Story By: Fran Miller // Proprietor Abe Marapao, Winemaker Rudy Zuidema and Pablo Ortega from the Napa de Oro production team. // Photo By: Vincent Gotti
GOES for the GOLD
Rudy Zuidema’s appointment as winemaker at St. Helena’s new Napa de Oro winery could be called serendipitous, but that would be an understatement. That the highly respected Zuidema should return after nearly 30 years to the site of his original winemaking training could be called poetic, even prophetic.
Zuidema’s path to Napa de Oro was not of the straight and narrow. Hired initially as a consultant by friends Abe Marapao and Noe Taojo to conduct due diligence on Napa Valley wineries that the duo planned to acquire, Zuidema’s job was to provide honest assessments of the pros and cons of the wineries. Finding none perfectly suited to Marapao and Taojo’s vision of a first-class, state-of-the-art facility, Zuidema suggested instead that the pair create their own wine brand. “We had some difficulty in initially finding our perfect Napa property, so Rudy suggested we create our brand without having to first own a winery,” said Marapao, an attorney who practices in both the Philippines and in California. “This was a very welcome development, so we started by creating and investing in a brand, the name of which honors Noe’s profession, and the label design of which honors our birthplace, featuring the Philippine flag and its silhouette of Mt. Apo, the tallest mountain in the rich Philippine mining region of Davao. And then we hired Rudy to make our wine–our liquid gold.”
In October 2019, the partners purchased a six-acre property in the heart of Coombsville, of which two acres were planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan was to make an Estate wine out of the vineyard grapes. The first batch of wines came out in March 2020 under their label Napa de Oro, the name so chosen to honor Taojo’s profession in the Philippine gold mining industry.
Then they waited as they and Zuidema continued their search for the ideal wine estate. Finally, two and half years later, that property revealed itself. In June of 2021, Marapao and Taojo became the proprietors of the former Tudal Estate, one of Napa’s most historic wineries.
Some might call it fate; Zuidema certainly does. This 10 acre Napa River-adjacent property brings Zuidema’s wine career full circle. His first head winemaking job was at Robert Craig, directly across from Tudal, where he would wander across the street occasionally to confer with the sage Arnie Tudal, who took the then 28-year-old under his wing. Zuidema would go on to take his Tudal-acquired knowledge to varied positions at other wineries before his aunt referred him years later to a young winemaker she knew who was seeking a consultant. That winemaker was Arnie Tudal’s son, John Tudal. Zuidema’s second turn with Tudal became a six-year consultancy starting in 2012.
This current third ‘dance’ with the Tudal name and property has led Zuidema to believe just a bit in destiny. “I have such a warm-spirited connection to this property,” said Zuidema, a graduate of UC Davis with a degree in plant science and agriculture management with a focus on viticulture. “I cannot tell you how exciting it is for me to walk on that dirt again and feel the spirit of my yesteryear. That Abe and Noe were able to purchase this historic estate for Napa de Oro is such a coup, and the fact that they were willing to wait for the right place is a testament to their dedication and passion. The property’s history is deep-rooted and rich with such good energy and a great story.”
“We were so excited to buy Tudal after learning about both its history and Rudy’s link to the property and former ownership,” said Marapao, who, with Taojo, has already made a splash in Napa with their establishment of the annual Napa de Oro Invitational Golf Tournament. (The three are golf fanatics.) “We wanted it for all of those reasons along with its great grapes and its stellar location along Hwy 29.”
The site’s wine history dates back to 1972 when Arnie Tudal purchased what was at the time a walnut orchard and tractor shed. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in 1973 on the advice of Napa legend Louis Martini who ended up purchasing the first couple of vintages, including the initial 1977 production. Zuidema plans to keep enough of these nearly 50-year-old vines to produce a couple of barrels of wine from them. “They are big, thick, gnarly, sprawling trunks of greatness,” said Zuidema, who currently crafts numerous wines for Napa de Oro including Chardonnay, Rosé, the all estate-grown Caroline’s Red Blend, named after Noe’s wife, and Cabernet Sauvignon for which the Reserve Au79 gets its name from the periodic table symbol for gold.
Zuidema’s established reputation allows him access to some of the finest grapes in the valley, and the Napa de Oro wines reflect the prized estates from which he sources. His style is classic and somewhat conservative. Respect for a sense of place is foremost in his winemaking philosophy. “I tend to compete with myself,” said Zuidema, who continues to consult for other wineries such as Shadybrook Estate, Red Cap Vineyards, Phamus, and Southern Roots. “I like to line up wines from all of the properties from which I source to discern the distinct differences.”
Marapao and Taojo’s plans for the property include a casually elegant wine tasting venue that takes full advantage of vineyard views and where the luxe wine country lifestyle can be fully experienced. In addition to remodeling and rebuilding the property’s existing homes and gardens, they are planning the construction of a state-of-the-art winery. “Square tanks, automated everything,” said Marapao. “We are investing time and money here. We are making this a mini-paradise to host our partners and visitors. This will be a stellar showcase for our wines and our Philippine culture and history. We endeavor to join the shortlist of wineries that every Napa Valley aficionado knows and loves.”
“This is going to be an amazing winery,” added Zuidema. “We are having a ball putting it together.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION: