William Knuttel: A Career of Outstanding Wines

wk“Wines of intensity and finesse.” That’s the slogan embraced by the William Knuttel winery, which somehow manages to meld those seemingly disparate qualities in its various wines.

Veteran California vintner William Knuttel has concentrated on ultra-premium winemaking for the majority of his career. His philosophy has long been to make a wide range of wines in various styles every vintage. Why? Simply because the number of vintages for any winemaker is finite; one gets only so many opportunities to craft great wines.

His wealth of experience has led directly to Knuttel’s adherence to traditional winemaking practices. This results in balanced, elegant wines that pair well with food and have excellent aging potential — the hallmarks of classic wine.

Knuttel’s winemaking journey began at Saintsbury, one of Napa Valley’s most famous estates, where he was winemaker from 1983 to 1996. There, he established that brand as an international leader in high-end Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, made in the Burgundian style. Based on Saintsbury’s success, the way those varieties were produced in California was emulated by countless fellow winemakers.

During his tenure at Saintsbury, Knuttel founded and was owner/winemaker of Tria, producing fine Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel.

After leaving Saintsbury, Knuttel became Vice President and Winemaker at Chalk Hill Winery, one of Sonoma County’s top estates. From 1996 to 2003, he specialized in making ultra-premium Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.

From 2003 to 2011, Knuttel was Executive Winemaker at Dry Creek Vineyard, where he completely re-honed the styles and quality of that winery’s extensive portfolio, working with second-generation family members who wanted to ensure that the winery remained a family business.

In 2005, Knuttel also was the winemaker for the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, crafting that group’s Heritage Zinfandel. Further demonstrating the diversity of his skills, he also served as President of the California Cabernet Society from 1999 to 2003.

In addition to the William Knuttel wines, Knuttel now is partner and winemaker for two other brands: Ottimino, which produces Zinfandel exclusively from the Sonoma Coast, and Teira, producer of premium Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Merlot.

Wines bearing the William Knuttel label now include Pinot Noir (the 2006 “Clone 777” bottling from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley was recently featured by Vinesse’s Elevant Society), Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Chardonnay.

Knuttel works hand in hand with Rex Smith, a talented winemaker who was born and raised on a farm in New Zealand where, at a young age, he became interested in horticulture. Smith attended Massey University in New Zealand, earning a Bachelor of Horticultural Science degree in 1984, majoring in Viticulture and Oenology.

After graduating, he traveled to the Napa Valley to gain hands-on winemaking experience, working for Saintsbury Winery for the following three vintages. It was in the Saintsbury cellars where he discovered his passion for winemaking and met Knuttel for the first time.

Smith subsequently decided to alternate harvests between Napa Valley and the Barossa Valley in South Australia in order to gain more experience. He returned to school to earn his Graduate Diploma in Wine from Roseworthy Agricultural College in Australia before permanently moving to the Napa Valley.

Jobs at The Hess Collection, Cuvaison, Heller Estate, Durney Vineyards and Vine Cliff enabled Smith to gain extensive experience. Then, in 2012, he re-forged his relationship with Knuttel, becoming Winemaker and General Manager for the William Knuttel winery.

Today, Smith manages a crew of five as well as Knuttel’s custom crush clients, and works closely with Knuttel to make a wide range of wines. Together, Knuttel and Smith make a great team, and it shows in each and every bottle they craft — wines of intensity and finesse.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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