A Platypus Tour Guide Shares Hidden Treasures of the Napa Valley

Posted on December 26, 2013

This Week: Tedeschi Family Winery

If you really desire a trek into “the way things used to be” in the Napa Valley, before the large corporations exuded so much influence, consider visiting the Tedeschi Family Winery. Located at 2779 Grant Street in Calistoga, this winery is open seven days a week by appointment (707) 337-6835 from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. If you desire any glitz and glamour in a winery visit, you should stop reading now. Tedeschi Family Winery features a totally handmade winery structure, with simplicity as the driving theme. The family that owns this winery consists of Emil Tedeschi (Vintner & Owner), and his two sons Emilio Tedeschi (General Manager), and Mario Tedeschi (Winemaker).

Lovely outdoor spot at Tedeschi
Lovely outdoor spot at Tedeschi

Emil has a long history of winemaking, and is the founder of another winery still operating in Maui, Hawaii (Tedeschi Maui Winery). The Tedeschi family has been in the Napa Valley for several generations, starting with Emil’s father (Eugene) planting grapevines and a walnut tree orchard on his Calistoga property in the 1960s. The ownership of the property dates back another generation to 1919, where that generation of the Tedeschi family owned a bed and breakfast catering to visitors traveling up from San Francisco. Emil Tedeschi redeveloped his father’s orchards and vineyards in 1991.

Emilio Tedeschi poses in the winery's lovely outdoor seating area
Emilio Tedeschi poses in the winery’s lovely outdoor seating area

The Tedeschi Family Winery wines represent a “farm-to-table” experience. When you arrive on the property, one of the family members will greet you and take you on a tour of the vineyards and winery. You will get some education on how the family grows the grapes and maintains their vineyards, as well as a tour of the crush pad and all winery equipment and barrel storage room. The winery only produces less than 900 cases of wine annually, which is a microscopic amount here in the Napa Valley.

Some of the wonderful wine offerings made by Tedeschi
Some of the wonderful wine offerings made by Tedeschi

Most of the red wine at Tedeschi Family Winery is made in an ancient method, called “open top fermentation.” This method features a one ton plastic box filled with fermenting grapes and juice. When fermentation commences, the carbon dioxide pushes the red grape skins up to the top of the tank, and these skins float and become a cap. Since all red grape juice starts out clear, the contact of the clear juice with the red skins is critical for producing all the color in a red wine, plus lots of additional flavors. The floating grape skin cap at the top of the box will not deliver enough contact between the grape skins and the bulk of the juice below, so the winemaker has to manually stir the grape skins back down into the juice below with a hand held “punch down” device several times each day during the two to three week fermentation period. This method of small lot winemaking is the most ancient method, and produces wonderful results. If you visit the winery during harvest time of September & October, chances are excellent you will see the various boxes of wine fermenting, and this can be a rare hands-on experience for those who visit wineries in the Napa Valley.

Tedeschi’s wine is produced on site and actually labeled and bottled one bottle at a time by hand. This is truly the opposite of mass production! The wines come from single vineyards that are dry farmed, and consist of estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Semillon, and dessert wine made from Tempranillo. The wines are really delicious, and the family produces wines that are a little lower in alcohol than most, desiring better wine pairing with food.

Emilio with a little platypus!
Emilio with a little platypus!

The family is set up well for the future: Emilio Tedeschi is in his twenties, and received a biochemistry degree from Gonzaga University in Washington state. He first desired a career in the oil and gas field, but after a couple of years in that field in Washington, yearned to join the family winery business. He handles the General Manager role, and will be pursuing his MBA soon. His brother, Mario, has become the winemaker and vineyard manager, and is one of those handy people who can fix just about any piece of equipment. The family is so down-to-earth and real, and you will really relax and feel welcome while visiting their winery.

Don’t form an ironclad concept about the Napa Valley due to the slick commercial presentation of the wineries lining both sides of Highway 29. There are still a few small, family-owned wineries that are hidden in the Napa Valley, and they are well worth a visit. For one of the most educational experiences that can be found in the Napa Valley, step back in time and visit the Tedeschi Family Winery.

Written by tour guide Steve Hunter

Next Week: Whetstone Winery!