Obsessed with Wine Podcast

Wine-making Legacy - The Trione Family with Winemaker John Duckett

May 05, 2023 John Duckett Season 2 Episode 2
Obsessed with Wine Podcast
Wine-making Legacy - The Trione Family with Winemaker John Duckett
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Obsessed with Wine, Wesley Cable sits down with special guest John Duckett from Trione Winery and Vineyards in Geyserville, California. They discuss the Trione family's journey from mortgage banking to owning a winery, the vineyards that produce some of their best grapes, and their commitment to producing high-quality wines. They also delve into the hiring process for a new winemaker, the hectic but beloved daily schedule during harvest season, and the importance of a winemaker's style and attitude. Additionally, they talk about John's experience making wine in New Zealand and the improvements being made to Trione's barrel aging system to enhance wine quality. Tune in to learn more about the fascinating world of winemaking!

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Hello, everybody. How you doing? My name is Wesley Cable, the host of the Obsessed with Wine podcast. And tonight we've got a special Thursday night edition of the show. Most of you know that we usually do our interviews on Friday nights, and there was some technical difficulties last Friday, and so we had to reschedule the interview to tonight. So I'm really appreciative of our guest for rescheduling. So before we get started with tonight's interview, I just wanted to remind you of a couple of things. We've got a brand new show website called Obsessed With Wine. And a couple of cool things I'm doing on the website is I've got a gallery page on there now that has a bunch of pictures from all of my adventures making wine and going wine tasting, et cetera. So go there, look at the pictures, comment if you want to. I think that's a pretty cool thing, especially if you've never worked in a winery. You can kind of see how that goes. Secondly, and probably the most popular thing that I'm doing right now on there is I've got some Wine Knowledge quizzes. So you can go to the website. At the very top of the page, there is a button that says Wine Knowledge Quizzes. Click on that and you can test your wine knowledge. I've got a red wine quiz there. I've got a white wine quiz, and I've got a dessert wine quiz, which is new. So go on there. It's just for fun. Check it out. Test your score and test your wine knowledge and see how you do. So tonight I'm going to welcome a very special guest. Like I said, we've got John Duckett. And John is joining us from Trioni Winery and Vineyards in Geyserville, California. So I'm going to go ahead and bring John in. There he is. John, welcome back. Yeah, I'm good. I'm doing really good. So I have to say, just because I feel like I have to. Okay. You were so gracious enough. You and I got together last Friday night, and it was like the most epic interview, right? And we're sitting here. I had a great time, a whole hour. We did the interview, and then I realized that I never recorded it or I never broadcast it. So it was like just you and I did it. No one else got to see it or hear it. I appreciate you. Yeah. Thank you for rejoining. I think that's awesome. So thank you so much. My pleasure. My pleasure. All right, so John is the new head winemaker at Trioni in Geyserville. So I want to start by asking you, John, usually I like to start with how you grew up with wine and how you got into wine, but tonight I just want to start with as a new head winemaker for an established place like Trioni. How does that go? What are the first things that you do? Getting ready for your first harvest that's coming up not too long, in a few months. Yeah, it's a little unusual to start as the head winemaker for an established brand, I would say usually there's an assistant winemaker present that works with the winemaker, and then that winemaker either leaves to another winery or retires, and then the assistant winemaker gets promoted to head winemaker. So they're already kind of ingrained in the brand and the style of wines. So coming in as a new winemaker into an established brand is definitely a challenge because there are things that have been done in the past, and I want to be respectful of those things going forward, but then also kind of give my own thumbprint on the winery and the wines that we make. So right now, I started in January this year, so I really haven't been there that long. And right now, it's just a lot of sort of figuring things out, getting to know the crew. There's only two of them in the cellar, so that's pretty easy. We got two guys that work with me and then our small tasting room staff, and that's about it. It's a small operation. So really just kind of getting the feel for the place and seeing what my inventory is, what wines we have in barrel, what do we have in tank, what's the plan for those wines? So kind of inheriting wine is also interesting. Here are some wines I haven't made at all, and now they're yours. So it's like, all right, go ahead. So that's been interesting. It's been fun. I've enjoyed the challenge. And then getting ready for harvest for a brand new winery like this that I've never been at before. Working wise, it's daunting. I'm not familiar with the flow, and a lot of harvest is so based on flow. Right. So when the grapes come in, how they come in, how they're crushed, how the fermentations go, where the barrels go, and just kind of figuring out what works, what doesn't work. So that's kind of what I'm trying to figure out now. Luckily, starting in January, it's given me a lot of time to kind of think about this. So I've been thinking of when I started, I was already thinking of September, October, November, so definitely thinking a few months in advance, but it's been a lot of fun so far. And the family, the trionis, have been really just embraced everything that we've been kind of talking about doing and kind of implementing some things into the winery already. So it's been great, but definitely a different sort of, I guess, transition for a new winemaker. So you mentioned harvest, so I'm going to ask you real quick, for those who don't know, who've not worked a harvest, can you just give us an idea for a head winemaker on a regular day at harvest? What does your day look like? So every day is different. It can be depending on the grapes that are coming in,

you could be coming in at 02:00 A.m., 03:

00 A.m. When those grapes are delivered and staying there until


00 at night and then starting it over. Just getting a few hours of sleep and starting over the next day. But the day usually starts with plenty of coffee, which is very important. And then really, it's just kind of going with what we have scheduled. So the first thing that we have would be a scheduled great pick. And then from there, you don't really know how that's going to go throughout the day. So picks can be delayed, picks can be canceled, picks can go really well. So it all starts with the pick and delivering the fruit, and then from there, you're going through the process of bringing those grapes into the winery. Harvest usually starts around the end of August, kind of maybe Labor Day ish in September. And then depending on the grapes that you're making, it can be a little earlier. So sparkling. They're starting more towards the beginning of August. And then if you're making if you're making any kind of dessert wines, you're going into November. So late, late, late. But typically, I would say end of August into middle of October is kind of the sweet spot for harvest. Definitely September. Busiest month there is. It was a couple of years ago, a lot of my college friends were getting married, and they literally all had their weddings during September. And I remember I was like, you guys got to be kidding me. You know what I do for a living, but managed to make it. But that was a busy month for sure. Yeah, day to day, it's hectic, but I love it. And that's what kind of drives me to do it. Every day is different, and you're kind of just thinking on your toes all the time, and it's an awesome challenge. So will you guys do seven days a week or six days a week or what do you guys do? I would try not to. It depends. It's nice to get one day off just to kind of reset. If we are doing seven, I mean, I'll be there seven days a week, but it's nice to have the crew be able to at least have a day off. So they'll transition each other. So someone will have a Saturday while that guy comes in and then the other guy will have Sunday off, something like that. But there are times when you're working seven days a week, and that's just kind of the nature of the beast, and you just got to do it. So the grapes don't wait. They just have to come in, and someone's got to be there to do it. So is depending on the winery, I've worked for a few that are swing shifts, 12 hours, 24 hours a day, and the night crew or the day crew comes in, it's like, hey, what are you working on, like, all right, here's the pump. It's yours. Have fun. I'm out of here. So it really depends. But a trioni, it's smaller, so we'll see how that goes. I couldn't imagine seven days for a long period of time. It might be during the big crush, and we're bringing in Salvania Blanc, something like that. So I guess we'll see. So this will be harvest number one. Okay, great. So I want to go back just a little bit. So before we talk about what you're doing and all that stuff, I just wanted to ask you, as someone, most of us haven't had the opportunity to go from one winery to the other, to make wine at one place and then go to another place. So what is the process like, going from one winery to the other? Is there an interview that gets done, and what kind of conversations are had during that interview? Do you get a lot of questions about, okay, John, what's your style? What do you want to see? How can you take our wines to the next level? Things like that? How does that process go? Yeah, so I've only been interviewed once for a winemaking position, and that was this one. And for the winemaker, obviously, it's pretty important for those hiring to know what the winemaker style is, what kind of wines they make, what the history of winemaking has been. So looking at previous wines that have been produced or that I had a hand in to kind of get a feel for, okay, what's this guy going to make? What is his quality standards, where's his head at? So there are a lot of, again, kind of feeling each other out moments. It's showing you the seller, showing you the crew, the equipment, kind of, hey, this is what we make, how much we make. But when it comes to actually figuring out style, especially in this sense, there's already a style in place. And so it's trying to figure out, hey, how do we want to steer this? You guys have hired a new winemaker. What's the best process for trioni, and where do we see us going in five, six, seven years? Down to ten years? Because wines take a while to be released. The wines that I'm making in 2023, they really won't hit the market for another two, three years. After that, Salvagor Blanc will come out the quickest. So it is a long process, but it really is just a sit down conversation. What are the interests? What drives you? What made you become a winemaker? And just getting to know, I think just sort of the attitude. Does he have a big ego? Does he not have a big ego? Can he work with people? Does he think everything he touches is gold? And so it's that kind of thing. And I like to think that I'm a humble person and just kind of want to make the best wines possible and do what's best for the Trioni family. Here I am with them. It's been a ride. So speaking of the Trioni family, so a guy like you, you've got a long history, at least ten years plus working at Jordan, which we'll talk about in a little bit. But why Trioni? And how did you select Trioni as the best place for you? Yeah, so it was kind of, I guess, happenstance that I founded. I've known the Trionis for a really long time, growing up in Sonoma County. They're definitely a family that is just well known for their philanthropy and giving back to our community. And so I've always known that family. And then the brand, the Trioni winery brand, which started in 2005, and so I wasn't really looking. I took a couple of years off after Jordan became a stay at home dad with my two boys. My wife is an accountant, so she started working, and I was just like, I really wanted to be home with my two boys. So it took those two years. And then we have kids that go to the same school. Denise Trioni, Denise Hicks. They Have Kids That Go To St. Rose School, and So Do We. And we were at Jiu Jitsu class, where our kids go together, and she approached me asking if I would be interested possibly in coming back to work and maybe working at Trioni. And I said, you know what? I think I would. Let me talk to my wife Tanya, and we'll see if we get this ball rolling. The size was right. The family is just incredible, and the wines they were making were kind of right up my alley. The only wine I haven't worked with a lot would be the Pinot Noir, but other than that, it was just ideal. They own their own fruit, so I'd be working with one grower. I get to choose the top 3% of the grapes that come into the winery. So it's sort of like a winemaker's playground there. So it just sort of made sense. And I went through the interview process with her and luckily was able to get the position, and I'm definitely thankful for that. So now that you're on the staff, and like you said, you've only been there since January, so there's not been a ton of time to do a lot of things. But what are some changes that you've made already that you think will improve the already good wines that are made at Trioni? Yeah, not to sound some of it can sound a little boring, but a lot of it is equipment based, efficiency based. So we brought in a couple of pieces of equipment to help move things along a little quicker, a little more efficient, and then not have to handle the wine as much, kind of leave it be in its spot. So all of our barrels are in two rooms, and they're on stainless steel racks, which is fairly typical, so you have to forklift them in and out. And what they were doing previously was these barrels were coming out a lot. They were coming in and out restacking, moving. Bungs were being open, topping a lot, so twoing a lot. And so what I kind of wanted to implement was, let's slow down a little bit. Let's make our topping. And so two additions. Let's do this every three months. Let the barrels sit, let them age and stop jostling them around and opening up the bungs a lot and exposing them to a big whoosh of air. So trying to improve the barrel aging system has been a big thing that I've been working on because that's kind of all I have right now. There's no wine intake, nothing fermenting. We have implemented a brand new humidity system in the barrel cellar, which is pretty cool. It's called a smart fog system, and it uses this dry fog technology, which really, it just immediately disperses moisture into the air, so there's no chance of condensation or any kind of puddling on the barrels, which can lead to mold, which you definitely don't want in a cellar. So that's been a big thing that we just put in, and you can tell the difference already. You walk into the barrel room and it smells a lot different. I mean, it actually smells like wine in there versus sort of just a musty room. So that's been great. And then what else are we doing? Just kind of trying to get feeling out the guys a little bit, kind of what they would be doing in this time and kind of what their workflow would be or is and seeing if there's anything that we can improve upon there, just in terms of quality and their kind of ease of efficiency through the seller. So, yeah, I would say that's about it so far, harvest wise, there's going to be some different changes in terms of fermentations and nutrients and all that. So once we get to that, that'll be, I think, pretty fun for the guys to see. So fingers crossed. It's a good growing season. So do you find that the crew that's there I know you said it's a small crew, two guys in there. Yeah. Are they taking to you pretty well? Are they excited to work with you? Yeah. At least that's what they tell me. Right, so no, it's been great. No, they're really down to earth and have been very open to what I've been trying to show. The way I've approached is like, all right, show me how you would normally do it. And then I just kind of watched and sort of helped out and then started to pepper in a little bit of, hey, would you want to try it this way or try it that way and see how they kind of react to it? They've been really open with everything and it's been great for me because it can go the complete opposite where you have people that don't want to. This guy doesn't know anything and what does he know about this? I'm counting my blessings there that my two guys, Dave and Alec have been phenomenal and just really embraced me coming in and in fact, they had a hand in having me hired, which was good. They gave me the thumbs up versus another good I don't think did. So that was the story I got. So I'm in debt to them there. But so far they've been phenomenal and really thirsty for that knowledge and learning new things and just seeing where this goes. So you said you took a couple of years off to be a stay at home dad, which is really cool. I think that's cool. I have three kids myself. I mean, I couldn't imagine being a stay at home dad, but it's got to be really hard. But it's only been to the two years you weren't making wine. Has anything really changed that much or has there been a lot of changes in just a couple of years from. Like a winemaking standpoint? There's always changes when it comes to especially fermentation vendors, additions and stuff like that, there's always something new. Otherwise it wouldn't be a business. Right. There always has to be something to entice the winemakers. So in terms of noon, I wouldn't think that not really the biggest thing is sort of this it's more of the growing season. So kind of noticed things are changing. The weather is kind of whipsawing a little more and we've dealt with fires and this rain, all the rain we had this year and just sort of interesting weather patterns would be the biggest thing. So that's a little nerve wracking because we have had a string of pretty interesting harvests. But in terms of new philosophies or anything like that, not really. I couldn't say that I've seen any huge shifts right now. So before we talk about how you got into wine, I want to ask you, are the Triones open? Do you get any kind of autonomy as far as how you want to do things? I know when you come to an established place, like you said, they have a style of wine that they make and do you get that kind of freedom to kind of do things the way you want to do it, to make maybe like you said earlier, put a little your own signature on the wines? Yeah, they've been really receptive to it. Most things that I've come to and trying to implement, they've been on board. We had a staff tasting today to taste the Sauvignon Blanc. We do this every, I think every month and a half or so, we'll all sit down as a group and taste blind lineup of wines. And this was the first one that we did where there was a wine that I actually had something to do with. And so I was, like, sweating bullets going into this thing like, oh, God, I hope this thing, like, somewhere near the top and not the bottom. And it ended up our trio, Sauvignon Blanc ended up being one of the higher rate wines. I was like, okay, that's good. That's one out. So they've been really receptive to me just kind of doing what I need to do to the wine and doing what I think is best. They've been great with that. I mean, Mark, Vic, and Denise. Denise is there at the winery most days, so I work with her the most. But all of them have been really open to and curious, too, in terms of what my thoughts are and what I want to do and why, which I love being asked why, because it just makes you think, like, actually, why are we doing this? Or why were we doing it this way? So, yeah, they've been incredible in terms of supporting me and allowing me to kind of be creative at the same time as kind of trying to be a little more precise. So they've been phenomenal. So some wineries are the owners or whoever's in charge. They're willing to spend whatever it takes in order to make the best wine possible. And then there's wineries where it's not that way, in the sense that they watch the money a little bit closer. So where is trioni on that scale as far as trying to make the best wine possible? They're definitely at I mean, from the small experience I have so far with purchasing things and asking for equipment and capital, they're at that spare no expense for right now, which is great because a lot of stuff was just it was an older winery. I mean, after 15 something odd years, some stuff had to be upgraded or replaced. Some of it was in disrepair. So they've been really open to spending to really improve the winery and bring the wines up to a level that I think they envision, which is really top tier wines because we have our own pick of the grapes. So why can't it be the best wines out there? So they've really been behind me all the way in terms of spending, which is great, but I do always feel a little awkward when I'm, hey, I kind of would like to get this. So two dosing machine. I understand we just spent 10,000 here's, another 10,000, but the smart fog was like, okay, so it's always something. But for the most part, they realize that this is investments into the future, not these will pay dividends in the wines going forward. So in terms of saving on labor costs or just in terms of quality of the wine as it ages, I think they really do see it. So they've been successful business people for a long time, and so they see this as a great opportunity I think. So let's go back to the early days for you. So I did not grow up in a wine family. So my dad drank wine later in life, but mostly was a beer guy and my mom didn't drink, so we didn't have wine around when I grew up. Like a lot of people who had wine in their families and growing up and all that. So how did that you grew up in Sonoma County, so was wine around all the time? Is that how you got into it or how did you get into it? Yeah, no, I did not get into it from a wine family. My dad is a doctor and my mom was a teacher, and we joke with her that she still drinks red wine with an ice cube in it or white wine for that matter. There's an ice cube in her wine. Regardless, we never really drank a whole lot of wine growing up as a family. It would be there occasionally, but we definitely weren't wine people growing up in Sonoma County. It was all around me. I didn't discover it until I was in college. I mean, I really didn't have a palate for wine or drink it really at all until really kind of in college while studying and then after college kind of getting that wine bug. So it was a little different. I didn't have that AHA moment where my old boss, Maggie Cruz at Jordan, she had that AHA moment. She's like, I want to be a winemaker when I grew up. I want to be a winemaker. For me, I stumbled into it. I found it just by coincidence while I was at Davis through a couple of introductory courses and then fell in love with it there and mostly on the vineyard side, to tell you the truth. I've always been really interested in plants and gardening and really took an affinity to being out in the vineyard studying vines, how they grow, and the plant science side of it really kind of got me. And then that morphed into the fermentation side. And so I just discovered wine as I went through the steps. To tell you the truth, it was not a once moment, and I didn't even know UC Davis was a good wine school until I was actually there in the viticulture analogy department. I was like, oh, this place is actually pretty good. So I joke about that now. But I'm so happy that I did find it and was able to use it and become a winemaker. So I couldn't see myself doing anything else. And I said this to you before, but I think it's fascinating. Somebody who grows up in Sonoma County, wine is everywhere, right? And goes to Davis, didn't even realize they were like, a world famous wine. School. And took a class and then just ended up liking it. And here you are. I mean, it's a pretty awesome story. Yeah, it was definitely different. I was a swimmer growing up, competitive swimmer, and that's why I went to Davis, was to be on their swim team. I was recruited to go and then ended up being on the team and then stopped my they had their summer training program. I decided I was like, this is a huge time commitment. I think swimming has got me where I need to be. So I stopped, and it ended up giving me the opportunity to become viticulturenology degree undergrad. Because if I was swimming, there was no way I was going to be able to do the labs or anything like that. The time just wouldn't have worked out. So that would have been a non factor. So giving up swimming, which was hard enough, led to wine, which worked out. But yeah, no, I had no idea Davis was a world renowned wine school until I was there. Pretty cool. That's pretty cool. Last season I had somebody who was from where was she from? I don't remember the country. Moldova, I think, which is like Ukraine. She knew about UC Davis over there, which is so weird, right? Anyway, people tell me that. They're like, Wait, how do you not know? How did you not know? And I was like, I wasn't looking. I didn't know. That's fair. All right, so let's talk about when you started working in wine. So eventually you get your first internship, right? Where was the first time that you got to work at a winery? Yeah, it was corbell. Corbell wine sellers out near Gurnville. And that was basically just a summer job that was between I think that was after my freshman year. It must have been my freshman year in college. Buddy of mine, we just decided to go work at Corbell because they had that swing shift, 12 hours, 24 hours a day, big operation and just a good way to make money during the summer. I just started learning about the wine and all that at that point, but for the most part, we're cleaning tanks all day. You're running dump trucks? I don't even think I touched a pump. I think it was just cleaning tanks and running pumice trucks, and that was it. Which was funny because they gave us a huge stick shift dump truck and we had to bring it around almost off the property, pull it up, and then back up to this cliff, literally a drop off, and then dump the pumice into their pile.

And you're doing that at, like, 03:

00 A.m., and they're just trusting these guys to go do it. So I was a little nervous about that. When they just put a log, they're like, when you hit the log, stop backing up. That was a great job, though. It was really fun. Huge operation. How did they give me a golf cart to get around this massive, massive spot? But that was my first experience into wine. And then. From there, I had two internships at j winery, so each was a summer internship. J. Winery also made sparkling wine, and then that led to my stint at a jordan winery after that. What a stark difference between where you are today and working at corbell? I can only imagine just the enormity of the place, how many tanks and just the size of the tanks and all that stuff. So when you get this first internship right, and you're working at corbell and you're doing not, I guess, glamorous work. No, not at all. And dumping pumice, were you thinking, this is the greatest thing I've ever done in my life, or were you thinking, man, I don't know if I want to do this. This isn't well, the thing about it is I was exposed to the winemaking of it. So the guys that were there that were higher up, and they would show me things, and I could see the process happening, smell fermentation, and you see the press is working. My dog is back here making a noise here, but it definitely got me hold on 1 second. There you go. That's too noisy. So, yeah, it definitely got me sort of in the process of loving it, even though it was unglamorous. I can't complain there. And corbell, they just do sparkling. Do they do any still wine? No. So they do a lot of different sparkling that you can't get anywhere other than at corbell. When I was there, they were still making kenwood wine. So they were doing a lot of still wine for kenwood. And in terms of corbell still wine, though, I don't remember if they actually had anything. They do have their brandy. So their brandy operation was at corbell. That smelled really good when they were making that in their brandy room. But, yeah, they had a lot of SKUs that I didn't know about while I was there and kind of got to be exposed to all of them, which was fun. Yeah. So then eventually, you end up at jordan. So, obviously, Jordan is a famous place. Well, most people know about jordan and the great wines they make there. So how did you end up at jordan? Yeah, so jordan, I ended up it was at a career fair at davis. This would have been my last year in college, looking for that job after college or at least an internship into a winery. And I was being a little more choosy at that point in terms of, okay, well, this might be the next step into winemaking. And so all the wineries had their booze up, and gallo was always a big draw. A lot of people like working for gallo to start out, because then you can branch off and go everywhere. So they had this large set up, and so I was like, oh, yeah, that seems kind of cool. You can kind of go anywhere you want, but one of the booths was Jordan. And I went over and talked to Maggie Cruz, who was at the time the analogist, I believe, at Jordan and started talking to her. And I asked, I was like, hey, Jordan Winery, what's the story here? And she said, well, it's Tom and Sally Jordan and Judy Jordan. The daughter owns Jay. And I was like, oh, I worked at Jay. And she was like, I did too. So we kind of had this connection and we just sort of started talking to each other and ended up getting an internship. And at the time, it was a viticultural internship. So I was working with their viticulturalist, Brad Young, at the time. And then I would get to go up to the winery during Bottling and get to check that out, help with some QC stuff. But for the most part, I was down to the vineyard, so that was my first experience there. And then I went to New Zealand after their harvest. So I was at Jordan. I was kind of doing vineyard sampling, some basic lab stuff, just kind of dipping my toe in, but again, very much an intern and decided to go to New Zealand for a couple of months in the winter and then was in touch with Maggie, and I said, hey, is it possible if I can come back and work another harvest? And she was like, yeah, that's great. So I worked Bottling and Harvest and then was hired full time after that harvest as The analogist. Maggie had been promoted, and so I was there as a full time employee. That would have been in 2010, and then the rest is history. So worked up from there and worked with Rob Davis, who was the winemaker since 1976 and worked very closely with Maggie Cruz up until I left in 2021, I believe. Yes. Wow. So let's go back to the New Zealand days. So I know some other people who have gone to New Zealand and done an internship, a harvest internship there, and they say nothing but great things about New Zealand and working there. So what was the experience like making wine that far away? I mean, how long does it take to get there? Yeah, it was a long flight. I think it was north of 13 hours. Direct shot from San Francisco to Auckland. It was nerve wracking, that one. I always wanted to study abroad while I was in college, and it just didn't work out due to the schedule of the V and E program. And so they said an abroad harvest would be the way to go if you want to do that. And so literally, I was kind of like cold calling wineries. I just shoot my email, I'd shoot my resume down and just kind of asking, hey, do you need any work? And I'm looking for a harvest job. And so I ended up getting hired by it's called delegates wine estates who make Oyster Bay Salvagon Blanc. So they have a facility down on the South Island. And then I was working on their North Island up in outside of town was called Hastings. It's a little town outside of Napier in Hawks Bay, which is kind of in the middle of the North Island on the eastern side. But, yeah, it was really nerve wracking because I didn't know anybody, and I'm just going to go fly down there and spend three months working in a foreign country where it's a foreign country, even though they speak English and it's very easy to get around, but it was still pretty nerve wracking. I was 22 years old at the time and spent my 23rd birthday down there. And after that experience, though, it's still, hands down, one of the best things I've done in my life. It was just incredible. The people in New Zealand, I mean, people in New Zealand are incredible. So nice, so accommodating, just like, want to get to know you. And then everyone that I was working with was from all parts of the world. It was a big operation, so we had interns from everywhere to the fact where I met one of my best friends. Didn't know him at the time we met while he showed up to our house in Hastings. I was just sitting in the main room, front door was open, this guy shows up in a tank top and a surfboard. I'm like, who's this jokester? And he ended up being from Petaluma, which is 20 minutes south of Santa Rosa, and we ended up having friends in common and we're still best buddies to this day. My kids call him Uncle Mike, so it's a pretty special experience. And we traveled the north, the South Island after working, got a stint in the Cook Island. So, I mean, it was work, but it was an extended vacation, too, and it was one of the best things ever. Just a phenomenal experience. That's awesome. So then you ended up back at Jordan after that, right? Yes. So came back to Jordan and worked that harvest at Jordan and was hired on as Urinologist. And then from there, that's really kind of where my winemaking, I think, took off in terms of learning because, again, working with Rob Davis, who'd been there since 1976, just a wealth of knowledge. He was the guy that knew how to make Alexander Valley cabernet sauignon and Chardonnay from Russian River Valley. I learned a lot. I would say I learned most of my winemaking from him. And just listening to him and what he had experienced, what he has experienced, and learning kind of the inner tricks of the trade, kind of putting what I learned in school to practice and yeah, always indebted to him. He definitely mentored me and taught me how to make those wines. So that's something that I can now bring over to Trioni. So I'm excited. Yeah, I was going to ask you, too. So at the time, did you realize how great I get to work with Rob Davis from Jordan? I mean, that's pretty awesome. I mean, for people who don't get to make wine or whatever, you must have learned a ton. What does he like to work with, and what kind of things did you pick up from him? Yeah, like I said, I picked up most of my winemaking knowledge from Rob. When you work with someone that's worked at the same winery for over 40 years, by the time he retired, you're going to pick up some knowledge. He's seen a lot and he's tried a lot, and he's kind of come up with the California wine industry. I mean, 1976, that's back when the tasting of Paris was going on. And so a burgeoning wine industry in California to where we are now, I mean, it's night and day difference. So being able to learn from him and just listen to the stories that he had about past harvests and what he did in certain situations, I think I really learned not to panic during harvest and just slow down and realize, hey, it's okay. We're making wine. We'll figure it out, and there's always going to be an answer to what we're doing. So, yeah, I definitely absorbed as much as I could with the time that I had with him and definitely credit that winemaking knowledge to him. So as far as Maggie Cruz is concerned, she's now obviously the winemaker there, the head winemaker there. So I'm sure, like you said, you work with her kind of as you moved up the chain a little bit there. So I bet there was probably no surprise when Rob left that Maggie would be the one to take over, right? Yes. And she knew we worked so closely together. She knew I didn't want to be the winemaker. I wanted to work with Maggie. I told her that time and time again, I'm here to work with you. I just had such a blast working with her and kind of coming up with her, and we're still best friends today. She's an incredible person, and she's doing a hell of a job with the Jordan wines now, and their Chardonnay is now they've had their highest rankings ever with their Chardonnay the past two years. I think they just yeah, scored a 94 on their their Shard in the 2021. And and she's implementing a lot of new things concrete eggs, fruit sourcing, going a little further west, getting cooler climate Chardonnay, and just really tweaking those fine, fine details, because when you're at a place like Jordan, talk about an established brand, you know what you're going to get when you open Jordan. And so she's got a work cut out for her in terms of trying to elevate that even more because it's pretty elevated. But she's doing it, and she's doing a hell of a job now. I know this is not about Jordan, but my first experience with Jordan is I was not even into wine. And my friend had gotten from his dad a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, and he was I'm saving this for a special occasion, right. And I didn't know anything about wine, so I'm thinking, well, I didn't know what was so great about I thought it was Michael Jordan. Like, that was his winery. A lot of people he's into basketball, so that's probably the connection. Okay, Michael Jordan has a winery or whatever. And that was it didn't dawn on me or I didn't know anything about it. So that was my first experience. So anyway, when I talked to him today, I say, hey, how was that Jordan? And he said, oh, it was amazing. So anyway, it's just an interesting experience. I didn't even know what Jordan was. Oh, absolutely. It's funny about Michael Jordan because I remember Jordan we did a whole spin off for we made these Jordan shoes. So it was a custom pair of Air Jordans that were decked out as these wine shoes. And it was this whole promotion that we did, and they were pretty cool, actually. So this guy in La. Who's world renowned for these custom sneakers that he does in pants, did these pair of shoes. And then it was sort of this I think it started as a joke, and then it kind of took on its old life of its own. So we definitely have that connection there with the Jordan name because a lot of people do confuse it like, oh, this is Michael Jordan's line. You probably get asked that every single day. Yeah. All right, so now you left Jordan. Now you're at Trioni. So tell me a little bit about Trioni, just the history and the family, et cetera. So tell me a little bit about that. Yeah, so the Trionis, like I said, they're kind of a pillar in Sonoma County. They've been here for a long time. Henry Trioni, who is the patriarch of the family he came to, grew up in Fortuna, California, and then moved to Santa Rosa in the 1940s after serving in the Navy and kind of settled here as it was becoming. Santa Rosa was becoming this bigger community post World War II. And he saw an opportunity for mortgage lending here and started his own mortgage. It was the first mortgage bank, actually. And so that was kind of where he started his business ventures, was through lending. And with that, he kind of ventured into all these different I mean, a true entrepreneur. He was one of the first investors in the Oakland Raiders. He actually brought truffle seeking dogs out here to try to find truffles in Sonoma County. He started a state park here, actually, Trioni. Annadelle State Park was due to him. It was going to be developed into a huge housing development, and he was able to save it and now it's one of the crown jewels of Sonoma County. So with him, with all of his business ventures, he started to invest in land. And at the time they were all prune orchards. So he was just buying land and then pulling it out and planting grapes. So this was in 1973. So again, the industry is just kind of getting going on the mainstream. And so he is starting to accumulate land. And at one point he had about, I think it was about over 1000 acres of vines in Sonoma County from Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, all the way up north into Cloverdale. And him and his two sons, Vic and Mark, decided, okay, we've got a lot of grapes here. Where are we going to put these things? It's a lot to sell. So they ended up going into a partnership with Geyser Peak Winery, who were at the time making, I think it was owned by Schlitz, I think, brewing Company. And they were making a boxed wine and a 750 and that was it. And the box wine, I think, was one of the first box wines there was. And they were trucking it up from Lodi and so they were looking for fruit and so this was their solution. And so they went into a partnership with Geyser Peak. Eventually, I think, Strobe Brewing Company bought out Schlitz and Stro decided, okay, we don't want the box wine anymore. So there was a transition there and they were offered a chance to actually purchase Geyser Peak Winery, the Triones. So they purchased it and decided, okay, we need to obviously increase the quality here because at that point, like I said, it was boxed wine. And so they brought over a winemaking team from Penn Folds Winery in Australia. They brought over Darryl Groom to make the wines and he kind of took Geyser Peek to kind of the Stratosphere at the time. I mean, the quality went through the roof. The wines were really sought after and it gave a place for the Trioni grapes. So fast forward, they ended up selling Geyser Peak. They kind of got an offer they couldn't refuse and sold it and got out of the winemaking business, but still held on to all of their vineyards. So today they have about 700 acres of vines. And after a few years of being out of the winemaking business, they decided, okay, I think we want to get back into winemaking, but this time let's only use instead of all of our vineyards, let's pick the top 3% from everything that we grow and make the best wines that we can in a very small scale. And that's where the Trioni Winery started. And that was in 2005. They were making, for 2005 six and seven. They were actually making it out in Sebastopole at a custom crush facility while they were working on their permanent location, which is where the winery is now. If you look at the picture in the background behind us that's got the Trioni stone building. So that was actually built in 19 eight. That was the Nervo Winery. It was the 350th bonded winery. So the Triones actually got to that was on the property. And so at the time, it was pretty run down and they were able to completely renovate it. And now that's kind of our event space. And the winery is just next to it, where the tasting room is and the production facility. And then all of the vineyards, we call it the Nervo Home Ranch, is right behind the winery, which a lot of our grapes, especially the board overrides, come from. So, yeah, it's been a long process through and now they're here with this sort of selective grape selections for the best wines possible. Yeah. So as far as now, you're the head winemaker, and you get to, like you said, kind of put your own stamp on things. So what is your style? What is your winemaking style? What's your philosophy when it comes to making the wines that you make? Yeah, I think I remember talking about this, that a lot of winemakers will say it's purity of fruit and clean and not being over the top, and I'm starting to realize that a lot of people do say that. So it's like, oh, here's another winemaker saying the same thing. Everybody says that. Everybody says it, right. It's true. It's true. But it is true for me. That is the style that I learned from Rob, which is not overdoing it, and it's whether or not the winemaker truly doesn't overdo it. Right. So it is going to be more based on picking the grapes at the right time through tastings and then processing them in a way where we really want to show what our vineyards since this whole winery was set. Up to kind of showcase the best of the best in the vineyards they own. We really want to showcase those vines and the fruit that's produced off of them. So it would be a shame to kind of over accentuate any kind of winemaking input when we can really show off what we have. And that's the whole purpose. So the wines are going to be food friendly, refined, elegant. They're not going to be higher alcohol. They're going to be a little leaner. And that is sort of the style that I've been taught to make, jordan being the example. Not to be cliche, but it is my style. It would be definitely a purity of fruit and really showcasing the terroir and what we have to offer out in the vineyard. So I know you haven't made any well, except for, like you said, you had your hands in the Sauvignon Blanc from last year, but I know you haven't had your hand in all of the wines. But I just want to talk a little bit about what you guys make there. So what varieties do you make and what does the portfolio look like? Yeah, so the main wines are the Sauvignon Blanc. We have a cabernet sauvignon? It's called our Block 21, which comes from one specific block, block 21. And then we have our Russian River Pinot Noir. We have a Russian river Chardonnay. And then we have a Zinfandel that comes up from just outside of Rockpile. The trionis have a hunting lodge out there, and they have twelve acres planted on this lodge. And that's where all of our Zinfindel comes from. And we're working on getting the rock pile ava onto that label because we are actually I think Rockpile Peak is actually on the property. So it's like, okay, how can we not get it right now? I think it's Sonoma County, but we're looking forward to getting that rock pile. And then other than that, those are the main drivers. We have a Rose that will produce in really small quantities, and then we also do a single Varietal every year, or we try to so that'll be Merlot or a Malbec Cab Franc we've done before. We've done a Primativo kind of what's out in the vineyard and what produced that year and what's the highest quality, kind of something fun for people to experience. And then we also do a reserve wines. The reserves are kind of they're either barrel selections, so if there's a barrel that pops out, it's like, whoa, this is phenomenal. That would end up being a reserve wine or some special project, something different that will kind of differentiate itself from our main core wines will become a reserve wine as well. Because reserve, as you know, doesn't actually mean anything legally. We are so we like to use reserve as sort of a one off in something that is high quality and that the winemaker thinks is like, oh, this is worth bottling separately from what we have. So, yeah, we have a good amount, but it's not super overwhelming. We don't make eight or nine different Pinos. It's just the one Pinot and a reserve. And so usually it's just one and then the reserve. So you mentioned earlier Pinot, you're new to Pinot, I guess making Pinot, right? Is that right? Yeah. I've heard it's a nightmare to make so tell people who don't know what is it like to work with Pinot and what makes it so hard? Yeah, Pinot is just a funny grape. I mean, it's hard to grow. It's really thin skinned, and the clusters themselves are really tight. And so what that means is when there's a really tight, thin skinned grape, pretty much everything bad out in the vineyard can happen to those grapes. So they're really prone to mold. They're really prone to sunburn. Yes, grapes actually sunburn, and it's just a tough one to produce fruit on. They're usually low yielding, so it's hard in the vineyard. And then when it comes into the winery, it can also be hard because with those thin skins, that's where a lot of the flavor is coming from, right, is through the skins. So you can have issues with extracting color or tannin or flavor, for that matter. So you really have to pay attention to it. You got to baby it. You have to kind of almost sing to it and make sure that it all gets into the barrel the way it needs to be, because you have one chance to ferment it on the skins, and then once the skins are gone, that's going to be the wine. And then at that point, it's aging up for that. So it is a fickle grape, but that's something that I'm looking forward to working with and learning how to do. Like I said, I've been around it, but I don't know. It like I do Cabernet and Chardonnay, right? It's a nice challenge. Oh, definitely. Yeah, I'm up for it. So one of the wines you guys make is a reserve Sauignon Blanc. And so I want to ask about that because it's unique, it's a little bit different. Most people think of Sauvignon Blanc fermented and stainless steel and all that stuff, but this actually sees some oak. I think it's four months in French oak. So tell us about that wine, and what does the four months in French oak do to that wine? Yeah, I mean, a lot of Sauvignon Blancs are now starting to move and see some oak aging. That's kind of a little trend here. Salvignon Blanc is so popular right now. It's just going off. I mean, it's impossible to find fruit if you want to make it. So our reserve Salvagon Blanc, it differs from our regular Salvagon Blanc due to the oak aging. We have a couple of larger oak barrels that we'll use, and then it also sees a little bit of newer oak. So the majority is neutral oak, but then there's a small percentage of new oak. And so what that's going to do is it's just going to give it a different really a completely different flavor. So you're going to have a little more of a fuller body from the oak, from the aging process. A little more oxidation is going to happen in there. It's not going to be as tight and steely. It'll kind of open up a little more towards the it won't taste like a Chardonnay, but it's going in that terms of mouth feel when you're drinking it. It's going to be a little richer and a little less in your face, bright, fruit flavors. You'll get a little more of that secondary barrel aging flavor. And that's why we do the reserve, is that something completely different from what we make. And so people really enjoy that reserve. I was at the tasting room today, and people were commenting, like, oh, this is so different. Well, that's the point of it, right? I'm glad that we have that option to be able to do that because it is a lot of fun for the winemaker. And also people coming to visit us to see something. What's the new reserve and what's the story behind that reserve this year? That's cool. So I want to ask you about a couple of things. So on the website. The website is fantastic, by the way. I love the fact that they have food and wine pairings, which I am really like a wine fanatic, but pairing with food is like, my worst quality, so I have no idea what I'm doing with that. But there are some actual food and wine pairing ideas on the website, which is cool. It's like, okay, take this wine. It goes really well with this. And so I found that to be very useful. So thank you for doing that. Awesome for doing that. That's the guesswork out of it for you. Yeah, that's helpful. Now, you also have something that's called Winemaker Fridays at Trioni, which is something I've never heard of a winery doing that, and I think it's actually really cool. I would definitely want to be part of something like that. So tell us about Winemaker Fridays. I think that's coming on tomorrow, right? Tomorrow? Yeah. So it's the last Friday of every

month, so I have one tomorrow from one to 03:

00. And, yeah, it's really just a chance to come out to the winery. It's a free event, taste wine and then get to ask me any questions you might want. Or usually, depending on what we have going on, we'll do a seller tour, or tomorrow we're going to go out into the vineyards because it's a great time to go see the vines and how they're growing again. It's right behind us, so that'll be kind of fun, taking people back there to see where the wines come from. So, yeah, it's just a super casual sort of chitchat back and forth with myself and some of our tasting staff that will be pouring wines and maybe a barrel tasting in there or something. Project I'm working on. Really just a chance to kind of get into the behind the scenes tour. So it's a great opportunity to come and do that last Friday

of every month, one to 03:

00 in the afternoon, and it's free. That's believable. I mean, that's an experience some people would pay for. I mean, I would pay for something like that. I will definitely make it out there for one of those. Please do. It'd be fun to have you. Yeah, I'm excited about that. All right, so before we finish, we're getting to the end here. So I've got just a couple of questions for you that I wrote down here that I want to ask you. So the first one is, is there a grape that you've never worked with or made wine that you'd like to work with and why? Yeah, I'd like to work with wines that. I like to drink, so albarino I really like just because it is so thirst quenching and delicious and crisp and clean and goes so well with a lot of lighter dishes. Seafood in particular. I grew up in a seafood loving family, so that's always been pretty prevalent. And so anything there that's a cakewalk in terms of that would be a grape that I'd love to work with. But, I mean, God, there's so many and in the world of wine, there's so many grapes that I also just don't even know about. Right. So especially, like, Italian varietals. I mean, I was told we had one of our tasting room people come up to me and give me two bottles of wine from England with I'd never even heard of the grapes. And so I was like, that's phenomenal. There's a lot of grapes I would love to work with, but I would say, yeah, Alvarino Riesling would be another one, actually, I think would be really fun. Those really aromatic grapes, like a vertex demeanor or something like that. Just more to have it smelling good in the cellar. I mean, it's pretty intoxicating stuff. Yeah. One of the wineries I was at, we made a grivertz demeanor, and it was my favorite of all the wines that we made because I would go check on the fermentations, and I would have to smell for off odors and all that stuff. It was the best smelling wine I actually loved making versdeers. Yeah. And during fermentation, everything smells better. That's true. Yeah, that's right. So as far as wine regions are concerned, what is your favorite wine region? My favorite wine region? Again, not to sound cliche, but I would have to say it would be the Bordeaux region. Just with what I've been brought up in terms of how to make wine, I got to travel out there for some of our barrel vendors. They're really special trip out there and got to taste some of the wines from the premier cruise. And so they do know how to make their wine out there. It's pretty incredible. And so that is always something I kind of base what I try to do on and just what their sellers are like and just the history. And so I would definitely have to say Bordeaux, and I mean, really anywhere in France, but I would have to say that. All right, so I've got one last question for you. Okay. So for those of people who don't make wine, what is one thing about winemaking that would surprise people that people don't realize making wine? Let's see that it's actually a lot dirtier than you think it is, the whole process. There's a lot of romanticism around it, but there's a lot that it's just a lot of grunt work and a lot of sweat and labor that goes into that stuff. I would say that would be it. It's a dirty job, for sure. Yeah, I know, a lot of people think, oh, working at a winery, that's awesome. You probably taste wine all day. Yeah. That's all you do. And then it's a bottle of wine. It's awesome. Yeah. There's a lot of ins and outs of it that you can't even really begin to imagine until you actually see it happen. Yeah. Well, john, that's it. That's all I have. Good conversation. Wes. Yeah. I really appreciate it. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for my pleasure. Joining us and educating us on wine. I mean, the reason I do this is because I love just being educated on why things are done the way they are and all that stuff. It's fascinating. So thank you for doing that for us, and absolutely, I will see you in the near future at one of your winemaker things so we can come on out. I could try out the wines there. Absolutely. All right. Awesome. Thank you, john. Thank you. Take care. Bye bye.