Saturday, May 1, 2004
Napa Wineries Put Some Aviation in Every Bottle
John Trefethen, whose name graces one of Napa Valley’s premier wineries, is standing inside an oak barrel room of his historic winery on his 600-acre vineyard. Neatly dressed in jeans and a mustard-yellow silk shirt, Trefethen is regaling his listeners with some hangar talk about a crop-duster that used to land on the one-lane entrance road when the winery started in the early ’70s. In those days, Trefethen was flying his Cessna 182 out of the Napa Valley Airport 10 miles away, causing the crop-dusting pilot to scratch his head.
“Why do you go all the way down to the airport?” he asked. “Why don’t you land here?”
The refined-looking Trefethen is a very precise sort of man who likes to do things by the book, for the most part. So he replied, a bit incredulously, “This is pretty narrow. And there are trees at both ends.”
“When you land at the airport, don’t you land on the white line?” asked the crop-duster pilot. Trefethen nodded. “Well, just imagine there’s a white line down the middle and land,” advised the crop-duster pilot.
So for the next few years, Trefethen landed his 182 and then his Bonanza on the 1,800-foot road, although he couldn’t take off in the latter anywhere near full gross weight. “I had a line painted midway down the road,” he recalls. “If a car turned onto the drive before we got to the white line on takeoff, we’d stop. But if a car came in after we got to the white line, we’d keep going. So many times, you’d see these cars turn off, thinking they had just turned onto a runway. To land, you had to drop in over the top of the big oak trees, and I would do it perfectly, but then, I’d go to a 9,000-foot runway and blow the landing. It was too easy.”
Before long, Trefethen had graduated to twin engines that were too big and fast to land on the road. Then, Napa Valley turned into a top tourist destination and more cars appeared. But, as he clearly illustrates, flying and winemaking have always had a close relationship with each other—and never more so than now. With commercial travel getting more difficult and vintners spending more time on the road because of increased competition from a grape glut that has caused a three-year price slump, piloting their own planes is an advantage.
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