Uncorked: The sweet, pink wine that started it all
by Pat Kettles
May 21, 2013 | 2859 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the course of most days, I visit numerous wine websites, each requiring affirmation that I am over 21 years of age even though I am not purchasing wine.

Some websites just require affirmation. Others ask for a complete birth date with month, day and, most painfully, year. I don’t usually think of my age until I have to scroll downward interminably to reach my birth year.

While researching the Trinchero family’s Sutter Home Family Vineyards for today’s column, I came across this pleasant and painless surprise: “We get it. You look young for your age. We just need to verify that eternal youth indeed runs in your genes, and that you are 21 years of age or older. Click here if that’s true.”

A press release announcing the Sutter Home package revamp — retiring the 19th-century home image that’s adorned its label for years in favor of a modern, less-cluttered design — brought back pleasant memories of the house that white zinfandel built.

This iconic Napa winery represents many of my wine firsts. It was the first winery I visited on my first trip to Napa. And, gentle readers, Sutter Home made my first favorite wine, a white zinfandel called Oeil de Perdrix.

There, now you know I once drank white zinfandel. In fact, I stood in line at the winery for it and, back in those days, traveled to Atlanta to buy it.

Sutter Home is a beautiful place and the property’s 19th-century home is beautifully maintained. It is surrounded by lush gardens dotted with statuary added over the years by the Trinchero family as their fortune grew. The home was built in 1874. It was acquired by the Trinchero family in 1947 by brothers Mario and John, Italian immigrants from New York who bought the rundown winery that now houses the Sutter Home tasting room.

Mario and his son Bob bought out John in 1960 and Bob took over as winemaker. It was under his watch that the first signature white zinfandel was made in 1972.

The Trincheros primarily produced red zinfandel jug wine until Bob took the surplus red zinfandel grapes, draining off the juice before the dark-skinned grapes could impart color to the wine. He called the slightly pink wine Oeil de Perdrix, eye of the partridge.

While making Oeil de Perdrix in 1975, fermentation inexplicably ceased leaving behind about 2 percent residual sugar. Bob bottled the sweetened pink wine, dropping Oeil de Perdrix from the label and instead calling it white zinfandel.

It was wildly popular almost instantaneously. In the late ’70s, Sutter produced 25,000 cases of the stuff. By 1986 that number had risen to 1.3 million and in 1997 production of Sutter Home white zinfandel was at 8.5 million cases. America was awash in white zinfandel, most of it Sutter Home, but changes were on the horizon.

Americans began to acquire a taste for chardonnay. They were also drinking more red wine thanks to a piece on “60 Minutes” about the French Paradox — a theory holding that the reason the French had lower instances of heart disease than Americans, despite eating diets high in saturated fats, was because the French drank more red wine.

White zinfandel was once America’s best-selling wine. Today chardonnay is the top-selling varietal, followed by cabernet, merlot, pinot gris and pinot noir. But moscato is beginning to come on strong and the Trincheros have adjusted to meet the demand.

Under their newly revamped packaging, one may purchase a bubbly moscato, a bubbly pink moscato, moscato, pink moscato and red moscato along with other traditional bottlings.

The empire that white zinfandel built has propelled the Trinchero winery into one of the top 30 wine companies in America that produces some of today’s most popular brands including Folie à Deux, Joel Gott, Ménage à Trois, Montevina, Napa Cellars, Newman’s Own, SeaGlass and Terra d’ Oro. Trinchero family wines can be found locally at most wine outlets.

Email Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com

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