What happens when several longtime Napa Valley winery owners get together to celebrate a milestone and talk about the business?
“The panel discussion was mainly a trip down memory lane,” said Roger Trinchero, second generation and chairman of the board at Trinchero Family Estates.
Among those gathered included Richard Salvestrin, third generation at Salvestrin Winery, Alicia Regusci Hardin, fourth generation at Regusci Winery, and Angelina Mondavi, fourth generation at Robert Mondavi Winery, who were celebrating their beginnings with a harvest celebration and a panel discussion on Napa Valley’s significance as a wine-making region last November.
The Napa Valley Vintners panel was moderated by Bob Bath, a master sommelier and a professor of wine and beverage studies at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus. After the discussion, the Trinchero family hosted their 70th anniversary celebration with a traditional bagna cauda dish and dinner at Trinchero Napa Valley’s estate in St. Helena.
“We talked about when people started to discover Napa Valley wines and their role in the whole process of making California a wine-making state,” Trinchero said. “When the family first got to Napa Valley in 1948, there were about 15 wineries open. I remember as a high school kid that there were so few people, you could almost pull out on Highway 29 without looking.”
Trinchero said the family first made dessert and generic table wines. In the early 1960s, the winery began shifting production to varietal wines.
“Our first real success came with our release of an Amador County Zinfandel. At the time Zinfandel was mostly used as the base wine for generic reds. We produced it in a Cabernet style as a singular varietal and it was a tremendous success,” said Trinchero.
The turning point for Napa Valley came in the 1970s, “after people in America discovered wines made in California were as good as the ones from Europe,” he said.
In 1972, Roger’s brother, Bob Trinchero, who was then the winemaker at Sutter Home Winery, created White Zinfandel. He experimented with Sutter Home’s Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel by draining juice from the vats. His intention was to give more tannins and color to the Red Zinfandel. The drained clear juice was then fermented it into a dry white wine. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms would not accept Sutter Home marketing the wine as “Oeil de Perdrix” because the name implied a foreign origin. Trinchero then added “White Zinfandel” to the name and the ATF approved the label.
In 1975, the White Zinfandel experienced a stuck fermentation. This phenomenon occurs when fermentation stops before all the available sugar in the wine has been converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. As a result, the White Zin had a slight pink color and 2.5 percent residual sugar, giving it a fruity finish. The slightly sweet pinkish wine made from red grapes became a huge hit. It eventually greatly outstripped Red Zin in popularity. The Trinchero family’s marketing of the new “White Zin” ensured that old Zinfandel vines were not grafted over when Red Zin became less popular in the late 1970s.
“White Zinfandel catapulted us from a small Mom and Pop winery to a national brand. After White Zin took off, we started purchasing other wineries and developing other brands,” said Trinchero.
Trinchero said the company has used their success to bring back attention to the Napa Valley, utilizing its Napa wineries to showcase the Trinchero set of brands.
“Many of our (non-import) very high-end wines are made here in Napa Valley, including Napa Cellars, Mason Cellars, and ZIATA wines. Here we try to address the terroir, the mountainside, the valley floor, rather than the varietal. The days of blending wine grapes all together and just stating a wine is from Napa Valley are over,” said Trinchero.
Regusci Hardin said she saw the turning point for Napa Valley as the time when wine grapes became the next most viable crop, following the success of walnuts and prunes.
“My grandfather and (great grandfather) were farmers and dairymen. (After) realizing how prosperous the land we lived on was, we added additional wine grapes to our property to put food on the table. Back then, everyone was taking all the fruit they could find and juicing it to make a living,” said Regusci Hardin.
Salvestrin said the event offered multi-generational wine families an opportunity to connect and talk about their journeys through the last 70 years in Napa Valley.
“Not only is Napa Valley one of the best places on earth to grow grapes, it’s a place where people work together as an industry to make that fact known around the world,” said Salvestrin.
Salvestrin said today there are fewer owner-operated wineries than there were several generations ago.
“The spirit of cooperation that was vital to success in its own way generations ago is at work as well today. We see continued success in the quality of wines that Napa Valley showcases year after year,” said Salvestrin.
Bath said the panel discussion showcased how much respect the younger generation of vintners has for generations that came before them.
“They’re stepping into a new arena regarding the perception of Napa Valley. In the 1940s, there were only a handful of wineries like Sutter Home. There wasn’t a lot of knowledge in the outside world about the Napa Valley. This region didn’t have the reputation that it does now. Today, the credibility of Napa Valley inspires these young winemakers to achieve even greater things. The region is home to world class wines. The next generation has the opportunity to take us even further,” said Bath.
Bath said he also gained an understanding of how the Trinchero family has been instrumental in saving Zinfandel vines in California.
“Bob and Roger Trinchero almost single-handedly shaped the American wine palate with White Zinfandel, while saving the Zinfandel grape at the same time,” said Bath.
The panel discussion closed with comments on what could be the next big trend for the wine industry. Regusci Hardin said wine in cans, while Salvestrin advocated for rosé.
Trinchero said the bagna cauda dish and dinner following it were received warmly.
“Every year after harvest, we engage in this tradition. Our family is from the Piedmont area in (northwest) Italy. We make hot plates of a mixture of olive oil, garlic, and anchovies which sizzle at the table. You dip fresh vegetables into the dish. We usually have bagna cauda in the cellar at Trinchero, inviting all of our key employees, our neighbors, and friends in the local area. This year, we opened it up to all of those people plus everyone attending the panel discussion,” said Trinchero.
Regusci Hardin said the meal was delicious.
“We come from a big Italian family too, and the atmosphere and food were great. The setup was very welcoming. It seemed to be the Trinchero’s way of sharing a family tradition with friends that become family. I had a wonderful time and loved being included,” said Regusci Hardin.