Growing & Winemaking

 

Matchbook Wine Co. Expands Hospitality and Production

April 2015
 
by Ted Rieger
 
 
Crew Tasting Room
 
A new tasting room opened in October 2014. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out over newly planted Tempranillo.

Located in the Dunnigan Hills of Yolo County, Calif., Crew Wine Co. continues to expand wine production capacity and estate vineyards to support its growing Matchbook and Sawbuck estate wines, and to increase capacity for its Mossback, Chasing Venus brands and Arsonist brands. During its most recent growth phase, the winery added tank and barrel capacity, a new press and its first tasting room. Once bottled, wine production for the 2014 vintage will exceed 100,000 cases. Crew co-owner Lane Giguiere said with future planting and expansion, production is on track to ultimately reach 250,000 cases per year.

“We introduced a new wine to our line up—our Arsonist Dunnigan Hills Chardonnay,” Giguiere told Wines & Vines. “We will release the Arsonist Red Blend (Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) in April.”

    KEY POINTS
     

     
  • Improvements to the crush pad mean 10-year-old Crew Wine Co. could eventually reach 250,000 cases per year.
     
  • The expansion includes a new 2,160-square-foot tasting room and meeting space for up to 20 people.
     
  • Grapes from estate vineyards go into three of the company’s five wine brands: Arsonist, Matchbook and Sawbuck.
     

Partner and winemaker Dan Cederquist said, “We’re one of the fastest growing young wine brands in the country, and we keep adding facility capacity each year. Our tasting room is long overdue.”

Cederquist told Wines & Vines that Crew’s 2015 crush is expected to total 2,500 tons of grapes (up from 1,800 tons in 2014) as new vineyards come online. Five new stainless steel tanks, fabricated and installed by Westec of Healdsburg, Calif., added 100,000 gallons of processing capacity leading up to the 2014 crush, and a new Diemme AR 150 press was installed. A 5,000-square-foot barrel building built in 2013 had reached capacity by September, and plans call for construction of a 20,000-square-foot barrel storage facility with lab and winery staff offices in 2015.

Giguieres build on past experience
The Giguiere family pioneered wine grapegrowing in what is now the Dunnigan Hills American Viticultural Area, beginning in 1981. In 1983, brothers Karl and John Giguiere and John’s wife, Lane, started R.H. Phillips Vineyards and Winery, which later introduced the hugely successful Toasted Head brand. R.H. Phillips grew to annual production of 750,000 cases prior to its sale to Vincor International of Canada in 2000. Vincor later became part of Constellation Wines.

The Giguieres started Crew Wine Co. in 2005, initially using a custom-crush facility for wine production. Ground was broken for the estate winery in 2008, not far from the original R.H. Phillips. Crew Wine Co. is the corporate entity, but the company has transitioned to publicly branding itself as Matchbook Wine Co. to promote its more recognizable flagship wine.

Crew’s brands and primary varietals are: Matchbook—Chardonnay, Tempranillo and Syrah from estate vineyards; Sawbuck—Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from Yolo and Mendocino County grapes; Mossback—Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon; and Chasing Venus—Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and the Russian River Valley.

“The Arsonist Chardonnay is 98% Chardonnay from our vineyard, 2% from fruit we sourced from the Russian River Valley. The Arsonist Red Blend is all from purchased fruit,” Lane Giguiere rold Wines & Vines.

New vineyards focus on quality
When the Giguieres started R.H. Phillips, they were learning about grapegrowing and winemaking on the job, and they proved the Dunnigan Hills could support quality, value-priced wines. Now, with a second opportunity, Lane Giguiere explained, “This time around, we have the knowledge and experience to really home in on increasing the quality of what we’re growing and producing here.” The Giguieres have employed better techniques to get the ground ready for planting, such as soil ripping in three directions, adding the right soil amendments and planting the grape varieties and clones best suited to the area.

In 2012, Crew purchased 2,150 acres adjacent to the winery and developed 500 acres of vineyards under the direction of co-owner and vineyard manager Karl Giguiere. The new planting included 110 acres with a non-traditional “hanging curtain” trellis system designed to produce a larger number of smaller, looser clusters for red grape varieties to enhance grape and wine quality and to reduce vineyard production costs with the ability to be mechanically harvested and pruned. This block includes Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Tannat.

The first crop of several varieties from the 2012 planting was picked in 2014—including Chardonnay and a Tempranillo clone of Tinto de Toro. Additional acreage has been planted each year, and new vineyards were planted in 2014 near the new tasting room with a new Rioja clone of Tempranillo. “We feel this area is perfectly suited for Tempranillo,” Cederquist said. He said the original 73-acre Matchbook Vineyard, planted in 2002, has produced a very good Tempranillo from a Duero clone, but he has high hopes for the Tinto de Toro and Rioja clones and their potential to add “more backbone” to the wine.

Other varieties recently planted with newer clones and being managed for higher quality are Petit Verdot, Malbec and Tannat. Cederquist sees more potential for Spanish varieties in the region. Verdejo, a Spanish white wine variety, will be produced in the future. Cederquist summarized, “Yes, we do Chardonnay, and we do a lot of it, but we’re also trying new things.”

The Giguieres also own sister company JK Vineyards and farm more than 2,100 acres, inclu ding 300 acres of olives for olive oil production. JK supplies grapes for Crew brands and sells grapes to three main winery clients: Bogle Vineyards, Constellation Wines and E. & J. Gallo.

New Zealand connection gets closer
The company’s Chasing Venus brand has focused on Sauvignon Blanc sourced from New Zealand’s Marlborough appellation. The wine previously was produced and bottled in New Zealand with input from winemaking staff, prior to shipping to the United States. With the next vintage, wine will be shipped in bulk to the Crew facility for finishing and bottling.

Coincidentally, just prior to the 2014 crush, the winery hired new assistant winemaker Hayden Oliver, a New Zealand-trained and educated winemaker who attended Lincoln University in Christchurch, N.Z., and worked in Marlborough, N.Z., before his recent move to the United States.

Crew also has started producing Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc sourced from the Russian River Valley. Cederquist said bottling line equipment and capacity are being added, and a new screwcap applicator will be added in 2015 for bottling all Sauvignon Blanc.

New tasting room and office
The new 2,160-square-foot tasting room is a pre-engineered metal building supported by steel beams, with outer walls covered with corrugated sheet metal and a roof covered with standing seam galvanized sheet metal. It is designed to resemble traditional metal farm buildings characteristic of Yolo County while also being attractive, functional and economical to build. Ken Lazzaroni, Crew’s construction and facility manager who has worked with the Giguieres since R.H. Phillips, acted as project manager and describes the overall design as “a softer, more modern industrial look.”

Interior features include a steel countertop tasting bar supported by reused wood from a nearby barn crafted by a local cabinetmaker and polished concrete floors. Interior walls are covered by a screen-like layer of corrugated, perforated sheet metal that helps reduce noise for better interior acoustics. Floor-to-ceiling windows look onto an outdoor covered patio with views of newly planted Tempranillo vineyards and the Dunnigan Hills. One end of the building is set up for small meetings of up to 20 people. It can provide space for private and group tasting events as well as trade visits from distributors. Local businesses and groups may rent the space as well. Lane Giguiere said, “Our wines are now distributed in 46 states, and we’re constantly getting requests from distributors to come out and visit.”

Although the location seems rural and remote once onsite, it’s only three miles from Interstate 5 and about a 30-minute drive from Sacramento International Airport. Giguiere expects visits from the winery’s 500-member wine club and others.

Ted Rieger, CSW, is a wine journalist based in Sacramento, Calif. He has written for wine industry media since 1988.

 
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