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07.25.2004

Wanna Be a Winemaker? It Just Got a Lot Easier

OK. I'll admit it. I have fantasies about becoming a winemaker. Mostly what I have fantasies about is blending batches of juice together to create a silken, scrumptious Cabernet blend that kicks Silver Oak's ass for one third the price.

Note that above the fantasy didn't involve hauling big bins of grapes over gravelly soil, de-stemming pound after pound by hand, punching down the cap daily with my arms soaked to the shoulders in juice, rolling 800 pound barrells around, and figuring out how the heck to get the BATF to let me sell the stuff without getting arrested. I guess what I really want to be is one of those executive consulting winemakers who gets paid lots of money to come into a facility, quaff a little juice, and say, "Mmmm... needs a little more Petite Verdot."

Well, you know the expression, be careful what you wish for? I, and other aspiring winemakers might be in trouble, thanks to an innovative new business that's just opened up in the old Best Foods Mayonnaise plant here in San Francisco. It's called Crushpad, and it's pretty much a wine lover's fantasy come to life.

Wanna have somebody get a bunch of really nice grapes for you, help you buy a barrel or two and teach you how to make wine? No problem. Already know how to make wine and just need someplace to de-stem, crush, and ferment your stuff? Easily done. Got a wine label already and tired of paying big bucks to rent some winery's facilities up in the valley to make your 600 cases of wine? Hey, why not stay in San Francisco and save the hassle and the gas money.

Crushpad is the brain child of Michael Brill, a Bay Area entrepreneur, and the staff are top notch including resident winemaker Tom Leaf of Greenleaf Cellars in Berkeley and for this season, consulting winemakers Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company and Scott Shapely of Siduri and Novy.

This is a pretty exciting development, as it is the first business of its kind in the world, and as far as I'm concerned, a pretty darn good idea. Who knows if the economics will be good, but I'm guessing they will be. Making wine will cost about $12 - $14 a bottle, with a minimum quantity of 1 barrel -- about 25 cases (or 300 bottles) -- adding up to about $3600 - $4000 at a minimum. That's not cheap, but I'm betting there are plenty of individuals as well as restaurants and stores who are willing to fork over that sort of money for such a turn key service.

The San Mateo County Times has got the first press coverage of the newly opened facility with lots more details.

I expect to head over there for a chat and a tour sometime soon, so stay tuned for more details.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.