In the fall of 2012, as the bounty of harvest was coming to an end, we had the opportunity to meet winemaker Scot Covington at the beautiful Trione Winery. Trione Vineyards and Winery sits in the heart of Alexander Valley, just north of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. For over 35 years the Trione family has been involved in Sonoma vineyards and winemaking . We were lucky enough to be on site during the Trione staff harvest party, complete with grilled wild duck, compliments of Mark Trione’s hunting skills. Scot’s excitement over the 2012 wines was contageous. The barrel and tank tastings showed exceptional promise.
In 2005, when the Trione family decided to venture back into winemaking, it was Scot they tapped to design and build the winemaking facility. He is a warm and friendly person dedicated to the winemaking arts. As you will read, Scot was well traveled before Trione, though now he seems to have, paraphrasing Jimmy Buffett, “found a life that suits his style.”
B&B: who do you see when you look in the mirror?
SC: Well, that is a good question. Some days it’s Brad Pitt, some days George Clooney some days Archie Bunker…more often than not I see my Father. I see his eyes, ears; laugh lines. I wish my Father was still around to taste the wines that I am making now. He was a big fan of mine as I was of him and I see him often in the mirror especially now that I am a father. The mirror gives perspective.
B&B: Tell us about your background?
SC: My background is in a word varied. I began my college years thinking I was going to study chemistry or biology. I was taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College when I stumbled upon an elective course in Viticulture/Enology. I took the first course and was hooked. The Director of the Ag Department, Rich Thomas, was very influential in my decision of which school to attend. He said, “If you want to be a Doctor go to UC Davis, if you want to make wine go to CSU Fresno.” I went to Fresno. While working on my degree, I met Terry Adams of Sonoma-Cutrer and did a harvest internship with him. After graduation, Terry gave me my first winery job as the lab assistant. I worked for five years with Terry Adams and Bill Bonnetti at Sonoma-Cutrer becoming Lab Director.
Working with only Chardonnay for five years was great but I wanted to expand my responsibilities and creative expressions with other wines. So in 1995, I became the enologist at Marimar Torres Estate making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In early 1997, having the bug to travel, I worked at a winery called Vergelegen in Somerset West, South Africa. The climate, the people, the wines were all fantastic and the experience really expanded my knowledge of the greater global wine world. Upon returning to California in the late summer of 1997, a friend told me that Gallo-Sonoma was looking for an experimental winemaker. I jumped at the idea of being an experimental winemaker and spent the next five years at Gallo-Sonoma. During my time at Gallo-Sonoma I was able to travel to Australia where I worked the harvest at Rosemount in the Hunter Valley and Yalumba in the Barossa. In 2001, I returned to Adelaide to work with the students at the Adelaide University.
In the spring of 2001, I met Merry Edwards, who is a pioneer in Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs, who was working with Bob Pellegrini at the time. They were looking for someone to be the winemaker and to oversee construction of the yet to be built Pellegrini Winery. I did not hesitate at the opportunity when Merry asked if I knew of anyone who might be interested and started working with Bob that summer. Fast forward to 2005, when a friend called to say they had heard that the Trione family was thinking of getting back into the winery business. I met with the Trione’s and they talked of the plans that they had and their commitment to quality and I knew at the first meeting that I wanted to be part of their dream and have not looked back.
B&B: What role did wine play in your family and upbringing?
SC: In my early years wine played a rather small role. I remember my parents having the occasional bottle of cold duck or hearty burgundy at the table but my father preferred beer. It wasn’t until I was college age that I finally discovered the world of wine and started down the path of discovery on my own. My mother would tell stories of my grandfather having a barrel of wine in the tank house in which he would go out to each evening and get a glass. I was too young to remember him but I do remember the stories.
SC: As I said previously it was during my first college days. It sounds cliché but it was a girl. She was interested in wine and we began to share different bottles over lunch. My first favorite was a Sonoma County Gewürztraminer. Not only was it impressive to say, the wines were easy to appreciate, floral, spicy, sweet, delicious and so perfect on a warm summer day. As it turned out I fell out of love with the girl and in love with the wine and that relationship continues to this day.
B&B: You have had the chance to work with some renowned winemakers, who has been the most influential on you as a winemaker and or person?
SC: “Like a dwarf on the shoulders of giants” to use a quote from John of Salisbury, that is how I feel. I have worked with many great winemakers and I have gained knowledge both personally and professionally from each one. The person that has had the most influence on me and my winemaking has been my friend and mentor Merry Edwards. The attention to detail that she takes in her winemaking is unparalleled. She is tireless in her pursuit of perfection but at the same time she is always looking at the big picture. I think from her I have learned that if you really take care of the small details the big ones will follow suit.
B&B: How would you describe your winemaking philosophy and why is it important to you?
SC: It is guided by Nature. What I mean by that is that the hand of the winemaker is light but instinctively direct. I think that the best quote about the philosophy of wine is the one from Hippocrates that says “Life so short the craft so long to learn”. I am not sure about the Latin translation. Winemaking is like many other crafts in that the more experience you have the greater the ability you have to create. It is important because it is tied to the quality of life. Never trust a skinny chef or a young pilot.
B&B: What should we expect from the wines you make at Trione?
SC: An expression of quality that does not vary from vintage to vintage. I mean the wines will vary but the level of quality will be consistent. I also want the wines to be true to the variety and display a sense of place. The Pinot Noir should be recognizable as Russian River Valley, the Sauvignon Blanc the same, the Alexander Valley Cab should say Alexander Valley. If you get to know our wines you will get to know the appellations.
SC: The winery is my creative center. I mean it is a place that I draw creativity from. I love the fact that I work for a great family and that they allowed me to create the space that I think works best for me and the wines. I love coming to work. That is a very powerful statement, I am not sure who gets the credit for saying it but the statement is true. Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life. It is great place to be and the only way that true creativity can flourish.
B&B: While many winemakers use open-top fermentation for Pinot Noir, you also use them for Cabernet Sauvignon. What effect does this have on the finished wine?
SC: Oxygen plays a huge part in the health and viability of yeast. I think that open top fermentations allow for the continual exchange of C02 and Oxygen during fermentation. This gas exchange during fermentation helps with yeast health as well as allowing for other oxygen catalyzed reactions to happen more readily. Fermentations seem to complete without problems and I believe that this helps with color stability and tannin/mouth feel development.
B&B: At Trione you make a number of wine varieties from Pinot Noir and Cabernet to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. What is your favorite grape to work with and why?
SC: My first response would be Pinot Noir because of the challenge that the variety possesses in style development and in the reputation that the variety has as being challenging. After a little thought though I would honestly say that currently it is Sauvignon Blanc. I love the fresh crispness of the fruit and the way the wine can be shaped and molded into the finished wine. I think that crafting a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc is very rewarding. It is such a great wine paired with a variety of foods or just simply enjoyed by the glass. The aroma and flavors that evolve from the glass as the wine warms up is ever changing and almost endless in description.
B&B: What can a visitor expect from their experience at Trione Winery?
SC: The visitor whether it is their first or one of many visits can expect warm hospitality, a welcoming invitation to get to know the wines, the winemaking, the family and the history that goes into every bottle of Trione wine. We are a family business and the visitor will leave the winery knowing that their enjoyment is paramount at Trione. We want the customer to tell us they love the wine not the other way around.
SC: I hope what can be expected is consistent quality wines with the ability to enjoy the evolution of the wines that only time can develop. I also will continue to not only make the wines that we currently produce but also to make other wines as the season may dictate. I have made late harvest Sauvignon Blanc when the conditions were right. I have made late harvest Zinfandel and Zinfandel Port in the past. I have also made Rose’ of Pinot Noir for the last two seasons. I am always trying new things and expanding what we can bring to the wine consumer. I am planning on do some sparkling wines in the coming years, a Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir. The creative spectrum is endless as long as our customers are enjoying the products of our labor.
B&B: Tell us a bit about your life away from the winery?
SC: Away from the winery is mainly my family and home life. My wife Allison and I have a not quite two year old son named Davis. He is the main focus away from the winery. He has kept us very busy since his arrival in 2011. He is our only child so life has changed for us in the last two years. Allison and I both enjoy cooking, wine (of course) and gardening. For both of us most of our family is close by so we see a lot of aunts/uncles/cousins/Grandmas during the time away from work. It is time we both enjoy and cherish.
Q: Is there anything else you would like us to know about yourself or Trione Wines?
A: Only that I love what I do and I hope that it shows in the wines. For me wine is my life, I cannot imagine doing or making anything else. It truly is a blessing and a joy to come to the winery every day. In Vino Veritas