Founded in 1972, Rutherford Hill Winery is a pioneer in the development of California Merlot. The grape growers who founded Rutherford Hill carefully studied the geography of the region and capitalized on climate and soil conditions that resembled those of Pomerol, the small but distinctive Merlot-growing region of Bordeaux. What a promising discovery that was ─ one that has borne plenty of fruit ─ specifically, the lush, purple-black grapes that have contributed so much to Rutherford Hill's success. Today, Merlot remains the flagship wine of the company with 75 percent of Rutherford Hill's production dedicated to this varietal, one of the leading Merlots of Napa Valley.
When the Terlato family of the Terlato Wine Group (TWG), Lake Bluff, Illinois, purchased the winery in 1996, they immediately began to apply their guiding principle: Quality is a way of life. The pursuit of excellence began with a comprehensive review of all aspects of the facility that resulted in significant enhancements.
TWG Chairman Anthony Terlato works with Rutherford Hill winemakers to tackle the challenges of consistently improving the wine, vintage after vintage. The philosophy that the Terlatos apply to all their ventures was evident at Rutherford Hill from the start. Their first step was to reduce production by 14,000 cases. This eliminated inferior lots from the final blend, and met the demanding new quality standard they had set.
Building on Tradition
Another way of putting quality first was to create an environment in which reserve wines could be given the time, care and consideration they needed within the Rutherford Hill portfolio. A new state-of-the art facility for the production of reserve wines ─ a "winery within a winery" ─ began taking shape in spring of 2000 and was functional in time for that year's harvest. Costing more than $7 million, the 5,100-square foot winery addition has 24 fermentation tanks ranging from 1,500 to 6,000 gallons. It is self-contained, complete with its own press, refrigeration capabilities (tanks are jacketed for both warming and cooling glycol) and harvest crew.
Rutherford Hill was an innovator in Napa Valley in the building of caves and employment of a pallet-stacking system within those caves. Year-round, 8,000 wine-filled French and American oak barrels age in an ideal wine-storage environment of 59ºF/90 percent humidity. The result is a substantial reduction in wine evaporation, creating wines with lower concentrations of alcohol. The improvements in the caves that began in 1999 illustrate the big-picture view that embodies the Terlato family's commitment to quality.
Looking Toward the Future
A substantial investment has been made in purchasing vineyards and in new long-term contracts with growers representing some of Napa Valley's finest vineyards. These actions will help contribute to Rutherford Hill's ongoing pledge of excellence.
A quarter-century after Rutherford Hill was founded, the pioneering spirit that created it perseveres. Armed with their extensive wine industry experience, the Terlato Family continues to invest in future quality.