Monday, November 5, 2012

Revisiting Trinchero Family Vineyards – St. Helena, California

This past Saturday for the first time I visited Trinchero Family Vineyards, well sort of, not really… it depends on how you look at it. Years ago I visited Folie à Deux Winery in St. Helena which had another line on the premises Trinchero Family Wines. Trinchero then bought Folie à Deux, remodeled the tasting room, rebuilt the winery, renamed it Trinchero Family Vineyards and moved Folie à Deux to Oakville next door to Napa Cellars. So, it was my first time to visit Trinchero Family Vineyards and taste their wines with the current wine maker. 

Back in 2009 I wrote a brief article on “Exploring Petit Verdot” in which I wrote about Trinchero’s 2004 Petite Verdot. So, I was excited to return to Trinchero Family Vineyards and try the wines of this renewed winery.

The new beautifully redesigned winery produces just 13,000 cases of Trinchero Napa Valley wines from estate vineyards. This family also owns Sutter Home which makes Trinchero Family Wines the second largest family-owned wine company in the world (second only to Gallo who produces 80 million cases), with a 13 million case annual production.

The history of Trinchero Family Wines dates back to 1920 when Mario Trinchero left his home in Italy to come to New York. Together with his older brother John they became wine brokers buying it in bulk and sending it to the east coast. In 1947, during his travels through California he came across a dilapidated Sutter Home Winery and bought it for $12,000. They then began making their own wine with John Trinchero as the wine maker.

In 1960 John’s son Bob became the wine maker and in 1968 he made his first Reserve Zinfandel. In 1972, he syphoned the free run juice to make Oeil de Perdrix, a Zinfandel Rosé. But with an unfamiliar name and a less than popular style in the New World, the wine didn’t sell very well.

Then in 1974 Bob had a stuck fermentation due to the yeast ceaseing to ferment the sugar to alcohol, which resulted was a slightly sweet. Then, rather than continuing to use the name oeil de perdrix he changed it to “White Zinfandel” which had more of a consumer’s market appeal because it was easier to pronounce. The wine immediately gained consumer popularity and became the basis for the rapid expansion of the Sutter Home brand. Many other California wineries, such as Beringer Vineyards and Gallo, followed the trend and began making White Zin as well.

This is the reason why many of California’s Old Vine Zinfandels still exist today as there was an immediate demand for this style of wine. Otherwise many of them would have been torn up. So, while you may scoff at those who drink White Zin, if you like Old Vine Zinfandel (as I do) then you can thank Sutter Home for motivating other wineries to save these ancient vines.

Today Trinchero Family Wines is still family owned. Bob Trinchero is chairman of the board and his younger brother Roger serves as CEO. Bob Torquelson is the first from outside the family to serve as President. 

Trinchero Family Wines owns 250 acres of Napa vineyards that are certified Napa Green. They also own 7,000 acres in Lodi which also have sustainable certification. One of the Lodi wineries is 100% solar power operated, with one of the largest solar facilities in the state. Trinchero has also experimented with biodynamics in one of their Napa vineyards with cattle grazing on the 23 acre Chicken Ranch vineyard in Rutherford. In fact, the Cabernet Sauvignon vines in this vineyard suffered from a leafroll virus but within a few years of biodynamic farming the vines were cured

Trinchero Family Vineyards has two tasting flights: “A Taste of Napa” is a selection of their wines including a Merlot, two Cabernet Sauvignons and a Meritage ranging from $40-$50 each. The other is “The Legacy Flight” which consists of four Cabernets (St. Helena, Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak and “Signature”) all of which price from $60-$100 each. I chose the former line-up and sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2009 Vista Montone Vineyard, Daybreak Block Merlot - Napa Valley. The wine is bright ruby red with pronounced aromas of cherries, milk chocolate and a hint of crème.  On the palate it is fruit forward on entry, medium bodied on the mid palate with notes of chocolate covered cherries, cloves and vanilla with a lingering finish. It has supple tannins with a little grip on the teeth and gums, medium acidity and a really long finish. The really nice wine for $40 a bottle.

The second sample of wine was the 2009 Chicken Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. This wine has VERY distinctive Rutherford characteristics! On the nose it is very earthy with very dense and concentrated notes of dried plums, black currants and dark cherries. On the palate it is very focused with supple medium (+) tannins that grip the gums, it is full bodied with a medium (+) length finish. A very fine wine that makes you think and ponder it but it may not be for the typical Cab drinker who likes fruity easily approachable wines. I brought a bottle home for $40.

The third wine was radically different in profile from the previous one, the 2009 Central park West Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena. This wine exudes cassis, black cherries and vanilla and has a more fruity and fresh bouquet. On the palate it is easily drinkable and has a definite delicious factor with soft supple tannins, medium acidity and a prolonged finish. I suspect the average consumer would prefer this wine at and it sells for a reasonable price at $40 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the 2009 Meritage, Napa Valley. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. I don’t know what the % is of each wine and the information doesn’t seem to be available on their web site.  The nose is somewhat muted, at least in comparison to the previous wines. But I managed to pick up subtle notes of dried roses, blackberries, mint and black pepper. On the palate the nose is repeated with medium (+) tannins and acidity. It is well balanced but seems a bit young. I suspect that this wine will show better in a couple years. This wine sells for $50 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2009 Central Park West Petit Verdot, St. Helena (100% Petit Verdot). It was not part of the line-up, but I had mentioned to the server how much I had liked the 2004 Petit Verdot so he poured me a sample. This wine is freaking awesome! On the nose I got a BIG waft of bacon fat with underlying earthy notes that dissipates with continuous swirling of the glass. It then gives way to the fruit forward aromas of blueberries, blackberries, black tea and herbs. On the palate the bacon fat and fruit come together harmoniously with great density and concentration, white it is explosive on entry on the mid palate it is very focused. It has medium (+) tannins and acidity that has a bit of a grip on the teeth and gums. A really fantabulous wine for $50, so I brought one home.

To visit or for more information:

Trinchero Family Vineyards
3070 St Helena Hwy
St Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 1-707-9631160


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