A new entrant in the custom-crush market is specifically addressing the challenging needs of boutique vintners to be more hands-on in production and have their own space to pour on the uniqueness of their wines for consumers.
Construction is set to get underway this month on the 31,000-square-foot Grand Cru Custom Crush winery at 1200 American Way in Windsor. It’ll be part of a growing cluster of luxury-tier wineries and, soon, a brewery in an industrial development off Conde Lane north of Shiloh Road. That’s where Dumol and Marcassin wineries operate and construction is progressing on a 50,000-square-foot Russian River Brewing production and hospitality facility.
Named after the official French wine classification for certain wines of good reputation, the owners of Grand Cru Custom Crush want vintners of small but proven brands who have outgrown existing custom wineries and want onsite hospitality facilities but don’t have the resources to build their own production facility, according to partner Todd Gottula.
He and his wife, Erin Brooks, have been making the 3,000-case-a-year Ernest Vineyards brand at Punchdown Cellars, a 16-year-old Santa Rosa custom winery serving up to 50 clients. The target vintner for the new venture makes 1,500–7,000 cases annually.
“They’re in that spot where they’ve developed a bit of a following and some degree of commercial success selling that quantity of wine to consumers,” Gottula said.
He said the venture conducted market research that purportedly points to the number of brands fitting that profile in California alone could be over 500, skewing toward producers of 1,200–1,800 cases a year. The partners are looking for just 10–12 of them to call the new facility home long term.
Grand Cru Custom Crush is set up as a cooperative, with alternating-proprietorship winery licenses under the facility’s license. If accepted after an initial interview, “member” vintners will sign consulting agreements with the facility. Members will provide their own winemakers and, likely, a cellar worker. The facility will have other cellar workers and interns available.
The concept started coming together two years ago, as Gottula and Brooks were looking to take Ernest to its own facility. They brought in Punchdown President Robert Morris to advise them on the move.
“We quickly arrived at the conclusion that the economics would never make sense to us,” Gottula said. “We then realized a lot of others had the same problem.”
Morris advised on the custom-winery project for several months then joined as a partner.
Grand Cru Custom Crush is permitted to crush up to 700 tons of grapes a year, which works out to production of about 35,000, 9-liter cases a year. The production goal the first year of operation is 12,000 cases’ worth then 25,000 in 2018. The target timeframe for the winery to receive grapes is August, the typical start of the bulk of the North Coast harvest.
To meet that timeframe, the pre-engineered steel building is being fabricated mostly offsite, to be erected after the concrete pad with its drains, electrical and piping are installed.
Equipment set to go into the facility includes a crushpad and grape-sorting system from Burgstahler Machine Works, RotoVibe grape cluster destemmer with internal berry sorting technology, 42- and 60-hectoliter bladder presses from Euro Machines, a basket press by Carlsen & Associates, 66 stainless-steel tanks from AAA-Metal Fabrication, and chilled and hot glycol temperature-control systems controlled via Tank-Net software.
Grand Cru Custom Crush
1200 American Way, Windsor
Partners: Robert Morris, Erin Morris, Todd Gottula and Erin Brooks
Facility size: 31,000 square feet
Target opening: August 2017
Capacity: 700 tons of grapes crushed, or about 35,000 cases of wine produced
Project cost: $9 million
Developer: Airport Business Center, Santa Rosa
Architect: Greg LeDoux & Associates, Cotati
General contractor: R.A. Murphy Construction, Bodega
Financing: Exchange Bank (building shell) and Live Oak Bank (tenant improvements and equipment)
North Coast custom-crush facilities
Carneros Vintners, Sonoma 8,000 tons, 100% custom
Purple Wine + Spirits, Graton 8,000 tons, 3.5 million cases, 15% custom
The Ranch Winery, St. Helena 8,000 tons, 100% custom
Napa Wine Co., Oakville 7,000 tons
Yokayo Wine Co., Ukiah, 6,200 tons, 100% custom
Rack & Riddle, Healdsburg, 6,000 tons, 1.2 million cases, 70% custom
Redwood Valley Cellars, Redwood Valley, 3,580 tons, 100% custom
Bin to Bottle, Napa 2,500 tons, 100,000 cases, 100% custom
Sugarloaf Custom, Santa Rosa, 2,000 tons, 125,000 cases, 100% custom
Punchdown Cellars, Santa Rosa, 1,200 tons, 75,000 cases, 100% custom
Vinify Wine Services, Santa Rosa, 900 tons, 45,000 cases, 100% custom
Owl Ridge Wine Services, Sebastopol, 503 tons, 97,665 cases, 85% custom
Healdsburg Custom Crush, Healdsburg, 500 tons, 100% custom
Silenus Vintners, Napa, 400 tons, 22,767 cases, 80% custom
Deerfield Ranch Winery, Kenwood, 200 tons, 12,000 cases, 50% custom
Judd’s Hill MicroCrush, Napa, 182 tons, 75% custom
Source: Custom Crush Facilities list, April 2016, and Business Journal research. Notes: Generally, ranked by 2015 tons of grapes crushed for fermentation. E&J Gallo purchased The Ranch Winery in December 2015, ultimately to make company brands. Sugarloaf opened in September. Carneros Vintners, Napa Wine, and Punchdown are positioned here based on tons crushed, as stated on their websites.
Correction: Healdsburg Custom Crush handled 500 tons of grapes in 2016, up from 270 tons in 2014, its first year in operation.