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The Iconic Bella Oaks Vineyard in Rutherford, Napa Valley Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Its Planting

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(Rutherford, Calif. – March 14, 2023) – Bella Oaks, one of Napa Valley’s most storied vineyards, turns 50 this year. Best known for producing one of Heitz Cellar’s most revered Cabernet Sauvignons, this historic site and its owners played a significant role in fortifying Napa Valley’s Cabernet revolution and renowned hospitality culture. 

Suzanne Deal Booth, a renowned cultural preservationist, acquired the Bella Oaks property in 2010 and has been dedicated to reimaging the estate and building upon its legacy. For Bella Oaks’ next chapter, Deal Booth has brought on some of Napa’s most celebrated names in winemaking and viticulture, including Nigel Kinsman, David Abreu, and Michel Rolland. The estate is now certified organic, has an estate bottling for the first time, and a forthcoming winery will complete its transformation into a hub of wine, food, art, and culture. 

Bella Oaks History—Vineyard

Belle and Barney Rhodes, cosmopolitan Napa pioneers, seasoned wine experts, and collectors, purchased the 14-acre site in Rutherford that would become the Bella Oaks vineyard in 1968. In 1973, on the recommendation of Joe Heitz of Heitz Cellar, the Rhodeses — who also owned and planted Napa’s famed Martha’s Vineyard — took a risk and planted the vineyard to 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

In the early 1970s, this was a bold move; Napa Valley’s wine industry was still recovering from Prohibition and in the throes of its experimental era. It hadn’t yet settled on an identity. Still, the Rhodeses belonged to a small club of visionary growers and vintners — alongside the likes of André Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, and Donn Chappellet — who foresaw Cabernet as the future of Napa Valley. It wasn’t long before their gamble paid off. 

For 34 years, the grapes from Bella Oaks were sold exclusively to Heitz, whose first release, 1976, of the highly acclaimed, vineyard-designated Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon reportedly sold for $35. At the time, blends were still heavily favored over single-varietal wines, and that price point was unheard of. But the Bella Oaks wine — fresh, elegant, balanced, and made to age — quickly became a benchmark for the Cabernet renaissance that put Napa Valley on the map. 

Bella Oaks History—Culture

The Rhodeses weren’t just grape growers; they were community legends. The venerable couple is often credited with creating the world-renowned culture of hospitality that exists in Napa Valley today. Their home, built on the Bella Oaks property, was the epicenter of hospitality and wine education in the Napa Valley in the 70s and 80s. Their storied parties and events were attended by the most influential members of the wine community in Napa, throughout the United States, and abroad. 

Belle Rhodes was a member of the famed Napa Valley Cooking Class, formed by a group of trailblazing female vintners. Founded when Napa was still a culinary desert, Belle recruited the country’s top talent — such as Wolfgang Puck, Paul Bocuse, and Thomas Keller — to come and teach. Most notably, the club helped mentor some of Napa Valley’s most lauded chefs, including three Michelin-starred chefs, Christopher Kostow, Cindy Pawlcyn, and Michael Chiarello. Belle was also one of the first female wine judges at the Los Angeles County Wine Fair and, together with Barney, was a wine consultant for Cathay Pacific airlines.

A prominent wine collector with more than 10,000 bottles, Barney Rhodes was known to have an exquisite palate. His reputation carried overseas, where he befriended UK wine royalty — names like Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, David Avery, and Stephen Spurrier — and was the only American invited to join the prestigious Saintsbury Wine Club in London. 

Bella Oaks: 2010-today: the Suzanne Deal Booth Era

It was this rich history and culture — of both the vineyard and its original stewards — that moved Suzanne Deal Booth to purchase Bella Oaks in 2010, shortly after the passing of the Rhodeses. A successful career in cultural heritage preservation made Deal Booth uniquely positioned to carry on their illustrious legacy.  

When she first acquired the property, the vineyard was a shell of its former self. In her efforts to restore the site to its heyday, she took her time getting to know the property intimately, conducting an oral history project with people who played a significant role in its history. She started with a replant to revive the vineyard and reorient rows for ideal sun exposure and converted to organic farming (it was certified organic in 2019). Under Deal Booth’s vision and oversight, the vineyard team follows biodynamic farming techniques and the latest technological advances in grape growing. She’s since expanded the property by purchasing a contiguous adjacent 13.5-acre parcel in 2016 and a neighboring winery in 2021.

Initially, Deal Booth sold the Bella Oaks fruit to her neighbor, Staglin Family Vineyard. But ultimately, she believed that the vineyard’s historical significance warranted its own voice and identity. Deal Booth partnered with one of Napa’s most regarded viticulturists, David Abreu, and two of the region’s top winemakers — Nigel Kinsman and French master blender Michel Rolland — to help her craft the next generation of Bella Oaks wines.  The 2018 Bella Oaks was the first vintage released in 2021.

While Napa Cabernets have evolved in style since Heitz’s first Bella Oaks wines, Deal Booth has remained steadfast in preserving the vineyard’s tradition of minimal intervention practices producing classic, elegant, and age-worthy wines.

As one of the world’s leading advocates for arts and culture, Deal Booth is committed to making Bella Oaks a cultural hub of Napa Valley again. With respectful attention, she has placed compelling works of art along the western boundary of the property, where bordered by a creek; they are juxtaposed by the natural beauty of the vines, gardens, olive orchards, and a meditation labyrinth. To complete her vision, Deal Booth and famed Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast are designing a new winery, a future destination for wine, art, food, and culture.

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