Trefethen Family Vineyards
Merlot • Oak Knoll District
California: Napa Valley
What we say
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Mission Codename: Trefethen Expression
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to our good friends at Trefethen Family Vineyards and procure their legendary Merlot for our thirsty Operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Trefethen Family Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2004 Estate Merlot
Winemaker: David Whitehouse Jr., Winemaster
Trefethen is a Wine Spies favorite winery. One sip of any of their wines reveals why. The Trefethen Family, with the help of winemaster David Whitehouse, has been making incredible wines for decades.
In 1976, Trefethen rocked the wine world by beating out French Chardonnays in the now famous Judgment of Paris. The French were outraged, and in 1979 they organized the World Wine Olympics where, they were certain, a French wine would win. Trefethen won the top award, earning “Top Chardonnay in the World”. Today, the Trefethen Family continues to make a variety of wines of distinction and remarkable quality.
Today, The Wine Spies bring you their fantastic 2004 Estate Merlot, a food-fabulous wine that delivers a uniquely delicious Trefethen expression of Napa Valley Merlot. Read Agent Red’s tasting notes, followed by his mission report, below
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep and inky with a heart of solid garnet, this wine is bouncy and speedy when swirled, leaving behind legs that start off slow and then streak down the glass
Smell – Leading off with a bold rush of aromatic fresh berry pie, plum, cherry and cedar – followed by mild mint, fresh snow peas and pine needles
Feel – Fast and soft across the front of the tongue, then more round and supple on the mid-palate, leading to a mouth-coating and warming richness
Taste – Flavors of ripe black (blackberry and black cherry) and red (cherry) fruit, with hints of cedar and soft toasted oak. Components of sweet spices, cocoa, a tiny taste of pepper and herbaceous undertones complete a very well rounded wine.
Finish – This wine finishes long and smooth with lingering flavors of black cherry, plum, all leading to a mouthwatering slight dryness.
Conclusion – A fantastic expression of Merlot. Trefethen’s take on Merlot is one that must be experienced. Built to satisfy as a very food friendly wine I also enjoyed sipping it on its own.
Smooth and rich, easy drinking with mild tannins and a bright acidity, this is a wine that would pair beautifully with most holiday foods. Allow some additional decanting time and be rewarded with better balance and tastier fruit!
Trefethen is now a Wine Spies favorite. What follows is our original mission report, from our first visit with Trefethen. Read it to learn more about Trefethen’s intriguing history.
_Agent White reporting – _ Finally, I get a mission to Napa Valley. Not just any mission mind you, one to Trefethen Family Vineyards.
Trefethen is a record-breaking, rule-breaking, innovating and inspiring winery.
I had the pleasure to spend an afternoon with Loren Trefethen recently and we toured the vineyards, tasted some grapes, enjoyed some wines and had a great conversation about the family’s rich history in the wine business.
What follows is a partial transcript of our lively discussion.
AGENT WHITE: A big thanks for hosting The Wine Spies today, LOREN. Our Operatives have been anticipating this for a while now.
LOREN TREFETHEN: My pleasure, Agent White. When do I get my own agent name?
WHITE: How about, “Agent Victorious”, in honor of the wine wins that your family has racked up over the years.
LOREN: (laughs) Sure, but only if its an agent name that I can share with my family. We’ve all been in this together since my grandfather purchased this land in 1968.
WHITE: That makes this year the 40th anniversary of your family’s estate. Impressive.
LOREN: Yes, and you know what? In 40 years we have never purchased fruit from any other vineyards in order to make our wines. In fact, today we are still the only American producer that is 100% Estate-only.
WHITE: My informants tell me that this land once belonged to another winery, Eshcol, in the 1800’s.
LOREN: They are right! This is the very site where Eshcol made wines. In 1890, Eshcol won a gold medal for their wine at the states first ever statewide viticultural fair. It was that fair, and Eshcol’s win, that first established California as a legitimate winemaking ‘region’.
WHITE: Until prohibition intervened, right?
LOREN: Exactly! Thereafter, Napa was home to mostly apricots, prunes and walnuts!
WHITE: Fast-forward a few years, and tell me about how your family got started in the wine business.
LOREN: Well, after Grandad purchased the land, he started growing grapes. My dad was in business school, but learning winemaking from a U.C. Davis winemaking textbook. Not the most traditional approach, but neither were his early winemaking experiments.
WHITE: Legend has it that he made his first wines in your grandmother’s basement? In steel garbage cans?
LOREN: Yeah. I remember my Dad telling me about forgetting that he left a lid sealed onto a can for a little too long…
WHITE: Oooh! KABOOM!?
LOREN: Indeed, KABOOM! He was scrubbing away pieces of grapes from all corners of that basement – for a long time!
WHITE: That was the early 70’s. Tell me about his first commercial wine.
LOREN: That came about in 1973. My Mom, a newlywed at the time, suggested that we call the winery, “Trefethen”. Everyone thought it was a terrible idea. even today, people struggle with the name, but it stuck.
WHITE: What happened in 1976?
LOREN: Just a little even that shook up the wine world! In ’76, Steven Spurrier, a British wine shop owner, living in France, visited America. Here, he found incredible wines, of course. He brought these back to France and organized a competition called, The Judgment of Paris. Our Chardonnay took gold…
WHITE: And that must have really pissed off the French!
LOREN: To say the least! They were infuriated, and insisted that the competition was rigged or set up to be too heavily in favor of the California wines. There were a few more Cali wines represented, but…
WHITE: But, three years later, the French organized a rematch!
LOREN: Yes. The World Wine Olympics were held in 1979. This time, French wines were ‘better represented’, and even outnumbered those from California. We had no plans to enter our wine this time around but found out that a friend had entered our Chardonnay.
WHITE: That’s when the French REALLY got mad!
LOREN: Too true. Our Chardonnay – a wine that was just our fourth vintage of Chard – ended up winning, and was declared the “Best Chardonnay in the World”.
WHITE: Quite something. That really stoked the fires back home, I’ll bet.
LOREN: All around the world, actually, but ours was really the first ‘cult wine’ in America. The wine was in such demand that we were actually asking for wine back from our distributors.
WHITE: Merci, Paris!
WHITE: I just heard that your Cabernet Sauvignon just took Gold at the 2008 Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Quite an achievement, congratulations.
LOREN: Thanks! We’re very proud of all of our wins. Mondial was a great one for us. 5,800 wines were judged by 240 International judges. To win among a field of so many other superior wines was humbling – and exhilarating!
WHITE: We’ll have to send Agent Red by to taste the 2004 with you!
LOREN: We look forward to meeting him.
WHITE: Thanks, again, for the tour, Loren. I’m sure that our Operatives will love having a chance to enjoy your wines.
LOREN: Thank you, White!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Trefethen Family Vineyards can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the winery says
Trefethen Family Vineyards, Member, Napa Valley Vintners
About This Wine:
Our Merlot is a deep ruby-purple color, displaying wonderful aromas of black cherry, blackberry pie, cedar and fresh pea shoots with hints of butterscotch clove, red and black pepper, and mint. The ripe, well balanced tannins are soft and silky. A rich mouthfeel bursts with intense cherry fruit, bay spice, and toasted oak, emerging in an elegant plummy finish.
The 2004 Vintage:
An unusually warm, dry spring led to early budbreak and set the stage for an early harvest. Summer temperatures were seasonably warm, with early September bringing a memorable heat spell. The early season heat-stress resulted in smaller grape clusters and berries with intense, concentrated aromas and flavors.
This year’s vintage is a wonderful food wine. It will match a wide range of international and local favorites including polenta, tamales and enchiladas, grilled steak and pork or a wood-fired pizza.
Our Estate Vineyard:
Our primary estate vineyard is located in the heart of the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA, which occupies an ideal climate zone between Napa’s warmer up-valley districts and its cool southern tip. Our Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in the northwest quadrant of the vineyard, where gravelly soils warm quickly in the spring, ensuring the fruit ripens fully while retaining its characteristic bright, complex character.
In 1968, our family purchased seven farms surrounding a magnificent, but run-down, 19th-century winery in southern Napa Valley and created Trefethen Family Vineyards. At the time, there were fewer than 30 working wineries in Napa Valley. True to our original vision of creating a classic wine estate, we have never purchased a single outside grape. Instead, we lavish extraordinary care on our two sustainably farmed estate vineyards in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. Controlling all viticultural practices allows us to produce grapes with pure, intense flavors beautifully reflecting our unique terroir.
Varietal: 81% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot
Appellation: Oak Knoll District
Vineyard: 100% Estate – Main Ranch Vineyard
Harvest: Sept. 23rd – Oct. 12th, 2004
Oak: 17 months in French & American Oak
Alcohol: 14.1% by volume
Acid: 0.64 grams/100 ml