Manveer Sandhu of Sonoma County’s Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services wins Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards sparkling winemaker category

Manveer Sandhu

Director of Winemaking

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

499 Moore Lane, Healdsburg 95448

707-433 8400

The winner of the sparkling wine winemaker category winner in North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards says the company has generators on site to continue winery operations in case of planned or unplanned power outages.

How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?

My entry into the wine industry started with a circumstance of convenience. While job hunting as a student at the University of California Davis, I came across a laboratory technician position in Dr. David Smart’s Research Lab.

Working in the lab/vineyard, along with taking a few V&E classes, ignited a passion in me and a new direction for my future. After graduating U.C. Davis, I pursued a career in winemaking with my first venture beginning at Delicato Family Wines.

Living in the central valley after I graduated U.C. Davis, I found myself amid California’s largest wine producers. After two years in the Delicato Laboratory, I joined the lab team at E&J Gallo’s Modesto facility. Having a firm grasp in the laboratory and production, it was time for me to forge ahead in my winemaking career path.

Joining Rack & Riddle in 2011, as an assistant winemaker/laboratory manager, has been the most educational and gratifying journey in my career, and continues to be as I have opportunities to learn, and teach every day.

How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?

Rack & Riddle is not only one of the largest producers of Methode Champenoise Sparkling wines in California and the USA, but also a leader in custom crush services for both sparkling and still winemaking.

We have been able to provide services and resources to wineries across the country that are in need of amazing sparkling wines in their portfolio, as well as assisting in crafting premier sparkling wines using their grapes and/or base wines.

We have nurtured innovation and championed the newest technologies to advance quality and efficiency in sparkling wine production with the use of new techniques and automation.

What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?

The biggest change I have noticed in the industry has been the pace and demand of production.

In the past, there was time between each vintage when we would see a slowdown in production, which would give wineries and personnel time to work on planning and unwinding after a busy harvest.

That time between each harvest has progressively compressed, and the need to start planning earlier for capital projects/improvements and harvest preparedness has become a priority.

We have also seen an increased demand to bottle wine year-round. With the bottling line automation and production equipment we have, we are in a great position to meet these demands and have the flexibility to continue to absorb future growth with our team.

How have you responded to growing competition from craft spirits and alternatives such as hard seltzer?

Although we have large Methode Champenoise clients, most of our custom crush sparkling clients are small volume producers.

Creating small batch sparkling wines for ourselves and our clients, we can craft unique blends to meet the desires of consumers. We have, in the past, produced wine-based sangria, blueberry and almond flavored sparkling wine and well as wine-based sparkling cocktails.

Continuing to innovate and try new blends not only is exciting for our winemaking team, it also provides new alternatives to the traditional sparkling wines we make.

How has the pandemic affected your business? What has been the impact of restrictions on visitors, closure of restaurants and bars, surge in online shopping, and rise in digital consumer experiences and marketing?

The health, safety and well-being of our employees and clients have been the upmost priority throughout the pandemic. Following local and state health guidelines, we have implemented policies to minimize contact and spread of the virus.

We have daily wellness check updates for all our team members as well as any visiting clients. To maintain our work ‘bubble’ we have designated areas for client visitors with hand sanitizing stations.

In addition, for the safety of our employees, we have restricted the time of client visits and visiting hours for customers.

It is a difficult time for the restaurant and hospitality industry, and we have done so much to remain safe and keep our doors open. Luckily there has been an increased demand in online and retail wine sales, which has kept production on our lines and cellar busy through the pandemic.

How have you responded to the challenges and opportunities of the virus-influenced economic downturn? How much are these measures making up the difference in sales?

We have been proactive in assembling blends in preparation for the demand increases from our retail partners.

In order to be prepared for our custom crush clients, we have opened up additional potential production shifts to absorb increased demand and provide flexibility in case of delays.

We were also able to employ our temporary harvest crew weeks prior to harvest and keep them on staff after harvest to satisfy production needs. All the actions we have taken have made the difference in being ready for the challenges we’ve faced and the challenges still ahead.

Which of your adjustments and initiatives do you think you will continue past the pandemic, and why?

The policies put in place related to personal protective equipment and sanitation have been very successful. We have had a group-wide acceptance to these measures and plan to continue to implement.

The reason to continue adopting these policies is to maintain the safety of our employees and guests, as well as pursuing continued improvement to facility cleanliness and sanitation.

How are the North Bay wildfires and power shutoffs affecting the outlook for your business?

We realized pretty quickly that the challenges of seasonal wildfires and power shutoffs will likely be something we will continue to deal with in the future.

Taking this new reality into account when planning facility projects and equipment purchases, we have put ourselves in a position to be proactive instead of reactive.

Over the last two harvests we have had generators onsite to continue winery operations in case of planned/unplanned power outages.

Harvest is a critical and time sensitive time, so not having power to perform necessary work functions can be devastating. We have additional systems in place like positive pressure nitrogen gassing system for wine tanks and a cellar-wide tank chilling system, to keep wine temperature-controlled and nitrogen gassed, if the winery is inaccessible during wildfires.

Manveer Sandhu

Director of Winemaking

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

499 Moore Lane, Healdsburg 95448

707-433 8400

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