Trefethen Family Vineyards of Napa, California

by artfuldiner on August 18, 2020

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Wine

Trefethen Family VineyardsTrefethen’s history can be traced back to the Eschol Winery, which was commissioned by James and George Goodman and constructed in 1886 by a Scottish sea captain named Hamden McIntyre. The original estate was 208 acres, 40 of which were planted in vineyards.

McIntyre designed an ingenious gravity-flow system in which a horse-drawn winch brought grapes to the third floor of a three-story structure for crushing… gravity carried the juice to the second floor for fermenting… and, eventually, the wine descended to the first floor for aging. The vineyards survived Prohibition by producing grapes for the production of sacramental wine. However, by 1940, the vineyards and winery building fell into disuse.

In 1968, following his retirement from Kaiser Industries, Eugene Trefethen and his wife, Katie, purchased Eschol, along with six adjoining properties to create Trefethen Vineyards. Replanting of the vineyards and restoration of the historic winery building soon began. In 1988, their restoration efforts were recognized by the Department of the Interior, which placed the winery on the National Register of Historic Places as the only 19th-century wooden gravity-flow winery surviving in Napa County.

The couple’s original intention was to sell all their grapes… but their son, John, had other ideas. He began making small batches of wine in the basement of his parents Napa home. And, in 1973, with his new wife, Janet, he produced Trefethen Vineyards’ first commercial wine. Just three years later, the winery’s 1976 Chardonnay earned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris. That accomplishment, coupled with John’s sound business sense and determination to create a world-class wine estate, put Trefethen Vineyards on the global fine wine map. Today, John and Janet devote themselves full-time to the family winery.

Trefethen - Bryan Kays, WinemakerWinemaker Bryan Kays earned an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, before turning to wine as a career. He worked for a small winery in the Sierra Foothills for several years and then earned a Viticulture and Enology degree at UC Davis before joining Trefethen in 2006 as a viticulture intern. Bryan worked his way into the cellar, up to the position of assistant winemaker in 2008, and then assumed the role of winemaker in 2015. His passion is creating balanced, true-to-type wines that embody his conviction that winemaking is as much about restraint as it is about action. In June 2019, Bryan married John & Janet Trefethen’s daughter, Hailey.

Trefethen’s Signature Wines include Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dragon’s Tooth, a Bordeaux-like blend of 54% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, and 5% Merlot. The winery also produces 3 reserves and 10 small lot wines.  It was recently my pleasure to sample two of their signature vintages, the 2018 Chardonnay and 2017 Merlot, and both were of excellent quality…

Trefethen Chardonnay 2018The Trefethen 2018 Oak Knoll District Chardonnay, which received 93 points from the Wine Enthusiast, is both elegant and classically-styled. It is beautifully structured, displaying just the lightest touch of ripe fruit. This is certainly not one of those ponderous California Chards. Low in oak but engagingly supple of texture with 13.3% alcohol, it also possesses a lively acidity that keeps all its elements in perfect balance leading to a smooth and refreshing finish.

I think you’ll find the price tag pretty refreshing as well. The list price is $38.00, but numerous sites online are running specials in the mid-$20.00 range. The really good news, however, is that Pennsylvania State Stores have this particular wine on sale for $19.99.


Trefethen Merlot 2017The Trefethen 2017 Merlot is equally rewarding. The Merlot grape flourishes in relatively cool growing regions with moist soils. This makes it a perfect match for certain parts the Trefethen estate vineyard, located in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley, a sweet spot between warmer up-valley regions and the cool southern tip.

The 2017 Merlot also has a splash (5%) of Cabernet Franc mixed in, which gives added pleasure to both the nose and the palate. This wine is definitely fruit-forward but not at all unctuous. It spent 18 months maturing in American oak, 44% new, so you’ll definitely feel a healthy amount on the palate… Fortunately, however, the oak is perfectly counter-balanced with red fruit and mouth-watering acidity. The lush tannins indicate that this wine will age very well… But why wait. It’s ready to enjoy right now.

The price is right, too. Currently on sale in PA State Stores for $19.99.


Be Safe


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