Sonoma County region
‘We were at home in Sonoma and thought the Russian River Region produced the finest Chardonnay fruit in California.”
When Chuck and Peter Daniels conceived the idea of Trellis Vineyards more than a decade ago, they were driven by a number of important factors. First of all, the Daniels realized the necessity for a Chardonnay-driven winery (Chardonnay never goes out of style) that offered real price value relationship. Secondly, the pair owned Redwood Vintners, a successful Northern California distribution company that had helped numerous fledgling wineries achieve success only to see these wineries opt for larger, regionalized distribution companies.
“It was a bit frustrating,” explained Peter Daniels from his office in Marin County. “My family, and in particular my Dad Chuck, was always in the forefront of helping develop wineries. He was with Robert Mondavi when they started and was instrumental in Mondavi’s early success. When Mondavi and other similar wineries grew, their needs changed and so did their distributors. We grew tired of helping them all succeed and having nothing left to show for our efforts.”
Trellis Vineyards was soon conceived and a long-term business plan was put into effect. During Redwood Vintners’ early years of brand development, a number of vital relationships were formed with the growers that produced the fruit for many of the wineries Redwood represented.
Over a period of time, some of these growers made the suggestion to Chuck and Peter that the father and son consider producing their own wine, one that they could fully control. The idea made sense and Trellis Vineyards was born. Most of the Daniels’ connections and expertise was involved in Sonoma County, so it was decided early on that the winery’s production be limited solely to Sonoma County fruit.
“We always wanted to be able to purchase the finest fruit available to make our wines,” Peter Daniels added. “We were at home in Sonoma and thought the Russian River Region produced the finest Chardonnay fruit in California.”
The Daniels’ were also successful businessmen, and were intent on producing a profit from their enterprise. The also made the decision to present Trellis at price levels that constituted value to the consumer, so most of the money spent in the fledgling operation went to the purchase of the finest fruit.
A decade later and Trellis is the ultimate success story. The wines began national release more than three years ago and today can be found in eighteen states around the country. Trellis’ expansion plan calls for gradual introduction of the brand in another five or six states during the next few years.
Trellis Vineyards now produces over 15,000 cases, with Chardonnay accounting for more than 65% of its volume. A small amount of Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc is produced and similar amounts of Alexander Valley Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also part of the Trellis portfolio.
Trellis’s owners fierce determination to produce quality is evident in some of the tactical moves made over the winery’s lifespan. Trellis has produced but one reserve bottling, a 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the spectacular ’97 harvest, in deference to other wineries that consider the word reserve part of their brand name.
Also, Trellis wine prices have remained at a level that can be considered as value to its customers and not far removed from its opening releases in 1991, a fact that few wineries enjoy today.
Both Chuck Daniels who is 76, and Peter Daniels who is 44, continue to devote 100% of their business time to Trellis’ advancement. They are delighted that they have an active hand in every aspect of Trellis’ development from fruit selection, production, and packaging down to the marketing and development of the brand’s point of sale.
They are also aware of the need for a winery and tasting room facility and are currently exploring a number of potential properties.
“We might just be in the right place at the right time,” Peter Daniels pointed out. “Right now there is a glut of wine available worldwide that will affect everyone, including California. A number of new properties are sitting around with loads of wine in warehouses that isn’t getting sold. If history repeats itself, there will be a number of nice properties for sell in the next few years, and we are certainly going to be looking.”
That's good news for Trellis Vineyards and the Daniels Family, both of who have certainly paid their dues to the wine industry.
Kerry Damskey and
Super wine consultant Kerry Damskey considers himself a very lucky man. At 48 he is the proprietor of his own extremely successful firm that consults for a number of the finest wine entities (Sonoma-Cutrer, Preston of Dry Creek and Flora Springs to name a few) in California, and is the official winemaker for this month’s Gold Medal selection, Trellis Vineyards.
Even though Damskey was accepted at the University of California to study anthropology, he realized immediately after graduation from high school that grapes and Oenology were his true calling and immediately pursued his interest in the wine industry.
He graduated from UC-Davis in 1976 and found a job in corporate winemaking and research that taught him valuable lessons for the future. His nuts and bolts experience in the Central Valley as he put it, ‘helped me considerably for the experiences I was to have for the rest of my career. I learned the systems necessary to become a complete winemaker and ended up running a 5-million gallon winery. The experience was priceless.”
Kerry Damskey next took a rather unusual career move, heading south rather than North, to San Diego County as the 80’s decade began. The wine industry there was in its infancy and Kerry was soon considered a mover and shaker within its narrow confines. He helped a number of wineries begin operation and was particularly successful in promoting the aspect of premier wine grape growing for the San Pasquale Vineyards winery.
But Damskey and his wife Daisy were Northern Californians at heart and in 1986 returned to Sonoma where they have resided ever since. Kerry worked in a number of successful wineries including Zellerbach Winery as winemaker and vineyard manager and Gauer Estate/Vinewood Cellars where he was winemaker and vice president from 1988-1993. Next he spent six years with the brilliantly conceived Associated Vintage Group as Executive Winemaker and partner, until he decided to form his present company, Terroirs Kerry Damskey & Associates, nearly three years ago.
‘The new company gave me a great deal of flexibility,” he added. ‘I was now able to concentrate my activities on what was really important to me, plant specialization and development of clonal varietals within the Sonoma Appellation. Luckily, I was able to keep some of my best customers.”
At the top of that list was Trellis Vineyards, an entity that Kerry Damskey has played an important part since its inception. Trellis was begun in 1991 and Damskey had shaped its wines and direction since Trellis’ initial bottling.”
‘The Daniels are really great people to work with,” Damskey added. ‘We all have a specific part to play in the role of the winery. Most of the important decisions are made when Chuck Peter and I sit down at a meeting. We don’t always agree, but the results speak for themselves, people truly like what we are doing with the wines.”
Damskey considers the road ahead extremely bright for trellis. He sees a pet project of his as slowly taking shape in the future. He believes that Trellis Vineyards will soon be able to offer a ‘Clone 15” Chardonnay for sale. Such a wine will be extremely floral in nature, a wine that he feels will be ‘specific, specific” in terms of taste and style, a wine that will rank among the finest produced in California. Plans call for these clonal selection wines will to be made in very limited quantities (200 cases or so), but the release of these wines will mean fruition to Kerry Damskey as a master winemaker.
It is fitting that Damskey will achieve such lofty goals. Throughout his career, his unwillingness to sacrifice the true meaning of wine style has consistently stamped his efforts. He is held in high regard by his winemaking peers and is in constant demand by wineries with problems or wineries attempting to change their style or image.
He considers his career well ordered, for he considers himself as much a businessman as a winemaker. Kerry Damskey has recently completed twenty-five years in the wine industry and still maintains a strong sense of humor, an important consideration in a business not entirely free of stress.