NAPA, Calif. – In more than 100 years dating to 1886, the tasting room at what has become the Trefethen Family Vineyards has stood unblemished, unaffected and as a symbol of pride for what has become one of America’s standout wineries.
On August 24, 2014, things changed.
The 6.0 earthquake that rocked Napa Valley that Saturday night/early Sunday morning shook the building, which seriously damaged the exterior and also affected some of the supply.
But it also planted the seed of recovery that has borne itself out on race tracks for the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge season.
“If that was going to happen, it happened at the best possible time,” says Lorenzo Trefethen, whose grandfather Eugene founded the winery in 1968 and who is embarking on his maiden season driving in PWC, bearing the family’s winery signage on his ANSA Motorsports No. 13 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in the GT Cup class.
“It happened in the middle of the night, when there was no one here. And it happened in the calendar year, when we could still do something to rebuild awareness for the following year.”
While wineries are a dime a dozen in Napa Valley – there’s nearly 500 in and around the area in Sonoma – Trefethen’s is one of the first.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were fewer than 25. But with a visionary plan for the area beyond just the near 600 acres of land at what had been the 19th century Eschol Winery, the Trefethen Family Vineyards grew into the place it is today.
It was in the late 1970s, only a handful of years after 1973 when the vineyard’s first commercial wine was produced, when Trefethen’s wines began to make their mark on the world stage.
Its 1976 Chardonnay earned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris.
It came as a shock to the French-dominated world of wine at the time and as Lorenzo explains, it did to the family as well.
“When that won best in the world in Paris, no one could believe it when we won,” he said.
“My parents (John and Janet) got phone calls from journalists… and they were surprised because they didn’t even know it was entered in the contest!
“My mom thought it was my dad’s friends calling us. It was essentially a practical joke.
“We only had six people in the winery at the time versus about 100-plus now.
“So alas, they all agreed to a rematch in 1980. It was a French home game, and we won again.”
To this day the Trefethen Chardonnay is the only wine to have won that award twice, no less than in back-to-back years.
The seeds of the award-winner were planted years earlier with Lorenzo’s grandfather’s vision. He explains how it all came to be, as they made sure to keep the reclaimed land entirely agricultural focused.
“In 1968, there was a measure put before voters to establish the first agricultural preserve in Napa Valley,” he said. “There was a new set of zoning restrictions put into place, to keep any type of activity outside city centers and outside the county, ag-only.
“He wanted to preserve the structure and he would purchase eight farms. But he said, ‘I won’t unless this measure is passed.’ That set the stage for the success of Napa Valley.”
The internal success at the Trefethen has come in large part from the foresight.
Jon Ruel, Trefethen Family Vineyards CEO, described how wine making and grape growing are similar to race teams – it requires a full team effort from the roughly 115 employees.
“For us, racing is used to tell the story,” Ruel said. “It’s an estate winery. All controlled. Many employees are long-term, some 30-plus years.
“Asking, ‘Who’s your wine maker?’ is like asking who’s your driver. But it takes a full team.
“You have to execute your harvest, make grapes. It’s harvest season right now, and thank goodness not all grapes pop at the same time.”
The temperature in Napa provides a perfect balance, with hot days and cool nights allowing the grapes to keep their tartness. The berries themselves are smaller at Trefethen, which is by design because it enhances their intensity and quality.
One of the other key areas that has allowed the winery to thrive is its amount of water preservation. Since fine wine is stressed, you generally want to use less water.
At the property, water flows into reservoirs at low points in the property. It’s all runoff and collected into a central sum.
These type of systems were cutting edge in the 1960s and 1970s.
That’s the groundwork. The rebuild has come this year after the earthquake, with the last-minute nature of the racing program coming together to help raise the winery’s awareness once again and help increase sales. Sales have gone up in several markets where World Challenge races this year.
Trefethen’s rookie season with ANSA in the No. 13 Porsche has witnessed him score 13 top-five finishes in 15 starts in class, including his first win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in May and three other podium finishes.
This weekend there’s an IndyCar component for the Trefethens as well, with a tie-in between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Trefethen Family Vineyards.
A meeting between ANSA Motorsports team manager Emmanuel Lupe and SPM team co-owner Sam Schmidt has occurred; SPM sponsor ARROW Global has at least 70 guests on hand this weekend and needing a place to entertain, the Trefethen Vineyards were available for one night this weekend.
The Trefethen logo will have a small place on the No. 5 ARROW/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda, driven by Ryan Briscoe, this weekend.
Overall, Trefethen’s relaxed nature – along with that of his sister Hailey and the rest of the family as mentioned – now makes so much more sense upon the tour of the winery, where a sampling occurred of five different wines (2014 dry Riesling, 2013 Chardonnay, 2012 Merlot, Dragon’s Tooth and a Cabernet, but who’s counting?).
“When people think of the mental image of a winery, we are it,” he says.
THERMAL, Calif. – Winning the Indy 500 is a crowning achievement for driver and car owner, but for Chip Ganassi, last May’s victory by Marcus Ericsson had meaning even beyond just capturing one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
When Ganassi was 5 years old and growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his father, Floyd, attended a convention in Indianapolis in 1963. Floyd went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to tour the track and visit the former museum that used to stand next to the main gate on 16th and Georgetown.
Ganassi’s father brought young Chip a souvenir from the gift shop. It was an 8-millimeter film of the 1963 Indy 500, a race won by the legendary Parnelli Jones.
“I must have watched it about 1,000 times,” Ganassi recalled. “More importantly than that, something you did when you were 5 years old is still with you today.
“I was 50 years old when I celebrated my Thanksgiving with Parnelli. It dawned on me that something I did when I was 5 years old took me to when I was 50 years old. That’s pretty special.”
Ericsson and Ganassi were presented with their “Baby Borgs,” the mini-replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy, in a ceremony Feb. 2 at The Thermal Club (which played host to NTT IndyCar Series preseason testing). The win in the 106th Indy 500 marked the sixth time a Ganassi driver won the biggest race in the world.
Ganassi will turn 65 on May 24, just four days before the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28. The 2023 race will mark the 60th anniversary of the victory by Jones, who is now the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500 at 89.
Jones wanted to do something special for Ericsson and Ganassi, so each was given framed photos personally inscribed by Jones.
“Congratulations Marcus Ericsson and my good friend Chip Ganassi on winning the 2022 Indianapolis 500,” Jones said in remarks conveyed by BorgWarner publicist Steve Shunck. “There is no greater race in the whole world and winning it in 1963 was by far the biggest thrill in my life.”
Ganassi’s relationship with his racing hero began 60 years ago, but the two have shared some important moments since then.
It was Jones that signed off on Ganassi’s first Indianapolis 500 license in 1982. Jones was one of the veteran observers who worked with Ganassi and other rookie drivers that year to ensure they were capable of competing in the high-speed, high-risk Indianapolis 500.
When Ganassi turned 50, he got to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with Jones.
“We’ve been friends over the years,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “He wrote me a personal note and sent me some personal photographs. It really says what this race is all about and how important it is to win the biggest auto race in the world.”
Michelle Collins, the director of global communications and marketing for BorgWarner, presented the “Baby Borgs,” first to Ganassi and then to Ericsson.
“More special is winning the Indianapolis 500,” Ganassi said during the presentation. “It’s been a big part of my life. I want to call out my buddy, Roger Penske, and thank him for the stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to us. It’s about the history, the tradition and, to me, it’s about the people that have meant so much in my life.
“Thanks for the trophy, Marcus.”
The Baby Borg presentation also came on the birthday of sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the Bas-relief sterling silver face of each winner on the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1990. The “Baby Borg” presents each winner with a miniature of one of the most famous trophies in sports.
“I have to thank BorgWarner for everything that has happened since winning the Indianapolis 500, including the trip to Sweden,” said Ericsson, who took a November victory lap in his native country. “I’m very thankful for that because it’s memories that are going to be with me for the rest of my life.
“To bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to my hometown, seeing all the people there on the city square on a dark day in the middle of November. It was filled with people and that was very special.
“I’m very proud and honored to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing. To win the Indianapolis 500 with that team is quite an honor. It’s a team effort and a lot of people worked very hard to make this happen.
“Our focus now is to go back-to-back at the Indy 500.”
If Ericsson is successful in becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Indy since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02, he can collect an additional $420,000 in the Borg-Warner Rollover Bonus. With Castroneves the last driver to collect, the bonus has grown to an astronomical amount over 21 years.
Ericsson is from Kumla, Sweden, so the $420,000 would have an exchange rate of $4,447,641.67 Swedish Kronor.
“It’s a nice thing to know I could get that if I do win it again,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “But the Indianapolis 500 with its history as the biggest and greatest race in the world, it doesn’t matter with the money, with the points, with anything. Everyone is going to go out there and do everything to win that race.
“It’s great to know that, but I will race just as hard.”
A popular slogan in racing is “Chip Likes Winners.” After winning the 106th Indy 500, Ganassi must really love Ericsson.
“It doesn’t get much bigger than that, does it? I’m very thankful to be driving for Chip,” Ericsson said. “He likes winners and winning the Indianapolis 500, it doesn’t get better than that.”
When Ericsson was presented with his Baby Borg, he stood off to the side and admired it the way a child looks at a special gift on Christmas morning. The wide-eyed amazement of his career-defining moment was easy to read and met with delight by executives of BorgWarner (an automotive and technology company that has sponsored the Borg-Warner Trophy since its 1935 debut).
“I noticed that immediately and I was watching him look at it wishing I had a camera to capture that,” Collins told NBC Sports. “But maybe not because we always have our phones in front of us and it’s nice to take in that moment as it is. That is what makes the moment well worth it.”
Said BorgWarner executive vice president and chief strategic officer Paul Farrell: “It’s very special to have the big trophy that has been around since 1935 and to have a piece of that. Hopefully it’s something that (Ericsson) cherishes. We think it’s special, and clearly, Marcus Ericsson thinks it is very special.”
The process takes several more steps before the face is reduced to the size of an egg and casted in sterling silver. It is attached to the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy and unveiled at a ceremony later in the year. Ericsson’s face was unveiled last October during a ceremony in Indianapolis.
That’s when it hit Ericsson, a three-time winner in IndyCar after going winless in Formula One over 97 starts from 2014-18.
“Until then, it was strange because you are so busy with your season right after the Indy 500 you don’t really get much time to sit back and think about what you had accomplished,” Ericsson said. “It was the offseason before I really realized what I had done.”
The permanent trophy remains on display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but has been known to travel with the winning driver on special tours, such as the Nov. 3-7 trip to Sweden.
“It’s been incredible to see the amount of interest in me and the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500,” Ericsson said. “The trophy tour with the Borg-Warner Trophy we did in November really made a huge impact in Sweden. I was on every TV show, morning TV, magazines, newspapers, everywhere. People are talking about IndyCar racing. People are talking about Marcus Ericsson. It’s been huge.
“I was back in Sweden last month for the Swedish Sports Awards and I finished third in the Sports Performance of the Year. Motorsports is usually not even nominated there, and I finished third. That says a lot about the interest and support I’ve gotten back home in Sweden.”
Ericsson continued to reap the rewards of his Indianapolis 500 victory last week at the lavish Thermal Club, about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, California.
Earlier in the day before the Baby Borg presentation, Ericsson, and Chip Ganassi were among the 27 car-driver combinations that completed the first day of IndyCar’s “Spring Training” on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course. The next day, Ericsson turned the test’s fastest lap.
The 32-year-old still seems to be riding the wave, along with his girlfriend, Iris Tritsaris Jondahl, a Greece native who also lived in Sweden and now lives with Ericsson in Indianapolis.
“Today, receiving my Baby Borg, it was another thing of making it real,” Ericsson said. “It’s not a dream. It’s reality. To get the Baby Borg and bring it home. My girlfriend, Iris, and I are house hunting, looking for a house in Indianapolis. It will definitely have a very special place in our new home.”
Ericsson told NBC Sports his most cherished trophy before getting his Baby Borg was for his first NTT IndyCar Series win in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2021.
“It was such a huge win for me and such a huge breakthrough for me and my career,” he said. “After that, it catapulted me into a top driver in IndyCar.”
The Brickyard win was another level for Ericsson, who moved to Ganassi in 2020.
“Marcus kept himself in the race all day,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “Anybody that ran a race like Marcus ran, maybe you deserve the race win, but you don’t always get it. Marcus did everything that it took, and we are really, really proud of him.”
Ericsson also proved last year to be one of the best oval drivers in the series, a much different form of racing than he experienced until he came to the United States.
“Racing in Europe and around the world, I always liked high-speed corners,” he explained. “It was always my favorite. I always had this idea if I go to IndyCar and race on the ovals, it is something that would suit me and my driving style. I was always excited to try that. When I came to IndyCar and started to drive on ovals, I liked it straight away. It worked for me and my style.
“The first few attempts at Indy, I had good speed, but it was always some small mistakes that got me out of contention. I learned from them. I’m very proud I was able to pull it off, but it was a lot of hard work behind that.”
The victory in the Indianapolis 500 is etched in history, as is Ericsson’s face on the trophy.
“It’s such a special thing,” the driver said. “The BorgWarner people and IndyCar and everyone at IMS, I get to experience so many cool things since winning the Indy 500. It’s a win that keeps on giving. It never ends. It still does.
“I can’t wait to get back to Indianapolis, the month of May, as the champion. I still have to pinch myself. It’s a dream, for sure.”
Ganassi doesn’t have to pinch himself — all he needs to do is look at his collection of Baby Borgs.
His first Indy 500 win — as a team co-owner with Pat Patrick — came in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi’s thrilling duel against Al Unser Jr.
In 1990, Ganassi formed Chip Ganassi Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2010 and 2012 and Ericsson in 2022.
“It’s a feather in the team’s cap for sure just to have our representation on the Borg-Warner Trophy with five other drivers,” Ganassi said. “It’s a testament to the team, a testament to Mike Hull that runs the team in Indianapolis. I just feel really lucky to be a part of it. It’s great to work with a great team of great people.
“Just to relive that moment again and again never gets old; never goes away. I’m really lucky to be in the position I’m in. It’s an honor to represent the team with the great people that it took to bring Marcus across the finish line. He and I get to celebrate events like this, but it’s really about the people at Chip Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis that pull this all together.”