No vineyard? No Problem: Custom Crush
Back in 1997 when Sheldrake Point was just starting to be planted with grape vines, we obviously didn’t yet have our vineyard to provide the fruit for our wines. No vineyard? No problem! We purchased fruit from growers in the Finger Lakes and Long Island, and then contracted to have our first wines made for us, mostly by Peter Bell up at Fox Run on Seneca Lake. Producing wine in this way is called “custom crush.”
Custom Crush Winemaking for Sheldrake Point Winery
A custom crush facility is an American term for a winery specializing in vinifying grapes on behalf of another entity, typically those without their own winemaking equipment. A custom crush operation could be handling either grapes, juice, or even bulk wine that they might amend or blend for their customer. It really depends on the resources and needs of both the wine customer and the custom crush winery.
In the case of Sheldrake Point Winery in our early years, we not only strategized wine styles with Peter at Fox Run, we also provided the necessary licenses and labels. That allowed us to sell Sheldrake Point wines before we even owned a tank!
Custom Crush Winemaking by Sheldrake Point Winery
Fast-forward to 2015, the table has turned and we have enough winemaking capacity, equipment, and talent to not only make all of our own wines, but to also offer custom crush services to other growers – like Fox Run did for us. Today, our winery produces about 14,000 gallons for Sheldrake Point, and about 6,000 gallons for other growers. Some of our custom crush products are made from our own excess grapes, sometimes we make custom crush wines from grapes delivered to our winemaking operation.
Custom crush wines done by Sheldrake Point are kept separate from our wines, and marketed by the client growers or wineries under their own labels. Such operations have played an important part in establishing ambitious new wine producers by offering space, equipment, and winemaking services before those operations can afford a facility of their own. Other wineries or individuals rely on such facilities to do all of their winemaking.
No vineyard? No Problem.
The great thing about custom crush service is that a winery using this model can shop for not only the optimal fruit for a wine they want to make, but also the regional expression of the wine style they want to make, and the skillset of the winemaker. One example of this sort of operation takes advantage of this flexibility by using custom crush facilities across 13 countries and 18 appellations!
Another model more common in larger wine regions is a custom crush facility that only produces wines for other clients (none for themselves) – facilities like Artifex in Walla Walla, Vinify in Santa Rosa, and Premium Wine Group on Long Island. These custom crush operations can process thousands of tons of grapes and can produce and manage hundreds of separate lots of wine. They distinguish themselves by allowing clients to make wines reflecting the exact style they wish while offering an economy of scale in equipment and personnel that would be otherwise unavailable to individual small wineries.
Sharing the Finger Lakes wealth
Adding custom crush to our operation at Sheldrake Point has been a great way to extend the conversation about fruit profiles, wine styles, and consumer preferences, while providing an income stream from our excess capacity. It’s a win-win as we support new brands while enhancing our own approaches to winemaking in the continually growing Finger Lakes wine region.
The wine in your glass, whether or not it’s an award winning Sheldrake Point wine, is a wine that somebody, somewhere wanted to make, for you to enjoy.