Exceptional Wines Put Remote Winery on the Map

Altamura Vineyards and Winery, established in 1985 by Frank and Karen Altamura, is the only winery in Wooden Valley, which is located within the Napa Valley appellation.

The Altamuras are Napa natives who take a hands-on approach to every step of the growing and winemaking process. Thus, a natural production limit is established and the wines reflect the couple’s deep commitment to reflecting the terroir of their Wooden Valley Ranch.

Wooden Valley is a small, almost round valley, approximately two miles wide at its widest point. It’s located nine miles northeast of the town of Napa, and is reached by a winding mountain road that originally was carved into what was called Napa Mountain by Chinese laborers in the 1800s. The valley is bordered by the Vaca Range to the east and “Napa Mountain” to the west.

The warm summer days in Wooden Valley are cooled by dramatic fog banks that pour over the palisades and mid-afternoon breezes, which can produce temperatures as much as 10 degrees lower than the Napa Valley average. This results in a long growing season.

Wooden Valley was named for John Wooden, a giant among men at 6-foot-8, who purchased the area in 1852 from Jose Ignacio Berryessa and became its first resident owner. Originally from Virginia, Wooden traveled west in a wagon train that embarked from Missouri in 1846.

Today, Wooden Valley is reminiscent of an earlier age when cattle roamed the hillsides; orchards, grain and hay grew in the fertile soil; and the children were educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Winegrapes were first planted in 1905, but pulled out 30 years later during the Great Depression.

In 1985, the Altamuras began planting 65 acres of their 400-acre ranch to vineyards with a clear emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon. The five main soil types on the ranch lay the foundation for six distinctive Cabernet vineyards, all producing wines with varying texture and flavor profiles, and all of which are blended into a single wine.

Also planted are Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Sauvignon Blanc in optimal soils for each varietal. Altamura’s vineyards sit at an elevation range of 800 to 1,000 feet.

Frank Altamura’s lifelong pursuit as a winemaker is fueled by his passion for viticulture. He began working with his cousin, a vineyard manager, right out of high school and knew that this would be his life’s calling.

Formal viticultural training began at Sterling Vineyards in 1976, as he began to explore what winemakers were looking for from the vineyard. This concept was further developed from the winemaker’s perspective at Caymus with mentor Charlie Wagner.

“Growing up in Napa Valley and surrounded by farming, my most influential experience came from working at Caymus for five years,” Altamura said. “We developed many grape varieties – from Burger to Zinfandel – refining the concepts of soil and climatic influences, and growing for quality rather than quantity.

“As we worked to get the most from each vineyard site, I learned that it was important not to have pre-conceived ideas about what to expect from a vineyard, but rather to discover the flavors that the vineyard offered. My job now as a winemaker is to successfully get those flavors into the bottle.”

More than 20 years later, richly textured Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese are lauded for their intensity and silky integration of the elements unique to each of the vineyard sites on the ranch.

Many of the early vintages of Cabernet were sourced from a historic Wooden Valley vineyard that had been settled by members of Karen Altamura’s family in 1855. Frank sensed the long-term potential for this growing region and began extensive site selection research within the Napa Valley to ensure optimal vineyard development on the ranch.

They then began their adventure, taming what had once been a cattle ranch by clearing 65 acres and planting to Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese on six sites. Caves were dug and meticulous construction began on the stone winery.

Lured by the natural beauty and rural atmosphere, the Altamuras found their home in Wooden Valley.

WINERY 4-1-1

Altamura Vineyards and Winery

1700 Wooden Valley Rd., Napa, CA 94558


Note: The winery is not open to the public. Please call to inquire about current vintages.

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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