We're about to bring in a couple cases of esteemed Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford Bench region of the best AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the country. The bench is the six mile long region to the left of Route 29 as you head north, beginning about three miles north of Oakville and bounded by the Mayacamas mountain range to the left. The region constitutes 2,500 acres of eastern facing sloped wine country with alluvial soils of gravel, sand, silt, and clay. Among the historic wineries that call the bench home are Beaulieu, Niebaum-Coppola, Inglenook, Grgich Hills, Vichon, Opus I, Far Niente, and Heitz Cellars' Martha's Vineyard and Freemark Abbey's Bosche Vineyard.
As I researched the subject one of the first things I learned was that, geologically speaking, there is no Rutherford Bench. A bench is a terraced soil formation that at one time was a bank of a long gone river or stream. The professionals in the field have determined that the soils that exist in the area in question are not a bench strictly speaking but share much of the makeup of bench soils.
Napa soils show both marine and volcanic influences dating back 150 million years meaning at one time the region was under ocean water before being pushed up by plate techtonics. In the previous post we discussed how erosion from mountains deposit stony soils in the flatlands below. Such soils then provide ideal drainage for plants like grapevines that require a deep taproot for good fruit. In the case of what is called the Rutherford bench, those soils instead result from an alluvial fan.
Like a bench, a fan displays sedimentary soil carried downstream by river current and deposited at the base of a mountain except in this case the gradient of the slope will force a river or stream to change directions. What makes the geological fan is the stream continues to separate over millenia creating concentric streams leaving sedimentary evidence in the shape of a Japanese folding hand fan.
Now aren't you glad you hung around long enough to learn that! And by the way, Oakville has its own fan also! Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Dalla Valle, Rubican, Quintessa, Kathryn Hall, and Mondavi's To Kalon Vineyard take advantage of that one!
There are now sixteen AVAs within the larger Napa Valley AVA, each in theory, capable of producing wine different from its neighbors. Unfortunately those terroirs replete with benches and fans and other singularities are largely irrelevant because with few exceptions, winemakers are all aiming for the ubiquitous international style of Cabernet Sauvignon. Since most of Napa Valley is now owned by investors from somewhere else the profit motive trumps natural distinction.
Please join us this Thursday the 24th of May at 5pm when Quinton Lucia of WX Brands presents the wines of Jamieson Ranch of Napa Valley. Quinton represents Jamieson Ranch in a number of states on the east coast so this tasting should be an informative event.
Then on Saturday afternoon of this holiday weekend we will open a great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon here at the store. Please join us.