California, Newsbreak, Wine+Food

Trinchero Family Estates: What I Learned From This Napa Valley Success Story

SFD Trinchero RogerBob1970s CR courtesy Trinchero Family Estates 2520x1420 1536x866 1

Do you still believe in the American dream? I want to believe in the idea of it, at least. Whether it is still possible to achieve massive success from hard work alone, you would have to ask a young American. What I do know is most dreams reanimate after a few glasses of excellent wine.

In reality, few of us have time to actively search for life-affirming, life-changing wines, let alone indulge in a few moments for our dreams, even when we decide to open a special bottle.

How often do we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Californian sunshine in a Chardonnay from the Napa Valley, for example? It’s easier to stick to the tried and tested, even if trying new wines and tasting new flavors might do you a world of good.

Despite tasting many Californian wines over the past few years, I am sad to say I had not tasted one of the legends of the Napa Valley, the Trinchero Family Estate.

They are the second biggest family-owned winery in the United States, with a story that reads like the American dream from rags to riches. Could I learn anything about Napa Valley wines – or even some lessons about business?

The opportunity presented itself when Trinchero sent four wines from their Napa Valley wines range. California Wines UK and Lanchester Wines then set up a Zoom meeting for a panel tasting with the winemaker, Joe Shirley, at the winery in Napa.


The American dream in action

Roger and Bob Trinchero, 1970’s. Photo courtesy of Trinchero Family Estates

If you have not heard of Trinchero Family Estates’ wines, you may know Sutter Home. And if you have not heard of Sutter Home, then you may know the wine responsible for launching thousands of palates: White Zinfandel.

Before you scoff, remember — every wine lover has to start somewhere. You may have started with Chateau Y’quem for your eighteenth birthday, but believe me, most people in the world begin with something more humble. It is usually something sweet, and probably pink.

In wine circles, the origin of White Zinfandel is well known. It is an innovation that came about from a set of coincidences in the winery. You can find the technical details elsewhere, but what is essential for this post is how the Trinchero family turned a mistake into a new category of wine.

The family’s approach in the early days would be familiar to many Italian immigrants. The family traveled from Italy to New York and out to the wild west coast of California. Without capital, nothing was wasted. That includes good juice. And that is how White Zinfandel was born.

Sales for White Zinfandel have not dropped since the 1980s. White Zinfandel is the happy cash cow for Trinchero Family Estates. It allowed the winery to focus on their premium Napa Cellar wines in the 1990s. What was considered a mistake became an essential innovation. 


Striking gold in the hills

The Napa Cellar wines are part of the bigger drive for quality in the 1990s. On a Zoom call with Joe Shirley, the winemaker since 1998, he explained how the style has changed over the years.

The style has shifted over the years because the focus in the Napa Valley has moved from what happens in the winery to what happens in the vineyard. This can be seen in the use of oak. It is only there, Shirley says, to “put the fruit in context.”

They use extra fine-grained barrels, which have a lower impact on the wine’s fruit. Napa Valley wines in the past were higher in natural sugar with broader-grained oak. The wine was made in the winery. Today, Shirley prefers to start with the quality he finds in the vineyard, from their estate and grower vineyards, “The terroir is so distinct… I simply guide the wine.”

By focusing on the unique terroirs available to them, Trinchero are able to focus on the quality. As the saying goes, don’t try to be someone else, they are already taken. 


Trinchero Family Estates: Napa Cellars Wines

Compared to many European wines, the Napa Cellars Chardonnay has a distinctive ripe tropical fruit and full-bodied roundness in the mouth. The long finish is deliciously creamy creme brulee, coconut with bright lemon notes. The food suggestion by Trinchero was coconut crab curry, and I am fully on board with this suggestion.

In general, Zinfandel is not my go-to wine style. It’s usually too high in alcohol for me, with a sweetness I don’t have in my diet. When the Zinfandel is from the Napa Valley, you find it is more restrained than Zin from Lodi, but the unwieldy grapes will always make this a high alcohol wine.

There is undoubtedly a place for Zinfandel in my life, but before I tasted this Napa Cellars Zinfandel, I did not know where. What you need is spicy food. Zinfandel’s natural fruit sweetness calms the heat in spicy dishes. It’s the only wine I’d like to drink with spicy Mexican or Indian food, although I imagine it would go very well with grilled meats.

There is no mistaking the Napa Cellars Pinot Noir is from California. The fruit does not skip a beat. It’s full-bodied and luscious. More is more. While the flagship, Trinchero Family Estates BRV Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerful wine with signature Napa Valley velvety tannins and a satisfyingly long finish.



After the tasting, I kept the opened bottles to taste with dinner. This is the real test for me: Rarely do I drink wines without a meal. On the slow cooker, we had Cochinita Pibil – citrus-roasted pork – stewing away all day to have after the tasting.

After a feast of Mexican food and wines, which included half a bottle of the Napa Cellars Zinfandel at 14.9%, I thought I might be feeling a bit rough the next day. I’m happy to say I am up with the larks and writing a post. This, to me, shows the quality of the wine. It’s not everything, but wines with too much winery manipulation are felt the next day.

Trinchero Family Estate has developed long associations with growers over the years, intending to keep the vineyards working for the next few generations in the family. Not only is this a sustainable way of thinking, but it also gives better-quality fruit.

Even though they are a true American success story, it’s clear Trinchero hasn’t forgotten what is essential to their success. Wine is nothing without good fruit, good vineyards, and good wine to share with food and big dreams. 


More posts on California

Image credit: Photo by Randy Tarampi on