Freemark Abbey, one of the pioneer wineries to bring the historic wine renaissance to the Napa Valley and California, just turned 40.
It was the only winery, also, to have both its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay selected by Steven Spurrier to compete in the famed 1976 Paris tasting, which put Napa and California on the world wine map.
The purchase of Freemark Abbey by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke in 2006 constitutes a continuing move into the Napa Valley by the former attorney-grape grower, who began his meteoric winemaking career in 1982 with a small winery in Lake County, according to Wine Business.
The exceptional success of his off-dry Chardonnay led to extensive land and winery acquisitions in Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.
In 1996, Jackson began purchasing properties in Napa, his first being the Robert Pepi winery in Oakville, followed by the La Jota Winery on Howell Mountain. He also completed the purchase of the Robert Pecota Winery north of Calistoga, which has been renamed Atalon.
John Bryant, owner of the Sycamore Vineyard and one of the partners who helped reestablish Freemark Abbey in 1967, applauded the purchase.
“When I sat down at the table with Jess Jackson, he clearly showed that he was a man about the land,” Bryant said. “I want you to continue to be artisan winemakers,” were his words to me. “He’s totally supportive of what we’re doing with the Bosche and Sycamore Vineyards.
I see more good times ahead for Freemark Abbey.”
According to Ted Edwards, winemaker at Freemark Abbey for 26 years, the new ownership is intent on keeping the winery an independent unit and building its brand.
“A considerable amount of new equipment is already coming in to update our winemaking process,” he said, referring to a new heating and cooling system for the old winery, and a a modern sorting station to ensure cleaner fruit. “The winery has quite a history, and the Jackson family wants to reestablish it as one of the preeminent wineries in the Napa Valley. We are definitely in the process of raising the bar.”