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The Five Best Wineries You’ve Never Heard of in Rutherford

Whether or not you believe in the mythic “Rutherford dust,” you'll find much to like here.

SLIDESHOW

The gardens at Frog's Leap.

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Without the Coppola name, Inglenook winery doesn't draw the hordes it used to.

Photo: Courtesy of Inglenook

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Rutherford Hill.

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Smack-dab in the middle of Napa Valley, Rutherford is known for the apparently magical effect that its soil has on wine. (Quoth the late, great winemaker André Tchelistcheff: “It takes Rutherford dust to grow great cabernet.”) When you ask locals like the Rutherford Dust Society what’s so special about this dirt, you’ll get an array of answers ranging from scientific to sci-fi. But you don't need to be a soil scientist to appreciate the massive, intense flavors that Napa Valley cab is known for. The cluster of famed wineries—BV, Caymus, Grgich Hills, and Honig—in these parts is all the evidence you need that this is special land. Here, five of the lesser-known stars you won't want to miss.

Frog’s Leap 
Wine to try: Zinfandel, $30
What makes this place great: This organic and biodynamic wine pioneer still has a farmhouse vibe—even their private tastings are never stuffy. Go on a guided tour, settle in for a private porch tasting, or grab a glass and meander in the gardens and through the barrel cellar. Frog's Leap's estate cabernet ($55) packs the bold spice and complexity that people seek out in more expensive Napa Valley cabs, but the summery zinfandel ($30) with its hints of raspberry and cinnamon often steals the show. 

Rutherford Hill Winery 
Wine to try: 2012 Barrel Select Red Blend, $35
What makes this place great: Straight up a steep and windy road off the Silverado Trail, you’ll find this large, old-school winery in a brown barn. They have expansive views, large lawns and gardens, wine caves, and a patio worth lingering on. Rutherford wines typically command a premium, but among Rutherford Hill’s stable of powerful reds you can often find good prices some of the older vintages. At $35, the 2012 Barrel Select Red, which is drinking perfectly now, has lush dark fruit flavors and just a hint of tartness and cocoa.

Round Pond 
Wine to try: Sauvignon Blanc, $24
What makes this place great: Even though it’s been open for tastings since 2007, Round Pond is practically a newcomer to the area. This winery has made a name for itself by throwing open its doors and hosting everything from a garden-to-table brunch to a wine dinner planned for you at your house. (Don’t worry, commitment-phobes—you can still sidle up to the zinc bar and do a normal tasting.) The reds run the gamut in price and flavor profile, but all are feisty, with intense, dark fruit flavors and tannins. Start with the sauvignon blanc ($24), which is fresh and full of pineapple and peach flavors, and then move on up to the powerful cabernet ($60), which packs in plumb, cocoa, and rich vanilla.

Staglin Family 
Wine to try: Salus Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet, $80
What makes this place great: Staglin’s wines may not be the best known in these parts, but they are certainly in the running for the most collectible and coveted (translation: you’ll need a reservation). Tours at this small, family-owned and operated winery begin at the Stecker House, which was built in 1864 and updated in 2010. The tour includes a walk in the vineyards, a trip to the caves, and sips of the chardonnay ($50) and estate cabernets ($80–$300). If you’re looking for a wine that will show the know-it-alls that you’re in the know also, you can’t go wrong with any of Staglin’s reds. Balancing the sweetness of dark berries with holiday spices, the Salus Booth ($80) is the most accessible in flavor and price point. But if you’re going big already, you might as well see if they have one of the limited releases and hold on to it for 5 to 10 years for a very special occasion.  

Inglenook Winery 
Wine to try: 2013 Edizione Pennino Zinfandel, $48
What makes this place great: Built in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum, Inglenook was one of the first wineries in Napa Valley known for making world-class wines before Prohibition. It gained even greater fame in 1975, when Francis Ford Coppola bought it and turned it into a winery–slash–Hollywood museum. Though Coppola still owns the place, in 2011 he did a top-to-bottom overhaul: He restored the Inglenook name, hired Philippe Bascaules from the celebrated French winery Chateau Margaux, and moved most of the hoopla to his Geyserville winery. The fame-chasing crowds have since moved on, leaving Inglenook in the peculiar position of being a practically unknown winery with a famous past and a top-notch pedigree. Make sure to sample the “1882” cabernet if you like smooth cabs that skew toward black cherry and chocolate ($55). And try the Edizione Pennino zinfandel for its structured spice and deep flavors of blueberry and clove. 

 

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