Being part of the wine “trade”, you get to go to some really cool and interesting events. On September 22nd, I was able to join 20 other folks in the trade to a back-vintage tasting of one of Napa Valley’s oldest wineries, Freemark Abbey. Not only did we taste vintages going back to the 80’s, but we also got to taste them with not one, but two Master Sommeliers – MS Emily Papach and MS Andrew McNamara.
Freemark Abbey was actually the 8th bonded winery in Napa Valley way back in 1886. They are credited as the first winery to have a woman owner/winemaker, Josephine Tychson. The winery itself was built by Antonio Forni, a good friend of Josephine’s who purchased the winery from her and in 1899 he constructed the stone winery with hand-strewn stones from nearby Glass Mountain. Note: this historic winery structure is still used for barrel storage today. The winery was closed for 20 years during prohibition and in 1939, three owners – Charles Freeman, Markquand Foster and Abbey Ahern – combined their names to form “Freemark Abbey.” Clever huh?
They sold the winery in the late 60’s to seven men who formed the “University of Freemark”, and in 1976, they had two wines, a 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1972 Pinot Chardonnay (not a typo!), entered into the famed Judgement of Paris. The tasting that changed the world, and the way people (the French in particular), thought about California wine.
Ted Edwards has now been making the wines for over 30 years. He likes to let the varietal and the site express itself and he picks earlier than the norm in Napa which ultimately, from what we experienced that day, gives the wines much more longevity. Freemark Abbey has two single vineyard wines, Bosche and Sycamore. The Bosche Vineyard fruit was, at one time, what went into the famous Beaulieau Vineyard “George de Latour”, but since 1970, Freemark has had exclusive rights to the vineyard
Bosche is behind Grgich Hills Winery and Sycamore is behind the Bella Oaks vineyard. Although they are a mile apart and the vinification practices are the same, the two wines could not be more different. To me, the Bosche Vineyard makes more feminine and pretty wines, where the Sycamore Vineyard has more masculine qualities and intense structure.
2013 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay (92pts WA $29/btl) – to be honest, I am not the biggest domestic Chardonnay fan. I love the ABC (Anything But Chard) varietals, however, I found this to be a very pleasant wine. It sees only 30% oak & 70% steel giving this wine a much more delicate body and brings out the minerality and fruit of the chardonnay grape.
1983 Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyard Cabernet – this was a very pretty wine when it was first poured into the glass, but you must understand that when drinking older vintages of wine, they tend to fall apart quickly. After an hour being open, this one was on its way… drink fast my friends, you will be glad you did!
1986 Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet – this vineyards inaugural release was in 1984. Upon opening and immediate pouring, it was pretty hard as nails. It took it an hour to open up, but when it did I thought it was an incredible wine and it kept getting better as time went on.
1992 Freemark Abbey Napa Cabernet – it reminded me of sitting on my grandpa’s lap while he drank whiskey and smoked a pipe. Anyone who had a grandpa like mine can relate to this masculine wine.
1999 Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet – this wine could take hours, even days to evolve. The key to this one is tasting it often to finding out when that right moment is and then seizing it. One of my favorite things about wine is the wild ride it takes you on.
2004 Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyard – this was my favorite wine of the tasting. It was simply gorgeous. Elegant and pure this is their current vintage release of this wine. Everyone in the room agreed that this was a beautiful wine.
2011 Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard – I think this was the more structured and focused wine of the group. 2011 vintage has a bad rap, but we have been tasting some pretty amazing 2011’s (mostly mountain wines, not valley floor). It did produce low yields, but not necessarily low quality. As Andrew MacNamara said, “It’s what Napa can actually be.” When we did the Shafer Hillside vertical a few years ago, everyone was shocked that the 98’s exceeded the 97’s after they had aged 10+ years. 12 years from now, I will be curious to see if we will be saying the same thing about 2011 vs. 2012…..
No matter the vintage, the wines are all very well made. Just the way you can tell that a meal has been made with passion and love, I believe the same holds true in wine. These wines are made for the long haul. Next year will be the 40th Anniversary of the Judgement of Paris, I’m willing to bet there will be some pretty cool things coming out of Napa Valley this spring.