Shadybrook Estate Winery in Napa

By Published On: May 15th, 2023

Interview with winemaker Rudy Zuidema.

Shadybrook Estate Winery offers more than a wine tasting experience. Originally known as the premier breeding and training grounds for quarter horses in the Napa Valley, this property (then known as Rapp Ranch) became world renowned throughout the 1980s and 1990s producing award-winning cutting horses.

In keeping with this history, the winery’s sister company, Napa Valley Trail Rides, offers vineyard horseback rides daily, by appointment.

Family owned and operated, Alice and David Alkosser started their wine career in 2009 with the purchase of their first property in Coombsville and named it Shadybrook Estate. This 25-acre site nestled into the rolling foothills of the Vaca Mountain Range consists of all five of the noble Bordeaux varieties.

Garden view: Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

The first vintage produced in 2010 resulted in only 50 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 cases of Malbec, their most coveted wines to this day. As the wine quickly became in high demand, the Alkossers looked for a property with a manufacturing facility they could call home.

In 2016, they found the perfect property and purchased the breathtaking 25-acre Rapp Ranch located only 10 minutes from downtown Napa.

Guests enjoying the view. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

This property is home to Shadybrook Estate Winery, a state-of-the-art winery production and tasting facility, Napa Valley Trail Rides, a western barn with trail horses, and Alko Equestrian Center, a private boarding equestrian facility.

Establishing a renowned winery destination over the next 6 years, Alice and David were presented with the opportunity to purchase the adjacent 53-acre property, which would bring the entire historic Rapp Ranch back together.

Proprietors David & Alice Alkosser. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

Re-uniting the two properties in 2022, Shadybrook Estate added 38 acres of vines planted to all 5 noble Bordeaux varieties and a 16,000 square foot wine cave.  

Cave tasting. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

With limited distribution in hand selected restaurants, the best way to add Shadybrook Estate wines to your collection is by coming to visit or joining the wine club. The boutique setting allows for guests to sit back, relax and soak up all this unique property has to offer. 

We interview Shadybrook Estate Winery Winemaker Rudy Zuidema to learn more.

What type of wine do you specialize in?

Shadybrook Estate Winery Winemaker Rudy Zuidema: Shadybrook Estate specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux style blends, Semillon and Malbec. 

Wine tasting. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

What makes your wine unique?

Rudy Zuidema: Making wine starts in the vineyard. Shadybrook Estate is fortunate to own our vineyards.

Understanding our soil, clones, microclimates and having the ability to pivot farming needs quickly based on Mother Nature, allows us to produce the highest quality wines that represent the vineyard expressions in every vintage year.  

Vineyard grapes. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?

Rudy Zuidema: We are 100% estate grown and produced, and do not distribute any wine to restaurants, retail outlets. All of our wines are sold directly through the cellar door to the end consumer. We are also just 10 minutes from downtown Napa. 

Wine terrace. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

How did you get started in the wine industry? 

Rudy Zuidema: I became interested in winemaking and vineyard work while in college at UC Davis. I am still inspired with the endless flavors and personalities wines can express. My mentors were James Hall, Robert Craig, Julie Johnson, and Francoise Pechon.

Share a popular tasting experience.

Rudy Zuidema: The Ultimate Ranch Experience – Incorporating the history of the Rapp Ranch into the winery experience. Guests will enjoy a guided horseback ride around our Estate Vineyard property.

Guided horseback ride around Shadybrook Estate Winery Vineyard. Photo courtesy: Suzanne Becker Bronk.

After enjoying a horse’s eye view of the vines, guests will be walked to the winery terrace to enjoy a wine tasting of our Rapp Ranch and Shadybrook Estate wines paired with cheese and charcuterie.

This experience can be enjoyed with a 30 minute or 50 minute vineyard horseback ride. 

Cheese board with wine. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process? 

Rudy Zuidema: Every year will have its challenges.  While experience and the confidence it brings is positive, there is always a nervousness going into each harvest and final blend. There is also so much new technology within the industry. As much as the traditions of past are wonderful to continue there are new techniques and contemporary practices that can keep them current. 

Production pressing grapes: Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?

Rudy Zuidema: Yes, working at the famed Oakville Grocery Co. in the early 90s.  My “professor” Mary Danielak was educating me on all the wines that we had on the shelves. There was so much to learn and absorb.

Once I was able to share that knowledge and the lovely flavors and textures of wine with others it was an instant lifestyle love.

Food and wine pairing. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

Describe your winemaking approach.  

Rudy Zuidema: To respectfully take advantage of what Mother Nature gives me every year. Finding a personal style is great but making sure that the different nuances of every season are apparent in the bottle. No recipes here, just exciting wines to meet and get to know every year. 

Winemaker Rudy Zuidema. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery?

Rudy Zuidema: I love our tradition of toasting to every first day of harvest with a glass of Champagne and pouring some over the first grapes. We become excited about the upcoming weeks of hard work and long hours as well and share a few laughs from previous years. 

I will say there are plenty of tears of joy that come along with celebrating opening day!   

Cellar team during harvest. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

What do you love about winemaking?  

Rudy Zuidema: Winemaking is like raising a child. There are ups and downs, with moments of ease and moments of challenge. In any and all cases, there is pride of seeing them develop and become beautiful mature wines that tell their story like no other. 

Bottling process. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

Do you have any winery traditions with your team? 

Rudy Zuidema: Of course!  Pulling straws to see who has to dig out the tanks, the intern cleans out the drains at the end of harvest, tacos and beer on all working Sundays, and the first person to clock in gets to decide on the music for the day.  

Winemaker Rudy Zuidema digging out the tank. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

How does your team help you as a winemaker?  

Rudy Zuidema: My cellar team is amazing! They are the other sets of eyes, ears, noses, and pallets for the cellar.  Not only do they keep the place spotless and running smoothly but are truly a team that helps each other and pushes one another to achieve the goals of the winery.

Team member at harvest. Photo courtesy: Shadybrook Estate Winery.

Our hospitality team is just as important. They are the public representatives and ambassadors of our wines. Educating and explaining the reasons and methods for what we do really helps the guest understand the experience.    

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