Wineries are the lifeblood of Napa and Sonoma counties. Some have been created by people who came in the 1800's with a dream of making wines, while others are of more recent origin, created by people who were not necessarily winemakers to begin with, in fact coming from completely different walks of life, but nonetheless just as passionate about wanting to produce their own, superb wines. Tying things together is a restaurant embodying the best of food, where new and old winemakers can lift a glass and share stories and a great meal.
Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande fell in love with the town of Rutherford in 1900, purchasing 4 acres of land and buying a nearby winery the next year. An expert in wine growing and production, de Latour named it Beaulieu, or “beautiful place” in French. Years passed and Beaulieu Vineyard became synonymous with top California wines. In the 1930's, Andre Tchelistcheff, considered the dean of winemakers then, was hired to oversee the winemaking process, creating some of the most prestigious wines ever made.
A trip to Beaulieu would not be complete without a tour of the historic winery, including the 100+ year old redwood tanks and a tasting of some of wines that they offer, from either the Maestro, Reserve or Library collections. Classical music wafts through the tasting room and a feeling of elegant tradition pervades the area as guests sample the wines. The wines are varied, from a crisp, accessible sauvignon blanc to their vintage Library wines such as the '03 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 4. Although the main Beaulieu winery makes large quantities of reasonably prices wines such as their BV Coastal series, the separate, high-end Beaulieu Reserve Winery still makes ultra-high quality, limited quantity releases.
Several miles away sits a newer winery, with a very different story but still many elements in common. Bruce Cohn had moved out to San Francisco in the late 1960's, with no idea what he wanted to do but with an exceptional entrepreneur's spirit. He met some musicians with a jam band, playing good music but having a terrible choice for a name. Even though he had never managed a band before, he hit it off with them, taking control of them and getting them into shape as a “real” band. The first task for him was to give the band a new name, something more reflective of the times as well as less profane than the band's original name choice. Forty-three years later, Bruce Cohn is still manager of the band, which he renamed the Doobie Brothers and helped them become one of the top groups to come out of the classic rock era.
Bruce loved wine and bought a vineyard, the Olive Hill Estate, in nearby Sonoma to raise his family on and to sell some grapes. On flights between the Doobie Brother's concerts in different cities, Bruce pored over anything he could find about growing grapes and wine making. Charlie Wagner, the man with the same skills and reputation that Andre Tchelistcheff had in that earlier era, became his mentor. Soon he had progressed from selling grapes to prestigious wineries like Caymus and Gundlach-Bundschu to opening his own winery, B. R. Cohn Winery, in 1984. The music in the tasting room may be classic rock and roll, with gold and platinum records on the wall in addition to the many gold medals the winery has won, but like Beaulieu Reserve, the emphasis is on making the best quality wines in small batches. Wines like the 2009 Olive Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon continue to raise the bar for complex, rich-bodied wines that are drinkable now but also able to be laid down for enjoyment many years later.
Hand in hand with great wines are great meals. Although the area has several Michelin-starred restaurants, there is still a need for the more casual restaurant where people can go to enjoy a top-quality meal. One such place is the Rutherford Grill, situated in the heart of Napa. The American menu showcases dishes that are simple and yet delicious. Featuring local wines, produce and meats, the Rutherford Grill is the kind of place where Bruce Cohn and Georges de Latour might have sat down together over a glass of wine and a local grilled artichoke or wood-fire roasted rotisserie chicken, to swap stories about their love of the vine.
The grilled artichoke is an excellent meal starter, with the tender artichoke offset by some grilled, crusty bits on it for a nice textural contrast. A delicious dipping sauce accompanies it. The Roasted Prime Rib is a nice slice of tender, juicy beef, cooked to perfection and served exactly to the range of rare to well done that the guest requests. It is accompanied by colcannon potatoes, a nice change from the usual plain or garlic mashed potatoes. The colcannon potatoes, with cabbage mixed in, provide a rustic, delicious layer of extra flavor to the potatoes. Several sides are also available such as a plate of fresh steamed broccoli, bursting with just-out-of-the-field flavor.
Bangers and Mash is the Rutherford Grill's take on the Irish classic. Here, a choice of two chicken apple sausages, pork sausages, or one of each are wood-grilled and served with the colcannon potatoes. The locally made sausages are bursting with flavor, starting with the snap of their skin and continuing with the delicious stuffings. The pork sausage, more of a rough ground than some other sausages, has a perfect texture, with the meat toothsome and yet tender. The sausages are served with a deli style mustard. For sausage aficionados, this is a “must get” plate.
Burgers and sandwiches are also on the menu. A highlight is the Hickory Burger, only available during the week. The beef burger, grilled to taste with a nice char, is topped with grated cheddar cheese and slices of Canadian bacon. A hickory sauce on the side is perfect for slathering over the burger and even for dipping the excellent fries into. This is a great example of where the Rutherford Grill excels; a place where you can have a fine wine with a burger, an ahi tuna salad or a prime rib.
Cameron Shaw, the General Manager at the Rutherford Grill, said that “We are proud to have been in Napa for the last twenty years, providing fine foods such as our signature cornbread, baby back ribs and French Dip sandwich, which is layered with our delicious thin-sliced prime rib. As a supporter of the area, we not only have an extensive wine list of local wineries, but also realize that many of our guests who come in have just returned from a day of wine tasting at many of the area's fine wineries, excited about the wines they have just purchased. This is why we are proud to have our no corkage policy, allowing our guests to enjoy a bottle of wine that they have just found along with an excellent dinner”. Indeed, the no corkage policy, combined with menu items such as a Squash and White Cheddar Enchilada, Center-cut Angus Beef Filet, Oak Plank Salmon and a house-made Veggie Burger, give guests the opportunity to enjoy their favorite wine along with an excellent meal. The Rutherford Grill is comfortable, the service is excellent and the atmosphere perfect for unwinding after a long day of sampling the bounties of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
1180 Rutherford Rd.
Rutherford, CA 94558
B. R. Cohn Winery
15000 Sonoma Hwy.
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Tel: 800-330-4064 ex. 124
1960 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
Tel: (800) 264-6918 x 5233