Ask the Donor
Land of Wine and Banking:
Blending Three Businesses
Vic Trione, MBA 70, has cultivated success in three closely intertwined industries in Sonoma County: wine; real estate; and banking. After earning his MBA and serving in the Navy, Trione and his brother, Mark, co-founded a real estate development company. As they bought and sold land, they began planting and selling grapes and eventually launched their own Trione label. In 1983, they joined a third partner to open Luther Burbank Savings, a local bank with profits for 30 years, eight branches, and a new Santa Rosa headquarters. Trione recently established a fellowship to help Haas attract the most talented students and assist them in covering the costs of an MBA.
How did you get into real estate?
After my sophomore year in college, I started selling real estate. I graduated from Stanford with one more year of ROTC and continued at Berkeley. After getting my MBA, I served two years in the Navy on an ammunition ship off the coast of Vietnam. When I got out of the Navy, I interviewed for a training program with a large bank. They wanted me to commit to two years, but I was anxious to get out on my own. So I started Vimark with my brother (a UC Davis agricultural economics graduate).
It was just the beginning of the vineyard orchards. We bought small parcels of prune orchard, took out the prunes, sold some, and then refinanced. At the same time we began developing single-family residential projects in the Sonoma County area. We provided venture financing for home builders in Northern California.
How did wine enter the mix?
We started selling most of our grapes to Geyser Peak Winery. In 1982 the winery came up for sale. The owner made us an offer we couldn't refuse. The hard part was turning the reputation of the winery around. When we bought it, it was selling a four liter wine in a box. We concentrated on premium wine to enhance the reputation.
How about banking?
I was always interested in finance and became a founder and director of Sonoma County Savings in the mid-1970s. I saw that a local company who knew the market and was nimble and responsive would have a niche. In '83, I hired a president and we opened in October with seven employees. We put a big ad in the paper for a 10 percent, six-month CD. Can you imagine that now?
What are the qualities of a successful entrepreneur?
A good entrepreneur is creative and willing to take a chance. First you should do your homework but then act quickly and decisively. You should also surround yourself with smart people but keep control. And above all else, persevere.
How did your father, Henry Trione, BS 41, also a very successful businessman, influence you?
Integrity was the most important thing he taught us. He taught us to do the best with what you have to work with, and work hard. He also said, "Give back to the community and the institutions that helped shape your success."