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The Traditions of French Burgundy with American Irreverent Labels at Rutz Cellars, Russian River, California
By Simone Zarmati Diament
"Oh Johnny… Why did you leave me? And why did you take our LAST bottle of RUTZ Cellars 2002 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc?" says an inconsolable buxom brunette to the framed picture of her departed beau; tears oozing from her blue eyes, an untamed cascade of brown hair tumbling down her plump torso. It looks like the funnies in the back page of a small town Sunday paper. But it is one of the 2002 RUTZ Cellars labels for a cool, crisp, North Coast Sauvignon Blanc, a light straw color wine with floral aromas and hints of spice and green herbs, palate-refreshing tangy citrus acidity and a surprisingly long finish that quite resemble that of a French Burgundy.
Elegant Pinot Noirs and seductive Chardonnays in the tradition of French Burgundy is exactly what Russian Valley, California winemaker Keith Rutz has in mind when he's making wine. Unlike his Californian peers who make it a point not to compare their wines to the French, he is so much in love with Burgundies that he visits the region at least four times a year.
In the 5,000-square foot cellar he built in 1990, under his Russian Valley vineyards, Rutz ferments his Chardonnays like the French, with a second malotactic fermentation to give them a rich buttery texture, and in small French oak barrels carefully picked from the best coopers in France with famous names like Louis Latour, Toutant, Claude Gillet, Sequin Moreau and François Frères, with each barrel specifically selected to enhance the entry, middle, and finish of each wine.
To follow the French tradition even further, Rutz systematically prunes his vines to lower the grape yield, thus producing Grand Cru style Pinot Noirs with a smoky nose of leather and earth, and delicate and silky yet opulent and fruity with flavors of tart cherries.
So why a kitschy cartoon-like label for those traditional wines? "To attract the younger generation," says Keith Rutz who came up with the idea of a Vintage Romance label series when he realized that the yuppy generation was unable to distinguish one label from another. "This is one way to be different in a fun and marketable manner," he deduces. He even created a site: http://www.rutzcellars.com/vintage/vintagewines.htm to encourage people to contribute to the creation of the next label, based on the story of a couple in the process of separating with the soul-wrecking dilemma of who is going to get the Rutz Cellars Wines.
" For the launch of the Vintage Romance series, we chose an incredible Merlot made from select Sonoma, Napa, and Lake county fruit. Aged for over ten months in French oak barrels at our 5000 square foot cave, this Merlot exhibits all of the best qualities of the varietal," explained Kurtz.
Thirty-somethings raised on comic strips and cartoons can certainly identify with the couple fighting extravagantly over a glass of Kurtz Cellars 2001 North Coast Merlot, a dark ruby color wine with blackberry jam nose and hints of vanilla, blackcurrant jam and cola notes on the palate, and a long dark-fruit finish.