Last week I was able to attend a Rutherford Dust Society release of their 2014 wines.
For those that aren’t familiar, Napa Valley is really a collection of a number of smaller AVA’s, each with its own set of positives and negatives. When it comes to negatives though in Rutherford, success and the fact that literally everyone seems to love these wines, has caused the prices to join Bordeaux in the stratosphere here at home and abroad.
In many ways though, Rutherford is what made Napa into what it is today. It’s home to Mondavi, perhaps the best known winery in the world as well as a number of other historic names, like Inglenook which hosted the event last week.
Inglenook has a long, long history that follows much of what’s happened in the wider valley itself. Originally planted back in the mid 1850’s, give or take, there were vines settled on the site by 1879 at the latest. The winery shut during Prohibition. It was a quality leader until a number of corporate interests bought the property, more so for the name than the land, using it sell cheap wine across the world. Finally, thanks to the Godfather series of films, Francis Ford Coppola over the course of almost two decades put the various parcels back together, creating what still might be the classic Napa Valley estate.
While it was fun to walk around Inglenook, there’s a very real and palpable history there, Rutherford tends to overshadow all. In the wine world, Rutherford Dust refers to a certain taste that people tend to identify on the finish of its wines. Some describe it as cocoa, or simply chocolate. Others and I fall into this category, notice a certain dusty tannin on the finish of these wines. It’s exemplary and consistent irregardless of what happens during the vintage at question. Neighboring AVA’s don’t boast the same flavor combination at finish.
Before I forget: 2014 was a great vintage.
Quality was incredibly high for the vintage, but this is the first year that the drought came to bear, so you had a slight tick down in the amount of fruit from many vineyards, maybe 10-20%, but that’s just enough of a decrease to increase quality. If you think about it, a vine has a specific amount of sugar it can impart to berries and having less berries allows each to gain more sugar (well plenty of other stuff as well, but I think you get the point).
Inglenook, like pretty much every winery in the Rutherford Dust Society is focused on Cabernet Sauvignon. As well they should be, after all, the average bottle sells for well over $100. Here’s where the estate Cabernet is at currently in the growing cycle.
Ok, so about the tasting itself. First and foremost, like every wine tasting I’ve ever been to, no one follows the rules. Seriously, no one. Events like this are suppose to feature only Rutherford wines, but everyone pours whatever they’ve got. Normally, it isn’t a big deal, like when someone sneaks in a Washington red to an Oregon Pinot tasting, I often find it humorous. In this case though, it made things a bit more difficult. There’s an incredible amount of interest in the Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps more so than any varietal in any growing region anywhere else in America (ok, almost assuredly that’s true) so it’s packed pretty well in there. Which means waiting, again, that’s completely fine….but the combo of waiting to chat for a second, along with sorting through what a winery is actually pouring, made for a slower process than I had initially hoped.
There was one funny thing about the tasting. I heard from at least 4-5 wineries that they were the smallest ones in the room. Often they made a few thousand cases. Sometimes I can’t help myself. An old friend was kicking around over in one of the corners: Tom Rees who makes the wine at Pine and Brown. If you aren’t familiar with the name, Tom makes 4 barrels out of a converted garage in his home in downtown Napa (the maximum he’s allowed to be permitted for, given the Prohibition era regulations still in place). Yup, that’s it….4 barrels. It’s a tight fit, but an awesome setup…..but it also made me giggle a bit internally when someone mentioned they made a couple thousand cases and “we are easily the smallest in this room”.
So, outside of Pine and Brown, which I love as a concept and in its execution, here’s two that caught my eye.
So Hewitt Vineyard is another pretty classic name in Napa Valley. It’s next door to Inglenook and has been planted, somewhat on and off because of Prohibition since 1880. André Tchelistcheff helped change the vines to Cabernet Sauvignon, which again, is about as good as praise can get.
For those that know the meandering highway 29, Hewitt is in essence part of the Provenance Vineyards property and that’s where you can taste the wine.
Depending on the vintage, the wine runs from $150-$300 per bottle. It’s exactly the type of dark, dense and flavorful Cabernet Sauvignon that you’d expect in Rutherford.
Jean Edwards Cellars: Before I saw Tom in the corner, I thought Jean Edwards was likely to be the smallest guy in the room. About 600 or so cases are produced every year with winemaker Kian Tavakoli handling the reigns. He was the winemaker at Clus Du Val for 8 years, before beginning to take on these smaller projects. For those of us interested in the highest quality wine imaginable, there’s a palpable difference. This is one of the wines that makes Rutherford what it is. At about $90 retail, it’s the type of offering that makes you think that you’re lucky to find a bottle.
All in all, it was an awfully fun tasting. There’s a ton to like being produced in Rutherford, perhaps even more given the quality 2014 vintage than normally and normally, is pretty great in itself.