Professional winemakers love to say that wine is made in the vineyard. But for the serious amateur, it’s actually made in one of the custom crush facilities that are gaining in popularity.
These hands-on wineries have access to top grapes and great talent. You can get involved in picking, sorting, crushing and blending— or standby and let the pros do the work. It’s an ideal first step toward your own wine brand, for a vacation project or to personalize wine for your wedding or special occasion.
“The wine country ships wine to urban centers,” says founder Michael Dorf, “so why not put a winery where the consumers are and ship the grapes to it?” With locations in New York City’s Soho district and Chicago, City Winery offers consumers full barrels (21 cases) or barrel shares starting at $27 a bottle. It uses premium grapes sourced from California, Oregon and New York State, as well as Argentina and Chile. Kosher wines are available.
“Hands down, Pinot Noir and Cab are in most demand” by amateur winemakers, says co-founder and former Crushpad sales manager Dave Gifford. His San Francisco-based winery charges $6,000–$10,000 a barrel. Dogpatch also does custom crushing for commercial wineries, so amateurs can rub bottles with the pros and even stomp their own grapes.
Art Finkelstein started making wine in Los Angeles in his garage during the ’70s. He moved to Napa Valley, and founded Whitehall Lane winery in the early ’80s. Since 1992, he has made small lots in Napa for local grape growers and amateurs with his MicroCrush venture. “We have a lot of CEOs who like to make wines for gifts,” says his son and second-generation winemaker, Judd, “and, yeah, everyone gets excited about maybe making wine as a side business.” Here, patrons can blend bottles of available juice for instant gifts and gratification.
It specializes in custom crushes for many other Virginia wineries, but Michael Shaps has now branched out into making wine for beginners as well. Located outside Charlottesville, the hub of Virginia wine country, the winery is a good option for those who prefer using local East Coast grapes. “We charge $6,000 a barrel, which includes everything but the labels,” Shaps says. Wineworks will also register your wines if you want to go commercial.