Mendocino County custom winery plans to expand into crush after small 2020 grape harvest

Mendocino County’s newest sizable custom winery got much of its planned tank storage in place in time for the tumultuous 2020 harvest, and now the facility is pushing to add crush capabilities in time for grapes to start arriving this summer and fall.

Feliz Creek Cellars, located at 365 Feliz Creek Road in Hopland, got under construction a month before the coronavirus pandemic restrictions started in March 2020, and the 60,000-square-foot facility was completed in time for wine to arrive in bulk last August, according to Matt Hughes, general manager and winemaker.

The building currently is set up for stainless-steel tank storage on one side and cold storage for up to 275,000 cases of wine on the other side. The original two-phase plan was to start with a half-million gallons of tanks the first year then double that in the next phase along with adding a crush pad. But the rapid pace of the 2020 harvest amid concerns from the North Coast wildfires accelerated those plans.

“We’ve already seen our capacity maxed out a few times in our short history, and I’m sure this will take it to the next level,” Hughes said.

The winery now has 700,000 gallons of bulk storage fabricated by Westec of Healdsburg. The tanks range in three sizes — 6,878, 13,550 and 20,400 gallons — with Flexcubes available for fermentations of smaller vineyard lots. The rest of the planned storage is on hold after the 2020 season.

“Last year with the fires and low (grape) yields we had the smallest harvest in the last 10 years,” Hughes said. “No one is beating down the door for storage space currently, so that’s part of the pivot to crushing activities.”

The winery is a project of a few local vintners and growers. The founding partner is Gary Breen, who with his wife, Anna Beuselinck, started the nearby boutique winery Campovida, for which Hughes is also the winemaker.

“From the beginning, I’ve wanted Feliz Creek to be the go-to winery to handle all aspects of winemaking from grape to bottle, and this is a key step towards accomplishing that. I’m very excited,” Breen said.

One of the options Feliz Creek Cellars has been considering for future expansion is adding a canning line. Campovida is one of the first producers for Marin County-based Maker Wine, which sells the premium beverage in cans.

But for now, Feliz Creek Cellars is working with Pellenc America on the crush system that will be installed in Hopland later this year. It’s designed with an automated sorting system adapted from mechanical harvesters and allows 50 tons of grapes to be crushed per hour.

“Optical sorters max out at about 15 tons an hour,” Hughes said. “We want to do trucks of grapes and not just bins of grapes.”

The winery has a half dozen custom-winemaking and storage clients and is looking for crush clients needing to process 100–1,000 tons each.

The potential for working with growers to make wine for sale in bulk to wineries also exists. Such wine is made not to be a “boring” style but also not an “extreme” style, Hughes said.

“The best thing is to have it be a reflection of the vineyard but be a blank canvas,” he said. “We would not make the wine then throw oak at it. We would keep it clean and fresh and be characteristic of the grape and terroir.”

Recently, a North Coast vintner approached Hughes about making bulk wine closer to that winery’s style then buy the resulting gallons in bulk for blending into the final product, but that calls for careful consideration of which risks and financial commitments are shifted between the parties, he said. The client winery wouldn’t take ownership of the wine until it was ready to truck away from Feliz Creek Cellars.

“It’s something we’re considering,” he said.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at or 707-521-4256.

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