Making wine at Crushpad

Grape cap
On a recent trip to California got a chance to visit [Crushpad](http://www.crushpadwine.com/). They are a high-end winery… where you are the winemaker. Some of my friends invested in them last year and one of them has been pushing a group of us to make a barrel of our own wine together. So we kicked off the process and it has moved along, for some reason without much enthusiasm from my part.
Now after being there, including a half-day [Crushcamp](http://www.crushpadwine.com/hostevent.php) ([full photoset here](http://www.flickr.com/photos/seikatsu/sets/72157607847026394/)) of hands-on winemaking, I have gotten really excited.

I’ve been to quite a few wineries in Europe, mostly in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Catalonia. Picked grapes on the field, seen the medium-roast burning of noble French oak barrels, but also witnessed the sorry moment of leftover grapes being rushed into a 3-litre cardboard package as tablewine. So the process in principle is not new to me, even if I don’t consider myself an expert by no means and am always looking to learn more.

There is something really special about Crushpad, though. All the winemakers I’ve visited before mostly use grapes from their own field behind their chateau (well, Champagne being quite different here) and turn it to just a few different kinds of wine. That means large quantities, blending standardized over generations, huge metal vats, endless cellars. Basically – a factory with some character, more or less.

Crushpad (or rather – their clients) make 900 different wines in one season. By tweaking and tuning every step in the process they use results in all of them being unique. Building a tailor made wine with all of these variables, from the vinyard, grape variety and harvest to picking fermentation yeasts, blending or deciding to add wood chips for more solid color gives you extreme freedom. Hopefully also amazing end results, but for a bunch of amateurs like us – also a high chance to mess things up on the way.

Fortunately, this freedom is also very elevating for their winemakers. Talking to these guys, you can see their eyes sparking from the fun and experience built up harvest by harvest. So I feel quite safe that they won’t let us do something utterly stupid.

There is also the high-tech angle of doing things differently at Crushpad. As a client, you can monitor every step of the process online. Knowing the harvest date for my grapes, I can tune in to one of the many webcams on Crushnet and zoom in to see how the grapes are cleaned from the greens by hand. I can send text messages to the big monitor screen next to people working to say hi. In the active period, there is a graph like this in my mailbox every day, showing how we’re doing on temperature and brix (sugar content) and when someone dropped by to push down the grape cap in the vat:

Crushnet: Brix & Temp graph

And if you want to get really geeky you can drill down to this level of activity logs:

Crushnet: wine report

Wine making is such a conservative industry by nature and to a large extent it should be. But I am very happy to see Crushpad’s novel and fun approach to complement the traditional way. Most importantly – to let anyone participate, even without the “chateau and golden retriever”, as Toivo says.