Urban Winery Goes Rural

San Francisco icon Crushpad is pulling up stakes and moving to Napa Valley

by Paul Franson
Premier Pacific Vineyards Crushpad
Formerly a gritty city-dweller, Crushpad will make its new home in these refined premises at Silverado Trail Wine Studios in Napa Valley.
    IN 80 SIPS

  • Crushpad will host the last public event at its San Francisco facility from 6 until 9 p.m. Feb. 25. Bottlenotes sponsors the tasting, which will feature wines from Italy, France, Austria, Spain, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and elsewhere. To reserve tickets, click here. Enter WINESANDVINES at checkout for $10 off.
Napa Valley, Calif. -- Crushpad winery, which popularized the concept of micro-custom crush wineries, is moving to the country. After six years in gritty downtown San Francisco, the facility is relocating to the center of a 25-acre vineyard on the Silverado Trail in the Oak Knoll district of Napa Valley.

The winery, which makes wine for multiple small commercial and personal companies, is relocating to Silverado Trail Wine Studios, a custom-crush facility owned by Premier Pacific Vineyards, the largest supplier of grapes to Crushpad.

“While we’re a little sad to leave our San Francisco home after six fun and successful years,” said Crushpad founder/CEO Michael Brill, “the opportunity to practice the magic of winemaking on the biggest stage, in a winery on the Silverado Trail, was too much to pass up.

“Whether it’s fallout from the economy or just dumb luck, we’re getting a presence on a major thoroughfare in Napa without the $10-$20 million it normally costs. And more than 5 million wine enthusiasts visit Napa Valley every year.”

The inspiration for the move came from the successful launch of Crushpad’s Bordeaux operation in 2009, where Crushpad operated in a winery in the middle of St. Emilion. Clients from all over the world were able to augment their in-winery work with vineyard experiences that created a deeper connection to their wine.

Brill says that the new Napa setting will provide a similar backdrop for Crushpad’s nearly 5,000 clients who have been involved in making California wine. Crushpad Napa will also now be open seven days a week.

Brill said reaction from his customers has been more than 10 to 1 in favor of the move to the well-known wine region. “60% of our customers are from outside the Bay Area, and they just stop for an hour on their way to Napa, anyway.”

He added that two-thirds of the Bay Area customers are commercial, and the new location will give them a tasting room in a highly visible location. It also better accommodates commercial customers, who are a growing part of Crushpad’s business, and they may be able to reduce costs by using larger fermenters.

Crushpad started by producing small lots for individual wine lovers, but has increasingly served small commercial customers. Brill said, “In San Francisco, we are very limited in the size of lots we can process. Each lot is one barrel in size. The new facility contains larger tanks.” With these larger tanks comes another option: shared fermentation, which could also reduce costs.
Premier Pacific Vineyards
An aerial view of Silverado Trail Wine Studios shows its wine country setting in the Oak Knoll district.
Dick Wollack, a partner with Bill Hill in Premier Pacific and Silverado Trail Wine Studio, says Crushpad will be a significant customer, as it already is for the partnership’s grapes. “Last April, we received permission to expand our capacity from 20,000 to 80,000 cases per year, and we changed our focus to be a shared facility.”

Premier Pacific Vineyards, founded in 1998 by Hill and Wollack, operates 37 vineyards in California, Oregon and Washington. It is a fully integrated vineyard company that combines real estate investment management, vineyard development and precision viticulture and farming. Wollack and Hill also produce their own wines, Expression and Bighorn Cellars, at the site.

The move will make it simpler for Crushpad to host classes about viticulture and winemaking, including sessions with well-known winemakers, grapegrowers and others in the business such as barrel and cork producers. A downside for many clients is less space for parties.

A casualty of the new location is Crushpad’s partnership with Bin to Bottle custom-crush facility. The two joined in 2009 to provide a growth path for Crushpad’s larger clients, but Silverado Trail offers similar services, at least in moderate sizes. Brill said that Crushpad may refer prospects with very large production needs that don't require Crushpad Commerce services. Since that agreement, Bin to Bottle took over operation of nearby Kirkland Ranch Winery, now Valley Gate Vineyards.

John Wilkinson, president of Bin to Bottle, says the companies did discuss having Crushpad move into Bin to Bottle, but he understands the decision. “I can’t say I wouldn’t have made the same decision” particularly with the high-visibility location, he told Wines & Vines.

Wilkinson said it won’t have much impact on his business. “If we had all of Crushpad’s production, it would be less than 10% of our business.” He said the larger clients he acquired through Crushpad will stay at Bin to Bottle.

“We’ll continue to work together in some ways,” he added, noting that the Silverado Trail facility doesn’t have a permit for events, and Valley Gate does.

Crushpad staff will continue to do all client-facing activities including wine plans, sensory-based winemaking, blending, etc. About half a dozen winemaking staff will relocate, but not cellar workers: STWS staff will be doing most of the behind-the-scenes production work of punch-downs, pressing, topping, racking, etc.

Given its unique small-scale requirements, Crushpad will continue to do its own bottling and lab work.

Crushpad plans to vacate its San Francisco location by the end of the month or early March. 

As part of the agreement, wines selected from more than 100 Crushpad Commerce members will be poured and sold in the tasting room, alongside wines from other winery clients. Brill added that this has been a longtime dream for many Crushpad winemakers.
Crushpad and Premier Pacific have worked together since 2007, with PPV providing grapes to Crushpad clients from vineyards in Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley and Oregon. Many have scored  in the 90s in publications such as Wine Spectator.
The move is expected to be complete by March. As part of the move, Crushpad will be launching the Crushpad Passport—partnerships with Napa wineries, restaurants, hotels and golf courses—in an effort to provide its customer base special access to Napa Valley.
On a personal level, Brill’s four-block walk to work is now an hour drive, and most Crushpad employees will have a similar commute. He’s looking to rent a place in Napa Valley, but personal considerations make it difficult for him to move at this point.
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