Forks and Corks + SIP
Napa Valley’s Red Thread Wines
Published On: September 10, 2021

As the world starts to open and reconnect, the story behind Red Thread Wines celebrates many of the things that connect one another, from the terroir to the grape and bottle to food, family, and friends.

Red Thread Wines is a small producer created by Brian Brakesman and his wife Gretchen, sourcing from the family’s estate vineyards near the top of Howell Mountain. About 21 acres with 18 acres planted in vines, the property was originally purchased by Brian’s parents, Bob and Sue Brakesman, in 1971. The family business at Summit Lake Vineyards is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the wine business this year.

Brian grew up working on the Summit Lake Vineyards and, like many kids of agricultural families in the area, was driving a tractor as soon as his feet could reach the pedals. He also began helping neighbor Bob Lamborn with basic winemaking duties and, after studying agricultural engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Brian started his winemaking career under winemaker John Gibson, formerly of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, who also consulted for Snowden, Rockledge, and Salexis. In 2005, Brian became assistant winemaker at Duckhorn Wine Company’s Paraduxx Winery under winemaker Bill Nancarrow, where he learned larger winery production while paying attention to detail and the art of blending.

In 2010, Brian brought his expertise back to the family vineyard, having married Gretchen and looking for a return to his roots. As he and Gretchen settled in, they decided to create a new label, and Red Thread Wines was launched in 2013, with its initial release of their Howell Mountain Red Wine Blend in 2014. The idea was to create lively, age-worthy wines using the traditional skills of blending and maturation to complement their productive vineyard site on Howell Mountain.

For a relatively small producer, with their core wines being a sparkling rosé, a red blend, and pinot noir, Red Thread has a devoted following, and their wine club is adding members at a steady rate. “We like to change things up a little for our members, add in something interesting from time to time. “This year, we’re going to be sourcing some sauvignon blanc grapes and add that varietal to our lineup,” Brian explained. “The members really helped us last year as people recognized small businesses needed to be supported.

“For us, wine is about relationships and building friendships. When I was researching names for the winery, I came across an old Chinese proverb about a red thread that transcends time and space. It’s about a significant relationship that can be as simple as people coming together to celebrate. For us, Red Thread is the symbol of a connector that brings food, family, and friends together.”

After the considerable challenges of the past year, in August, Red Thread Wines held a release party for its new vintages. It was a chance to return to normal and reestablish those celebratory connections that their name has come to symbolize.


Story By: Michael Koehn // Photo By: Stacy Gleason Photography & Alanna O’Neil photography