ST. HELENA – For more than six decades, the Trinchero family have been leading development of the wine industry, from attracting more consumers acquire and refine their tastes in wine to providing wine in something other than a glass bottle to reducing the impact of wine production on the environment.
Starting with the purchase of Sutter Home Winery in St. Helena in 1947, the company has become among the top five wine producers in the world, the second-largest family owned wine company behind Modesto-based E&J Gallo and the largest based in Napa Valley.
“As we have grown to approximately 20 million cases annually, we have had to expand our production capacity, and find new ways to make quality products efficiently,” said Bob Torkelson, president and chief operating officer.
The company dealt with a rapid rise in sales and production needs more than three decades ago when white zinfandel wine hit the market. And it’s happening again with consumer demand for quality lower-priced wines in the past four years and for sweeter wines, especially moscato.
Sutter Home sales soared in the mid-1970s when “stuck” fermentation on a Sutter Home white zinfandel wine produced a slightly sweet, pink wine. Production of just that variety jumped to 25,000 cases a year in 1981 — half of total production — to 1.3 million in 1986 and 2 million a year later, thanks to a much larger St. Helena winery. The current winery in the city was acquired in 1993.
“We specifically created the Trinchero portfolio around the concept of providing consumers a diverse selection of wines which are a value at every price point, and designed our facilities accordingly,” Mr. Torkelson said. “Moscato was actually the first wine produced by Sutter Home Family Vineyards over 60 years ago, so we are well-equipped to produce it, even as it grows in popularity.”
Sutter Home Pink Moscato in standard-sized 750-milliliter bottles is the No. 1 new item by unit volume for the past 13 and 26 weeks, according to Nielsen data. Sutter Home also released sparkling white moscato, pink moscato and plans to launch a red moscato in September.
“We knew the varietal would get the exposure it deserved, and long before it was ‘hot’ we have been showing our customers multiple choices of this approachable wine, including Sutter Home, Terra d’Oro, Bandit, Ménage à Trois and Zibibbo,” Mr. Torkelson said.
Trinchero has diversified its extensive portfolio of wines by fruit source, packaging and “personality.” For wine production and grape sourcing across all price points, the company prioritizes wine “character” in deciding which grapes to use.
The company has automated aspects of winemaking and installed advanced technology to protect quality. One bottling line at the Main Street winery has a robot that palletizes cases more efficiently than workers can and avoiding possible injuries. Twenty-three years ago Executive Vice President Jim Huntsinger and the production team created an advanced automated production planning program for raw materials and packaging materials. Such systems helped Trinchero take the Ménage à Trois brand, purchased five years ago, from 45,000 cases a year to 2 million cases a year and a key contributor to volume growth recently.
“That combined with the professional management of our vineyards allow us to exceed customer’s expectations and deliver consistent, quality wines,” Mr. Torkelson said. Still, individual clusters are still hand-sorted for the luxury-priced Trinchero Napa Valley brand.
Trinchero also has been a leader in packaging innovation. Building off its early adoption of 187-milliliter single-serving bottles and aluminum screw cap closures with Sutter Home in 1989, the company has released Sutter Home wine in like-sized PET plastic bottles and produced the Bandit brand in lighter-weight TetraPak cartons.
Trinchero Family Estates has been proactive in wastewater management, energy conservation and other efforts to produce products as efficiently as possible, according to Mr. Torkelson. In 2009, the company installed a $5.3 million photovoltaic energy system at the Lodi winery, adding to a solar electricity system at the vineyard in Clements, Calif. Together, they generate about 1.1 million kilowatt-hours a year. In 2011, Trinchero installed a 400,000 kilowatt-hour Bloom Energy fuel cell electric plant to reduce energy costs and the company’s carbon footprint.
This past September, Trinchero installed a $2 million process wastewater treatment system at Sutter Home Main Street winery. It cleans 70,000-100,000 gallons of water daily, with capacity for up to 250,000 gallons a day, to levels able to be used for washing equipment.
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