Category Archives: Napa County

A Glamorous Life in Viticulture

IMG_0716After returning home from surgery on Saturday, Tom Altemus at Red Cap Vineyards spent the next three nights answering frost alarms as Howell Mountain temperatures dropped with the recent storms.  These are part of the daily challenges a farmer faces as does anyone raising children – the timing is never convenient, the rewards aren’t immediate, and the hours are long.

In 1998, Tom and Desiree bought ten acres on Howell Mountain after the birth of their second child meant they needed more room and a great opportunity came their way. A couple of years later, stay at home dad, Tom, began vineyard planning amid studies and surveys culminating in mountains of permit paperwork. Finally in 2003, the land was cleared in time to welcome their third child and the work was to begin in earnest.


Winemaker, Rudy Zuidema, and Tom have been friends for 25 years.  They worked together before Red Cap Vineyards as chefs at Brava Terrace Restaurant in St. Helena where local winemakers brought their wares and asked the chefs to pair the wine with a custom dish.  It was here they learned what they liked and what kind of wine they wanted to make – an elegant, complex Cabernet Sauvignon.

After planting and nurturing their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, the first grapes were harvested in 2006 and Rudy & Tom created their first vintage – to be released just as the recession in 2008 hit and no one wanted additional wine, especially an unknown product.

So Tom began the process of turning a family farm into a viticulture business in slow measured steps.  Watching nature change the surrounding forest gently and slowly, he worked in the same way, creating an organically styled vineyard with a rich loose soil that reminds you of a forest floor when you walk on it. They pick grapes a few tons at a time as each section ripens with daily walks in the vineyard to taste seeds for a nutty ripeness and juice for its vintage characteristics. Vintage variance is evident here as each year reaches its own balance.

This working family vineyard has help from entire family as each one lends their skills in many ways from data entry to social media to pulling crickets from the grapevines.  A slow, humble way of life that creates a rich family lifestyle in a beautiful spot where you want to live now, retire eventually, and watch your grandchildren grow up.

Red Cap continued to develop their Cabernet and added a Sauvignon Blanc (from purchased grapes) as an entrance wine to get them into restaurants with great success. Now they have developed a following of friends, wine lovers, and businesses that appreciated their small production, gently made wines.


This admittedly unglamorous life-style of fighting mildew, praying for rain, praying it doesn’t rain, and answering frost alarms in the middle of the night is exactly the rich life the Altemus family has chosen. They find their own kind of glamour in a humble vineyard in the mountains above Napa Valley and a gentle lifestyle that is reflected in the land they call home.

#RedCapVineyards #NapaValley #WineCountry #Vineyard #Winery #Viticulture #Wine #Wines

Sommeliers Create Memories

IMG_4491-SmAlthough the role of Sommelier involves endless hours of hard work and continuing education behind the scenes, it is that front-of-the-house guidance to an elegant and memorable meal that we all remember.

If you are not familiar with the rigorous testing required to become a Master Sommelier there is a movie called SOMM that gives you glimse into their world (or perhaps just watch the trailer). What we don’t often see in a restaurant is what the Sommelier does before and after the service begins.

Obviously, a Master Sommelier must be professional wine taster, but additionally they go over the wine list with the wait staff and kitchen personnel; take charge of purchasing the wines and creating the wine list based on the chef’s recipes; handle the wine inventory and cellaring; and then on their days off, they are expected to familiarize themself with new wines and even visit wineries for tastings.  Hardly an entry-level occupation to make sure each and every patron receives the perfect recommendation to compliment their food and fit their budget.

Master SommelierTo highlight this often under-appreciated role, Delta Airlines is hosting a series of Blind Tasting Competitions.  The lastest of these events was at Flavor Napa hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson with fellow Master Sommeliers Ian Cauble of Somm Select, and Emily Papach of Jackson Family Wines, and Jay James of Chappellet Winery along with an impressive array of talented Sommeliers in the process of Master certification.

Estate Caves at Meritage Resort & Spa

Estate Caves at Meritage Resort & Spa

Flavor Napa is a dazzling array of Napa Valley’s master chefs and graduates of The Culinary Institute of America’s program creating heavenly epicurean delights to pair with the world-class wines of Napa Valley, but in no other Flavor Napa event is the Master Sommelier’s role highlighted as it is in the Blind Tasting Competition.

During Flavor Napa‘s Top Taster Blind Tasting Competition, it was impressive to watch the professionals demostrate their hard-earned skills.  In under five minutes they could completely analyze a wine’s aroma, palate, structure, varietal, region of origin, and vintage.  But this blind tasting was a little different – the Sommeliers used their background to educate those of us who are not as austute with wine instead of just to compete with each other.

IMG_4494As amateur blind tasters, we were given a practice wine (used for the Sommelier demonstration), then two white wines, and four red wines.  We were told the wines could either be from the Napa Valley appellation or a classic old world wine.  As we tasted through the wines, the Sommeliers walked through the group gently asking questions about what we were experiencing and expertly answering inquiries when we needed a little more guidance – to learn – to grow – and to enjoy the adventure of wine tasting without the intimidation of failure.  In other words, they practiced many of the skills they use every day to gentle learn what we know, what we like, and how to make wine approachable for all of us.

IMG_4514The wines were excellent, but challenging – a white that I thought was a Viognier was a Chardonnay.  But after we submitted our tasting forms, one of the Master Sommeliers walked through each wine with the other Sommeliers and we were able to witness them exploring their path through the clues of grape characteristics, winemaking techniques, and possible regions of production. From this I learned what parts I understood and what parts were opportunities to learn.  We were then able to re-visit the wine and see it anew through this acquired knowledge. A great way to learn without intimidation or judgment.

During the red tasting, my tablemates, a wonderful couple from San Francisco, identified a Sangiovese and then realized it was old-world as they described it to the Sommelier through encouraging questions about what they were tasting.  It was wonderful to see the light go on in their eyes as they found their own answer through an excellent educator.

Decanting WineIn a restaurant too, a Sommelier can share information about wines – what are the characteristics of the dish you have selected – what are some possible wine selections that might enhance that dish within your budget – but most of all what a glorious avenue of discovery a new wine might be.

Sommeliers are our bridge between food and wine turning a dining experience into a treasured memory – that perfect bottle of wine – the one that made a glorious meal with family or friends an event that you talk about many years afterwards!

Next time you are in a restaurant with a good wine list and Sommelier, be kind enough to let them do their job and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised at the discoveries that await you in their knowledgeable hands. And the next time Flavor Napa comes around, be sure to visit our wonderful valley – they never disappoint either.

#FlavorNapa #NapaValley #Wine #Winetasting #Sommelier #MasterSommelier #WineEducation #BlindTasting #Event #Competition

Genesis versus Coravin – How do You Preserve Your Wine?

IMG_3170 SmallNapa Technology, makers of the WineStation®, launched their single bottle commercial (Genesis Pro) and residental (Genesis) wine preservation systems for both still and sparkling wine at Raymond Vineyards last night.

Either Genesis system dispenses preserved wine an ounce or glass at a time to allow tasting or service without consuming (or wasting) the remainder of the bottle. Since both Genesis systems come with multiple IntelliCorks (10 commercial or 3 residental) multiple varietals can be opened at any time and stored outside the machine.

Napa Technology presented a champagne that had been open 4 days and red and white still wines that were opened on October 17, 2014 (10 days).  All of the wines tasted fresh, but I had not tried a recently opened bottle of the varietals, so I was unable to tell any changes in the wine.  I would have preferred a newly opened as well as a 30 day bottle for comparative purposes.

Genesis Champagne

The obvious advantages over a Coravin Wine Access system (which I have been happily using for almost a year) are the Genesis system will work on any type of closure (screw top, natural cork or synthetic).  Additionally, the Genesis system works on champagne / sparkling wine as well as still wine.

Sparkling wine is advertised to last for up to 5 days and still wine for 1-60 days.  The Genesis system gives commercial facilities the ability to serve more wines by the glass and the consumer the ability to drink wine(s) over a number of days. The convenient size will work in most settings and accommodates 750 ml and magnum size bottles in a free standing model.

The commercial version of the Genesis system retails at $899 and the residental system at $499. Gas cannisters come with both models and additional IntelliCorks and cannisters can be ordered from the Genesis website.

#Genesis #NapaTechnology #Wine #WineAccessories #WinePreservation

A Woman’s Palate Celebrates Napa Valley Launch of Fine Wine Education Program

wineA Woman’s Palate (AWP) is a group of women winemakers and producers specializing in high-end, fine wines.  Through their signature wine education seminar, Don’t Give Up The Wine List, and custom events they empower women (and men) in an affluent demographic to be comfortable in high-profile food and wine events.  A Woman’s Palate has successfully worked with prestigious organizations and companies like FORTUNE magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit, Women President’s Organization, Silicon Valley Bank, and global law firm K&L Gates.

AWPToday A Woman’s Palate launched their Napa Valley Fine Wine Education and Custom Events Program in their beautiful new St. Helena Center to a receptive group of Hotel Concierges and Event Managers as well as Napa Valley Tour Hosts.

AWP was joined by a variety of supporters showcasing their wines, including Suzanne Phifer Pavitt of Phifer Pavitt Wine; Brooke Langelius of St. Supéry Vineyards & Winery; Jane Ballentine of William Cole Vineyards; Michaela Rodeno of Villa Ragazzi; Schatzi Throckmorton of Relic; Daisy Damskey of Palmeri; and AWP partner Sharon Kazan Harris of Rarecat.

For additional information on booking this facility, attending a seminar, or joining this dynamic group, contact or call 707.968.5031.

Sharon Susan Center Center1





















#AWomansPalate  #NapaValley #StHelena #PhiferPavittWine #StSupery #WilliamColeVineyards #VillaRagazzi #Relic #Palmeri #RarecatWines