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Leo Trentadue Dies at 88

Alexander Valley winegrower tended to some of California’s oldest vines

Aaron Romano
Posted: January 10, 2014

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.

Dana Nigro
New York, NY —  January 14, 2014 9:47am ET
One of our magazine readers wrote in with some lovely memories of Leo, so I wanted to make sure they are shared here.

Leo Trentadue was indeed a “warmhearted, generous man who loved food and entertaining.” My wife and I met Leo and his wife and son in France on a trip for veterans of the 79th Infantry Division. After a long day of visiting sites in eastern France that were personally significant to Leo and the other veterans we went back to the hotel in Luneville. The Trentadues brought in several bottles of their wine which they shared with the Americans on the tour and a few curious French people in the lobby / bar of the hotel. The Trentadues invited us to visit them the next time we were in California, perhaps thinking that it was unlikely that a couple from Oklahoma would come to Geyserville.

However, the next time we made a wine trip to California we called them and told them we would like to come visit their winery and take them out to dinner. Somewhat to our surprise, they accepted our invitation. That was the first of several (but not nearly enough) times that we visited Leo and Evelyn in Geyserville. Sometimes we went to the restaurant in Geyserville (Leo always enjoyed the tripe), sometimes they fixed meals for us in their house next to the winery (Evelyn’s pastas are wonderful), and sometimes we just drank wine. The conversation was always engaging, his story of “negotiating” with Francis Ford Coppola is particularly memorable. Leo always wanted us to try something he had produced—limoncello, olive oil, or vinegar. And there were always family and friends around.

We will always be grateful that Leo and Evelyn were so gracious to share a very small part of their lives with some folks from the Midwest whose only connection was that my father and Leo had served in the US Army at the same time in the same place (but never met). I treasure the copy of his book, “My Nine Lives,” that he gave to us. It recounts some of the stories he told us about his life, and many more. And lots of pictures, many with that mischievous smile of his.
We enjoyed a bottle of Trentadue 2006 Syrah from our cellar (cellar sounds good, but it’s actually a closet) in Leo’s memory last Saturday night. Thank you Leo, for the wine and the memories.

Bret B Baker

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