese.
Frank and Karen’s son, Giancarlo Altamura is the assistant winemaker.
Altamura has made extensive use of a new French oak aging program and their wines often will stay in barrel up to an additional year or beyond the barrel aging program of most wineries. Their annual production is about 6,000 cases. Besides their two main wines they also make a very beautiful Sauvignon Blanc which is available only at the winery and from their website. Compared to traditional Sauvignon Blancs, this wine is very un-traditional. It sees 18 months of oak which contributes to the oak in the nose, but the actual wine does not have that “over oaked” taste.
The 2015 Altamura Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is deep gold in color; the bouquet simultaneously shows both tropical and citrus aromatics. The aromatics are sweet and include notes of ripe mango, mouthwatering summertime fresh peach, apricot, honeycomb and caramel. Smells like dessert! Rounded but not viscous in texture, offers flavors of red delicious apple, mandarin and notes of honey. Lingers with a raciness of spice and fruit but with acidity that keeps one salivating. But the palate is not tart – this is definitely not a greener’ showing of this variety – but rather embraces ripeness and the Napa Valley sunshine with presumably a longer hang time before being harvested.
The 2016 Altamura Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color; the bouquet immediately shows a spiciness on the bouquet upon opening with aromas of dried sage, white pepper, dark olive and basil. The fruit is dark including plum with subtle hints of vanilla in the background which become more Graham Cracker-esque as the wine continues to open. The palate is fairly ripe with a sweetness of fruit and flavors of blackberry, black licorice and espresso. The tannins are still somewhat tightly woven (tasted 4 years after vintage date); they are certainly noticeable but are not coarse in their textural grip. Juicy. A ripe tartness lingers on the finish including red cherry and currant. Was aged for 34 months in 70% new French oak barrels for 34 months before being bottled.
For Nebbiolo lovers – Altamura makes a delicious wine of this variety. It is very smooth yet complex and goes well with most foods. Typically, they do not open this wine unless visitors specifically request it, as it is made in such a low production. There are just a handful of Napa Valley wineries producing it and it is not well known outside of its country of origins, Italy. All the Altamura wines are 100% varietal, i.e.., no blending. Their Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a robust wine, with concentrated flavors, strong and structured tannins and a very long finish.
A variety you not often found in Napa Valley is Negroamaro. This red wine grape is native to the southern part of Italy – in Puglia and Salento. Altamura has about an acre planted of these vines which typically produces about 100 cases of wine. In Italy this variety is often part of a red blend; in Napa the Altamura’s make a 100% varietal. This is a good food wine, balanced with bright acidity – a recent vintage we tried had silky smooth tannins that were well integrated.
Ciccio Restaurant, Yountville
Frank & Karen Altamura and their two sons, Frank and Giancarlo own the very popular walk-in only (no reservations taken) small Ciccio Restaurant in North Yountville or “NoHo” if you are a local. Located just north of the famous French Laundry restaurant and next to one of Yountville’s former and falling down institutions, Pancha’s of Yountville – a rough and tumble establishment that contrasts greatly with the contemporary luxurious zing of Yountville today. The name Ciccio is what Frank was referred to when he was a child, meaning ‘little Frankie’.
Ciccio features a variety of pizzas as well as Italian entrees cooked in their wood-fire oven. In addition, locally sourced ingredients are used in their dishes including some trucked over from their own Wooden Valley located ranch & vineyards. Only their Cabernet Sauvignon is distributed in retail outlets – their other wines are not distributed however Ciccio is one place where you can try them without visiting the winery. And Ciccio has developed a reputation since opening for producing some of the valley’s best Negronis, the one drink we always order the several times we have eaten here.
What is now Ciccio’s used to be the Tonascia Market which operated until the end of 1983 by the Tonascia family after originally established in 1916 by two brothers, Joseph and Silvio Tonascia. Over the years the market sold a variety of items including according to an add dated July 28, 1960, in the Napa Journal, meats, produce, beer, ammunition and dairy products. At one point a gas pump was located in front of the market. By the time it closed this was Napa County’s oldest continuously operating grocery. It was reborn in 1984 as Yountville Market.
Visits are private to the winery and ranch – if Frank is hosting the tour, you will be driven around in his old army vehicle, a Dodge which was built in 1943. It doesn’t get older “Napa Valley” than a visit here! Beside sold direct, the wines are also distributed and available through a number of online retailers including Gary’s Wine & Marketplace. For more information, or to purchase wines click through to their website: www.altamura.com
Altamura visit starts at about 21:30 in the video.