To an outsider, it all seems so easy. Grow some grapes, harvest, crush and ferment them, bottle the juice, and slap on a label. But the truth is, winemaking is not necessarily for the faint of heart, something Ralph Hertelendy knows well. As proprietor of Hertelendy Vineyards, Hertelendy has gone to extreme lengths to ensure his brand’s success. Two recent 100-point ratings from The Wine Independent and Robert Parker Wine Advocate for his 2021 Legend Cabernet Sauvignon are a testament to his efforts.
Hertelendy’s road to vinous praise reads like an adventure novel. Beyond the fruit sourcing, blending, and typical winemaking decisions, he goes above and beyond in producing super-quality wines and also creating a vibe. At his brand’s outset, he traveled to France in search of wine label inspiration. The Louvre and Versailles each spurred his creativity, inspiring the borders of his distinctive label design, which is derived from his family’s 1000-year-old coat of arms. Depending on the varietal and vintage, his labels glow in the dark, change color, and seemingly come alive via augmented reality (AR) animation. He’s currently working on a label that will physically move within consumer hands. All of this creativity is entertainingly chronicled within his social media venues.
Rather than use local water during fermentation, Hertelendy personally trucks fresh water from Lake Tahoe, filling his car with up to 15 kegs. “It just tastes better, so it’s worth the effort,” says Hertelendy. He recently moved his entire operation to a different facility solely for its valuable optical sorter. “It makes a tremendous difference.” And he utilizes the longest corks in the industry (60mm), necessitating him to hire a specialist to hand cork each bottle. “A longer cork is just more luxurious.”
Along the way, Hertelendy has deftly dealt with hardship. He planted baby vines around the perimeter of his vineyard, only to have them burn to the ground in 2020, a loss of seven tons of fruit just before harvest. A freak forklift accident left him watching helplessly as 500 gallons of his absolute best block Cabernet ran down the drain within seconds. He spent hours researching the world’s best flockers and thousands of dollars to flock his first Chardonnay labels, only to have the effort turn out disastrously. And he’s been both flattered and shocked by a distant relative’s attempts in Europe to capitalize on Hertelendy’s brand recognition.
Yet, it’s the failures and hardships that continue to motivate him. “What differentiates me from my competitors is my attention to detail and the extreme lengths that I’ve gone to make the brand what it is,” said Hertelendy. “I’m always trying to push the envelope of what’s cool and captivating.”
Sample Hertelendy wines at high-end Napa restaurants such as The French Laundry, Press, and Morimoto. By-appointment tastings are currently held at The Caves at Soda Canyon.