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The label for Benevolent Dictator, which Silver Trident Winery released at the end of the summer. Co-founder Bob Binder was struck by the similarities in wine and coffee production while on a hiking trip to Ecuador. 

Just as winemakers age and blend wines to vary acidity and highlight complexity, coffee roasters often roast and blend beans in pursuit of the same.

It’s a parallel that caught Bob Binder’s eye while hiking in Ecuador last year. Binder, co-founder of Silver Trident Winery, had the chance to visit a coffee plantation there, where he began talking to the roasting team. Roasters were “talking passionately” about how to best roast and blend coffee to create complexity, which struck a familiar chord with Binder.

“I have many of those same conversations here in Napa, blending wine,” he said.

The seed was planted. Silver Trident began developing Benevolent Dictator, its coffee brand, which it bills as “the wine lover’s coffee.” The winery names each of its individual wines, Binder said, and wanted to continue the trend: the name “Benevolent Dictator” is a name that pays homage to the idea of “looking at things differently.” (It’s also the name of their 2016 Pinot Noir).

Beans for Benevolent Dictator are roasted in 30-pound batches, which produce 40 bags each, Binder said. Small batches are a Silver Trident hallmark. Each year’s wine production never exceeds 500 cases.

As with their wines, the winemaking team sought out balanced acidity, ultimately choosing to source the beans from Burundi, Guatemala and Sumatra —Burundian beans for their high acidity, Guatemalan beans for their “solid mid-palate” feel, and Sumatran beans for their “mocha character,” Binder explained.

Many of the tasting room staff – as well as winemaker Kari Auringer – saw their tastes in wine reflected in their coffee preferences during blending trials. Those who preferred high-acidity wines also favored a “high acid profile” in the coffee, according to Binder.

Auringer helped Silver Trident settle on a medium-roast coffee.

“We found that the heavy roasts were just too much – they were too intense, and it brought out bitterness and sort of a tannic quality in the coffee,” Auringer said. “The same thing happens to wine if it’s overconcentrated, or you picked it too late, or did too much work in the winery.”

Auringer, for whom “coffee is not” necessarily the beverage of choice, was at first hesitant with her involvement. She researched the process before Silver Trident began what’s known as cupping trials, seeing which blend of beans and roasts they preferred as a team.

“There’s a tasting word wheel for wine descriptors, and there’s one for coffee as well,” she said. That granted her a sense of flavor profiles before tasting, and her initial ambivalence towards coffee began to seem like an advantage – Auringer said she had no “preconceived ideas” of what coffee should taste like.

The winery worked with Napa-based Naysayer Coffee Roasters. As coffee people in a wine town, founders Chris and Beth Vecera are “always drawing parallels” between the two beverages, which are “very different” but to which respective industries take a similar approach, according to Chris Vecera.

This was the first project of its kind for Naysayer, Vecera said, and he was excited – as always – to teach a new crowd about the world of specialty coffee. He worked through the concept of origin, altitude, processing and blending with the team.

“They picked the components of the coffee and the ratio (of the blends), and we landed on what it is now,” Vecera said. “It was a great idea.”

Vecera noted that over-roasting coffee can mask the terroir of individual beans. While Naysayer has an entire gradient of roasts from light to dark, they prefer to preserve the sense of place in the beans to “highlight and show the differences.”

Much like in wine, it was difficult to reach a blend the entire group could unanimously agree on. There was much discussion involved, but the final product was a rewarding one, Auringer said.

“It was cool to have us all go – hey, that’s the one,” she added.

It’s been on shelves in Silver Trident’s Yountville tasting room since August. Silver Trident General Manager Shane Soldinger said there have been “a lot of inquiries” about the coffee, which comes packaged in a bright red bag. Silver Trident’s wine club members and frequent customers have taken interest in Benevolent Dictator, making for repeat customers, he added. While the brewed coffee won’t make an appearance in the tasting room, it was served at the winery’s harvest party this season.

Auringer said Benevolent Dictator has been selling “even better” than she thought it would. Though she can’t be sure, she suspects it’s because customers can easily draw the connection between the production of Silver Trident wine and its coffee.

“All I know is, I’ve gone in several times to buy more of it, and it’s gone,” Auringer added.

Twelve-ounce bags are available on shelves at Silver Trident’s tasting room, 6495 Washington St., in Yountville for $18 each.

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You can reach Sarah Klearman at (707) 256-2213 or sklearman@napanews.com.


Sarah is a staff writer at the Register, covering the wine industry.

Wine industry reporter at the Napa Valley Register.