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Posted by: Bethany on 01/15/2008 04:00 PM Updated by: Bethany on 01/15/2008 08:58 PM
Expires: 01/01/2013 12:00 AM
:

Award-Winning ‘Renaissance Man’ Takes Winemaking to New Level~ By Bethany Monk

Mokelumne Hill, C.A….His canvas is an empty barrel. And his paintbrush, one could say, is his innate artist’s view that knows the best hues, textures and flavors for each respective creation. Rod Ruthel, French Hill Winery owner and winemaker is an accomplished painter who has created hundreds of wine labels for wineries throughout the country....




“I approach winemaking as an art,” said Ruthel said. “You never know which of the wines will be spectacular,” when making them, he said. “And then you wind up with a truly exceptional product.”

One thing that sets Ruthel apart from other winemakers and wine owners is that he, himself, creates the wine labels for his own winery. Ruthel, an award-winning painter, spent his first 25 years in the wine business creating labels for well-known wineries throughout the county. Many, he said, are still in print.

Working in acrylics, Ruthel paints each label’s image on a large canvas. In March, he will hold a showing of about 50 of his 300 paintings sometime at the Old Sugar Mill – where French Hill has a second tasting room -- in Clarksburg, near Sacramento.

“I hung around with wineries for 25 years, and some of it rubbed off,” he said when asked how he learned how to make wine. He has owned French Hill Winery for the past eight years.

His wife, Suzanne, who has taught art at Toyon Middle School for 23 years, sells her handmade scarves in the winery’s eclectic tasting room, among other items, such as jewelry and artwork from other artists also for sale.

The couple has lived in Calaveras County for 33 years, and recently moved into their completely solar-powered house, which Ruthel built near the Calaveras River. French Hill Winery is also completely solar powered, something Ruthel implemented when he first came to the winery. It was the first winery in California, he said, to be certified green.

When making the wine, Ruthel stays away from using copper sulfates, and instead uses a special SRM pad mad from organic grapes. This produces clean wine, he said. “We use all French Oak,” Ruthel said, adding that it tastes better and has certain vanilla qualities to it. The winery itself is small, about 3,000 square feet. Ruthel and assistant winemaker Denny Norman make 1,000 cases of wine per year. All the wine is made right there at the winery.

The duo’s wine has won several awards and is a regularly featured with accolades in “Wine Enthusiasts Magazine.” Their Grand Reserve Barbara wine has won more than 25 awards including a Gold and Best of Class at the 2006 Los Angeles County Fair for its 2004 wine, and a Best of Class at the 2005 West Coast Wine Competition for its 2003 wine.


“My philosophy is that as a little micro-winery, we have no reason to exist unless we make exceptional wine … produce a really superior product.”

French Hill Winery is located at 8032 S. Main Street in Mokelumne Hill. Tasting Room and Gift Gallery Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, or by appointment. For more information or to order bottles or cases of French Hill wine visit www.frenchhill.com or call (209) 286-1800.

French Hill Winery’s Current Wine Menu:

2004 Chardonnay
This chardonnay was aged in brand new French oak barrels for 10 months. 100% barrel fermented, it exhibits toasty vanilla hints of butter and well developed chardonnay varietal character. Its citrus flavors range from melon to mango and are complemented by soft tannins and luscious full-bodied smoothness.
$24.00 per bottle / $244.80 case

2005 Tempranillo
This wine is the grape they grow in Northern Central Spain to make their Rioja wines. It grows well in Northern California and it makes a refined wine with good aging potential. We age this Tempranillo in French oak. The cool end to the 2005 growing season made this wine lighter in style but its delicate flavors are sure to please even the most sophisticated palate.
$35 bottle/$357 case

2004 Tempranillo
Tempranillo is the Spanish grape generally grown in the Northern Central region of Spain. It is refined in character and smooth on the palette. An elegant wine to be enjoyed anytime.
$28.00 per bottle / $285.00 case

2005 Confusion
70% Malbec, 20% Tempranillo, 5% Petite Sirah This wine is far from confused. It's blend which is called Fusion in Argentina. Denny, Cellar-master, and I drank a Fusion in Mexico while fishing for Dorado. We agreed we had to make one of our own. We named it after ourselves since the name sounded a lot like Fusion. It has a richness and smoothness that makes it hard not to like. Best when drank during dinner in a Caribbean beach town talking about the day's fishing. $32 bottle/$384 case

2005 Malbec Premium Select
Malbec is a dark and richly flavored wine. It is a favorite varietal in Argentina for that reason. The 2005 is very fruity and smooth. Hints of spice and soft tannins make it complex and wonderful to drink. This is a hearty wine and one of the best we've made. The growing season ended cool and the result is rich fruit flavors and great structure.
$28 bottle/$336 case

2005 Grenache Premium Select
This is a delicious fruit flavored wine.
It was so fruity that we added a little Petite Sirah for color and to give it depth and character. The flavors range from blueberry, loganberry, and blackberry to passion fruit and cherry. This is Grenache at its finest. Aging in neutral French oak only adds mild tannins and more richness of flavor abounds. Enjoy it with lunch or dinner. $24 bottle / $288 case

2004 Cabernet Franc
This Cab Franc is full-bodied and rich in classic Cab Franc flavor with hints of chocolate, cassias and soft tannins from French oak aging. It is bold, yet very drinkable, A great dinner wine.
$30.00 per bottle / $306.00 case

2004 Sangiovese
This Sangiovese if full-bodied, smooth and delicious with hints of strawberry and mild spice. Aging in French Oak mellows the tannins and accents the fruit to produce a well balanced, superb drinkable wine.
$24.00 per bottle / $244.80 case

Moke Hill Red
This Red table wine is our special combination of varietal. Each bottling differs slightly in flavor and composition. It is made from odd lots of blending wine. Our version of spaghetti Red.
$14.99 per bottle / $142.80 case

Almond Champagne
Celebrate with this delightful sparkler infused with sweet almond flavor!
$20.00 bottle / $200.00 case

2002 Sierra Foothills Syrah
100% Syrah and one easy drinking, smooth Syrah. A great price on a high quality Syrah for everyday drinking.
SALE $9.99 bottle

2005 Barbera Grand Reserve
No other winery had produced six straight years of Gold Medal Barbera. We bring you the best Barbera has to offer. It's unique and tasty prominent black cherry flavor is our trademark. French Oak aging yields a toasty vanilla hint in the background. Try this wine at dinner with lamb or with traditional marinara dishes. You will enjoy this wine's intensity, fruit flavors and smoothness. $35 bottle/$357 case

2004 Barbera
This Barbera is so intense in black cherry flavors it is the best Barbara we have ever tasted. the 2004 harvest was rich in fruit flavors. This wine is the epitome of that characteristic. When pairing with foods, consider lamb roasts and smoked salmon.
$39.00 per bottle / $397.80 case

2005 Petit Verdot Grand Reserve
This wine had become a cult wine because of its unique and subtle flavor. Aged in new French oak it takes on a richness that makes it elegant and refined to the palate.
Blueberry, french vanilla, and cassias are predominant with black currents finishing off the flavor. An excellent sipping wine for those who know good wine and like to share it with friends. $40 bottle/$408 case

2005 Petite Sirah Premium Select
This wine is a fantastic wine with dark purple color and intriguing fruit flavors. It has spicy aromas presenting a pleasing bouquet. Nothing quite compares to French oak aged Petite Sirah that was picked at the peak of ripeness. This is the wine to enjoy with a good steak or roast beef. This wine should age well for five years or more to become one of the great wines you'll drink. $32 bottle/$384 case

2005 Pinotage Premium Select
This is a cross grape developed in South Africa. It is a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage and old German variety. It is delicious and fruity yet still yields a elegant wine for the sophisticated palate. French oak aging adds subtle tannins rounding out the wine to give it character and smoothness. This wine can be enjoyed by itself or with meals. You'll find it truly enjoyable.
$32 bottle/ $384 case

2005 Alicante Bouschet
Deep dark color with rich and intriguing flavor, soft tannins with tastes of vanilla and spice.
$40 bottle / $408 case

2004 Pinotage
Pinotage is a cross bread grape of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir developed in 1925. Grown primarily in South Africa, it is a rustic, fruity wine of great character. It so impressed us we decided to give it our Grand Reserve designation.
$35.00 per bottle / $357.00 case

2003 Pinotage
100% Pinotage and back by popular demand. This wine exhibited tremendous fruit and was aged in new neutral French Oak barrels. Nice flavor. Excellent drinkability. Will age well.
$32.00 bottle / $326.40 case

2004 Zinfandel
This Zin is typical of Foothill Zins. It is a huge wine with big, bold blackberry fruit flavor, mellow tannins and smooth drinkability.
$24.00 per bottle / $244.80 case

2003 Big John's Zinfandel, Calaveras County
100% Zinfandel from one of the most flavorful vineyards in Calaveras County. Big grapey flavors and a nice clean finish. Goes well with most foods and will mature nicely. Try it with cheeses and just for sipping in the afternoon.
SALE $18.00 bottle

Non Vintage PORT - 375 ml
This port is a favorite of ours as an after dinner drink and for complementing holiday meals. Enjoy it year round with friends. It goes extremely well with chocolate truffles or cheese and walnuts.
$16.50 per bottle / $168.30 per case




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