Custom Crush Facilities in CA: Why Are They So Appealing?

Wine Custom Crush

How to make great wines without breaking the bank? That’s the million dollar head-scratching question many wine start-ups have been struggling with.

As California has built a reputation for world-class winemaking, numerous wine aficionados-turned-wine-artisans-in-the-making are trying to get their foot in the highly competitive wine industry.

To wine connoisseurs, crafting their wine vintage is more than a highly appealing hobby, it’s the logical next step. The options are endless – and winemaking is now an activity that can take place in the comfort of your home. Crushpad’s Fusebox blending kit allows do-it-yourselfers to participate in the magic of winemaking.

However, nothing has helped redefined the winemaking industry like the custom crush. For one thing, they have changed the very meaning of what wineries are: today, a winery does not need to crush or even bottle their wine. They don’t even need the expertise of winemakers to make good wine: they can outsource this entire process to specialized facilities that will handle this entirely.

For aspiring winemakers, the barrier to entry often suffices to crush their passion. Owning a vineyard has become a distant dream for these young, often inexperienced entrepreneurs: not only are the set-up expenses of a bricks-and-mortar winery unapproachable for most small manufacturers, but bringing their blends onto store shelves is even more difficult than they had expected.

Enters custom crush. It’s a typical American business model that dates back to the 1970s but has really been all the buzz recently, as more and more aspiring wine craft lovers have jumped into the business.

The heart of their operation is the turnkey services they provide, from bottling to wine processing, juicing, fermenting, pressure sensitive labeling, and warehousing. Some have more diversified services. Central Coast Wine Services, which provides custom crush services for on in three wine brands in the Santa Barbara area, offers testing and evaluation services at through a third-party lab.

Established custom-crush operators work closely with their client winemakers, who are usually intimately included in the process to turn their grapes into wine.

In a traditional custom crush transaction, a grape grower contracts a bonded winery proprietor who will process the grapes into wine. The custom crush facility makes wine according to the grower’s requirements while the grower maintains title to the grapes. He then receives the finished product and sells to other dealers. Sometimes, the winery has the relationships to sell the wine for his client.

This can lead to good, if not great, wines, even though the individual nose-in-the-barrel element is missing: Pahlmeyer, Marcassing, Bryant Family, and Volker Eisele Family Estate, for example, were all crushed, blended or aged at the Napa Wine Company. All were crushed, blended or aged at the Napa Wine Company, a major custom-crush facility in the heart of Napa Valley.

Converted into a custom crush facility in 1993, Napa Wine Company hosts over 20 alternating wine proprietors. It offers a wide array of services as well as a state-of-the-art Tasting Room – and the prestige associated with Napa Wine Company.

Indeed, custom crush often serves as a launching pad for new vintners while they establish a brand and raise capital for a brick and mortar winery. For very small wine producers, owning a winery doesn’t make sense, but this pay-as-you-go service enables them to amass capital and establish a name allowing them to grow at their pace.

However, custom crush is not cheap: once they start expanding, startup wineries may want to consider other options to transition into larger facilities.

Winemaker studios such as Anthony Napa Wines or Michael Mondavi’s Folio Studio provide a way to acquire bonded status without the capital outlay of building a winery and buying equipment. For growers, they allow access to their facilities, equipment, staff, relationships with distributors and representation in their showrooms.

According to Wine Business Monthly, an industry magazine, there were 1,197 virtual wineries in the United States last year, a 3.5% increase from 2013. Meanwhile, the number of bonded wineries, too, is increasing, bringing to 6,565 the number of bonded wineries in the U.S. in 2014. Of those new bonded wineries, many are virtual wineries that have morphed into a bigger operations.

Because Federal regulations require that the bottling winery or the importer must submit a wine label for approval, wineries that use custom crush facilities are not responsible for getting the label.

Aside from saving them the time and trouble of administrative proceedings, concretely, it means that they cannot carry the prestigious ‘Estate Bottled’ label, reserved for a wine that has been made from start to finish at the winery. Rather, they bear a “bottled by” or “Estate-grown” label.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: are the wines good? Of course they are! The secret to producing good wine is the quality of the grapes. Winemakers may add their special touch, but there’s no replacing taste if you are hoping to create a great vintage.

Eva du Monteil is a culinary trained food and wine critic living in NYC. When she is not exploring the country in search for the next hidden gem, she enjoys eating, drinking and cooking in the company of her friends, chefs and fine purveyors of epicurean experiences. While she loves NYC, she believes some of the most exciting food and drink scenes at the moment include Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Miami, and Philadelphia.

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