And that brings us to the Trefethen family, with a third generation in play today, but with quality and dedication in the vineyard and the winery to certainly allow it to qualify for a dynasty label, at least a budding one.
Gene and Katie Trefethen began the operation in 1968; a corporate executive and successful fund-raiser, he found some backing and purchased 600 acres in the heart of the Napa Valley, between Yountville and Napa. The price of $3000 an acre seemed astounding, but its value has grown astronomically in the past 40 years. Their son, John, and his wife, Janet, began making wine in 1973 and introduced it to the market in 1975. Four years later they and their winemaker, David Whitehouse Jr., won a gold medal at the Gault-Millau Wine Olympics in Paris with their 1975 Chardonnay.
Trefethen estate-bottled wines have been high on any list of American offerings ever since. The vineyards offer nine grapes, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, with 13 different Chardonnay and 10 different Cabernet Sauvignon clones among the 48 clones in 63 vineyard blocks. It's quite a lot of bunches of grapes, all from the Oak Knoll region of the Napa Valley
Two new Trefethen wines--well, one newly released and the other its six-year-old twin-- have joined the roster under the Double T label and to honor Loren and Hailey Trefethen, 20-something children of John and Janet. At the moment, Loren is in the sales and business end, his kid sister is a winemaker.
The 2007 Double T Napa Valley Red Wine, a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot, is a good value at $25. A year in a combination of French and American oak gives it solidity in the relatively long finish, and there are excellent notes of plums and berries in the aroma and flavor. Perfect to go with steaks and roasts, or burgers off the grill.
The newcomer is the initial release of the 2008 Double T Napa Valley Chardonnay ($17), a wine of considerable elegance. Its crispness will make it work with a shellfish appetizer, and it has the body to pair well with fish or chicken. There is a lot of fruit in the nose, with melon and citrus showing nicely, and a hint of vanilla in the finish.
Both are ready for drinking now, particularly the Chardonnay; I like them bright and frisky, but I think a year or so would bring more roundness and structure to the red.
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MORE INNOVATIVE PACKAGING: If you like screwcaps and boxed wine, get ready for bottles made of plastic. Several companies, like the worldwide Sassie, based in South Africa but with Italian and South American connections, are using them, including a Californian producer, CalNaturale. On the plus side, they're lightweight and unreakable, just right for taking to the beach or on a picnic. I've tasted the Sassie wines and found them acceptable, though not great. I don't know if this is because of the packaging, the grapes or the winemaking, but they are inexpensive. If I find CalNaturale, I'll report on it.
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RECENT TASTINGS: Dry Creek Vineyards offered a pair from 2006, a Cab and a Heritage Zinfandel. Both are superior wines. The former, leading with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (90 percent) and with small amounts of Merlot (6), Petit Verdot (3) and Cabernet Franc (1) is a superior bottle, with outstanding flavor and marvelous richness. The Zin was brilliant, rich and oaky, good for another dozen years in the cellar, with great flavor and a long finish.
Three moderately priced 2007 wines from Napa Cellars, all from Napa Valley grapes, were quite worthy in their $22-$30 price range. Acab fr Merlot had a big plummy aroma, good berry flavors and a long finish. Cabernet Sauvignon showed blackberries, plus a hint of clove in the aroma, and Zinfandel, so dark it's practically purple, brought delicious spice and a nice sweetness from oak barrels.
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AND FOR DESSERT: Eisrebe, a sweet dessert wine from Joseph Phelps Vineyards, is a delight and carries a story. In 1916, Georg Scheu, a German botanist crossed Sylvaner and Riesling grapes which eventually were named Scheurebe, in his honor. The Phelps family eventually planted some on their Napa Valley property and made dessert wine in the style ofn ice wine. Instead of allowing the grapes to freeze, Phelps winemakers harvested the grapes froze them and allowed them to thaw before making them into a sweet wine called Eisrebe. The 2007 vintage, heavy with apricot overtones and extremely sweet, was harvested at 23 brix and vinified with 21 percent residual sugar. That's sweet--and delicious.