Monday, July 2, 2012

Beaulieu Vineyards and The Rutherford Grill – Rutherford, California

To celebrate a long-time friend’s birthday, this past weekend we went out for a little wining and dining in the Napa Valley at Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) and The Rutherford Grill. Although these are two distinctly different establishments they share the same parking lot so it is a convenient stop to do a little tasting at BV and then have a fantastic meal at the restaurant.
 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) is an important winery of great historical significance in the Napa Valley. It was established in 1900 by Georges de Latour who was a native of Bordeaux France. The name “Beaulieu” was inspired by Georges’ wife Fernande who upon seeing what was a four-acre wheat farm declared, “Quel beau lieu!” (What a beautiful place) The following year they purchased a nearby winery originally built by California State Senator Seneca Ewer in 1885 and then later established their own winery.
There are several accomplishments that established BV as a founding winery of the Napa Valley. First, During the time that Georges de Latour founded the winery phylloxera was plaguing the Napa Valley. But De Latour had knowledge about the remedy so he import a rootstock variety that was resistant to the pest which helped establish him as one of the most important early pioneers of the California wine industry.

Another important and very wise decision that fortified BV’s place in the valley was the ability to survive the most devastating blow to the wine industry in the United States - the Prohibition of 1920. While most wineries in the country were forced out of operation Beaulieu obtained a contract to supply sacramental wine to churches across the country. The demand for such wine increased dramatically during the years of Prohibition and the winery repeatedly expanded. By the Repeal of in 1933, BV’s production had grown to over 1 million gallons per year.
 André Tchelistcheff (1901 - 1994)
The third major wise move that the De Latour made was to hire a man who would essentially become the Jedi Master of the American wine industry. In 1938, following Repeal of Prohibition, Georges de Latour visited France in search of a new winemaker who had a cosmopolitan and scientific background. During his trip he visited the French National Agronomy Institute and was introduced to André Tchelistcheff (Russian: Андрей Челищев, December 7, 1901 - April 5, 1994) who was doing research at the Pasteur Institute. De Latour then hired Tchelistcheff to become the winemaker and vice president of BV. 
Tchelistcheff, went on to became a mentor to other important winemakers such as Mike Grgch (whose Chateau Montelena Chardonnay won the Judgment of Paris), Joe Heitz of Heitz Wine Cellars, and Robert Mondavi. Tchelistcheff had a huge impact at BV as he concentrated his efforts on defining a style for high-quality California Cabernet Sauvignon, and created the “Georges de Latour Private Reserve” label. By the mid-1940s, “Private Reserve” was widely recognized as the benchmark for California Cabernet Sauvignon, and was served at all important White House functions. He also introduced new techniques and procedures to the region, such as aging wine in small French Oak barrels. The shift to using small American oak barrels took place after the United States entered WWII, and became an accepted tradition at BV under Tchelistcheff and his successors until 1989. Tchelistcheff provided other significant contributions to winemaking such as the techniques of cold fermentation, vineyard frost protection, malolactic fermentation, and the development of winemaking regions in Los Carneros, Oregon and Washington. He remained vice president of Beaulieu Vineyards until his retirement in 1973.
While visiting Beaulieu Vineyards we did a unique historical barrel room tour followed by a barrel tasting of the 2011 vintage of their Cabernet Sauvignon. During the tour we were able to walk amongst their historic 100+ year old Redwood Tanks. To my recollection, all of the 114 wines I have visited in the Napa Valley either use stainless steel fermentation tanks or modern French oak tanks. Walking amongst these beautiful giants was like taking a step back in time.
At the end of the tour we walked through a little museum in the Heritage Room and then barrel tasted two samples of the 2011 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon.

The first sample was from an American oak barrel and the other was from a French barrel. The American barrel Cabernet was vibrant ruby in color and on the nose it displayed aromas of green vegetables (especially Bell Peppers), pomegranate, and cherries. The 2011 vintage was an odd year as it was a very cool summer and most had a very late harvest. When Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t get enough heat the seeds do not fully ripen (turn from green to brown) and consequently they impart pyrazines (paradiazines) which give the wine a green vegetal character. These traits are very common in Cabs from Chile.

The second sample from the French barrel which had a huge bouquet of canned cranberry sauce and on the palate it seemed candied with a hint of residual sugar.

Of course it is far too soon to make a judgment call about this vintage for these wines have a long way to go in ageing and will undoubtedly be blended together with perhaps a little Merlot or Petite Verdot or some other Bordeaux varietal to improve the wine’s profile. It will be interesting and quite educational to buy a bottle of the 2011 vintage when it is released and then taste it in 5-6 years.

To visit or for more information:

Beaulieu Vineyards
1960 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
Phone: (800) 264-6918 x 5233  

To see more pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

The Rutherford Grill

 Because the focus on this wine country travel journal is on vineyards and wineries I’ve never done a review or made a video of a restaurant before. But, enjoying the wine country is not just about wineries, they’re also a great place for superb dining.
 After the tour and tasting at BV we walked across the paring lot to the Rutherford Grill. This is one of my favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley and I’ve probably eaten here somewhere between 20 and 30 times.
 The Rutherford Grill is family-friendly and casual yet upscale enough to entertain friends on special occasions. It is an inviting cozy steakhouse (part of the Houston's family) that features intimate leather seated booths, weathered wood and stonework, a wood-burning fireplace, and a kitchen-side bar.
 You can also eat outside on the canine-friendly patio which also has an outdoor bar and wood burning fireplace (for those rare colder days).
 The menu features a great line-up of steaks including a hardwood-grilled filet mignon (which I chose), absolutely killer barbecued ribs (which is what I usually order), and iron-skillet cornbread. Some of my favorite side dishes include the awesome garlic-butter mashed potatoes, the in-season heirloom tomatoes salad and their coleslaw is the best I have ever eaten in my life!
The prices on the menu are very reasonable and the added feature of no-corkage fee for bringin in a bottle of wine makes this restaurant particularly attractive for the budget minded wine country traveler. But they also have their own wine list of  by-the-glass or bottle with very reasonable prices.

To visit or for more information:

Rutherford Grill
1180 Rutherford Rd
Rutherford, CA 94573
Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am - 9:30pm; Fri - Sat 11:30am - 10:30pm
Phone: 1-707-963-1792

Note: I’ll be on the road to Oregon tomorrow so for the next couple weeks all my wine country traveling articles will be on Oregon Wine Tasting Adventures!