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Monday, December 9, 2013, 6:00 am

North Coast Wine Industry Awards 2013: Penelope Gadd-Coster, Rack & Riddle Wine Services

Category: Winemaker

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    Tell us a little bit about recent events at your organization?

    In recent years, Rack & Riddle has averaged 6,000 tons of grape crushing annually. Our overall tank capacity stands at a bit more than 1.7 million gallons. We have seen a dramatic increase in business demand as the wine industry has rebounded over the last three years. While the Rack & Riddle brand at the current time is less than 10,000 cases, we are managing the needs of more than 100 clients and more than 1 million cases of wine production on their behalf. Most of our clients hail from Sonoma County — some 90 percent — and the remainder from Mendocino County.

    How does Rack & Riddle Wine Services rank among North Coast custom wineries?

    Penelope Gadd Coster

    Ms. Gadd Coster: That is certainly a question that all in the business wish we knew about each other!  Customer demand and loyalty are the most tangible indicators we have concerning our standing among the cadre of competitors in the custom wine business. And at least for us, demand has been extremely strong. Our capacity to create and process both sparkling and still wines makes us a bit more unique.

    What have been recent highlights for Rack & Riddle and connected operations?

    Ms. Gadd Coster: Well, where to start? We are expanding into Healdsburg to meet client demands for bottling services and a more convenient location. We are in our seventh year in business, and we now have more than 50 employees — we were once a company of eight. We have been very fortunate to recently add Monica Smith as our executive administrator, Elizabeth Nixon in business development/public relations, Jim Milone and Erin O’Brien as winemakers, and Kathy Dogali in production support. All have greatly enhanced our operations and customer-first approach. Together our team has garnered 12 Gold Medals for Rack & Riddle’s own branded wines in the past year alone, but our efforts also win dozens of medals for client custom crush projects that are shepherded through our facility from grape to bottle.

    Two big North Coast winegrape crops back to back have turned a spotlight onto winemaking capacity. How much demand has there been for custom winemaking services?

    Ms. Gadd Coster: As I mentioned earlier, we have been caught up in resurgence, and the crops for the last two years have pushed us into an expansion as we work hard to keep up with unprecedented client demand. That includes both sparkling and still wines, and the associated projects with each.

    How differently does a custom winery operate from a vintner primarily focused on its own brands?

    Ms. Gadd Coster: We are in the same industry as the brand specific wineries, but on a completely different planet! In my experiences at Jordan and at J Wines, there was down time following harvest, and early summer would often be slow. Bottling never occurred during harvest — as grapes took center stage. And you were interacting with one or two colleagues on winemaking. At Rack & Riddle we never shut down or have a slow period.  Business is so strong that we bottle right through harvest, even while our cellar is busy fermenting fruit. You have 100 cooks in your kitchen — meaning of course our client winemakers — and they each have a different recipe for their wines! It’s a crazy symphony of chaos, orchestrated with thousands of work orders — which harmoniously through the hard work of our staff, the skills and talents of our in-house and our clients’ winemakers, and accented with a dash of luck and magic, all combine into wine products that have won awards and make us proud.

    What are the top three opportunities and challenges facing your business in the foreseeable future?

    Ms. Gadd Coster:

    1. An increasing demand for sparkling wine products and service.
    2. Achieving a client-centered, “concierge” approach to handling services.
    3. Meeting the demand for equipment and facilities from Rack & Riddle that our clients do not want to invest in themselves, but instead want offered as part of their service.

    We are expanding our business, investing in new equipment, and most of all performing a self-examination of our operating systems and business approach such that we reinforce with all our clients — both present and those we attract in the future — that their decision to be with Rack & Riddle was the best decision they could make.

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