Emil Tedeschi is one of those men that, upon meeting, you know they have a very interesting story to tell. When I first met him, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the stories he had about growing up on a winery, making money selling grapes during the prohibition, starting a winery in Hawaii, and coming back to his hometown to make wine the way he likes it.
Always willing to open a bottle and talk for a while, Tedeschi definitely has a story worth hearing. This is the thought I had as I sat with him in his vineyards, looking out over the expanse of vines towards the towering form of Mount St. Helena, glass of delicious 2004 Tedeschi Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon in hand.
The family has been in Calistoga, California for three generations. Tedeschi grew up on the same property that is now Tedeschi Family Winery, watching his grandfather make wine and helping in the fields. Before it became a winery, the land was part of the Little Piza Resort, and the wine they made was shared with family, friends and guests of the resort. The Tedeschi family also owned the Fleur Di Italia, which is now the Calistoga Inn.
Eventually, the Tedeschis sold the inn and resort, turning completely to the winemaking business. Tedeschi remembers helping his father remove the fruit trees that covered the property and planting grapevines over 30 years ago. Many of those same vines are still there. During prohibition, they were able to make a living by shipping their grapes by train to Vallejo, where they were ferried over to San Francisco and sold to immigrants who would use it them to make wine and sell it on the black market.
In the 1970’s, Tedeschi took a trip with a friend to the island of Maui, and he quickly fell in love with Hawaii. He found an old, run-down coffee plantation and, looking out at the hillsides and mountains that surrounded the property, became inspired. After doing some research back in the States, he decided it was possible to establish a winery in Hawaii, and he quickly found a partner who was interested in this seemingly impossible venture. Now, Tedeschi Vineyards in Maui, is one of the most successful wineries in Hawaii, and one of only two on the island itself.
But in 1991, Tedeschi realized that he was more interested in making Bordeaux style wines than the sweet Pineapple wines that were popular in Hawaii. He felt it was time to return home, to the vineyards he had grown up in.
The grapes were there, but he had to build the winery from scratch. He relied heavily on the throwaways of outdated equipment from larger wineries that had turned to more modern methods of winemaking. As a result, the winery is constructed mostly out of recycled materials, including the leftover cement that was given to tedeschi by a friend who had extra after doing his own renovations.
According to Tedeschi, there are two choices a winemaker has when making wine: “to make wine you know people will buy, or to make wine you enjoy. I chose to make wine that I enjoy, and I hope others will like it as well.” Speaking as one of those other people, they do.
His wines are a unique style, especially here in Napa Valley. Contrary to the heavy Cabernets the Valley is known for, he prefers to make his wines in a Bordeaux style, using mostly Neutral French and some American oak barrels, and leaving his wine in the barrel for up to 36 months, which is longer than many wineries, but results in a very drinkable wine once it reaches the bottle.
This is why only the 2003 and 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is available, and why the 2005 Merlot was just released last year. Tedeschi hopes to have his 2005 Cabernet ready soon as well. His Cabernet Sauvignon is lower in alcohol than most found in the same region, and is much softer on the palette, with notes of blackberries, rich red plums, vanilla and brown sugar.
It isn’t easy making wine against the grain in Napa Valley, nor is it easy being a winery producing only a few hundred cases in California’s famous winegrowing region, where over 500 wineries are competing to sell their products. But, he says, “I just take things one day at a time” and he enjoys every minute of running his own winery.
“After all,” says Tedeschi, “where else can you go out and grab a bottle of wine from your own back yard?”
Written by Stephanie Rosenburg. Stephanie jumped at the chance to work as a freelance designer while still in college, and by the time she graduating was already supporting herself by her work. Her drive and initiative have carried her far, opening doors and leading her to meet some very interesting people. Her favorite question is “why?” and she love finding out the answers, or at least getting closer to them. Her love of wine and the culture that surrounds it enticed her to stay in the Napa Valley after college. With a background in both design and public relations, she is especially interested in connecting smaller wineries to their public through new media such as the internet, video and social media.