History and Development of Rutherford as a Premier Napa Valley Wine Region
The first local grapes were planted in Rutherford by Thomas Rutherford in the middle of the 19th century. This began the illustrious history of the Rutherford Wineries. The name of this region was derived from Thomas Rutherford, who contributed so much to the history and development of the region. Today, the original land on which those first grapes were planted is owned by Provenance Vineyards, a winery respected in its own right. The Rutherford family held strong ties throughout the Napa Valley wine region as Rutherford married one of the granddaughter’s of George Calvert Yount; Elizabeth Yount. For their wedding present, Thomas and Elizabeth were presented with a large parcel of land in what was at the time a northern tract of Caymus Rancho, belonging to Yount. Significant time, as well as energy, were spent developing the vineyards there and producing wine. As a result of their efforts, the Rutherfords gained a strong following.
After George Yount died in 1864, the rest of his land was sold to numerous individuals including Judge Hastings and Gustave Niebaum. Niebaum eventually became the founder of Inglenook Winery, which has become legendary. Other land was purchased by Georges de Latour and Beaulieu Vineyard was established on that site. Latour took preventive action and imported rootstocks from Europe that were resistant to the phylloxera pest during the late 19th century. As a result of his efforts, he became one of the foremost experts in replenishing the vineyards in California that were decimated.
While many of vineyards in the area were falling victim to Prohibition, Latour also proved to be forward thinking in that regard as well. He was able to negotiate contracts directly with the Catholic Church as a result of his personal relationship with the Arch Diocese in San Francisco. While other vineyards in the area went under after Prohibition went into effect in 1919, Latour managed to continue operating Beaulie Vineyard by producing sacramental wine for the Church.
After Prohibition was repealed, Beaulieu as well as Inglenook became the two premier wineries in not only Napa Valley but also in the entire state as well. Some of the most superb wines during that time were produced in those two vineyards. For the most part, most of the wines produced during that time period were jug wines and fortified wines; however, Beaulieu and Inglenook managed to produce wine with an emphasis on excellence. In fact, the 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon is still considered by many to be the best wine ever produced in the state of California.
Andre Tchelistcheff, a protégé of George de Latour, would also make numerous contributions to the region and the state as well. Born in Russia in 1901, Tchelistcheff fought in the Russian Civil War and then relocated to France. In the 1930’s he began his study of viticulture and became acquainted with de Latour. Soon thereafter he was recruited by de Latour to come to work at Beaulieu Bineyard in Rutherford. It was Tchelistcheff who advanced the idea of planting varietals according to the specific terroir of the land in Napa Valley. At the time the majority of the production in the country was comprised of wines that were poorly made and undistinguished. It was Techelistcheff who became a strong advocate for planting Cabernet Sauvignon in the region. The process of cold fermentation was also engineered by Tchelistcheff as well as various vineyard management strategies, including fastidious winery sanitation for the prevention of contamination.
In summary, the Rutherford region has become one of the premier wine growing regions in the United States. The dedication and passion for the production of quality wines of the numerous individuals who settled this region ushered the region through the dark days of the phylloxera pest infestation as well as Prohibition. While other vineyards in Napa Valley during these time periods fell into disrepair and neglect that took decades to repair, Rutherford soldiered on into modern times, becoming a world class wine region.