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Oakville and Rutherford AVAs

by Staff Writer - A. Heinzman | February 04, 2012

Many people--both wine critics and the general public--understand that there is something special concerning the Napa Valley and fine winemaking. In recent times, the Napa Valley has become synonymous with fine winemaking. It is no accident that the Napa Valley gained this reputation. Simply put, California's Napa Valley has some of the best conditions available in the world for quality winemaking. Napa's reputation combined with the fact that wine entrepreneurs, viticulturists and private investors all have a vested interest in the properties they have developed, leads to a great market value for the Napa name.

If one were to say that the Napa Valley was the ideal garden for sincere unadulterated winemaking, then the Oakville and Rutherford American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) would be considered an Eden of that winemaking promise. Nowhere else within the Napa valley does the winemaking drama unfold as it does within the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs. To the owners of vineyards located within these small hamlets, location and stature is everything. It is no secret that land located throughout Oakville and Rutherford is some of the most sought after and expensive land available. The continued promotion and marketability of the Napa name combined with exceptional wines, has lead to dramatic increases in the value of land in the Rutherford and Oakville AVAs.


Both the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs were officially established by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms in 1993. As with most of Napa Valley, winemaking has enjoyed a rich history with respect to the Oakville and Rutherford areas. Viticulturists from days of yore recognized the unique characteristics that exist in the Oakville and Rutherford areas. As such, the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs are home to some of the most famous wineries in California. Names such as Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook Winery and Martha’s Vineyard are a testament to the greatness found within the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs.

In modern times and with the establishment of AVAs, it is no wonder that major drama unfolded within the Oakville and Rutherford areas. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the process of creating new AVAs was in full swing. It was during this time that plans were drafted to create two small sub-AVAs for the Oakville and Rutherford areas. These AVAs were known as the Oakville Bench and the Rutherford Bench. The use of the "bench" in the AVA name is somewhat of a mystery as no physical bench was associated with the winemaking areas. Regardless, the use of "bench" in the AVA name sounded good and plans went forward for the creation of the new sub-AVAs. When the plans--and in particular the AVA boundaries--for the Rutherford Bench AVA and the Oakville Bench AVA became public knowledge, a major uproar occurred. Many important names in the winemaking business had vineyards east of the Napa River that were going to be excluded from the proposed AVAs. The end result of the AVA designation was that the Rutherford Bench and Oakville Bench AVAs were abandoned. The idea of creating AVAs based on townships was adapted instead. This helped to fend off a trend of creating small confusing AVAs much like what can be observed in neighboring Sonoma County.

Location and Soil

When talking about the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs, it makes sense to view both the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs together. Only 2 miles of highway separate the Oakville and Rutherford townships. As such, the Terroirs of both Oakville and Rutherford are very similar. As far as physical location is concerned, Oakville is located approximately 11 miles northwest of Napa on Highway 29. Rutherford is a little further away at 13 miles northwest of Napa on Highway 29. With only 2 miles separating Oakville and Rutherford, soil conditions between the two AVAs are similar and are an important factor in the quality of the grapes. The soils found within Oakville are somewhat location specific while soils found in Rutherford are more uniform. In the western part of the Oakville AVA, soils are dense and clay based due to the influences of the Napa River. The eastern part of Oakville sports soils that are much more rocky than the soils found in west Oakville. Rutherford soils are extremely similar to the soils found in west Oakville in that they are dense and clay based.


With the close proximity of both Oakville and Rutherford AVAs, weather patterns between these two sites are also very similar. As seen with respect to soil types, slightly different weather patterns exist within the Oakville AVA. Also much like soil types, Rutherford's weather patterns are more uniform. Sunlight intensity in western Oakville is limited by shadows from the Mayacamas Mountains and the setting sun. In contrast, east Oakville is subjected to intense afternoon sunlight. This sunlight--in combination with the rocky soil conditions--creates a condition where ambient temperature is preserved by rocks absorbing heat throughout the afternoon. Again with the uniform nature of the Rutherford AVA, sunlight exposure is very similar to west Oakville.

Related Topics

With the excellent soil conditions and abundance of sunlight, the natural grape of choice for both Rutherford and Oakville AVAs is Cabernet Sauvignon. This is certainly what Oakville and Rutherford have become famous for. While other grape varieties are grown, they pale in comparison to Cabernet Sauvignon. Many individuals consider the Cabernet Sauvignon produced in the Oakville and Rutherford AVAs to be an expression of exactly what a Cabernet Sauvignon should be. And in a similar fashion to how the Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Stags Leap AVA stands out with its yielding lavishness, Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Oakville and Rutherford AVAs is known for its forthright strength of character with a mintiness of black currants, olives and herbs. With slightly different soil types found in Oakville, different characteristics are present within the wines themselves. Wines produced in western Oakville can be described as having more finesse and refinement while wines produced in eastern Oakville are more dense and jammy. Again Rutherford shares characteristics of those found in western Oakville.

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