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Trefethen to Reopen Historic Winery

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Trefethen -- not far from Highway 29 in the Napa Valley Trefethen -- not far from Highway 29 in the Napa Valley

 TASTE News Service, April 5, 2017 — Trefethen Family Vineyards, located in the heart of the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, is poised to uncork a new chapter in its rich history on May 6, 2017.

On this first Saturday of May, Trefethen will reopen the doors of its iconic winery, now fully restored after severe damage from the devastating earthquake that rocked Napa in August 2014. 2018 will mark Trefethen Family Vineyards’ 50th Anniversary, and 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 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Riesling, Trefethen has been an influential presence in the Napa Valley for a half century. Now Trefethen Family Vineyards is ready for the next 50 years.

Trefethen Bldg after equake PicmonkeyBuckled, perhaps, but not totally broken

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. The Trefethen family has restored the building twice, once soon after they acquired it in 1968, and once more over the last two and a half years, following the strongest earthquake to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since that of Loma Prieta in 1989. Left barely standing after the 6.0-magnitude South Napa earthquake on August 24, 2014, post-quake images of Trefethen’s iconic building - the second and third stories leaning four feet to the west - embodied the destruction across Napa Valley in national media.

After the Trefethen family’s work to comprehensively restore the structure, it stands once more, a symbol of the community’s resilience and recovery. 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 is still authentic 19th-century, maintaining the original floor plan and beautiful redwood siding throughout. The first floor is dedicated to the aging of Trefethen estate wines in barrel. The second floor features additional barrel storage and a new tasting area, with a view of the estate vineyards. Under soaring ceilings, future visitors will savor this piece of Napa Valley’s history, as they taste stellar wines that have been made within the walls of this historic landmark.

Trefethen family and dog portrait PicmonkeyA family portrait by the vineyard

A Look Back

As one of Napa’s founding families of the modern era, 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 Gene and Katie’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. As they built their own enterprise, Janet and John were also 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.

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 focused on the grapes and the wines. His efforts were soon rewarded in the biggest way imaginable when, 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 the craft 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. 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.

Editor’s note:  More information can be found at www.trefethen.com.