AWG Correspondent

Mark and Sonja

Trefethen Vineyards Photos

Trefethen Vineyards Review

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

Reviewed: March 6, 2016 by Mark and Sonja
Published: April 8, 2016

It wasn’t enough, of course, that our low-budget flight from Omaha landed in San Francisco at almost midnight, nor that the flight had been delayed in Denver by nearly half an hour, pushing back our landing time significantly. No, that wouldn’t have been enough. But being as the assignment is to review wineries and not to write a personal narrative, I’ll fast-forward briefly, past the ambulance ride, to the part where my wife, Sonja, sat patiently beside me at three o’clock in the morning in the ER in San Francisco. Tugging gently at my IV to see if it would come out, I looked over at her and grinned: “We are stopping at the first winery we see tomorrow, no questions asked.” She smiled reassuringly, nodding in agreement, as if to suggest that, like so many other whims of mine, this one as well would be honored.

The next morning, wearing the same clothing we had put on more than 24 hours before back in Nebraska, Sonja and I caught a shuttle to the airport and, luckily, located the luggage we had left there the night before when I was wheeled off of the airplane on a gurney. We picked up our rental car and I called my doctor while Sonja navigated the semi-congested streets of San Francisco at midmorning, heading north toward wine country. Exhausted, bedraggled, and perhaps even a little smelly, we were determined to honor the pact we made earlier that morning.

At that stage, a subtle fear lingered briefly in the back of my mind. We were nearly starved for wine, in one of those dangerous states of mind where McDonald’s sounds delicious and other questionable decisions somehow tend to get green-lighted. So I was extremely relieved when the first winery we saw bore a sign requesting that we call for an appointment – people don’t make appointments at bad wineries, I reasoned quietly to myself. We pulled into the parking lot and dialed them up.

“Hello,” I said, doing my best impersonation of a respectable, well-rested human being. “We were just passing through and wondered if we could make an appointment for a tasting?”

“Absolutely, sir,” came a pleasant, male voice on the other end of the telephone. “When would you like to visit us?”


“We can probably fit you in, sir. What time would work for you?”

“Now is pretty good. We’re in your driveway.”

“…er…okay, we can make that work. Come on in.”

While I definitely don’t recommend that approach for by-appointment-only wineries in Napa, I admired the ability of the concierge to adapt, and this time around it worked out fine. Perhaps I’d banked a little karma the night before, I mused to myself. We glanced around the lot and up at the mountains that rise high above Napa’s Oak Knoll District, and stepped inside an enormous, elaborate tent, white on the outside and carpeted within, complete with an indoor fountain and chandeliers, ample seating, and a bar set up for tasting.

The reason for the elegant if makeshift accommodations dates back to 2014, when a magnitude 6 earthquake rocked the Napa Valley. Many buildings, such as that of Trefethen Vineyards, where we had finally arrived and which dates back to 1886, didn’t fare so well. And yet, situated on 600 planted acres of the Oak Knoll District and strictly bottling estate wines, the Trefethen family couldn’t simply pull up stakes and build a new tasting room up valley, so they set about the difficult work of renovating the ancient structure, installing their “temporary conservatory” to accommodate enthusiasts like Sonja and I in the interim.

The staff at Trefethen were among the first things that struck us. All of them were pleasant and seemed quite happy to be at work on a dreary Sunday afternoon. Assigned to Sonja and I was Jennifer; truly extraordinary, extremely knowledgeable and attentive, she flitted gracefully about the conservatory like a bird, keeping a multitude of visitors’ glasses full simultaneously without breaking conversation with any of them. She spoke of wine and of the weather, answering all sorts of questions we had for her, all the while doing the same for other guests seated at tables and benches scattered about the grandiose tent.

The wines at Trefethen are truly excellent. The white collection included two Chardonnays, a rare dry Riesling, and a lovely white blend called “Quandry.” The red ensemble is a bit broader. For the lay-visitors like us, the $25 tasting offered a gorgeous array of reds, from 100% varietal Cab Franc and Malbec to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, both amongst the best we’ve had (we took a bottle of the Merlot 2012 with us). For the more invested, the $40 tasting offers the reserve wines, which include Dragon’s Tooth red blend, a family staple, and some incredible limited release wines, such as the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which is truly an incredible wine.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Trefethen, however, wasn’t available to the optics, only to the inquisitive. Trefethen remains family-owned in a region where massive corporate buyouts almost unequivocally lead to bottom-dollar management. Because the family remains in control of their own winery, Trefethen is a more maneuverable ship, able to swiftly navigate the waters of sustainable farming and solar power with admirable ease. Farming an immense swath of the Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll District just north of the city of Napa itself, the estate is in some sense the gateway to the valley for those driving up Highway 29 from the south. While you should probably give them a bit more advanced notice than we did, and while I certainly hope that the night prior to your own visit may be far less exciting than was the case for Sonja and I, Trefethen is a winery that is certainly worth a visit regardless of your circumstances.

By Mark Gudgel, Photographs by Sonja Gudgel

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

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