Good Libations: Tasting Green in the Heart of Napa



A tour at Trefethen Family Vineyards in Napa uncovers just how sustainable a vineyard and winery can be.

From the bright, warm sunshine, we enter the historic winery building at Trefethen and are hit with the deep scent of the redwood used for its siding. Built in 1886 and now on the National Register of Historic Places, it was abandoned for decades before Eugene and Catherine Trefethen purchased the property in 1968. It was also nearly destroyed by the 2014 South Napa earthquake, so the Trefethen family has now twice painstakingly restored it with the same care, thoughtfulness, and eye to the future that they use in producing their wines.

But before we can enjoy the wines in the amazing second-floor tasting room with its twenty-five-foot ceilings, there is a tour to endure. Really, how interesting can a walk through the vines and stainless steel tanks be?

Fascinating, actually. Our tour guide is Michael Baldini, a tall, trim man who looks to be about sixty, with a sense of humor drier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Michael’s grandparents emigrated from Italy to work the vines in Napa, and he grew up adjacent to the Trefethen property. He claims he got his first paycheck from the Trefethens at age 13. “Before that, they paid me in cash.”

His decades of experience in every aspect of winegrowing and winemaking come spilling out as we tramp through the rows of grapes, a glass of dry Riesling in hand. Asked a question, he begins an answer, grabs at a vine to demonstrate, goes off on a juicy tangent, then another, until everyone is enthralled but no one is sure if the question is answered.

After the fastest hour and change that you can imagine spent learning about viticulture, we visit the outdoor stainless tanks, and then the oak casks on the first floor of the winery, tantalizingly close to the tasting room. Michael continues to fascinate, especially when talking of the cutting-edge system that captures CO2 created during fermentation.

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And finally, our tour group is led upstairs and seated at a massive rough-edged oak table (a remnant of a tree on the property). Michael’s expertise and wit are still on display as he walks us through the wines, and indulges our questions about the business’s green credentials.

The credentials are impressive. Both the Trefethen Winery and Vineyards are certified by the local Napa green vineyard and winery programs and the statewide California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery program. They won the California Green Medal Environment Award for 2022 from the Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards. Trefethen appears in top green winery lists from California Winery Advisor and, among others.They boast environmental strategies for:

  • Biodiversity, which includes encouraging owls for predator control, restoring a section of Dry Creek, and keeping over a hundred acres totally wild.
  • Carbon capture, which includes capturing CO2 from wine fermentation, and using compost and cover crops to store carbon in the soil.
  • Soil health, which includes composting all material grown on the property (except the grape juice) and using nitrogen-fixing cover crops.
  • Water conservation, which includes rain-capture systems, and soil moisture probes to allow precise watering.
  • Energy, and they offset a hundred percent of their energy use through solar arrays (Michael notes employees constantly jockey for spots at the EV chargers).
  • Waste diversion, which includes recycling and composting, and using compostable wares at events.
  • Responsible sourcing, which includes working with suppliers who share their values.
  • Employment, which means going above the usual benefit programs to provide produce from their garden and wine to their employees.

And the wines? Well, everyone in our party, including industry veterans, are impressed. The Quandary, a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc, is a particular favorite, and one of the more affordable options at $30 a bottle.

As we linger in the tasting room, the idea of “doing well by doing good” comes up. Trefethen seems to go beyond that to doing what is right. In wines, for the environment, for their employees, and for their guests.

Learn more at Trefethen Family Vineyards. Buy the wine here.

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Jim Miller
Jim Miller
Jim Miller, co-editor of Bluedot San Diego and Bluedot Santa Barbara, has been an environmental economist for over 25 years, in the private sector, academia, and the public service. He enjoys sharing his knowledge through freelance writing, and has been published in The Washington Post and Martha’s Vineyard magazine. He’s always loved nature and the outdoors, especially while on a bicycle.
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