No Limits, No Excuses: Trinchero Goes For Broke

Vinted on March 17, 2011 binned in California wine, kick-ass wines, on the road, overachiever wines

As in, almost literally going for broke, because I don’t think they’re actually profitable yet.  And that’s just fine with the people footing the bills.  Sounds nuts but it will all make sense in minute. Or three…

What would you do if you went to work every day with almost no limitations? Tools, money, ideas – nothing really holding you back?

It’s a situation to which many would instantly want to switch if given the chance, but with which almost none of us can truly identify, and most likely most of us never will.  But it’s pretty much the business-as-usual case for Trinchero’s young winemaker Mario Monticelli.

That’s because Mario works for Bob Trinchero, who owns the Sutter Home empire and the guy whose family name has been tied to wine in some way/shape/form for over 100 years (Bob Trinchero was recently inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame, a choice that I like to think of as a nice little reminder that while we all like to wax poetic over the tiny fine wine market, it’s the Fres, Sycamore Lanes, and White Zinfandels of the world that really make this industry GO).  Interestingly, Trinchero’s beautiful St. Helena winemaking property has the new-kid-on-the-block, no-expenses-spared feel despite Sutter Home having about as deep a set of historical roots in the Napa Valley as any other producer along Highway 29.

“It’s a dream job,” Mario told me when I visited in February. “But it also means you have no excuses!”…

Most winemakers would probably want try to kick Mario in the jimmy when they hear about his nearly-limitless operating environment and see the meticulously-kept cold storage and barrel rooms at Trinchero (after having talked with him, I suspect his affable demeanor has saved him from any jealousy-inspired bruises).  Look, it’s not everybody that gets to sail atop a sea of wine made by a winemaking empire – and it means that Mario can basically operate Trinchero’s high-end project in a go-for-broke style (figuratively and literally, without yet worrying about making a profit).  It also seriously increases the toolkit from which he can draw to craft the estate wines that the Trinchero family sees as sitting atop their quality pyramid.

Want to mix-and-match fruit characteristics from Calistoga, Rutherford, Atlas Peak, Mt. Veeder, and St. Helena? Or maybe true single-vineyard wines from all of those areas? No problem – got estate fruit for that.  Wanna experiment with different French oak barrels from different coopers at different toast levels?  Here’s a blank check.

You get the idea.

I can feel the seething jealous rages raising the ambient temperature across the Valley now…

Mario seems an able-bodied and capable a person to head up the winemaking at Trinchero despite being on the young side. He’s a NorCal native and UC Davis guy, and has had a good deal of practical experience making wine in Italy and in assisting at a handful of high-end producers in Napa like Quintessa.  Despite the deep financial toolbox, Mario described his winemaking style as “minimalist,” an approach borne out in the designations of many of Trinchero’s wines (which, for those playing along at home, mostly went the single-vineyard estate fruit route).  Their red wines are (Surprise! Napa!) on the riper side of the taste profile, with dark fruits and woody spices from the oak.  I’ve got two in particular to recommend if you dig that style:

2008  Trinchero Chicken Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $40

The structure on this wine is pretty big, and the cedar spice is little too prominent at first, but give it a few minutes in the glass and you get the addition of herbs and dusty, mineral-driven overtones that compliment the dark fruit nicely, and makes this a heck of a wine for the money (especially considering it’s from Napa, where anything approaching ‘Rutherford Dust’ almost always gets an automatic $20 price tag hike).

2007 Trinchero Haystack Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Atlas Peak) $50

This Cab has the dark, dark, dark and focused profile that you’d expect from mountain fruit, and the vineyard sits at about 1500 feet above sea level which is about as high as it gets in these parts. Thank the elevation for small, intensely-flavored berries. There’s sandalwood oak spice, too, and the whole package just about screams “take me to an expensive steakhouse, beeeatch!”  Your mouth will thank you for pairing that steak with this wine’s long, black-fruited finish.






  • Steve Heimoff

    Mario is a hell of a nice guy. His father, I believe, is Gallo's senior winemaker, or something like that. And you're right, the Trinchero Cabs (and Merlots) kick serious booty, without gouging consumers.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Steve – as noted, they can afford to make some kick-booty juice! :)

  • John Cesano

    I don't taste anywhere close to the number of wines you and Steve taste, but my visit to Trinchero in April last year made their 2007 Trinchero Napa Valley, Clouds Nest Vineyard, Mt. Veeder $50 my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon tasted last year – and their 2007 Trinchero Napa Valley, Napa Valley $50 was my favorite Meritage tasted last year. Just great juice.

    Steve, I was told that Mario's father Marcello was indeed the top winemaker for Gallo, and that Mario learned winemaking from his father in their family garage before his academic wine education at UC Davis, and work experience stints at Antinori and Quixote.

    I was amazed to find wines that tasted so good priced so low, but understood that Trinchero's other wineries were making this world class wine affordable for those that stumble upon it.

    We can give thanks to Sutter Home.

    Oh, Joe, the Chicken Ranch Cab I tasted, the 2007, was just $35, so there may be some upward movement in prices on these great wines.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, John.  The value-for-$ topic is high on my mind today, as I'm just finishing up a trip today in Chile and Argentina, where I tasted a $40 wine that ranks among the best I've ever had…

  • WhaddoWino

    Great post, Joe. It reminded me of the time I sat down to a tasting with Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia for a survey tasting. We sipped through the full spectrum– White Zinfandel to PR Cab. Upon addressing the White Zin, he closed his eyes and took a deep, satisfied sniff and said, "Do you smell what I smell?" After pausing, he explained: "That's the beautiful smell of new French Oak barrels for my single vineyard cabernets!"

    You are dead on; the high-end artisan wines are the noteworthy, but the White Zins are the bread and butter!

    • 1WineDude

      :-)  Thanks, WhaddoWino!

  • Fred Aliano

    Joe, great post about a winery with which I have had some recent experiences that really opened my eyes… I took my CSW exam at Trinchero in February and was struck by the number people who work there with CSW and CWE Certs. They obviously encourage people in their organization to attain these certs as there were probably 40 people taking the exam from Trinchero. I also had the pleasure of attending a tasting at a local restaurant in Omaha with the wines mentioned in your post and several others. We liked the 08 Chicken Ranch Merlot and Cabernet and purchased them for $29 at the tasting . We also enjoyed and bought a bottle of the Napa Valley Meritage, as well. I really do see Trinchero in a whole new light thanks to your Post and these events.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Fred – very kind of you.

      Interesting, given the vid topic on Certs. that I did very close to posting this piece on Trinchero, that they're so big on the SWE certs there. Thanks for the comment!

      • Fred Aliano

        Oh, what a tangled web… Joe Herrig pointed me to your video on Certs during our Twitter discussions about the same topic… which led me to this post… which reminded me of the Trinchero tasting in Omaha and taking my Cert Exam at Trinchero in Napa. Trinchero hosted a day-long CSW exam prep session the day before my exam. It was taught by 3 SWEs – all Trinchero employees, including their VP of Trade Relations, Barry Wiss. Barry sits on the committee that develops the pools of questions used for both the CSW and CWE exams. He even has a computer game called World WIne Challenge with several hundred questions of all levels which he gave us a copy of.

        • 1WineDude

          Thanks, Fred – do you have a link to the World Wine Challenge?

  • brenda

    it seems you are on a much higher level as far as experience with wine is concerned. if you had to choose, what type is your favorite?

    • 1WineDude

      brenda – usually the kind in my glass at any given moment…

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