Truchard Vineyards is located in the Carneros District in southern Napa Valley. The vineyards and winery were founded by Tony and Jo Ann Truchard in 1974 (both Texas natives). They sold grapes exclusively until 1989 when they began making their own wine. They prefer to think of themselves as a “big vineyard with a small winery” – the reasoning behind this is they carefully hand craft small production lots of each of the wines they make – yet sell the majority of their grapes to other well regarded producers.
Both Tony and Jo Ann are originally from Texas – having grown up only 30 miles from each other. Tony’s grandfather Jean Marie Truchard planted grapes and built the Truchard Winery in the tiny rural community of Cat Springs, Texas (about an hour an 15 minute drive north of Houston). Not initially realizing the challenges in growing grapes in this humid climate – Tony’s grandfather made an agricultural pivot – removed the vineyards, converted the winery to a barn and began raising cattle instead.
In the early 1970’s both Tony and Jo Ann would never have suspected the path that life has led them to today. During a quick visit with Jo Ann she told us the story of how she slipped on a grape at a Piggly Wiggly store in Texas while pregnant with their son John. She fell and broke her knee and had to have a cast put on her leg. This was just before Tony was set to ship out to South Korea where he was going to be stationed for two years (medical service in the US Army). After her accident, the army changed their plans for the Truchards and sent them to the far northern reaches of California.
They were stationed in a town that almost no one has ever heard (Herlong), the site of a the Sierra Army Depot, a ballistic missile base near the town of Susanville in Lassen County. Soon after arriving in Herlong, the army sent them to a meeting at the Presidio in San Francisco. While there, John suggested they take a trip to the Napa Valley – they fell in love with the area and decided to buy land. They originally looked at a property in Rutherford selling for $4,000 an acre at the time – but thinking that was to expensive they looked further south and purchased a 20-acre abandoned prune orchard in Carneros for $2,000 an acre.
The Truchard’s are getting up in age but remain very active with the winery and we have often seen them at trade tastings (pouring their own wines rather than hiring other people to do this). One of their sons, Anthony Truchard II is now the General Manager.
And as Jo Ann puts it, their other son John “owes his career in part to the slip on the grape”. John has gone on to have an extremely successful career in the Napa Valley founding his own vineyard management company and even more remarkably, founding JAM Cellars and growing it to a prominent and nationally distributed brand in a relatively short amount of time.
The Truchards are modern day vineyard pioneers in the Carneros region – in the early 1970s Carneros was not known for its grapes rather it was home to a number of sheep and cattle ranching operations (dairy cattle). Several factors long discouraged farmers from growing grapes in this part of Napa – often making generalizations for all Carneros: its to cold here to ripen grapes, soils are thin and clay and do not retain moisture and the groundwater is salty from the nearby San Pablo Bay.
Truchard Vineyards is the most northeastern located vineyard in all of Carneros – at the base of the southern tip of the Mayacamas Mountains. As a result the property features a diversity of soils and microclimates as well as rolling hillside exposures. Their property is elevated above the lower parts of Carneros. Early on, the Truchard’s hired a consultant from Israel to install drip irrigation – simultaneously building several reservoirs to capture rainwater to be used for watering the vines.
In 1974 John (with the help of his two boys) planted the vineyard – commuting on Friday evenings from their home near Reno with Jo Ann and their other children in a Chevy Suburban and then driving back on Sunday. They bought a travel trailer and parked it on the property – this is where the family would stay for the weekend (incidentally the Truchards still own this trailer, now parked behind their house). Their initial purchase in 1973 has grown significantly; today they own 420 contiguous acres of which 290 acres are planted to vineyards (the Truchards have accumulated additional pieces of land over the years as neighbors sold). The Truchards still own their original 20-acres – it is located on the other side of Old Sonoma Road; today their property is divided into 20 separate vineyard blocks.
After becoming well established as growers, they produced their first vintage of wine in 1989 (they still have some of their original bottles of Merlot in a wine library housed within the cave). Founding winemaker was Michael Havens – who ran Havens Winery until selling it and today operates a tiny brand called Cave Dog.
Truchard currently grow 12 different varieties of grapes – the majority of their fruit is sold to mostly Napa Valley based wineries – as of our last visit, they sell to some 25 producers.
The winery is located within a restored agricultural use barn that dates from the 1880s. An 11,00 square foot wine cave (completed in 1997) is located within the hillside directly underneath part of their vineyard. Unlike other wineries that rent out space to custom crush clients, Truchard uses all of their production space for their own wines.
At the time of this review Truchard produces more then 10 different wines focusing on varietal specific wines including some rare varieties for the Napa Valley (Roussanne and Tempranillo). All grapes for their wines are estate grown. The focus of their growing and winemaking efforts are on balanced and reasonably priced wines.
The 2013 Truchard Tempranillo initially shows a brooding bouquet with darker fruit aromas. As it breathes a sweetness of fruit shows along with notes of red licorice and brown chocolate and hints of toffee. A very pleasing mouth feel with tannins that are noticeable but not over bearing. Flavors of currant. Good acidity. This is a nice example of a cooler weather Tempranillo versus perhaps a warmer weather wine of this variety where the tannins presumably would be much more robust in nature. Also lower in alcohol. Aged in 60% new American oak.
The 2017 Truchard Syrah is a remarkable wine. Dark red with purple edges, this wine is forward with opulent and lively fruit aromatics. The bouquet is more about the fruit rather then the often gamey or savory aromatics that this variety is sometimes known for (depending on site). Shows dark fruit including ripe blackberry and plum complemented nicely with darker spices. As the wine breathes offers additional layers becoming more floral in nature including dried rose petal and violets. This is a wine one doesn’t want to stop smelling. The black fruit continues onto the palate – great acidity with plenty of depth. Anchored by dusty slightly gravelly tannins – they are integrated nicely. Also lingers with darker spice including hints of white pepper. This is a very expressive cooler weather Syrah from the Napa Valley – this vintage in particular from Truchard is well worth seeking out.
The 2018 Truchard Roussane began its fermentation in tank and then was moved to barrel to complete fermentation and aging. The oak program for this wine is generally a 1/3 new French Oak, a 1/3 once used and a 1/3 neutral. The wine is left on its lees (not stirred) and was aged for about 9 months. Very aromatic including aromas of honeysuckle, citrus blossom, pineapple and kumquat. Rounded on the palate shows some minerality notes (graphite) along with flavors of apple, tangerine, gooseberry, mandarin and a orange peel zest especially on the finish. Lovely texture complemented by very good acidity.
Zinfandel in Carneros? Now there is a variety with a Napa appellation that you don’t often see used in the same sentence when referring to this cooler growing region mostly associated with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However Tuchard’s Zinfandel vineyard is grown in a small canyon fairly well sheltered from the cool winds that often blow in this area. They have also grown Cabernet Sauvignon successfully on their property for over 30 years. South west facing more protected slopes are helpful in this regard.
And Truchard’s oldest Pinot Noir vines date to 1974. These are some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in all of the Napa Valley – the Pinot Noir in the Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville being slightly older, dating from 1966.
The Truchard’s live on site and either they, someone from their tiny winemaking team or one of their hospitality hosts will typically show visitors around and conduct tastings and tours. Tastings begin in a small room next to the winery and are always a highly personalized experience. Guests visit the wine cave and taste in a room towards the back of the cave – or if the weather permits, outside at a picnic table.
Steps lead up one of their vineyard rows – a walk down these rows will shortly lead one to a picturesque pond surrounded by vines and excellent views of the rolling vineyard planted hills in all directions.
Total production is around 16,000 cases a year. For more information, to schedule an appointment and or to join one of their wine clubs, visit: www.truchardvineyards.com
NOTE: In 2017 Truchard was granted a permit to to expand their winery operations. Plans eventually call for building a new winery across Old Sonoma Road. Once completed, tastings will be conducted here rather then at their current location. We will keep an eye on any developments as related to this project and will revisit and update this review accordingly.
Truchard Winery Barn, Cat Springs Texas
Photos coming soon.