Monday, February 8, 2010

San Francisco loses Crushpad

Crushpad, the business that allows people to make their own wine from high-quality grapes, is leaving San Francisco for Napa Valley.

This may be great for Crushpad and its widespread clientele, some of whom made wine from as far away as Japan -- choosing the grapes, deciding on the fermentation and aging regime, etc., and having Crushpad staff carry out their wishes. (In essence, Crushpad's clients make wine the same way Michel Rolland makes wine.)

Strictly for wine quality, the new location at Silverado Trail Wine Studio in the Oak Knoll District is better because the grapes won't have to travel as far after picking. There's also an outlet for microwineries who get a business license to sell their wines -- the biggest hurdle -- because Silverado Trail Wine Studio has a tasting room.

In fact, for adventurous wine geeks, this puts STWS on the Napa Valley wine map in a big way, as it will soon be possible to taste obscure wines that nobody else has heard of. It's an exciting crapshoot: You might discover the next Sean Thackrey, or you might discover the next Phineas T. Grickleschnuber (don't bother googling the name, I made it up.)

But as a San Francisco resident, I'm really sorry to see Crushpad go. Our city has long been a hub of California wine country, and prior to the great earthquake of 1906, much of the wine was actually made here for reasons that made sense in the pre-air conditioning era. Crushpad had a smart, urban feel, interesting wine events, and it brought us the unmistakable aroma of aging wine.

Crushpad not only brought an urban aesthetic to winemaking; it allowed software engineers in Mountain View to make Viognier as a hobby and check on their barrels with an easy trip to the city. I wonder if Crushpad's move to Napa will actually discourage winemaking wannabes because making wine in wine country, among the pros, is more intimidating than hanging around with a group of smart amateurs who also aren't afraid to admit they don't know what they're doing.

I suppose I'm supposed to feel like Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham, happy for Nuke LaLoosh as he moves up to the major leagues. Instead I feel a little used and discarded, like I spent 6 years rooting for somebody who was planning to move on from the start. But even though I'm depressed, I am NOT sleeping with Kevin Costner.


Casey said...

I see this as a smart downsizing move by Michael Brill and the Cpad folks. I just wonder if STWS is big enough to house everything. I think Cpad has lots of 'stuff' like fermentaion bins, barrels, bottling equipment etc.

It will make it easier for me to visit and deliver to them.

W. Blake Gray said...

No question that it's better for growers. It's also better for Crushpad clients outside of California.

Interesting that you point out that Crushpad might be downsizing. I hadn't thought of it that way, but you might be right. Subletting space at STWS has to be cheaper than renting in San Francisco.

Jon Bjork said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Bjork said...

I'm a big CrushPad fan.

I used to be in management at one of Apple Macintosh's first external hard drive manufacturers, Jasmine Technologies.

We felt that staying located in San Francisco was a big part of our corporate culture, even though all other hi-techs were down in Silicon Valley.

We started in an old soap factory next door to Anchor Steam. Great site. We then moved over Potrero Hill near the Cal Train station.

When the company went into bankruptcy, a couple of French brothers bought the company and immediately moved everyone down to Silicon Valley to save money and complete their dream of arriving in the cradle of chip civilization.

So I'm with you, Blake, on having mixed feelings about this move. It will definitely make winemaking easier and perhaps better. However, now they are at risk of becoming just another Napa micro-crush facility.

Michael Brill is an extremely bright and innovative guy. I'm hoping he can apply that intelligence to maintaining that SF "power to the people" culture in Napa.

(Blake, did you mean 1906?)

W. Blake Gray said...

Oops, thanks for catching the date. That's what I get for writing after midnight halfway around the world when I can't sleep but am not really awake. I think I blame that state of stupor for the Kevin Costner image ... ewwwwww.

I think you're right, Jon: Crushpad was very different from an ordinary custom-crush place before. Now? We'll see.

MB said...

It's always been more about what we do rather than where we do it. I'm going to miss my four block walk to work, but there is just too much upside for our clients and us to stay here... and we're not big enough to be able to afford two locations.

We are not eliminating anything in Napa. On the contrary, we are offering all sorts of new experiences that we can't provide in the city... plus better costs and a tasting room for our commercial clients.

While we are planning on being a good neighbor in Napa, we're also not going to lose our funk. And we're definitely not going to turn into a plain old custom crush facility.

The move sucks for some local clients, but ultimately I think we are going to add enough new stuff in Napa to make it a superior experience for 98% of our customers.


W. Blake Gray said...

Thanks for visiting and explaining, Michael. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Brill, Crushpad founder and possessor of one of the most wicked forehands in ultimate it has ever been my displeasure to feebly attempt to defend.

Anonymous said...


Just noticed the article and posts. As an (anonymous) Crushpad client, many of us feel that this move has sold us all out. We went to Crushpad because it is "the urban winery scene..." To our knowledge, none of us were consulted about the move to Napa and it was sprung on us. Of course, few of us have any specific stock in Crushpad except the wines we make, and, as a result, apparently no say so, or control, over what Crushpad and the board do. Many of us feel left behind and are very curious why the move was made and why it took us by surprise. Again, no inkling to the "clients" that this move was to take place. My inbox was inundated with emails asking me about the move and it was quite embarrassing to admit to my clients and friends that I knew nothing.

So, will it be a good move? We don't know yet, but wanted you to have another perspective from a client on the move, our thinking, and the way the move was accomplished. Perhaps is sounds like sour grapes (no pun intended) on our part, or petty, or childish, but as clients, we were left completely in the dark, not consulted, and somewhat chagrined that we did not know.


Anonymous Crushpad Client

W. Blake Gray said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for visiting. I'm not surprised to hear your comments. You must be in the "2%" of inconvenienced customers, according to Michael Brill.

It might be a dream for Michael, and I'm sure he's right that many out-of-town people will be just as happy. But it is abrupt and a smack in the face to the San Francisco folks. You're right that there could have been notice, especially as you now have to wonder what happens to your mid-process wines. Are the barrels going to be driven up to Napa? That's not something that wineries do very often, and I wonder how the quality will be affected.

Jon Bjork said...

Regarding barrel transport, it is not an uncommon occurrence to move barrels between the location where the original grapes were crushed over to a shared warehouse, then back again for racking or bottling.

Wine inside the barrels will be mixed up a bit from the transport, but I have found that mixing to be inconsequential, unless a racking or bottling was soon approaching.

CrushPad has an experienced winemaking staff that would understand exactly what to do for each wine lot.

MB said...

I have heard from about a dozen clients mostly in the South Bay about being unhappy about the move. Outside of Bay Area, commercial and longer-term clients have been vastly more supportive as they recognize that the range of their experience will be so much greater in Napa.

But I completely understand why folks feel the rug was pulled out from underneath them - my personal reaction would be the same if I were a local client just getting going with Crushpad. We are going to do everything we can to mitigate this (e.g., barrel samples, blending sessions in our San Francisco office that we're keeping) and we are looking at some smaller footprint options. But, ultimately, we have to make the Napa experience great and that will get most of our focus.

This was a decision that we labored and labored over and the final decision was just made last Friday - and we notified people on Monday. I wake up every day second-guessing myself. Is this really the right thing to do? I go through the exact same thought process and end up at the same conclusion every time - this is going to be great for the vast majority our clients.