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Pinot Grigio grapes are being crushed. White and red grapes are received and crushed in separate areas at J & S Crushing.

Pinot Grigio grapes are being crushed. White and red grapes are received and crushed in separate areas at J & S Crushing.

Melissa Hansen

Doing things in a big way is nothing new to Jack Jones of Quincy, Washington. As a diversified farmer who made his mark in potatoes, he has expansive acreage, storage, and packing facilities. His recent project, J & S Crushing, is also large-scale—one of the biggest privately owned bulk wineries in the state.

J & S Crushing near Mattawa, a partnership between Jones and Dick Shaw, who also has extensive vineyards in the Mattawa area, opened for business in time for the 2008 crush. The facility was converted from an onion and potato warehouse and houses 135 stainless steel fermentation and storage tanks, with total capacity to handle around 2 million gallons of wine, the equivalent of about 844,000 cases. The barrel room has capacity to store wine in 4,500 oak barrels. J & S makes custom bulk wines for growers and wineries, but does no bottling of the bulk wines.

Victor Palencia is director of winemaking and head winemaker at J & S, and also wears the winemaking hat for Jones of Washington. The Jones of Washington winery is contained within the custom crush facility, but by law must have its own space and tanks, separate from J & S.

The facility is so large that a golf cart comes in handy for Palencia, who has white and red grapes on opposite sides of the operation being crushed at the same time. Palencia grew up working with his family in Yakima Valley vineyards, began working in a Prosser winery in his teens, and was assistant winemaker before he was legally old enough to drink wine. He’s used to things done on a smaller scale—small vineyard blocks around 20 acres or so, and much smaller winemaking equipment.

Palencia, with education from Walla Walla Community College’s Institute for Enology and Viticulture, was winemaker at Willow Crest Winery in Prosser as well as at Apex ­Cellars before he joined J & S and Jones of Washington wines.

Fragrant onion smell

Palencia joined J & S and Jones of Washington as head winemaker in 2008, a few days before the project broke ground. He recalls his first tour of the soon-to-be converted onion and potato warehouse. “I’ll never forget when Jack asked me if I thought it could be a winery. All I could think of was that it smelled like onions,” he said, adding that the potato storage side also had a distinct, earthy smell. “I admit I was pretty nervous. I’m a sanitation freak and like to keep things neat and clean. I just didn’t know how the two environments would work.”

But it’s been a good marriage, he said, noting that it also works well to have the Jones of Washington winery located within the buildings. “We have our own special program for Jones of Washington. Overall, the bulk winery is set up for large-format fermentation, but as far as the philosophy goes, it’s very consistent with the style of winemaking at Jones of Washington and reflects the quality of the Jones vineyards.” In short, he describes it as a small, hands-on winery at heart, that’s done in a large-scale setting.

There are benefits to having the Jones of Washington winery located within the massive bulk wine setting. Palencia has access to state-of-the-art laboratory and other equipment that’s used in J & S winemaking, sophisticated equipment that small wineries normally can’t afford.

Opportunities

In the mid-2000s, Jones was ready to get out of the onion storage business. “Dick Shaw and I got our heads together and came up with an idea to make use of the onion warehouse,” Jones said. “Between us, we had the grapes to back up the supply needed for a large winery. We both saw opportunity to capture the bulk side of the wine industry.”

As Washington’s wine grape acreage has grown in the last decade—now pegged at nearly 45,000 acres, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service—the state’s winemaking capacity hasn’t kept up with the potential volume. In some years, significant tonnage of grapes has been left on the vine because of limited tank space or lack of a ­contracted home.

While there are some 700 bonded wineries in the state, the majority are small, ­boutique wineries that produce fewer than 1,000 cases. Storage capacity for bulk wine has been lacking in the state.

J & S helps expand the bulk wine market in the state and provides an avenue for ­growers who have grapes without a contract or wineries seeking bulk wine for their own winemaking, said Palencia.