Sun, Soil, and the Winemaker’s Magic
In his early 50s, Tim Busch has the energy of a college student and as many ideas, and he has turned a lot of these ideas into successful businesses. A corporate and tax lawyer by training and practice, he owns a chain of high-end supermarkets, real estate, hotels, including the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, and now Trinitas winery nearby, which he established eight years ago, not to mention a few other ancillary business. And he still practices law. Tim identifies with the German half of his family, which came from Dresden in 1860. Germans are “organized, open, abrupt,” he says, not “touch-feely.” They like to get things done, do them right, do them quick. But while he is attracted to the challenges of business, he loves entertaining and hospitality, which ultimately led him to the hotel and wine business. “Office and apartment buildings are pretty boring,” he says. “You can make money, but there’s no excitement in what you’re doing. So I got into the hotel business and loved it because it’s a real estate business, but you get to enjoy people. They’re having fun because they’re traveling. The winery is just an extension of that.”
Yet even if Tim is in the wine business for fun, his right and left brain work together, and he sees wine as a growth industry and expects to make money selling it. “The consumption of wine has an inverse relationship to beer and spirits. Sales are increasing. Wine is taking over,” he says. “That’s why all these big corporations are buying wineries.” While Americans drink much less per capita than Europeans, they’re willing to spend more on wine so that the United States is now the largest retail market for wine in the world.
Trinitas aims at the middle, Tim says, from $14 to $50 a bottle. “We’re not looking to sell wine for $100 or $150 a bottle. We want to sell to the average person, who enjoys wine.” Tim wants to please not only the American wallet but also the American palate, which he thinks prefers fruit-forward wines. Despite all of the education in the business that encourages drinking wine with meals, Americans still enjoy much of their wine either as an aperitif before meals or at social gatherings, unlike their European counterparts, who drink only with meals. So Tim crafts his wines to please equally with or without food. “I’m trying to get to the middle where I think the American palate is and make wine that people like. And I think we’re starting to hit it.”
Tim marvels at the enjoyment that people take from learning about wine and enjoys participating in their experience. “If you’re an open-heart surgeon, you’re doing great things for the society, but what you’re doing is not a lot of fun. You’re dealing with life and death circumstances that are highly intense and stressful. You need a break.” In their 20s, 30s, and 40s, he says, people are consumed with developing careers and families and have little time for anything else. “It’s like golf. Learning about wine takes them away from daily pressures. It may be trivial but it’s interesting and complicated at the same time.” When people come to the tasting room and learn how particular wines were made, what the differences are between grape varieties, “they light up.” They are fascinated and take the experience home to their families and friends and incorporate it into the way that they express hospitality in their own homes.
The business model that Tim has chosen for Trinitas is that he buys grapes from growers in various appellations rather than cultivating his own vines. “We don’t own vineyards,” he says. “We’re not in that business. We do own nine acres that are attached to our Meritage Resort, and we’re beginning to use those grapes in our Bordeaux program. But we buy grapes in appellations that we think are best for particular varietals.” He buys Cabernet and other Bordeaux varieties from Napa, along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and he buys Zinfandel from Mendocino and Petite Sirah and Mataro from Lodi. “We’re not farmers. We’re into winemaking, packaging, and marketing, completely different disciplines than agriculture. We leave farming to other people.” He points out that the current glut of grapes in the market place allows him to be flexible, to buy particular grapes from appellations where they excel and to make wines that he thinks consumers want now. In other words, he’s not limited to estate grape production, nor does he have the headaches of farming, which he says are substantial.
“There’s very little money, if any, in growing grapes. All the money that’s made on the grape side is in land appreciation. You make enough money, maybe, to pay your property taxes, your labor costs, but you don’t really get a return on your land. If you bought your land for $50 thousand an acre, ten years from now, it’s probably going to be worth $100 thousand. You make your money that way, which is good, but in the meantime, you have all the heart aches of farming. It’s not an easy business. You’re subject to both the elements and the market. It’s real estate. You’re just farming on the land while you wait for it to go up in value.”
Despite what most winemakers say, that wine is made in the vineyard, that the wine can be only as good as the grapes from which it is made, Tim disagrees. He feels that the winemaker is the key to making great wine. “I know that I’m rocking the foundations of people who have been in the business a lot longer than me, but just give me half way decent grapes, and I can make a great wine.” Regardless of weather conditions or the differences in fruit from one vineyard to another, he expects never to disappoint his customers. He insists that from year to year, he can make consistently good wines that his customers will recognize as his because of his winemaking practices. “A normal consumer wants to buy a wine that is good and wants to drink it day in and day out. If you’re making that wine, you better be delivering it the same way. And don’t tell me what your problems are. You didn’t have sun, and you didn’t have rain. The buyer doesn’t care. Only the connoisseurs will say ‘if we’re going to drink a Cab, we better have a 1975 or a 1978’ or whatever. That’s fine. But as a practical matter, that’s not where the consumer is. With our Chardonnay particularly, our mission is to make that wine taste exactly like last year’s Chardonnay. That’s what people bought, and if we change it, people are not gong to like it. You have to manage that consistency in the cellar because you don’t control the field.”
Wineries that buy grapes have a lot of influence over how the vines are farmed. They can choose to avoid certain vineyards, which they think are not producing premium fruit or farming sustainably, or they can instruct the farmer to cultivate the vines in certain ways to obtain better fruit. Tim says that only lately has he begun to address organic and sustainability issues. “It’s the wave of the future,” he says, “and I think it’s a great one. We have a responsibility as stewards of the land to make the land better than when we got it. So I think green is a great move. I didn’t always think that way. As consumers and purchasers of grapes, we need to hold our growers accountable. We have our Trinitas Growers Society where we bring our growers together and thank them for supporting the winery. We give them wine from their vineyards, have dinner together. We’re partners. They grow the grapes. We process them and sell them. We’re doing different jobs, but at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. It’s important that we make the wine and sell it in a way that they’re proud of, and they are responsible for keeping the land sustainable and minimizing the use of chemicals.”
“In the past, I wasn’t informed. Many times, the reason you don’t think a certain way is that you don’t have all the information. That’s how I think of my opponent. I don’t think he’s stupid. I think he’s misinformed. Once I give him the information in a sweet way without being argumentative, he should sway over to my way. Either that, or I’m wrong, and I should swing over to his way. Whether you’re trying to negotiate a deal or trying to deal with a political opinion, I think it’s important that you share the information you have, that brought you to the conclusion that you have, and let the other person share his opinion. When you finish, you’re both going to walk away, and if you both listened, one person is going to change his mind. I think that’s what life is all about.”
Tim believes that wine contributes to empathy, communication, and understanding. He admits that the science doesn’t exist, but from his personal experience, he has observed that groups of people who are drinking wine as opposed to beer or hard liquor are friendlier, more engaged with one another, and treat one another in a more civil way. “I’m not saying that you can’t get bombed on wine, because you will if you drink enough. But I think the way people consume wine is not just for the wine but for the beauty of the wine, and because of that appreciation, they also share each other’s company in a much more friendly and civil way than they might at a beer hall or a martini party. It’s a different type of alcohol consumption.”
For Tim, wine is also an expression of his Catholic faith, and regardless of the pluralistic society that exists in the United States and the necessity for citizens to respect one another’s differences, he is not shy about expressing his Catholic values even in the marketplace and doesn’t feel that anyone else should be either. “It is who I am,” he says.
California Wines of the Month
Trinitas Cellars – 2005 Old Vine Mataro, Contra Costa County
Winemaker Matt Cline’s Notes
The source of this amazingly complex wine was planted over 120 years ago. Known as Mourvedre in its native Rhone region of Southern France, this old Mataro vineyard, as the Italians called the varietal, is still producing a mere one to 1.5 tons of fruit per acre. Growing in the low vigor, sandy soils around the little Bay Area town of Oakley, this Mataro was co-fermented with a small amount of black Malvoisie growing in a small block from the same vineyard. Later, during the aging process, a small amount of Petit Sirah was added for structure and color. Aged for 14 months in 27% new American and French oak barrels, this wine should age gracefully for 10 years. It has dark ruby color with pronounced aromas of black raspberry and vanilla, rich blackberry, and plum fruit with black pepper, chocolate and spices. Great with grilled lamb lathered in rosemary or a grilled port chop with an olive tapenade stuffing (alcohol 14.5%, total acidity 0.71 grams/liter, pH 3.41, cases made 367).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Matt Cline made only 367 cases of this wine, which I didn’t know at the time that I chose it for our wine club, nor did I know that the vines were 120 years old. So they would have been planted in 1890 when California was the Wild West, which some think it still is. To drink this wine is to dip into that history. Enjoy!
Trinitas Cellars – 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
Winemaker Kevin Mills’ Notes
We harvested fruit for the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Howell Mountain and from Oakville sub-appellations of Napa Valley. The Sauvignon Blanc from Oakville is very characteristic of what is in the bottle. The wine is rich and even oily in texture. Barrel fermented in 10% new Hungarian oak, the wine displays aromatics of apple, green pear, honeydew melon, passion fruit, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon. The new oak rounds out this wine’s wonderful acid, giving it a supple yet crisp palate and refreshing finish (alcohol 13.9%, total acidity 5.65 , pH 3.20, cases made 2,190).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Sauvignon Blanc runs the gamut in California, from steely and grassy to rich and round. The Trinitas version is rich, but regardless of whether the wine is lean or fat, Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic grape variety and has wonderfully striking scents of wild grasses, green apple, and pear. You’ll love this wine but don’t expect the acid zing that you might get from a New Zealand, Italian, or French version.
Trinitas Cellars – 2005 Zinfandel, Spinelli Vineyard
Winemaker Matt Cline’s Notes
Sweet berry flavors give this old-fashioned, earthy Zinfandel lasting fruit impact. It has the festive holiday scent of evergreen boughs and tarry, black tannins to balance all the fruit. The vineyard source for these Zinfandel grapes was planted in 1909 by Portuguese settlers John and Marie Azevedo. In 1955, Gustavo Spenelli along with wife Mary and two sons Frank and Angelo began to manage the vineyard for the Azevedo family. They purchased the 18 acre parcel in 1970. Sadly, only five acres remain. Fifty-two years of family vineyard management made this wine the gem of our 2005 vintage (alcohol 15%, total acidity 7.5%, pH 3.32, cases made 582).
Anna Maria’s Notes
The Mataro vineyard beats this one in age by about ten years, but what remains of the Spenelli vineyard is also part of California history. It is our privilege to send you these wines and yours to drink them. Enjoy!
Trinitas Cellars – 2008 Pinot Noir, Carneros
Winemaker Kevin Mills’ Notes
Aromatics of candied red fruit, vanilla, mocha, and campfire blend into flavors of baked red apples covered in butter and cinnamon with a rich entry and broad mid palate. Barrel aged in 60% new French oak for 10 months, the weight of the fore and mid palate over-shadow the delicate dark chocolate finish, which will lengthen with age. The Pinot Noir fruit was grown near the tidal wet lands of Carneros. Cool westerly winds move through the canopy of leaves, conditioning the fruit, extending the hang time, and maximizing the ripeness (alcohol 15.5%, total acidity 5.8, pH 3.61, cases made 900).
Anna Maria’s Notes
This Trinitas Pinot Noir has even more alcohol than the Zinfandel, which is unusual enough. If you love smooth, bold wines (and who doesn’t) you’ll drink this one like you would eat candy. But fasten your seat belt so that you don’t fall off your chair.
Menu of the Month
A Supper for Love
Celery soup with Sherry
Range buffalo steaks with balsamic vinegar
Medium grained brown rice with chopped lemon zest
Baby spinach leaves wilted in olive oil with garlic
Red lettuce with balsamic-olive oil dressing
Chocolate truffle torte with raspberry coulis
Recipe of the Month
Buffalo Steaks with Balsamic Vinegar
Whole Foods meat department has various exotic meats and, no joke, buffalo steak is now my favorite when very occasionally I eat red meat. The animals are range fed with no antibiotics, and the meat has absolutely no fat, is very low in cholesterol, and has rich, gamy flavors. You can grill the meat like you would beef, but I like to braise buffalo steaks with olive oil in a pan over medium heat on top of the stove and then to serve thin, diagonal slices. Avoid over cooking. Because the meat is dense and without fat, it will toughen over higher heat. Before slicing, remove the steak from the pan and cover for at least five minutes so that juices aggregate inside the meat. Quickly mix pan juices and two teaspoons of Balsamic vinegar over low heat, scraping the pan as you mix, adding salt and pepper to taste. Slice the meat thinly and diagonally and serve with the balsamic pan gravy, garnished with sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.