Rudy Zuidema has been working in the famed California vineyards for more than three decades.
Food & Drink Features

This Napa Valley veteran is filling up the bottles for this new Filipino wine brand

Napa Valley winemaker Rudy Zuidema created seven new wine variants for new Filipino brand Napa de Oro.
Feliciano Rodriguez III | Mar 04 2020

“How are you liking the wine?” Rudy Zuidema asked, as he approached our table, located in a cozy corner of Bloom CafĂ© + Bar in Greenbelt, away from the noise and the hustle of the main event.

We were guests at the unveiling of seven new wine variants created by Zuidema for Napa de Oro, a new, Filipino-owned wine company. We knew the question was akin to, “Which one of my daughters do you think is the prettiest?”

To be sure, it was a difficult choice. For one, our table was already filled with dozens of empty wine glasses, and Rudy chose to appear after we tasted the last of the seven. Secondly, without any reservation, the wines made by Zuidema were some of the most drinkable vinos we have tasted.

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All the whites, three of them to be exact, were delightfully crisp, light, and refreshing; typical of Napa Valley appellations. Our favorite was the merlot though, full bodied, dark-red in color, with the right balance of sweet and acidity. Zuidema was visibly pleased when we told him.

Zuidema says that California wines need to find their identity apart from French wines.

“It’s all about balance,” he told us, when he sat down for a chat with ANCX. The wine tasting event was also a debut party for the Napa de Oro wine company, which chose the internationally recognized Zuidema as their winemaker.

“I’ve been working in the wine business in Napa Valley for 33 years now,” Zuidema recounted to us, with a wine glass on hand. With the guest of honor sitting in our table, we found our glasses unexpectedly refilled with more wine. The second serving of des vins were no mere tasting portions, but nearly filled the glasses to the brim. We didn’t complain.

Zuidema continued his story on how he started in the wine business. Rudy is tall and long limbed, with dark-brown, curly hair, comely, and has an air of easy charm we found endearing.

“Of course starting off as a young apprentice in the industry,” he continued, “I started with cleaning the tanks and cleaning the floors and, and really starting from the ground up. But slowly and surely I learned the business. What’s important was keeping my mouth shut and my ears open.”

Rudy grew up in the agricultural community of Davis, and was born in nearby Sacramento, California. Growing up near farms, Rudy developed a keen interest in agriculture and the outdoors, and so decided to study Plant Science and Agricultural Management at the University of California, Davis.

Upon finishing his studies, the focus of which was viticulture, Zuidema then moved to Napa Valley to work at the famed Oakville Grocery. Working there, and getting to taste and compare thousands of wines, Rudy was able to refine his his palate and widen his knowledge about winemaking.

Now, with decades of experience in winemaking under his belt, Rudy related to us his winemaking process. “So in general, my winemaking style is one that is hopefully very, very respectful of the individual pieces of land where the fruit comes from, and also of the history of how the grapes grew on that property.”

He continued, “I don't try to make wines that tastes the same every single year, like it's a recipe. I want the wines to have an expression of a year that might have had heavy rain, light rain, a big crop, a light crop, a cold year of very hot year, all of those individual characteristics should show up in the wine.”

Zuidema expressed his belief that every vintage should be different, not tasting almost the same every time, as some wine houses do. “So there’ll be some flavors that are similar, but they should have a different expression every single year.”

As we were chatting, food was also being served in our table. Beef bourguignon, lasagna, cheeses like camembert and manchego, and various hors d’oeuvres. Seeing the food, Zuidema imparted one other ethos in his winemaking process.

“Also very important is that the wines are food compatible. So that there is a nice balance between the acid and the tannins and any richness that might be there. If a wine is done right, they won't necessarily have to fit into a box with one type of food.”

Zuidema also believes that good wine is best served by themselves, or with cheese, or some protein like fish, or pork. At the end of the day, however, Rudy stressed that food pairings with wine should really be up to the taste of the drinker. So, experimentation is key.

“It should really be your choice to drink them anytime, anywhere with anybody for any reason and have them taste like a beautiful balanced lovely wine.”

 

Napa Valley identity

Before our chat ended, Zuidema shared his outlook on the wine industry, and of the unique origin and position of Napa Valley wines. “Over the years, when I first got into the business, people were trying to make wines in California as if we were in France, because those were the ones that were heralded everywhere; they were trying to copy France,” he said.

“And it took a little while. But people finally looked out the window and said, ‘Hey, we are not in France. We have a different climate, we have more sunshine, we have more warmth.’ And so they embraced the charming, more lovely softer wines that California has to offer.”

Zuidema also recounted how California wines did not age very well, because the vinos that were produced there had a very high alcohol content. Which made it even more important to develop their own unique process and identity in the winemaking process, so as to counteract this problem.

“So now we're sort of reeling back in the the timing of when we harvest, because of the high sugar, high alcohol levels. Now, we're really trying to find a California balance versus just a French balance. I mean, we've only been in the wine industry for 50 or 60 years, right? That's not a long time in the wine business. And in winemaking, we only get to refine our process once a year. Unlike, say a surgeon, who can practice his craft daily, right? So that is why our conservative, really thoughtful and respectful approach to making wine is for me, the only way to go forward,” he explained.

“It’s exciting though,” Zuidema said, finishing his story, with wine in hand, swirling the red wine with expert hands. “You get to, you know, tweak the way that you make the wine because in France, they already have such a long, long tradition of winemaking, where with us, there’s still room to innovate, change, and make better processes that will, we hope, make an even better wine for our customers.”