by Fred McMillin
for October 16, 1998

 

Winery of the Week

Bleak at the Peak


Prologue

Geyser Peak WineryAbout 15 years ago: The Geyser Peak Cabs receive ratings below 80 (the '82 logs a ghastly 57).

1991—As a former banker, owner Henry Trione is not accustomed to losing millions of dollars, and is about to give up on the wine business.

(Sources: Critics Terry Robards & Jeff Morgan)


The Rest of the Story

But Henry Trione knew something about assembling a winning team. After all, he had been co-owner of the Oakland Raiders when they were winning Super Bowls. So, instead of selling out, he put together a viticultural team that "accomplished the impossible in bringing a label to prominence on the sheer excellence of product," in the view of author Robert Finigan.

Daryl Groom

The coach was new President Dennis Pasquini, who had guided the Sebastiani operation to new heights. The quarterback was Aussie winemaker Daryl Groom. The Australian Penfolds company had been a partner in Geyser Peak for a few years, and brought in their red-wine ace to upgrade those low-rated Cabs. When Penfolds withdrew, Dennis convinced Daryl to stay on with an offer of 20% ownership. Also, the new president recalled some $800,000 worth of their wine from distributors, soon to be replaced by much softer, drinkable Groom models.

How did the winemaker do it? In 1991 he said, "We don't baby-sit our red wine. We knock it around, beat it up, aerate it when it's young. That softens those tannins." It must have worked since only two years later two major publications named him California Winemaker of the Year.

Geyser PeakGood News—You can try a delicious "knocked-around" red for only $15...the '95 Geyser Peak Shiraz (alias, Syrah). At a major California tasting it merely won:

  1. Gold Medal,
  2. Best of Class,
  3. Andre Tchelistcheff Red Wine Trophy and
  4. Pacific Rim Grand Champion Trophy.

Not bad.


Just The Facts

Name—Geyser Peak Winery
Location—Chianti Road, Geyserville, Sonoma County
Owners—Henry, Mark & Victor Trione
Capacity—300,000 plus cases a year
Vineyards—Over 1,000 acres
Vice President and Executive Winemaker—Daryl Groom
Wines to Try—In my tastings, in addition to the Shiraz high scorers included Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and the Meritage blend Reserve Alexandre($28).
Contact—Office of VP Tim McDonald, (707) 857-9463
Prices—Mostly in the $15 range


Postscript

For a time after Prohibition the winery made only wine vinegar. Hence, their sign at the entrance read, "Sorry. No wine sales. We drink it all."


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 

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More articles by
Fred McMillin

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