High atop Howell Mountain in Napa Valley sits Black Sears Vineyard. At just over 2,400 feet, this is the highest vineyard on Howell Mountain, where it lies nestled among hundreds of acres of wild oak forests. Approximately 24 acres of the 420-acre ranch have been planted as vineyard over an east-facing hillside where an apple orchard once stood.
Looking down from high above the valley fog, the vineyard shares its home and its view with black bears, mountain lions, hawks and rattlesnakes. It is also the home of the Arcudi Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully balanced wine made by up-and-coming winemaker Anthony Arcudi.
“I fell in love with this vineyard for its unique location and climate four years ago,” Arcudi recalls fondly. “Being at such elevation, it’s warm in the morning and cooler in the afternoon, receiving less of the hot afternoon sun. This causes slower sugar production, allowing time for the flavors of the grapes to develop.” When the fruit arrives from Black Sears Vineyard (owned by Joyce Black and Jerre Sears), the grapes are in perfect condition. The ashy, iron-laden soils on the vineyard run deep, which allows the clay to hold moisture, and results in limited irrigation and healthier vines. Consequently the berries are smaller and have thicker skins.
Just about 15 years ago, Arcudi left a distinguished career in Boston, working in computer-related fields, to pursue winemaking in Napa Valley. He made the cross-country trip with nothing but determination, a laser focus and the willingness to work hard. In the same way many struggling artists gamble for that one big break in Hollywood, Arcudi was putting everything he had into his dream of becoming a winemaker in Napa. His positive attitude, humble spirit
and hard work mentality have been keys to his success story.
Upon graduation from U.C. Davis, where he was awarded a Regents scholarship, Arcudi received a fellowship from the International Wine & Food Society, which he used to travel to France to train at Maison M. Chapoutier. He had to work there without wages because local law prohibited him from taking a paid internship that could be filled by a French student. “I was paid handsomely in experience,” he says. “The winemakers’ masterful knowledge of the vineyards made a deep impression on me, and that’s when I really understood the power a vineyard can have on the quality of the wine.” After returning to California, Arcudi worked as Assistant Winemaker at Nickel & Nickel in Oakville, a perfect place to hone his skills. The year 2009 became a pivotal year for Arcudi when he met renowned winemaker Heidi Barrett. The two found their philosophies on winemaking were closely matched. Heidi needed an assistant for a new project and suggested that Arcudi apply. After interviews that included a blind tasting with Heidi and the owners of Fantesca, Tony was appointed Associate Winemaker for the Spring Mountain District winery.
Fast forward a few years and Arcudi’s dream of producing his own wine became a reality when the small parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon from the acclaimed Black Sears Vineyard became available. Arcudi’s second release, the Arcudi 2013 Black Sears Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, will be released in September of this year.
“When I met Tony Arcudi three years ago, I really didn’t know what to expect,” says Petra Polakovicova, Wine Director of Epic Steak in San Francisco. “But after tasting the Arcudi Cabernet Sauvignon, I was immediately impressed. The wine is bursting with dark fruit flavors such as black berries and plum, yet the tannins are smooth and polished. Working in a steakhouse in San Francisco, I am always looking for a high-quality Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that will delight our patrons, and this elegant, beautifully balanced Cabernet Sauvignon by Tony Arcudi has become a huge hit.”
“I’m so happy I took the leap of faith and made the journey to California 15 years ago,” says Arcudi. “My winemaking career has certainly had its peaks and valleys, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”