Leo Trentadue, patriarch of a prominent Alexander Valley winemaking family and founder of a respected wine brand, died of heart failure Jan. 5 at home in Geyserville, Calif. He was 88.
Born in 1925 in Santa Clara Valley, just south of San Francisco, Trentadue developed his green thumb tending to fruit orchards on his family's apricot farm. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, landing in France in August 1944, and was awarded both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service.
In 1959, he and his wife, Evelyn, moved north to Alexander Valley, near the small town of Geyserville, and settled on a 208-acre ranch, with almost 150 acres of plum trees and 60 acres of vines. There they began cultivating grapes and building their namesake winery.
Trentadue had an aptitude for viticulture and a particular fondness for old vines. The Trentadue family owns one of Alexander Valley’s oldest vineyards, Whitton Ranch. The 7-acre site was planted with Carignane, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Alicante Bouschet in the 1880s. The soils are deep, gravelly loam laced with ancient river rocks, and the wines often show a backbone of minerality and high acidity. Since 1966, Trentadue has sold the grapes to Ridge Vineyards for their Geyserville Zinfandel blend. “Leo was extremely dedicated,” Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards told Wine Spectator.
At a time when most were ripping up and replanting vineyards, Trentadue remained dedicated to maintaining and preserving the old vines. “We never had to talk to Leo about quality,” said Draper, noting that Trentadue's fruit created some of Draper's favorite wines.
The relationship between Trentadue and Ridge precedes Draper’s tenure at the winery. Before moving to Alexander Valley, Leo and Evelyn used to picnic near an old, abandoned winery on Montebello Ridge in Cupertino. Ridge Vineyards owned 10 acres of old-vine Cabernet planted just below. Leo and Evelyn convinced the owner to let them buy the property, which they used as a getaway from the city life. In 1974, Trentadue sold the property to Ridge, allowing the winery to expand and build their Monte Bello estate. According to Draper, part of the deal included Trentadue’s continued access to the chestnuts from trees planted on the property, which to this day are still delivered to the family upon harvest.
Trentadue, along with Draper, was one of the first to bring attention to Alexander Valley Zinfandel. Beyond his loyalty to old vines, Trentadue often experimented with viticulture techniques, and is regarded as the first to bring advanced irrigation practices to vineyards.
Remembered as a warmhearted, generous man who loved food and entertaining, Trentadue is survived by his wife, Evelyn, of 63 years, his three children, Annette Trentadue, Victor Trentadue and Lisa Allen, and six grandchildren.