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Will increase storage to 1 million gallons; ‘bulk-to-bottle’ grows, too

[caption id="attachment_34396" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Sonoma Wine Co. plans to expand barrel storage at its American Canyon winery."][/caption]

AMERICAN CANYON -- Custom vintner Sonoma Wine Co. is undertaking major upgrades of its south Napa Valley winemaking facility to accommodate more larger-scale clients.

City permits are in place, equipment is on order and contractors are lined up. This month and next the work at the winery will be in high gear to have the additional barrel and tank storage plus an exterior crushpad ready by August in time for the 2011 crush, according to Mark Castaldi, who was promoted to facility general manager earlier this month.

Growth of Sonoma Wine Co. is fueling the expansion, which is part of a company progression toward accommodating more clients that produce as much as 200,000 cases annually.

"We've been successful in picking up a number of outside clients," he said.

In March 2009, Sonoma Wine Co. acquired Greenfield Wine Co.'s custom wine business and the lease for the 116,500-square-foot winery at 205 Jim Oswalt Way in the Green Island Industrial Park. Sonoma Wine Co. now makes more than 5 million cases of wine a year for 30 clients, including the expanding portfolio of Purple Wine Co., a branded wine producer also owned by Derek Benham.

"We were pretty Sonoma County-focused, and now we have the opportunity to offer services in Napa County," said Natasha Granoff, director of business development.

An additional 500,000 gallons of tank capacity will bring total storage at the Napa Valley facility past 1 million gallons. To accommodate varying production scales, the tank sizes range from 5,000 to 30,000 gallons.

Nearly a month into the project, about 200,000 gallons of tanks have been installed. New tanks were purchased from Westec Tank & Equipment of Healdsburg, but some used tanks were available.

"With the capital spending slowdown, tank manufacturers are able to respond quickly, and with the state of the wine industry there is a lot of good used equipment out there," Mr. Castaldi said.

Barrel storage will quadruple with this project, and crush capacity will almost triple, he said. Previously, the winery crushed grapes indoors via a couple of mobile presses that could accommodate a half-ton bin at a time.

Under construction is an outside crushpad that will have new presses and crusher-destemmer devices capable of handling the bins as well as up to five-ton gondolas.

Del Nordby, formerly head of a large wine industry builder and cave borer, is the project manager. Sonoma-based STRATAap designed the upgrades.

Earlier this year, a second shift was added to accommodate increasing production. Last year, a high-speed bottling line was installed, but greater automation of the systems allows for more productivity from just a few more personnel, according to Mr. Castaldi.

"What's driving business growth is the ability to offer outside clients one-stop shopping," he said.

To offer crush, barrel and bulk storage, bottling and casegoods handling and fulfillment, Sonoma Wine Co. has been forging alliances over the past year to offer clients volume discounts for services from outside vendors.

The Winetasting Network now offers Sonoma Wine clients lower out-of-state rates on club shipments to consumers. Wine Secrets is basing its mobile dealcoholization and cross-flow and STARS filtration systems at the winery, so Sonoma Wine clients won't have to truck wine off-site for adjustment. Biagi Transportation & Warehousing offers trucking from the mammoth Jackson Family Wines joint-venture warehouse across the street.

And overseeing expanded American Canyon winemaking now is Ron Goss, whose background includes Trinchero Family Estates, Viansa and what's now called Treasury Wine Estates.

Bulk-to-bottle services is another source for potential growth, according to Ms. Granoff. Because of the cost of transporting wine in relatively heavy glass packaging long distances such as to or from the South Pacific, Asia or Europe, some large companies are moving wine into the U.S. or to foreign markets in large tanks and bottling it closer to consumers.

To get into the bulk-to-bottle market, Sonoma Wine earned ISO 22000 certification for the American Canyon facility in March.

"Wineries are looking to ship more efficiently," Ms. Granoff said.