We sat and chopped it up with Natalie Bath, lead winemaker at Crossroads by Rudd. Natalie’s joyful energy is evident from the minute you see her and infectious the more time you spend with her. Topics included her devotion to organic and biodynamic winemaking to if she’d bump Dave Chappell or Ellen DeGeneres ‘accidentally’ into a pool at a party if given a choice.
A native Californian, growing up in St. Helena, Natalie came back to the Napa Valley after graduating college and fell back in love with the beauty of the Napa Valley. In 2012 she took a harvest role at Rudd.
“I grew up playing in the vineyards and running around the [Rudd] property as a kid. Something just felt right.” An opportunity of a lifetime presented itself, allowing Natalie to travel overseas to work harvest at Château Pétrus in 2016. Coming back from her travels refreshed and rejuvenated, Natalie became the Assistant Winemaker in 2017 at Rudd Estate, and the following year the lead Winemaker for Crossroads.
So much to talk about! Let’s start with your passion for organic and biodynamic farming. Why? Are your neighbors organic as well?
You did a harvest at the iconic Chateau Petrus what was something surprising you learned while being there. Did you bring tips/tools back with you to Crossroads?
More than what I learned, what I really took away from my experience at Petrus was the commitment by the current team to respect and honor the past. The previous winemaker and cellar master came to the property every day during harvest to taste, have lunch, and discuss their experiences at the property.
Some of the original team’s experiences through challenging harvests have helped the current team with troubleshooting or handling similar situations, which is not something that happens in New World wineries. While there may be slight changes in the wine due to vintage variation and innovation in the cellar, this respect and commitment to the past makes sure that the emphasis is not about creating a wine based on the team in place, but making sure to create a wine centered around the terroir and tradition.
Let’s dig into your two vineyards in Napa Valley, what are the unique properties of your vineyards in Oakville and Mt. Veeder?
The most important factor in our wine is terroir. The microclimate in combination with our unique soils at both sites make sure that no other wine will taste like ours. On Mt. Veeder, where the Crossroads Sauvignon Blanc grows, the altitude and southeast facing exposure created by the forest ridge line help slow the ripening process allowing for more natural fresh acidity and lower sugars.
At our Oakville site, where the Crossroads Cabernet Sauvignon grows, we have three different soil profiles throughout the 40 acres planted, volcanic core stone, alluvial, and colluvial, which gives us different profiles of Cabernet Sauvignon to create a more unique and complex wine.
Mountains vs. Valley Floor for Crossroads by Rudd wines – your thoughts?
I feel very lucky to be able to work with both mountain and valley floor fruit. While both are unique and fun, both face challenges. Mountain vineyards typically have a longer growing season and fewer hot days if the site is above the inversion layer, meaning we can be picking our Sauvignon Blanc on Mt. Veeder at the same time as picking Cabernet Sauvignon in Oakville. The soils on Mt. Veeder can be uneven and more challenging to farm because of the slope, but typically this translates into greater complexity in our Sauvignon Blanc.
With valley floor fruit, the soils have washed down from the mountain sides and have a little more evenness, resulting in more consistency in the vineyard, especially when it comes to ripening. The Oakville property provides the Crossroads Cabernet Sauvignon with structure, but also a juicier fruit profile than mountain fruit, creating a wine that is rounder and more enjoyable to drink at an earlier age, which is what we are hoping for with this wine.
Your Sauvignon Blanc is grown at a high elevation. Why? What effect does that have on the grapes? What kind of ‘savvy B” results?
Ha – Savvy B! It’s unique and not the norm to plant Sauvignon Blanc on mountainsides, let alone on prime Cabernet Sauvignon soil, but this was a risk our owner was willing to take back in the early 2000s. It has paid off well in that our Savvy B stands out in most line-ups.
Our vines are planted at 1600 feet, above the inversion layer, which allows for a longer growing season as it is not too cold or too hot during the days and nights. With great natural acidity and lower sugars, the Crossroads Sauvignon Blanc, has incredibly pure Sauvignon Blanc aromatics, texture, and length, making it a more interesting wine.
You also use Semillon and Sauvignon Gris in the S.B. blend. Explain yourself Ms. Bath!
Semillon and Sauvignon Gris are two white varieties that we can blend into our Sauvignon Blanc to create a more complete wine. Sauvignon Blanc brings the freshness and aromatics, but Semillon will provide the mid-palate with a roundness and weight.
Sauvignon Gris, due to the pinkish-grey coloring of the skin, will provide a phenolic or textured element that helps extend the length of the wine. While Sauvignon Blanc will always be the main variety in this wine, the other two varieties provide nuances that make this wine the complete package.
Let’s play a game called “Pour Decisions” which one in each pair would you have a glass of wine and chat with, and which one would you “accidentally” push into a pool with their cloths on!
DJ Khaled and Drake
Dave Chappell and Ellen Degeneres
Gov. Gavin Newsom and Samantha Rudd
See another episode of Pour Decisions with winemakers in Paso Robles!