Dust is king in Napa

July 17, 2013 

July and August are peak times of the year for dust mites in the United States. While many people try to avoid dust and the corresponding allergy symptoms, in the Rutherford Viticultural District of Napa Valley, Calif., dust is the king.

As you make the drive north on Highway 29 into Napa Valley, you are on a two-lane highway that is dotted with the entrances to some of the most well-known California wineries such as Opus One, Robert Mondavi and Beaulieu Vineyards.

Beaulieu Vineyards, commonly referred to as BV, was founded in the early 1900s in Rutherford and was the sole Napa Valley winery that remained open during the Prohibition days. The winery produces a number of different wines in all price ranges, but is mostly known for its' Cabernet Sauvignons and other red-wine blends which were made famous by one of California's most innovative and influential winemakers André Tchelistcheff who pronounced that "It takes Rutherford dust to make great Cabernet."

Since "dust" is a reference to soil, my thoughts turn to the French word -- terroir -- and how important terroir is to the wines that we drink. Technically speaking, terroir means soil, but in the wine world it means much more than just soil as it also encompasses climate. While there is not a universal definition of terroir, most would agree that a wine does have certain characteristics due to the soil and other geographic factors from where the grapes were grown. If you have ever taken a winery tour, you will most likely recall the guide describing the soil with terms such as

chalky, claylike, gravelly or volcanic.

There are a number of different wine growing regions that are located Napa Valley -- such as Oakville, Spring Mountain, and Stags Leap - just to name a few. Each growing region has their own distinct terrains and soils that impart very specific characteristics into the wines that the specific region produces.

If you visit Napa Valley, it is worth tasting different wines from the Rutherford appellation to see if you can discern common characteristics. Beaulieu Vineyards, Sequoia Grove and Caymus are just a few of the wineries that produce outstanding Cabernet Sauvignons from Rutherford dust.

Upon entering Rutherford, if you look to the east, you can't help but notice the majestic Sequoia trees that tower over a 150-year-old barn that is the tasting room for the Sequoia Grove Winery. Sequoia Grove is a small family owned winery that is situated on 24 acres in the heart of the Rutherford District.

Caymus Vineyards is well-known for producing top flight Cabernet Sauvignon wines and their Special Select Cabernet has been named "Wine of the Year" by the Wine Spectator on two separate occasions, a feat that has not been equaled by any other wine.

In reality, grape growers are farmers and the "fruits" of their labors directly correlates to the quality of the land and growing conditions. In Rutherford, the "dust" imparts specific characteristics making these wines pleasurable to drink.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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