José Trinidad “Trini” Amador III and his wife, Lisa Amador, are co-owners of Gracianna Winery located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. Together, they pay tribute to Trini’s maternal grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga, who was French-Basque and emigrated to the U.S. after World War II. Her story of hard work and gratitude is reflected in the wine and culture at Gracianna.
Gracianna Winery is known for its award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. While the Amadors appreciate the accolades, those who speak to them will learn they focus more on the experience of visitors to their estate — especially those wine lovers who share the family’s philosophy of having something to be grateful for.
In the following interview, Trini discusses the origin of his wine journey, how Gracianna Winery stayed resilient during the pandemic and California wildfires, and why he remains grateful for his business in hard times.
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1. You have had a successful consulting business since 1999. Why did you decide to get into the wine industry?
Good question. Lisa and I are both full time in our careers — marketing and healthcare philanthropy. Our son’s passion sparked the entire family. After we caught our son making wine at 15 years old in the garage, we decided to throw the wine that he made away. Our challenge to him, if he was serious, was to get training in the form of an internship. Three months later he had an internship and then things got serious [grins]. People started asking to buy the wine and one night at Sunday night dinner I said, “If one more person asks us to buy this wine we have to get in the wine business.” The family bootstrapped it starting small and growing organically with 50 cases of Pinot and 50 cases of Zinfandel. Both won gold at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. That was our 2007 vintage. 14 years later, we are as hungry as that first day.
2. There is a floral and metal sculpture of a gift that’s located in the front of your winery’s driveway. What does this gift represent?
Gratitude. My grandmother was Gracianna. When I was a boy, she used to talk about being grateful and thankful. Not the easiest concept to grasp when you are 4 or 5 years old, but it stuck with me. It took me nearly 50 years to get to the bottom of her need to ensure that being grateful was the front-and-center value for our family. Our dear friend Bob Emmons, the world’s preeminent authority on gratefulness at University of California at Davis [professor of psychology and founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology] would say that “gratitude is boundless.” He has a way of keeping our hands on the gratitude touchstone and unofficially operates as our “gratitude north.” For Gracianna, we are grateful for an endless bounty of intimacy with our members, friends, and family. We share what is real. But I know I’m grateful for creating a platform for seeking more meaning. That discovery process will never end.
3. How has Gracianna Winery adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic and California fires?
Being resilient is not an option, but a necessity. It started with the Northern California fires in 2017. Then we were hit with a flood and another fire in 2019, and recently the pandemic in 2020 to 2021. It has been rough. But we all need to be resilient, not only in our business but in our frame of mind, our relationships, and caring for one another. I am grateful that we have an established model in which we sell 99 percent direct-to-consumer. Gracianna has over 800 wine club members with about 10,000 names on our mailing list which remained steady. However, our sales were up 15 percent, so in other words, our club helped us through … and we must say that they told us we have helped them, too. We are here for one another.
4. What do you say to the person visiting Gracianna who is new to wine?
“Welcome!” There are many great wineries with a similar narrative [as Gracianna that are] “family-owned” or “award-winning” — but that says more about what they are, not who they are. Gracianna is intimate. It’s real, [it’s] friendly — we seek to connect on a human level.
5. You have Hispanic and French-Basque ancestry. What are your thoughts on the lack of diversity in the wine industry?
I think there are two sides of that coin. On the producer side, it takes a lot of capital to start a winery. Even if one buys fruit and uses a custom-crush facility, there are still a lot of sunk costs. It leaves anyone without financial means little opportunity to break through. It can be done, of course, but it is more of the exception than a rule. From the consumer side, fine wine is not inexpensive. The rituals and overall language of wine make for an intimidating entry. At Gracianna we shun the artifice and suggest to folks they start with, “Do I like this or not?” and then explore the flavors to express how they feel when tasting our wines. Also, when I hear someone say “forest floor” I try hard not to roll my eyes [laughs].
6. You will open up in April for the season. What will you ‘gift’ visitors this year?
Our 2019 Pinot Noir is named Resilience, which reflects the spirit of Gracianna and all of our guests. We lost most of our 2020 vintage due to the fires and then the pandemic forced us to close just as the season was beginning in April last year. Things have been difficult for many, and Gracianna saw a chance to remind us of how strong we all have been. Thus, Resilience was born.
7. What’s next for Gracianna?
Always something coming… Next is our first Napa Cab. It’s made in the Russian River style: juicy, elegant, low- alcohol, and not over-extracted. We chose the name “Lutèce” for our Cabernet Sauvignon to honor my great grandmother’s dream to come to America from the Pyrenees. Her first step was Lutèce [the medieval name for Paris], and “Lutèce” represents our first step into Napa Valley Cabernets.