Freemark Abbey Winery is a significant and historical winery located just north of St. Helena. The winery origins date back to 1881 when Josephine and John Tychson purchased 147 acres in the Napa Valley. Unfortunately John committed suicide five years later and in 1886 his widow Josephine took over ownership and built the original redwood winery on site (appropriately called called Tychson Cellars). She became the first woman in the entire state of California to oversee the building of a winery and one of the first few female vintners in the state.
The winery name was changed to Lombarda Cellars after the Tychson family sold. It ran under this new name until the start of prohibition. After prohibition the name was changed to Freemark Abbey in 1939 when it was purchased by three men (Albert “Abbey” Ahern, Charles Freeman and Markquand Foster). The name of the winery was formed by combining parts of their three first names. The winery opened a “sampling room” in 1949 – making this one of the first tasting rooms in the Napa Valley. The sixth and current owners, the Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery in 2006.
Freemark Abbey was one of only 12 American wineries chosen to represent the country in the famed Paris Tasting of 1976 Incidentally they were the only winery with both an entry for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. They placed 6th for their Chardonnay. One of Napa’s longest tenured winemakers is Ted Edwards having been Freemark Abbey’s winemaker since 1985. And Ted is certainly not the only winemaker who has been part of the Freemark Abbey family in the past few decades. Often referenced as the “University of Freemark”, the winery has produced a number of vintners who have successful careers in the wine business including Cathy Corison and Tom Rinaldi.
The hospitality center (housed in the old stone winery) is quite photogenic, with older looking stone walls and curved archways outlining large wooden doors. It is worth spending a few minutes admiring this old winery building. Freemark Abbey’s main building was used for barrel storage and wine making but both have since been moved off site. All wines are made at Cardinale Estate in Oakville – also owned by Jackson Family Wines.
The property is truly focused on hospitality and offers a variety of experiences for visitors. They make a diversity of wines (including a refreshing and unusual amount of white wines – for a Napa based winery) and at the time of this update they currently offer five unique tastings: Red Wine Tasting, Collectors Tastings (usually featuring an older wine), Classic Tasting, Cabernet Comparative Tasting and the Market Cafe Tastings (offered Fridays and weekends and paired with small bites). Plans call for a Library Tasting (by appointment) in which guests have the unique opportunity to try much older vintages as Freemark Abbey maintains an extensive library of their own older wines.
Several tasting areas are located on site – the “newer” general tasting room features a bar near the entrance, a Reserve Room downstairs and the older tasting room called the Partner’s Lounge is available for club member use featuring both indoor and outdoor seating. There is plenty of parking on site for both the tasting room and the restaurant.
Their wine making focuses on wines that are food friendly and built to age – and time has shown these wines do age well given proper cellaring. The wine making team does not use a formula when making wines – vineyard sources and blends change from year to year. They tend to hold their smaller production red wines back for at least a year before releasing – so these wines see two years in the bottle.
Freemark Abbey does not own vineyards in the Napa Valley – rather they purchase fruit from other growers. With that said, they have established long term relationships with select growers in the valley and several of their wines are from vineyards they have been sourcing from for many years. Their total production each year is around 60,000 cases with the majority of that for one wine – their distributed Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
One such vineyard is the Bosché vineyard in Rutherford; wines from this vineyard have earned acclaim over the years (Freemark Abbey has been sourcing from this particular vineyard since 1970). Wines from this vineyard were being sold to Beaulieu Vineyard and during some vintages were used in their Private Reserve wine. The owner John Bosche wanted to find a winery who would make a vineyard designate of this wine referencing his name on the label. He found a perfect fit with Freemark Abbey and this is now one of Napa’s longest continuously running vineyard/winery partnerships (while John has since passed, this vineyard is still owned by his family).
Over several visits we have enjoyed several vintages of this wine. The 1991 Bosché Cabernet Sauvignon is still very rich in color although with a slight browning around the edges of the glass which is normal in wine this age. There is a density of dark fruit characteristics on the palate with a long soft finish.
The 2012 Bosché shows a layered depth of aromatics; sweet fruit complemented by a savory characteristic tinged by notes of chocolate and an earthiness as the wine opens. On the palate there are flavors of red cherry and currant along with very good acidity. The tannins still show young – pair this wine with a good steak. This vintage has the power and elegance of structure and fruit + the acidity to potentially age for many years.
The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc shows a depth of aroma on the bouquet not always seen with wines from this varietal – dried apricot, pear, graphite, citrus blossom and green apple. This wine is balanced on the palate; it is lively and refreshing with a lingering orange zesty note on the finish – clean and not overly tart. Drinks very well by itself.
The 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby red in the glass; this wine shows bright fruit aromatics showing more red fruit then dark fruit. The bouquet is somewhat savory with touches of toasted oak and hints of cigar smoke as the wine continues to open. There is a nice play of tannins on the front of the palate lingering for some time on the finish. A crisp and refreshing tartness on the finish. Very balanced. Very food friendly. And available by Napa standards at a very friendly price point.
The Sycamore Vineyard has formed the backbone for their wine of the same name for many years. This vineyard is located in the southern part of Rutherford nestled against the eastern side of the Mayacamas Mountains. The 2011 shows an elegant earthy bouquet. Notes of smoke, eucalyptus, mint and a dustiness show. The palate is lively with notes of blackberry, an oak spice mid palate and reasonably well integrated tannins.
The 2004 Sycamore Vineyard shows brick red color in the glass with a sweetness of fruit on the bouquet. Ripe plum complemented with baking spices (clove and cinnamon) show more in the background. As it breathes notes of dark chocolate come forth. This wine has aged very well and perhaps tastes a bit younger then its actual vintage.
For many years they produced a beautiful Edelwein late harvest Riesling and were the first winery to make a late harvest of this varietal in the Napa area. Their last vintage of this wine was 2011 (sold out) but they may still have older vintages for sale. This wine was made from natural botryis so it is only made during certain years depending on the weather and growth of the Botrytis spores. More recently, they started producing a port-style wine from Petite Sirah (to be released in late 2017).
As of June 2016 the old stone winery building (Lombarda Cellars) which dates back to 1899 has been completely restored. Some of the redwood from the original winery on site was used in the renovation of this old stone winery. In more recent times, this building housed the Silverado Brewery Restaurant and served as barrel storage for the winery.
The old stone building houses three spaces, the general tasting room and a small retail outlet on the first floor, a reserve room on the lower floor and Roadhouse 29 restaurant with entrees focusing on smoked meats and barbecue. This was formerly the site of Two Birds & One Stone restaurant, a yakitori, a Japanese type of skewered chicken. At the time of this update Roadhouse 29 is open for lunch (walk-ins ok) and dinner by reservation. Besides their food, also known for their no tipping policy, reasonable prices and no corkage fees. Also family friendly with a children’s menu. Open daily from 12pm until 8pm. Closed Tuesdays.
For more information, visit: www.freemarkabbey.com
Old Tasting Room