New Custom Crush for Southern Oregon

Pallet plans to be operational in time for 2009 harvest

by Jane Firstenfeld

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Medford, Ore. -- Southern Oregon's first dedicated custom-crush operation will open for case and barrel storage this summer, and will be ready to vinify up to 10,000 cases of wine this September. Pallet Wine Company will be housed in a 21,000-square-foot renovated lumber and dry goods warehouse, recently added to the National Historic Register.

Winemaker Linda Donovan and managing partner Dan Sullivan (his wife Olivia is also a partner) spoke with Wines & Vines as construction rang out in the Cooley-Neff Building this morning. "There are other wineries that offer custom crush as a sideline," Donovan acknowledged, "But custom crush is our primary focus." In fact, Donovan served as a custom crush winemaker for the Sullivans when they started their Domaine Paradox and Daniel Joseph wine labels.

Now, Dan Sullivan said, "Some of the wineries doing custom crush are growing to the extent they have less capacity to provide that service." Thus, he and Donovan decided to fill the void. The Southern Oregon region Pallet aims to serve has grown from 21 winegrape growers farming 308 acres in 1984 to 166 growers with 3,081 acres planted to vines in 2008. During the same period, the number of wineries has soared from three to 67. Within the Southern Oregon AVA, the Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, Applegate Valley and Illinois Valley have been designated as sub-appellations. One goal of the Pallet partners is, they said, to help their Rogue Valley AVA grow and gain recognition.

This historic building is being restored as the new home to Pallet custom crush in Medford, Ore.
PHOTO: Teena Jo Neal
They hope to serve regional vineyard owners, boutique wineries and individuals interested in making their own wines in quantities between 500 and 5,000 cases per year, and handle any overflow processing needs for larger wineries that purchase Southern Oregon winegrapes.

Tank capacity will start at about 36,000 gallons, Sullivan said; barrel room capacity is about 1,000 barrels, and a basement cellar can store 300 to 400 pallets of casegoods.

Services will include a full on-site lab, hand-sorting, gravity-flow if desired, a EuroMachines crushpad, and an advanced bottling line in place by spring 2010, which "probably" will be screwcap enabled. An on-site graphic designer will be available for logo, label, packaging, POS and website creation, and staff will provide compliance assistance and fulfillment/shipping.

Education is also on the agenda. Donovan, who will oversee the day-to-day operations, is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, enology department, with more than 15 years of experience at wineries including Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu, Schramsberg and Flowers in California; Agate Ridge and the biodynamic Cowhorn Winery in nearby Jacksonville, Ore. She works as a consultant to wineries including Del Rio Vineyards, and has her own brand, Donovan, which focuses on uncommon varietals, including her special favorite, Mourvèdre.

Pallet will schedule frequent seminars on enology topics so clients can better understand the winemaking process. "We're going to put together a working group of our clients to get together, strategize and help us all be more successful," Sullivan said.

Pallet will have an on-site tasting room, "The Side Door," where staff will pour client-produced wines. The partners hope that this will draw visitors from neighboring Ashland (home of the famous Shakespeare festival) and Jacksonville, a quaint tourist mecca that hosts a popular series of musical events each summer. "What we lack in pastoral beauty--and we make no pretense at that--we make up for in a really cool old building producing excellent wines," Sullivan said.

Fruit can be sourced from anywhere, Donovan noted, although, Sullivan said, "We exist primarily for Southern Oregon."

Pallet People
The Pallet partners, left to right: Linda Donovan, winemaker; Dan and Olivia Sullivan.
PHOTO: Teena Jo Neal
The partners are applying for LEED certification for the refurbished winery, and are committed to reducing, recycling and re-using whenever and wherever possible. Wood removed during the remodeling of the 1924-vintage Spanish Colonial-style structure will be used in the tasting room. Pomace will be composted, used on adjacent grounds and offered to community gardeners. Steam and high-pressure for sanitation will reduce water and chemical use, and eventually, a solar array may be added to the "huge roof with great exposure," Donovan said.

The operation can grow to an ultimate capacity of 22,000 to 25,000 cases, Sullivan said, estimating Pallet will reach that size within two to four years.

Pricing will be structured to meet individual client needs. "For our pricing model, we want to be middle-of-the-road," Sullivan said. "But we will offer top-shelf service."

Donovan and the Sullivans settled on the name Pallet just this week, and their website should soon be operational at palletwine.com. To contact Sullivan, e-mail dan@palletwine.com.

According to Wines & Vines' 2009 Annual Directory of the Wine Industry, 10 previously existing Southern Oregon wineries offer varying degrees of custom-crush services, too. They are:
  • Bridgeview Vineyards Inc., Cave Junction
  • Brandbord Vineyard & Winery, Elkton
  • Edenvale Winery, Medford
  • Fiasco Winery/Jacksonville Vineyards, Jacksonville
  • Foris Vineyards Winery, Cave Junction
  • Henry Estate Winery, Umpqua
  • Plaisance Ranch, Williams
  • RoxyAnn Winery, Medford
  • Scott Henry's Winery Corp., Umpqua
  • Wooldridge Creek Winery LLC, Grants Pass
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