Combining our two great loves: Love Thee Trinitas and Love Thee Notre Dame
My parents started Trinitas back in 2002…at the time I was 15 and a sophomore in high school. I knew nothing about wine (except that my parents loved to drink it!) and really didn’t understand the concept that we had a family winery since I grew up in southern California, away from the action. I also at the time had no idea where I wanted to go to college. I didn’t grow up one of those fanatic Notre Dame fans like some (although I would become one) who have Notre Dame in their blood, being Catholic and sometimes hearing about the school because of football was pretty much my only tie and knowledge of Notre Dame.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the course of the next couple years would change me as a person forever and also determine the trajectory my life would take. My Dad secretly had the dream that I would attend Notre Dame. He grew up in Michigan and dreamed of going to Notre Dame being the good Catholic boy he was, but he had to put himself through college and couldn’t afford Notre Dame tuition at the time. So he wanted to live vicariously through me. Like every good parent of a high schooler he started taking me on college visits, but for some reason Notre Dame had not one, but a few trips planned. We went to 2 or 3 Notre Dame football games and of course did the obligatory tailgate, visited the Grotto and the Basilica, and I’m sure took a dozen photos of the Golden Dome. At the time this was all happening I had no desire to move to Indiana to go to college but I obliged my father and went along to visit, and maybe had a little fun in the process.
Those trips dug at me from the inside though and when I was faced with the critical decision (for an 18 year old seemingly the most important decision you’ll ever make in your life) of deciding where to go to college it was a toss-up between a few schools, somehow Notre Dame was in the mix. After all that, torn and confused, I just had this moment of clarity one day that said “Notre Dame”. I think it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me because to this day when people ask: “so why did you decide to leave southern California and go to Notre Dame?” I still can’t really come up with an answer, other than now in hindsight I know it was the best decision I ever made.
There are many reasons why Notre Dame was the best decision I could’ve made, and my wife Betsy is #1. I won’t go into the whole back story of how unlikely and strange it was for us to meet but next time you are out in Napa have me tell you the story. Bottom line is that there was a gravity that drew both of us together against the odds. It was my sophomore year at Notre Dame, and like many sophomores I thought I was pretty cool and knew “what was up”. I lived in Siegfried hall (Go Ramblers!) and since it was early in the school year in the fall of 2006 I had to set the tone for the year and start it out right with a great “social gathering” in my dorm room 408 (us in 4A Siegfried were known for enjoying our social gatherings). My friend, Will, happened to have a friend of a friend from back home in northern California who just started as a freshman at Notre Dame and she lived in Farley hall right across the street, so I told him he needed to invite her and all of her friends. Low and behold the friend of a friend was Betsy. We hit it off that night dancing to some most likely crappy mix I put together that I thought was the coolest at the time, but she didn’t seem to care. We will put this story on hold for a minute.
The next great reason I went to Notre Dame was of course the education. I majored in business as an entrepreneurship major. I always knew I liked business but I fell in love with it at Notre Dame. Notre Dame taught me the tools and skills I would need later at Trinitas.
Of course no Notre Dame experience is complete without football. I was immersed within days of arriving as a freshman with the Notre Dame culture and it was boiling over with excitement since the start of school also meant the start of Notre Dame football. I quickly (as many do) turned from a mediocre football fan to an absolute outright fanatic. For those of you that went to Notre Dame you know that we all “drink the Kool-Aid” and we are instantly and forever intoxicated.
The next few years were great and filled with some of the fondest memories of my life to date. Then I recall a conversation I had with my mom Steph as a Junior. She called to check in on her son to see how much shenanigans I was involved with (answer was plenty and she knew it) and then she said “so what do you think you are going to do after school?” I answered saying “well I will probably move to Chicago or New York and work for a big company for a few years and I have lots of friends in those cities, and then we will see.” Well that wasn’t the answer that she wanted to hear…so she suggested “Really? What about moving back here and finding something in California?” I responded quickly and said “Mom I don’t want to move back right now. When I move back Dad is going to put me in charge of the winery which is not doing well. Then I’m going to have to move to Napa, I don’t want to move to Napa it’s boring and for old people!” She tried to convince me that wouldn’t happen and I could do what I wanted…but the conversation faded and we said goodbye. I wouldn’t know until 3 or 4 years later just how important that conversation with Mom had been.
So I finished undergrad and my Dad suggested I should get a Masters and I agreed and decided to do it right away rather than wait, and of course there was only one place I wanted to go (or stay in this case): Notre Dame. So I took a risk and applied to Notre Dame and Notre Dame only. Thankfully I got into the MBA program and loved it. By this time, Dad was sending a steady supply of Trinitas wine for us to enjoy…yes we were very lucky as college kids to be drinking great wine but my Dad is a smart guy…he knew we would all get hooked…and I know I did. I started really enjoying wine, graduating from Natty Light, Bud Light, and all the other standards in college (although let’s be honest I enjoy a good shotgun still…oops I said it!) There was a wine club in the MBA program and of course I gravitated to it learning about and tasting other wines and I had the opportunity to share Trinitas with everyone as well which was great. Little did I know this would be practice for the rest of my life.
Then graduation comes, it wasn’t the best time to be an MBA grad especially having gone straight through…so jobs I wanted I couldn’t have and jobs I got I didn’t want…but hey I was an entrepreneurship major in college so I decided to go out on my own. I moved back to southern California and moved in with Yao and Chad, some friends from Notre Dame. I started a consulting business of one, and my goal was to help small businesses since they didn’t have access to or couldn’t afford major consulting firms. I talked to Dad and said “hey I need to build a portfolio do you have a few projects for me to start with over the next 3-6 months? I know you have lots going on”. Dad thought it was a pretty good idea and he had one BIG project that needed some help and attention…Trinitas.
So all summer I worked on studying the business and the industry and I wrote a hundred page business plan for the “turn around” of the company. I helped in hiring a new manager to run the company and handed him the “playbook”. Then I left and moved onto the next project. A few weeks later I got word he left the company and we didn’t know what to do. I volunteered and said I would jump in temporarily to keep the projects we started rolling and I would be the interim manager until we hired a replacement. Months went by and I talked to my parents asking “why haven’t we interviewed anyone yet?” my parents responded informing me “oh we found our man!” That man was me. My first project as a consultant essentially became my last, but it was the best. I soon moved to Napa, officially took over Trinitas, and I loved every minute of it.
It was after maybe a year or so on the job, I was telling the story of the winery to some guests and how I got there and such. Then out of nowhere I remembered the conversation I had with my Mom Junior year and I found myself telling the story. It was then I realized everything I told my Mom as I sat in my dorm room in Siegfried came true, I moved to southern California, Dad put me in charge of the winery, and I moved to Napa. It then hit me…all those things not only came true but all the things I didn’t want to do became the things I loved. So I discovered that I loved the wine business and Trinitas.
During this time Betsy and I had taken time off and hadn’t really been in touch…but Notre Dame found a way to get us back together. It was fall of 2012 and I went to the Shamrock Series game in Chicago. Notre Dame was playing Miami at the Chicago Bears stadium and I was excited to see so many friends. Betsy and I crossed paths that weekend, and we clicked like no time had passed. We were engaged in April of 2013 and that summer we decided Betsy should come work with me at the winery. It was great having her join me and we made a great team working together. Betsy’s roll grew at Trinitas and shortly after we were married in 2014 she took on the role of CFO at the winery.
Around the same time we were contacted by Notre Dame and they told us about this Wine Academy they were putting together with other vintners who were grads. Betsy and I of course were excited and wanted to get involved. So we proceeded to host a few wine dinners at the Morris Inn featuring Trinitas. It was so much fun to share our love for wine and Trinitas at our University and Betsy and I were ecstatic! Little did we know this was only the beginning.
We met so many great people at Notre Dame through our events and the following spring of 2015 we got a call that the University was considering working with some Notre Dame families to make official Notre Dame wine. We were totally honored and shocked we were the vintners they spoke to since there are so many amazing wineries related to Notre Dame. Then they said, “we are presenting this idea to leadership tomorrow, think you can get us a solid plan and what a Notre Dame wine program would look like for us to present?” The answer was of course “No problem”. Betsy and I immediately left the office and holed ourselves up in our home office and worked on the plan and how everything worked for hours until the wee hours of the morning. It felt almost like a trip down memory lane of working late on a project for class like we used to in college, only this time it was real life and we were energized by excitement of the idea. We sent it off and awaited word. The initial response is it wasn’t the right time. We were naturally disappointed but still honored to have the opportunity.
A few months later I heard some folks we had been working with at Notre Dame on the project were coming to Napa. We always love having Notre Dame friends and family visit so we were of course excited! We had such a nice day with them and loved sharing our story and our wines. Then a few weeks later we got the call that the deal was back on and we needed to rework the plan. So we did and here we are today very honored and humbled to be the first winery to launch the Notre Dame Wine Academy!
Years ago I would’ve never seen myself at Notre Dame, yet today I literally couldn’t imagine (and don’t want to) what my life would be like if I hadn’t attended our beloved University. Also, even while at Notre Dame I had no desire to get into the family wine business yet here Betsy and I are. Now Betsy and I have the opportunity to combine our two great loves: Trinitas and Notre Dame. We couldn’t be happier about this opportunity and we are excited for the adventure to come. We also look forward to meeting many more new friends and fellow members of the Notre Dame family throughout this process and we look forward to hosting you in Napa or seeing you at a Notre Dame game!
It’s been an amazing journey…and it’s only beginning.
“And our hearts forever, LOVE THEE NOTRE DAME!”