Rubia Wine Cellars was founded by Joe and Margaret Valenzuela. They are from the small town of Alpine, in West Texas, met in the 5th grade and married at age 21. Their honeymoon took them to San Francisco where they took a side trip to Napa Valley to celebrate both their honeymoon and being of legal drinking age. They stopped at Domaine Carneros (which would have been right around when that winery first opened) and purchased a bottle which they later opened on their 25th wedding anniversary.
Both went on to have separate successful careers after moving to El Paso; Margaret was originally a court reporter and later started a legal data forensics company called Altep. Joe founded SuperiorReview, a company that provided contract lawyers within the legal industry. Joe and Margaret have since sold their respective companies and are focusing their efforts on building and growing Rubia.
Alpine is a small community of about 6,000 population located at an elevation of 4,475 feet above sea level in West Texas. It is about a 3.5 hour drive from El Paso and only about 25 minutes from Marfa, known for its outdoor art and the Prada Marfa which is in the tiny community of Valentine about 30 minutes from Marfa. Alpine is pedestrian friendly, with the town centered primarily around the one way W. Holland Ave. The downtown features eclectic art, outdoor murals, quirky one-of-a-kind shops, historical markets/plaques and several restaurants. The most central accommodation in town is the historic Holland Hotel (open since 1928). See photos from our visit to Alpine at the bottom of this review.
Margaret and Joe’s first trip back to Napa Valley since their honeymoon was in 2009. Several years later they returned to the valley and met winemaker Vance Rose and his wife Kelly (also originally from Texas). They invited the Valenzuela’s to join a harvest at Grieve Vineyard in Napa’s Lovall Valley. This is a unique side valley which is partially in Napa County but can only be accessed from Sonoma County due to private property and locked gates. Margaret remembers being impressed by the efficiency and speed of the workers when they harvested the grapes and the quality of fruit that was being picked. The hook was set.
Vance had a small surplus amount of Sauvignon Blanc from the Grieve Vineyard in 2013 and offered to make wine for the Valenzuela’s. They agreed; their first commercial vintage under the Rubia label was merely 24 cases of 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. Vance made their wine from 2013 through 2017. The chose the name Rubia based on a nickname Margaret was given when she and her family lived in central Mexico for 4 years while she was a child (meaning blondie) when her father was overseeing the mining of Antimony, a chemical (SB, atomic number 51) with a variety of uses including in batteries, automobiles and flame proofing materials.
Prioritizing visits to Napa Valley they began to visit regularly and stay for longer periods of time. Margaret decided to return to school and learn about winemaking because her last chemistry classes were in high school, she enrolled at a local community college to complete her chemistry coursework. Then she enrolled and later graduated from the University of California Davis’ Winemaking Certificate Program. And she has since completed several WSET courses.
In 2017 Joe worked a harvest at B Cellars in Oakville and gained both valuable insights into winemaking and important contacts including meeting winemaker Julien Fayard who became Rubia’s winemaker in 2018. The Valenzuela’s also purchased a home in Yountville and now divide their time between Napa Valley and Dallas.
Julien was born in Saint Etienne in France and has a well-rounded and diverse background in wine making. His father grew grapes, and his family was involved in the wine business in France for several generations. Julien made his first wine at age 16 and continued his education by working in Provence, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux (Lafite Rothschild).
In Napa Valley, Julien worked with noted winemaker Philippe Melka for seven years before focusing on his own winemaking; he currently makes wine for several clients and several of his own brands. Julien is also a partner in a 12-acre site in Coombsville which includes five acres of vines (Covert Estate).
Through Julien, the Valenzuela’s were introduced to Rick and Sally Jones of Jones Family Winery. And grapes for their Cabernet Sauvignon has come from one of the Jones Family Winery properties in Calistoga – from a vineyard previously owned by the Araujo family (Bart & Daphne Araujo of Araujo Estate, now the Eisele Vineyard). Vineyard manager David Abreu oversaw the planting of these vines.
Rubia sources Chardonnay from the Truchard Vineyard on the Napa side of Carneros. Incidentally, JoAnne and Tony Truchard are also from Texas. The 2020 Rubia Truchard Chardonnay is made entirely from the Wente clone and did not see any oak during its aging. It is medium gold in color; the bouquet offers aromas of citrus blossom, lemon zest, grapefruit, not overly ripe pineapple and an aroma that we sometimes we notice from this varietal when it is not masked by other aromatics inherent to California styled Chardonnays. The palate offers a supple texture accompanied by flavors of green apple, lemon juice and other citrus flavors. It is lively and energetic and lingers with a mouthwatering and bright finish. This wine was aged for 6 months in stainless steel vessels and is 13% alcohol. And we will add that this is one of the better quality to value Chardonnays from Napa Valley. Its available by the glass at several restaurants in Napa Valley.
The Ritchie Vineyard in the Russian River Valley is located in neighboring Sonoma County. Fruit from this vineyard is highly coveted by a number of premium producers; each of whom is assigned their own rows marked by hand-painted signs created by the owner Kent Ritiche. The 2020 Rubia Chardonnay was fermented in 100% new French oak and then aged on its lees for 18 months (stirred once a month). This wine went through full secondary fermentation. It is 13.5 alcohol and is a noticeably different wine than the Rubia Truchard bottling, both on the bouquet and the palate. The 2020 Rubia Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard is deep gold in color; the bouquet offers inviting aromas of warm butter (but not overly buttery), honeysuckle, vanilla and sweetly fruited notes including canned lychees, peach and apricot. The palate offers a creamy texture with noticeably rich flavors of popcorn butter, melon, apricot, toffee and toasted nuts. It lingers bright from its acidity along with a variety of baking spices.
The 2017 Rubia Chardonnay was sourced from from a vineyard in the Russian River part of neighboring Sonoma County. It is golden in color; the bouquet is aromatically generous offering tropical notes, melon and hazelnut. It is equally rich on the palate but without being heavy and features a slightly rounded mouth feel without being overtly viscous. Retains good acidity with flavors of lemon zest, lime, tangerine and subtle dessert spices showing on a long finish. This is not an oaky or buttery bottling.
The 2019 Napa Valley Red Blend is made from a number of vineyards ranging from the north to the south of the valley. It is a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot and was aged for 22 months in 80% new French oak. It is dark ruby in color with purplish tinges on the rim; the bouquet is dark with plenty of layers including of plum, blackberry pie, pipe tobacco along with deeper in the aromatics, notes of dried tobacco leaf, dried herbs and dark chocolate. The focus is on the fruit rather than the oak barrel aging. The palate is juicy and mouthwatering with flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. This bottling features a savory and mouthwatering finish with earthy, persistent and slightly drying tannins.
The 2016 Rubia is one of the most balanced Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley we tried in 2019. This bottling offers an elegant and immediately inviting bouquet with aromas of dark cherry and blueberry framed with a diversity of other non-fruit aromas including dried herbs, sage, a hint of old cedar box, cigar smoke and a very subtle showing of dry dust. Shows restraint yet a richness of flavor, this wine is superbly balanced. Harmonious across the palate – everything fits together nicely with no harsh edges. The texture is a pleasing part of consuming this wine. Carefully polished and fine-grained tannins complete a mouthwatering finish (good acidity but without any tartness). A lovely wine to enjoy by itself but certainly also very food friendly.
Joe and Margaret refer to their most premium Cabernet Sauvignon, the Magnifica, as their own ‘crown jewel’ of Napa Valley. The 2019 Magnifica Cabernet Sauvignon (not to be confused with Franciscan Winery’s Magnificat) is primarily sourced from a vineyard that Julien is extremely familiar with – Sleeping Lady Vineyard at the edge of the Mayacamas mountains in the Yountville appellation. A number of premium producer’s source grapes from this site. This wine is a blend of 96% Sleeping Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot from Pritchard Hill; it is dark ruby in color. The bouquet offers layers of aromas including blackberry, boysenberry, dark plum and violets. Notes of chocolate are found deeper in the aromatics along with a hint of darker baking spices and mocha. The palate also features layers of flavor including of dark plum, blackberry and licorice. A savory freshness persists on the finish along with well-structured and earthy, but not heavy tannins, dark fruit and crushed peppercorn. This is a wine well worth seeking out for serious Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon enthusiasts. It was aged for 22 months in 80% new French oak and is 15.1% alcohol.
The Green Room, Napa
Rubia’s wines are made at a small winery in a business park south of the city of Napa owned by Julien. In early 2019 Julien opened up The Green Room to feature both his wines as well as well as wines from select clients including Rubia.
The idea behind the name is two-fold, Green Room is generally referred to as a room where actors or others about to go on live television or other performances take time to relax calm the nerves – and it is also a surfing slang, referring to barreling a wave or getting time inside the hollow of a wave as it curls over before cresting. Appropriately named – the room is a calm space, intimate in size, it sits just outside the winery but close enough that visitors can watch the action through the adjoining windows. And the name ties into one of Julien’s other passions, surfing. Eventually he plans to line the ceiling of the winery with surfboards.
Tastings are by appointment and are always with either Margaret, Joe or both. Often guests will also meet Julien. And in a homage to the first winery that Margaret and Joe visited in the Napa Valley while on their honeymoon, they always greet guests with a burst of bubbles – a bottle from Domaine Carneros.
The image on the label varies depending on the bottling but always features a likeness of Margaret wearing one of her signature scarves.
Their first restaurant outlet was Mustards (just north of Yountville) and select wines are also found locally at Sunshine Market in St. Helena. Total production is around 1,000 cases per year, with plans to grow this to around 1,500 cases. For more information, to request an appointment or to sign up for their newsletter, visit: www.rubiawinecellars.com
El Paso, Texas