Oh, Wine Country, it’s so hard not to love you.
Just this week I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Sonoma and Napa to be introduced to some new vineyards as well as say hello to some very dear ones that have been a huge part of my sommelier career.
The first time I went to Napa as a wine buyer was in August of 2000, and I had flown out of New York to go take the Introductory Course for the Court of Master Sommeliers.
My dear friend Chris Goodhart had lined up tours and tastings as well as accommodations at Cuvaison, Trefethen and Silver Oak. It was a week of studying intertwined with unbelievable visits to beautiful vineyards. I soaked it all in with the sun, and by the time I got back to New York, all I could breathe was the magnificent juice of Napa Valley.
As wine would have it, while I sat in the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, I made a new friend in the person sitting beside me. Her name was Ellen Hunt, and she was working for Rudd Winery, a relatively new venture in Oakville that was just getting ready to release their Chardonnays in New York City.
After several days in class together, Ellen invited me to Rudd for a tour with Damon Ornowski, an assistant winemaker at the property. The winery was in its initial stages, and it was very cool to be able to say I had been to a facility that was just now getting started. Ellen extended an invitation to come to Jean Georges for lunch three weeks later to taste the current release of its Chardonnays. I couldn’t have gotten any higher if a hot air balloon had physically taken me to the moon. Wine was bliss, and I was loving every single moment.
Fast forward to 13 years later, and here I am going back to Rudd for a 2:00 appointment on a Thursday, exactly the same day and time of the one over a decade ago.
A fabulous tour by Cheryl (who worked with Ellen back in the day), I saw a completely different facility than the one I saw in 2000. Big cellar caves and extensive landscaping with a Bellagio-inspired fountain, the winery has grown into a mature adult, transitioning to Sauvignon Blanc from Mount Veeder for its main white with two Cabernet-based reds.
The wines are as beautiful as ever, and completely age-worthy with ripe fruit and silky texture. Hard to believe something has grown up so quickly. I guess that’s a sign I need to do the same.