Freemark Abbey

In the 1976 “Judgement of Paris”, Freemark Abbey was the only one of 12 Californian wineries to have both its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay included in the taste-off. Ted Edwards became winemaker in 1985 and is committed to producing “classically elegant” wines. Edwards is also the longest tenured winemaker in Napa Valley.

One of the sure ways to determine the standing of a California wine is whether it had been included in Steven Spurrier’s famous “Judgement of Paris Tasting” of 1976 (incidentally, a Year of the Dragon).

The 12 wineries so included are, in a way, the First Growths of California. Of the dozen, even more remarkably, only one winery had both their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay included. For the 11 others, it was just the red or the white. The unprecedented honour belongs to Freemark Abbey.

Forty years after the tasting in the French capital, a re-creation of that iconic event took place in Tokyo at the American Club in May 2017. A private collector had cellared all the original vintages of the “Judgement of Paris Tasting” . The re-tasting was judged by wine and food professionals. There were two American, two French, and five Japanese. One of the guest speakers who flew into the Japanese capital especially for the re-tasting was founder of Stage’s Leap Wine Cellars Warren Winiarski. Here is their ranking of the 10 cabernet sauvignons.

  1. Freemark Abbey 1969 (153.5 points)
  2. Mayacamas 1971 (147.0 points)
  3. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1970 (146.5 points)
  4. Ridge 1971 (145.0 points)
  5. Chateau Montrose 1970 (141.0 points)
  6. Chateau Haut-Brion 1970 (139.5 points)
  7. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 (133.0 points)
  8. Clos du Val 1972 (129.0 points)
  9. Heitz Cellar 1970 (124.0 points)
  10. Chateau Leoville Las Cases 1971 (119.5 points)

If the original 1976 Paris tasting sent shock waves around the wine world – especially within France and particularly Bordeaux and Burgundy – the “Judgement of Tokyo 2017” addresses an important benchmark of what makes a great wine truly great. Ageability or sustainability.

In 1881, Josephine Tychson and her husband came to Saint Helena to chase their dream of making wine from their own vineyard. So began the journey of what we know today as Freemark Abbey.

Following the “Judgement of Paris 1976” some French commentators argued that it was not a fair tasting because the wines were too young, and that given time, Bordeaux reds (and Burgundy whites) would show better and emerge victorious. In 2017 in Tokyo, the California and French wines were 44 to 48 years old. So, that argument can no longer hold water.

Freemark Abbey is not unknown to score first in other regards.

In 1881, Josephine Tychson and her husband came to Saint Helena to chase their dream of making wine from their own vineyard. Following the death of her husband John in 1886, Tychson built the original redwood cellar and became the first recorded female winemaker in Napa Valley. In 1898, she sold the winery to her good friend Antonio Forni who renamed it Lombarda Cellars, after his birthplace in Italy. The following year, Forni built a stone winery made of hand-strewn stones from nearby Glass Mountain. This 120-year old historic structure is used today for barrel storage.

In 1939, the start of World War II saw America waging another kind of war. Against alcohol. Which came to be known as Prohibition. The winery was closed for 20 years until three businessmen from Southern California revived it. The three friends were Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster and Albert “Abbey” Ahern. So was born a new chapter for the winery which bears a combination of their names until today.

Another change of ownership took place in 1967. Seven wine loving friends purchased the winery and the partners put their seal on the signature style of Freemark Abbey Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bosche is the name of a single vineyard which produces one of California’s most sought-after cabernet sauvignons. 

The winery has a cellar door, membership, and library where members enjoy privileges and priority, including access to back vintages.

Just as importantly, in 1985, Ted Edwards became winemaker. And has charted its winemaking course since then. Edwards is committed to producing “classically elegant” wines. He happens to be the longest tenured winemaker in Napa Valley, another milestone for Freemark Abbey.

In 2006 the winery was purchased by Jackson Family Wines. The family-owned group is one of the world’s largest wine producers with over 40 brands from vineyards and wineries in California, Oregon, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Australia, Chile and South Africa. Jackson Family Wines owns more than 12,000 hectares in America and is the largest proprietor of coastal vineyards in California and Oregon. Size alone is not what impresses about the group. Their commitment to sustainability knows no bounds and, over the years, the group has won accolades including EPA Green Power Leadership Award, Green Company of the Year, Top Project of the Year, California Green Medal Leader Award for Sustainable Winegrowing, and Sonoma County Harvest Outstanding Sustainable Processor/Maker Award.

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