Napa Valley AVA
A collaboration between two winemakers, Vinum Cellars works with sustainably-farmed vineyards throughout California to produce a wide range of terroir-driven, award-winning wines.
Co-founded in 1997 by first generation winemakers Richard Bruno and Chris Condos, Vinum Cellars is a totally unique winery operation that crafts small lots of premium wines from single vineyards and appellations throughout California. Pairing distinctive microclimates and vineyards with the best varietals is what this duo does best, and they have a broad portfolio of award-winning wines to show for it.
Bruno and Condos met while attending UC Davis in the early 1990’s and their passion for viticulture evolved into a lasting friendship that led to the establishment of Vinum Cellars. Since the beginning, their focus has been centered around searching California’s coastal vineyards and special microclimates for the best sustainably-farmed sites and growers with the highest quality fruit possible. From Coastal Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vinum Cellars makes a variety of wines from some of California’s best winegrowing regions. Most of their wines are made in very small batches and represent experimental winemaking methods, while also preserving an Old World approach.
Time has been good to Vimum Cellars, which will produce around 25,000 cases this year and is geared up for even larger numbers in the future.
Vinum Cellars, which takes its name from the Latin word for wine, has also grown to include four unique winery brands, including Vinum Cellars, Sierra Del Mar Vineyard, Typesetter, and Spring Street Winery. Sierra Del Mar offers wines from various cool climates in California; Typesetter is an ode to Bruno’s maternal grandfather who was a lithographer and the brand produces inky Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons; and Spring Street focuses on California’s Central Coast, producing a range of site-driven wines.
An environmentally-conscious winery, Vinum Cellars has long-term contracts exclusively with sustainable growers to create eco-friendly products. Even the packaging choices (domestically produced light weight Eco-Series glass, water-based and non-toxic inks on labels and cartons, etc.) are made specifically to minimize their carbon footprint.
In 2018, Richard Bruno and Chris Condos purchased the historic Greenwood Mansion in Napa Valley and have been working tirelessly to transform the renowned building into a dedicated Tasting Room and Cafe for Vinum Cellars.
They aren’t open to the public (yet!), but hope to be soon. We hope you enjoy these special Gold Wine Club selections from Vinum Cellars. Cheers!
Map of the area
Wine Wizard: Test Your Wine IQ
1. Why is winter pruning so important for grapevines?
Pruning may be costly, but it is vital. One important reason is to organize the plant on the trellis, so the vine can capture the maximum amount of light, to reduce leaf bunching and thus reduce disease risk and increase yield and quality, and to better synchronize the timing of ripening grape bunches.
Another important reason is to produce a balance between the crop and leaf area. A high crop with less shoots (and leaves) will lead to over-cropping, which produces high yields of low quality fruit and weakens the vine the following year. A low crop with more shoots, and too many leaves will be over-vigorous, also negatively affecting the quality of the fruit.
Plus, the abundance of leaves will probably cause too much shading for the fruit. Lastly, pruning is important to allow for the passage of machinery and man power through the alleys - without causing damage and allowing harvesting to be efficient and effective.
2. What is Carbonic Maceration?
Carbonic Maceration is a winemaking technique, often associated with the French wine region of Beaujolais, in which whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing. In conventional fermentation, the grapes are crushed first to free the juice and the pulp, and yeast is used to convert sugar to alcohol. In Carbonic Maceration, most of the juice is fermented while it is still inside the grape. The resulting wine is fruity with very low tannins and ready to drink quickly upon release. These wines are not meant for long-term aging. Beaujolais Nouveau wines, made from the Gamay grapes, utilize the Carbonic Maceration process.
3. How long does it take a vineyard to reach its first crop?
Vineyards usually take three years, from the initial planting, to produce the first crop. Newer planting techniques and plant material have been showing a very small crop in the second year, and by the fourth year, the vineyard should be in full production.
Richard Bruno & Chris Condos - Winemakers
It is something of a rarity in wineries for both co-owners of a winery to also be winemakers. Since both owners of Vinum Cellars are UC Davis graduates, this aspect seemed to be a forlorn conclusion when the company was first formed.
“Besides being good friends, we both brought something different to the table,” offered Richard Bruno. “Our careers in the wine business were different and we had worked in completely different settings. What we did have in common was the desire to make wines that we’re so mainstream, like Cabernet Sauvignon. Our outlook was more European in nature and our wines tended to be somewhat esoteric. We both agreed there was a need for the type of wines we enjoyed drinking and our efforts in establishing our portfolio at Vinum Cellars always kept that concept in mind.”
Bruno stated that both he and Chris Condos have developed a sixth sense for each other. If someone posed a particular question, each one would give the exact same answer.
“People think we are connected at the seam,” added Bruno, “and that’s okay with us. All blending decisions are a mutual effort and that’s the reason our wines are so consistent. We both hope that result continues for a long, long time.”
Chris Condos & Richard Bruno - In the Spotlight
It is a rarity when our In the Spotlight section features two individuals, but in the case of Vinum Cellars, it is necessary. Vinum Cellars is an operation that thrives when both co-owners and co-winemakers think alike on most matters.
For Richard Bruno, 49, his path toward ‘winedom’ began in high school when he was a bus-boy, and then a waiter in restaurants around the San Francisco area. He was attracted to wine and soon realized that the better the restaurant, the better the wine list, and hence the larger tips that followed. By the time he reached college, Bruno knew that wine was definitely in his future.
He enrolled in UC Davis’ agricultural school and wound up with a degree in fermentation science. At Davis, Bruno met another student, Chris Condos, and struck up a lasting friendship that eventually evolved into the establishment of Vinum Cellars.
Between graduation from UC Davis and Vinum Cellars’ founding in 1997, Richard Bruno had several important roles in the wine industry. His first job was with Randall Graham at iconic Bonny Doon Vineyards, where Graham became his friend and mentor. “Randall taught me a lot of what to do and not to do,” recalled Bruno. “We have remained great friends and talk to each other on a consistent basis.”
After Bonny Doon Vineyards, Bruno worked at Alexander Valley Vineyards and Napa Valley’s Folie á Deux Winery. He also joined the staff at Don Sebastiani and Sons where he was Director of Winemaking for eight years.
But his real love during that time was Vinum Cellars and its mission of producing wines that he felt were esoteric and sometimes overlooked. “When we started Vinum, hardly anyone in California was making Chenin Blanc. I love the grape and what you can do with it,” confessed Bruno. “We have made it a priority for our winery, and a number of other wineries have jumped on the bandwagon. It is gratifying to see the varietal succeed and having a part in its achievement.”
Chris Condos’ involvement with Vinum Cellars was decided before he was born. As a third-generation product of a large Greek family, Condos, 48 was destined to follow his grandfather and father into the wine business. He met Richard Bruno at UC Davis and found they shared similar outlooks and approaches to varietals, particularly those infrequently used or grown in California.
Condos agreed to team up with Bruno when Vinum Cellars was developed. His own career had flourished after graduation with stints at Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge Winery and Santa Cruz’s popular Kathryn Kennedy Winery. These jobs helped pay the bills at Vinum Cellars during its early development period.
Chris Condos remains a winemaking consultant and has been a driving force in the organic and biodynamic farming process that has swept throughout California, and much of the wine-growing world. His time at Pine Ridge Winery allowed him to see the benefits of organic farming and has carried through to his most recent project, Horse & Plow. Along with his wife Suzanne, Horse & Plow produces an excellent cider and a number of certified organic wines. “These (organic) farming practices allow us to craft wines with greater complexity and sense of place, while caring for worker health and the environment,” Condos remarked. “Our organic practices don’t stop when the grapes get to the winery - our wines are made naturally with no synthetic nutrients or additives, no GMO’s, are vegan, and contain low, sometimes no, sulfites. I’m all about natural wine, natural farming, always.”
It is easy to see why both of the above individuals occupy this In The Spotlight section. Both are independent, forward-thinking individuals that aren’t afraid to tackle new vistas or established mores.
California Wine Regions
When you have the entirety of California’s numerous grape growing regions to choose from, it is easy to understand why Vinum Cellars’ owners have chosen to utilize a great many of the existing areas.
“We firmly believe that certain varietals thrive in certain microclimates,” Co-owner Chris Condos advised. “We do our best to match the varietal we intend to use with the best possible soils and climate to accentuate the vine’s development. I guess you can say that we source by microclimate, but it all seems to work for us.”
Grapes from growing areas such as the Central Coast’s Paso Robles AVA, Sonoma Valley AVA, Sierra Foothills AVA, Napa Valley AVA, and the huge Sacramento Delta growing area are all included in Vinum Cellars’ long-term plans.
“It is vital to our development to have agreements with first-class growers that can provide us with the specific fruit we need for our portfolio,” added Chris Condos. “We watch each grower closely for the first few years to insure they meet our standards. When we feel their fruit is uniform, then we sign long-term contracts. It’s a win-win for both sides and it works for us.”
Few California wineries source their fruit from such varied locales. The success of Vinum Cellars might easily provide the impetus for more wineries to consider this form of sourcing for their products.