A walk into the world of Napa Valley wine-making

I am exhausted! I spent my second day atDSC00987 Bin to bottle, rather amazingly considering the late time of year, helping to press a wine off its skins and shoveling said skins out of the massive 15 ton tank that it had been sitting in for the last 60 days or so. A horrendously back-breaking task but it does serve to make me somewhat grateful that I came post-harvest, as I remain in disbelief of how often this job has to be fulfilled, and how impossibly fit the crew must be, during the harvest season.

My arrival into California was initially inauspicious, to say the least. With a long flight, with a number of delays, plagued by turbulence and an immigration officer who stared at me suspiciously when my arrival card said I would be at American Canyon (As if to say, you’re going to American Canyon?! What possible reason could you have for staying there?). Even the hotel I was at conspired against me when a pipe burst within 10 minutes of my walking into the room, triggering the fire alarm and leaving me tired, miserable and somewhat cold, out in the streets. One could only hope that my luck would change  in the next few weeks.

Fortunately, it did seem like my luck was on a rise, as the weather took a turn for the better, after what I am told was a week of cold, gloomy rain. It was thus, that I made my way to the custom crush, at which I would be spending the next three weeks, learning the ins and outs of warm-climate wine-making in the napa valley, as well as the more service-oriented side of the custom crush.

My two days here thus far have been enjoyable, to say the least. Bin to bottle, the custom crush, operates on a much larger scale than any DSC00960winery I have had previous experience with. Indeed, their barrel storage room alone could rival the entire operating facility of most wineries I have visited. With as many as 120 fermentation tanks and over 6000 barrels in use, the facility is expansive beyond anything I have ever seen.  Granted, it is not the multinational giant that is E&J Gallo but there is a certain reverrence that must be had in any facility of this size.

Bin to bottle is, at its heart, much more service oriented than I would have expected, and this can be easily gleaned from my conversations with owner, John Wilkinson. His long experience in the hotel industry and his firm dedication to customer satisfaction, spilling over into the wine industry. Admittedly, my experience with custom crush is limited at best and my view, therefore a little coloured, however, it must be admitted, from everything I have heard, Bin to bottle is special, if not unique in its dedication to its clients. Much of what it does is completely defined by their clients, rather than the winery: wine analyses, management during fermentation and even their barrel programme is all fitted around satisfying their customers desires, rather than what the winery is optimised for. And indeed, the difference in what drives the wine makers decisions is truly disorientating. Granted, quality is still paramount, however, removing the marketing aspect of the wine really does change the issues the wine makers contend in ways I do not think I even competely comprehend yet.

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One Response to A walk into the world of Napa Valley wine-making

  1. Kari Richards says:

    Ming! Glad you made it safely and are already deep in challenging learning–no pun intended! Looks like a whirlwind experience and I’m looking forward to the next post.

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