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A Day in the Dust, 2016—Checking in on the Cabernets of Rutherford

By Stephen Eliot

In the thirty or so years following the repeal of prohibition, the two most significant names in California Cabernet Sauvignon were Inglenook and Beaulieu, both of which claimed the Rutherford district of Napa Valley as their home address. During the state’s great vinous awakening in the late 1960s and 1970s, iconic wines from the likes of Joe Heitz, Caymus and Freemark Abbey only added to Rutherford’s luster, and, while other areas in Napa Valley such as Oakville, Stags Leap, Diamond Mountain and, more lately, Pritchard Hill have proven to be consistently capable of producing world-class Cabernets, Rutherford remains one the most hallowed pieces of dirt to those who would call themselves true Cabernet devotees.

Legendary winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff is said to have been the first to come up with the phrase “Rutherford dust” to explain the unique attributes of the area’s wines long before the notion of terroir became widely fashionable hereabouts, and there is little question but that the Cabernets of Rutherford, especially those grown in the area’s western bench, do tend show an elusive, yet recognizable “sense of place” owing to shared soils, climate and aspect. Long-time grape-grower, Andy Beckstoffer avers that Rutherford’s distinctive style is at least in part owing to the fact that it is ever so slightly warmer than its famous neighbors just to the south and sees that difference manifest in subtle shadings that he likes to describe as “red fruits” as opposed to the “darker” qualities of Cabernets sourced from other nearby sites.

Rutherford achieved formal AVA status in 1993 after considerable debate as to what its proper boundaries should be, and, while we have long held that its inclusive east to west orientation does not account for what we believe are the evident differences found in Cabernets from the alluvial benchlands on the west side of the valley, it is clear that outstanding examples can be found throughout the appellation’s vineyards.

That point was driven home once again yesterday as Charlie and I headed up north for the annual presentation of new bottlings under the aegis of the Rutherford Dust Society, a collective association of Rutherford growers and vintners. We spent the morning tasting our ways through a wide range of Cabernet’s from the much-heralded 2013 vintage, and, although we are loathe to say that every one showed the distinct imprint of the region, there was little to complain about when it came to complexity and depth of varietal expression. It was not a day of revelation as much as it was one of confirmation. There is always something new to learn about the place, the producers and their wines however familiar they may be, but the take-away of the day was a renewed appreciation for the quality inherent in wines of the district and in the remarkable success of one of the best vintages on record. Beckstoffer opined that 2012 was the best vintage ever…and that 2013 was even better. And, considering the optimistic murmurs we heard about the 2014s still in barrel, it looks like next year’s gathering will be yet another “Day in Dust” to remember.


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by TomHill
Posted on:7/15/2016 9:02:52 AM


   Since you brought up the dreaded T-word.......

Just finished reading MarkMatthews "Terroir & Other Myths of Winegrowing". It's a pretty awesome book with enough content that it needs another read or two. for Kramer's foaming at the mouth rant on the book...there's not been a lot of comment on it. It directly attacks many of the beliefs that wine geeks hold near & dear. So I expect most of them dismiss it as the foolish rants of an ivory-tower viticulture scientist and don't bother to read (& understand) it.

   But I hold you and Charlie to a much higher standard for the wine press. In another post, I'd very much like to hear your & Charlie's take on the book. Including some feedback on the likes of SteveMatthiasson & DaveGates. What say you??



by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:7/15/2016 9:41:41 AM

I miss this tasting which is always so pleasurable! However, can we agree to no longer quote winemakers/growers that the current vintage is "the greatest ever"?

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