Incidentally the home where Josephine lived in until she passed away in 1939 is on the other side of the highway from Freemark Abbey. Today it is owned by Ann Colgin (of Colgin Cellars) and her husband Joe Wender. Their vineyard is appropriately named Tychson Hill. Josephine is buried in the San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery – the town where she was raised and would eventually marry her husband (see our photographs below) – along with other prominent era Napa vintners or growers including Hamilton Crabb (To Kalon Vineyard) and John Lewelling (one of Napa Valley’s earliest pioneer agricultural families).
Due to financial difficulties by 1895, Tychson sold the winery and it was leased to Antonio Forni. It was Forni who removed Josephine’s winery and built the existing stone winery over 8 years opening in 1898 and named it Lombarda Cellars in honor of his birthplace in Italy. Boulders were mined from near Glass Mountain (east of the winery), loaded on wagons pulled by horses and then cut into square shapes on site to be used in the construction. Workers were primarily Italian – many descendants of families still living in St. Helena today. The winery operated under this new name until the start of Prohibition (the name Lombarda Cellars can be seen clearly from either direction on the highway).
After Prohibition the name was changed to Freemark Abbey in 1939 when it was purchased by three men (Charles Freeman, Mark Foster and Albert “Abbey” Ahern). The name of the winery was formed by combining parts of their three first names. Incidentally, their first winemaker, was Leon Brendel (who later sold his property to Joe Heitz along Highway 29 just south of St. Helena where Heitz Cellars was founded).
The winery opened a “sampling room” in 1949 – making this one of the first tasting rooms in the Napa Valley. These individuals ran Freemark Abbey until 1959. For 8 years no wine was produced here until new owners (7 partners purchased the property and name in 1967 including prominent Napa Valley residents, Bill Jaeger, Laurie Wood and Chuck Carpy). Chuck Carpy had long ties in the Napa Valley – his grandfather owned Uncle Sam Cellars in the city of Napa. One of the grower partners was Bradford Webb – the winemaker who made the early Hanzell wines in neighboring Sonoma County. 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 (called Pinot Chardonnay as was Chardonnay was commonly called during those days). One of Napa’s longest tenured winemakers was Ted Edwards who was Freemark Abbey’s winemaker from 1985 to 2020 before finally stepping back from his primary winemaking duties. And for the first time since Josephine Tychson was winemaker on this property, another woman was hired as winemaker; Freemark Abbey hired Kristy Melton in 2020 after Ted retired.
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.
For a winery with such long history, it is interesting to note that Freemark Abbey does not directly own the vast majority of the vineyards they work with in the Napa Valley – rather they purchase fruit from other growers. (the exception to this is the tiny vineyard on site of the winery). 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 Freemark Abbey 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 Freemark Abbey 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 Freemark Abbey 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.
Josephine Tychson plot, San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery
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 Freemark Abbey 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 was 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 an event/banquet space (formerly was Roadhouse 29 Restaurant which used to focus on smoked meats and barbecue and a number of salads). And before Roadhouse, this was formerly the site of Two Birds & One Stone restaurant, a yakitori, a Japanese type of skewered chicken.
For more information, visit: www.freemarkabbey.com
Now closed, but we keep these photographs here for historical reference.
Old Tasting Room