Custom Crushing Expands in Oregon

Medford becomes destination for winemaking services

by Peter Mitham
Naumes Crush and Fermentation winemaker Chris Graves and COO Laura Naumes unwrap a new press at the winery in downtown Medford, Ore.
Medford, Ore.—With a grape harvest set to top 60,000 tons this year, Oregon custom-crush facilities are adding capacity in advance of what could be their busiest season ever.

“There are two other custom-crush facilities, and they are full. Many of the wineries that offer custom crush are at capacity, they don’t have room,” said Chris Graves, winemaker at Naumes Crush and Fermentation LLC in downtown Medford, a part of town also home to fellow crush facilities Barrel 42, now in its second year, and Pallet Wine Co., which opened in 2009.

Together, the three facilities offer approximately 75,000 cases of production capacity in the heart of one of the fastest grapegrowing regions of the state.

According to the most recent Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census Report from the Southern Oregon University Research Center, the wine regions of Southern Oregon—led by the Umpqua Valley—boosted vineyard acreage by 5.4% in 2013, with the new acreage set to make itself felt this year.

Naumes has a handful of clients signed on for this season in advance of the Aug. 1 opening, including Irvine Vineyards of Ashland, Ore., headed by Michael Donovan (formerly of RoxyAnn Winery). Graves anticipates growing the roster of clients to 10 by year’s end, with more following as the operation becomes established.

Production this season will total approximately 13,000 cases, but the facility has a capacity of 35,000-40,000 cases.

Graves told Wines & Vines the aim is to work within the facility’s means, focusing on manageable quantities of high-quality wine rather than simply boosting through-put.

“We’re really trying to set the bar with the capacity of the cellar and not exceed that,” he said, noting that significant investments—to the tune of $1.4 million—have been made in equipment, including extensive cold storage for harvest grapes, an optical sorter and fully automated temperature-control systems to help manage fermentation and aging.

There are also plans for Naumes-branded wines as early as 2018, thanks to the replanting of a portion of the 2,000 acres another Naumes family company, Naumes Inc., owns in the Rogue Valley. Just 70 acres have been planted to grapes, but more are coming.

“We will start producing a little bit of the Naumes brand wine at the facility, but the primary objective right now is to focus on custom crush, and they intend to sell their grapes for at least a few years,” Graves said. “If there’s a brand that needs good quality fruit, they can buy it from the Naumes, and we can also produce it for them.”

Keeping fruit from the new acreage coming on-stream is important to building Southern Oregon’s reputation, according to Linda Donovan, principal at Pallet Wine Co. She expects production at her facility to be up 25% this year to 30,000 cases and would jump at an opportunity to expand; Barrel 42 also has a waiting list for its services.

“We’re all going to be super busy this harvest, and that’s a good thing,” she said. “We are looking to have the busiest harvest since we started in 2009.”

With hundreds of acres of vineyard in Southern Oregon yet to reach full production, Donovan said the rise of custom-crush facilities to serve local brands means local fruit isn’t just supplementing production elsewhere, something that’s long been the case.

“If we can keep that fruit here in Southern Oregon, at whoever’s facility makes the most sense, then we’re really serving the Southern Oregon wine industry,” she said.

Graves and Donovan both expect to start receiving fruit at the end of August, though some white varieties may be available as early as mid-August. While the season has been hot, cooler weather this week promises to moderate development and keep the season on track.

Graves welcomes the breathing room. “There’s going to be a lot of work gearing up: implementing our systems, final checks on the vineyards, getting the laboratory set up, starting to analyze vineyard samples,” he said of what will be happening at Naumes in the days after Aug. 1. “I’m going to be ready to ferment the last week of August.”

Currently no comments posted for this article.