The term Rutherford Dust refers to:

A. The pulverized volcanic material found in the soils of the Rutherford appellation within the Napa Valley

B. The dirt (and in summer, very dusty) roads that were built in the late 1870s in order to construct Inglenook, the palatial chateau-style winery founded in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum in Rutherford in the Napa Valley

C. The unique dirt-like smell and taste of the wines made in the Rutherford appellation of the Napa Valley

D. The grainy sediment found in well-aged bottles of cabernet sauvignon from the Rutherford appellation of the Napa Valley


Some mystery still surrounds the term “Rutherford Dust” and its creator. That said, in his book “Private Reserve” about the history of Rutherford’s iconic Beaulieu Vineyards, the late writer Rod Smith recounts the first time André Tchelistcheff tasted the 1936 Beaulieu Cabernet Sauvignon (which later became the first vintage of the winery’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve bottling).  He writes, “The most intriguing thing about the wine was a whiff of clean dirt with a high-toned note something like pencil shavings.  André recognized it as the expression of a distinctive terroir—the very fragrance of Rutherford. To describe it, he would later coin the term ‘Rutherford dust’.” Tchelistcheff, considered by many to be the “father of California winemaking,” was Beaulieu’s chief winemaker and vice president from 1938 to 1973. Rob Davis, winemaker at Jordan winery, and a mentee of Tchelistcheff’s adds, “If there is one thing that André repeated over and over again was the importance of terroir.  He spent a lot of time tasting grapes in Beaulieu’s vineyards and felt that the blocks in Rutherford had a special taste, smell and structure.” My thanks also to Joel Aiken (Beaulieu’s winemaker from 1985 to 2009, and another Tchelistcheff mentee) for help with this research.

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