A Visit to Howell Mountain and Red Cap Vineyards

Red Cap Vineyards

Red Cap Vineyards on Howell Mountain

Red Cap Vineyards on Howell Mountain, Napa Valley.

I first came across Red Cap Vineyards at the Taste of Howell Mountain in 2013. Owner Tom Altemus was standing by all by himself, humbly pouring a Sauvignon Blanc and a Howell Mountain Cabernet. Over the past year Red Cap Vineyards has exploded in popularity. This is a direct result of a decision Tom took to embrace the new media. In particular he embraced Instagram. He hired popular wine Instagrammer Michael Nguyen and the Red Cap Instagram account began to really come to life not only with constant artistic updates but with actual real live human updates.  If Gary Vaynerchuk is looking for a great example for his next case study of a company doing it right on Instagram he should take a look at Red Cap’s Instagram account.

Red-Cap-Vineyards-17

The official Red Cap trike.

Last month I got to spend some time with the Red Cap family at their Howell Mountain home and estate vineyard.  The vineyard is located on Howell Mountain road right near the Angwin airport at an elevation of about 1,800-2,000 ft.  The private setting opens up to a family home with a guest house on the side.  As I arrived Tom’s wife Desiree came out of the guest house with a fresh baked parmesan flat bread creation drizzled with duck fat and herbs.

There is no tasting room at Red Cap Vineyards.  That’s the first thing that should be noted by anyone wishing to visit the winery or vineyard.  They are not open to the public for tastings.  I was invited as a friend of the Altemus family.

There is a nice big hardwood table with seating for 8 in the dining room where I sat with Tom his wife Desiree and Michael.   Over the next couple of hours I sampled the 2013 Napa Valley Sauvignon blanc and the 2008 and 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernets.  After some discussions about social media marketing and the rigors of taking the wine tastings on the road, we stepped outside for a tour of the property.

You could be enjoying yourself here, at Red Cap Vineyards

You could be enjoying yourself here, at Red Cap Vineyards

There is a fire pit out in the back yard, which Red Cap Vineyards actually auctioned off at the Taste of Howell Mountain.  The winning bidder won an Argentinian style BBQ for 10 people right there in the back yard!  The thing I really love about the property is how it just feels like your best friends house or your uncles house.  There is a familiarity to it that is really nice.  There’s the deck chairs and stumps of wood around the fire pit.  The wooden swing hanging from the oak tree.  The family dog, Roscoe follows along.

Roscoe!

Roscoe!

We walked around the property and Tom showed me some really interesting trees.  Their bark is smooth and a dark reddish black color, pretty much the same color as wine.  Under the bark the tree is a bright green wasabi color.  At this point says “Here! Let me show you!”  and he began vigorously rubbing the bark off of a tree.

“Here we go!”  Says Michael “Tom’s rubbing the bark off the trees again!”

The tree with the bark rubbed off

The tree with the bark rubbed off

We walk down to the lowest property line where the forest begins and then around to the vineyard in the front lot.  The tiny block has several different micro climates all within the same area which is less than 2 acres, if not less than 1 perhaps.  There is an area that gets direct sunlight all day, an area that only gets afternoon light, an area that gets morning light.  An area at the bottom of the property that gets frost from time to time.

After the tour of the property we headed back inside for some more wine.  The conversation was hilarious.  I can’t repeat any of it here, but these guys are honest and funny.  And all of a sudden out came the Grappa!  The Grappa was a gift from wine maker Rebekah Wineburg made from the pomace of her first vintage.  The conversation if it wasn’t lively before, definitely became lively if not confessional after that!

The Wines

The Red Cap lineup
The Red Cap lineup

2013 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

This is a blend of 92% Sauvignon blanc and 8% Semillon sourced from Rutherford, Napa Valley. Alcohol weighs in at  14.5%.

red cap 2013 sauvignon blanc bottle

The wine is a pale yellow straw color with good clarity.  On the nose there are ripe citrus notes and a hint of minerality.  The palate is a mix of citrus and apricot with solid acidity and an off dry sweetness.  The mouthfeel is actually more towards the medium bodied side which is quite nice, a fairly weighty feel.

This wine is a very nice expression of what Napa sauvignon blanc can be.  If you’re into the New Zealand style, this wine is not for you.  If you’re looking for an elegant yet easily approachable summer sipper for special occasions, pick up a case.  If you can, only 312 cases were made and this wine retails for $27 so it will probably sell out very quickly.

 

 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

red cap 2008 howell mountain bottleThis wine is 100% cab, all Howell Mountain fruit, and all 260 cases are sold out.  But I thought I’d just review the wine for aging reference.  This wine saw 24 months in French oak and weighs in at 14.7% alcohol.  The wine is a deep dark purple color.  On the nose there’s blackberry and a foresty pine or cedar element, that might have just been because that’s where I was when I was tasting it.  The palate is rich, smooth, ripe and juicy.  Black berries and mocha, with a nice long finish.  The retail price on this wine was $65 when it was available.  A very good price point for the highly sought after Howell Mountain AVA.

2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

red cap 2010 cabernet bottle

This wine is also 100% Cabernet and all Howell Mountain fruit with 27 months in French Oak, weighs in at 14.87% alcohol. This wine obviously younger than the ’08 but is showing a lot of promise.  The nose is more explosive.  Right away the big black fruits and subtle forest notes jump out while the palate is loaded with that tight tannic yet elegant and polite and structured fruit Howell Mountain is known for.  The palate is loaded with black cherry.  Mouth watering black cherries.  The retail price on this wine is $75 with a production run of 280 cases.

See more pics of the visit here:  Facebook.com/weeklywinejournal

Contact Red Cap Vineyards here: Redcapvineyards.com/contact

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