Bin to Bottle, a custom wine production company outside Napa, is expanding into Sonoma.
The company is poised to double its production capacity after striking a one-year agreement to lease Ramal Estate Winery, formerly part of Buena Vista Winery, from owner Entertainment Properties Trust.
"We needed more production capacity, and we were looking for an opportunity and this became available," said John Wilkinson, managing partner of Bin to Bottle. "It is a facility that allows us to expand into a different market than we're currently in."
The company's Napa location focuses on high-end wines that are barrel-aged. It can process about 5 to 7 tons of grapes per hour, Wilkinson said.
The new space in the Carneros region has the capacity to produce between 25 and 45 tons per hour, Wilkinson estimated. An additional room dedicated to pinot noir can process about 5 to 7 tons of grapes per hour, but it is already sold out for this harvest season, Wilkinson said.
At its facility south of Napa, the company employs about 30 full-time workers off-season and 50 during harvest, Wilkinson said. The company will add 20 employees to work at the Sonoma facility during harvest.
Clients include Riboli Family Wine Estates, Spence Howell Mountain and Vellum Wine Craft, according to its website.
In addition to wineries, grape growers make up 10 to 15 percent of Bin to Bottle's business. Growers typically sell their grapes directly to wineries, but some have looked for alternatives during the recession as grape prices weakened.
In 2009, for example, some growers who had previously commanded $4,500 to $5,000 a ton for their grapes were offered $1,500 or less, Wilkinson said. Rather than sell their grapes at low prices, some turned their fruit over to a custom crush facility to process into wine and sell it on the bulk market. Last year Bin to Bottle produced bulk wine for 15 growers in Napa and Sonoma and sold the wine for around $25 a gallon.
"Wineries are not releasing their purse strings like they used to," Wilkinson said. "If (growers) don't have a home for their fruit, or they don't like the prices they're getting, they can come to us."
In that arrangement, growers deliver their fruit to Bin to Bottle, which then makes the wine and sells it, keeping 20 percent of the profit and giving 80 percent to the grower.
Founded in 2006, the company is managed by Wilkinson and three partners: Pat Roney, president of Vintage Wine Estates; Marco DiGiulio, former winemaker at Pepi and Lokoya; and Mike McLoughlin, general manager of Whitehall Lane.
Bin to Bottle processed 700 tons of grapes when it opened in 2006, and expects to process more than 5,000 tons, or 300,000 cases this year, Wilkinson said.
It has moved into a production facility on Ramal Road formerly occupied by Buena Vista. Ascentia Wine Estates sold the brand in April to Boisset Family Estates, which also owns the historic Buena Vista stone winery in downtown Sonoma.