From the Road: Trefethen Family Vineyards
Written by Sterling Carlton, Beer, Wine & Spirits Specialist
Another Monday, another scenic drive through meticulously contoured vineyards flanking either side of the Silverado Trail. Eventually making our way to Oak Knoll Ave, we found ourselves traveling down the drive of the largest family owned estate vineyard in the valley: Trefethen Family Vineyards. We passed the wonderful Pinot Noir blocks, my favorite Riesling block, and several Cabernet Sauvignon blocks; cover crops growing happily beneath the vines.
We started our visit in the charming, rustic farmhouse turned winery and tasting room. An historic building for the Valley, it begged to be filled with the bustle of wine lunches and harvest crews. Built in 1886 and teeming through “Napa’s first Golden Age,” it lay empty for years following prohibition before Eugene and Catherine Trefethen arrived in 1968 and restored it to its former glory. In 1973 they hosted their first commercial harvest for both Trefethen Family Wines and Domaine Chandon, who’s wine facility would not be completed for at least five more years. They still sell fruit for sparkling wine to Chandon to this very day.
The Trefethen family is deeply committed to sustainability. Cover crops between the vines play several roles including preventing erosion, adding green matter into the soil, fixing micronutrients, and can even mitigate the effects of nematodes and pests in the vineyards. Looking out at the vines you notice several large and several small boxes on posts spaced throughout the vineyard. The boxes, housing important native owls, bluebirds, and bats, nod to the family’s commitment to balance within nature, as well as in the wine. This balance with nature guides the viticultural practices on the estate. From using natural predators, to utilizing extensive water recycling programs and even capturing and repurposing the CO2 gas thrown off by fermentations, the Trefethen estate is a leader of sustainability in the industry.
Leaving the farmhouse tasting room and walking the grounds revealed how extensive the estate’s commitment to biodiversity is. We walked through lavender, rosemary, and daffodils just starting to reach for the sun. The path eventually led into a beautiful kitchen garden, usually overflowing with fresh produce in the summer growing months, to be utilized by the estate’s onsite chef.
We sat outside and tasted through the entire lineup of Trefethen wines. Elegant and tightly structured, they harkened back to the early days of Napa’s revival. Starting with the estate Riesling given the warm mid 70s day we had, we enjoyed the lean, high acid and solid fruit core of the wine. Bone dry and nicely textured, this wine can be had as an aperitif or with plenty of food. The Cabernet and Cabernet based blends were truly fantastic as well. Tight structured and rich, they opened into nuanced red wines that can be enjoyed now, or cellared for later drinking. Ultimately, I settled on their estate Chardonnay for a few reasons. First, it is delicious and a really excellent expression of what Chardonnay can be. Second, it comes with a great story: The early vintages of this cuvee won first place in the 1979 and 1980 World Wine Olympics organized by the French restaurant publication Gault & Millan’s Le Nouveau Guide. After having tasted the 1976 vintage, the judges proclaimed the Trefethen estate Chardonnay to be the “Best in the World.” That’s a serious boast, but I can say that it is truly delicious.
Find the following Trefethen Family Vineyards wines in the Wine Department.
Chardonnay – fresh and vibrant aromas of sliced green apple, white peach, and honeysuckle with integrated notes of baked apple and puff pastry on the palate
Harmony Chardonnay – fruit notes on the palate, with integrated flavors of apple blossom, honeysuckle, and brioche to round out the profile
Dry Riesling – crisp and zesty, showing beautiful notes of lemon, lime, and spring flowers. The nose explodes with fresh aromas of lemongrass, ginger, and white pepper
Merlot – concentrated red fruit flavors are fresh and bright on the palate leading to expansive notes of spice and forest floor