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Capacious Custom Crush Opens in Napa

Bin to Bottle operates former Kirkland Ranch Winery, presents a new option for beleaguered growers

by Paul Franson
Valley Gate Vineyards
Valley Gate Vineyards, formerly known as Kirkland Ranch Winery, has ample room to process North Coast grapes that haven't found a home this year.
Napa, Calif. -- A new option has emerged for growers awash in unsold grapes that will need to be harvested soon. Local custom crush winery Bin to Bottle has been contracted to operate the nearby Valley Gate Vineyards custom crush winery, formerly Kirkland Ranch Winery.

The future of the facility had been in question. It was built as the modern Kirkland Ranch Winery, but its location on a popular route from the Central Valley to Napa Valley hadn't tuned into the bonanza former owners sought, with most visitors speeding by rather than stopping.

It had been for sale, and customers had been asked to remove their stored wine. The location -- near the intersection of Highways 29 and 12 -- is no disadvantage for custom crush, however, and could even be an advantage for transporting wine.

It's a large facility. Unlike Bin to Bottle, which specializes in relatively small lots of between 5 and 15 tons, Valley Gate Vineyards has a capacity of 3,300 tons, with more than 250,000 gallons of tank storage and another 250,000 gallons of barrel storage available. Its high-speed line can bottle up to 500,000 cases annually.

Bin to Bottle will take over the Valley Gate Vineyards facility immediately and crush for the 2009 harvest.

The facility and many others in the area could be important for growers suddenly faced with no customers for their 2009 crop. Growers with uncommitted fruit, some whose contracts allow late notice and even broken contracts are cropping up, as grape prices appear to have softened considerably. The recent closure of Havens Winery, for example, left a reported $500,000 in grapes unsold. One option is to make wine with the fruit.

"Many growers are sitting on the fence," said John Wilkinson, managing partner of Bin to Bottle. "Some will sell at low prices, but others would be better off to turn the grapes into wine and hold it until prices improve."

He told Wines & Vines that some growers who sold their grapes for $3,000 to $5,000 last year are being offered far less. "They say, 'No way!' and are afraid it might set a precedent for next year."

Even before this deal, Bin to Bottle, founded in 2006 in Napa Valley, had seen its custom crushing volume surge more than 150% during the past three years, due to growing demand for custom-crush services in the region.

Wilkinson said, "Our relationship with Valley Gate Vineyards provides a unique opportunity to bring our industry expertise to a facility that can meet the demand for large custom crush winemaking services."

Likewise, this provides the owners of Valley Gate Vineyards a solution to a problem: a large unused facility for sale in a tough market. "We are pleased that such a well-known and respected custom crush winery will operate the Valley Gate Vineyards facility," said Kjerstin Hatch of Valley Gate Vineyards. 

Since the property became Valley Gate Vineyards this summer, the owners have spent considerable capital on top-to-bottom maintenance and upgrade projects to ready it for the 2009 harvest. They chose Renteria Vineyard Management to manage the 97 producing acres of vineyards and X Winery as a production and operations adviser.

Valley Gate Vineyards also hopes to add services including a distilled spirits plant, wine storage and a bottling line. The Valley Gate Vineyards facility will continue in the tradition of Bin to Bottle's approach to prioritizing the crush. Like Bin to Bottle, it won't have an in-house brand to compete with clients' wines for attention.

Valley Gate Vineyards is at 1 Kirkland Ranch Road in Napa. It has 97 producing acres of vineyard with 106 more suitable for planting. The winery has a total of 57,000 square feet, anchored by a three-story main lodge, 36,000-square-foot cellar with 3,000-barrel storage capacity and a 3,000-square-foot tasting room with a wrap-around terrace. 

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