Trinchero Napa Valley
Getting a sneak peek into an incredibly successful family-owned wine estate is truly an honor, but when they do it on your birthday, it’s a special treat. I had just that luck when I attended the press event for Trinchero Family Winery’s new tasting room and VIP facilities. Featuring over 5,000 sq ft of modern California-style design it embraces the Trinchero family history while embracing today’s quality-driven consumer.
The drive from Napa to Trinchero is reasonably quick. It’s located “up valley” about 30 minutes from Downtown Napa in St. Helena. The entrance to the winery is breathtaking and gives you a delicious panoramic view of some of the 58 acres of St. Helena vineyards.
The family who began in 1948 as a Mom and Pop winery, the Trinchero’s, have preserved the family history and incorporated it into their tasting room while adding elements of past and present in this exquisitely designed space. Light-filled tasting rooms feature custom-made furniture and dramatic lighting giving it an alluring and inviting interior. The tasting bar features a tufted leather bar nook, adding a sensual dynamic.
I took a moment to ask Roger Trinchero, CEO at Trinchero Family Estates a bit about his life in the business and some of their best-kept secrets.
What is your earliest memory of being part of a wine industry family?
The winery was my playground when I was a kid. We had case conveyors used to move cases from one area to another, and I would get into a wooden grape box and ride the conveyors. It was a blast, but I suppose a bit of a nuisance to my parents. I have vivid memories of the old bottling line with each family member doing a different task. My dad at the hand-bottler, my brother working the hand-corker, my mother putting on the labels by hand, and my sister and I putting on the capsules. It was all part of growing up in a winery.
From the days of White Zinfandel from Sutter Home to today’s Estate-grown reserve wines, how do you continue to innovate and discover opportunities to expand your markets?
We are always looking at the market and studying wine consumer trends. Our philosophy has always been to identify what the customer wants and then try to give it to them. We saw an opportunity in single service wine and we responded as the first winery to offer 187ml bottles. We saw the opportunity in red blends and have enjoyed great success with extensions such as Ménage a Trois Silk and our Taken Napa Valley Red Wine. Our eyes are always searching, and our staff is always encouraged to express their ideas.
After a long day at the office, what is your favorite thing to do to relax and recharge?
These days I don’t have many long days at the office. I turned over the day-to-day operations to Bob Torkelson (President/COO) years ago and being semi-retired allows for me to set my hours which is a luxury. I get my greatest relaxation by exercising. Either a workout at the gym, a bike ride, playing golf, or simply going for a long walk.
What is the best-kept secret of Trinchero Family Estates?
I’m very proud of the family cellar that is in the caves at Trinchero Napa Valley. There’s an old family recipe for vermouth that decorates the walls and harkens back to my father’s history as a bartender in New York City in the 40’s. The cellar boasts hundreds of bottles from our shared family collection, including some very rare port and other gems, gifts, acquired in our travels over the years.
You’ve expanded to Lodi, have vineyards in Napa and Amador County. What is your long-term vision for your brands?
We decided some time ago that we needed to have products that appeal to a wide variety of wine consumers. We needed to have a presence in each varietal, region, and price point so that we could offer any wine consumer something from TFE. Each brand that we have has its own identity with an appeal to consumers looking for that type of wine. Our vision is to continue developing our brands’ presence in the marketplace and doing so while ensuring that every brand in the TFE portfolio is one that consumers feel they can trust. My parents were passionate about creating wines of quality and over-delivering for the price – that remains a core value today.
As a 2nd generation winemaker, what are some of the most important things shared with you by those who started it first?
Probably the two most important things that my father passed on to me was a strong work ethic and his business philosophy of, “never take a step longer than your stride.” By following that philosophy, we have been able to grow and prosper without suffering the fate of many family wineries that had to sell or go public because they overextended their ability to pay their debts. There’s a ton of romance in the wine business but at the end of the day, it’s still a business. You can easily get caught up in the romance and not make smart business decisions. We’ve been careful about growth and maintaining a company that works hard and remains loyal to its businesses and consumers.
What was the most difficult point in the business and what kind of pivot or strategy was used to turn things around?
In the early ’60s my father had just bought my uncle out of the business and my brother Bob had taken over winemaking. We had to watch every cent we spent during that time because along with routine business expenditures my uncle’s note had to be paid. The business was only creeping along, and bills were piling up. We had reached a critical time and my father reached out to our local bank for a $5000 loan that would get us out of debt and put us in the black again. The bank refused my father’s request. My father was devastated, luckily a new Wells Fargo bank had just opened in town, and he approached them with the same loan request. Wells Fargo not only agreed to the loan, and after hearing more about my father’s plans for the business, they increased the loan to $30,000. With that extra money my brother Bob was able to purchase the kind of fruit he wanted and set the course towards his goal of making a great Zinfandel. Bob succeeded with our 1968 Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel, and we began to get the attention of wine writers and developed a consumer following. We began specializing in Zinfandel then which lead to the genesis of White Zinfandel in 1972. With its rather quick and tremendous success with consumers, we became a national brand.
When do you think about the future of Trinchero?
I think in every family business there’s the hope that the family ownership will continue for the next generation. When my father brought us to the Napa Valley from New York back in 1948, I believe he wanted to build something that he could pass on to his children. My brother Bob, myself, and my late sister, Vera, feel the same. We worked hard to build a company that our children would be proud of and, if they chose, could pursue a career within.
We now have five members of the third generation and four members of the fourth actively involved in the company. Last year we completed an extensive family estate plan that will ensure family ownership for generations to come. I couldn’t have hoped for more, and I know my parents would have been incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished as a family.
If you could advise the next generation of winemakers, what kind of insights would you give them?
I would tell them that it’s much easier to find out what your customers want and make it for them, then it is to make something you like and try to convince the consumers that they should too. I believe firmly in delivering quality for the price and creating value for the customer.
How will your tasting room change the customer experience for visitors?
The Trinchero Napa Valley tasting room is truly a unique setting. Designed by renowned local designer Erin Martin, we feel it showcases an aesthetic perspective and collection of art that is wonderfully different than what you often see in wineries around Napa. We will be offering educational tastings but done so in a modern, engaging way so that our visitors continue to feel like guests in what we think of as an extension of our home. Our Hospitality Center sets us apart as well – our chef creates incredible pairings across the portfolio of wines that we offer, and there’s no better place to enjoy them than on our patio looking up at Mount St. Helena.