Growing & Winemaking


Winemaker Interview: Steve Glossner

November 2009
by Laurie Daniel
crush equipment

Steve Glossner’s original goal wasn’t to become a winemaker. He was studying for a business degree at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., when he happened upon Finger Lakes wines. After a stint in a wine shop, he worked as a cellar rat in California and New Zealand before doing graduate work in enology at California State University, Fresno. It was while studying at Fresno that he discovered Paso Robles, where he’s made his mark in the wine industry.

As winemaker for Justin Vineyards, Glossner produced the 1994 Isosceles that was awarded the international Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande trophy for best blended red wine. After five years at Justin, he moved on to Adelaida Cellars, then Halter Ranch Winery. Today, he’s the consulting winemaker for several brands, including Kiamie Wine Cellars, Steinbeck Vineyards and Indian Valley Vineyards. He makes fortified wines under his own label, PasoPort Wine Co., where he’s also venturing into distilling.

Wines & Vines: You do most of your work at Paso Robles Wine Services (PRWS), a custom-crush facility, but your clients still buy some of their own equipment. What are the two or three pieces of equipment that you advise your clients to buy?

Steve Glossner: Typically, I’m encouraging them to buy things I know will be useful throughout the year. These include portable tanks, pumps, transfer lines, fittings, etc. Obviously, there are different types of pumps and different sizes of tanks, so we’ll try to establish a budget and see which purchases will have the best application given the existing infrastructure in the custom-crush facility. I also encourage clients to pool resources. That way, everyone benefits by reducing rental charges. The purchasing winery always has first right to the equipment’s use. All of the wineries for which I consult are under 5,000 cases. At this production size, portable tanks, such as those manufactured by Custom Metalcraft and others, are good investments.

These tanks have a broad base of utility. They can serve as white or red fermenters (if they have a bottom manway), for barrel racking and blending, long-term wine storage or transportation of bulk wine. Less-expensive items like transfer lines and fittings save time and labor costs, particularly during the facility’s peak activity periods, such as harvest, when fittings often get scattered throughout the facility and transfer lines may not be properly cleaned prior to being returned for someone else’s use. If you don’t know how a piece of equipment was last used, you are forced to go through a complete sanitation protocol to be safe. When it’s yours, you know the usage, and work can be performed more efficiently.

W&V: What are the drawbacks to working in a custom-crush facility, compared with a winery dedicated to one brand?

Glossner: Most custom-crush facilities are designed to cater to a wide variety of winemaking needs. A dedicated winery is, in most cases, designed specifically to provide the infrastructure required by that wine brand. This pertains to the facility’s layout, tank sizes, process equipment and storage/aging conditions.

Let’s face it, the majority of wine brands operate in a custom-crush facility because of financial restrictions. The level of investment needed to design, permit and construct a winery is huge, and it isn’t getting any cheaper or easier. A custom-crush facility gives a fledging wine brand the ability to get off and running without spending a large fortune. It also provides the potential opportunity to dedicate more funds to branding, marketing and sales efforts, since there is a reduction in investments in fixed assets. Those are the primary benefits.

The drawbacks are working with equipment that may not be ideal for the winemaking protocol. Tank use may be restricted during the harvest season as a means of offering a degree of availability for everyone. If I have a client who wants a 30-day maceration period for their Cabernet, the first thing I tell them is that they’d better go and buy their own tank.

Logistics are always difficult during harvest, but they can be compounded at a custom-crush place because there are numerous alternating proprietors performing their own work on their own schedules. I try to coordinate with the facility’s staff in advance if I’m going to need something from them, so there are no last-minute surprises. However, sharing resources always presents the possibility of a potential conflict.

W&V: What type of press do you prefer to use?

Glossner: Presses? Ask that question to 10 different winemakers, and you are going to get 10 different answers. You’d better do your homework before purchasing, because a wine press is an expensive piece of equipment that sees very limited use within the production process.

That said, it can have a significant impact on the final wine quality. For example, the wine program for one of my clients, Kiamie Wine Cellars, is largely dedicated to ultra-premium reds. At the time, PRWS didn’t own a basket press, so they went ahead and bought one from Carlsen & Associates.

I’m a firm believer in the increased red wine quality provided by commercial basket presses. Over the years, I’ve done a number of side-by-side trials using tank and basket presses. The basket presses always produce press wine of superior quality and clarity. During its first year of use, another winery at PRWS liked the press so much, they bought one for themselves the following season.

Earlier this year, I investigated a horizontal hydraulic press manufactured by Coquard to use for my own brand, Paso¬Port Wine Co. I thought it might be an ideal solution to accommodate the production of both sparkling and port-style wines. The press combines the low-maintenance, long service life and superior wine quality of a basket press with a cake-tumbling feature that allows you to press grapes whole-cluster. Unfortunately, with the current exchange rate, even the smallest model cost close to $100,000, so it was too expensive. Still, I really like the concept.

W&V: What types of barrels, coopers, etc., do you prefer? What do you advise your clients about u sing new barrels vs. used barrels?

Glossner: Like most winemakers, I recommend barrels from a variety of coopers. Barrel purchasing is program-driven, and it’s one of your highest annual production expenses other than grapes. So, budgeting is pretty critical.

With the escalation in the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro, high-end French oak barrels are becoming prohibitively expensive for certain wine programs, so I’m always looking at ways to satisfy my clients’ budgetary constraints and still keep good-quality barrels in the program.

This might include a mix of Eastern European oak or barrels with American oak body staves and French oak heads. In the end, the most important considerations for me are that the barrels are made from well-seasoned wood, coopered with quality craftsmanship and toasted using a methodology that confers complementary and consistent aromas and flavors, barrel-to-barrel and year-to-year.

I think that one of the best buys in the barrel market may be high quality, once-used barrels from a winery you know and trust. This year in particular, I’ve negotiated very few new barrel purchases for my clients. Instead, I’ve recommended purchasing high quality 2006 barrels for a little over $100 each, instead of the equivalent new barrel at close to $1,000.

W&V: Are there some newer technologies or equipment that you’d like to work with or experiment with?

Glossner: Yes, aside from the Coquard press mentioned earlier, micro-oxygenation and reverse-osmosis technologies are powerful winemaking tools, and they are finally becoming more visible and accepted as such.

With that said, I admit that I am a complete amateur at fully utilizing their potential. I’ve used micro-ox from time to time, but never established it as an essential part of a winemaking protocol. I do know that these technologies can be very valuable, so I need to become more experienced as to the use of these tools, if I want to effectively advise my clients and fine-tune their wine programs.

I’m not really talking about their use for rescuing poor or flawed wine. Under these circumstances, their use is pretty straightforward. I’m talking about their application within a winemaking protocol in the same vein as we currently discuss fermentation management, barrel aging or blending practices. Both technologies have the ability to have a significant impact on the wine’s phenolic composition, and thus, a significant impact on the wine’s structure and mouthfeel composition.

In all honesty, the wine industry is a conflicted industry. We want to abide by century-old practices and ideologies, but in the same breath, we want to utilize modern technology to make a better and more consistent product. It makes for strange bed partners. I’ve always been puzzled by our industry’s lack of ability to forge a true partnership, within the mind of the consumer, of time-honored practices and new technologies to make better, higher-quality wines for the marketplace.

A resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Laurie Daniel has been a journalist for more than 25 years. She has been writing about wine for publications for nearly 15 years and has been a Wines & Vines contributor since 2006. To contact her or comment on this article, e-mail

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