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Interview: Bob Torkelson, President And COO, Trinchero Family Estates

May 12, 2014

St. Helena-based Trinchero Family Estates, marketer of big-volume wine brands like Ménage à Trois (up 3% to 2.2 million cases last year) and Sutter Home (down 5% to 10.2 million cases), continues to rank as one of California wine’s most influential players. In recent years Trinchero has augmented its range with a host of accessibly-priced premium wines, such as Joel Gott, which rose 18% to 385,000 cases in 2013, earning an Impact “Hot Brand” award. SND associate editor Christina Jelski recently met with Trinchero president and COO Bob Torkelson to get an update on progress across the portfolio.

SND: How are conditions in the wine market currently, and what are the biggest challenges ahead?

Torkelson: It’s a great category to be in, and we’ve seen continued growth for many years. The issue is making sure we continue to bring more young people into the category. When we look at our base business, it’s consumers in their 50s and 60s who are still buying about half the wine in the U.S. So it’s vital for the category to attract younger drinkers, namely Millennials.

SND: Which wine brands—and price points—are driving growth in the Trinchero portfolio?

Torkelson: Our fastest growing brands are Joel Gott, Seaglass and Ménage à Trois. What they have in common is a price point slightly above where the consumer enters the market. People are still interested in the relationship between quality and value, but much of the action is north of the $10 price point. Certainly there’s some experimentation as people move around and try different things. But those brands are very attractive because they offer quality at a reasonable price.

SND: In early 2013, you revamped Sutter Home, one of the biggest wine brands in the U.S. Is that effort meeting its objectives?

Torkelson: Sutter Home has been a mainstay for us, and it’s been relevant to the consumer for 65 years. Really, the task is staying relevant. We have to continue to provide consumers with the experience they’re seeking, from a packaging standpoint and from a varietal offering standpoint. The message we want to send is that we’ll continue to innovate. For example, the 187-ml. size has become an important element of Sutter Home’s business—and it’s one way we’ve been able to create a great experience around the brand. You’ll also see a renewed investment behind Sutter Home in places like Facebook and Pinterest as we try to attract Millennials through social media.

SND: Last year you made a move in Washington with the Charles & Charles brand. Do you foresee more projects in Washington?

Torkelson: We have a longstanding relationship with Charles Bieler (part of the Three Thieves group that produces Trinchero’s Bandit, The Show and Newman’s Own wines), and we were thrilled to form a venture with Charles Smith. The Washington category is growing about twice as fast as California. We’re like-minded in our sense that we can offer great wine for $12-$14. Charles & Charles is a wine for everybody, and we see the positive trend there continuing. We’re looking closely at Washington, and we see some real opportunities. Joel Gott also makes a Washington Riesling, so we do have another brand with a flag on the ground in the state.

SND: How is your spirits portfolio evolving?

Torkelson: The demand for spirits is there, and we’ve been encouraged to participate by retailers and wholesalers. It’s been successful so far. We have two Tequilas—Cruz and Tres Agaves—and Sugar Island rums, which have been on the market for about eight or nine months, and we’re starting to see some good things happen. You’ll also see us get into the vodka category over the next few months.

SND: Anything else to mention on the new product front?

Torkelson: We’re excited about another partnership we have with Carlo Trinchero and Josh Phelps. They have a brand called Taken ($30 a 750-ml.), and a sister brand called Complicated ($20-$18 a 750-ml.), which have recently launched and are beginning to roll out nationally.





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