AWG Correspondent

James Houston

Trefethen Vineyards Photos

Trefethen Vineyards Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA, California

Reviewed: November 13, 2012 by James Houston
Published: November 19, 2012

Although Trefethen Family Vineyards is close enough to Route 29 that it could have one of those in-your-face billboards and slam-the-brakes sudden driveways, it opts for a quiet entrance off Oak Knoll Avenue.

The approach trail takes you past well-manicured vineyard blocks, marked with signs that indicate the varieties. Perhaps these help the vineyard crew remember when the Merlot ends and the Malbec begins as they prune and pick (which can be hard when you’ve been out there all day), but they also build the visitor’s anticipation for the wines at the end of the road.

Trefethen proudly states it has “never purchased a single outside grape,” which is a great vote of confidence in their viticulture. And viticulture seems to be the focus of the winemaking team led by Jon Ruel who, in addition to his UC-Davis M.S. in Viticulture & Enology, has an extensive academic and professional background as an ecologist.

Ruel has helmed production since 2004, but the history of the property goes back to 1886 when Scottish seafarer Hamden McIntyre built it along with other wineries including Far Niente and Inglenook. Eugene Trefethen, an executive at Kaiser Industries, bought it in 1968.

McIntyre's original design was for a gravity flow winery: Grapes were lifted to the top floor by a winch, where they were crushed. The unfermented must or juice was then drained to the second floor for fermentation. After that, it was drained to the first floor for aging. Nowadays many wineries use gravity flow setups to boost their "green" cred, which might make us forget that before electric pumps, gravity was simply the most efficient way of moving wine around.

Today, state-of-the-art Trefethen is not 100% gravity flow, but the original structure is still present and functional. It is a Sunday in late September when I visit—harvest is most certainly underway, though the crushpad is quiet and deserted at the moment.

Inside, the tasting area is calming and gently lit. The walls are decorated with winery memorabilia—I especially liked the portrait gallery of current and former employees facing you as you wait for the restroom. Large windows allow a glimpse of the sprawling barrel room.

I begin with the 2011 Dry Riesling. My expectations are not high, as I assume that long, hot Napa days rob Riesling of the acidity and balance it needs to be beautiful.

Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong. Trefethen’s Riesling nails it—bracing, intense, with a trace of the petrol character that is the signature of this grape when well-handled. Retailing at $22/bottle, this is one of the best buys in the valley.

I enjoy the appley 2010 Chardonnay too, even if it’s nothing surprising.

The pourer efficiently transitions to the reds, beginning with the 2010 Pinot Noir. It is a fruit-forward example that I wish had a bit more Burgundian “funk”, but is rich and pleasurable with notes of ripe cherry and cola.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is still a baby, tightly wound but gradually evolving in the glass to show licorice, leather and tobacco drifting over a big plum and cassis foundation.

At the end I’m privileged to taste the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, a great wine from a great vintage. Still inky-purple with a muscular tannic structure, this is a wine of rare depth and complexity that has a long life in front of it.

Address & Contact Information: 1160 Oak Knoll Ave. Napa, California 94558. Telephone: 866-895-7696, website: Tasting Hours: By appt..

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