If there were an award for “most improved winery,” Rutherford Hill Winery would be a leading candidate.
Prior to 1996, the bottlings of Rutherford Hill could be hit or miss; you might get a very nice wine, or you might get a clunker. But when Anthony Terlato and his sons, Bill and John, purchased the estate in ’96, they put their years of winemaking experience to work in an effort to guarantee a pleasant drinking experience in every bottle.
As Anthony Terlato likes to put it: “Quality is a way of life. For Rutherford Hill, it begins in the vineyards.”
And what exceptional vineyards the Terlatos have at their disposal, since the winery is located in the world-famous Napa Valley, on the eastern side of the Silverado Trail, just north of the intersection with Highway 128.
That’s north in both direction and height, as Rutherford Hill is nestled high in those eastern hills, and offers a spectacular view of Napa’s Rutherford bench area.
Even in its early days – the winery was founded in 1972 – the owners realized that they inhabited a very special place for winegrowing. Long before the variety became wildly popular, they recognized that the climate was quite similar to that found in the Pomerol area of Bordeaux – in other words, ideal for growing high-quality Merlot grapes.
So, while other varieties were a bit spotty on the quality scale, the Rutherford Hill Merlot was consistently good.
Today, Merlot remains the specialty of the house, and with the Terlatos overseeing the operations, the variety exhibits great complexity and character in every vintage.
With an advance reservation, visitors to the winery have an opportunity to blend their own bottle of Merlot, in effect becoming winemakers for a day.
Guests also enjoy tours of the winery’s cave system (offered daily, and five times each weekend day), which is one of most extensive in America. Tunnels, galleries and passageways extend for nearly a mile, and house more than 8,000 French oak barrels. Cave tour passes are sold in the tasting room and online.
Guests also may reserve tables in the estate’s picnic groves, and boxed lunches are available for groups of at least six people. (Lunches must be ordered at least 72 hours in advance.)
Of course, the winery’s tasting room features a number of current releases each day. In addition to Merlot, Rutherford Hill makes Sangiovese, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel Port and other bottlings. The lone white wine produced at the winery is Sauvignon Blanc.
Rutherford Hill Winery has come a long way in a very short period of time (in wine years). And as long as the Terlato family is in charge, the wines will only keep getting better in the vintages to come.
200 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, CA 94573
Tasting Room Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.