The earthquake that shook Napa Valley in August 2014 was particularly cruel to Trefethen Family Vineyards, causing the near-collapse of its historic winery. Built in 1886 by Hamden McIntyre, a renowned winery architect of the day, the three-story wooden building shifted four feet during the temblor. The Trefethen family—John and Janet Trefethen, daughter Hailey and son Lorenzo—wasn’t initially sure the building was salvageable. Hailey, who oversaw the three-year process to restore the landmark, recalls the experience.
Did you consider tearing the building down and starting over?
It was emotional for sure, and interesting to see how you react in a crisis. We had to figure out how to bring the grapes in. Every vintage has always been made here, so while people were wonderful in offering their facilities, it didn’t feel right to make our wine anywhere else. We got the engineers and contractors in to develop a shoring system that kept the building from falling further so we could harvest. It was not until after harvest that the family started talking, and our first choice was always to save the building. It meant a lot to us in terms of memories but also to Napa’s history. We really are stewards here and part of a bigger story. A lot of people told us how sad they were to see the building leaning because it’s a landmark they pass every day. We realized how many people have an attachment to this building.
Apparently, restoration wasn’t the best financial choice. At least one wine-industry expert said, “Any sane person would have knocked the barn down.”
We had to consider that option depending on what the architects and engineers told us. We didn’t know if it could be saved. So we did have those conversations: What would we do? It was a good exercise, but when they came back to us and said, “Absolutely, we can save that building,” that’s what we wanted to do.
Do you think that your sustainable vineyard and winery practices influenced your decision?
There’s definitely an appreciation for the land and wanting to take care of what we have that’s part of our culture, and this carried over into our desire to save this building. My brother’s and my vision isn’t to make dramatic changes. We want to take care of what we have here, make the best wine we can and do it better every year.
You led the rebuild. What were some of the bigger challenges?
Since this wasn’t planned, the biggest challenge was that you’re simultaneously designing and repairing. First came all the structural work and repairs, but at the same time, you have to think about the final layout. The tasting room was on the first floor originally, but the second floor has always been our favorite because there’s so much more light and those incredible tongue-and-groove redwood ceilings. We just couldn’t take people up there before because we didn’t have elevators.
We were slightly limited in making energy upgrades because of the building’s historical nature, but we did make some improvements. The first floor of the building has always stayed cool through natural night-air cooling, so we took advantage of that by moving the tasting room to the second floor, allowing more room on the cool first floor for barrels and wine storage. While the external siding was off, we added modern insulation, and of course all the lighting is now LED. We have been 100 percent solar since 2012.
Did you re-use a lot of the original material?
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, so a preservation architect was part of our team. He knew the standards for historical buildings, so we could work within the guidelines. We exceeded his forecast of what we would be able to re-use. We wanted to be above 75 percent and we were over 80 percent. We labeled every piece of siding, repaired it as best we could, and put it back on the building in the same spot.