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Can a Napa Icon Be Saved?

The Trefethen family vows to restore the historic but quake-damaged McIntyre winery
Photo by: Courtesy Trefethen Family Vineyards
Saving historic McIntyre winery will have to wait until after harvest.

Posted: Sep 17, 2014 11:00am ET

Of all the dramatic visuals the morning after the Napa earthquake—the shattered wine cellars and landslides of fallen barrels—nothing for me was more startling than the live TV images of the historic McIntyre building, crippled and sagging on the grounds of Trefethen Vineyards in Yountville. 

History is a fascination of mine and the old McIntyre winery is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Napa Valley. It was built in 1886 by Hamden McIntyre, a Scotsman who was also behind the impressive designs of Far Niente and Inglenook wineries as well as Greystone, now home to the West Coast campus of the Culinary Institute of America.

The quake hit at 3:20 a.m. on Aug. 24 and it was still dark at 4 a.m. when Hailey Trefethen and her mother, Janet, arrived at the winery, where the upper floors now lean 4 feet further west than the foundation. "In that light especially," Hailey recalled, "it didn't look real. It was like a cartoon. We were in shock."

There were no employees working at the time, thankfully, she said, but by 10 a.m. the entire winery crew was on site, even though many of their homes were in shambles. "That's when I started crying for the first time, to know what this place means to all of our employees," Hailey said.

While most of the winemaking was done in nearby buildings, the old winery was like a home to the Trefethen family. Hailey and her brother Loren grew up playing there, and before the quake it was used as offices, tasting room and barrel storage.

After buying the property in 1968 and painstakingly restoring the McIntyre building, the Trefethens are hopeful they can once again restore its former glory. The first step was shoring up the building with iron beams and other measures to make it safe for engineers and architects to go inside.

The restoration plan is still in the works, and for now the winery remains closed to visitors, although the family has plans for a makeshift tasting room. As for a timetable on restoring the classic structure -- if it's possible - it remains too soon to know. "Realistically, yes, it could be a few years," she said. "Hopefully, not too many."

Right now, at least, the winery is focusing on harvest. "We've been making wine through all of this," Hailey said. "We're going to have to wait until the end of harvest before we know more."

Dry Creek Vineyard
Bill Smart —  September 17, 2014 12:22pm ET
The Trefethens are some of the classiest people in the wine business. The entire wine community is with them. They will rebuild and come away stronger than ever.
Daniel Sherer
Windsor, CA, USA —  September 17, 2014 6:38pm ET
Another reminder how precious life is and how strong "Mother Nature" can be. The Trefethens have worked hard all their lives and within seconds their business is jeopardized. The best of luck to them and I encourage consumers and industry people to support them and buy a few bottles of their great wines.
William E Ward
Hopkins, MN. —  September 18, 2014 1:38pm ET
What Bill said.
Janet Trefethen is as classy as anyone I've met in the biz. And while the word "icon" has become overused/oft misused, it applies to this building.
Doug Jeffirs
Chicago, Ill. —  September 20, 2014 10:44am ET
I've been privileged to have known John and Janet for some 38 years. Great, great people! I feel their pain--I've been in that building a number of times. They WILL survive! All the best to them. Most people don't know that their preimum Chardonnay HALO is a combination of their kid's names Hailey and Logan.
All my best,

Ron Basgall
Wine Consultant
Binny's Beverage Depot
Willowbrook, Il

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