One of Judd Finkelstein's favorite things about being a winemaker at his family's Napa Valley winery is getting his hands dirty, whether that means picking the grapes, punching down the cap or working with the barrels. But being a winemaker these days doesn't always mean attentively tending to a vineyard -- or even being in the same state where your wine is produced.
In addition to Judd's Hill Winery, which produces fewer than 3,000 cases of wine per year, the Finkelstein family also owns Judd's Hill MicroCrush, a custom crush facility that helps about 100 clients make their own wine. They'll do everything, including sourcing the grapes from Napa Valley vineyards, designing the label and bottling the vintage.
In fact, Finkelstein says some longtime clients have never visited the winery. But he also has a client from North Carolina who'll fly to California with 48 hours' notice during harvest season, arriving in the "pre-dawn darkness with picking shears in hand."
"People have a passion for the art of winemaking and want to be involved in the process," Finkelstein says. Virtual winemaking -- making wine without owning a crushing facility -- has become a popular alternative. As of November 2006, there were 5,970 wineries in the U.S., with 1,587 of those being virtual wineries, according to Wine Business Monthly. And Provina's $3,499 egg-shaped WinePod, which allows enthusiasts to make wine in their homes, is a bestseller. The 2006 model sold out, and there's a waiting list for the 2007 version.Alternatives like these are turning winemaking into a more accessible process for Americans, who are embracing wine. "People are realizing it's pretty easy to do," says Paul Beveridge, a lawyer who also has been making wine for the past 19 years and teaches a course on winemaking for busy professionals. "It's like any other art form; you can make it as complicated as you want."
Many ardent wine lovers would never be able to see their name on a label or barrel without options such as custom crushing facilities, co-ops that allow grape growers to share facilities, and popular winemaking sites, such as Crushpadwine.com. That's because the cost of purchasing a vineyard and building facilities continues to increase. In addition, persevering through the lengthy and complicated permitting process can cause more frustration than a glass of wine can cure. In fact, Beveridge jokes -- sort of -- that you need to be a lawyer to produce and sell wine.