The big question facing wineries large and small these days
is how to connect with millennials, the next generation of wine consumers.
There is a significant school of thought that social media
will be the path to Generation Next. Others believe it’s going to take clever
packaging to rope in the 18- to 33-year-old demographic.
Carlo Trinchero has another idea. It’s the wine, silly. The
27-year-old Trinchero is co-proprietor of the Taken Wine Company, which he
founded with best-friend Josh Phelps in 2009.
If the names Trinchero and Phelps sound familiar, then
you’re likely not a wine novice. The Trinchero family of the Napa Valley owns
one of the largest wine companies in the world, representing numerous labels
including the vast Sutter Home brand. Carlo grew up playing in some of the most
famous vineyards on the planet. Josh is the son of renowned Swanson Vineyards winemaker
Chris Phelps, whose resume also includes stints at Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux
and Dominus Estate in Napa.
“We’ve known each other since kindergarten,” Carlo explains.
“Josh and I have learned about making wine from hands-on experience. And we’ve
have great mentors.”
The two winemaking mavericks made their first wine, about
four barrels of Napa Valley Cabernet, in 2009. The project was intended for
friends and family, but it turned out so well they decided to expand their
vision and create a brand that targeted the Next Generation market.
Naming the company turned out to be an exercise in futility.
“We kept coming up with names we liked, and every time we
had one we thought would work, it turned out it was already taken,” Carlo
remembers. Eventually these two bright young millennials figured out that
someone was trying to tell them something. “Taken” became the name of their new
business. Shortly thereafter, following the same thing, they created a line of
wines they called “Complicated.”
Their first retail vintage of Taken, then a Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon, was 2010. It was met with some acclaim and certainly impressed
as a tremendous bang for the buck at $30, a modest price by Napa Valley
Cabernet standards. The 2011 Taken, a lush, rich, mouth-filling Cab-Merlot blend, is another unqualified hit.
The Complicated line of three wines – a Pinot Noir, a
Rhone-style red blend and a Chardonnay – is an even better value. The reds sell
for a suggested retail price of $20, the Chardonnay for $18. All three are very
good, even exceptional if the price is taken into account.
The Complicated Chardonnay and Pinot are a reflection of
their approach to the millennial audience.
“Josh and I wanted to move to a more Burgundian style,” said
Trinchero. “We feel that’s where things are moving. Our friends didn’t grow up
drinking Rombauer Chardonnay. They don’t really enjoy wines with that much oak.
My peers like a style that’s approachable, with sophistication and structure.”
This nuanced style is manifest in both the Pinot Noir and
the Chardonnay, which are beautifully balanced, delicate wines that are suave,
appealing and satisfying without being obvious.
Then there is the Complicated red blend, which is a spicy
combination of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane. Although as delicately balanced
as the Pinot and Chard, this Rhone-style red is a show-stopper, with intense
red-fruited aromas, a peppery (white pepper to be precise) overlay, and
extraordinary length on the palate.
“I’m in love with Grenache,” said Trinchero. “It really
shines in this wine.”
Marketing to millennials, Trinchero and Phelps strive to
produce wines they would enjoy themselves. In the end, this winemaking thing
isn’t so complicated after all.