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Walnut Creek Magazine

Freemark Abbey Unveils a Visitor Center Worthy of its Wine Country Pedigree

Dec 08, 2016 09:51AM ● By Fran Miller

It has been 130 years since St. Helena’s Freemark Abbey winery got its start, and now the iconic Cabernet house finally has a visitor center worthy of both its esteemed history and its extensive library of luscious vintages. Freemark dates back to 1886 and was one of the first wineries established in California, so it is fitting that all of that history and tradition are now captured in a beautiful new building that marries the old with the new.

Originally constructed in 1899, Freemark Abbey’s hand-built stone structure still stands, but recent upgrades have ushered the landmark into the 21st century with the unveiling of a dramatic transformation of contrasts. Original stonework remains, and is highlighted by custom-designed steel features including exposed steel trusses with gracefully arched undersides modeled after the trusses in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. The original winery had few windows, but now visitors are greeted by natural light from a new, six-foot-wide skylight that runs nearly the length of the ridge line, and a new clerestory that raises the roof line three feet above its original height. Reclaimed redwood from the property’s original 1886 cellar has been incorporated, further emphasizing the estate’s longtime presence in the Napa Valley. The entire aesthetic is warm, inviting, and is the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy their classically structured Cabernet Sauvignons derived from pedigreed vineyard sites.

The newly redesigned spaces include the historic 1948 tasting room (which was one of the Valley’s very first), the new Bosché Room featuring a room-length table that can accommodate both intimate tastings and larger parties, the new Library Room - a dedicated space for one the largest wine libraries in the U.S. with vintages dating back to the 1960s, and the original Barrel Room which has been fully restored. A new Market Café and Courtyard are also soon to open, where guests can enjoy cheese and charcuterie selections with reserve wine flights while overlooking picturesque views of the estate.

“When we embarked upon this project three years ago, our mission was not only to preserve Freemark Abbey for generations to come, but to enhance the estate with a modern aesthetic and create one-of-a-kind visitor experiences,” said Ted Edwards, Freemark Abbey’s director of winemaking. “We’ve created a true wine country destination that serves as an in-depth immersion in to our distinguished winemaking philosophy and 130-year legacy.”

Ted Edwards

Mirroring the longevity of the Freemark label is Edwards, who has served as Freemark’s winemaker since 1985. (He’s been at the winery even longer – since 1980). Few other winemakers in the Valley can claim this sort of longterm allegiance to one label, and few others posess the same depth of knowledge for their product and their craft. If you can snag a tasting experience with the exceedingly humble Edwards, it’s worth it. For a wine lover, there is nothing quite like tasting wines with the person who actually created them. Edwards’ enthusiasm for his vocation - and for cabernet specifically -  is infectious. He admits that just a sniff of the ruby red elixir gives him ‘goose bumps.’ His creative approach, unyielding dedication to quality, and many years of experience in the vineyards of Napa Valley – particularly the Rutherford Bench – make him one of the region’s leading vintners. His many winemaking accomplishments include establishing the distinct style of Freemark Abbey’s iconic, single-vineyard Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and continuing the thirty-plus-year legacy of the vineyard-designated Cabernet Bosché, while elevating the wine to new heights of critical acclaim.

For a full listing of Freemark Abbey’s many and varied tasting experiences, click here.

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