2009 William Knuttel Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley
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William Knuttel Rutherford Dust and the Vineyard With No Name

It took nearly 20 years for Bill Knuttel to take the plunge. For some time, he'd considered throwing his hat in with Napa's Big Boys, contracting for some of the most expensive single vineyard Cabernet in the valley, just to test his winemaking mettle. Finally, in the spring of 2009, he got a call from a friend, and on a lark, he pulled the trigger.

When his winemaker buddy quoted the tonnage price for these Rutherford Bench clusters, Knuttel could already feel the lump in the back of his throat. He ran some quick arithmetic and quickly curbed his enthusiasm -- contracting for just 2.5 tons from one of the AVA's top vineyards. Then he sat back and watched, as one of the decade's finest growing seasons played out.

While some in the cooler, high elevation perches of the valley would be obliged to wait through the October 12-14 rains, here on the rockiest patches of the valley floor -- particularly those farmed to less than three tons per acre -- every small berry cluster was harvested by October 7. Robert Parker asserted that these Cabernets rival the monumental 2007s in concentration and blackberry voluptuousness, though were blessed with softer, more approachable tannin structure. The market was picking up steam. High-end Cabernets were flying. Bill Knuttel was kicking himself. Why hadn't he contracted for more?

Knuttel's purchase came with an understanding that the vineyard name could appear on the front label, allowing Bill to push the envelope on pricing. Knuttel's math suggested a $75 bottle price, given the cost of the fruit. Always a downside player, Bill decided on $65, just to be certain that he was over-delivering.

By mid-2012, when we first tasted samples from 4 of the 10 barrels, the Rutherford Cabernet was deep purple in color. The aromas were of blackberry confiture, dosed with luscious crème-de-cassis. That attack was rich, polished and sleek, the finish velour-like -- barely showing a hint of Rutherford 'dust' -- in keeping with the supple makeup of the vintage. As to Bill Knuttel, he was beaming, wondering why he'd waited so long to take the plunge.

Then, he got the call that sent his calculator spinning across the winery floor.

"I've been making wine up here for thirty years. You'd think I would have learned a thing or two by now," Knuttel grimaced. "Handshakes don't amount to a hill of beans when there's a disagreement."

"When I was told I couldn't put the vineyard name on the front label, I had two choices: Hire an attorney -- or give up the fight. I don't mind a good fight, but I can't stand attorneys."

In September, this silken powerhouse was released. The appellation was indeed Rutherford. But the top pedigree vineyard name -- the marketing machine's calling card -- was nowhere to be found. Knuttel started at $65/bottle, before taking it on the chin, dropping the price to $54. Most went out the door. All except the 540 bottles that are up for grabs this morning.

Tasting Notes

2009 William Knuttel Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley
"Deep purple color. Lush aromas of blackberry and blueberry preserves, tinged with new oak cedar. Rich, polished and sleek on the attack, with classic black fruit concentration, beautiful focus, fine delineation, all cloaked in 2009 velour. Don't be fooled by the primary fruit hedonism. Hefty dividends will be paid to the patient. Drink now-2018."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

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