December 2010

No Ordinary Winery

By: Meridith May

A load of ripened, blue-tinged Cabernet Sauvignon berries has just arrived at Trinchero Napa Valley in St. Helena, and winemaker Mario Monticelli is there to greet the truck, filled with 35-pound lug boxes stacked eight high. The boxes are all filled to the rim with fruit from the winery’s Cloud’s Nest Vineyard in the Mt. Veeder AVA, high above the valley floor in
the Mayacamas.
The only white wine produced at Trinchero Napa Valley is a Sauvignon Blanc. The 2009 Mary’s Vineyard Sauv, Calistoga (SRP $24) is paired with a Bibb lettuce and endive salad with Bartlett pear, crispy speck, locally-farmed Laura Chenel chèvre in a golden balsamic vinaigrette. The wine, from fruit grown in Calistoga at the foot of Mt. St. Helena, is all stainless steel–fermented with no ML, resulting in notes of pineapple and seashell minerality.
The boxes are constructed so that they can be stacked without any crushing—no compaction of fruit. All the clusters are intact, and Monticelli reaches in to taste the sweetness of these 2010 harvest grapes. They will be stored in refrigerated rooms, spacious walk-ins that not only allow the grapes to chill, but also offers Monticelli the opportunity to chill out.

Most winemakers are nervous at harvest, especially the unpredictability from this past year with unusual weather conditions that began as early as spring and did not let up until harvest.

“The 75-degree grapes can chill in volume in this refrigerated room—down to 45 degrees—and once chilled and weighed, I know exactly how many grapes I have to process tomorrow, or even the next day,” he smiles with a cavalier glint in his eyes. 

The efficiency of the operation means low stress for the winemaker and permits timing the fruit processing so that it proceeds at one to two tons an hour; production is so organized that there’s no employee overtime to deal with—and even more important, no surprises.

The Single Vineyard Program

In 2007, Mario Monticelli was brought in by the Trinchero family to start a new program. Prior experience at small family-owned and -operated wineries and a consulting opportunity with Napa guru Philippe Melka, made him the right man for the job. Under Monticelli, the brand would take an upscale turn, not only revamping its labels with a sleek sophisticated look, but refocusing the image of the wines through a stunning single vineyard program that would span seven of Trinchero’s estate vineyards within five appellations in Napa Valley.
Reflecting a former grocery brand taken to a breathtaking new level of high-end, small-production wines, Trinchero’s new image draws as much on the company’s impressive vineyard properties as it does on the family’s traditional roots. The “new” Trinchero is dedicated to showcasing Bordeaux varietals in the spotlight of Napa Valley esteem, while adhering to the principle of over-delivery on value. 

ario Monticelli is the winemaker at Trinchero, the largest family-owned winery in Napa Valley.


Mary’s Vineyard, Napa Valley AVA: Named for the family matriarch, Mary Trinchero, and the first vineyard purchased by the Trincheros.

Mario’s Vineyard, St. Helena AVA: Named for patriarch Mario Trinchero, this vineyard is located at the winery.

Central Park West Vineyard, St. Helena AVA: Named in honor of Mario and Mary Trinchero’s New York City roots.

Chicken Ranch Vineyard, Rutherford AVA: Once home to the largest egg farm in Northern California, the vineyard terroir brings the iconic “Rutherford dust” to the tannins in the wine.

Haystack Vineyard, Atlas Peak AVA: High elevation brings out intensity in the wine.

Cloud’s Nest Vineyard, Mt. Veeder AVA: Rugged terrain keeps the grapes struggling, resulting in intensity and complexity.

Vista Montone Vineyard, Napa Valley AVA: The most southerly, and coolest, of Trinchero’s estate vineyards, this vineyard produces the ripe and opulent Daybreak Block Merlot.

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Trinchero Napa Valley

Introducing the First Releases from the 2008 Vintage

Mario Monticelli stands in Mario’s Vineyard, named after the winery’s founder, Mario Trinchero.

Released last month, these four 2008s are the start of winemaker Mario Monticelli’s second vintage for Trinchero’s Single Vineyard Estate program. “The 2007s weren’t easy,” he tells THE TASTING PANEL; “it was my first vintage: Viticulture 101.  In 2008 I was able to step back and look at the big picture. But I also thought 2008 was a much more difficult harvest, even though I did a better job. The learning curve was steep the year before.”

Creating “V” trellises to create more shading at Mario’s, the home winery vineyard, and understanding the watering needs at Haystack (smaller doses but more frequency) were just some of the changes Monticelli made for ‘08s releases.

Here are my notes. 

Trinchero 2008 Central Park West Vineyard Petit Verdot, St. Helena (SRP $50) jumps right into generously ripe—I repeat ripe—plum and rhubarb. Stellar acidity matches the wine’s chalky tannins, but its aromatics are its most attractive attribute. Violets and purple fruit abound.  “Soils are deep and fertile on the valley floor,” explains Monticelli. “We get bigger clusters with bigger berries here and the roots go down deep.”

Trinchero 2008 Central Park West Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena (SRP $40) conjures up exotic floral notes of lavender and jasmine with hints of tea. Billowy soft texture plays well with an earthy core of espresso and dark mocha, while a blackberry creaminess floats along the palate.  “This wine has all the complexity of the ’07 with even more power and intensity,” Monticelli confirms. “When I think of St. Helena Cab, I think of the style that people come to expect from Napa Valley.”

Trinchero 2008 Central Park West Cabernet Franc, St. Helena (SRP $50) sparks a chorus of Christmas carols. Clove, mint, sarsaparilla and dried herbs find their way beyond the glass but mingle back on the palate with black tea and juicy pomegranate. Old World acidity and a surprising turn for the softer side of this sometimes-hard-to-hold-its-own varietal.

Trinchero 2008 Chicken Ranch Vineyard Merlot, Rutherford (SRP $40) begins with wafting aromas of cinnamon and brown sugar stirred with red fruit. On the palate, the cherries grow riper amid even more red fruit: strawberries and raspberries unite. But it’s mid-palate that this red dives into the Old World, when soil and sun kick in with pencil lead, cedar and cigar box to make you think you’re drinking a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

At Trinchero’s Hospitality Center (open only to the trade), four full-time chefs prepare fresh seasonal meals for guests in a state-of-the-art open show kitchen. Here, Chef James Houghton pairs the ’08 Trinchero Central Park West Cab with a grilled Masami Wagyu flatiron steak with trumpet mushrooms and herb purée.

A Family’s History

Mario and Mary Trinchero came to the Napa Valley in 1947 and purchased an abandoned winery in St. Helena. The name of the winery was painted in huge letters across the roof of the barn: SUTTER HOME. Not able to afford the paint it would take to paint over and replace the sign, the Trincheros decided to let the name stay.

The overwhelming success of Sutter Home White Zinfandel —the varietal actually invented by Bob Trinchero—allowed the Trincheros to expand. Today, the family-owned company produces more than 25 brands, including Sutter Home, Trinchero Napa Valley, Napa Cellars, Terra d’Oro, Montevina, Trinity Oaks, Folie à Deux and Ménage à Trois, as well as Fre, the number-one alcohol-removed wine. The company also imports Angove Vineyards and Little Boomey wines from Australia and markets the Joel Gott and Three Thieves brands.

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No Ordinary Barrel Room

“Million Dollar Smell.” That’s how winemaker Mario Monticelli refers to the fragrant lightness of the oak that permeates the air in this exquisite French oak barrel room. Note the ceiling, an architectural inspiration that salutes Italian immigrant Mario Trinchero’s arrival at Ellis Island in New York City in the 1920s.    


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