June 2013 Issue of Wines & Vines

Seeing Red at Trinchero

Sutter Home owners use new facility for high-end red wines

by Paul Franson
Mario Monticelli, winemaker at the Trinchero Napa Valley winery, discusses picking decisions and grape processing at the facility focused on producing quality red wines in this video by winery staff. Click the image above to watch the video.

  • Trinchero Family Estates built and outfitted a new winery at the former Folie à Deux site to perfect its high-end red wines.
  • The article details the design, equipment and production flow chosen by family member Bob Torres and winemaker Mario Monticelli.
  • Triple-sorting and double-chilling abilities—and a wide assortment of tanks—are among the showplace winery’s assets.
Trinchero Napa Valley is the prestige brand of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio, and its new winery reflects that position—as well as the financial resources contributed by its more popular wines, like the famous Sutter Home white Zinfandel.

The challenge for Trinchero was to make world-class Bordeaux-style red wines that display another dimension to the company whose vast success was built making and selling inexpensive wines. The modest-sized winery built on a knoll north of St. Helena, Calif., includes the best of everything needed to make superb wines, and there’s a good reason for that: Its layout and design were optimized by family scion and architect Bob Torres, senior vice president of operations of Trinchero Family Estates, then tweaked by winemaker Mario Monticelli.

Monticelli comes from a winemaking family. His father is famed Gallo winemaker Marcello; his wife Anna is the winemaker for Piña Vineyards, and brother Massimo is winemaker at Burly Vineyards, B Wise and the brothers’ brand, Monticelli Brothers.

Mario Monticelli formerly worked with Philippe Melka, one of Napa Valley’s best-known consulting winemakers.

For the Trinchero Napa Valley wines, Monticelli sources grapes from seven premium estate vineyards totaling 200 acres in diverse locations throughout Napa Valley.

Trinchero buys Folie à Deux
The winery complex once served as the Folie à Deux winery. Trinchero bought that winery and its brands—including Ménage à Trois, the wine they developed into one of the biggest brands in America. They relocated its production and tasting room to build the Trinchero winery.

The facility produces only red wines; the brand’s whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Vin Santo) are made at another Trinchero facility.

On the 22-acre site, the family built its signature winery, tearing down and replacing the old facility, renovating the old house on the property into a tasting room and building a first-class hospitality center with an elegant event space, professional kitchen and even a bocce court.

The family also recently restored and expanded existing caves, which they’ll use for both aging wine and entertaining.

Torres’ knowledge of both architecture and wine production is reflected throughout the winery, starting with a refrigerated room to hold grapes and chill them as they come in. “It drops their temperature to 45ºF,” says Monticelli. “Then everything can be calm. There’s no need to rush. The grapes aren’t sitting in heat.”

Trinchero uses 35-pound bins for picking and transport to the winery, rather than standard half-ton bins, to prevent grapes on the bottom being crushed prematurely by the weight of the grapes above. This was one of Monticelli’s requests.

A bin washer fabricated in-house at Trinchero reduces labor and water usage while assuring clean bins so grapes aren’t contaminated.

While many wineries sort grapes, Monticelli sorts them three times, using workers for cluster sorting, a P&L shaker table after destemming, then manual sorting. This eliminates raisins, moldy berries and stems that could compromise the quality of the grapes. “As long as you’re doing it, you may as well do it right,” he says.

Out with the jacks and stems
Monticelli’s crew fills two large garbage bins with jacks, stems and defective fruit to compost each day during harvest. “Imagine how it would affect the wine if we used that,” he says. The careful sorting eliminates overripe flavors, vegetal flavors from leaves, bitter tannins from stems and musty, moldy tastes.

He collects the saignée juice, which is used elsewhere. He uses a Kiesel 7100 Heilbron progressive-cavity pump to transfer the must to tanks. The destemmer is a floor above the tanks, but not just above them.

Monticelli adds 50 ppm of SO2 to the must for red wines and inoculates with yeast. (For whites, he only inoculates half the juice.)

The winery’s impressive tank room, which has a vaulted ceiling inspired by Grand Central Station in New York City, where the Trinchero family left for California in 1947, includes many subtle enhancements.

It contains 20 2,000-gallon tanks and 10 4,000-gallon tanks; all of the fermentation tanks are from Santa Rosa Stainless and made of stainless steel.

Monticelli also has four open-top 1,000- and 1,300-gallon tanks with a pneumatic punch-down device fabricated by Burgstahler Machine Works in St. Helena and two 230- and two 700-gallon tanks to give him flexibility. The open-top tanks have another advantage: They slightly reduce alcohol levels, perhaps half a percent, he says. He uses them with Merlot grapes and Vista Merlone vineyard fruit, which tends to reach higher sugar levels.

The wide assortment and quantity of tanks gives him flexibility. “I never have to make decisions based on
tank space,” he says. For example, he can cold soak for four days since the grapes are already cool when they hit the tanks.

Pump-over routines by sensory analysis
Monticelli tastes the wine each night and decides on the processing for the next day. “It depends on what I smell,” he says. If fermentation hasn’t started, he may just use a short spray to keep the cap moist. He can also call for a rack and return to get the wine off its seeds, or a lengthy irrigation.

However, just to make sure the temperature is optimum, each large tank has two cooling jackets for cold glycol at the top and one heating jacket for hot glycol at the bottom.

The two cooling jackets provide better circulation and temperature control, while the hot jacket at the bottom is positioned there for providing better mixing of the must since warm juice rises. This allows Monticelli to maintain a temperature of 70ºF during extended maceration, which can take five to 20 days. He doesn’t need to inoculate for malolactic fermentation.

The small tanks can be cooled and heated, too. All the glycol piping (even to the smaller tanks) is hard-plumbed copper. A temperature-control computer using Allen Bradley hardware and software developed in-house allows Monticelli and his crew to monitor and control temperatures at a central location—or even at home on his laptop or tablet, if needed. It also issues alarms if anything goes wrong.

All piping is out of sight under the catwalks next to the tanks or hidden between the tanks in a tunnel-like area that gives full access but conceals clutter.

On that subject, hot and cold water, compressed air and argon are piped throughout the winery and available without long hose runs. The argon can be used to blanket the wine and exclude oxygen.

Open-top oak for small lots
The winery also has two open-top 1.25-ton oak fermentation tanks from Le Grand and two open-top, 1-ton oak tanks from Radoux. Each is fitted with rails at the bottom so it can be lifted by a forklift and dumped into a hopper to feed the press. Monticelli says the tanks should be good for at least four vintages. He uses them primarily to give flexibility. Being four years old, they no longer provide oak flavoring and little tannin. “I only have an acre of Petite Verdot, for example, and I can use the small oak fermentors and punch down. This gives excellent quality.”

Monticelli waits until the wine is dry, then macerates for added time, choosing the time to press by taste after letting samples settle. The automated Bucher Vaslin JLB basket press is very gentle, allowing the winemaker to extract slowly. He keeps the wine in separate fractions, using part of the press wine if he likes the taste. “The press is so gentle that sometimes the press wine is even better than the free run!” he says.

Monticelli buys French oak barrels from 15 coopers, with about four primary suppliers and trials with others. Two barrels are placed in earthquake-proof racks made by Holt Industries. The system takes a lot of space but keeps the barrels clean, and workers don’t have to be so careful stacking the barrels, particularly with barrels of different capacities and shapes. The racks are powder coated for longevity.

Workers can tell at a glance which barrels are in use; they have painted the centers pink with wine. Unused barrels remain white.

A Tom Beard barrel washer is specially adapted to use on the earthquake-proof individual barrel racks.

Chandelier lowers for lighting
The winery is built into the side of a hill, and two walls of the barrel chai are underground, which helps cool the room. Monticelli keeps it at 55ºF, which he considers optimum for aging in barrels. It, too, has a vaulted ceiling with a nice touch: a chandelier with real candles that can be lowered by a motor for lighting during events.

The chai holds two vintages totaling 1,000 barrels, but it has room for 1,400 barrels. The winery produces about 12,000 cases per year but has a capacity for 17,000.

The company also has refurbished an existing small cave, which can hold 400 barrels. A second entrance had to be added for access, and Trinchero outfitted a small prep kitchen there so the cave can be used for events.

In addition to the larger buildings on the site, separate small utility structures house mechanical and electrical systems as well as the water treatment system.

The winery uses well water and, of course, doesn’t use chlorine in the winery because of the risk of TCA. It has a large storage tank for fire protection.

All water used in the winery drains into an underground sump, then is filtered to remove solids and dispersed into septic drain fields (also known as leach fields) around the winery grounds.

The mechanical room includes the compressor for air as well as the cylinders for argon. The room also contains the boilers and refrigeration from Indoor Environment Services for heating or cooling tanks with glycol as well as electrical systems.

200 acres of estate vineyards
Monticelli chooses grapes from 200 acres of estate vineyards in Napa Valley, from north of Calistoga to south of Napa, and in the mountains as well as the valley floor.

The 11 acres around the winery are called Mario’s Vineyard, not for today’s winemaker but for Mario Trinchero, who moved his family to Napa Valley and bought the derelict Sutter Home Winery in 1947.

The wines produced include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Meritage, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (winery only). The Sauvignon Blanc is $24, and the red wines are $40-$100. The current releases are mostly 2009.

If 90-plus point reviews from respected consumer publications are any indication, the winery may have met its challenge. The Wine Advocate gave 93 points to the 2008 Cloud’s Nest Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder, and Wine Spectator awarded 92 points to the 2008 Meritage Napa Valley, as two recent examples.

The wines are priced appropriately for their high quality. But Monticelli points out that the company’s lower priced wines like Sutter Home white Zinfandel and Moscato have their attractions for him. “When I sniff a glass of pink Moscato, I smell new French oak barrels,” he jokes. The success of the family’s other wines has let Trinchero pursue its goal of making top-quality wines as well, and by most accounts it is succeeding.

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