From grading of the site to the arrival of the first grapes, a 57,000-square-foot custom winery rose in Sonoma Valley near Santa Rosa in seven months.
Sugarloaf Custom (sugarloafwines.com) received its first loads of client grapes at the crushpad and outside fermentation tanks on Aug. 26, as construction crews scurried to install the rest of the tanks as they arrived.
“It’s like orchestrated chaos,” said Ronald Du Preez, winemaker and general manager, as a Precision Crane team offloaded a few truckloads of the 77 tanks planned for the facility. The county use permit allows for producing the equivalent of 125,000 9-liter cases of wine annually, crushing about 2,000 tons of grapes. This harvest to dial in operations, Sugarloaf plans to crush 450–500 tons and use half the planned barrel storage.
Though work inside the hulking structure continues, the crushpad at the back of the building was set up with equipment and tanks to be ready for grapes. Robert Morri, winemaker for Punchdown Cellars for 13 years, was brought in to help conduct the movements of the first harvest.
Sugarloaf Crush was designed by veteran winery design and engineering firm Steve Martin & Associates of Sebastopol to cater to small-scale vintners. Joe Reynoso is the CEO and managing partner of the winery.
“Our tanks and equipment are scaled down specifically to handle small-lot fermentations, as little as 1 ton or even less,” Du Preez said. There’s a 5-ton minimum for clients projects.
Among the gadgetry of the facility is a Bucher Vaslin Oscillys destemmer, to remove grape berries from clusters, an optical sorter to automatically select grapes of specified quality, multiple membrane presses, small-lot fermentation tanks made from stainless-steel, concrete and oak, a 40-degree refrigerated room for storing two trucks’ worth of grapes in bins and lugs if equipment isn’t ready, and three barrel rooms with differing temperatures for varying maturation methods. To avoid damaging the grapes in transit, clusters can be brought in inside field lugs or macrobins.
“Two of our Napa Valley-based clients chose us because of our location,” Du Preez said. “They buy small quantities of pinot noir and chardonnay on the North Coast, and it’s more convenient for them to truck the grapes to us, instead of all the way to Napa for processing.”
One highlight is 10 hybrid open-top fermenters Santa Rosa Stainless Steel designed and built in time for the first grapes. A hatch on top allows for punchdown of the “cap” of skins and seeds into the juice as it ferments. Open-top tanks are traditionally used for pinot noir fermentation, but closed-top tanks can be used throughout the year to prepare for bottling, Du Preez said.
Those tanks will move inside when the building is finished. Next year, an automated punchdown system will be installed.
Another highlight is the computerized winery management designed to allow clients to know what’s happening with their products without calling the facility. Each tank has hot and cold glycol temperature-control systems, managed by TankNet software by Sonoma-based Acrolon Technologies (acrolon.com). Clients can see what’s happening via a smartphone or tablet app.
“Joe and I have a vision to have operations be completely accessible,” Du Preez said.
Toward that goal, Sugarloaf has signed a long-term contract with software startup InnoVint (www.innovint.us) to pilot a software system that pushes the latest cellar data to clients.
Construction financing: First Community Bank
Architecture and engineering
Architecture and structural, civil and wastewater engineering: Steve Martin Associates
Mechanical: Warner Mechanical
Electrical: Ray E. Slaughter
Landscape: Don MacNair
General: Steve Martin Associates
Sitework: Damazio Excavating
Metal building: Miller & Elwood Concrete
Electrical: R. McClure
Plumbing: InCom Mechanical
Fire: Axcel Fire Systems
Refrigeration: Refrigeration Technologies
Mechanical: Henry Mechanical