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Ronald Du Preez of Santa Rosa’s Sugarloaf Crush wins a North Bay Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry award

Sugarloaf Crush

Ronald Du Preez

General Manager and Head Winemaker

6705 Cristo Lane, Santa Rosa 95409

707-244-4885

sugarloafcrush.com

The winner of the winery custom crush category of North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards says demand for crush services remains strong despite coronavirus restrictions.

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

A graduate of Stellenbosch University with a dual degree in viticulture and enology, I became involved while at university in clonal research at the school’s experimental farm, where I was responsible for crafting over 100 wines.

Following graduation, I traveled to California to join Jordan Vineyards & Winery as a harvest intern. Over the next 12 years, I held positions of increasing responsibility at Jordan, ultimately becoming associate winemaker under founding winemaker Rob Davis. I traveled extensively as national spokesperson for the luxury brand while simultaneously managing the 1,200-acre Jordan viticulture program.

In 2012, I joined négociant-supplying outfit M. Draxton Inc. in Healdsburg, producing wines for 25 different custom crush clients across five different facilities in the North Coast. Concurrently, I managed private label production utilizing nine different varietals, achieving 90+ point scores in multiple vintages.

Today, I am thrilled to be part of the founding team at Sugarloaf Crush, founded in 2016. I am passionate about supporting our clients’ success from grape to bottle, and love that the position allows me to remain instrumental in stewarding development of some of the most exciting wines crafted in this part of the world.

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

Since its founding, Sugarloaf Crush has helped redefine what small-lot, precision custom crush looks like in the North Coast.

The facility was custom-built to deliver the highest level of service and the greatest variety of best-in-class equipment required for developing acclaimed wines; everything from our facility layout to the software we use, our team, and even our location is curated to meet the exacting standards of the North Coast’s leading winemakers and brands.

Our key accomplishments include build-out of a gorgeous hospitality center with private suites for indoor-outdoor engagement with guests; persevering through multiple fire seasons with a dedicated team and the right equipment to deliver service and successful harvests in spite of those challenges; and pivoting to ever-greater levels of safety standards this year to continue to do it all against the backdrop of COVID.

The community of clients, staff, suppliers, first responders and other key supporters who’ve helped us continue to deliver excellence along the way are invaluable to us.

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?

There has been a shift to either much larger lot production or shift to much smaller lot production, with very little in between.

Sugarloaf Crush has an impressive array of tank sizes that our clients can utilize, affording them myriad options to either do very small lot or scale to medium-size lot fermentation, meaning as little as 120 cases in one tank and 720 cases in the largest, and with various sizes in between. We have expanded our smaller size cooperage in the 240-case range.

Finding short-term, skilled harvest-time labor in our industry is becoming increasingly challenging. We are addressing this by implementing greater mechanization in our production facility, targeting fermentation management tasks, pumping or punching tanks over 2-3 times a day. The initial capital investment is significant, though the projected benefit is expected to set us up for continued success in the future with multiple additional benefits—including peace of mind for us and clients.

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

As a service provider to wine clients we continue to see strong demand for our services. We have also encountered new inquiries related to canned wines, signaling greater entrepreneurship and expansion into this alternative format that is more directly competing with the likes of hard seltzers.

Wine is a resilient category and I expect we will continue to adapt to various competitive threats.

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?

Due to COVID-19, Sugarloaf Crush has had to make a multitude of changes to ensure our operation and team remains safe and healthy. For example, our tasting and hospitality center is closed, client access is limited, and employees continue to wear masks and socially distance.

Sugarloaf Crush

Ronald Du Preez

General Manager and Head Winemaker

6705 Cristo Lane, Santa Rosa 95409

707-244-4885

sugarloafcrush.com

The custom crush facility prides itself on a welcoming, interactive, and positive environment. In order to deal with the impacts from COVID-19, Sugarloaf Crush has and continues to take necessary courses of action.

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?

Like many others in the wine and hospitality industry, the economic disruption from the COVID-19 virus has affected custom crush operations through decreased tonnage from clients whose sales are negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Many of our clients’ wines are sold through the greatly impacted on-premise channel, so we are seeing them pivot to online tasting platforms and enhanced DTC offerings with good success.

We anticipate that this challenging time will help correct an oversupply in the industry and better prepare brands to engage with fans digitally, and sell more through the lucrative DTC channel. As these benefits accrue to clients, we anticipate a similar improvement to our business.

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

Safety is always foremost for an operation like ours. The pandemic has taught us to think differently and to react more quickly, about a variety of processes and engagement practices—including everyday enhanced safety procedures.

There is no doubt these experiences will leave us a more flexible, agile and smarter facility and team, with a great appreciation for the challenges our clients face in the nuanced wine sales ecosystem.

We’re learning from our clients, and I think they’re learning from us. More than anything, this pandemic has taught us about the power of community, the benefit of mutual support, and the interconnectedness that defines today’s wine industry.

How the North Bay wildfires and power shut are-offs affecting the outlook for your business?

Due to extreme weather patterns and early episodes of wildfires and power shut offs, we overcame a series of obstacles in this recent harvest season.

Our facility—like many—had active fire in its environs that we successfully put down to remain in operation. Power shut-offs are managed with vigilance, flexibility and a backup generator as needed. This is not our first encounter with PSPS events, nor is it likely to be our last—so success is all about accumulated experience and being prepared.

Our gratitude goes out to the hardworking firefighters and first responders that consistently remind us how resilience and character define this region and set us up for continued success in spite of these challenges.

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