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Sullivan Rutherford Estate Acquires Criscione Vineyard

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Sullivan Rutherford Estate acquires Criscione Vineyard, marking another key milestone in the team’s ambitious mission to develop Napa Valley’s next “First Growth” wine estate

(Sept 3, 2021; Rutherford, Calif.)—Joshua Lowell, general manager of Sullivan Rutherford Estate, today unveiled the latest milestone accomplished by the Sullivan team in pursuit of realizing the vision of Managing Partner Juan Pablo Torres Padilla to develop a “First Growth” estate in the Napa Valley: the acquisition of the renowned Criscione Vineyard in St. Helena.

Longtime Napa Valley residents and grape growers, Joe and Ashley Criscione, established the vineyard in 2000 under the direction of Tony Soter with Mike Wolf heading vineyard management since 2001. While largely unknown by consumers, the vineyard is held in high regard by those in the industry. Over the past 20 years, Criscione Cabernet Sauvignon has been sourced by many of the valley’s premier wineries including Araujo, Arrow & Branch, Drinkward Peschon, Hall, Harlan, and Ovid, amongst other highly renowned wine producers in the Napa Valley. Located in a small, quiet valley at the base of Howell Mountain, the east-facing vineyard benefits from the cooling breezes coming off the mountain and the Bell Canyon Reservoir. The soils are a Cortina Series alluvial gravel mix of red volcanic soils from Howell Mountain and obsidian from the neighboring Glass Mountain. The property is 18-acres with roughly half under vine.

The acquisition reflects the Sullivan team’s mission to further elevate a nearly five-decade foundation of hard work, vision, and pioneering spirit. The Estate endeavors to be at the forefront of quality with their vineyards, wines and member experiences, while staying authentic to the classical nature of the winemaking tradition.

The first milestone was realized when a family partnership led by Juan Pablo Torres Padilla acquired the historic Sullivan Rutherford Estate in 2018. The more than three year search had been patient and thorough, entailing more than 120 winery visits in order to find a Napa Estate with some of the best soils and vineyards in the valley. Next, was assembling a team of top wine-industry professionals to drive the process of providing the Estate and the wines the recognition they deserve, as well as to further elevate the quality of all aspects of the wines and member experiences. Under the leadership of General Manager Joshua Lowell, who brought over 20 years of experience creating and managing top wineries in the Napa Valley, the team first set their focus on ensuring an excellence-driven approach in the vineyards. Joshua, together with Juan Pablo and Winemaker Jeff Cole, a native of Yountville who started making exceptional wines at the estate in 2013 under the tutelage of Scott McLeod, partnered with renowned Napa Valley Vineyard Manager Mike Wolf and his team. Following the 2018 harvest, the team initiated a substantial replant of the vineyards on the estate to maximize quality and bring more focus to top quality Merlot. In 2019, to supplement the Rutherford vineyards, Sullivan acquired a 12-acre parcel of land in the Soda Canyon area, located in the western foothills of the Napa Valley between the Stags Leap District and Coombsville. This land was planted the following year with an emphasis on Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Now, with the acquisition of the Criscione vineyard, Sullivan has a third estate vineyard that produces world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.

“While the heart and soul of the wines and brand are firmly planted in Rutherford, these two new estate vineyards will add breadth and depth,” says Lowell. “Putting together a collection of top vineyards in Napa is no small feat. The reality is, there continues to be fierce competition in the Napa Valley across both corporate and personal investors for prime vineyards, and it does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.”

“For me, no other region shares Napa’s perfect marriage between the tradition and respect of the 9000 years legacy of winemaking, with the innovation, creativity, thirst for constant improvement, and pioneering disruptive spirit of California, and the United States in general,” says Torres Padilla. “This culture of ambition and adventure has always been central to the California wine narrative, and it is what brought me here,” he adds.

Torres Padilla, a lover of history and the visions and intentions of those who cultivated their lives and vineyards before him, continues an homage to James O’Neil Sullivan through a duo of “Founder’s Reserve” wines—a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon ($250). “He was a true visionary to buy and develop our Rutherford property,” he says.

Born and raised in Mexico City, Juan Pablo later spent almost half of his life in France. He was first inspired to pursue a wine estate in 2006, during a visit to DRC with Aubert de Villaine. He first began his search in Bordeaux and Burgundy, but his focus soon turned to the Napa Valley, where he fell in love with the blend of Old-World tradition and California’s eternal quest for excellence and pioneering spirits.

Upon arriving to the Napa Valley, Juan Pablo’s search for a quality vineyard was defined by a shortlist of criteria:

  • Top quality land and soil: unique terroirs in one of the best appellations of the Napa Valley
  • A sense of place
  • A sense of history
  • The ability to add value in the pursuit of excellence

After visiting Sullivan Rutherford Estate in 2016, he recognized the vineyard was already producing exceptional wines under the direction of Winemaker Jeff Cole, yet it was clear there was room for greater potential in the market recognition of the quality of the wines and the creation of an even higher level of hospitality and wine-related experiences. This potential, coupled with the rich history and beauty of the estate, guides his vision. Upon discovering Sullivan, Torres Padilla took a deep dive into the history of the property. He found that the estate lies on the rancho line that divided the Napa Valley after California went from being under Spanish rule to being part of Mexico in 1821. Also of significance was the estate’s founding in 1972 when André Tchelistcheff advised James O’Neil Sullivan to buy this piece of land and plant Bordeaux varieties. Sullivan’s vision for the property from an architectural perspective—three concentric circles meld into the natural beauty of the estate to make up the buildings on an exact east-west orientation—is an additional inspiration for Torres Padilla from which to evolve and build upon, not erase, rename, or re-brand. Instead, determined to build off the visionaries before him and work towards the recognition of the estate as one of Napa’s most iconic “First Growths,” he sought out the highest leadership team who would share his long-term mission.

Today, the leadership team includes General Manager Joshua Lowell, Winemaker Jeff Cole, Vineyard Manager Michael Wolf, Estate Director Lisa Barker, Head of Consumer Sales and Marketing Erin Callahan, as well as several other highly motivated, experienced, and passionate individuals.

This ambitious team now sets their sights on achieving future milestones for the estate. Next, the team will break ground on a new state-of-the-art winemaking facility that will allow them to best capture the quality of these three unique terroirs. Since 2019, the team has been working with nationally acclaimed San Francisco-based architect Hans Baldauf on the design of the new building. After gaining approval from the county last winter, they plan to break ground in 2022.

Aspect Consumer Partners acted as exclusive financial advisor to Sullivan Rutherford Estate in all three Napa Valley acquisitions.

Sullivan Rutherford Estate is located at 1090 Galleron Rd. Rutherford, CA 94573. For more information, visit www.sullivanwine.com.

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