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Interview: Trinchero Family Estates President and CEO Bob Torkelson

June 7, 2018

Founded 70 years ago by a pair of enterprising brothers, Trinchero Family Estates has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings.The St. Helena, California-based company skyrocketed to stardom in the 1980s with the success of Sutter Home and its White Zinfandel expression. Today, Sutter Home White Zinfandel sells 2 million 9-liter cases annually, with the total Sutter Home brand at 10 million cases. But Trinchero has diversified significantly over the past decade, adding numerous higher-end labels, both through partnerships and acquisitions. The company today manages more than 50 wine brands and three spirits labels, with total volume volume at 20 million cases and revenues of $800 million in 2017. Last year Trinchero named long-time executive Bob Torkelson as president and CEO, making him the first non-family member to lead the company. SND recently caught up with Torkelson to get an update on progress.

SND: Trinchero has branched out a lot since the days of White Zinfandel. What have been the key elements of that evolution?

Torkelson: We began partnering with brands like Australia’s Angove Family Winemakers in 2005, as well as Chile’s Viña Carmen Wines and Argentina’s Doña Paula Wines in 2011. Charles Bieler’s familial roots in France and relationships there have opened the door for us there, and we’ve had great success with his Bieler Père et Fils brand and the Shatter Grenache program. And we’ve formed significant partnerships on brands including Joel Gott, Charles & Charles, and Bandit.

SND: How has the move into higher-end wines affected things?

Torkelson: Trinchero Family Estates began acquiring and partnering with higher-price-point brands in the early 2000s, beginning with the acquisition of Folie à Deux in 2004. Since then, we’ve further developed our luxury footprint, adding Ziata Wines and Mason Cellars/Pomelo in 2016, and Bravium Wines and Neyers Vineyards in 2017. The flagship Trinchero Napa Valley offers estate-grown limited production wines, and we’re transitioning a portion of our original Sutter Home production facility in St. Helena into a modern, luxury winemaking studio enviro

nment to support our commitment to the high end.

SND: How has your California presence evolved?

Torkelson: We’ve continued to purchase vineyards, as well as a production facility in Santa Barbara. We only acquired our first vineyards in the Napa Valley in the early 1980s, and today we own over 10,000 acres of vineyards throughout California’s key appellations including Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara. That has required us to rethink production and distribution. What was once done by hand is now a large-scale production at our facility in Lodi—a facility capable of producing 25 million cases of wine annually. We also have brands in other New World appellations in the U.S., including Washington state and Oregon. Overseas, it’s Australia, and South America, and we currently have our eyes on opportunities in Italy, Spain, and France.

SND: What growth do you have planned for 2018 and beyond?

Torkelson: Ménage à Trois will continue to innovate with new line extensions. Pomelo and Seaglass are potential candidates for alternative packages aimed at the millennial market. We’ll continue to invest in resources and infrastructure in order to continue growing where we’d like to play more heavily, such as luxury wines.

 

 

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