Describing the beautiful bouquet and flavor notes of a coffee may take a little getting used to, but it comes with the territory when you’re brewing Molinari Private Reserve wine-infused coffee.
The creation of Napa’s Rick Molinari, owner and operator of Molinari’s Caffe, this private label, alcohol-free, wine-infused coffee has become the darling of talk shows and magazines across the nation and is the only one of it’s kind anywhere.
“A couple of years after starting my coffee shop in 2013,” Molinari recalled, “my best friend John Weaver, who roasts all of my coffee, recommended I come out with a private label. I kind of looked around at the possibilities, and I remembered my dad and some of the well-known vintners in the Valley always used to put wine in their coffee.”
“I decided to try infusing and went out and got some 15 different varieties of red wines and also some blends,” said Molinari. “I really liked one of the blends and one of the single variety wines. I took two gallons of the wine over to John in San Rafael, and told him I wanted to try something out. He has a warehouse of coffee beans from all over the world. I started sampling his beans, without telling him why, and found two beans that I wanted. He then realized what I was doing.
“Initially, he thought it was a joke,” Molinari said. “The next day he called me at 4:30 in the morning and said ‘you need to come over here tomorrow because I think you are on to something and I want to show you something I tried.’ When John gets onto something, he goes after it 120 percent same as I do. He had already done research and said: ‘Rick, no one is doing this. No one has ever done this in the world.’”
“We were rehydrating coffee beans with wine,” Molinari explained, “not just adding wine to coffee. The full-bodied coffee beans relax in a beautiful wine, absorbing the wine’s nose and history, then the coffee is carefully dried and hand-roasted in small batches. It took us about 3-4 months to get it to where we wanted it, to know how long to let it sit and how long to let it dry.”
The details, of course, are a closely guarded secret.
But then Mother Nature stepped in, and not in a good way. “The Napa earthquake happened,” Molinari said, “so I had stop what we were doing temporarily and sell my house, car and some property just to keep my coffee shop going.”
Despite the interruption caused by the 2014 Napa quake, Molinari and Weaver pushed on. “We continued to work on the private label coffee and were doing little batches here and there, because we knew we could get it done eventually.”
They spent some two years with trial and error before they deemed it ready to take to market. Molinari says they can now produce 50,000 pounds a month if they need to and could triple production by purchasing another roaster.
“We decided on a wine-based name, Molinari Private Reserve,” he said. “On the label, it has our signature M for my last name, and a photograph I took near Oakville. The black label is our regular coffee and our decaf has an orange tinted background. The decaf actually tastes better in my opinion,” Molinari noted. “The decaf process dries out the bean more so it soaks up more of the wine during the infusing process.”
Molinari said the word is getting around: “A lot of people are noticing what we’re doing and that’s a good thing. I’ve been written up all over the world, and just returned from a trip to Europe promoting the Private Reserve Coffee. There’s also been interest from Australasia and Asia, but tariffs make it hard to sell overseas. I’m still working on the best way to go international, but right now I want to keep it in the Valley and continue to use wine from here. I could eventually be ordering 800 gallons of local wine a month if this goes the way I am hoping it will,” he said.
“My coffee is between a medium and a light roast. There’s virtually no alcohol in the bean at the end of the process, but a tremendous bouquet of wine with wine flavor.”
A visitor could smell the bouquet across the room, and found it to be extremely mild yet very flavorful.
“Coffees should not be harsh,” Molinari shared. “There is not a lot of acid to our coffee. And if you add creamer to it, the fat from the milk is going to give you a totally different taste, but it’s going to be really, really good. While it’s not particularly higher in caffeine, people do report to me there is a caffeine buzz from the caffeinated version.”
Molinari said this is not just a coffee for special occasions. “It’s a good everyday coffee, I have customers that brew in the morning because it makes the house smell good, and then they stick it in the refrigerator and drink it as a cold brew at night. The cooler it gets before you drink it, it’s going to open like a wine and give you more flavor.”
Molinari Private Reserve is sold only in the whole bean form. “The way we’ve developed it,” said Molinari, “you can use it for all different kinds of coffee depending on how you grind it. We can grind it for you at the restaurant or you can do it yourself.
“Now we’re cooking with it and also finding out it’s great for other things, like using it as a rub on meats,” he said. “I won’t tell you we haven’t started testing the wine in other things besides coffee,” he said slyly, “but that’s all I can say at the moment.”
Molinari said sales are coming along. “We are selling 50 to 100 units of coffee online a week, with an 8 oz. bag of beans sells for just under $20. I’m using a building near where I live for storing, packing and shipping the coffee. “
According to Molinari’s website, his Private Reserve coffee is sold at Molinari Caffe, Robert Mondavi Winery, Franciscan Estate Winery, JCB Wines and Plum Markets. Soon, it will also be available at Detroit Airport and “Feast it Forward” which is opening soon in Napa and will be carried on several major cruise lines and hotels.
Molinari Caffe is located at 828 Brown St. and is open from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday. You can find out more about Molinari Private Label coffee and place orders at: molinaricaffe.com.