The Rutherford Hill Winery is just off the Silverado Trail up in the hills overlooking St. Helena and the Rutherford Bench in the Napa Valley. It has one of the most beautiful views of the Napa Valley. It was originally built by the Pillsbury Company in 1972 as part of Souverain Vineyards. It was later purchased and renamed in 1976 by a group headed by William (Bill) P. Jaeger II, founder of Jaeger Vineyards, and Napa Valley native Charles (Chuck) Carpy (d. August 1996), who is considered by some to be one of the founders of the modern Napa Valley wine industry. Chuck’s grandfather came to California from Bordeaux, France, at the end of the Civil War and eventually founded Christian Brothers’ cellars in St. Helena. Chuck Carpy also founded Freemark Abbey Winery in 1967, the Napa Valley Bank in 1982, directed the Napa Valley Wine Library and was president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and the Wine Institute. Today his son, Charlie Carpy, carries on the family traditions with his own Front Row Napa Valley Wines, producing Chardonnay and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Rutherford Hill Joins the Terlato Family
In 1976 Rutherford Hill Winery was purchased by the Terlato Family Wine Group (TWG) in Lake Bluff, Illinois. They also own among other wineries Terlato Family Vineyards, Alderbrook Winery in Healdsburg, Chimney Rock in the Staggs Leap District and Rutherford Hill Winery in the Napa Valley as well as Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara.
The original founders of Rutherford Hill Winery believed that the terroir of the land was ideal for growing Merlot and at the time it was a popular grape. Today Rutherford Hill Winery remains one of the primary wineries in the valley that focuses on this Bordeaux varietal as 75 percent of their production is dedicated to Merlot. But they also grow and produce a number of other Bordeaux varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec as well as a small production of Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel.
The Rutherford Hill winery farms a 60 acre estate-owned vineyard, known as Mee Lane, in the Rutherford appellation. They also have another 130 acres under a controlling lease which includes D’Adamo Vineyard in Oak Knoll and Larkmead Vineyard just south of Calistoga which provides Cabernet Sauvignon. They also contract with Gargiulo Vineyards in Rutherford which provides Merlot and Stagecoach Vineyard in the Atlas Peak AVA which provides Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.
The Winery and Wine Cave
The winery is housed within a humongous weathered cedar barn draped with roses and wisteria surrounded by olive trees and woodlands. Immediately behind the tasting room within the barn is a long row of enormous stainless steel fermenting tanks with additional tanks just outside the door. After passing through the fermentation room you see embedded into the hills the entrance to the wine cave. The large cave doors are framed by geometric latticework reminiscent of the work of Frank Loyd Wright.
While there are a few historic wineries in the Napa Valley that have wine caves (such as Beringer Vineyards), Rutherford Hill was one of the first to build caves using modern technology. The first was excavated from 1984 to 1986 and was comprised of two portals and six linear caves 14 feet in circumference. After the tunnels were cut, the cave surfaces were stabilized with shotcrete, a material composed of sand, cement and pea gravel. The mountain into which these caves were bored consisted of 12-feet of tuffa (a porous rock) cap, topping a base of various forms of serpentine stone. These caves are ideal for storing and aging wine because they maintain an ideal, consistent storage environment of 59ºF and up to 90% humidity which helps reduce evaporation and allows the wine to gradually mature.
The second cave was excavated from 1986 to 1989, this excavation added a series of connecting tunnels, a rear cave and 50 feet by 50 feet room used today for special events. The entire system extends nearly a linear mile. In February 2000, the lighting was improved with sconces and chandeliers.
The Views and Picnic Grounds
One of the best ways to enjoy the views of the valley below is from the picnic grounds. The picnic area may be reserved for groups or available on a first come basis to anybody who does a tasting there.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
The first pour was the 2008 Sangiovese. The wine is light ruby red in color, almost Pinot Noir-like. On the nose it exudes bing cherries, spice, a hint of earth, anise and an scent that reminds me of a Christmas candle. On the palate it has tight tannins with a lot of grip, mouthwatering acidity and a lingering black cherry finish. This really is a phenomenal Sangiovese. This wine sells for $35 a bottle.
The second wine was the 2008 Petite Verdot, a blend of 93% Petite Verdot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. There are very few wineries that bottle this wine as it is usually used as a minor part of a Bordeaux blend. On the palate it is velvety with refined tannins, medium body, ample acidity with a hint of black licorice on a medium length finish. This wine sells for $39 a bottle.
The third sample was the 2008 Malbec. This wine is deep purple at the core to violet at the rim. On the nose it has layered aromas of blueberries, smoke, bacon fat and beef jerky. On the palate this wine is explosive with baked blueberry pie, medium tannins, medium+ acidity and a medium length finish. It is well balanced, well structured and is one of the most delicious Malbecs I have come across in a long time. This wine sells for $39 a bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2008 Terloto Devil’s Peak, a Bordeaux blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is ruby red at the core to garnet at the rim. On the nose it has aromas of cassis, cherries, anise and vanilla. On the palate it is very soft, fruit forward but the tannins still have a bit of grip. It is medium bodied, a little thin but it has ample acidity. This is a fine wine but not competitively priced at $52 a bottle.
The final wine was the 2009 Reserve Merlot, a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is plum in color at the core to red at the rim. On the nose it has aromas of cherries, anise and piecrust. On the palate it has firm tannins, it is medium bodied, mouthwatering acidity and it has a medium length finish. This is a fine wine but not competitively priced at $65 a bottle.
To see additional pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:
To visit or for more information:
Rutherford Hill Winery
200 Rutherford Hill Rd
Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA 94573