Virginia Wineworks embraces custom crush

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Michael Shaps is one of the state’s most renowned winemakers, and Virginia Wineworks — his new Charlottesville-based venture with partner Philip Stafford —  will trade on that reputation in innovative ways.

The winery will produce high-end, premium wine under the Michael Shaps label and value-oriented products under the Virginia Wineworks label. But Virginia Wineworks plans to get at least half of its revenue by offering “custom-crush” services.

A new state law allows local grape growers to use Virginia Wineworks’ equipment to produce wines under their own labels.  In addition, individual customers can take a turn at being winemaking for the week and go home with their own creations. Both types of custom-crush customers can use the opportunity to learn about winemaking from Shaps.

The custom-crush service has been so well received that Virginia Wineworks, which opened earlier this year, is already operating near capacity. “About the only new business we can handle right now would be if a new customer wanted to make a barrel or so of wine,” says Stafford.

Under Virginia Wineworks’ custom-crush service, individual customers pay about $6,000 to participate in the winemaking process from start to finish. The result is the production of about 25 cases of wine, or somewhere between $15 and $20 per bottle. The cost for vineyard owners, restaurants and other high-volume customers is based on how much wine is produced.

Stafford notes that custom-crush offers Virginia Wineworks a number of benefits. The service draws customers to the winery, introduces them to Virginia Wineworks products and gives the company a return on its equipment, including its high-end press.

Custom-crush also is a cash flow mechanism. “In selling your own wines, you have all of your expenses way upfront, whereas with custom-crush, we offer the service, we do the work, and we get paid right away,” explains Stafford. “It’s a great help in this business.”


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