One of Napa’s most historic wine families looks to the future after a two and a half year renovation. Trefethen Family Vineyards, located in the heart of the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, uncorked a new chapter in its rich history on May 6, 2017.
Trefethen welcomed friends, family and wine enthusiast when they reopened the doors of its iconic winery, now fully restored from damage caused by the devastating 6.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Napa in August 2014. This heralds the dawn of a new era for the family owned and operated estate. 2018 will mark Trefethen Family Vineyards’ 50th Anniversary. Winery founders John and Janet Trefethen are excited about the path ahead, including increasing roles for the brother and sister team of Lorenzo and Hailey Trefethen and viticulturist turned CEO, Jon Ruel. Known for their estate grown Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Trefethen has been an influential presence in the Napa Valley for a half century.
The two day celebration included dinner Friday night with the Trefethen family and staffed dressed in 1800 period attire. Saturday’s re-grand opening included live entertainment, tours, wine and food.
Now, with their winery restored to its former glory and an expansion of their curated wine tastings available to visitors, Trefethen Family Vineyards is ready for the next 50 years. The Historic Winery As one of Napa’s only surviving wooden wineries from the 19th century, Trefethen’s distinctive pumpkin-colored structure is truly one of a kind. Designed by the leading California winery architect of the 1800s, Hamden McIntyre, it was awarded a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and has been lovingly restored by the Trefethen family twice, once soon after they acquired it in 1968, and once more over the last two and a half years, following the 2014 Napa quake. The recent work includes a full seismic retrofit with new wood reinforcing the existing walls and a steel moment frame adding further strength. The look and feel of the building, however, is still authentic 19th-century, maintaining the original floor plan and beautiful redwood siding throughout. The first floor is dedicated to the aging of their estate wines in barrel. The second floor features additional barrel storage and a new tasting area, with a stunning view of the estate vineyards. Under soaring ceilings, visitors will savor this piece of Napa Valley’s history, as they taste some of the stellar wines that have been made within the walls of this historic landmark.
A Look Back As one of Napa’s founding families, the Trefethens helped shape Napa into what it is today. In 1968, when Eugene and Catherine Trefethen acquired the property, much of the valley was planted to fruit and nut orchards or dedicated to pasture for cattle. The development of Trefethen’s estate vineyards, led by Katie and Gene’s son, John, was remarkable – one of the first major plantings of grapes in the valley since Prohibition. When John and his new bride, Janet, began making wine, there were fewer than 30 wineries in the Napa Valley. Even as they built their own enterprise, Janet and John were instrumental in the formation and development of some of the institutions that would go on to support Napa Valley’s growing success, including the Napa Valley Cooking Class, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the Napa Valley Vintners. A true trailblazer, Janet Trefethen traveled tirelessly, a woman selling premium wine from a small part of Northern California when the wine industry was mostly male and fine wine almost exclusively French. For more than ten years after Trefethen’s inaugural release, Janet personally visited every restaurant and wine shop interested in purchasing Trefethen wines, meeting the owners before determining if she would sell wine to them.
Back at the vineyard, John was focused on the grapes and the wines and his efforts were soon rewarded in the biggest way imaginable. In 1979, the French declared the 1976 Trefethen Chardonnay “The Best Chardonnay in the World” at the Gault Millau Wine Olympics in Paris. Along with the famous Judgment of Paris, these results catapulted Napa Valley onto the world stage.
A Look Ahead On the eve of the winery’s 50th anniversary, John and Janet have begun sharing leadership responsibilities with the next generation, their children, Hailey and Lorenzo Trefethen. Under the mentorship of CEO, Jon Ruel, the two siblings complement each other in their interests and personalities, with Hailey focused on everything that occurs from vine to bottle, and Lorenzo dedicated to bringing the bottle to the table. Most recently, Hailey managed the comprehensive restoration of the historic winery and Lorenzo has been busy expanding the market for Trefethen wines, to include a new generation of wine consumers here in the U.S. and abroad. Jon Ruel, with a background in research ecology and viticulture, has been at Trefethen for thirteen years. His path from viticulturist to CEO is rare in the wine industry but very fitting for Trefethen, a winery that is truly rooted in the family’s estate vineyards.
Indeed, Trefethen Family Vineyards remains admirably and unusually committed to the craft of estate-produced wines, using only grapes that they grow themselves. This focus, combined with increasingly precise farming techniques, has led to a renaissance in their winemaking and their red wines in particular. The current release of Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon, from the stellar 2014 vintage, highlights their approach: intense fruit on the nose complemented with a classic brightness and elegance on the palate. Dragon’s Tooth, a truly innovative blend inspired by Trefethen’s first plantings of Petit Verdot and Malbec, is taking the red blend category by storm and HaLo, Trefethen’s flagship Cabernet, has twice been declared “Red Wine of the Year” by Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine. Tastings and Tours Visiting Trefethen offers a singular experience and a glimpse into one of the foundations of the Napa Valley. The winery offers Classic ($25pp) and Reserve ($40pp) tastings, conducted by professional wine educators, seven days a week from 10am-4:30pm. A two-hour Vineyard and Historic Winery Tour ($45pp) immerses visitors in the history of the Trefethen property and the family’s approach to crafting world-class estate grown wines. The tour concludes with a special tasting and is available Monday-Friday at 10:30am. Advance reservations for the Tastings and the Tour are recommended and are available online at www.trefethen.com and by calling 866- 895-7696.
The winery is located at 1160 Oak Knoll Ave. Tastings are available daily. For more information, please contact the winery at 866.895.7696 or visit www.trefethen.com.
Photos courtesy of Lowell Downey – Art & Clarity