By Penny Gadd-Coster
It’s no secret the time commitment and financial investment of starting up one’s own wine brand is daunting. The list of investments needed is a long one: expensive equipment, overhead for the building including light, water, and insurance; not to mention employees, fruit costs, supplies, etc. After crunching these costs, you may realize the area where funds should really be focused—in marketing your new wine—will be eaten up before your first bottle is produced.
But owning a winery is a dream many hold, and creating a special wine, whatever the intent—for the traditional winery, for personal enjoyment, for widespread distribution, as a marketing/branding effort for your non-winery business, for a special event such as a wedding—should not be out of reach. I have two words for you: custom crush.
The milieu of “legacy” wineries—those who have passed their operations down from generation to generation—dominating the winemaking scene, is now being challenged by new business models, as the promulgation of custom crush has eased the burden of start-up costs and allowed “newbies” onto the scene. Or perhaps you’re a winemaker with many, many years of expertise. You’re by no means a dilettante—you simply don’t have the liquidity to start an entire winemaking operation!
For me, personally, custom crush was the answer for my brand of Tempranillo wines, Coral Mustang.
It allowed me the funds and time to market my wine, while outsourcing the crush, fermentation and bottling to another source. I understand the desire of wanting to be able to say: this is my winery, my tanks, my bottling line. But when starting out, it’s wise to focus on building your brand, while keeping the dream of building a winery a long-term goal. You’re still the owner of the wine when you go the custom crush route—your winemaking protocolsand desires are followed—and the label has your business name on the “Produced & Bottled By” statement.
Plus, nobody has to know you’re using custom crush. You can still have a tasting room in town, and keep confidential that part or all of your winemaking operation is conducted at a custom crush facility. Such businesses are extremely good at keeping clientele anonymous.
Ready to investigate whether custom crush is a good fit for you? Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Ask to see some resumes. Request a consultation and tour, and get to know the backgrounds of the team. Uncover whether they have the necessary education and enough years in the business to have gained a high level of knowledge.
- Have they worked with your type of wine? At Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services, we have the experience and equipment to handle any project—small and large, still reds or whites, to sparkling wines. You want to know that the team you work with understands your goals. It’s sometimes difficult for winemakers to follow other wishes and styles—be sure that is not the case with the team. They should also keep you in the loop, vs. a situation where a protocol is handed off and you aren’t involved until the wine is on the pallet, ready to be picked up. That may be an easy way to do custom crush, but it may not be in your best interests. Being involved with your custom crush winemakers throughout the process ensures the best is brought out in the wine and for your target customer.
- Are they equipped for different scenarios? If it’s a custom crush facility that only has large clients, do they have systems in place to work with a smaller client? Smaller clients may only want 140 gallons per ton, for a $65 bottle of wine, whereas a larger client may want 175 gallons per ton, broken into several different lots. These two scenarios need to be treated a little bit differently and protocols are going to differ as well.
- Is there flexibility? Are the contracts and costs well laid-out—is everything one-lined or is it a complete package? Ask whether there’s flexibility to take on extras to improve the wines, for instance if you want another six months of aging time on tirage, or a change in additions as far as oaks, settling agents, or different types of yeast.
Consider these questions, and you’ll be well-equipped to pursue custom crush wisely and develop a strategy to grow your brand’s market share. Now is the golden opportunity as demand for still and sparkling wine continues to skyrocket. Cheers! Here’s to finding your niche.