RustRidge Winery. While their address is listed in the town of St. Helena, in reality the winery is located about 40 minutes from this town. While their location feels remote, however, in reality it is less than a 20 minute drive from the Silverado Trail and the valley floor.
Because Rustridge is located in rural Napa County, visitors don’t just usually “stumble” on this winery – rather it is a destination. A visit here is uniquely refreshing – visitors will typically meet one of the owners, husband and wife, Susan Meyer and Jim Fresquez.
A visit does not come with the “polish and shine” that has become so common at a number of wineries along both Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail on the valley floor. Driving into the ranch is like driving back in time to how the Napa Valley must have been many years ago with dirt roads, pastures and horses. It is rare to find a winery in Napa Valley that still nurtures a rustic and ‘country feel’.
The winery is located in Chiles Valley at an elevation of about 1,000 feet (a small valley east of the main Napa Valley floor); their dirt driveway connects to Lower Chiles Valley Road. The roads in this part of Napa County typically have few cars on them. When we need a short break from traffic we come to this part of Napa for a few hours to enjoy a relaxing country drive.
The winery site was originally a working ranch dating from the 1950s created for raising thoroughbred racehorses; a number of horses still live on the property. Originally 560+ acres, most of the property has been sold over the years. Grapes were originally planted in the 1970s including Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Today the remaining Rustridge Ranch is planted entirely to red varieties including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Only a single acre of Zinfandel remains from the mid 1970s plantings. In 2021 a significant portion of their vineyard was replanted.
Susan’s family purchased the property in 1972 and the first vintage of Rustridge was from 1985, founded by her brothers Stan and Grant Meyer and their late father Herbert & his wife Lucille. Several earlier vintages were produced from the ranch including a 1982 White Riesling bottled by Don Charles Ross. Susan and Jim took over operations or the Rustridge Ranch in 1990.
A south western style Bed & Breakfast complete with a pool and a tennis court is located within walking distance of the winery (contains 4 rooms). Guests will find plenty of things to stay busy with including bird watching (35 different species have been identified on the property), hiking or if the weather is decent, simply lounging around the pool relaxing and with a good book in hand. And within a 30 minute drive is Lake Berryessa, a popular destination for boaters and fisherman. Within a very short drive is Lake Hennessey, the backup water supply for the city of Napa – fishing is allowed but no gasoline powered boats) or Napa County’s newest park – Moore Creek. Or if you happen to be here for harvest, Jim and Susan might even put you to work!
Susan is the winemaker and Jim runs the day to day operations; he was a former horse racer who grew up in Hollywood and was in the film industry for many years. In addition he worked with a trainer that was part of famed racing horse Seabiscuit’s team. When this trainer died, Jim inherited a number of Seabiscuit’s riding items (saddle, helmet, twitch and whip), which are now on display at their bed & breakfast. Jim continues to work closely with the horses on the ranch and still makes the racing circuit, visiting the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Golden Gate fields among other race tracks in Northern California.
The winery is nestled against the hills on the back of the property; a separate building contains their tasting room. Pricing is very reasonable by Napa standards and unlike many Napa wineries, they often have older vintages available for sale. The focus of their wines are on three different brands, the Rustridge wines, Racehorse (both red and white wines) and Animated. All their wines are estate grown.
Based on the soils and farming practices and the micro climate in Chiles Valley the Rustridge wines are built to age. And Chiles Valley has its own micro climate compared to the rest of Napa Valley; it is often several degrees cooler at night than on the main floor of Napa Valley. Based on this terroir, the wines often have higher acid and lower pH. It is also important to note that after decades, Susan and Jim intimately know their vineyard.
Often their wines are in barrel for up to 4 years before being bottled. Their white wines are enclosed with screw caps. With a decent library available, guests often are able to try wines 5 to 10 years old.
The 2015 Rustridge Sauvignon Blanc is medium to deep gold in color; the bouquet offers aromas of pineapple, kiwi, pear, Golden delicious apple, papaya and light hints of vanilla. Also shows some minerality notes. The palate is creamy with a rounded texture from entry to finish. Features flavors of red apple, pineapple, tangerine and lemon. This is an intensely flavored Sauvignon Blanc with a rich long lasting finish. We tasted this wine 7 years post vintage and it still retains its brightness, especially noticeable on the finish. Of the three older whites we tasted and wrote about during our latest visit, this one is probably showing the best.
The Rustridge Chardonnay goes through full malolactic fermentation and is aged surlee which helps build texture into the wine. Susan uses multiple yeasts in each barrel bringing further complexity to this bottling. All grapes for this wine were dry farmed. The 2013 Rustridge Reserve Chardonnay is deep gold in color; offers immediate aromas of warm butter, vanilla, caramelized sugars, yellow pineapple and subtle notes of crème Brule. It’s texture is rounded but not overly so. Offers flavors of mango, pineapple, hints of ginger and yellow nectarine. The finish offers flavors of butter and hazelnut. The palate is definitely showing its age especially on the finish (tasted 9 years post vintage date).
The 2014 Rustridge Animated White is a unique proprietary blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 32% Chardonnay and 28% Riesling. This wine is medium to deep gold in color; the bouquet is both floral and tropical with aromas of honeysuckle, pineapple, pear, lemon/lime, vanilla and a sweet dessert spice note. The palate offers flavors of green apple, kiwi, ginger root, a ‘grassy note’ and grapefruit. Finish with bright acidity.
The 2014 Rustridge Zinfandel is medium ruby in color; offers aromas of raspberry, darker chocolate, white pepper, dried herbs, some initial meatiness, cherry cola, black licorice and wild blackberries – think picking ripe blackberries on a warm summer day growing near a dry creek bed somewhere in the Vaca mountain range of Napa County. There is no mistaking this as a Zinfandel on the palate with flavors of raspberry and a fruit driven/dark spicy note that Zinfandel often exhibits which is hard to accurately describe in words. This wine is juicy with great acidity and a darker peppercorn filled finish with dusty tannins of moderate grip. This wine is proof that higher alcohol Zinfandel can and in fact will age. It is nearly 16% alcohol; we tasted this wine 8 years post vintage date.
The 2014 Rustridge Petite Sirah is dark ruby in color; offers a meaty note with aromas of bacon fat, anise, violets, lavender, wild blackberries and raspberries. The bouquet smells pretty and continues to show more fruit as it evolves in the glass. This wine’s higher toned fruit and acidity is immediately evident on the palate; it is also slightly ‘gamey’. Features flavors of currant, red cherry, rhubarb and a mint-like nuance. Lingers very bright with a mouth watering red fruit tartness, notes of dried tobacco leaf and an herbal note. The tannins are not overtly robust but they do linger with a noticeable drying grip. Savory. This wine would pair well with some protein right off the BBQ.
Kent Rosenblum founder of the well-known Rosenblum Cellars in 1978 (based in Alameda/Oakland) had part ownership in Rustridge (his family still has a small ownership stake) and was their consulting winemaker for many years; unfortunately Kent died prematurely in September 2018. Zinfandel is by far Rosenblum’s most produced variety – as one would expect RustRidge also produces a Zinfandel. Their Zinfandel has even made several appearances in Hollywood movies (ask Susan for more details).
In the past, Rustridge in conjunction with Napa Valley Adventure Tours offered mountain bike tours for 6-10 people per outing. The ride took place on the ranch, typically in the morning and then returned to the winery for a lunch combined with wine tasting. As of our latest update to this review, this experience is no longer offered, but guests can inquire about bringing their own mountain bikes with them – the nearby roads are ideal for bike riding.
Weekday tastings are held daily at 3pm by appointment and weekend tastings are scheduled for 11am, 1pm or 3pm. For more information, to join their wine club, or to schedule a tasting, visit: www.rustridge.com