Crushpad, the Sonoma custom-crush company that helped amateur vintners and small wineries produce their own boutique wines, is facing a financial crisis that will force the company to sell off its assets next week.
Grape growers are owed several hundred thousand dollars, mostly from the 2011 harvest, and have placed liens on wine stored for the company's clients, said Philip Von Burg, principal at Tiburon-based CastleGate Partners, which is preparing a bid to buy the company.
Hundreds of clients who have already paid for their custom-made wines, now maturing in barrels or bottled in warehouses in Sonoma, are wondering whether they'll ever see their prized finished products.
"We're trying to avoid a mass liquidation of the business," Von Burg said. "A lot of these customers have been waiting for their wines for a long time. We're trying to be the good guys and find a solution that works for everyone."
The company has run out of money and been turned over to Sherwood Partners, a Mountain View firm that will conduct an auction of Crushpad's assets Tuesday, Von Burg said.
Its creditors include secured lenders, grape growers, suppliers of barrels and packaging materials, and customers with unfinished wine in barrels and deposits paid for the upcoming 2012 vintage, according to an email sent to clients by Steve Ryan, former vice president of sales and client services.
Crushpad executives did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment over the past week. In an email to customers last week, Ryan said the company "is experiencing a financial crisis." It has ceased bottling and placed clients' wines under the care of winemaker Patrick Saboe, but hoped to resume bottling within 30 days, he wrote.
"To avoid liquidation, I have been working around the clock with a turnaround investment group to develop a plan to overcome the numerous operational and financial issues," Ryan wrote.
Founded in 2004 by Michael Brill, the custom-crush winery produces more than 100 commercial wine brands and hundreds of small-batch wines for private individuals.
Foley Family Wines was a principal investor in the company. In 2011, Crushpad moved into a section of the Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma, which is owned by Foley. Barrels of wine produced for Crushpad clients are stored in a warehouse at Sebastiani, while cases of bottled wine are stored at Gros-kopf Warehouse and Logistics in Sonoma.
Sebastiani owner Bill Foley was not available for comment, his assistant said.
<b>Barrels of wine stored</b>
About 500 clients, a quarter of them commercial enterprises, have more than 900 barrels stored at Sebastiani, said Cindy Cosco, former winemaker at Crushpad.
Cosco had three barrels of 2011 pinot noir scheduled to be bottled on Aug. 10. But after hearing rumors about the company's demise, she decided several weeks ago to transfer her barrels to another custom-crush facility.
"I just decided that I didn't think that (bottling) was going to happen," Cosco said. "I know how things go there. So I wanted to make sure that I got my stuff out."
Cosco was hired as a lab manager at Crushpad in 2007. She moved with the company from San Francisco to Napa in 2010, and then to Sonoma in 2011, eventually becoming winemaker. She left the company last August when she noticed signs of trouble. Suppliers wouldn't fill orders because Crushpad was behind on its bills, she said.