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Rutherford Wine Country

The Napa Valley is world renowned for producing award winning wines. Because of its unique geography, Napa County is split up into specific regions, denoted by the term AVA (American Viticulture Area).

These individual regions are separated based on the inherent characteristics of the land and climate. There are numerous subtleties which can make one AVA best suited for Cab and another Chardonnay.

In 1850, Thomas Rutherford recognized the subtleties of an unproven plot of land that resembled Bordeaux. He subsequently planted the first vines in what was destined to become the Rutherford AVA. Rutherford’s storied history has laid the foundations for the Napa Valley to become a world leader in wine production.

When Phylloxera infested the Napa Valley in the late nineteenth century, Frenchman Georges de Latour was on the front lines in the battle for the survival of Napa’s vineyards. de Latour became the first person to import Phylloxera resistant root stocks for his Rutherford vineyard. This was a crucial event in Napa Valley’s history, and laid the foundation for a prosperous viticulture future.

Pronounced (Phil – Ox –Erra), this Aphid like insect lives its parasitic lifecycle on vine root stocks. Its introduction marked the largest whole-sale destruction of vineyards in California’s history. De Latour’s import of root stocks that were not susceptible to Phylloxera effectively saved the Napa Valley, and propelled De Latour into the annals of history.

In addition, De Latour founded Inglenook winery, which helped the Napa Valley gain world wide recognition. Inglenook was the first winery to consistently win gold medals for their Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Many experts still reckon the 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon is the best wine ever produced in the Napa Valley. But even more vital, De Latour brought over a young Frenchman named Andre Tchelistcheff. As De Latour’s protégé, Tchelistcheff became a legend himself, elevating Rutherford into uncharted territory.

Tchelistcheff brought new world viticulture and winemaking techniques that revolutionized Napa Valley wine. It was Tchelistcheff who coined the term “Rutherford Dust,” and to many this “dust” represents the manifestation of excellence. Before his untimely passing, Tchelistcheff said “It takes Rutherford dust to grow fantastic Cabernet.” Although other AVAs successfully grow Cab, Rutherford is by far the premier Cab producing region of the Napa Valley.

The most vital aspect of the Rutherford AVA is their “dust.” Synonymous with soil, Rutherford’s “dust” is as unique as the wine produced from this AVA. The crème de la crème of Rutherford wine comes from a narrow strip of land between the western mountains and the valley floor. This area is affectionately known as the Rutherford Bench, and vineyards in this area produce grapes with unmatched flavor and intensity.

The intensity of Rutherford’s grapes provides a challenge to even the most skilled winemakers. But Caymus Vineyards has mastered the equation for producing award winning Cabs. As one of the prominent wineries in Rutherford, Caymus Vineyards leads the way in Cabernet production. Caymus’ 1990 Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon was voted “Wine of the Year” in 1994 by Wine Spectator. This was just one of many awards and accolades that this Rutherford winery has loved over the years, making Caymus Vineyard’s wine some of the most sought after in the Napa Valley.

It is more than just Rutherford’s “dust” that makes this region perfect for producing world class Cabs. The warm day-time temperature dries and heats the soil, leading to grapes with more concentrated flavors and more developed tannins. This contributes to the complexity of the Rutherford Cab, but may be overpowering if consumed to young. The young, tannic Rutherford Cab can be softened over time, unveiling the right nature the winemakers intended.

Wine embodies the heart and soul of the winemaker. Consequently, it takes more than perfect growing conditions to produce premium quality wines, the experience and expertise of the winemaker is just as vital. Because of the fruit that Rutherford Vineyards produce, many of the world’s premier winemakers are drawn to this historic region. Many vintners come to Rutherford to follow in the footsteps of Napa Valley legend Andre Tchelistcheff.

The effects of Tchelistcheff are still being felt through the techniques he implemented at Beaulieu Vineyards. As Rutherford’s flagship winery, BV continues to build on its storied history by producing award winning Reserve Cabs. Their latest Reserve Cab received 92 points from Wine Spectator. Along with producing premium quality wines, BV boasts one of the best tasting rooms in the Napa Valley. This makes the experience of tasting their opulent wines even better.

The Rutherford AVA has more to offer than historic vineyards and wineries. The smaller wineries provide a more personal, intimate experience than their larger, more commercial counterparts. Along with this, some of the small, family owned wineries produce some of the best wine from Rutherford. Rutherford Grove Winery and Sullivan Vineyards were voted in the “top five small wineries to visit in the Napa Valley” by the Wall Street Journal.

The combination of vibrant wines and gorgeous tasting rooms, make Rutherford one of the premier destinations among wine connoisseurs. Although it is just one of the many AVAs in the Napa Valley, you could spend your entire trip in this historic region. For anymore visiting Napa, visiting Rutherford is a must.

Ben Bicais lives in the Napa Valley and has written several articles about Rutherford Wineries.

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