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Millennial Marvels
By Robert Whitley
Nov 25, 2014
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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.