Rutherford Hill Winery commands a spectacular view of Napa Valley’s famed Rutherford Bench, California’s most distinctive terroir, from a perch high in the eastern hills of Napa. Begun in 1976, before Napa Valley had become a household word, Rutherford Hill Winery specialized early in its inception on Merlot, a rare grape variety in California three decades ago. The original owners believed the Valley’s soil and climate resembled that of Pomerol, Bordeaux’s premier appellation for Merlot based wines. Not surprisingly, Rutherford Hill quickly established itself as California’s premier Merlot producer, but what the world would have to wait to discover was just how outstanding this winery’s other varietal wines could be, namely the estate’s Chardonnay.
In 1996, the Terlato family, owners of Paterno Wines International, purchased Rutherford Hill Winery and initiated a renaissance at the property. Immediately, Anthony Terlato set about improving overall quality as well as broadening the winery’s palette of wines. Today, Rutherford Hill’s portfolio includes more than excellent Merlot and Chardonnay. It also boasts a fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Sangiovese, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel Port. Like nearly all California wineries, Rutherford Hill draws fruit from its neighbors as well as its own 60-acre estate vineyard in order to fashion its award winning wines.
Since acquiring Rutherford Hill, the Terlato’s have made major capital improvements to the property and winery, not the least of which is a special 5,100 square foot facility that houses an assortment of small capacity fermentation tanks, a gentle destemmer, and a pneumatic press. In essence, this miniature facility is a winery within a winery. It affords Rutherford Hill’s winemakers tremendous flexibility in terms of fermentation and maceration, and it permits all the estate’s small individual vineyard selections to be vinified separately.
Perhaps, the most distinctive aspect of viticulture at Rutherford Hill is the winery’s extensive hillside cave aging system. Carved into the hills and cliffs behind the winery is a mile long system of caves that house the more than 8,000 French and American barrels the winery employs for gracefully aging its wine. Rutherford Hill was one of the first Napa Valley wineries to dig caves for aging and this enterprise remains one of the most extensive such facilities in North America. These subterranean caves remain at a constant 59° F and 85% humidity all year round.