Trinchero Napa Valley  
Visiting California's Napa Valley, part 7


I had lunch and a tasting with Barry Wiss, a charming host who had a pile of my wine science books for signing. Education is a big emphasis at Trinchero, the high-end outpost of the Sutter Home winery, and here they have a particular focus on wine and food. Trinchero run an education centre, offering a range of classes in food and wine that can lead to certification.

Wine aroma education wheel

The facility I visited in Napa is a new one, and it is devoted to high-end wines, with a sparkling new winery and beautifully designed visitor facility and restaurant offering scenic views of the surrounding vines. It produces just 13 000 cases of Trinchero Napa Valley wines from estate vineyards.

But you are more likely to have heard or Trinchero’s more commercial wines, including the famous Sutter Home White Zinfandel. Trinchero is actually the second largest family-owned wine company in the world (only Gallo eclipses them), with a 13 million case annual production.

The view from Trinchero

It was in 1920 that the Trinchero family came to the USA from Italy. Mario was a speakeasy bartender in 1920s New York, and his older brother John became a broker buying bulk wine and sending it to the east coast. In his travels he found a run-down winery, Sutter Home, and bought it in 1947, paying all he had ($12 000). Here he started making wine on a small scale.

They muddled along, and in 1960 John handed over winemaking duties to his son Bob. In 1968 Bob made his first Reserve Zinfandel. In 1972, he took off the free run juice and made a Zinfandel Rosé, which he named oeil de perdrix in homage to the classic European style. It wasn't a great success.

But then the Trincheros had a lucky break. In 1974 two things conspired to change their fortunes. Bob's Zinfandel Rosé experienced a stuck fermentation, leaving it slightly sweet. And rather than label it oeil de perdrix he decided on 'White Zinfandel'. The wine exploded in popularity, and was to form the basis of the rapid expansion of the Sutter Home brand.

However, not everyone was so keen on this new creation. Bob Mondavi and the Beringers, neighbours in the Napa, criticized Bob Trinchero for associating Napa with a wine like this. [Ironically, Beringer now sell more white Zinfandel than anything else they make.]

These days, Trinchero is still family owned. Bob is chairman of the board, with his younger brother Roger as CEO. President is Bob Torquelson, who’s the first in this post from outside the family. They are the 10th largest winery in the world (13 million cases), and the second largest family-owned winery, after Gallo (80 million cases). Trinchero Napa Valley makes just 13 000 cases of high-end wine, however.

Green issues are a concern to Trinchero. Their 250 acres of Napa vineyards are certified Napa Green. Their 7000 acres in Lodi also have sustainable certification. One of the Lodi wineries is 100% solar power operated, with one of the largest solar facilities in the state. 'It is a huge capital expenditure,' says Wiss, 'but we are looking into the future.' Trinchero employ a full time entomologist who is based in Lodi, and concentrates on the 7000 acres of Trinchero Family Estates vineyard. 'He goes out to create host environments for predatory insects,' Wiss reports. Wiss adds that big retailers are helping encourage suppliers to be more green in their approach. 'Two years ago Sam's Club sent out a letter request wanting to know our green practices to make sure we are being responsible in the vineyard.' he says. 'Big retailers have an interest because a growing part of their consumer base is interested in it.' 

Trinchero have even tried biodynamics in one of their Napa vineyards. It's a property where they have some cattle, too—the 23 acre Chicken Ranch vineyard in Rutherford. The senior VP of vineyard operations actually studies biodynamics about 12 years ago. He and a few other vineyard managers went to class together to study it. Interestingly, the Cabernet Sauvignon vines in this vineyard had a bad leafroll virus problem, and within a few years of farming with biodynamics this was cured.


Trinchero Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc Mary’s Vineyard 2008
The only white wine made here, in a facility otherwise devoted to Bordeaux varieties. Fresh, bright, refined and lemony with some pithy notes. Very stylish with an attractive creamy texture. Crisp. 88/100 ($19 retail)

Trinchero Napa Valley Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
15.3% alcohol. Very sweet and lush with bold berry fruits on the nose. The palate is super-ripe, intense and spicy. Verging on the over-ripe with some spicy oak accompanying the concentrated fruit. 91/100 ($50 retail)

Trinchero Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2007
14.2% alcohol. Very rich aromatics: slightly green with sweet, lush, ripe berry fruits and lovely spicy, warm, herby undertones. The palate is lush, ripe and spicy with an Autumnal character to the dark fruits. Soft, smooth tannins. 92/100

Montevina Zinfandel Port Terra d’Oro NV, Amador County
19% alcohol. A blend of three vintages. Very rich, fruity and expressive. Pure, bright, berryish fruit. Some spicy notes. 89/100


Photos from Napa Valley
Part 1, Cain
Part 2, Schramsberg

Part 3, Corison

Part 4, Saintsbury
Part 5, Lagier Meredith
Part 6, Trefethen
Part 7, Trinchero
Part 8, Grgich Hills
Part 9, Cakebread

Wines tasted as 11/09  
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