Al Frediani was known for his love for his old vines, his meticulous farming and his sharp sense of humor. Born on his family's Napa Valley farm, he spent his life working on the property. Frediani died Oct. 18, 2018, a month shy of his 97th birthday.
The 20-acre Frediani vineyard, tucked away in the northeast corner of the valley on a quiet road near Calistoga, is planted to prized Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Valdiguié (a French variety locally dubbed "Napa Gamay") and Petite Sirah, which Frediani called by its old winegrowers' nickname, "Petty Sarah." Producers including Relic, Conn Creek and Stags' Leap Winery have purchased his grapes. The nearest neighbor is the famed Eisele Vineyard, which was purchased in July 2013 by the owners of Bordeaux first-growth Château Latour.
"Al was in love with his vines and loved spending time in the vineyard," Relic winemaker Mike Hirby told Wine Spectator. "He farmed the old way, which meant dry-farming and organic farming of the simplest kind. He let the vines do the rest, which is what it is all about."
Frediani's father bought and planted the site after emigrating from Italy in the early 1900s. Frediani was born there Nov. 23, 1921, and was raised on the land, helping his father in the vineyards as a child and then returning to the property after serving in the Army during World War II. Since then, not much has changed in the way the land has been farmed, except that tractors have replaced horses, much to Frediani's dismay.
Hirby says Frediani liked to talk about those horses. "He got his first tractor in 1953, and how he missed working the horses, although they kicked him and ran away often. He was a gentle spirit with a lot of heart and a great sense of humor, always happy."
Frediani did not irrigate and he didn't believe in spraying pesticides in his vineyard. If he saw a weed, he would simply pull it out with his bare hands. Even when his age slowed him down, he continued to do as much in the vineyard as possible, with help from his son Steve, who lives in his own house on the property.
Winemaker Jeff Cohn says he will remember Frediani as a "true character." Cohn said, "The first time I met him was in the front of his home. He was skinning a jackrabbit to use [as bait] to attract the yellow jackets [away] from his house. It was a good-sized knife."
"Grape sampling with Al was always interesting," added Cohn. Frediani had an old Coke can with the top cut off. "He would take a bunch of berries, crush them up [in the can] and use an old refractometer to see the Brix. I have a feeling this refractometer had not been calibrated since John F. Kennedy was in office. It used to amuse me, how close his numbers were to what I would get at the lab."
The vineyard's old, gnarled vines were scattered among piles of wood, old cars, washboards and buckets of walnuts from a handful of trees Frediani planted years ago. "That was a mistake," Frediani told Wine Spectator about the walnuts in an interview in 2014. "They don't pay much."
Frediani's hard work and commitment to his vineyard was as legendary as his grapes. "I feel so lucky to have been able to work with him over the last decade," said Hirby. "He taught me so much about what is important in vineyard work, wine, and in life."
Frediani is survived by six children, 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
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