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A colossus rising Trinchero Family Estates winery project at halfway mark

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Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 9:33 am

Bob Torres paused outside the loading dock of his family’s vast new production center rising west of Lodi and pondered the question: How do you keep growing?

Growth, after all, is what Trinchero Family Estates has done so well. Trinchero is the fourth largest wine producer in America. Trinchero bottles wines under the Newman’s Own label. It provides the Duck Commander wines sold by the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame. Trinchero wines are sold from Tokyo to Warsaw.

The sprawling compound being crafted by a small army of construction workers on Jacob Brack Road will include 650,000 square feet — enough to hold three Super Walmarts.

It reflects a wine company that is both massive and surprisingly nimble.

Torres thought for a quick second, then responded.

“Look at Sears. They had 40 percent of the retail market. Where are they now?,” Torres asked, leading a tour of the sprawling site. “Look at Almaden. They were huge. You can’t stagnate. You can’t put out a subpar product. You have to strive for the highest quality at the best price. Consumers are very sophisticated now. They expect a great wine for a great price, and we are determined to provide it.”

The Trinchero expansion is about half done now. For the Lodi area, it may be the biggest and most economically significant project since the building of General Mills in 1948. Trinchero is investing $300 million in the venture. It is bringing some 400 new jobs to the area, from forklift drivers to researchers, winemakers and managers.

Torres is the principal and the senior vice president of operations for Trinchero, and he can remember when the winery was a tiny “mom and pop” operation in St. Helena. Growing up, he worked in varied aspects of the business, such as bottling and the tasting room.

But he majored in architecture at UC Berkeley, in part, he said, because “there didn’t seem to be much future in wine.”

That began changing in 1972, when Torres’ uncle, Louis “Bob” Trinchero, through a lucky accident, created sweet, pink Zinfandel that would ultimately become the first White Zin. The wine was a smash, and by 1987, Trinchero’s Sutter Home White Zinfandel was the best-selling premium wine in the country.

Trinchero has continued innovating and growing since, mirroring the growth of wine consumption generally in the U.S.

“Beer used to be the alcoholic beverage of choice in this country. No longer. Today, it’s wine,” Torres said. “Gen X-ers like wine. It is big with Millennials and it is very big with Baby Boomers.”

Trinchero, which produces 20 million cases of wine annually, remains a family held operation rooted in St. Helena, but with a growing connection to Lodi.

Today, most of the grapes in Trinchero wines come from the Lodi area. It doesn’t make sense to haul hundreds of tons of fruit each year from Lodi to the Napa Valley, burning up time and fuel and worsening congestion in the Napa Valley.

The expanded winery next to 1-5 will be a boon for local grape growers, as it will allow them to deliver their harvest faster and more economically, said Camron King, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission.

He credits Trinchero’s strong relations with growers, its unrelenting focus on quality, and its vast distribution network for its striking success.

The grapes from local growers will be processed into wine with unrivaled efficiency. Huge fermentation tanks hold the equivalent of one million bottles of wine each.

When the wine is ready for market, it will flow through elevated pipelines into a state-of-the-art bottling and shipping complex.

At this point in construction, the complex is an empty space of eerie enormity that could hold 17 football fields. Workers sometimes cruise through the buildings in golf carts.

One feature is a fully automated stacking system. Pallets of bottled wine will be robotically placed in a soaring honeycomb of metal. The pallets will move steadily through the honeycomb toward the loading dock on the other side. The movement of each pallet will be tightly controlled so that it arrives at the dock at the precise time a truck arrives to load it and whisk it away.

It is liquid synchrony on an unprecedented scale. Competitors who visit the site are envious of the seamless integration of process and product.

“No one,” Torres said, “will have what we have here.”

A passion for design

The production buildings may be monumental in size, but they carry the esthetic imprint of Torres, the Berkeley architecture grad. He admires the vision of Frank Lloyd Wright and appreciates the works of the Bauhaus movement in Germany, an inspiration for Steve Jobs in his design of Apple products. One of his favorite architects is Tom Kundig, whose Seattle firm is famous for buildings defined by the expansive use of glass and clean, sweeping lines.

The employee break room at Trinchero’s Lodi center, for instance, includes high walls and huge windows, allowing sunlight to drench the space. Torres will have a role in designing the paint scheme and even the furniture.

Completion of the project will happen in stages, with most operations online in 2015.

As ambitious as it is, the expansion may only be only another step for Trinchero. The family controls nearly 500 acres, only a portion of which is devoted to the expansion.

At Trinchero, it seems, there is always room to grow.

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