Rutherford: Napa’s Heart and Soul

Grgich hills1

rutherford sequoia

Rutherford is situated in the heart of Napa Valley wine country, nestled between Oakville to the south and St. Helena to the north.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the variety most people think of when describing their favorite Rutherford wines.  Known for a distinct earthy and dusty flavor profile, the name “Rutherford Dust” is often associated with wines born of this appellation. The area is on a river bank and the deep sandy soils drain very well, forcing the roots to grow deep when finding water.  Being slightly warmer than other Napa appellations, the fruits have an easier time achieving optimal ripeness and sugar levels.  The “Rutherford Bench” produces wines with great complexity, earthy/dusty fruit, and very balanced tannins.  Most Cabernet Sauvignon bottles will age quite nicely.  The bench grows all of the Bordeaux varietals; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc.  Most winemakers will use all of these in their Cabs as only 75% must be Cabernet Sauvignon to be labeled as such.  Blending the other 4 Bordeaux varietals gives structure and balance to the Rutherford wines.

I visited Rutherford on a recent March “California Winter” day.  It was a comfortable warm and shoots had just started to sprout out of the vines.  Although not as picturesque as late spring and fall, winter is an ideal time to visit Napa due to thinner crowds and better service at the wineries. My first stop was one of my favorite wineries on the 29 in Rutherford, Sequoia Grove Winery (  Sequoia grove is a gem hidden beneath giant redwoods surrounding the tasting room. Sequoia Grove is not as well known as neighbors like Cakebread, Peju, and Caymus, but I find their diverse portfolio stunning and winemaker Molly Hill does an amazing job at the helm.  There is truly something for all taste buds and price points in the portfolio.  They produce fantastic whites including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  Molly also makes Syrah, an amazing Cab Franc, a fantastic Merlot, and a large portfolio of Cabernet Sauvignons worth getting lost in.  The tasting room at Sequoia Grove is warm, inviting, and serviced by hospitality experts passionate about their wines.

I moved on to Grgich Hills Estate ( for my next appointment, my first visit to their tasting room.  I had heard much about the Grgich Hills wines but had very little experience with them.  Grgich made their name in Napa nearly 4 four decades ago.  Owner, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich as winemaker helped put Napa Valley on the map in 1976 with his 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.  He crafted a Chardonnay that won the blind “Paris Tasting” in 1976.  Mike shocked the judges and the world with this huge win. With such history, I had to experience for myself what Grgich Hills wines were all about.  The grounds were beautiful and right off Highway 29.  The Napa Valley Wine train made a stop right out front. Highlights of my tasting included the 2012 Fumé Blanc and the 2008 and 2009 Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon.

Other wineries I considered in my write up: Piña (, Caymus (, Round Pound Estate (, and Cakebread (

Rutherford wines, are always a delight and some of the best wines Napa Valley produces.  Even the historic and famed Heitz Cellars ( jumped on the opportunity to purchase prime Rutherford grape land back in 1984 and now produces a fabulous Trailside Cabernet Sauvignon.  Although their tasting room is technically in the southern part of St. Helena, they are must visit if you get the chance. David Heitz takes a different approach and releases his Cabernets a couple years later than most Napa wineries.  He believes his wine needs an extra couple years in the bottle to come into form.  If you are curious as to how long Heitz wines can lay down in your cellar, be sure to ask Joe in the tasting room.  He has bottles that he enjoys that are more than 20 years old.

My #SipSavorServe profile:

  • Sip Round Pond 2013 Sauvignon Blanc: bright and crisp, aromas of peach, melon are showing nicely.  On the palate, this wine gives way to pears, crisp tangy apples and balance with a nice acidity that makes this wine pair nicely with sushi, creamy cheeses, or a warm porch on a nice sunny day. I give this vintage 90 #CMKpts.
  • Sip Grgich Hills Estates 2012 Chardonnay: Crisp Fuji apple opens to honeydew melon, a slight nuttiness, and a nice acidity round out this Chardonnay.  As it does not undergo Malolactic fermentation, this wine is bright and invigorates the palate with delicious acidity. This wine will go nicely with brie, seafood, roasted chicken or BBQ pork tenderloin. 91 #CMKpts
  • Savor Sequoia Grove 2011 Rutherford Bench Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: 2011 was one of the most challenging vintages in the valley in many years yet Molly produced a great bottle that will improve over the next decade. Red hue, bright dusty notes move into red cherries, rich caramel, graham cracker and a slight toasty coconut flavor.  It has layers of red fruits, espresso, toast and red cherries. Savor this wine as a staple on it’s own or with a nice steak.  I give this vintage 92 #CMKpts and it has huge potential to improve with time.
  • Savor Piña 2010 D’Adamo Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine is a typical chewy Napa Cab that can really be savored by itself.  Once you open a bottle of this vintage, expect to finish it without sharing. It’s that good! Flavors and aromas of lush blueberries, blackberries, and black currant invigorate the palate opening to espresso roast and mocha.  This is a rich and full bodied wine. 92 #CMKpts
  • Serve Caymus 2010 Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon: Deep purple in color, toasty oak aroma with ripe dark fruits mainly consisting of black cherries and plum. Cassis, cocoa, and vanilla round out the middle palate.  Well structured tannins that are equal parts delicate and bold.  This is fantastic wine may have benefited greatly from a lower yielding 2010 growing year.  Serve with BBQ ribeye steak with peppercorn crust. With this recommendation, your guests may inquire if you are renting an extra bedroom.  94 #CMKpts
  • Serve Sequoia Grove 2011 Stagecoach Vineyard Syrah: Reddish purple in color. Intense aromas and flavors of blueberry, boysenberry, and freshly ground black pepper. A lovely earthy flavor of dank mushrooms is found on the back of blueberry and raspberry.  I was really surprised with this vintage.  I was not expecting such power and rich flavors from a very tough growing year. Serve with gamey meats or hearty cheeses. 91 CMKpts
  • Teaser Review: Sequoia Grove 2012 Rebellious Red  This is my favorite Rebellious Red since the 2008 “Tempranillo” version.  Although, Molly does not disclose what it is made of, this vintage is Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  My guess is that it is 55% Franc and 45% Sauv.  This bottle is an absolute bargain at under $30.


Cameron Marc Kossen

Twitter: @CMKWine

Instagram: CMKWine

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