Wine, The Bi-Rite Way

Trac Le, Bi-Rite’s Wine and Alcohol Buyer, tells us about Bi-Rite Wines and explains his philosophy towards buying, making and enjoying wine.

Photo courtesy of winemaker Samantha Sheehan

Bi-Rite began making wines in 2012 and now offers six different varietals including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, Sancerre, Côtes du Rhônes, and Malbec. Tell us, how did Bi-Rite begin making wine?

There’s a long history of making private label wines (wines that are created by a winery on behalf of a partner) and those have typically involved bottling leftover bulk wine. This allows the winery to sell surplus wine and the partner to offer customers a less expensive bottle. At Bi-Rite, we wanted to do things differently. Since we’ve always focused on relationships, we chose to work with producers whose wines we already sell and love. The main goal of our Bi-Rite Wine program is to offer wines that are a great value, being affordable, tasting great, and most importantly food friendly. They need to be sustainably made and ultimately, is a wine that overdelivers for the price. Food friendly means the wines are higher in acidity and lower in alcohol, really anything below 13.5%. The acidity brightens everything you eat and the lower alcohol content doesn’t weigh down the palate.

You mention sourcing being important when it comes to Bi-Rite Wines, how does this apply to the rest of the wine department?

It’s very important. In fact, when considering to carry a potential new wine, while taste is arguably most important, we have to make sure it’s sustainably farmed or farmed with organic practices, has minimal intervention (this means no additives) and is hand-harvested and hand-sorted. At the end of the day, we want to support producers who are practicing honest winemaking, and who are creating something truly delicious.

The Bi-Rite Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are two wines you created in partnership with Samantha (Sam) Sheehan of Poe Wines. How did that relationship develop?

I’ve known Sam since 2014 and have always admired her approach to winemaking. We sell her Poe Rosé and Pinot Noir in the Markets and have a hard time keeping them in stock. Back in 2013 when I was thinking about expanding our Bi-Rite Wines program, Sam told me she knew of a vineyard from 1972 that was about to be replanted. This is pretty typical in California, most vineyards are replanted every 12-15 years since the yield decreases as the vines grow older. That said, there was something alluring about saving that vineyard and making something new, so we went ahead and bought the grapes which turned into our first Bi-Rite Pinot Noir.

How would you describe the collaboration process between Bi-Rite and the winemakers you choose to work with?

It’s a little different for each wine but for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay it’s been very collaborative and that’s primarily because we’re working with Sam on those wines, and she’s based in Sonoma. Working on that first Pinot Noir vintage has turned into a longstanding partnership. We’ve been making wine together ever since, and this year, collaborated on our very first Bi-Rite Wines Rosé. It’s very exciting because we’ve been wanting to make a Bi-Rite Rosé for years and were waiting for the right vineyard. Sam found one in Lodi that’s owned by the Bokisch family, a truly great family of winemakers, and they sold us some Grenache to get started with. Sam and I were looking for a specific style, going after that quaffable Provençal style rosé, one that has high acid, refreshing with a bit of fruit and spice. We’re excited to launch this wine in  February and like our first Pinot Noir, we’ll only have 100 cases, so it’s going to go fast.

You mentioned that relationships have been an important part of the Bi-Rite Wine program from day one. How does this philosophy differ from the rest of the industry?

For Bi-Rite, it’s really about the people behind the wines. It’s important to me that we put the winemakers on the front label of each bottle, which is something that’s not usually done. I’m proud that we’re able to partner with these incredible producers and including them on our labels is one way we can celebrate their product.

With the rosé release around the corner, have you thought about which varietal you’d like to develop next?

I’m really excited to launch the rosé because it’s something we know guests really want. As far as the next varietal, I’d like Bi-Rite guests to tell me what they’d like to see on the shelves. I think a Riesling would be pretty great, but really, I’m all ears.

Want to send Trac your thoughts on Bi-Rite Wines? Send us a DM on Instagram at @biritesf.

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