Large Harvest Floods Custom-Crush Wineries

Some Northwest facilities at capacity as more wine grapes reach ripeness

by Peter Mitham
A worker sorts grapes at Okanagan Crush Pad, a custom-crush facility that has been at capacity for two years.
Medford, Ore.—Record grape harvests across the Northwest are pushing custom-crush facilities to capacity and giving some cause to expand.

A record harvest last year and a run of vineyard acquisitions through the winter have prompted concerns in Washington state, where custom-crush facilities are operating near capacity (see “Record Harvest for Washington State”). 

What’s happening in Oregon
This year promises to increase the pressure across the region. To prepare for the crush of fruit, Pallet Wine Co. in Medford, Ore., recently started acquiring an additional 10,000 square feet of space to accommodate growing production volumes for a stable of approximately 20 clients.

Pallet winemaker and partner Linda Donovan expects production in Pallet’s original 22,000-square-foot facility to top 25,000 cases this year. The new building, located adjacent to the original facility, was formerly home to a printing plant and mail-distribution company. It will provide space for four offices, a tasting room and storage capacity. This will in turn free up space in the main building.

“With a very solid concrete floor we can stack barrels four and five high, and be really efficient in our barrel storage,” Donovan told Wines & Vines. Here, “we can only go two high, and we’re in the basement, and there are all the beams and all the sprinklers, and it’s just not as ideal.”

Approximately 7,000 square feet of the new building will provide storage, with the remainder split between offices and a tasting room to showcase Pallet’s clients.

The new building also offers better temperature control.

Donovan offers custom bottling and lab analysis services in addition to custom-crush services, which have seen rising demand since Pallet launched in 2009.

Growth has been driven by increased acreage and increased awareness of the quality of wines that Southern Oregon grapes make possible.

While Donovan’s roster of clients remains stable at 20, former clients such as Ledger David Cellars have been successful enough to open standalone facilities. The slack has been taken up both by new clients as well as greater harvests.

British Columbia
It’s a similar story in British Columbia, where Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie of Okanagan Crush Pad have been turning away potential clients from their facility in Summerland, B.C.

Production under the partners’ own label, Haywire, will top 15,000 cases this year (up from 12,000 last year), reducing capacity for new clients, many of them vineyards seeking to place fruit. Creating their own label seems like an attractive option for many, but Coletta said the capacity to accommodate them isn’t there.

“We’ve been at capacity for the past two years, and we’ve turned quite a few people away,” she said. “There’s a bit of a surplus this year. The weather’s been really fantastic, and the grapes are fantastic quality.

“Often that will take care of itself, but we had people approaching us in June and July looking for a place to process fruit,” Coletta said.

All told, Okanagan Crush Pad produces between 28,000 and 32,000 cases per year for six clients. It’s also helped launch wineries including Fort Berens Estate Winery, C.C. Jentsch Cellars and Bella Wines, effectively launching many thousands more cases worth of production.

While various local wineries make themselves available for small lots of wine, Okanagan Crush Pad stands alone as the only dedicated custom-crush facility in the Okanagan. Industry doyen Harry McWatters is widely expected to launch a custom-crush operation near Oliver, but not before 2015.

“He’s entertaining that, which is great, because we need more facilities that are willing to do that,” Coletta said. “You’re not just making wine for them, you’re really holding their hands through all sorts of other aspects of building their business.”

In the meantime, grapes continue to tumble in with the Northwest harvest well past the midway point.

British Columbia is on track to harvest approximately 32,000 tons this year, while Washington state and Oregon both expect record crops of 230,000 tons and more than 50,000 tons, respectively.

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