"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog to write about aspects unique to them and their wines. This week, we are proud to feature Trombetta Family Wines, a mother/daughter winemaking team with ties to Paul Hobbs, from Forestville (Sonoma Coast AVA).
With their start in home winemaking, the mother/daughter team of Rickey Trombetta Stancliff and Erica Stancliff brought Trombetta Family Wines to life as a commercial endeavor with the release of their 2010 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir. We caught up with them in the heart of the Sonoma Coast AVA at their tasting room (well, the family’s kitchen table) in Forestville, California.
VAULT29: A mother/daughter winemaking team is pretty unusual. How do you make it work?
Rickey: When we started out we did a lot of the work together but as things progressed, I was doing more in the vineyard and Erica focused on the winemaking.
Erica: Now mom takes care of all the marketing and office stuff and I’m in charge of the production side. It seems divided but there’s quite of bit of overlap.
R: My production training was initially learn-by-doing as a home winemaker, later moving on to work with Paul Hobbs. Erica was bitten by the wine bug early and then attended Fresno State for her enology degree, so she’s very at home in the vineyard and cellar..
E: My mother’s training with Paul really helped her understand the process and how important the intangibles are to winemaking. She’s also real comfortable being out in public, while I prefer to spend my time in the winery.
VAULT29: Rickey, how did Erica first become interested in wine?
R: We’d have wine with dinner all the time and as she was growing up, her dad would always ask her to smell the wine and describe it. He encouraged Erica to communicate in a sensory way, telling us what she thought about the wine. When I began working with Paul, he became a family friend and we spent a lot of nights around the dinner table, talking about wine. Erica was there, and wine became more of an activity than it just being a beverage on the table.
She didn’t show much interest in winemaking as a career until her junior year in high school. After talking with Paul and other winemakers in the area, they all suggested that Fresno State would be a great place for her to begin studies toward a wine career, given the school’s emphasis on a practical, rather than theoretical, winemaking education. In a fortuitous coincidence, Erica, an accomplished equestrian competitor in Three Day Eventing, was offered a scholarship to join the team at Fresno before she’d even applied, so there might have been a little bit of fate involved in the decision.
VAULT29: Were there big changes between being a home winemaker and doing it on a professional basis?
R: My husband (Roger) and I planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Merlot at our house in 1998. We did a good job with our farming, but once I started working with Paul, my eyes got opened to all of the small touches that impact your grapes and the finished wine. The right trellising, how to maintain vine health, and deciding when to pick are all big deals that sometimes are overlooked when you’re doing it as a hobby. In the pro winery, I learned first-hand how important it was to clean up constantly and to keep everything sanitary. We were aware of this as home winemakers, but never practiced it to this fanatical level until we were making wine for sale. Roger is still a home winemaker and he’s benefited from some of what we’ve learned doing it commercially.
Even though we don’t own the vineyards where we source Trombetta’s fruit, the growers let us give them input on how they’re farmed. It’s proven that practical experience gained from my work commercially has been good for Roger’s home winemaking, while at the same time the hands-on work we do at the house gives us a frame of reference for what the growers we work with for Trombetta are up to.
VAULT29: Erica, when we think of the Paul Hobbs winemaking style, we think of lush, overwhelming fruit, and big, masculine wines. The Trombetta Family wines have a very different personality. Did that naturally happen or did you consciously try to stay away from the Hobbs winemaking approach?
E: 2010 was the first vintage from Trombetta Family Wines but before then, my parents talked about all of the different wines that they liked and would want to have the family name on. Their preference leaned toward something elegant and food friendly, with lots of finesse. What they wanted to present was their passion for what a Sonoma Pinot should be. Our wines are little lighter on the oak than Paul’s, maybe with a slightly greater emphasis on refinement, not power.
VAULT29: So do you approach the wine with a style in mind or is it dictated by what that particular vintage’s fruit has to offer?
E: Both. Every vineyard has its own profile, and each vintage provides growing conditions that are unique. Our goal is to maximize the characteristics of the site and the weather and produce a wine that is still definably “Trombetta.”
R: We’ve now released three vintages of Pinot Noir from the Gap’s Crown Vineyard and while they’re different, there’s definitely a family resemblance, not only in terms of the vineyard, but of the way we’ve handled the élevage. I’m particularly proud of our 2011. It was a notoriously difficult vintage in the Sonoma Coast AVA, with the weather doing everything entirely wrong for pretty much the entire season. We scheduled our pick for early in the morning (so early it might as well be called a night harvest) and a couple of minutes after the last grape went into the bin, the skies opened up and let loose with a couple of inches of rain. When it was young, the wine reflected the lean, tough conditions of the vintage, but as its matured in the bottle, it’s evolved into a very elegant, feminine wine that captures everything we look for in Pinot Noir. A lot of those same elements are also noticeable in our 2012 Gap’s Crown PN and even in our 2012 Sonoma Coast bottling, made from fruit sourced in the Petersen Vineyard on the valley floor near Sebastopol.
VAULT29: You’ve just released the 2012 Trombetta Gap’s Crown PN along with the 2012 Trombetta Sonoma Coast PN. What’s on the horizon?
R: We’ve made Chardonnay for the first time in 2014. It came from a small block at the top of Gap’s Crown. It’s cool and benefits a lot from the nighttime breezes coming in from the coast, an ideal spot to grow Chardonnay.
E: Our long range plan for the Trombetta portfolio has always been to bring Chardonnay into the program. The market likes it, we like it, and we lucked out in finding such a great fruit source. Our really long, longterm plan is probably going to be to produce a Bordeaux blend of some sort. It’s something I feel a real affinity to and we think it would be a great addition to what we’re already doing. Back when I was first tasting wine, I got to taste a Merlot from the Michael Black Vineyard in Napa. It may have been the wine that sent me down the pathway to becoming a winemaker. Ideally, we’ll one day be able to buy fruit from Michael or at least in Coombsville, we’ll see what happens over the next 4-5 years. We’re not in a hurry, and we’ll only do this when the time is right.
R: For the near future, we’d just like to build a solid base of supporters and please a big enough group of people to enable us to build our production slowly. We want it to be small, maybe adding another Chardonnay or two and of course, the Bordeaux blend. PN is my great love, and if we can develop more grape sources here, we might do another vineyard-designate PN if it feels right.
The Tombetta Wines are made by Rickey Trombetta Stancliff and Erica Stancliff. Their most recent releases are available at fine wine shops and restaurants around the country, as well as directly from the winery at http://www.trombettawines.com.