Located between Oakville and St. Helena, the area surrounding the tiny town of Rutherford is home to some of the finest vineyards in Napa Valley.
From the Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Mountain Range to the east, the Rutherford appellation is roughly six square miles in diameter. The unique soils are a mixture of Franciscan Marine sediment and alluvial soils from the mountains. Because the area is located at Napa Valley’s widest point, it spends more time in the sun. As a result, the gravely, sandy and loamy soils, and the unique climate conditions make it an ideal area to grow ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux style grapes.
The first major producer in the region was Ingelnook, a winery that was originally established by W.C. Watson in 1871. Six years later, Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish-born Alaskan fur trader based in San Francisco, purchased the winery and extended the property to cover more than 1,000 acres at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains west of Hwy 29. After planting top grape varietals and constructing a winery on the property, Niebaum produced 50,000 gallons of wine per year and was one of the first in America to sell world-class wines by the case. And by 1881, there were over 700 acres of vineyards planted in the region, and 1,710 acres by 1887.
After Prohibition, the area began to blossom again thanks to the success of wines made by Beaulieu Vineyard, which was originally founded in 1900. Legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, who made BV wines from 1938 to 1973, said: “It takes Rutherford dust to grow great Cabernet.” As time has proven, Tchelistcheff’s vision was accurate. And today, there are over 3,500 acres of vineyards growing in the region.
In 1994, the vintners and growers founded the Rutherford Dust Society. The society’s mission is to encourage and promote the highest quality standards in grape growing and winemaking in the region, and help avid wine consumers discover the unique qualities of the flavorful wines Rutherford has to offer. www.rutherforddust.org.
Whites: The two main white grapes grown in the region are Sauvignon Blanc and a smaller percentage of Chardonnay.
Reds: On the flipside, there is no debating that Rutherford is red wine country. Over 70% of the vineyards planted are focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, which represents nearly 2,500 acres in the region. The two other main varietals are Merlot (295 acres) and Cabernet Franc (70 acres). Smaller patches of varietals planted in the appellation include: Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Petit Verdot
White Wines: A fine Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc is typically loaded with ripe fruit flavors, zippy acidity, and natural minerality. Yummy flavors include melon, peach, pear, lemon, grapefruit, mango, and a dry, lingering finish. The Chardonnays produced in the region are rarely bottled with the Rutherford AVA on the label. Many are made with minimal oak to express floral aromas; bright flavors of apple, pear, tropical fruits; and creamy texture.
Red Wines: With Cabernet Sauvignon, the classic “Rutherford Dust” flavors are cocoa powder, mocha, and dark chocolate. In general, these tasty notes are variable based on the locations where the grapes are planted, winemaking techniques, and barrel aging programs. In addition to the pronounced chocolate sensations, most Rutherford Cabernets feature aromas of dark berry flavors, violets, cinnamon, tobacco, cedar, and spice. On the palate, the profiles often include tantalizing notes of brambleberry, raspberry, black current, dark cherry, boysenberry, cassis, cardamom, clove, savory spices, and a subtle tannic backbone. Merlots tend to be more focused on red fruits, ripe plum, cherry, red currants, vanilla, and more subtle spices. Whereas, Cabernet Franc is primarily used as a blending grape that can provide deep flavors of blueberry, cassis, ground pepper, wild herbs, and spicy notes to a complex Bordeaux-style wine.
With a bright, tangy and expressive Sauvignon Blanc, try fresh spring rolls, oysters, ceviche, split pea soup, spring greens with goat cheese, pan-seared scallops, and grilled fish or poultry served with citrus, or tropical fruit-based sauces. For red wines, think complex flavors: grilled Salmon with a Soy Sauce marinade, Lamb burgers, Chicken Mole, Beef Wellington, charred & juicy Tri-Tip, Filet Mignon, and complex cheeses.