Profile: California Winemaking at Cinnabar Winery

Profile of Cinnabar Winery & head winemaker George Troquato, who regards California winemaking as an enchanting form of modern-day alchemy.

By Madina Papadopoulos

Profiling the History of California Winemaking at Cinnabar Winery

Photo of man holding Cinnabar wine glass up to wine dispenser, filing glass with red wine George Troquato has the classic profile of a winemaker with his California-based Cinnabar winery. That's because wine runs deep in George Troquato’s veins. His grandfather, who emmigrated from Italy in the early 1900s, and his father were both winemakers in California. Growing up around wine, Troquato went on to study crop science at Cal Poly. After he graduated in 1985, he spent the next couple of years abroad, learning the craft of winemaking at various wineries throught Europe. 

Meanwhile, while Troquato was still in college, Tom Mudd was starting a business - Cinnabar Winery, to be exact, which he founded in 1981 in the hills of the Santa Cruz mountainsjust above Saratoga. By 1985, the business had taken off and in 1990, Troquato returned from Europe to join Mudd as a California winemaker, working alongside Tom at Cinnabar.

Mudd, who was educated as a civil engineer, possessed all the rationality of a scientifically-trained mind. And yet, there was a certain ambiguity to wine that Mudd couldn't quite wrap his head around. Troquato explains that “Tom loved science, but at the same time he was very intrigued by what we don't understand. The art of California winemaking, like the process of fermenting grapes into wine, completely mystified him. I remember him concluding that wine had a bit of magic to it; a mix of art and science."

California Winemaking: A Form of Modern-Day Alchemy

With that in mind, Cinnabar took an alchemist approach to the winery's philosophy and its branding. What strikes one immediately in regards to the winery is its name and the unique imagery of Cinnabar's label.Image of the Cinnabar winery medallion logo

The winery's name was inspired by the Cinnabar mineral which, in ancient times, alchemist believed had the power to transform metal into gold. Similarly, the Cinnabar team uses the age-old process of turning rainwater into wine. The beautifully designed medallion label is an ode to astronomy, encompassing the earth's planets and elements, as well as it's Zodiac signs.

Sadly, Mudd passed away in 2007, but the winery remains a family business and continues to keep his legacy there alive. In 2008, Cinnabar outgrew their original site, doubling the amount of cases they'd been producing - a whopping 10,000. They moved production to Paso Robles and opened a tasting room in downtown Saratoga, as well. Now, in order to yield the best juice, the winery sources diverse grapes from all over the state of California.

Mixing Magic & Science: The Cinnabar Way

In the spirit of experimentation, Cinnabar has started a unique trend establishing a wine growler program. More prevalent in the brewing industry, growlers are reusable, airtight jugs typically used to transport beer. They come in a variety of types, and allow California winemakers (and wine purchasers, too) to invest in larger amounts of wine and refill growlers as needed. This not only saves money, but is also a greener, more environmentally-friendly process, as well. 

Not surprisingly, Troquato's usual California winemaking suppliers didn’t carry this common brewing accessory. An internet search for growlers proved to be overwhelming - the process of comparing and contrasting various growlers on a bunch of different websites was a total headache for Troquato.  Photo of Cinnabar's head winemaker, George Troquato, walking through one Cinnabar's wine vineyards

Then Troquato found Kinnek: “To have someone gather suppliers together for you makes it so much easier. When you start purchasing a different piece of equipment and want to compare its various costs, that’s where something like Kinnek can be fun – and more importantly, incredibly beneficial. Having all these different suppliers come up with all these bids in one spot – that’s the usefulness of the site." 

Cinnabar is currently in the process of moving the winery back to its roots in the picturesque hills of Santa Cruz county. Once settled there, Troquato plans on returning to Kinnek to find all of the necessary equipment for their California winemaking at the new site.

That equipment, just like the growlers, will help the winemaker express his craft as a homage to California winemaking. “We source from growers who firmly believe they’re growing flavors, not grapes," says Troquato. "As a result our customers are able to taste a snapshot of what California winemaking is really all about.” 

And as for Cinnabar's wine growler program? Staying true to the winery's brand, Troquato plans to roll out the program this July with the release of their new red wine blend - appropriately named Mercury Rising to coincide with Cinnabar's "Mercury Rising month" at the winery's tasting room.

Good luck Cinnabar!

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