No, this isn't a riddle. Surely, most of you wine lovers have heard the term, "Rutherford Dust." If not, I am here to provide a quick education. We all know that Cabernet is "King" in the Napa Valley. The most coveted and prestigious terroir for Cabernet, as it would be argued, is the Rutherford AVA, located about half way in between the southern and northern ends of Napa County. They call it "Rutherford Dust."--its unique terroir made up of well-drained soil-gravel, loam and sand along with volcanic deposits and marine sediments. What sets the Rutherford AVA apart is that out of the 3518 acres of grapevines planted, 2484 acres are dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon. That's an astounding 71%! In 2006, on my first ever trip to Napa Valley, I gathered some of this dirt and rocks and put it in a bottle. The bottle sits on a book shelf in my living room and it never meant so much to me as it does at this moment in time. Why, you ask? Everything has come full circle for me, from the moment I set foot in that vineyard and bottled up my dirt to sitting in my living room writing this now.
Awhile back I received an invitation to a prestigious event in Napa Valley, "A Day In The Dust 2011"--A Tasting of 2008 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon And Cabernet Blends---July 13, 2011. The event is held annually at Rubicon Estate (once the historic Inglenook Winery-the oldest bonded winery in Rutherford) and put on by the Rutherford Dust Society. I had read a few blogs regarding this event in the past and wondered if I would ever get a chance to participate in something so invaluable. I finally received my turn and I walked away with an unbelievably memorable experience!
The morning of July 13th came quickly and as I drove north on Hwy 29 and approached Rubicon Estate my heart was pounding! I just couldn't wait to be there! As I walked toward the historic winery, I looked up at the building and was in awe of its beauty!
As soon as I arrived and for the first half hour or so, there was an informal meet and greet with Joel Aiken, of Beaulieu Vineyard, in the entrance way of the winery. After introducing myself, I headed to check out some of the displays including several showing the history of the winery when it was Inglenook (old books, wine bottles and photographs--really neat!). The winery is planning to go back to the historic Inglenook name in the near future. I also checked out the immaculate and beautiful tasting room. But this is not why I was in attendance. I was there to blind taste twenty-two 2008 Rutherford Cabernets and Cabernet blends and I simply could not wait! Joining me was my longtime Facebook friend, Elizabeth Smith, a writer from Virginia.
A small group of us were guided into a beautifully decorated room where tables were set up with our flights of wines. After a brief presentation about the Rutherford Grange building restoration program and the history of the Rutherford Dust Society (something I am very interested in), we all began tasting the wines one by one. We were asked if we wanted a book of information regarding the wines and we all said, "Yes, please!" We tasted in silence.
Some of the wines were incredible. After seeing the notes, I was amazed at how many were yet to be released to the general public. We had a brief discussion on the 2008 growing season and how it affected the winemaking that year. In my opinion, 2008 will be a great year! A lot of great wines will be released if not already. The wines were sampled in two flights of eleven wines each. When asked if there was any rhyme or reason to the order of the wines, we were told that yes, they were chosen specifically to represent the appellation from east to west, in that order. Personally, I found that the farther north and west they went, the more I enjoyed them. Below are the lists of the two flights:
(Not to bore you with all this information, but I feel it's important that you know which wines were sampled.)
Peju Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 900 cases $105 release date 9/14
Monticello Cellars Tietjen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 224 cases $65 release date 10/11
Flora Springs Rutherford Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 347 cases $100 release date 10/11
Sullivan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve 200 cases $100 release date 4/11
Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 3210 cases $50 release date 1/11
Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 360 cases $26 release date TBD
Frog's Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 1865 (6 pak) $75 release date 10/11
Honig Vineyard & Winery Campbell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 250 cases $75 release date 6/12
Quintessa Rutherford Cabernet Blend 7820 cases $145 release date 9/11
Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Hozhoni Vineyard Rutherford 200 cases $45 release date Spring 2012
Piña Napa Valley Firehouse Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 237 cases $85 release date 1/10
Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 850 cases $49 release date 6/12
Meander Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 40 cases $125 release date 3/11
Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 8200 cases $115 release date 8/11
Rubicon Estate Rubicon 6675 (6 paks) $200 release date 3/12
St. Clement Vineyards Star Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 225 cases $80 release date 11/11
Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2600 cases $185 release date Fall 2011
12C Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III 120 cases $70 release date 8/10
HUNNICUTT Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 125 cases $75 release date Fall 2011
Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 140 cases $95 release date 2/11
Frank Family Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1780 cases $85 release date 1/12
Hall Wines Exzellenz Sacrashe Vineyard Red Wine 219 cases $165.00 release date 11/11
As I sat and treated my palate to this motherlode of Rutherford Cabs, I couldn't help but feel fortunate and blessed. Although each wine was amazing on its own, some turned out to be more a favorite for me than others. I did enjoy the wines from the second flight more than the first. We were all in agreement as a group on this point. The wines from the western part of the appellation (on the Highway 29 side) were more impressive than the wines from the eastern part of the appellation.
Here were my favorites and why: Flight One
1. Honig Vineyard & Winery Campbell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
(This wine blew my socks off! Yes! Yes! Yes! I said. Perfect.)
(Beautiful wine, smooth throughout, huge flavors)
3. Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
(A complete value--worthy of a higher price point, very approachable now)
There were so many I liked in fight two, it was tough to make a decision!
1. Meander Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
(Oh my God, it was as if I'd died and gone to heaven, this wine was so amazing, I was literally speechless!)
2. Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon
(Full bodied, flavorful thoughout and an amazingly long finish)
3. Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
(The nose was intoxicating and made me say, "Wow!" So nice, so approachable.)
After tasting the twenty-two wines, we had a brief discussion and were commended for actually getting done on time so we could enjoy our lunch. We were lead into a banquet room where vineyard owner Andy Beckstoffer (whom I was dying to meet), Quintessa's winemaker Charles Thomas and Hollywood film producer and owner of Rubicon Estate, Francis Ford Coppola joined us for a wonderful lunch of steak and prawns accompanied by many, many wines so we were able to re-taste a lot of the wines we sampled earlier. I sat down in front of two bottles of white, the 2009 Staglin Family Estate Chardonnay and one of the most delicious Sauvignon Blancs I have ever encountered, the 2009 Fleury Estate Sauvignon Blanc (I would meet their winemaker, Brian Fleury later in the day). Once again, I felt so blessed to be in such wonderful company!
After lunch, we were treated to A Special Grand Tasting For The Trade where I met some wonderful winemakers, winery owners and other trade and media members as well as sampling and re-sampling so many wonderful wines from the Rutherford AVA. Among the people I met were: winemaker Brian Fleury of Fleury Estate Winery, winemaker Kristen Belair of Honig Vineyard & Winery, winemaker David Heitz of Heitz Cellars, Gretchen Lieff, proprietor of Lieff Wines, Winemaker Sara Fowler (I interviewed her for this blog last year via phone and finally was able to meet her face to face!) and proprietor Herta Peju of Peju, Davie Piña , proprietor of Piña Napa Valley,and Charles Sawyer, proprietor of Sawyer Cellars.
The person I wanted to meet the most, winemaker and proprietor of Meander/Conspire, Amy Aiken. Her Cabernet Sauvignon impressed me so much, I couldn't wait to tell her! She was so great and so personable and fun to talk to and I hope to help her get a distribution deal here in the state of Iowa!
As I drove away, the beautiful view reinforced my longing to be in the Napa Valley for the rest of my life. This is where I belong and I will never look back. I feel so fortunate to have spent the day in the company of such great people! I made the decision that day that I would move my life there sooner rather than later. Cheers!
"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.