Wine Maker Profile: Mike Trujillo

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Founded in 1980, Sequoia Grove Winery has been at the forefront during the huge rise in popularity of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that has taken place over the last two decades. With the advent of cult wines and many additional Cabernet producers in the marketplace, how does an established winery maintain its edge? One of the things it does is to make sure the winemaking staff is top notch. That’s where Michael Trujillo comes in. Michael learned his craft at Sequoia Grove under Jim Allen, as well as more than a little contribution by consultants like Andre Tchelistcheff and Tony Soter.

These days, Michael’s a busy guy. He started his own Karl Lawrence label in 1991, became Sequoia Grove’s winemaker in 1998, and was made President of Sequoia Grove in 2001.

We were fortunate to have Mike join us in the studio, where we were able to talk about everything from cult Cabs to pricing to winemaking methods to how he intends to bring the iconic Sequoia Grove winery back to its former days of glory.

More Information on Mike Trujillo:

Sequoia Grove Winery & Vineyards: www.sequoiagrove.com
Karl Lawrence, Cellars: www.karllawrence.com

Sponsor: Vinotemp International: www.vinotemp.com

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Show #148
(1:05:10 min 30 MB)

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Audio #197: The Wines of Dunn Vineyards

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11 Responses to “Wine Maker Profile: Mike Trujillo”


  1. 1 sao anash May 21st, 2007 at 6:37 am

    Mike Trujillo is the man!

  2. 2 Gregg Johnson May 21st, 2007 at 11:43 am

    I like the Sequoia Grove cabernet sauvignon. I’ve been working in a wine store for the past 8 or so months and when someone ask for a recommendation, the Sequoia Grove cab is always on my list to show, and the customers that buy it always come back for more. It’s a great price for a fantastic wine. After listening to the show I’m going to make sure I buy more for myself before the price goes up!

    The interview that you had with Mike was great. It was very informative and you guys touched on a lot of topics. Love it when you ask about Terroir, and Mikes answer was great… Doing a good job of defining a specific area.

    Keep up the good work!

    Gregg

  3. 3 Simon Chin May 22nd, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Dear Brian, Eric, Leigh, Jay, et al.,

    Let me first say that I am a big, big fan of the show — your website is one of the first I check on Monday mornings, and I have learned so much from your interviews (I’ve especially enjoyed your segments with Allen Meadows and Antonio Galloni). Please keep up the good work!

    I’m writing because I co-author a wine blog, and I wanted to share my latest post with it. It’s a take on some of the issues that arose during your interview with Mike Trujillo. I’ve included the link but also pasted the text of the post below — I don’t mean this e-mail to be a plug for my site, I really just wanted to share my thoughts with you and show you how your work has spurred me onto my own thinking and writing.

    Best wishes, and I look forward to your future shows!

    -Simon

    http://enprimeur.blogspot.com/2007/05/compromised-winemaking.html

    In an earlier post, my co-blogger Jeffrey compares a Meursault-Genevrieres from Burgundy to a painting by Titian — both aesthetic monuments demanding respect for their incomparable beauty, masterful execution, and uncompromising artistic ideals. Yet just as the art world has changed from the time of Titian, so too has the world of wine from the time of the monks. To take just one small facet of these seismic changes, the shift from artistic production for a coterie or a connoisseur-based audience — the court, or landed gentry, or merely the very rich — to production for a mass audience — whether it be gallery audiences, or restaurant goers, or Napa tour buses — has not been insignificant. In the case of wine, oenological science, particularly in the New World, has sought ways to compete with, and even improve upon, Old World tradition in the eyes of the marketplace. Aside from maybe the top three or four dozen producers worldwide, winemakers today are less like the Old Masters and more and more like Jeff Koons (see right).

    This week’s Grape Radio interview with winemaker Mike Trujillo (of Karl Lawrence and Sequoia Grove) provides uncommonly frank insights into the economic forces shaping the aesthetics of winemaking. While not exactly riveting radio in the vein of Gary Pisoni, the Trujillo interview paints a fascinating portrait of an upper-mid-tier producer struggling to navigate the demands of the contemporary marketplace and the taste of today’s consumer. When asked point-blank if he makes compromises to accommodate the demand for wines that deliver instant gratification, Trujillo answers, “Yes.” He admits: “If money didn’t play a role in my career, my wines would be even more wound tight.”

    Trujillo also admits to embracing two controversial, interventionist techniques — fining and filtration — for the sake of delivering a reliable consumer product. (Fining is the addition of a substance like egg whites or skim milk to act as a comb to remove particles and clarify the wine. Filtration acts as a screen to remove bacteria and solid particles. Many winemakers and critics believe that both techniques strip wine of its character. Andrew Jefford writes that filtration “achieves stability at the cost of lost aroma and flavour” while fining “is rarely necessary after unhurried elevage.”) “I’m a big proponent of filtration … if it’s done right,” Trujillo says, as it serves to “polish up the wine, make it brilliant and make it real shiny and sparkly in the glass.”

    Now, admittedly, Trujillo has a more nuanced position, as he cites the need for sterilization and also argues that many winemakers who claim to produce unfiltered wines still use some method to achieve the same ends. Yet, as Jefford writes, almost all of the top domaines in Burgundy have long abandoned fining and filtration to no ill effect. It is interesting to observe, here, that it took the pressure of American journalists and importers like Robert Parker and Kermit Lynch to get producers to stop using these techniques, and many domaines produce special unfined and unfiltered cuvees for the USA market alone. Readers of Parker and Lynch have long accepted the gospel of unfined and unfiltered wines, while it is the European consumer who has lost sight of wine as an agricultural product and cannot bear the thought of a single, stray particle in the glass. Yet Trujillo either misreads the American market or is targeting a less sophisticated consumer when he says he needs filtration to deliver a sterile, stable product: “The customer is very important, and I need to deliver an expectation to this customer year after year after year.”

    While it is not exactly news that wines are being made in a more fruit-forward, consumer friendly style (or that artisans can and do compromise their ideals for market share), these trends do evoke an almost tragic sense of loss. If a Brian Loring says he makes wines in the super-ripe, high-octane style that he does because that’s the style he enjoys and believes in, then more power to him. Let him stand or fall by his ideals. But there is something irredeemably sad about Trujillo’s case when he says he cannot make the wine he ideally would produce.

    And he is not alone. Even in Bordeaux and Burgundy, fewer and fewer producers are willing to make the old-school tannic beast that needs twenty years in the cellar to settle down and bring it into a remarkable balance worthy of the wait. The vin de garde may be becoming a thing of the past. And the true wine lover is in the position of the museum patron who, while recognizing that art must always speak to the present and that old forms need to be made new, nevertheless stands in awe before Titian’s “Europa ” and sighs: “Why can’t they make them like this anymore?”

  4. 4 Tim Meranda May 24th, 2007 at 7:31 am

    Nice show. More my cup of tea. Makes me want to go out and try Seq. Grove again. BTW I am a big fan of your new sponsor Vinotemp. Very helpful when I build my cellar and a couple of time since. Recommed them to 3 of my friend who also bought cellar equipment from them.

  5. 5 Paul Anderson May 28th, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    Another great show and interview. You continually open up the world of wine to me with this kind of programing. Mike Trujillo was very interesting. now I wish I’d been on the Karl Lawrance list for the past few years instead of sitting the waiting list.

    It is refershing to hear of committed winemakers who are not chasing the cult market. I wish him the best of luck at Sequoia Grove.

  6. 6 Rod Schiffman May 31st, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for another great show. After 10 years on the KL list, I finally didn’t send anything in this year. We’ll see if I come to regret it later. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Mike several times and tasting through the barrels with him too. A true gentleman and nice winemaker. It’s going to be nice to see what happens to Sequoia Grove. I ran out and bought a bottle of the 2002. Very nice wine. I’ll be buying more. Thanks for the heads up.

  1. 1 Mondavi - 40 Years in Napa at Grape Radio pingback on May 18th, 2008 at 9:25 pm
  2. 2 Wine Maker Profile: Bo Barrett, Ch. Montelena at Grape Radio pingback on May 18th, 2008 at 9:26 pm
  3. 3 Winery Profile: Trefethen Vineyards at Grape Radio pingback on May 18th, 2008 at 9:27 pm
  4. 4 Staglin Family Vineyard at Grape Radio pingback on May 18th, 2008 at 9:28 pm
  5. 5 Staglin Family Vineyard - Video at Grape Radio pingback on May 18th, 2008 at 9:28 pm

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GrapeRadio is a wine talk show. Show topics cover issues such as the enjoyment of wine, wine news and industry trends - the hallmark of the show is interviews with world class guest (winemakers, vineyards owners, wine retail / wholesale leaders, restaurateurs and sommeliers). The scope of the show is international so expect to hear many guests from around the world.

GrapeRadio has received numerous awards and honors including the 2008 James Beard Award for excellence in Journalism.

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