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Rutherford AVA
Rutherford AVA
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Rutherford AVA
Rutherford AVA
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Rutherford AVA
Rutherford AVA

Images Courtesy of Suzanne Becker Bronk

The Rutherford AVA is a centrally located Napa Valley sub-appellation on the valley floor, known for its warm abundant sunshine and cool evenings, which is well suited to wine production. Also known for its numerous historic and famous vineyards.

Appellation Details

Rutherford is located at the widest part of Napa Valley, therefore the vines enjoy the most sun of any of the valley floor appellations. This makes for phenolically ripe wines with soft tannins and dense fruit. The benchland, which has deep gravelly soils and protection from the hot sun, imbues a nobility and elegance into the mix, along with distinctively grainy tannins which some associate with the term “Rutherford Dust.” The western benchland is protected from the hot afternoon sun by the mountains of the Mayacamas; across the valley, along the eastern edge of the appellation, a complex series of hills and folds in the Vacas make for a series of unique microclimates.

Rutherford is home to some of Napa Valley’s most famous and historic wineries but it also contains some large tracts of vineyard holdings by larger farming operations. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape here but Sauvignon Blanc is also plentiful and being planted this far north makes for an especially charming and tropical wine.


  • 155 to 500 feet (47 to 152 m)


  • Western benchland is composed of sedimentary, gravelly, sandy and alluvial soils
  • The eastern side has more volcanic soils and is moderately deep
  • Good water retention
  • Good soil fertility


  • Moderately warm, but still marginally influenced by early morning fog
  • The western bench area is cooler, with less late afternoon sun, tempered by afternoon marine winds
  • Averages a bit warmer than Oakville and Stags Leap District to the south
  • Large diurnal range
  • Usual summer peak temperatures are mid-90s°F (35°C)
  • Located at Napa Valley's widest point, it has a higher radiant value than other AVAs


  • Up to 38 inches (96 cm) annually

Principal Varieties:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Merlot

Rutherford AVA History

Georges de Latour

Georges de Latour

The Rutherford AVA is located in what was the original Rancho Caymus land grant that was awarded to early Napa Valley pioneer George C. Yount in 1836. The land grant consisted of two leagues of land bestowed by Governor Nicolas Gutierrez, with influence from Yount's friend General Mariano Vallejo. In 1864, George Yount gave a 1040 acre portion of the rancho to his granddaughter Elizabeth and her new husband Thomas Rutherford as a wedding gift and the area still bears their name to this day. While George Yount is considered the first person to plant grapevines in Napa Valley, the Rutherfords were among some of the early Napa winemakers as well, planting vineyards through the late 1880's.

In the late 1880's the root louse Phylloxera infested much of Napa County, slowing wine production in most areas to a standstill. However, grapevine planting and growing in Rutherford were not affected as much as other regions in the Napa Valley. The first person to import grapevines with Phylloxera resistant rootstock was Georges de Latour, who purchased four acres of land near Rutherford in 1900 and named it "Beaulieu" or "Beautiful Place." De Latour went on to become a prominent supplier of Phylloxera resistant rootstock to other vineyards throughout California.

In 1920 with the passing of Prohibition, many Napa Valley wineries were forced to shut down or begin producing grape juice instead. Through his close connection with the Catholic Church, Georges de Latour was able to stay in business by producing Sacramental Wine for religious ceremonies.

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, De Latour continued to produce fine table wines for the public and gain recognition for Napa Valley as a region producing high quality wines. De Latour's Beaulieu winery and nearby Inglenook winery began to earn gold medals in international competition and in 1939 Rutherford's reputation for fine wines was established when Georges de Latour won a gold medal at the Golden Gate International Exposition for his 1936 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon.

In addition to solidifying Rutherford's status as a fine wine producing region, Georges de Latour also inspired a younger generation of many of the region's more contemporary winemakers such as Andre Tchelistcheff. During his career as a winemaker, Tchelistcheff introduced new methods of winemaking including vineyard frost protection, cold fermentation and malolactic fermentation and was the creator of the original "Georges de Latour Private Reserve" label.

Rutherford AVA was officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 1993 and today is home to some of Napa Valley's most historical and critically acclaimed vineyards and wineries.


"Rutherford’s benchlands, marked by varying alluvial fans, produce rich, dense and often famous Cabernet Sauvignons. Riparian sites here, scoured over the eons by the Napa River have a broad variety of soil types and textures. These soils produce wines, including Sauvignon Blancs, characterized by remarkable elegance, complexity and understated power. "
- Kristin Belair, Honig Vineyard & Winery

Notable Wines sourced from Rutherford AVA

Grgich Hills Estate
Grgich Hills Estate 2020 'Miljenko's Selection' Cabernet Sauvignon

The wine opens with concentrated aromas expressing characteristics of the famed Rutherford Dust.

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Labry Wines
Labry Wines 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon

Estate Grown, Rutherford bench, clone 7. Native primary and secondary fermentation. Aged 20 months in thin staved french oak, 75% new.

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St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery 2019 'RU3' Cabernet Sauvignon

RU3 is inspired by the Bordelais philosophy to offer a singular wine that reflects the site: St. Supéry’s Rutherford Estate Vineyard. It represents a trinity of the best blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot grown on the 35 acres surrounding the winery. Like the wine in the bottle, the package is crafted with a high level of detail. The striking package incorporates hand-applied die-cut white grape leaves symbolizing the three varieties in the blend and the ornamental copper top can be kept as a memento.

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Kale Wines
Kale Wines 2014 'Heritage "McGah Vineyard"' Red Blend

McGah Family Vineyards encompasses 65 acres in Rutherford near the Silverado Trail. Being on the east side of the valley, there is intense exposure that yields ripe and concentrated fruit. The area is hallowed ground for Cabernet Sauvignon and generally growers in the area are not interested in planting unexpected varieties for economic reasons, as Cabernet Sauvignon commands a much higher price. The McGah family is an exception to the norm, and we have collaborated together under a long-term contract to develop one acre of the Heritage Vineyard with special soil preparation, site-specific rootstock (St.George), and fantastic clones of Grenache (515, Tablas D) and Mourvdre in our rows. The block was redeveloped in 2011, and after much anticipation our acre produced a small crop in 2014. The vines are trained traditionally in the Gobelet Method, with tight spacing (4x8). It is slightly sloping benchland, so the soil is well drained with classic Rutherford red, dusty soil. McGah Family Vineyards is meticulously farmed by Jeff Roberts (FarmWest Vineyard Management) and celebrates the diversity of the Napa Valley.

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Rutherford Resources and References

  1. "§ 9.133 Rutherford" (Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Part 9 — American Viticultural Areas; Subpart C — Approved American Viticultural Areas). Code of Federal Regulations. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  2. Beaulieu Garden: Our history. Beaulieu Garden | Our History. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from https://beaulieugarden.com/about.history.html
  3. "Bordeaux Varietal Production in Rutherford Climate". Calwineries. 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  4. Palmer, Lyman L.; Wells, Harry Laurenz (1881). History of Napa and Lake Counties, California. Slocum, Bowen & Company. ISBN 978-1363000555.
  5. Weber, Lin (1998). Old Napa Valley: The History to 1900. Wine Ventures Publishing. ISBN 9780966701401.
  6. Rutherford Dust Society – Rutherford Dust Society, EST. 1994. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.rutherforddust.org/

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