About this project
I moved from Seattle to Chicago Park in 2000 to do exactly what I'm doing, growing central and southern Italian varietals and making old world style wines. In 2005 I had my first commercial harvest and began to make wine. In Year One I used a 90 liter basket press. It took a loooong time to press 10 tons of grapes. I started out making wine in my family room. In 2005 I got my family room federally bonded as a winery, moved the kids/sofa/tv upstairs, pulled up the carpet and redecorated with oak barrels (I built a "real" winery in 2008 right next to the house...I still have the bond on the family room though. Probably have the only family room in all of America that is federally bonded as a winery). Fortunately, in Year Two I met Tony Norstog, a long time winemaker in the area. He had a very old horizontal screw press capable of holding 2 tons of grapes. It was "handed down" to him, and as a small local start-up, he felt it appropriate to hand it down to me (for the low, low price of $2,000). It was loud, clunky, not particularly efficient...and I loved it...for the next 6 years. I got used to the "loud", and the "clunky", although I'm not sure my neighbors ever did. Here's a video about producing our 2009 Petite Sirah..be sure to turn down your sound during the pressing portion at about the 6:40 mark. I never got used to the "not particularly efficient" part, especially now that I am pressing about 35 tons a year. So, last year I decided to sell (for $1,000) that old press to the next new guy on the block, Josh Orman, who had just started his commercial winery operation the previous year. Hopefully I've started a tradition. At any rate, the gallons per ton from that press was about 110 gallons of crushed Pinot Grigio grapes. A good quality press will get you about 150 gallons per ton. Huge difference! And with the local Costco bringing in two of my wines, I need the additional efficiency. Here is what my next press looks like. It is loads quieter (my neighbors will thank you) and about 30% more efficient. I'm at that delicate stage that most small businesses reach where I need some upgrades to get me over the hump to true viability, but not quite profitable enough to invest in those upgrades. Pre-2007 the answer was easy, talk to your bank about an equipment loan. Yeah, those days are gone...so here I am. You can visit my website for a look at what the Eddie Bauer shirt looks like (lovingly modeled by myself and my youngest daughter), and also get a look at the oil painting by Caroline Bloom.
A little bit about the wines I produce. My personal preference is for the drier, earthier wines in the European tradition, especially central/southern Italian wines. So, I grow Sangiovese, Aglianico and Moscato on the estate vineyard. Here is a video of our 2010 harvest. I also produce wines from Teroldego, Nebbiolo, Negroamaro, Dolcetto, Barbera, Primitivo and Pinot Grigio. My pride and joy is a blend I produce called "Sierra Bella". This is my "Vino Tavola"...my everyday table wine, priced at an everyday price of $14 a bottle ($11 to members of my wine club). It won "Best of Class" at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and can be found at our local Costco store. This blend is created each January through an open forum blending weekend...crowd-sourcing if you will. I produce about 400 cases of Sierra Bella a year, and 2,000 cases total. For comparison, in California a "small" winery is defined as one that produces less than 50,000 cases a year. So, Montoliva is really, really small. All of the work, from vineyarding, crush, bottling, selling, delivery is done by myself and my part-time assistant winemaker, Matt Wich. It is a lot of work, however as I joke to my guests, it beats the heck out of having a job!
I appreciate your taking the time to read through my proposal. I hope that you find it worthy. I'm happy to discuss this project in more detail with you. You can email me, or come by the winery. We are open on weekends from noon until 5. Cheers!
Risks and challenges
I touched on the primary challenge to equipment upgrading in the Project Description - affording it. Pre-2007 that was pretty easy, most lending institutions would provide equipment purchase financing using the equipment itself as collateral. Those days are gone. And since I've "only" been selling wine since 2007, I'm considered too young a business (never mind that I planted the vineyard 13 years ago). I became profitable last year, however not profitable enough to be considered a good banking risk in the current climate. I understand their position, though. The difference between a successful small winery and an unsuccessful small winery is often that the successful winemaker isn't just willing to work harder. They are willing to work A LOT harder, and this isn't something a banker can measure.
The primary risk of this venture is not raising the capital quick enough to get our new press in place by Harvest 2013. This press is manufactured in Slovenia (now, there's a country custom made for a "Kickstarter" project!), and to ensure we are ready in time, I'll have to make the call on this by early April. While the press is produced in Slovenia, it is imported/sold by Prospero Corp., a long-time, established importer/wholesaler of professional winery equipment. They also service the machines they sell (important to me because as a mechanic, I'm a pretty good winemaker).
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