Napa's Sequoia Grove winery has a high reputation; many wine-lovers know of its well-regarded line, which includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah and Rutherford Bench Reserve Cabernet. Few, on the other hand, have heard of its impressive young wine-taster. That's Sophia Trujillo, daughter of Mike Trujillo, Sequoia Grove’s winemaker. Sophia is four-and-a-half-years old.
Mike was born and raised on his family's ranch in La Jara, Colorado, and he studied architectural engineering in college. During spring break in 1981, he visited a family friend--Jim Allen, owner of Sequoia Grove. "Jim offered to put me up for a few days," Mike recalls. "In return I helped in the vineyard and winery operations." After about a week, Allen offered him a job. "I was 21," he says, "and at that age you have no clue what you want to do, really. But the money was good and the weather was great. so I said yes. My engineering training went into my first job, which was planting the vineyards that are now Domaine Carneros." Before he knew it, wine had "found me."
And, in Mike, Jim Allen had found a keeper. Mike is now Sequoia Grove's president and chief wine-maker--and father of Sophia. "My Uncle Joe always devoted some time to each of his three children individually, and I followed his lead. I began taking Sophia with me to the winery once a week, even when she was so young that her mother, Elizabeth, had to pack her into a bassinet along with her bottles and my lunch."
Mike's weekly version of Take Your Daughter to Work Day includes bank errands, vineyard visits and even lunch meetings with growers. "She very well restaurant-trained," Mike says, although she will occasionally visit other tables to find out what people are drinking. Then she'll say brightly, "My Daddy makes Cabernet!" Early on, Mike taught her a critical skill. "I was barrel-tasting one day and of course she wanted to do everything Daddy did, so I gave her a sip. It went right down the hatch, and I thought,
Sophia has grown into her role as unofficial winery mascot. She likes to greet visitors to the tasting room, saying "Welcome to Sequoia Grove" as she opens the door. And she's a star of the cellar tours Mike leads for members of the trade. "She'll climb up on a barrel, pull the bung out and stick her fingers in for a taste," Mike says. "She'll say 'That's good wine, Daddy,' and when I ask what kind it is, she comes right back with 'Cabernet, Daddy!'" At that point Mike will send her off to the Merlot; Sophia will pull another bung, taste and proclaim it good. "Then I'll ask again what kind of wine it is, and she'll say 'Merlot, Daddy!' At that point, as if on cue, almost everyone on the tour will ask 'She can tell the difference?' And I'll say “Sure--can't you?"