Russian River Valley AVA
Celebrating 20 years of award-winning wines in California’s Russian River Valley
From its very beginning Rutz Cellars of Sonoma County has been unique to the wine industry in several ways. The winery began modestly in 1992 with the release of a miniscule 150 cases of wine, divided evenly between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It grew slowly for several years, and then expanded broadly with a splash of marketing expertise seldom seen in the wine industry. This specific blend of promotion and savoir-faire was actually borrowed by the winery’s founder, Keith Rutz, from his other existing business, a successful international business centered in the fashion industry.
In the mid to late 1990’s Rutz’s fashion customers were treated to wine tastings and mini-wine introductions between screenings of fashion collections, certainly one of the most unique approaches that has been used in the kingdom of the grape.
During that same period of time Rutz Cellars prospered and grew to a 25,000+ case winery. Rutz featured wines from specific microclimates around the state that were all “buzz” appellations and vineyards. The word around the wine trade was that Rutz represented one of the best attempts by a California-based winery at producing wines that were truly reasonable facsimiles of their French counterparts in Burgundy.
Since it was common knowledge that Rutz Cellars purchased all of its grapes, much of the success could be traced to the winery’s impeccable growers. Fruit from the Martinelli’s remarkable vineyards as well as grapes from the renowned Dutton Ranch provided the basis that Rutz Cellars translated into captivating wines that brought critical acclaim and won numerous medals in top competitions. Esteemed growers such as the late Warren Dutton not only provided invaluable expertise to fuel Rutz’s extensive growth, but also lent his friendship and understanding to the most difficult undertaking.
At the turn of the millennium, Rutz Cellars’ wines could be found in 38 markets throughout the United States and were available in ten markets overseas. The master plan that Keith Rutz had devised more than a decade before all seemed to be working.
In February of 2001, something happened that changed Rutz Cellars and its course in the wine world for good.
First, Keith Rutz made the decision to sell his interests in the fashion industry and decided to devote 100% of his time to his wine business, a remarkable decision for someone who was extremely successful in the fashion world. The process had begun sometime in 2000 when Rutz had begun to divest himself of parts of the fashion business.
“I just felt it was the right time,” he was quoted as saying. “Besides, my heart and soul have always been closely connected to the winery.”
Rutz also made a number of decisions that directly affected the winery. Rutz Cellars immediately took action to downsize its national distribution network. At the same time, the winery discontinued its efforts to supply the international markets with wine, preferring to concentrate on improving its quality in this country. This redirection has also brought about a change of focus for Rutz Cellars. It has changed its buying habits and now purchases its grapes exclusively from sources in Sonoma’s Russian River appellation.
“It was time for us to focus on what we do best,” Rutz explained. “And what better place for natural acidity that could highlight our wines than the super-cool slopes of the Russian River Valley.” Judging from the quality of this month’s Gold Series Wine Club selections, we believe it was truly the correct decision.
About the Vineyard
The Russian River Valley is a region rich in history with grape growing and winemaking playing an integral part to the story of the land and its past. Named for one of the first non-natives to settle in Sonoma County, the Russians settled along the Sonoma Coast at historic Fort Ross and found the region optimal to provide food and staples for their colonies. Agriculture, including viticulture, was a primary goal in this endeavor and the fertile soils of the Russian River Valley provided a region apt for farming.
Today in the Russian River Valley, the individual vineyards are as famous as the individual winemakers, which can be attributed to the region’s distinctive mix of cooling fog, fertile loam soils, and river bench lands. The Russian River Valley winegrowers’ passion and experience blend with this unique grape growing region to produce the unique fruit character found in the Valley’s exceptional wines.
Rutz Cellars sources fruit from among the most prestigious terroir of the Russian River Valley and Sonoma County, including Dutton Ranch, various Martinelli sites, and Bacigalupi vineyards. Keith Rutz’s Burgundian-style cuvees, Grand Cru House blends, and single vineyard bottlings reflect the world-class status of this renowned region.
The Art of Fine Wine
"Russian River Valley" was painted by Sonoma artist Lorraine Fitzpatrick. She finds inspiration in the region’s vineyards, coastline, valleys and hills, oak and redwood trees.
"Vineyard Rhythms" was painted by award- winning watercolor artist Robin Purcell. Robin enjoys interpreting the California Landscape and finds much of her inspiration in the wine country of Sonoma County.
Keith Rutz - Owner & Winemaker
Rutz Cellars owner Keith Rutz also acts at winemaker for his namesake winery. His Russian River Valley based Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are crafted in the style and flavor of the great Burgundies of France.
Keith produces his wines in small quantities, from low-yielding world-class vineyards, and the result is an unmatched style of balance and finesse, with extraordinary flavor. His pure, traditional approach to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay yields wines that are soft, elegant, and refined.
More about Kieth Rutz and his Family
In 1978, Keith Rutz bought a ranch and home complete with apple orchards just outside Sebastopol, considered one of the coolest growing areas in the Russian River Valley. Four years later, Keith started his own fashion business that produced belts for the likes of Kenneth Cole and Anne Klein. During this period, Rutz was forced to travel continually, visiting the Orient and South America five times each every year, Europe (and France in particular) another three times a year, and finally an annual pilgrimage to New York for the beginning of the fashion season.
‘It finally became very exhausting,” Rutz explained further. ‘I led what you would call a completely hectic existence. The fashion industry is one of getting to the top and staying there. There is little respite.” During this frantic period, Rutz realized the one relatively stable aspect of his life centered on wine and his ultimate pursuit of the great California Burgundy. He finally decided to change his lifestyle and promised to devote all of his time to Rutz Cellars.
‘I had been able to combine the fashion and winery aspects of my businesses quite easily,” Rutz added, ‘whenever I traveled to Europe for a fashion event I was able to tote some wines and get people interested in my products. They found my approach quite novel and that was all right by me. When I finally realized that we were represented in twelve countries and just about every major market in the United States, I knew I had to do something about it.” By carefully downsizing his operations, Rutz has been able to devote his attention to producing a number of superior Burgundian varietals. Keith is pleased with the strides he has made in recent years and he now has time to devote to some of the essential aspects of his business.
What about the eventual size of the winery’
‘I have always believed that quality will dictate the size of any winery,” he answered. ‘What I want to do at this point is produce the very finest wine I am capable of producing. I am also a firm believer in not rushing the process, so I imagine what I envision could take quite some time.” Many wine writers and experts believe Keith Rutz has already achieved such plateaus, but something about Rutz’s personality and drive makes him continue forging ahead. Not many of us can be completely successful in one career, much less two. Keith Rutz is the notable exception to that adage.