Californian wine expert Elin McCoy charts the ascension of Napa's Trefethen Family Vineyards and shares her tasting notes from their wine collection, including Library Selection Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons from 1979-2015...

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In 2014, when a major earthquake shook the Napa Valley, the Trefethen Family Vineyards’ pumpkin coloured 19th century wooden winery almost collapsed.

Leaning precariously, the massive building looked like a lost cause, but the Trefethens hired a crew to ratchet it upright and spent 33 months restoring it.


Scroll down for Elin McCoy’s wine ratings of top vintages


That kind of determination is one reason the family’s wine estate in Napa’s Oak Knoll District has prospered since its founding 50 years ago.

Only 25 wineries existed in Napa when Eugene Trefethen and his wife bought a dilapidated 440-acre ghost winery in 1968 and began planting vines on the gravelly soils of their main ranch. Their son John and his wife Janet released the first commercial wine, a Chardonnay, in 1973.

‘We used Bourbon barrels because we’d read that we should age chardonnay in oak,’ said Janet, as we sampled several older vintages of their famous white.