Recently we signed up a little winery called Rucksack, the project of Paul and Maggie Bush in El Dorado County, part of the huge Sierra Foothills appellation. Paul’s dad founded Madrona Vineyards, so Paul grew up seeing what the region could do, wine-wise. Paul has been managing production for the past 23 years, and he’s been amazed by the tremendous diversity of the Sierra Foothills.. The couple’s Rucksack Cellars really struck us, because the idea behind it shows how far wine has come in California.
The idea? To create a winery that celebrates one region, making wine from its various appellations.
Twenty years ago, no winemakers were thinking in these terms. When we were traveling the California wine country, we’d find winery owners committed to making more than a dozen different varietals from their one estate vineyard. They made the wines because they were popular varietals, not because their vineyards were suited to them. In fact, it seems to us the idea of terroir –that each varietal prefers a certain blend of soil, exposure, climate, etc.—was slow to take root among many California wineries.
Case in point: Santa Barbara. Why did it take Santa Barbara so long to produce a great Cabernet Sauvignon? Because much of the area is too cool for the varietal. It wasn’t until Jim Dierberg and others headed to the very warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley called Happy Canyon that Santa Barbara Cab took wing.
Now, we have many wineries focused solely on one appellation and producing the varietals exactly suited to it. And, we have many wineries that have figured out their estate vineyards cannot do it all – they either develop their own vineyards in regions suitable for the wines they want to make, or they buy the grapes from growers.
Rucksack Cellars is taking this a step further to embrace the diversity of a huge region with various appellations.
Fun, isn’t it? Have you noticed anything changing at California wineries, some evolutionary trend?