Romance and Resilience on Howell Mountain: The Story of Red Thread Wines

By Published On: July 26, 2023

Brakesman family. Credit: Stacy Gleason Photography

Once upon a vibrant Friday night in the lively Mission District of San Francisco, fate wove an intricate tapestry, bringing together two souls destined for an extraordinary journey. Brian Brakesman, still exhilarated from the Cow Palace rodeo, found himself at Slims, while Gretchen, celebrating her co-ed softball team’s triumph, was enjoying the same bar with her friends. Serendipity smiled upon them, and from that very first moment, laughter erupted, and a spark ignited, birthing the beginning of something beautiful. Thus, the enchanting tale of Brian and Gretchen Brakesman unfolded.

United by their shared dreams and passion for wine, they believed in their ability to craft exceptional wines. Brian, deeply rooted in the Napa Valley winery and vineyards, found his life intertwined with Summit Lake Vineyards, the cherished Brakesman family property, now celebrating its 52nd year. Gretchen brought a sales and marketing background honed through various industry experiences. With their shared vision and well-defined roles, they embarked on the founding Red Thread Wines. The name derived from Chinese folklore, symbolizing the gods’ ritual of destiny, where a red thread would connect lives destined to converge. In their winery, the spirit of resilience reflected the unyielding red thread, stretching across vast distances and occasional tangles, yet remaining unbroken.

Summit Lake Vineyards graced the unique position of Howell Mountain, boasting a distinct microclimate, topography, and soil characteristics. Nestled at the mountain’s peak, the vineyard basked in ample sunlight above the fog line, enabling optimal grape ripening and yielding exceptional wines. The remarkably red soil nurtured the vines, contributing to the vineyard’s high concentrations of tannins in the fruit, a defining characteristic managed skillfully during fermentations to achieve ripe, well-developed, and perfectly extracted grapes. This expertise culminated in wines of unparalleled complexity and aging potential.

Credit: Red Thread Wines

At Red Thread, the Howell Mountain Red Wine blend is a harmonious fusion of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah, consistently embodying the essence of being big, bold, expressive, and fruit-forward. The goal is to showcase the resilience of mountain fruit and its ageability, displaying the rugged yet refined character that Howell Mountain fruit offers.

Their Rosé wine celebrates the Zinfandel grape with an emphasis on higher acidity and lower sugar levels, exuding a refreshing and vibrant taste profile. The meticulous process of gentle maceration and delicate pressing yielded a beautiful pink hue, defining their Rosé as a delightful expression of the grape’s versatility.

Looking to the future, Red Thread has exciting plans, bottling a Grenache in the fall and introducing a Marsanne/Roussanne White Rhone blend, both promising to be distinctive and delightful additions to their collection. Additionally, the Brakesmans are starting a new brand, “Side Hustle,” inspired by the resilience and creativity displayed by individuals during the challenging times of the pandemic. With a slightly more valued price point, the brand aims to connect with a broader audience, presenting a unique and compelling range of wines embodying the spirit of adaptability and determination.

The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives were provided for inclusion in the story.  As always, the top priority is to provide the readers with informative reporting.

Wine Recommendations

2021  ‘Red Wine Blend’, Howell Mountain – the blend composed of 66% Zinfandel, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petite Sirah creates a symphony of flavors that captivate the palate. With each sip, the notes of black cherry, mocha and a touch of spice provide a tale of elegance and craftsmanship. There is no need for extravagant fanfare; the wine speaks for itself, a raw and unapologetic expression of the land and family who nurtured it.

2021 Pinot Noir, Los Carneros, Marvin Jack Vineyard- enchants the senses with its radiant crimson hue. This wine exudes a bouquet featuring delightful flavors of cranberry, strawberry, and black cherry.  Adding depth and complexity are the subtle yet unmistakable earthy tones, reminiscent of the Carneros terroir.

2021 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Starscape Vineyard-  dances on the palate with lemon, melon and pear flavors. This exquisite creation showcases a crispness and clean character, elevated by a delightful acidity that adds a refreshing zing to every sip.

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : .