The effect of Benchland Soil on Grape Growing
Gravel, sand, silt and clay make up alluvial fans. They are usually made of various sizes of sediment. These soils are well-drained and vines grown on them typically have very deep root systems.
Each has its source from a single channel of run-off from the mountains. Depending on the size of the sediment, an alluvial fan will have a different degree of slope. Larger debris is sloped more steeply, but rarely more than 10 degree.
Vines grown on benchland soils are usually healthy and produce high-quality grapes. The Rutherford Bench is a famous example of this soil type and is renowned for Cabernet Sauvignon vines. It is comprised of 2 alluvial fans at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains in the Western Napa Valley. Vines grown in these soils do not have a superficial attachment to the earth; rather they are deeply rooted in the ground.
It also runs south through the Oakville AVA. The Rutherford Bench is about 6 miles long and contains 2,500 acres of some of the valley’s most prized vineyards. It slopes from Highway 29 west to the Mayacamas Mountains and from Oakville Grade in the south to Zinfandel Lane in the north. Depending on who you ask, the Rutherford Bench may extend to the Napa River.
It is primarily planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but there is also a bit of Chardonnay. There was once a movement to secure AVA status specifically for the Rutherford Bench, but it was not successful. It is roughly between the Oakville Grade in the south and Zinfandel Lane in the north.
Wines from the Rutherford Bench have an earthy-spiciness behind intense dark fruit. These wines have been described as “dusty” and many say they can taste the “Rutherford Dust.” The Dry Creek Conglomerate is another benchland that specializes in Zinfandel production.
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