Trujillo Wines. Winemaker and founder, Michael Trujillo grew up in Southern Colorado in a family that was more apt to drink beer and bourbon then ever a glass of wine. His upbringing was on a 3,000-acre family farm where he learned how to tend sheep and cattle. In college he decided to study architectural engineering with an interest in building skyscrapers and bridges; he was good at math and as he told us, “Thinking in 3-d”.
Wanting to take a break from school and the local scenery during spring break of his junior year he and friends headed west in 1982, sold on Los Angeles based on what they had seen on television. Finding the reality of Los Angeles different than their perceptions, they soon headed to northern California based on a tip from Michael’s parents to visit a family friend who lived in Napa Valley. Michael had never met this individual, but it turned out to be Jim Allen, the founder of Sequoia Grove winery.
With life’s sometimes totally random paths, Michael never returned to finish his degree in engineering; he never left Napa Valley. He fell in love with the people, the terrain and the weather and ultimately wine making. In January 2020, Michael resigned as Director of Winemaking and President of his family friend’s winery, Sequoia Grove. He continues to focus his efforts on the Trujillo wines but also crafts wine for several premium brands in the valley as well as some private label work.
Michael knew little about wine and vineyards when he came to Napa Valley. Jim did not have a job for him at Sequoia Grove so he began working in the vineyards, helping develop vineyards for what would eventually become Domain Carneros, even prior to the current ownership of that property. Based upon his background in design, engineering and surveying and his new-found knowledge of vineyard management – his services became much in demand.
A part time position at Sequoia Grove opened in the cellar. By this time, he had gotten the wine bug, so he started taking classes from UC Davis in winemaking and began helping make wine at Sequoia Grove. He has the fortune of as he indicates, “doing homework” with one of Napa Valley’s wine masters, André Tchelistcheff for 13 years. Sequoia Grove was one of Andre’s consulting clients almost until he passed away in 1994.
Michael was part of a partnership in 1991 that founded Karl Lawrence and crafted the wines until 2010. Karl Lawrence continues production, but Michael is no longer involved. His first vintage of Trujillo Wines was from 2011. The philosophy of these wines is similar to what he created at Karl Lawrence – blend both valley floor fruit with mountain fruit and continue to source from premium vineyards.
Michael strives to make balanced wines showcasing bright acidity from grapes that are harvested at their peak of ripeness but are not overripe. He uses oak “as a vehicle of maturity, not as a vehicle of flavor”. He enjoys making wines which are reflective of the variety and pay respect their terroir. For Michael, his wines need to taste like where it was grown as well as display varietal characteristics. He is a big believer in showcasing vintage variations rather than producing cookie-cutter wines each year. And over the years we have noticed all his wines offer beautiful
Trujillo produces a number of primarily red wines, bottled under Trujillo and an accompanying label called Madelynn featuring several lighter style wines including a white wine cuvée, a rosé and a red wine cuvée (each produced in quantities of under 200 cases). Michael named these wines in honor of his daughter Sophia Madelyn, using his daughter’s middle name. And in years that are truly special and stand out for various vintage reasons, Trujillo wines produces a Reserve single vineyard bottling.
The 2021 Madelyn Rosé is a very unique blend from both Napa Valley and Mendocino County grapes including 34% Grenache, 32% Malbec, 29% Pinot Noir, 3% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Gewürztraminer. It was fermented entirely in stainless steel vessels. This wine is deep pink in color; the aromatics are open and immediately offer notes of jolly rancher watermelon hard candy, raspberry, wild strawberry, lime and dried rose petals. Simply described, the bouquet smells fruity and fun. Its texture is supple and creamy across the palate offering bright acidity and mineralities along with flavors of watermelon, raspberry, strawberry and Sierra Nevada gooseberry. Its balanced, clean and crisp and easy to drink. The finish lingers with a noticeable brightness (but is not tart). Pair with a couple of deck chairs, an intimate partner, a warm summer evening and a pool.
The 2021 Madelyn White Wine Cuvee is a blend of 64% Sauvignon Blanc and 36% Gewürztraminer, both from Mendocino County. It was fermented entirely in stainless steel and was aged for 4 months before bottling. This wine is medium yellow in color; the bouquet offers aromas of honeysuckle, jasmine, melon, haystack, freshly cut grass and sweetly fruited tropical notes including of lychee in syrup, pineapple, guava and apricot. Its aromatics are generous and inviting. The palate shows flavors of apple, pear, grapefruit, a light note of yellow pineapple, lemongrass and some lingering notes of citrus on the finish. Bright and balanced, this bottling offers medium acidity.
The 2021 Trujillo Chardonnay, Napa Valley (Oak Knoll District) was partially fermented in a stainless-steel tank and then finished fermentation and was aged for 9 months in 100% French oak barrels on its gross lees. This wine is medium to deep gold in color; the bouquet offers a sweetness of both ripe fruit and barrel influenced baking spices including notes of honeysuckle, warm butter, pineapple, vanilla, brown sugar and crème Brule. A sustained brightness from this wines’ energetic acidity meets California flavored Chardonnay on the palate with notes of butter, toasted oak, a nutty nuance, stone fruit and tangerine. Its texture is supple accompanied by an expressive palate which lingers with a long-lasting, mouth-watering and richly flavored finish. Only 112 cases of this wine were produced. And the image of the beautiful woman on the back is of Diana, an important woman in Mike’s life.
The 2020 Trujillo Syrah is 93% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot; it was aged for 20 months in French oak. This inaugural bottling is deep ruby in color and nearly opaque; the bouquet is generous with both fruit and barrel influence. It offers notes of dark plum, blackberry, boysenberry and violets accompanied by mocha, espresso and milk chocolate. This is not a heavy structured Syrah, but it delivers plenty of flavor including of red plums, dark cherry and other berry fruits. The finish lingers with medium acidity, very fine-grained tannins, toasted oak, dustiness and a hint of dried tobacco leaf.
The 2011 Trujillo Cabernet Sauvignon is a combination of both the historic Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford (a valley floor site bordering Scarecrow Vineyards) with grapes from Howell Mountain and grapes from a tiny vineyard near Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena. Michael has worked with the Morisoli Vineyard for many years; he considers Rutherford his sweet spot in Napa Valley for premium Cabernet Sauvignon. This release is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot. Michael typically ages this wine with between 65% and 95% new French oak. He backed off on the amount of oak used this year based on the cooler vintage characteristics of the wine.
The wine is dark in ruby in the glass.; the bouquet initially offers a very slight herbal component. Its aromatics are inviting and very elegant. Smells of mocha and a pleasing dusty almost gravely component show aromatically interwoven with the fruit – primarily dark cherry and black currant. Initially the wine is plush with a velvety mouth feel; the wine has plenty of grip mid palate to finish. One can almost taste the earth in this wine. The palate shows more black than red fruits including blackberry, black cherry and a delicate note of black licorice. A bit of darker chocolate also helps round out the finish. The tannins are dusty and well-integrated into the overall structure of the wine.
The label is a unique tribute to both his personal and family history. Images of a ram (Colorado) and a bear (California) represents Michael’s “roots” and his move out west. A family crest pays tribute to his heritage which he has traced back to the 1550s in Spain. Visually the label looks like grains in wood; texturally one can feel this if you run your fingers over it. This is a tribute to Michael’s other passion – wood working. And notice the three distinctive cutouts in the upper left part of the wine label; these aren’t random as each cutout represents one decade of Michael’s time in Napa Valley.
The wines are selectively distributed in several states including California and New York. The mailing list is a big component of Trujillo’s customer interaction; borrowing a play from Karl Lawrence’s playbook, Michael locks in the price for original and longtime customers and raises the prices slowly or keeps them the same, rather than raising it every vintage. He values his earliest customers as they are the ones that helped build his brand.
Tastings are for wine enthusiasts who are interested in a personal sit down tasting (by walk-in or by appointment) at their small tasting room along Highway 29 in the south St. Helena. The Trujillo space is located on the northeast corner of a building which houses several other businesses. A small one-way parking lot runs the length of the building (with the entrance on the north side) or parking is available on the sides of the adjacent Vidovich Lane. This part of Highway 29 is often busy with traffic, especially backed up in the northbound direction going into St. Helena.
Numerous other restaurants and several tasting rooms are within walking distance of the Trujillo tasting room including the locally iconic and almost always busy, original location of Gott’s Roadside. If Michael is here, we will often stop by to say hi to guests; tastings are typically conducted by one of their hosts. And the space is sometimes used to host ticketed events focusing on wine releases or other gatherings, often involving not only the Trujillo wines but also live music and food.
Trujillo also produces a limited production olive oil and a red wine vinegar.
For more information, to purchase wine, to join their mailing list or make an appointment for a tasting, visit: www.trujillowines.com