While Sutter Home may be the best-known of the 60-plus wine and spirits brands Trinchero Family Estates produces or imports for itself and others, the Napa Valley-based family company also makes brands that reach into the luxury tier.
The Trinchero family got into the wine business in 1948 with Sutter Home Winery in the valley. From the sweet rose wine "white zinfandel in 1975, the portfolio expanded above $10 a bottle with Ménage à Trois in 2004 and Trinchero Napa Valley in 2007. The company has 10 wineries in California, producing the equivalent of about 20 million cases a year.
After 13 years as president and chief operating officer, Bob Torkelson moved up to CEO in 2017.
He's set to join a panel discussion at the Business Journal's Wine Industry Conference on Thursday. He talked with the Journal about responding to demand for product and packaging innovation from consumers, retailers and wholesalers, managing rising grape and wine costs, and not leaving behind consumers amid "premiumization."
What are hot trends in the premium wine business?
The red blend category continues to grow, albeit slower. Cabernet continues to grow, albeit slower than it has. Red wine is the area that the consumer seems to be interested in.
We see portability becoming more important to people. Everybody wants to talk about can, TetraPak and box-wine business. Alternative packaging goes along with that portability.
Cans and boxes, is demand for those coming from your trade partners or from consumers?
It’s more (from) trade partners today, whether it’s wholesalers or retailers, than it is the consumer at this point. There’s hope that consumers will continue to evolve the way they use wine in more occasions, so having versatility around packaging is important. (Consumers are) going to have many, many options and, hopefully, the consumer responds.
How have you responded in that interest from the trade for more portability?
We are in all of those categories: can, TetraPak with multiple brands, box wine with a project we do with Target stores. We do see growing interest in those categories. It’s important for us to be innovative and diversify, but the big thing is to just stay relevant and not get too carried away with some of these trends that look like they might be unsustainable. I don’t know how the retailer’s going to put 16 new can brands into their account?
What about other trends, such as kegs on premises?
We’re involved in the keg wine business. We see some activity there, primarily in the urban areas where managing inventory of large amount of cases and, more importantly, the leftover, the refuse, eliminating trash. There is just no place to keep it in some of these urban accounts.
We see other trends that are starting to catch hold — certainly, rose. It’ll be interesting to see this summer if the consumer is going to respond and consume as much rose that’s been produced by a lot of people. Whether there is a hangover in that category remains to be seen. Sometimes in our industry, we can’t help ourselves; we think if a little bit as good, a lot must be better.
There’s also opportunity in low-alcohol wines. I think the younger generation is more interested in sobriety.
Given the regulatory structure, will that take a major retooling for producers to really access the lower-alcohol category?
The primary issue is, can we make a product that has acceptable quality levels and taste the way consumers want it to taste yet still deliver lower alcohol? That’s been the quandary that many of us have. We can certainly make low-alcohol lines, but does anybody want to consume those?
Wine business insights
Wine business insights
These key players on the California North and Central coast and in Oregon talk about what’s coming for the industry and layout of the marketplace now.
David Duncan, proprietor, chairman and CEO, Silver Oaks Cellars
Corey Beck, CEO and winemaking chief, Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Bob Torkelson, president and CEO, Trinchero Family Estates
Alex Ryan, president and CEO, Duckhorn Wine Company
Dan Baker, executive vice president, Korbel
Michelle Benvenuto, executive director, Winegrowers of Napa County
Ron Denner, Denner Vineyards
Cam Baker, proprietor, Larkmead Vineyards
Tom Bonomi, president and CEO, Price Family Vineyards & Winery
Steven W. Spadarotto, Far Niente Wine Estates
Sarah House, director and senior economist, Wells Fargo
They are set to speak at North Bay Business Journal’s Wine Industry Conference in Santa Rosa on April 18.