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A Napa Valley Micro-Region Blessed with
Ideal Terroir, Money and Know How
By Marita Leonard
"It's Saturday night!" We danced our ritualistic happy dance and popped open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate a kid free night before going out and spoil ourselves at one of our favorite steakhouses.
What to drink? That is the question. Upon arriving at the restaurant, I could hardly wait to get my hands on the wine list. I immediately set my eyes on California. The perfect complement to our dinner could only be a superstar from the Napa Valley, particularly a big red from the Rutherford area.
In the heart of Napa Valley lies a land of rich, abundant soils with an idyllic climate perfectly suitable for producing California's classic red wines. This land is Rutherford and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are the dominating type of vines.
California Cabernet was born here through the determination of a man named Thomas Rutherford. When he received this land as a wedding gift from his father-in-law, George Yount -- the first to plant vineyards in Napa in 1848, Rutherford dedicated himself to growing and producing high quality wines. He set the tone for other pioneers; from Gustave Niebaum and his Inglenook estate to George de la Tour at Beaulieu Vineyards, who knew early on what this great land was capable of.
The winery names speak for themselves, the best of the best can be found throughout Rutherford, Rutherford Hills, Caymus, Niebaum-Coppola, Heitz Bella Oaks, Freemark Abbey and Frogs Leap to name just a few.
The best vineyards are planted on alluvial fans consisting of sandy, loamy and gravelly soils, which provide excellent drainage. A vine does not like to keep its feet wet. Located in the widest point of Napa County, the vineyards receive more sun than anywhere in the county. This warmth can be experienced in the glass as you savor the concentrated aromas and flavors, and the sunny ripeness of the fruit.
And like the famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff once said, "It takes Rutherford dust to grow great Cabernet". Thus was born the Rutherford Dust Society whose mission is to promote the highest quality principles in viticulture and to encourage wine lovers to experience the distinctive elements of Rutherford wines.
Recently, we had the pleasure of meeting two members of the Rutherford Dust Society: vintners Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey and Dave Dobson from Rutherford Hill Winery.
Ted Edwards is celebrating his twenty-fifth harvest at Freemark Abbey this year. A graduate from UC Davis with a degree in Food Science, he worked his way through school as a produce clerk and recognized early on the important relationship between food and wine. Mr. Edwards enjoys being in the kitchen as much as he does being in the vineyard or winery, and says: "making wine is like being a chef".
Like a chef he believes in letting the vineyard speak for itself; with minimal handling and letting nature dictate the recipe. You can experience his enthusiasm for the vine in his "viticulturally challenging" 2002 Viognier, Carpy Ranch, and most certainly sense his passion in his bold yet elegant Cabernets.
Dave Dobson is the winemaker at Rutherford Hill Winery and part of the team responsible for changing the winery's emphasis on quality rather than quantity. He oversees vineyard management and makes wines directly from the estate's grapes. In 1996 the Terlato family, owners of Paterno imports, purchased the winery and, investing four million dollars into "a winery within a winery," improved on the existing one-mile long caves dug into the volcanic ashes behind the winery. This is "a new beginning", Dobson says. The Terlatos have limited yields and have sought out better grape sources along with farming 60 acres of land on their own estate.
With the new Rutherford Hills vintages, Dave's goal is to make a wine that exemplifies what Napa Valley fruit is capable of.