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Sutter Home Victorian on Highway 29

Trace the success of Trinchero Family Estates to the Sutter Home Victorian, a well-known icon on Napa Valley's Highway 29.

Napa Valley (AVA)

Trinchero Napa Valley Uses White Zinfandel Profits to Make Top Tier Wines

New Brands, New Real Estate, and New Values Help the Makers of Sutter Home White Zinfandel Move into the Napa Valley Cabernet Stratosphere.

by Alan Goldfarb
October 25, 2007

DotCom technocrats and doctors and lawyers and real estate barons have bought their way into the Napa Valley in recent years on their second or third career iterations. Then, too, corporate consolidation has chomped its way through the territory like raving Pacmen on some weird computer game. What remains are but a few families – like so much carrion – who manage to raise their heads above the fray and bray so that they’ve outlasted the corporate onslaught.

The Trinchero (pronounced trin CARE o) family have been in the Napa Valley since 1947 – the same year that Jackie Robinson broke in to the majors and just two years after the war in Europe. It’s true that the Trinchero’s – from Asti, Italy, via New York City – did well for themselves, having serendipitously created a whole new category of wine and rising to become the nation’s sixth largest winery company.

The critic-sneering success of Sutter Home has lead to...
The Trincheros have certainly become savvy businesspeople and have also gained respect for their community involvement. But in all this time, while producing vast oceans of White Zinfandel, the Trincheros have hardly made a dent to high-brow quality. Although engulfed in an area where $100 Cabernets – “real wine” according to the critical mavens – had become the quintessence of fashion, the Trincheros were the workingman’s friend.

Now, with a new brand name – Trinchero Napa Valley– in a new 22,000 square-foot facility on a 21-acre knoll north of St. Helena that until last year saw the footprint of the Folie à Deux Winery, the Trinchero family is attempting to put distance between themselves and perception. Hopefully then, and at long last, the name Trinchero will stand for quality among their peers, who heretofore may have viewed them as not having been worthy enough colleagues to be in their midst.

Before them, Bob Mondavi had failed to extricate himself from his lower end wines, thus contributing to the loss of his winery. Francis Coppola apparently learned that lesson and crossed the proverbial Rubicon by shipping his less-thought-of wines over the Mayacamas Range to northern Sonoma. So too - in a move that has been slowly percolating - the Trincheros are attempting to strip away the yolk of mediocrity:

…the critic-cheering, high-end line.
<>They’ve recently divested themselves of the huge Zinfandel Lane facility south of St. Helena, which will come into the hands of Joel Gott, who has formed a partnership with the Trincheros in the wildly successful – but still low-end – Three Thieves brand.

<> They’ve recently bought the Napa Cellars tasting room north of Yountville from Rich Frank and Koerner Rombauer, where $14-$20 Trinchero Family Wines will be made by winemaker Joe Shirley, who moves down the road from the Sutter Home Main Street facility. He’ll also make wines for the $20 Folie à Deux brand as well as Ménage a Trois ($10-$12).

<> Much of the south St. Helena winery will become headquarters for the company’s sales and marketing force.

<> A production site in Lodi, which will produce almost all of the company’s 11 million cases annually, will house several entities including Sutter Home, Trinity Oaks, Sycamore Lane and several Australian brands. (The Montevina brand will continue to be produced in Amador County.)

<> The high-end luxury brand in 100-case six-bottle lots called Trinchero Napa Valley, made from red Bordeaux varieties that will range from $50 to $100, will be made by Mario Monticelli, who worked with Phillipe Melka and was the winemaker at Quixote Winery.

Monticelli will source his grapes from the 13-acre estate vineyard at the former Folie à Deux site, and from several new vineyards, that include Haystack on Atlas Peek and a vineyard on Mount Veeder that the Trincheros recently added to their growing portfolio. From here, Trinchero NV plans to produce single vineyard, single AVA wines.

In all, the Trincheros control nearly 5,500 acres over 20 vineyards - with nearly 60 percent planted to Zinfandel (35 percent) and Chardonnay (25) - that stretch across 10 California AVAs from Glenn County in the north to Santa Barbara. It may be the largest combined holding of vineyard land in the state.

Bob Torres, who is Trinchero’s senior vice president of operations, spoke to me about his family’s recent changes that he hopes will bring prestige at last to the family business. As with his uncle Bob Trinchero, Torres laments the notion that the company is not held in higher esteem, as it relates to quality, among its peers in the Napa Valley.

ALAN GOLDFARB (AG): Your uncle Bob told me several years ago that he regrets that his colleagues in the Napa Valley don’t regard his wines as being of high quality. Is that the reason for all the changes recently?

BOB TORRES (BT): After years of looking for a facility, we found it in the old Folie à Deux site. It’s a beautiful site, on the knoll. It’s in the narrowest area in the valley where Spring Mountain comes down (to the west) and Howell Mountain is (on the east).

Bob Torres is Senior VP of Operations.
It will be a high-end, handcrafted winery … It needed its own identity, a sense of place. That will take our wines to the next level.

This is our super-fine wine program, a tribute to our grandfather, all our hard work, and to Napa Valley. Even though we’ve been here longer than most everyone, they never really considered us Napa Valley. This is going to take us a step further in entrenching us in the fine wine programs that the Napa Valley has to offer.

AG: Can you overcome the perception that all you do is tied to Sutter Home and to White Zinfandel?

BT: We feel very fortunate, lucky with White Zinfandel. If we listened to the critics, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We’ve always given the public what they wanted. Unfortunately, some of the gatekeepers - the critics - penalized us for that.

There are lots of families and other wineries that wished that they came up with it. Myron Nightengale (at Beringer) said White Zinfandel is not a wine. Now White Zinfandel is 40 percent of our production and at Beringer’s it's nearly 90 percent. [Note: A Beringer spokesperson said the figure was a little less than 50 percent.]

AG: Did you take a lesson as to what happened to Mondavi, apropos
Bob Trinchero.
their image because of their lower-end wines? Bob Mondavi told me that they lost their image because they didn’t pay more attention to the high-end. By opening Trinchero Napa Valley, are you trying to separate yourself from those images?

BT: Absolutely. … It needed its own, separate identity and its own sense of place as well a little bit bringing it up to the next level in terms of winemaking; and we’ve gone out and purchased more vineyards. We want to make it a stand-alone facility with its own image and cachet.

AG: It’s important what your colleagues within the region think of you, isn’t it?

BT: We’re human, right? We all have a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment. Even though we’re very humble people, we have egos, too. Sometimes it’s tough to see people who have been in this valley for only six years, to be recognized as leaders. Sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow.

We’re part of a renaissance that turned more people onto wine than anyone other than Robert Mondavi. Do we get recognized for it? No, we get penalized for it. There’s a stigma because we make White Zinfandel, that we don’t know how to make good wine at all.

AG: Will all the changes give you what you’re looking for?

BT: What are we looking for? Respect for people to talk about us? That’s not what we’re looking for. We just want to feel we do justice to our family name, tribute our grandfather and make the best wines we can. And if there’s a few other people who might agree with that, that’s all we’re looking for. We’re not looking to be Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estate. Maybe that’s a different game that we’re not cut out to do. We can play that game, but that’s not what we’re cut out for.

AG: What about the other changes?

BT: We don’t have stockholders [Trinchero is privately held]. The reason why we’re moving our brands to the (sic) Central Valley (Lodi) is because that’s where the grapes are (nearly half of Trinchero’s holdings are in and around Lodi in Yolo, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties).

TNR_CHRNCH_CS_LAB_LO.jpgWe cannot get into a pissing match with pricing with Gallo or Beringer (the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 largest wine companies with 62 million and 16 million cases per year, respectively, as opposed to Trinchero’s 11 million).

We’re looking for ways to get our business more efficient and more green. Once we move to Lodi, we’ll move a least 15,000 trucks off the roads of Napa Valley, and be able to get those economic inefficiencies out.

But our future is in the Napa Valley. St. Helena is the big ship and it’s from here where we hope to make higher-end wines.

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Reader Feedback

Reader Comments... [2]

Anthony Dixon , General Manager
Toco Hills Giant Wines, Atlanta, GA
These should prove to be good moves all around. I had heard that Mario Monticelli was at the helm these days and he has shown some serious talent in the past. Needless to say (but I will say it anyway) the Trincheros have strong finances at their disposal and their move to increase quality and not just quantity is a good one. "Brand Name" wines are far too numerous these days and with so many new ones popping up, many are quickly forgotten. Quality will always hold repeat customers’ interest.

David Silva , Exec. Dir.
H.O.M.E., Inc., CA
The Trinchero Family wines are top grade and fabulous! They have created an exciting and diverse group of wines that satisfy the palate and never fail to please. We are planning to tour the new facility as soon as we can. Keep up the great work!

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