Get Crushed Here

For many aspiring winemakers, a custom crush facility like Vinify in Santa Rosa is a place where they can get their feet wet without getting in over their heads.

Vinify provides the structure — and all of the equipment — of a working winery without the overhead and other headaches involved in becoming an independent producer. The model is being repeated across California’s wine country where the dream of making wine permeates.

I’ve written in the past about Crushpad, another custom winemaking facility that started in a San Francisco warehouse and is now moving operations to Napa.

The dream of independence can also be strong, but it requires major investments in plant and property to become reality.

Just ask the owners of Urban Legend, a husband-and-wife team that opened a small winery near Oakland’s Jack London Square in April. They’re losing money on every bottle until they can boost production past a couple thousand cases.

Custom Vinification

Back at Vinify, Hillary and Justin Lattanzio have set up a production facility  in a row of warehouses just off 101 in Santa Rosa that more than 20 winemakers turn out a wide variety of wines under one roof. Production can run to hundreds of cases of each wine, depending on the winemaker’s whimsy, financial backing and access to high-quality grapes.

In today’s wine market, prices are down across the board, not just for finished wines, but also for the raw product — grapes. Even small producers, it seems, are finding supplies of really good grapes to help them make higher quality wines.

I was impressed by the overall quality of the wines produced at Vinify. They ranged from triple-digit priced, high-grade Napa cabernet to everday rose’ for less than $10. Most wines encountered at a Vinify tasting last weekend ran $30-$50.

Bevan Cellars

The most expensive wine came from Bevan Cellars, another husband and wife team (Russell Bevan and Victoria Decrescenzo) that migrated to Wine Country from Minnesota. Their $150 cabernet sauvignon (vintage 2007) is sourced from thehighly-regarded Showket Vineyard in Oakville, right off the Silverado Trail. It’s everything a Napa cab should be and has the high rankings from both Wine Spectator (96) Robert Parker (95+) to rank it alongside some of the great wines of the valley.

But it was Bevan’s sauvignon blanc (Maria’s Cuvee) that really made my mouth water. This white wine ($28) is unfiltered so it’s not crystal clear in the glass, but it tastes great. It’s refreshing with a citrus twist and a mouthful of other exotic flavors that keep piling on. There’s no residual sugar, so it’s the sublime fruit (from  Sonoma’s Kick Ranch) that makes it taste so good.

Marvelous Marsanne

I liked another white, a marsanne, from Olson Ogden, for different reasons. This marsanne ($35), made from a grape with origins in France’s Rhone Valley, is rich in texture and tastes of peaches within a nice oak framework. The grapes come from Napa’s Stagecoach Vineyard, from which Olson Ogden also makes a very good syrah ($52, 2007). I also admired the winery’s touch with pinot noir, especially the 2007 Sonoma Coast  bottling — a class act, starting from the rich red color through to the classic cherry fruit profile.

Bargain Bottles

At a lower price point, it would be hard to find fault with the 2006 Whitehawk Vineyard syrah made by Cinque Insieme. This $20 wine — sourced from fruit grown in Santa Barbara — is an inky-dark bargain with overtones of blackberries and pepper. By the way the name of the winery (a collaboration of five friends) means “five together” in Italian.

For hot-weather sipping, stock up on the Bjornstad Cellars 2008 rose’ at $7.50/bottle or $90 case. This bargain of a pink wine, made from pinot noir, is available online through the winery. Bjornstad also makes a fine lineup of of highly rated red pinot noirs and some chardonnays that are worth checking out, too.

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