Wineries scrambling to make room for upcoming harvest

  • Joaquin Reyes fills up oak barrels with wine from the many full tanks at Punchdown Cellars in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, July 3, 2013. Many wineries are concerned about whether there be enough space in the tanks to crush all the grapes from this year's particularly big harvest. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

As the summer days stretch long and hot, and grapes thicken with sugar on the vine, wineries are clamoring to ensure they'll have enough space in tanks and barrels to fit the fruits of an early harvest.

Growers anticipate the grapes will be ready for picking two to three weeks earlier than usual, and many are expecting the size of the harvest will be average or larger.

That has some wineries scrambling to add capacity in their storage rooms, or to book additional space in the custom crush facilities that dot Wine Country.

"There's a couple of wineries out there that are trying to put in new tanks, and they're rushing, and we've got people trying to put in new storage, and they're rushing," said Glenn Proctor, partner and broker in the San Rafael office of Ciatti Company, a wine and grape brokerage. "And complicating things and making it more interesting, is this looks like it will be a relatively early harvest."

Finding the space to crush the grapes and turn them into wine was a challenge in 2012, when a record crop sent more than 267,000 tons of grapes from Sonoma County vineyards into the wineries. Some of those wines are still aging in tanks and barrels, and have yet to find their way into bottles.

Major companies like E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands are expanding their cooperage capabilities by adding barrels or tanks, said Brian Clements, vice president of Turrentine Brokerage. Wineries that don't have enough room in their own facilities also turn to custom crush facilities that handle the winemaking process, but they're running out of time to line up the dwindling available space.

"If people that need custom crush space haven't confirmed it or reserved it, I think they may see a problem down the road in the next couple of months," Clements said. "This year, if the crop holds, if people are thinking they'll just do custom crush later, they may be surprised that there's not as much space as they think, and the price may be higher than they thought."

Custom crush facilities, which are busy pumping wine out of tanks and barrels and into bottles to make way for the 2013 harvest, are finding a lot of demand for any available space.

"There's definitely more activity," said Robert Morris, president of Punchdown Cellars, a Santa Rosa-based custom winery that works with more than 40 wine brands. "We've been lucky that we've had to turn away business this year."

Sonoma Wine Co., which process about 5,500 to 6,000 tons of fruit per year between its two North Coast crush facilities, is pretty booked up for the approaching harvest, said Natasha Granoff, director of business development.

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