In 1998, Tom and Desiree Altemus made a leap of faith when their good friend and winemaker Rudy Zuidema told them about a 10.5-acre parcel he discovered while scouting for vineyard property on Howell Mountain. At the time, they had been looking to move out of their small home in Napa after the birth of their second child.  Tom was working as a chef in St. Helena and had developed an appreciation for wine while preparing great wine country cuisine and pairing food with wines from some of Napa’s most prominent vintners. Tom and Desiree saw the potential opportunity of the Howell Mountain property, and asked Rudy to come on board as winemaker and help achieve the vision.

The land starts at an elevation of 1900 feet and has rich, rocky, red soil which provided the inspiration for the name, Red Cap Vineyards. After a few years of painstaking planning, in 2003 they planted their first vines of Cabernet Sauvignon. Tom manages the vineyard himself, which is no small task. The undulating rows of organically grown vines require the meticulous attention of hand-farming due to the grapes various stages of ripening. Tom believes Howell Mountain is the perfect place to grow Cabernet and does not like the idea of blending. He says “I like black coffee, I drink straight whiskey and I like my Cabernet pure so I can taste the character of each vintage.” Tom and Rudy share the same passion for demonstrating the natural diversity of the vineyard and are laser- focused on making the fruit the star.

In 2006, Red Cap Vineyards produced its first commercial vintage, 300 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. After spending ~2.5 years in French Oak, each vintage is well balanced and aromatic with deep red fruit and layers of complexity. Easily drinkable upon release these wines really shine with cellar aging. In addition to the Estate Cabernet, they rounded out the portfolio with a gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc made from fruit from the McGah Family’s Alsace vineyard in Rutherford.

Over the years Red Cap has developed a close following of customers and club members who discovered them the “old school Napa way”– by word of mouth. The Red Cap team shares that commitment and takes the time to pay attention to each one individually. Even though their member list is in the hundreds, Tom personally contacts each customer for the yearly wine release and Michael Nguyen, Red Cap’s Marketing Director, maintains the personal connection through social media. Many members plan their trips to wine country around Red Cap’s annual “Family Reunion”, a vineyard celebration of friends, food and wine.

The Red Cap label, an etching of a boy on a tree swing, was designed to inspire a special nostalgic feeling of carefree times, family and real people. For Tom and Desiree, it represents the very foundation of what Red Cap Vineyards is all about, “Treating our customers like friends and our friends like family.”



Article By: Laura Larson