Sugarloaf Crush in its second season
"Sugarloaf Crush, the high-end custom crush facility on Sonoma Highway across from Oakmont, is a beehive of activity this time of year. Before one of its 30 clients brought the first grapes in on Aug. 21, the 57,000-square-foot facility was buzzing and working to get ready for the crush season.
Forklifts sped around the floor, winemakers huddled at computers, interns from all over the world were learning the ropes, and shiny tanks were lined up like soldiers waiting to receive their orders.
Running the daily operations of all this is Ronald Du Preez, general manager, winemaker, and partner in Sugarloaf Crush. An investor group of 14 backs the project as it ramps up to process 1,800 tons of grapes this year, compared to 500 last year, its first in operation.
Partner Joe Reynoso bought the 15-acre property in 2015, the land having sat dormant ever since a use permit for a 125,000-case winery was first approved by Sonoma County planners in 1999. The permit was vested in 2003, so the permit’s entitlements stayed with the land all that time. Reynoso runs the finance side of Sugarloaf Crush. He also owns 550 acres of vineyards in Alexander Valley.
Du Preez joined Sugarloaf in the spring of 2016. Originally from South Africa, Du Preez graduated from Stellenbosch University with a dual degree in viticulture and enology. In 2000, he came to Jordan Vineyards & Winery as an intern, moving up the ladder for the next 12 years, eventually becoming associate winemaker. In 2012 he joined M. Draxton Inc. in Healdsburg, producing wines for 25 different crush clients.
At Sugarloaf Crush, Du Preez gets to run the Cadillac version of a custom crush facility, all state-of-the-art equipment – optical sorter, custom steel tanks, three climate-controlled barrel rooms, sophisticated winery management software that clients can access to check on their product, and more. Each barrel has a QR code that, when scanned, can tell you everything about what’s in it and how that juice got there.
“Our philosophy is that we want to be able to provide all the niche equipment you would find at, say, Opus 1 or Jordan,” said Du Preez. “We want to provide a unique high-end winemaking experience ….We don’t want non-serious winemakers here.”
To be a client at Sugarloaf, a minimum of 15 tons is required. The largest client will bring in 500 tons this year, said Du Preez. Seventy percent of the grapes come from Sonoma County, the rest from areas including Napa, Santa Cruz, and the Sierra foothills.
Mobile bottling lines can be used to bottle, but Sugarloaf will only store cases for 48 hours and then the cases need to be moved off site. Sugarloaf will store wine in barrels for up to 12 months.
It’s up to the client to schedule online when they are bringing their grapes in. Dates are first come, first served, with all clients being treated the same.
As for the wine that is made at Sugarloaf, expectations are that prices can range from $30 to $60 a bottle, with 25 percent of what’s produced being priced at $100 or more.
A second phase of Sugarloaf is in the works – hospitality areas. The use permit allows tasting and up to 20 events a year. It’s envisioned, for now, that clients will rent out hospitality spaces, including a commercial kitchen, to have tastings and food pairings. At such a higher-end price point, said Du Preez, this arrangement is more conducive for introducing wines to direct-to-consumer clients, the bread and butter of small boutique wineries and grape growers.
Having everything under one roof will provide visitors with an all encapsulating experience, said Du Preez, where one can taste the wine, then walk through a door and see all the custom crush bells and whistles.
“They’ll be able to see the flow of the wine process,” said Du Preez.
When all is said and done, construction of Sugarloaf Crush facilities is expected to top $10 million.
Landscaping in the front part of the 15-acre property is coming, with some vines to be planted as a propagation vineyard managed by Sugarloaf Crush’s next door neighbor, NovaVine.
To learn more about Sugarloaf Crush, go to www.sugarloafcrush.com.
Umbria opening in Glen Ellen
Seasoned chef and restaurant proprietor Guilo Tempesta ran the highly successful Ristorante Umbria in San Francisco at the corner of Howard and 2nd streets for over 20 years, which was a go-to food stop for many a San Francisco luminary.
Now it’s Glen Ellen’s turn to enjoy the cuisine of Italy’s Umbria region, where Tempesta was born and raised. (Tempesta’s sister-in-law was the late Bonnie Tempesta, who owned and operated Boncora Biscotti out of Kenwood.)
Tempesta was forced to close Ristorante Umbria earlier this year after his lease ran out and the rent went sky-high. Tempesta, who has had a home in Sonoma for 10 years, wasn’t anticipating a new venture, but the long-empty Wolf House space, with a full kitchen, and plenty of creekside patio seating, was too attractive to pass up.
“This is what I do best,” said Tempesta. “I love cooking and I love the food industry. I’m going to bring something very special to Glen Ellen.”
Tempesta said he knows what makes a successful restaurant – a combination of quality, consistency, and treating employees well, which then filters down to a customer’s overall positive experience. He said that 75 percent of his business at the San Francisco restaurant was repeat business, a clear sign that he was doing something right.
And having a big personality doesn’t hurt either, as well as 27-plus years in the uber-competitive San Francisco restaurant business.
“I want to embrace this new experience with all my heart,” said Tempesta. “I’ve fallen in love with Glen Ellen. I know I can make this work.”
During the week of Aug. 28, Umbria introduced its menu to the Jack London saloon space, as well as to those sitting in the back patio area, serving food from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The main dining room is being remodeled, and Tempesta hopes to open it in early-to-mid September. A side and front patio will also be available for seating. While not set in stone, it’s expected that dining room hours would be from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. The menu will feature homemade pastas and breads, roasted meats and vegetables, and pizza (a pizza oven is on its way) – Mangia!
Find Umbria at 13740 Arnold Dr. in Glen Ellen.
Punchline Palooza season finaleThe final Punchline Palooza of the season will be Friday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. at Palooza in Kenwood. Co-headliners will be Bay Area native Chris Storin (94.9 Comedy Jam) and Thai Rivera (Gabriel Iglesia’s presents Stand Up Revolution on Comedy Central).
Storin’s unique life growing up with a dad who is a farmer from Oklahoma and a feisty Latina mom from New Mexico provides a hilarious and original outlook. His energetic style and nose has captivated audiences throughout the country.
Rivera will make you uncomfortable in the best way possible. His politically incorrect style of humor has taken the comedy world by storm.
Tickets are $20 on eventbrite.com (search “Palooza”). Palooza is located at 8910 Sonoma Hwy. in the Kenwood shopping center.
Yoga and wine, all the rageIf the thought of mindful relaxation followed by a glass of wine sends you to your happy place, Benziger Family Winery invites you to a Sunday morning yoga class, Sept. 10, 10-11 a.m. This will be an hour-long Vinyasa focusing on building grace, strength, and flexibility. Practice will be followed by a walking tour of the insectary with a splash of Frank Johnson Sauvignon Blanc and further wine tasting in the tasting room. All levels welcome. Benziger will supply mats, blocks, straps and water. Cost is $35 or $25 for wine club members. To RSVP, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 800-989-8890.
Can’t make it that Sunday? St. Francis Winery welcomes you for an evening yoga class on Sept. 28, 5-7 p.m. at its Pythian Road tasting room. Enjoy beautiful views of the Mayacamas as you stretch your boundaries with Kelly Sterling, owner of Annadel Dance & Fitness. After the one-hour class, sip a glass of St. Francis wine and nibble artisan cheeses as you relax and watch the sun set. Cost is $35 or $28 for wine club members. Visit www.eventbrite.com, search “St. Francis,” for tickets. St. Francis is located at 100 Pythian Road.