Rutherford Dust is the legendary reason why Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the soil of the Rutherford area produce such excellent wines. And indeed, Rutherford wines consistently win high praise from wine critics around the world.
Since the late 19th century, the growers and vintners of Rutherford have played a significant role in the development of Napa Valley as a world-class winegrowing region.
The late, revered winemaker André Tchelistcheff said: “It takes Rutherford dust to grow great Cabernet.” What we now fondly refer to as “Rutherford dust” has come to reflect an enduring commitment to quality, a spirit of achievement and a deep connection to Rutherford’s soil – as opposed to any sensory component in the appellation’s wines.
So what makes Rutherford unique?
Since its earliest days, Rutherford’s growers and vintners have been committed to quality. Today, they maintain the spirit of Rutherford’s proud history through their commitment to build upon this standard. This attitude toward quality is the driving force behind the vineyards and wines of this distinguished district.
The Rutherford Viticultural Area is approximately 6 square miles, beginning just south of Cakebread Cellars and BV Vineyard #2 along Highway 29. It ends at Zinfandel Lane, 3.3 miles to the north, and stretches across the valley 2 miles at its widest point from Mt. St. John on the West to the Vaca Mountain Range on the East.
Soils from three alluvial fans are primarily gravelly, sandy and loamy. The fans are formed from shattered, well-bedded sandstone, and their deposits are high in gravels. Deep and well-drained, the fans have pockets that allow runoff to easily flow to the streams and Napa River. Rutherford soils are dominated by the Franciscan marine sedimentary materials with some volcanic deposits (primarily Bale, Pleasanton and Yolo loams).
Sun Exposure
One of the more unusual aspects about Rutherford is that it has a higher radiant value than other parts of Napa Valley. Because the area is located at Napa Valley’s widest point, it spends more time in the sun. University of California, Davis categorizes Rutherford as a Region II, with over 3,000-degree days during the growing season.
Warm summer days ripen Rutherford grapes, giving way to cool evenings. An average summer day may drop 12 degrees (F) immediately after sunset. This fluctuation allows the fruit to ripen at a steady pace; temperatures north and south of Rutherford can vary as much as 10 degrees. Rutherford has an average rainfall of 26-36 inches per year. Although typically mild, spring can bring freezing temperatures at night during March and April.
Although bordered on the West and East by two mountain ranges, the Rutherford Viticultural Area does not extend above 500 feet in elevation. Regardless, the elevation is quite pronounced. Vineyards creep up the nearby hillsides from the Napa River in the center of the appellation, which lies just 172 feet above sea level.
Rutherford offers a multitude of microclimates and soil types for vintners and growers. Nevertheless, wines produced from the grapes grown here reflect a distinct Rutherford character.
Join us Wednesday, March 25th, at Opus One and taste the wines of Rubicon Estates and the newly released Flagship 2005 Rubicon Napa. Click here to purchase tickets and see the wine list.

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