How to start a winery
Begin with a good business plan.
A good business plan will help avoid the pitfalls of trial and error in designing and building a winery, says Norm McKibben, partner in Pepper Bridge Winery, Walla Walla, and co-owner of several vineyards. McKibben made his remarks during the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.
The plan must be realistic, and he urged anyone thinking of starting a winery to seek professional advice early in the process.
First of all, set production goals for the first ten years, to help determine the size of the winery. The next step is to determine whether to build for the future at the outset or to design a winery that could expand as it grows.
Much of a winery's design will depend on the varieties of wine produced, McKibben said. Different varietals come in at different times, and that will have an impact on space and equipment needed. Consider the amount of space needed for fermentation, for a barrel room, and to store one or two vintages.
For some, capitalization limits will determine winery size and design, McKibben said. A start-up could be better off financially making its first few vintages in a custom-crush facility. It can be tough to pencil out building a new facility for a winery that produces 3,000 cases or less a year.
Where to locate the winery is a major consideration, McKibben said. Start-ups also need to decide if it's preferable to have production facilities and a tasting room at the same, or different, locations.
Once the business plan is in hand, engineering and winemaking decisions come into play, McKibben said. He cited a list of items to be considered, including good drainage with sloping floors, well-located air and water outlets, and considerations for graywater treatment. The receiving line design is critical, and will depend on whether fruit is machine or hand picked or both. Capacity is a key issue, he said.
For some facilities, including room for fermenter expansion might be a good idea, McKibben said. The winemaker can help make some fermenter decisions. The amount of space needed for a barrel room will depend on production and aging plans. Design will also depend on how many vintages will be stored.
The winery owner will have to decide if a cave or a barrel room is preferred, he said. Things to consider include temperature and humidity control, how high barrels will be stacked, and how they will be racked and topped. The bottling line is another important decision, whether it will be permanent or portable, since prices can vary widely, he said. The bottling line can be a mechanical challenge, he said, and it's critical to have someone who can keep the line running, whether bottling once a week, once a month, or once a year.
When these questions are resolved, it's time to begin the design process itself. In many cases, choosing a location is the first step. Then it's time to hire an architect, something McKibben recommends. An architect, in addition to designing the facility, can help navigate and obtain the various building permits needed.
A wastewater permit also must be obtained, he said.
McKibben suggested starting the building process early in the year to finish construction in time for crush. To keep construction on track and on time, a winery owner may want to hire a construction manager. It's also wise to allow for slippage in equipment and materials delivery dates. He cited high demand for steel items and the need to lock up terms on steel equipment early in the game.