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Tuesday, 04 April 2017 21:25

Trefethen to Reopen Historic Winery

 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.

by Dan Clarke

Steve Moulds seated PicmonkeySteve Moulds

Steve Moulds didn't arrive in the Napa Valley until 1998, but the move was long-planned. He and his wife-to-be Betsy met at San Jose State after returning form duty in the Peace Corps—he in Honduras, she in Brazil. After college Betsy became a school teacher, Steve a Spanish-speaking social worker helping people in the farm labor camps around Gilroy. After several years in the south Bay Area, the couple “moved back up the Peninsula” where Steve went into commercial real estate. He stayed 25 years, eventually becoming a partner in the firm.

“It was always our dream to get up to the Napa Valley,” Steve explains. Actually, Steve and Betsy spent a good deal of time in the Napa Valley before moving there, as they often visited Bob and Sue Brakesman, friends from college, who had started Summit Lake Vineyards & Winery on Howell Mountain in 1971. Steve refers to the eventual move from the Bay Area to Napa and what was to become Moulds Family Vineyard as “re-potting.”

When Steve and Betsy purchased their 57 acres northwest of the city of Napa in the Oak Knoll District there was no vineyard. Though the property was being used as horse pasture, the surrounding area had a good reputation for grapes. Cooler than sub-appellations further north in the Napa Valley, the neighborhood was mostly planted to Chardonnay, but some Pinot Noir, that other Burgundian varietal, was there also. “Early on we decided to plant Cabernet,” Moulds says. He believed the slightly cooler climate would allow a bit more “hang time” (somewhat slower ripening and longer time on the vine before picking) for greater flavor development. “We've been very pleased,” he adds.

Moulds Cab S closeup PicmonkeyPerfectly positioned Cabernet cane at Moulds Fmy Vineyard

Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for most of the 10 planted acres at Moulds Family Vineyard, but Steve has also put in some Cabernet Franc “to give another tool to one of our winemakers.” Lisa Drinkward of Behrens Family Winery on Spring Mountain confirms that Behrens is the Cab Franc client. “We love his grapes,” she says. The Cabernet Franc is really a tiny portion. We get just over a ton.” Todd Newman, whose small production Dakota Shy wines are all on allocation, is another big fan. He comments that Moulds has “a meticulous attention to detail. His very fine and very, very detailed approach allows us to come back year after year and better understand the growing scene. Steve has that passion in the vineyard like we have in the winery. It's our favorite vineyard to work with. We actually do a single-vineyard bottling from the Moulds vineyard.” Other wineries using Moulds Family Vineyard grapes include Mirror, Piper and Johnson.

Pursuit of quality doesn't come cheaply for growers in the Napa Valley. Steve Moulds walks a visitor through his hillside Cabernet Sauvignon vines, pausing to show the seemingly perfectly-placed canes. All rise between horizontally from cordons on each side of the vine. There is a plastic “Kiwi clip” around every one, which loosely tethers it to the wire so that windy days will not cause the canes to tangle. Steve does some quick calculations in his head and estimates the seemingly astronomical number of clips that go on each year. Rafael Montanez of A & J Vineyard Supply in St. Helena quotes a unit cost of three cents for each of these—not expensive, he says, until you're ordering thousands of them. Still, it's not the cost of the clips, but the cost of labor to attach them that makes this aspect of high-end farming so dear, Moulds explains

In May Steve Moulds began his two-year term as President of the 690-member Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG). Sustainable farming issues are a big part of the work of the NVG, but Moulds acknowledges other concerns loom. “People are concerned about the growth of tourism and the impact on the Napa Valley that our success has brought about,” he says. “Napa is a world class destination now and that brings challenges and responsibilities.

“One of the things that makes this valley so amazing is that it's been protected from overdevelopment by some forward-thinking leaders,” Moulds stresses. “In 1968 these leaders formed the agricultural preserve, one of the first in the nation, and this ag preserve has farming as the 'highest and best use' of the land. We try to guard against any incursions that are not agriculturally oriented.”

Asked about the future, Steve Moulds replies, “I'm obviously enthusiastic or I wouldn't be planting a vineyard again. It helps keep me young.” (Moulds will celebrate his 70th birthday in December, but the avid cyclist looks fitter than most men a decade or two younger.) In 1996 he took a solo bike ride from Canada to Mexico. Ten years later he cycled from Virginia to Napa and just two years ago he reversed the cross-country direction in traveling from San Diego to St. Augustine. These days Steve gets his exercise with his fellow Clydesdales. Members of this club must be over 60-years old and over 200 pounds. “We take a 30-mile ride every Friday,” he says, “and then repair to a very nice restaurant for a very long lunch to replace all the calories we've just burned off.”

Steve and Betsy planted their vineyard in 2000. “In 2003 my wife and I went back to school at Napa Valley College and in 2005 we both graduated with degrees in viticulture,” Steve says. “That was the foundation we gave ourselves by attending the (Napa Valley College) classes, but the continuing education via classes from Napa Valley Grapegrowers is so intense, so up-to-date, for me it's like going to graduate school. The NVG looks for ways to help people farm more efficiently and more sustainably. Personally, on this ranch I try to apply something new every year in an attempt to improve our quality.”