Sullivan Rutherford Estate is located in the heart of Napa Valley. The Rutherford area is known for its exceptional terroir, particularly for Cabernet Sauvignon. The region is home to some of Napa’s most prized and historic wineries like Sullivan Rutherford Estate. Under the radar, this historic winery has new owners and is a special place with exceptional wines.
I had an opportunity to chat and taste with the dream team from Sullivan Rutherford Estate, where Joshua Lowell is the General Manager and Jeff Cole is the winemaker. Joshua Lowell joined Sullivan Rutherford Estate as General Manager in 2018, following over 20 years leading top-tier Napa Valley brands such as Aubert, Futo Wines and Peter Michael. Joshua is the rare General Manager who is equally adept in business as he is in production, viticulture and hospitality. A true wine lover and scholar, he is at the forefront of Sullivan’s endeavor to create Napa’s next iconic estate.
Jeff Cole is a native of Napa Valley, hailing from the small town of Yountville. Jeff was surrounded by the wine industry from his earliest years. He graduated with a Wine and Viticulture degree from California Polytechnic University in 2006. While there, Jeff gained valuable, hands-on experience at Laetitia Winery and Windward Vineyards. He then learned the méthode champenoise while making sparkling wines at Schramsberg Vineyards. In 2013, Jeff joined the Sullivan team and has been perfecting the art of making world-class Cabernet Sauvignon ever since.
Sullivan Rutherford Estate – Historical Context
The Sullivan property is on a historical piece of land that has 200 years of history going back to 1821 when Mexico won independence from Spain. California became the land of the First Republic of Mexico. Mexico divided the Napa floor into Rancho Carne Humana in the North and Rancho Caymus in the South(which was given to George Yount in 1830). The old line that was meant to divide the valley floor is the northern property line of Sullivan Vineyards. All this history is quite fortuitous as the current owners are Mexican.
Sullivan Rutherford Estate – Modern Day
During the ’60s and ’70s, Napa saw a new wave of pioneers. Many of them were not winemakers but simply passionate about wines like James O’Neil Sullivan. James was a successful graphic designer from LA and did album covers for the Monkeys and Dick Clark Productions. In the ’50s, James got the wine bug and starting bringing his family to Napa Valley.
In 1972 he dove full in and bought four acres of land in Rutherford on Manley Lane and soon the wine bug became a full-on obsession. James became friends with André Tchelistcheff(one of America’s most influential winemakers). André encouraged James to purchase the property on Galleron Road.
James started the Sullivan brand in 1972 and 1978 purchased this property. James was here to produce great Cabernet and Merlot. He hired an architect and built a phenomenal home which was the center of the vineyards, surrounded by gardens and a lake. Joshua says it is a truly special place. The Sullivans are an artistic family of musicians and artists. The Estate has been open to artists, chefs, friends and wine lovers. James quietly sold wine directly to friends and family and so the winery remained relatively obscure for many years.
In 2004 James passed away and the family began to produce a reserve wine under his name. The 2013 James O’Neil Cabernet Sauvignon was produced with a label that James made while he was in art school. Winemaker Jeff Cole came on board and this wine was his first vintage. As a native of Napa, Jeff came with extensive knowledge of the terroir of Rutherford. With his first vintage, Jeff knocked it out of the park with 2013 James O’Neil Cabernet Sauvignon.
Juan Pablo Torres-Padilla – New Owners
In January 2018 Juan Pablo Torres-Padilla and a few family members purchased Sullivan Rutherford Estate. Juan Pablo grew up in Mexico and attended an elite University in France, and later went on to do his masters at MIT. Juan Pablo moved back to France where he had a highly successful career in Telecom and Artificial Intelligence software.
While in France, Juan Pablo’s uncle would often visit. They both loved wine and on a trip to Burgundy, Juan Pablo and his Uncle Pedro first discussed purchasing a vineyard. 10 years ago they stepped up that decision and looked to purchase vineyards, possibly in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Logistically they realized France was not a great fit and began to focus on Napa Valley.
Six years ago, Juan Pablo moved to Sausalito and made regular trips to Napa for over 3 years. He visited over 120 wineries in search of the right property with a sense of history and the potential to produce the highest quality wines. Juan Pablo wanted to purchase a property that he could add value, not just buy a turnkey existing business. He wanted an estate where he could make a mark and create the best wines of Napa Valley. He was deeply interested and intrigued by the history of the Sullivan property. In January 2018, Juan Pablo and his family acquired the Sullivan property with a vision to continue the legacy of James O’Neil Sullivan.
New Beginnings At Sullivan
The 2013 James O’Neil Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were very influential in Juan Pablo acquiring this property. When he tasted these wines, he knew there was something very special. The 2013 vintage left a mark on Juan Pablo and got him very excited. He ultimately went on to purchase this property.
Juan Pablo went on to hire his leadership team with some of the best talents in the wine industry. His goal was to elevate the quality of the estate. They conducted soil studies, changed rootstock, invested in the vines, and are in the process of setting up a new winemaking facility. Today they are equipped with powerful viticultural knowledge to produce the most iconic wines of Napa Valley.
Jeff Cole says, “We are embracing what they have. We have a beautiful property and the quality is already there. The most important thing is that the soils are phenomenal. We are not trying to reinvent the property, we are taking the natural gifts of the property and the assets we have to make the best possible wines.”
Sullivan Rutherford Estate Wines
2013 James O’Neil Cabernet Sauvignon
This is an insanely luxurious wine with notes of plum, chocolate and vanilla. A wine that represents the authenticity of Rutherford. The mouthfeel is rich yet elegant. Well-structured tannins and a luscious mid-palate ends with a juicy finish. This is a rich, sexy, full-bodied wine.
2017 Sullivan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot. This estate wine is a dark and intense cherry red color. The wine is rich in depth and intensity. Captivating notes of black fruit and spice. Layers of fruit with nice tannic structure. Licorice, blackcurrant, plum and cedar envelope the mouth. 380 cases produced
2017 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. The grapes are grown from the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines on the estate, which are deeply rooted in the most well-drained soils. The wine reveals a deep ruby color and has a beautiful bouquet of fruit, dark chocolate and tobacco. The wine is intense, bold and masculine. Rich tannins and a complex structure will allow the wine to age for many years. A majestic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. 250 cases produced