Winemaking

Big Changes for a St. Helena Winery

With the 2019 announcement at Freemark Abbey that its longtime winemaker, Ted Edwards, was transitioning to an emeritus role and Kristy Melton, would assume the Winemaker position Ted had held for an astonishing four decades, it was one of the most significant developments at the St. Helena winery since the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976.

Whether contemporary, pre-Prohibition, or late 19th century, history has always played an important part at Freemark Abbey. As one of Napa Valley’s oldest estates, how it could it not? Now, with past catching up to present in the winemaking transition, it’s important to recognize the role Ted has played since he arrived in 1980—not just as a winemaker all of that time, but also as a passionate viticulturalist and an ambassador for the Freemark brand.

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Freemark Abbey winemakers Kristy Melton and Ted Edwards

A Unique Cabernet Winegrower

Whether trudging across the rocky landscape between Merlot vines in Stagecoach Vineyard up on Atlas Peak, or taking his umpteenth walk through the familiar territory of his beloved Rutherford Bench, Ted has always seemed to fit the parallel description of a winemaker: he’s a winegrower.

As the term would suggest, it encompasses both the traditional craftsperson’s role in winemaking—the hands-on, technical definition—along with the grape farming aspect of wine. Beyond restricting himself to a cellar, lab, barrel room, or crushpad, Ted takes an abiding interest in where Freemark’s unique Cabernet and other wine grapes are grown, what types of soils and weather patterns affect the vines, and how the highest quality fruit can be coaxed from them each growing season to make the best wine. To stroll among the vines of the Bosché or Sycamore Vineyards with Ted is to perhaps catch him in his most natural state.

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Freemark Abbey winemaker emeritus Ted Edwards

History in the Making

Handing off the winemaking reigns to Kristy Melton is, as Ted noted in the early 2020 Freemark Abbey newsletter, another nod to history. He pointed out that the winery has always been a story of partnerships throughout its long history: in the earliest days between its founder, Josephine Tychson, and a neighboring, female winemaker; then the partnership between the three friends who gave Freemark Abbey its name; and then in the 1960s, when seven men, also friends and business partners, ushered the winery into one of the most exciting times in California wine history.

“Another partnership formed,” as he wrote in the newsletter, is how Ted views his new working relationship with Kristy Melton in 2020. It’s been big news for everyone involved—not least Ted and Kristy. The road to the present at Freemark has been a winding one for both winemakers, and now they have more history to make together at Freemark Abbey.

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Napa Valley St Helena Winery Freemark Abbey