For Tom and Desiree Altemus, life’s path has been anything but a straight line. Through luck, vision and hard work, they have carved out an idyllic lifestyle in the mountains above Napa Valley. Tom’s interest in fine wine sparked while he was working in finance for IBM, sampling wines on business trips and trading recommendations with friends. It wasn’t until a career change in 1991 that his appreciation for wine took off. Tom left finance to pursue a career as a chef, going on to work in some of California’s best restaurants, and eventually taking a position at St. Helena. Cooking for some of the most prominent vintners and winemakers in Napa Valley cemented Tom’s love of California wine.
Tom left the restaurant business and purchased a 10.5-acre property on Howell Mountain in 1998. Vineyard planning began in 2000, and the land was finally cleared and prepped in 2003, the same year their third child was born.
The rocky, volcanic soil and unique Howell Mountain microclimate produce fruit of exceptional character and quality. Planted on virgin land at 1900 feet, the Aiken loam soil is deep, red and peppered with fractured rock. The terrain is a rolling plateau at the top of the mountain. The vineyard yields about two tons of grapes per acre, planted to Cabernet clones 4, 7 and 169 on 101-14 rootstock spaced at five by seven feet.
The grapes are organically grown and hand-farmed by vineyard manager Alfonso Elena. He has been farming grapes in Napa Valley for over 35 years, with extensive knowledge of hillside plots.