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The Wine Foundry: 'Bite-sized' winemaking at a dual purpose Napa winery

The Wine Foundry: 'Bite-sized' winemaking at a dual purpose Napa winery

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Aug. 14, 2021 series
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Valerie and Philip Von Burg were wine enthusiasts. Valerie, a lawyer, focused on business litigation; Philip, a business consultant, specialized in crisis management. When they met 20 years ago, they were both living in Northern California and shared a love for food and wine.

Busy with their individual careers, they shared a dream to one day have a role in the wine industry. Today they not only own a wine business, but they make it possible for others to experience being part of the wine industry.

In 2012, Philip received a phone call about a winery, Crushpad, with a specialized model that was in trouble.

"The concept of offering winemaking by the barrel has existed to a very limited extent in nooks and crannies of the wine industry, but it has not been widely accessible, and the options are extremely limited,” Valerie said. “Crushpad had attempted to expand the model and offer it more widely, but the business was unsuccessful.”

Philip and Valerie purchased the winery and its inventory. They also kept some of the employees and relaunched the business as The Wine Foundry.

 “We found [Crushpad’s] model intriguing, and we launched The Wine Foundry, which has carried forward and improved upon the model of high-end custom winemaking by the barrel,” Valerie said.

Working with winemaker Patrick Saboe, they produce their own wines under the Foundry label as well as the Anarchist label. Foundry label wines are small lot, single-variety wines made in a classic style.

Anarchist Wine Co, on the other hand, offers more creativity with blends of grape varieties with names, such as The Anarchist, 15 Minutes of Fame, The Skeptic, Rage Against The Machine and Conspiracy Theory. 

"Our winemaker, Patrick Saboe, takes creative license in the Anarchist lineup to craft the blends according to what nature offers each vintage," Valerie said. 

"The fanciful names of the individual wines in the Anarchist collection really come from our imaginations and experiences. Some name will seem to capture the spirit of a particular wine and maybe also a moment in time. We like to be playful and thought-provoking at the same time. Once we land on a name for a new wine, it feels like it was always meant to be. It’s really fun."

Custom crush

The Wine Foundry is also a custom-crush facility for independent brands providing an opportunity for individuals, groups, companies, and non-profit groups to make their own labels.

Many wine enthusiasts may nurture a fantasy of making their own wine -- selecting the grape varieties, making all the winemaking decisions and final blend choices, and personalizing a label. But making wine takes both money and time.

The Wine Foundry has created a custom winemaking experience for as little as one barrel of wine (25 cases). Saboe is the winemaker for these projects too. 

The Wine Foundry works with a selection of California vineyards in Napa, Sonoma County, Mendocino, Livermore and Santa Barbara. A full list of vineyards is written on a map that can be seen in the tasting room, but it includes prominent vineyards such as Stagecoach in Napa Valley and Rodgers Creek and Catie’s Corner in Sonoma.

Once clients select the grape varieties and vineyards, The Wine Foundry team helps to formulate a plan and develop a creative brief that establishes the brand, the style of wine desired, and the story behind the label.

The Wine Foundry provides status updates throughout the growing season and once the grapes have been picked, individual clients can help  Saboe with the winemaking, from sorting and crushing to fermenting, punch downs, and pressing.

Each customer works with Saboe and his team to create the final blend with the flavors and textures desired. And, once the wine is ready, The Wine Foundry has a packaging guide to assist with everything from the glass, cork and capsule, as well as label design.

To make a single barrel, or 25 cases, of non-commercial wine to share with friends, the cost will range between $5,500 to $14,000. To produce a commercial wine, a minimum of two barrels, which makes 50 cases, is required and the cost is between $18,000 to $30,000.

“We believe that our program creates a unique opportunity for a wide variety of individuals and groups to explore and enjoy winemaking at the highest level -- an experience normally reserved for those who come from winemaking families or who have rather exceptional financial means,” Valerie said. “We are excited to see our model has invited people of all backgrounds and we enjoy a richly diverse clientele, which is all too unusual in the wine industry.”

"We have a group of eight that has made wine with TWF since they started. We come back each vintage, not only due to the outstanding level of knowledge and personal attention from the winemakers, but because quality of the wine and vineyards is first rate," one testimonial from Bay Area residents Brett Shores and Sam Jamison reads. "It’s also a great excuse for our group to get together and have a blast. We look forward to trying something new each year and are excited to finish our first white wine (Sauvignon Blanc) this month as we eye the upcoming vintage as well!”

Valerie and Philip were initially drawn to the idea of The Wine Foundry because it appealed to them personally as wine enthusiasts.

“It’s a way to experience the wine country dream without changing your whole life," Valerie said. "It’s kind of a bite-sized winemaking adventure unless you want it to be more. Some clients take it to the next level and dedicate a lot of time and energy to creating their personal 'brand,' but the majority think of it as a really fun experience that can easily fit into their busy lives."

Warren Winiarski discusses climate change and the Winkler Index. Video courtesy of UC Davis

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Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA and a co-host of Crush On This videos on YouTube. Contact her at allison@pleasethepalate.com.

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