My wife and I have talked about renting a limousine and going to Napa for years. Over my tepid objections, we finally decided to take the plunge this year for my birthday.
The winery of the day was Rutherford Grove Winery (a friend in the business arranged for our group of ten’s visit to Rutherford Grove). Despite the fact that I’ve been to Napa scores of times, I wasn’t familiar with Rutherford Grove (there are a few hundred wineries in the Napa Valley).
Rutherford Grove has a rich history in Napa Valley. The winery is owned by the Bob and Sylvia Pestoni, both of whom come from winemaking families. Bob is the grandson of Albino Pestoni, who planted grapes and built the Bell Canyon winery in 1892!
Bell Canyon winery was known as Bonded Winery 935, and was very popular with the Italian-Swiss Colony community that settled in the Northern California. The original property still exists today, on public property owned by the City of St. Helena near Bell Canyon dam. It’s one the the valley’s few unrestored “ghost” wineries. Bob’s father Henry followed in his father’s footsteps. He married Lena Domingos. Henry, along with Lena’s brothers formed a vineyard management company. In 1923 Henry and Lena purchased what is today known as Pestoni Ranch on Whitehall Lane. They raised animals, farmed grapes, make wine, sherry and bootleg brandy. Today, the Pestoni ranch is the source of Rutherford Grove’s Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
Lena’s brothers, Fred and Manual, purchased Ehlers’ Estate in 1923 where they bootlegged until Prohibition ended. In 1933, they renamed it Old Bale Mill Winery and produced wines until 1958 when new owners restored the original name.
Bob was expected to follow in his family’s parent’s footstep. And eventually he did, but not before establishing a disposal company for the upper Napa Valley with his brother Marvin in the 60′s.
In the mid-1990s, they bought a small winery and vineyard between their Pestoni Ranch and Highway 29 to gain improved access for the disposal company. In 1993, they established Rutherford Grove Winery.
Today Rutherford Grove produces about 5,000 cases/year. For more info check this profile. After many years of keeping a fairly low profile Bob has added a couple of key players to the winery’s roster – Alejandro Alfaro as Winemaker, and Bonnie Zimmerman as Tasting Room Manager.
We tasted 10 wines (7 of their current releases and 3 library wines). My tasting notes follow:
- 2011 Rutherford Grove Sauvignon Blanc Estate - USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
Pale green color with guava and grapefruit aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, balanced and fresh with citrus and grass aromas. Medium finish. Aged 6 months in Stainless Steel; 40%-70% gallon Stainless Steel Barrels sur lie. 13.3 % alcohol (88 pts.)
- 2009 Rutherford Grove Sangiovese Estate - USA, California, Napa Valley
Garnet color with dark red fruits, violet and oak aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with baked cherry, raspberry, and toasty oak flavors. Medium-long finish. Aged 18 months in 100% French Oak, 40% new, 60% 2-year old puncheons. 14.3% alcohol. (89 pts.)
- 2007 Rutherford Grove Merlot Estate - USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
Carmine color with black and red fruit and spicy cedarwood aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied with dusty cherry, blackberry, spice and a hint of cola flavors. Medium finish. Fruit sourced from Rutherford Grove Vineyard; Rutherford Bench. Aged 18 months in 100% French Oak, 40% New, 60% 2-year old barrels. 14.2% alcohol (87 pts.)
- 2007 Rutherford Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
Garnet color with dark fruit, green olive violet and a hint of cacoa aromas. On the palate, it approached medium-bodied with dusty blackberry, cassis and cacao flavors. Medium-long finish. Fruit sourced from Lone Acre Vineyard & Bella Oaks Lane; Rutherford Bench. Aged 20 months in 80% French Oak, 20% American Oak, 60% new, 20% one-year old, 20% two-year old. 14.2% alcohol (90 pts.)
- 2007 Rutherford Grove Merlot Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
Garnet color with dark cherry, black currant and cedarwood aromas. On the palate, it medium bodied, nicely balanced with black cherry, black currant, and a bit of sweet oak flavors. Medium+ finish. Aged 22 months in 80% French Oak 20% American Oak, 30% 1-year old, 30% 2-year. 14.2 % alcohol (89 pts.)
- 2009 Rutherford Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
Garnet color with aromatic black and red fruit, cassis and chocolate aromas. On the palate, it’s full bodied, intense, and well-structured with dusty blackberry, black cherry, cassis, and spicy chocolate flavors. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon/25% Merlot. Aged 20 months French Oak, 60% new, 30% 1-year, 10% 2-year. 14.4% alcohol (92 pts.)
- 2007 Rutherford Grove Petite Sirah Spring Creek Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley
Inky violet color with blackberry, plum and oak aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with appealing dusty tannins and blackberry, plum vanilla and spice flavors. Medium-long finish. Aged 10 Months in 50% French Oak, 50% American Oak, 50% new, 30% one-year old, 20% two-year old. 14.2% alcohol (89 pts.)
- 1997 Rutherford Grove Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
Dark brick red color with dark cherry, cassis and oak aromas. On the palate, it’s smooth, light-bodied and shows good acidity with black cherry, black currant, and a hint of raspberry flavors. Medium-finish. Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. (88 pts.)
- 1998 Rutherford Grove Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
Dark brick red color with savory blackberry, cassis and dried herb aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and smooth with blackberry, cassis, dried herb and oak flavors. Medium-long finish. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon/ 10% Cabernet Franc/5% Petite Verdot (90 pts.)
- 1999 Rutherford Grove Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley
Medium garnet with brick red tint color, and blackberry, cassis, and cacao aromas. On the palate, it’s light-medium bodied with good acidity, and blackberry, cassis, and hint of vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. 99% Cabernet Sauvignon/1% Petite Verdot (89 pts.)
It was a fun and informative tasting. Our group’s consensus favorite wine was the Sangiovese.
Next time you’re in Napa, I recommend stopping by. We enjoyed the wines, the beautiful winery, tasting room and grounds (especially the covered picnic area – which was definitely a plus on a hot day!) Good wines…good times!
Bell Canyon Winery images courtesy of Rutherford Grove Winery