wine Features
Fine Wine: DIY

Thirty Questions

What to do with your wine?

One More Question


By Jim Clarke

Traditionally, if a home winemaker says, “Would you like to try my latest vintage?” the instinctive response is to suddenly remember a pressing appointment elsewhere, preferably in another state. While technology has certainly helped amateurs create more drinkable – even enjoyable – wines, there’s something more the facilities and economies of scale that even a small professional winery can bring to the process.

Crushpad is bridging that gap. Based in the Mission District of San Francisco, Crushpad has the facilities and vineyard resources to allow anyone – private individuals, restaurants, wine retail shops – to make a high quality wine. Sounds like an interesting local story – a new side to California dreaming – right?

Actually, you don’t even have to live in California – or the U.S. – to get in on the action. Crushpad has broken down the winemaking process to 30 decisions. You can make them in the comfort of your own home and, after that, be as involved as you want to be. Work the crush, sort the grapes, feed them into the destemmer – sure, come on over and get your hands dirty. Or put your feet up at home, light a cigar, and log on to to watch it all happen. This Internet feature keeps track of the details of your wine’s progress, with technical notes, a discussion room to share ideas with other Crushpad clients, and real-time video of the winemaking facilities; you’ll always be ready with a detailed answer when friends ask how your wine is coming along. Seeing it all firsthand also remains an option: locals stop by to check on their wines before going out for dinner, while Bay Area visitors drop in to taste their wine as it matures.

Thirty Questions

For most would-be winemakers, it starts with choosing a varietal, and a style of wine. Many people use a model wine as a reference point: “I want to make something like XYZ’s Zinfandel, but with more/less body/fruit/food-friendliness.” Some clients are vineyard owners, so the varietal is already determined by what they have at hand. For the rest of us, Crushpad has a growing network of vineyard sources: lots of Napa Cab (They’ve developed a special, high-end program called “My Cult Cab” for those whose aspirations run in that direction); Pinot Noir from a number of cooler wine regions including Russian River, Sonoma Coast, and Santa Maria; old-vine Zin from Howell Mountain and Dry Creek Valley, and so on. So you choose not just a varietal but a vineyard site as well.

President and CEO Michael Brill says Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most popular grapes with their clients, probably because they don’t require as much aging as, say, Cabernet Sauvignon, cutting down on the cost of the wine…and the wait before you can bottle it and drink it.

After that: When to pick? Sorting? Destem? Crush? How much skin contact? Cold soak? Protective or oxidative handling? Fermentation vessel? Natural or cultured yeasts? Fermentation temperature range? Barrel aging? French or American? New or older? How long?

Overwhelmed yet? Actually, once you’ve decided what your goal is, Crushpad’s winemaking staff, led by Kian Tavakoli, is prepared to help you answer the more technical questions; you don’t need your own UC Davis (or CalState Fresno) degree to navigate your way to a drinkable wine.

What to do with your wine?

For many of Crushpad’s customers, this seems a silly question: we’re going to drink the damn stuff. But even if you only make the minimum one barrel of wine, you’re going to have about 25 cases on your hands, so you may come up with some other ideas during the nine months to two years that the wine is aging. If not, you can just work up a really cool label in the meantime.

A number of Crushpad’s clients have more serious goals in mind. For example, San Francisco restaurant Puccini & Pinetti is taking the opportunity to make their own house wines – two Chardonnays, a Syrah, and a Pinot Noir. Crushpad allows them to tailor the wines to their menu and offer them at a better price point than wines bought wholesale. Retailers can also make their own house wine, and a number of people are using Crushpad as the launchpad for their own wine brand. This year Crushpad expanded its services to take into account this growing commercial interest, so their services now extend from the vineyard to marketing to the helping you jump through the necessary legal hoops to get your wine into the market.

One More Question

How much? It may sound expensive, but most of their wines actually come in somewhere between $3,900 and $6,900 a barrel; each barrel yields about 300 bottles, so that’s $13 to $23 a bottle). The My Cult Cab wines are pricier, owing to more expensive grapes and more oak, but still come in around $33/bottle. It pays to bypass the winery-distributor-retail system, and you get the story that lies behind the wine all to yourself.

Visit Crushpad

back to top

   Published: May 2006