Bella Oaks, one of Napa Valley’s most storied vineyards, turns 50 this year.
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.
Suzanne Deal Booth purchased Bella Oaks in 2010, shortly after the passing of the Rhodeses, acquired the property. She had had a successful career in cultural heritage preservation and wants to restore Balla Oaks' reputaton as a cultural hub of Napa Valley again. Working with an architect she is designing a new winery that will be a future destination for wine, art, food, and culture.