Crushpad Turns the Art of Winemaking Over to the Public
By Rich Manning
Wine is fun. This seems to be a rapidly trending notion, much to the chagrin of the longtime wine snob that tends to look at a bottle or glass primarily as a means of sophistication rather than a liquid expression of joy. That isn’t to say that wine has lost its elegance, of course – as long as it’s not served in a box that will never be the case. It’s just that nowadays more and more people are becoming passionate about wine because of the happiness it brings rather than the status symbol that it can create. As a result, drinking wine has become more delightfully more approachable. Despite what the wine elitists may tell you, this is a good thing.
But what about actually making wine? Some may argue that the process of transforming grapes from a vine into a beverage of complexity represents the final frontier of old-school exclusiveness; that the beauty of the journey should just be left to those who are heavily invested in the industry, and not for those whose chosen career path does not involve maintaining a vineyard or fiddling with oak barrels. And for the longest time, their reasoning had some merit, as there really was no way for the public to get involved with real winemaking without moving to an appellation and planting a few blocks.
Not anymore. The art behind winemaking is very much something that can now be enjoyed the masses, thanks to an innovative Sonoma-based company named Crushpad. The premise behind the company is simple enough, as it genuinely guides people down the path of producing real, honest-to-goodness wine with as little or as much involvement as they would wish. To be certain, it’s a premise that has garnered a lot of positive feedback and acclaim as its reputation has grown. However, according to Crushpad CEO Peter Ekman, the philosophy behind Crushpad is much deeper than producing a personalized case of vino. “The original idea that inspired Crushpad was to liberate the grapes and winemaking from the winemaker,” he says. “But at the same time, we also wanted to use winemaking to grow social communities, to get people that share the same passion for wine together through the act of experiencing something fun.”
While the entertainment value of the winemaking process is appealing, don’t think for a minute that Crushpad is just a gimmick. All the grapes that are sourced only come from California and Bordeaux vineyards that possess sterling, award-winning reputations. Their state-of-the-art facilities are located in the space that formerly housed the legendary Sebastini Winery. Above all else, Crushpad takes great care in surrounding each client with a skilled team of winemakers and designers to help bring a person’s unique vision to their precise desires, from the wine produced to the label slapped on each bottle. This latter component is especially critical. Not only does Crushpad’s team help customers produce wine that is tasty, but the expertise involved on the company’s end allows the customer to be as hands-on within the process as they desire. Do you want to help crush the grapes? Do you want to draw your own label? Do you want to just give the team your ideas and let them do their thing? All of these scenarios can happen. And no matter what path is taken, the end result is the same: 25 glorious cases of wine that would not have been possible without your own inspiration, your own level of input, and your own guidance. Needless to say, the finished products make Crushpad’s clientele pretty pleased. “Some people have what we call ‘delivery moments,” Ekman says. “For them, the sight of 300 bottles coming from their own barrel of wine is like watching a baby come into the world for the first time.”
The attention to detail and level of care that goes into each Crushpad session has given the company tremendous credibility amongst their peers. In addition to receiving kudos from other wineries in the area – “they’ve given us lots of support,” Ekman states – Crushpad’s services are occasionally utilized by aspiring winemakers that are trying to launch their own label. The fruits of this latter group have been rather impressive; several of the wines that have been created through the Crushpad program have been lauded with several choice accolades, ranging from gold medals captured in prestigious wine competitions to scores of 90+ from such esteemed publications as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.
Even though the considerable hardware is nice, it only partially reflects the secret to Crushpad’s success. Ultimately, it is that very sense of communal joy that was at the heart of the company’s founding that still serves as Crushpad’s cornerstone for all of their achievements. And if you are a wine snob that is too busy feeling smug to fully appreciate the wine, Ekman has a simple plea. “If you can be objective for two seconds, you’ll enjoy what we do here.”