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The Godfathers of Rutherford & The Trailside Terroir

The Godfathers of Rutherford & The Trailside Terroir

The Trailside Vineyard, located in north eastern Rutherford, has long been the source of some of the purest expressions of valley floor Cabernet Sauvignon in the world. While the vineyard has only been part of our estate for 35 years, its roots go much deeper into the legacy that is the Napa Valley.

The story of Rutherford begins in 1864 when Thomas Rutherford married the granddaughter of Napa Valley Pioneer George Yount. As part of the newlywed’s dowry, they were given 1,040 acres of land in the northern sector of Yount’s holdings. For the next 100 years, the region would be an agricultural haven for Walnut trees, dates and prunes.

Rutherford as we know it would not have existed without the work of Andre Tchelistcheff, often referred to as the ‘Maestro’ by his peers. Andre was a Russian immigrant who took over as Chief Winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards in Rutherford in 1938. Although it was not known at the time, Tchelistcheff would be the architect of the future of Rutherford and the Napa Valley. Joe Heitz was one of his earliest students and had the opportunity to work beside Andre for nearly a decade in the 1950’s. Joe was actually expected to succeed Andre when the time came for him to retire, however Joe’s ambition and determination to create something of his own would prevent this from happening. Over the ensuing decade, Tchelistcheff and Joe would craft some of the most historic bottlings from Rutherford. in 1961, Joe decided to sacrifice everything, and with $4500, purchased 8 acres on Highway 29 and founded Heitz Cellar. Andre and Joe’s friendship would stand the test of time and Andre was critical in Joe’s decision to purchase what would become one of the greatest parcels in Rutherford some 25 years later.

The 85-acre site occupies the intersection of the Silverado Trail (Trailside) and Conn Creek at the northeastern end of Rutherford. Joe had revered Trailside Vineyard for years before the purchase, as it was known as one of the prime sources in the valley producing elegant and balanced Cabernet Sauvignon. Trailside was the essence of some of the beautiful and refined wines from Beaulieu Vineyards, Spring Mountain, Heitz Cellar, Frog’s Leap, Sterling, and other classic wines of Rutherford from the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the early 1980’s Joe had heard from his vineyard manager, Jack Neal, that the opportunity to purchase this historic vineyard might just be presenting itself. The owner of the vineyard was one of Jack’s clients and had come across hard times, and as a result, he was entering bankruptcy court. Joe would once again risk everything that he had worked for, for the prospect of great terroir. In 1984, Joe purchased the first parcel of Trailside from the Shoen Family, securing what would become the heart of Heitz Cellar for decades to come.

Over the last 35 years we have spent countless hours doing geological research to determine the microclimates and subtle variations that Joe intrinsically knew this ranch had. What we have found so far is that at the northern portion of the ranch, closest to Quintessa, we find an abundance of Cortina series soils, as we move south there are various outcroppings of Pleasanton and Boomer-Forward Felta. We will dive deeper into the specifics of these soil series and their effects on the grapevine in the coming weeks. These efforts have provided us with more information, to make better decisions, to produce the most elegant and timeless Cabernet Sauvignon possible for you, our guests.

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Joe Heitz
Andre Tchelistcheff

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