If you build it, they will come, or flock as it might be considered.
"It" is, after all, what the locals in Napa Valley still refer to as the Chicken Ranch. It was once one of Lambert Farms key chicken coops, though it hasn’t been home to chickens for some time. In 1983, Sutter Home built its huge White Zinfandel plant here on Zinfandel Lane, which is south of St. Helena and north of Rutherford, right in the middle of Napa Valley.
A year ago, Joel Gott and a group of investors bought what they now call the Ranch, which is in the process of being converted into a massive custom-crush facility. It’s a rather amazing site; Gott gave me a tour yesterday, and showed me both some of the remnants of Sutter Home’s heyday, with its impressive tank farm, and a glimpse into the future.
The Ranch will accommodate some 55 clients, mostly small would-be cult-wine producers in the 2,000- to 10,000-case range, who can’t afford to or don’t want to sink cash into a facility. But it can also be of use to industry titans, with 7 million gallons of storage capacity, which means a Beringer-, or Robert Mondavi-size winery might lease space to make or barrel or store wine they might not have room for at their current residences.
If you’re familiar with such custom-crush facilities as Napa Wine Co., or Laird, both in Napa, where wineries such as Bryant Family, Marcassin and Pahlmeyer started, these are one-stop operations where clients rent everything from crushers to filters to bottling lines and expertise. So a consultant such as Philippe Melka, or Rosemary Cakebread, would be able to help set up a prospective client with their own little winery within a winery. Imagine it as smaller winery suites in a bigger complex.
Some vintners will use it as a starting point before they build their own wineries, Gott said. Others like the size and practicality of focusing on grapes and sales, rather than building a winery. If you rent from the Ranch, all of the essentials—from paperwork to connects with labs—are easy access.
Gott's interests include his own Joel Gott and Three Thieves labels (of which there are 50,000 cases selling for $12 to $20), as well as working with his wife, Sarah, on her label, Cuvee Caroline. His family also owns the iconic Taylor’s Refresher, which has two Napa Valley locations.
Gott’s partner is Sutter Home, which is leasing back some of the tanks and storage until he is able to buy them out. But he thinks this is the perfect mix of big and small. “You know when something’s right [like the Ranch],” he said, “when you know what the industry needs.”
And right now the little guys, the ones he considers the creative juice that give the valley its biggest buzz, need room for their little lots of wine. And now they’ve got just about all the room they need.