A young mother traveling west from Pennsylvania with an ailing husband in the 1880 probably doesn’t fit the image of a Napa Valley wine pioneer. But that’s exactly who Josephine Tychson was when she arrived in St. Helena: one of the first ladies of the California wine industry.
In 1881, Josephine and her Danish husband, John, purchased nearly 150 acres of property just north of St. Helena from a sea captain, William Sayward. With a shared dream of becoming vintners, they planted Zinfandel, Riesling, and “Burgundy” vines on the estate. Five years later, Tychson Cellars was established, but not before John’s affliction with tuberculosis caused him to commit suicide.
After this tragedy, the undaunted Josephine continued to nurture the vines she and her husband had planted together, and with the help of a foreman she oversaw the construction of an impressive redwood cellar, large enough to contain up to 30,000 gallons of wine. As one of the first female winemakers on record in Napa Valley, she operated the cellar and continued to cultivate the land.
Josephine’s Legacy of St. Helena Wines
Sadly, though Josephine achieved well-deserved acclaim for the wines that bore the Tychson name, another tragedy struck in 1893 in the form of the vine disease phylloxera. The deadly parasite destroyed enough of her acreage that she was prompted to sell the estate to her foreman. He, in turn, sold Tychson Cellars to Antonio Forni, who took this historic property into its next chapter at the turn of the 20th century.
But Josephine Tychson, both the name and extraordinary woman, are far from forgotten at Freemark Abbey. Her name is integrated into a pair of the winery’s premium offerings, the Josephine’s Cellar wine club and Josephine Red, a Bordeaux blend from vineyards surrounding Freemark Abbey that is one of the finest St. Helena wines produced.
And if you look carefully as you approach the winery today, you can see the engraved, red sign for Tychson Hill Road, Josephine’s old stomping—and horse riding—grounds, and a reminder of an important time in Napa Valley’s history.