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Updates about custom crush services.

Elizabeth Nixon
April 27, 2016 | Around the Winery, Custom Crush, Methode Champenoise, Private Label Wine, Sparkling Wine, Sparkling winemaking, Winemaking | Elizabeth Nixon

Major Sparkling Wine Equipment Upgrade Completed

Piece by piece, Rack & Riddle over the last year has upgraded every part on its sparkling wine disgorging line but one. “Only the neck freezer is original from when we started up in Hopland in 2007,” said Rack & Riddle Facilities Manager Stan Jennings. “Each piece was carefully hand-picked and is the best available on the market.”

Rack & Riddle upgraded to a new foiler and labeler during its facility expansion in 2014, followed by a flurry of new equipment upgrades over the last year: a Valentin corker and wirehooder, a Perrier bottle turner, a Cames bottle washer and just in the last month, a Perrier disgorger/doser as well as a new bank of riddlers.

The still wine and sparkling wine custom crush facility is used to tight timelines when setting up equipment. Rack & Riddle moved its entire operation from Hopland to new locations in Healdsburg and Geyserville over a nine month period to open in June 2014; strategically moving and upgrading equipment reduced down time on the bottling lines during the transition.

“We built a 1.2 million-case-a-year custom crush facility from the ground up in Hopland, and everything was very much built with the needs of our client winemakers in mind,” said Rack & Riddle Executive Director of Winemaking, Penny Gadd-Coster. “Then we had the rare chance seven years later to do it again, this time further improving our layout and design.”

The expansion has meant increased production capabilities. In Hopland, Rack & Riddle would max out at 6,400 tons, but after the move to a 67,000-square foot bottling facility in Healdsburg and a 50,000-square-foot crush facility in Geyserville, production capacity has increased to a potential 8,000-plus tons.

Rack & Riddle caters to client winemakers, from small to large producers, and offers still wine and sparkling wine programs, from grape to bottle or from clients’ base wine. A private label program allows a fast turn-around-time for those seeking to privately label a sparkling or still wine from Rack & Riddle’s stock. The private label, or, “shiner” program as it’s known in the industry, averages just three months’ turn-around from quote to labeled product ready to ship out.

Custom crush business makes up 70 percent of Rack & Riddle’s production, and 30 percent is private label. About half of the projects are sparkling and half are still wine. Rack & Riddle also takes on unique projects like Sangria, innovative packaging concepts and new varietals for sparkling—like Pinotage, Syrah and Zinfandel—that used to be more rare.

Rack & Riddle aims to unlock the ability for producers of all sizes to craft premium, méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, the labor-intensive, traditional French method of sparkling winemaking.

It couldn’t come at a better time. Sales of sparkling wine continue an upward climb, far outpacing still wines.

Nielsen figures released in October showed that sparkling wines overall were up 10 percent in value over the previous year, and increased eight percent by volume. Contrast this rapid gain with a just 0.2 percent growth in volume for the entire wine category in the United States, including still wines, according to IMPACT Databank’s projections for 2015.

“We’re able to meet the demands of producers who need to boost their still programs with a sparkling wine, or increase their sparkling portfolio,” said Rack & Riddle General Manager Mark Garaventa.

“Our riddling capacity has increased by 30 percent, and we’re setting records in disgorging production with our entirely modernized lines. The addition of new riddling capacity and the completely new sparkling line positions us as the leader in the custom sparkling wine sector, with the ability to continue to grow and expand capacity for our custom crush services,” said Garaventa.

Being in a constant state of improvement and growth has been Rack & Riddle’s M.O. since the early days.

“It’s exciting—we started Rack & Riddle with just seven of us, with a used disgorging line and building the place using tools out of my garage,” said Jennings. “Everyone wore many hats—shoveling tanks, washing bins and weighing trucks. Now we’re coming up on our 10th harvest, we have 80 employees and produce over a million cases of wine a year… it’s been a fun ride.”



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