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Incendium Wines

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When is having HEAT good for wine? Actually never, but for Incendium Wines it is FINE. Incendium is the Latin noun for “fire, wildfire, (heat of) passion”. This is true of Vincent Kalny’s wines as the owner and winemaker. Where did the name come from? Simple —Vincent has worked for Cal Fire out of the Napa Unit for 10 years. When you are on the front lines, feeling the heat, he turned that energy into his passion, winemaking. Through a unique opportunity in 2011, Vince ended up back in college educating himself in this captivating art form.

I met Vince some number of years ago and while his first release was good out of the gate, he tipped the scales drastically this year with major ratings and awards. Here are a few of them over the last quarter:

2014 Chardonnay-Carneros Napa Silver Medal, Jan 2016 SF Chronicle Wine Competition

2013 IW Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Gold Medal, Jan 2016 Winemaker Challenge Int’l Wine Comp.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Silver Medal, Jan 2016 SF Chronicle Wine Competition

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Silver Medal, Jan 2016 Winemaker Challenge Int’l Comp.

Those awards for a winery putting out 50-100 cases of each varietal is SMOKING HOT!

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They use a “custom crush” facility in Napa and Vince is there providing his direction diligently.  His wife Deanna (one in the middle), handles the marketing and social media perspectives of the business.

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One of the key items and why I personally was drawn to Incendium Wines, is with Vince’s support and concern for his “band of brothers” in that he provides a portion of the profit’s to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and contributes to local fund raising events. With last year’s recent fall fires in the Northern California portion of wine country, Vince has also contributed to those firefighters (some who are friends and co-workers of his) who were injured and lost their homes.

My favorite wine is his 2013 IW Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. This is their flagship wine even from a small lot artisan producer! The color is a dark ruby and the aroma provides a balance between a powerful cherry and leather. The alcohol content is 14.4% and pH of 3.79, both combine to provide a very drinkable wine.

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Bring a little heat and passion out next time you want a distinctive wine – Incendium Wines!

http://incendiumwines.com

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Dutton-Goldfield Winery

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Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield have teamed up to deliver some of the best Pinot Noir’s in Sonoma County. Perhaps the key to their success is sourcing grapes from 17+ unique and diverse vineyards scattered around Sonoma County and Sonoma Coast line. Most are located in the Green Valley (Russian River), with one also in Mendocino County. No wonder why in 2014, they were named as one of the “Top 100 Wineries” by Wine & Spirit Magazine.

There is however other varietals that they offer like their award winning Chardonnay, Sarah and Zinfandel. Also small lots of Riesling (300 cases), Gewürztraminer (262 cases) and Pinot Blanc (367 cases) are offered. Their tasting room is located in Sebastopol which has both inside and outside seating available.

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On the day that I was there, we focused primarily on the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals.  Perhaps one of their flagship wines is their Rued Vineyard Chardonnay. It is a bright, citrus-primarily lemon, with a hint of butterscotch taste. It is aged 17 months in 50% new French oak and presented unfiltered. For the 2013 vintage, they produced 800 cases. They received a deserving 93 points for this refreshing Chardonnay. I purchased a few bottles for my cellar!

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We tasted three of their Pinot Noir’s from varying vineyards: Fox Den, Emerald Ridge and Freestone Hill. Fox Den and Emerald Ridge received 93 and 92 points respectively. My favorite was the Freestone Hill with its dark cherry color, featuring ripe blueberries and blackberries on the palate. This wine is aged 17 months in 55% new French barrels. They use Clone is 667 and has become one of my favorites. Only 478 cases were produced.

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My suggestion would be to visit them early in your tasting day with a fresh palate to taste their diversified portfolio, especially the Pinot Noirs.

https://www.duttongoldfield.com

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Reuling Vineyard

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On a recent visit to Sonoma County, I had an appointment at Reuling Vineyard in Forestville. This tranquil and idyllic setting is on 16 acres.  The property was purchased in 1998 and for years produced grapes used in some of the best Pinot’s and Chardonnay’s coming out of Sonoma. Aubert and Peter Michael are just two of the highly acclaimed produces who bought Reuling Vineyard grapes.

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In 2013, the Tim & Jackie Reuling launched their own label, Reuling Vineyard. They hired Matt Taylor as winemaker, who had previously worked at Joseph Swan & Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. Matt was recently named by the SF Chronicle as one of the “top winemakers to watch”. Matt describes his winemaking as “weight without heaviness”. Their first release was a 2011 Pinot and followed by a 2012 Pinot Rose. They were met with instant approval and have never looked back. Today, their 2014 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast was rated 93 points from Vinous. Their 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast was rated 92 points from Wine Spectator.  Both their 2013 and 2014 Chardonnay’s used pressed whole clusters, giving it a 3.59 pH level, which produced an excellent wine. During a two day tour throughout northern Sonoma County, their Chardonnay was tied as the best tasted by me.

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The tasting included both the 2012 and 2013 Pinot’s. Our host mentioned they would age gracefully for 10 years. To that extend, while the 2013 Pinot is receiving great reviews, the 2012 was spot on to drink today!

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We talked in the vineyard office, located in the middle of their organic vineyard which utilizes biodynamic farming practices. It provided great views of the vineyard and had an “earthiness feel” in the décor. A wonderful setting to discuss and sip tasty wines.

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The owners Tim and Jackie Reuling were gone, but newly hired host/manager Kelli Willard (mostly of Napa Valley fame), filled in with great details, background and colorful description of the winery and wines. Below is picture of Kelli and Sture Linden, of Stu Linden Wine Experience www.stulindenwineexperience.com .

A unique historical vineyard with small limited production (250 cases Chardonnay and 500+ cases of Pinot Noir), do not hesitate as they will be sold out quickly.

http://reulingvineyard.com

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St Rose Winery

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St Rose Winery

On a recent visit to Russian River Valley, near Santa Rosa, I met with Fred and Wendy Nunes. If you ever wanted to know what “unbridled enthusiasm” would look like, you have to look no further than Fred Nunes! He walked into the small tasting room behind their house and it was a full on engaging conversation from helicopter firefighting to GPS systems to drones and finally growing of Pinot Noir grapes. Fred in his “second career” used some of his knowledge from his degree in systematic biology and ecology. He combined his intuition with science and hooked it up to his bigger than life presence to grape growing and winemaking.

Fred meticulously works each row and vine and has developed a detailed diagram for harvesting and cultivating his award winning Pinots. The 2012 Ten Block Pinot scored 94 points from Wine Enthusiast and the 2014 Ten Block scores are being determined at this writing by Robert Parker. Fred has consistently received 93 and 94 points. He also makes a unique 100% Clone 777 with limited production.   Now the kicker—for his 2012 he only produced 98 cases and for 2014 with the drought only produced 48 cases of the Ten Block. He is actually the smallest commercially bonded winery in Sonoma County which he takes pride in producing some of the best Pinot’s.

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That said, they do sell grapes to approximately five other wineries which have a designated Nunes Vineyard Pinot. Fred is so well known and respected, the others wineries allow Fred to be the vineyard manager for their wines, certainly not a common occurrence. Fred has developed high tech sensors to monitor temperature and variations as well as manually walking the vineyard every day. He seems to be the Pinot Noir “vine whisperer”. Fred is the ultimate steward of this 43 acre parcel with Pinot Clones planted on 35 acres. This is his 16th harvest.

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During the tasting of St Rose Winery Pinot’s which was hosted by Wendy who was calmly quiet and so hospitable, they made a perfect “yin and yang” couple.  The Pinot’s possessed a spicy cherry aroma, and then on the palate, a light vanilla trace. As Fred stated he has perfected the balance in the vineyard for a delightful sipping Pinot. Now the real kicker—this small family winery, highly rated, sells their Ten Block for $38 (2012) and $44 (2014)! With so little production, order some of this great Pinot today.

http://www.saintrosewinery.com

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Carlisle Winery & Vineyards

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Carving a new path is easy for Mike Officer, owner of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards. Mike started out in software industry in Southern California and migrated to Northern California still in the software development business. He started experimenting with producing wines that he enjoyed.  His first vintage was 1998. Then this “hobby” (from the kitchen sink) became larger and in 2004 he left corporate America and pursued winemaking full time. In 2013, they purchased the property they are on today for today’s production and tomorrow’s growth.

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Mike and his wife Kendall, have sought out to produce Zinfandels, but more awaited them. They went after the Rhone varietals, like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah. Mike was first to bring to Sonoma their first Grüner Veltliner, a unique white wine to the area. Today they are on their fourth vintage. Mike has a simple philosophy of “grow and source outstanding fruit…..and bottle outstanding, pleasurable wine at the fairest price possible”.  It is a labor of love, not a ROI motivation, driving his making of wines. You can appreciate it once you taste and experience the winery.

One of the absolutely outstanding things Mike has done, is on their website, a “Drinkability Chart” for every wine produced since 1998 and when it was last updated. This provides a tremendous service for his clients. Every winery should take note!

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Currently they source from their vineyard they own off property and have vineyards which they source from the following: Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Paso Robles, Bennett Valley, Mendocino Ridge, Santa Lucia Highlands, Napa Valley, Lodi and Sonoma Valley. While their total production is less than 10,000 cases in Santa Rosa, they make small lots with many grapes and vineyards. For example one of their Zin’s is 316 cases, Syrah 107 cases, Mourvedre 214 and Alicante Bouschet 100 cases. Each wine is handcrafted to Mike’s specifications.

I just want to mention one of my favorites during the visit. It was their 2014 Dry Creek Zinfandel, which scored a 90+ rating. It was comprised of 89% Zinfandel and 11% Petite Sirah and came in at 15.1% alcohol. It produced a white pepper in the palate and a strong, but not too powerful finish.

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Sarah Weese, recently hired, was a perfect spokesperson for Carlisle and Mike. She already had a keen insight into the direction and nuances of their business. I kidded Sarah a bit as to her “speed presentation” but she was just rampant excitement about the winery wines!

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There is a lot going on at Carlisle and should you have an opportunity to visit, please allow sufficient time and enjoy a unique tasting experience with some of the “less known varietals” which Mike has painstakingly produced on his new path.

http://www.carlislewinery.com

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Stuhlmuller Vineyards

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Stuhlmuller Vineyards

Many wine aficionados know of Alexander Valley as a premier grape region, but do you know where the name comes from?  In the 1800’s, Cyrus Alexander, with a land grant from the Mexican government, acquired 9,000 acres for cattle grazing. Today it is called Alexander Valley home of some great Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Zinfandels.

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The Stuhlmuller family has their winery on the lower southwestern edge of Alexander Valley. The planted vineyards total 150 acres: 90 acres are planted in Chardonnay, 57 acres with Cabernet Sauvignon & Petite Verdot and the remaining 3 acres with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. In total they produce just under 12,000 cases a year, but do not confused them with a “larger production facility”. Many of their wines are artisan and handcrafted with quantities running 100 cases and less per release.

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The winemaker is Leo Hansen who in January 2015, SF Chronicle wrote an article naming him one of “Winemakers to Watch in 2015”. Leo’s background is extensive after graduating from college in Denmark. Leo has traveled to great wine regions such as Loire, Alasace, Champagne, Burgundy, Spain, and Italy. Additionally, he worked as a certified European sommelier in Copenhagen, a one star Michelin restaurant. Leo also worked at Clos du Bois, Chateau Souverain and Bowen Estate (Coonawarra, Australia). After working as an assistant winemaker at Stuhlmuller, he became head winemaker in 2004.

The list of awards for Stuhlmuller wines in very impressive (suggest their website) and I will highlight only three of them. The first being their 2013 Pinot Cooper Block which has yet to be rated. It is a Russian River Pinot with 14.2%, 50% whole cluster and aged in 100% new French oak. Only 100 cases were produced. It was rated my personal highest of wines I tasted that day. The other one which was outstanding was their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Block 8 which with only 75 cases produced. It was deep ruby in color with a produced nose and balanced tannins. The last being their 2013 Reserve Chardonnay with 25% new French oak barrels and 100% malolactic fermentation. At $40 it is a solid wine to purchase.

So take a drive down a road less traveled to find some history and treat yourself to some great wines.

http://www.stuhlmullervineyards.com

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McKahn Family Cellars

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McKahn Family Cellars

While the baseball season hasn’t officially started, the Rookie of the Year is already announced. It is the McKahn Family Cellars in Livermore. Why the “rookie” status is crowned for McKahn Family Cellars is that they just opened their tasting room with the first offering on Friday, March 4th.

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Charles McKahn’s background includes receiving his enology degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and moving to Napa Valley for the last five years. He has worked as an assistant in various capacities at Chappellet Winery and was just recently name winemaker at William Harrison in Napa. Rather than using a custom crush facility, he will be producing his wines in Napa.

So technically he is not a “rookie”, but his family (Kevin, Denise & Brittany) just opened the McKahn Family Cellars with Charles as their winemaker. At age 25, he is definitely one of the youngest winemakers out there. Charles and the McKahn Family Cellars out of the gates are offering three distinct varietals – all of which are solid “base hits” and a rare feat for their first vintage.

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The offerings are: 2014 Knights Valley Chardonnay, 2014 Mendocino County Zinfandel and 2014 Napa Valley Syrah. The Chardonnay release is about 150 cases and using 1/3 French oak, but no Malolactic fermentation. This provides a Chardonnay without the heavy butter taste but gives it depth with the oak. The subtle pineapple, pear and slight citrus comes through as refreshingly uplifting. Personally, I think this is their best offering and a “double or a stretch triple” in baseball lingo!

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The second offering is their Zinfandel which 225 cases were produced. He blends 80% Zinfandel with 20% Syrah for this light Zinfandel. Charles describes it as “red and black currants accompany a sweet note of Irish cream derived from the American oak barrels”. It is smooth and lingers on the palate. The Zinfandel come from Mendocino.

The last offering and what he states as his goal as winemaker is to produce the best Syrah coming out of Napa Valley. It is eye opening to see a newcomer come up with another direction for Napa Valley. Obviously, Napa doesn’t need “another Cabernet Sauvignon” producer!! His love affair with Syrah started some time ago and he is striving for a smooth and well balanced Syrah. They produced 180 cases and believe he is well on his way with this first release. At the recent 2016 SF Chronicle Wine Competition, they received a Silver Medal.

McKahn Family Cellars is not located on the “wine trail” but near the intersection of Hwy 580 and Vasco Road on 503 Leisure Street, Livermore in a commercial building. Seek them out on your way to the trail and you will not be disappointed. Maybe the Rookie will autograph your bottle for a collector’s item, better yet buy two and drink one!

http://mckahnfamilycellars.com/

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3 Steves Winery

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3 Steves Winery

One of the relative newcomers on Greenville Road in Livermore, 3 Steves continues to impress the wine community both in Livermore and around California. I met Steve Burman, one of the three Steve’s, the first week they were opened. As “one of the chief winemakers”, I was impressed with his intimate knowledge of winemaking and humbleness to talk about his learning of the craft. We became good friends discussing wine from around California and the world.

How 3 Steves Winery started was three friends (Steve Burman, Steve Melander and Steve Zigant), all in the wine business, wanted to own their own winery. They insisted on meticulously working their own vineyard as well as bringing fruit back to their winery. Thus their tagline “3 Friends Striving to Make the Perfect Wine”. They opened the property in 2013 after a few years producing wine at a custom crush operation. 

For being opened such a short time, you would not think this list of accomplishments was possible:

  • 2014 Sauvignon Blanc –  2015 Tri Valley Conservancy Uncorked Competition Best Sauvignon Blanc of Show
  • 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – 2015 Tri Valley Conservancy Uncorked Competition Silver Medal.
  • 2012 Livermore Valley Merlot –  2015 San Francisco Chronicle Best of Class.
  • 2012 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Silver.
  • 2012 Cienega Valley Cabernet Franc – – 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Silver.
  • 2011 Cienega Valley Ancient Vine Zinfandel – 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Best of Red Wine of Show.  Their biggest accomplishment to date, this is the largest US wine competition in the world and this wine was voted Best Red Wine (Sweepstakes Award) over 5300 other wines.
  • 2012 Chardonnay – 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Silver Medal.
  • 2011 Cabernet Franc– 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Silver Medal.
  • 2011 Cabernet Franc –  Affairs of the Vine 2013 Cab Shootout Second Place Best Wine of Show
  • 2011 Cabernet Franc –  Affairs of the Vine 2013 Cab Shootout Gold Medal
  • 2012 Sauvignon Blanc –  2013 Tri Valley Conservancy Uncorked Wine Competition, Best White Wine of Show
  • 2012 Sauvignon Blanc –  2013 Tri Valley Conservancy Uncorked Wine Competition, Gold Medal
  • 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel –  2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Silver Medal
  • 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon –  2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Silver Medal
  • 2009 Zinfandel –  2012 Best of the Bay Zin Challenge Competition, Silver Medal
  • 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – 2012 Best of the Bay Wine Competition, Bronze Medal
  • 2009 Zinfandel –  2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Silver Medal
  • 2009 Chardonnay –  2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Bronze Medal
  • 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon –  2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Bronze Medal
  • 2007 Cabernet Franc –  2011 Best of the Bay Wine Competition, Bronze Medal

They produce a few 100% varietals, but Steve Burman is definitely a “creative winemaker” in blending and extracting flavors from a variety of grapes. Take for example their 2013 “Three Brunettes” Blend made with Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah – a unique wine with a deep ruby color.

An outstanding pair– I have from the start been a big fan of their Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Their 2013 Small Lot #1 Cabernet Sauvignon is from fruit on their vineyards and provides a robust nose, dark deep red fruit, followed by a mouthful of balanced tannins and complete covering of the palate.  Their Cabernet Franc from Cienega Valley AVA, part of the Central Coast AVA, was an immediate favorite as soon as I smelled it! Once I sipped, it reminded me of a San Benito Cabernet Franc, a major winner from Léal Vineyards in Hollister (more in another article). This is a peppery, spicy and “thirst quenching” Cab Franc for sure.

So for my money, a stop by 3 Steves draws a “full house” (3 Steves and 2 Cabs) to be impressed. Also try some of the unique blends they offer. Here is a picture of Christian Kaack from Germany and I enjoying a sample of the fruits of their labor.

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https://3steveswinery.com

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Outpost Wines

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Outpost Wines

When is being “out”, in? When you enjoying Outpost wines of course! I became acquainted with Outpost Wines over five years ago and knew immediately they were on a path to destiny. Outpost is located near the top of Howell Mountain at 2,200 feet elevation.

The owners Frank and Kathy Dotzler, started Outpost in 1998 on this sloped hillside comprising 28 acres. What they have accomplished with their Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Grenache, etc., is nothing short of remarkable. With Thomas Rivers Brown at the helm of the winemaking, the wines continue to garner acclaim. Dry farming and being totally organic are their mantra at Outpost.

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Going back to their 2009 Cabernets, some of the ratings were in the “93 range“. Even then the potential of their Cabernet Sauvignon was ready to blossom. On their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon True they received a score of 99 points from Parker. This vintage was aged in 90% new French oak and only 250 cases were produced. The “step-sister” Cabernet Sauvignon Estate was rated 95+.

I have spent some time with Frank discussing their Grenache and whole stem clustering which produced a wonderful spicy and peppery bouquet. I am now a “major advocate” of whole cluster soakings! The Zinfandel is a hearty and mouthful Zin. They produce around 1,100 cases a year and is a force to be reckoned. Both their True Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache made my Top Wines of 2015 (see tab on home page Top Wines of 2015).

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On property they produce other wines and would encourage a visit. Not only are the views spectacular, the hospitality of KC and Brent will astound you. The tasting room can be both inside and outside, pending weather conditions. Parker called their pricing, the “least ego driven” in Napa Valley—a rarity in today’s fine wine market.

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While you are there ask KC, Brent or Frank the story about this painted bull on the property…….

http://www.outpostwines.com

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Red Cap Vineyards

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A different path brought Tom and Desiree Altemus to Howell Mountain. Tom was in finance with IBM for years but sought out a career as a chef. He left IBM and attended the California Academy in SF. From there he held various jobs learning under many of today’s best chefs. Desiree was and still is a technical writer for the high tech industry. 

Let’s go back to Tom’s career as a chef at Brava Terrace in St Helena. It was there that he met many years old a young buck named Rudy Zuidema (you can read about Rudy in several other posts). They established a solid friendship. Rudy left Brava Terrace and established his viticulture repertoire. While Rudy was a working at Robert Craig Winery, he was involved securing a location on Howell Mountain for their production. Many locations were vetted during this process. Once the decision was made to locate the winey, Rudy mentioned a unique 10.5 acre parcel with varying terrain located on top of Howell Mountain. Thus became the starting point of Red Cap Vineyards.

Today they have 6 acres planted with Cabernet Sauvignon vines (clones 4, 7 & 169) producing a powerful and intense, full body, deep ruby colored, crafted wine. Half the wine is used by Red Cap and the other half of the fruit goes to a major winery for a vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon staring in 2013.

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In addition to the Howell Mountain location producing Cabernet Sauvignon, they have access to some limited Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Rutherford. They produce an elegant and finely tuned Sauvignon Blanc. Rudy describes it as “the wine exhibits a beautiful nose of peach, honey, citrus and minerals…… The long, lingering finish rewards you with flavors of apricot and pear and a consistent minerality.” It is a “refined Sauvignon Blanc” that can be overpowered with too strong a food pairing. The first time I paired it with some Maguro sashimi and lost the bouquet of the wine (my error). Since then, I tried it “a la carte” and then Rudy’s descriptive came through loud and clear.

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 The label is most intriguing for the wine industry and when questioned it, Tom equated it to the Howell Mtn property as being “a special place, carefree, happy and excited to be alive”. The picture after drinking both the wines represents the feeling from our youth perfectly.

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One of the side benefits of knowing Red Cap Vineyards, on their website Tom, as a former chef, provides some fascinating recipes. That is a bonus to their very drinkable wines!

http://redcapvineyards.com

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