Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trefethen Family Vineyards Revisited

Trefethen Family Vineyards is a winery that should be on your short list of essential Napa Valley wineries to visit.  They have a superior line up of wines that will appeal to many different palates. Trefethen is located in the Oak Knoll district in north Napa.  Oak Knoll often does not receive the publicity of the nearby Rutherford or Oakville districts, but outstanding wine is grown there, and they have cool enough weather that they can grow good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes without sourcing from Carneros or Sonoma.  Staff at Trefethen are extremely friendly and accommodating.  It really is a family winery. They make you feel welcome. They produce some darn good whites and reds and some that will appeal to those who are new to wine.  And prices are very reasonable for Napa Valley.  It is also easy to reach and has plenty of parking.  If you are unable to visit, I encourage you to try their wines, especially their Cabs and the dry Riesling.  But if you don't visit then you won't have Shannon as a wine host, and you will be missing a great tasting experience thanks to her charm, humor and enthusiasm.  If our blog presented awards for the wine host of the year, I'd nominate Shannon.

Shannon, our extraordinary wine host

The Trefethen family began growing grapes in Napa Valley in the late 1960s when I was drinking Mateus and Lancers and thought they were good wines.  According to the Trefethen website, "When Gene [Trefethen] retired in 1968, the wine-loving Trefethens moved to Napa Valley – then considered an agricultural backwater – where they purchased six small farms and the ramshackle 19th-century Eschol Winery, creating a 600-acre wine estate. At the time, there were fewer than 20 operational wineries in Napa Valley and many of its vineyards were on life support."   Trefethen story

Trefethen building

Almost harvest time

In 1973 they produced their first release.  By 1976 the Trefethen Chardonnayearned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris.  John Trefethen's wife, Janet, took over the wineries marketing in the 1970s and was one of the first women to become a winery executive.  Their two children, Loren and Hailey, are now actively involved with the winery, making Trefethen an authentic family winery, not one just in name.  Their motto is "One Family, One Estate, One Passion" For 39 Years.

Tour guide?
Trefethen Moto

I recently tasted some Trefethen 2011 Dry Riesling ($22) and Trefethen 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon  ($100) at a party and fell in love with both of them, prompting me to visit Trefethen again. I had previously tasted the 2009 and 2010 Dry Rieslings when they were released and, although they all look similar on paper, I found the 2011 to be exceptional.  It has a light citrus nose with a full, dry presentation on the palate of apple and white peach with great minerality and good, but not overwhelming acid. It has a long, delightful finish.  The Trefethen 2011 Dry Riesling is one of the finest U.S. Rieslings I've tasted. We also tasted two Chards side by side, the Trefethen 2010 Chardonnay ($30) and the Trefethen Reserve 2009 Harmony Chardonnay ($50). They are both superior Chards in different styles.  The 2010 has a light aroma and is dry, citrusy and well balanced with some minerality and a good finish. The reserve has a pronounced aroma with lush peach and apple on the palate.  It is a full rich wine, being very smooth but not buttery.  It is rounder than the regular release with more peach and apple than citrus. They use 20% malolatic conversion and 11 months of French oak.  Both Chards are quite nice and which you prefer will be determined by your personal preferences and what is paired with them.  After the Chards we tried the 2011 Viognier ($30).  It had a nice floral nose with a smooth fruity presentation that was light and refreshing with a long finish. An unusual white wine, the Trefethen 2011 Quandry ($25), is a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Viognier. It has an intense, floral aroma that is utterly delightful and much more pronounced than any of the other whites.  I got a lot of fruit, mostly peaches with some citrus.  There is sweetness, but it is balanced.  This is a wine my mother would like, but that I would enjoy drinking with her. It is not as serious a wine as the Chards or Riesling, but more of an easy, fun wine that has more fruit and aroma than even their Viognier.  I imagine it is a very popular wine with visitors.

In addition to this strong line up of whites, Trefethen also offers some excellent reds.  Most Pinot Noirs from Napa grapes come from Carneros.  Trefethen is one of the few wineries I know of that use Valley floor grapes in their Pinot.  (Hendry is another I can think of.) Their Trefethen 2010 Pinot Noir ($48) has a light nose with wonderful  raspberry like fruit on the palate, and pleasantly interlaced tannins. Fairly bright with light to medium body, I found this to be a very nice Pinot.  Next we tried the Trefethen 2009 Cabernet Franc ($38). This varietal is often found in a Bordeaux style Cabernet Sauvignon blends, but some wineries offer it on its own, and it can sometimes be an interesting wine by itself.  In this case it is a blend of 86% Cabernet Franc with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.  This one has a great aroma, with soft tannins, good balance and nice fruit. It is one of the better Napa Valley Cab Fancs.  Next we tried the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) and the Trefethen 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($100).  With the former I got a very nice cherry nose with mostly plum on the palate, good balanced tannin and acid, and a good finish. It was a nice Cab but the 2008 Reserve was in another league.  It was fuller bodied wine with ripe black cherry and spice.  Extremely well balanced with an interesting, clean finish.  This is an especially good Cab and highly recommended.  We finished the tasting with the 2009 Dragon's Tooth ($75), an interesting blend, which is mostly Malbec (67%) with 19% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Merlot and the Trefethen 2006 Halo ($175).  The Halo is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec and is from their Hillspring Vineyard.  It sees 28 months in French Oak.  The Halo had a remarkable nose, great black cherry and blackberry like fruit, with deliciously integrated tannins.  It is a complex, interesting wine with hints of forest floor, spices and chocolate.  This is an exceptional wine that is worth the $175 price tag.

Trefethen is a winery that we plan to visit more frequently.  (They are open to the public with no appointment needed.) Although we sampled 11 wines, we never did get to the Merlot, the 2009 Cab or the Late Harvest Riesling.  They have several different tasting options, the Estate Tasting of four wines for $15 and the Winmaker's Reserve Tasting of all five reserve wines for $25. I'd recommend the Reserve Tasting for most serious wine lovers, but you should return again to try the estate tasting because you won't want to miss these either, especially the dry Riesling.  We really liked all of the Trefethen wines but the standouts were the 2011 Riesling, 2008 Reserve Cab and 2006 Halo.  Trefethen is an outstanding winery, and I think you will love your visit there.

Trefethen Family Vineyards
1160 Oak Knoll Ave.
Napa, CA 94558
Date of visit October 10, 2012

1 comment:

  1. TJ,

    I tried their 2010 Dry Riesling this summer and was very impressed. Looks like I need to track down a bottle of the 2011.



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