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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Now for the best wine to go with those spring foods. Or maybe you'd like something a little more substantial to pair with a juicy steak. What if you could actually make any kind of wine you wanted to?

There is a new company that hands over the reins - or at least some of the grapes - to customers to create their own barrel of wine. It's called Crushpad. It was founded three years ago by Michael Brill. Mr. Brill also joins us from KQED.

First of all, Michael Brill, you started this in your own backyard?

Mr. MICHAEL BRILL (Founder, President and CEO, Crushpad): Yeah. In 2002, I actually dug out my entire backyard and planted pinot noir vines in San Francisco. And it was great, my neighbors thought we were crazy to do it, but we're actually getting fruit off of it now.

WERTHEIMER: Crushpad is based in San Francisco. There's not a lot of room for growing grapes besides your backyard. I don't suppose you put your backyard grapes into this process.

Mr. BRILL: No, we don't. We actually source fruit from about 40 different vineyards in California, Oregon and Washington. And our folks is really on the high end of the wine industries. We have some fantastic fruit sources that we use in our winery. We actually built out a 30,000-square foot winery in San Francisco.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, besides going to your Web site or going into your office, how does one get started with one's own barrel of wine?

Mr. BRILL: There are a few reasons why people want to do this. I think that everyone wants to make a great wine, but they also want the experience and, sort of, develop those winemaker skills and, sort of, life skills. And so we typically work with our clients, really, on the process to understand what their preferences are in terms of wine. I like this style or that style, like Pinot Noir or Cabernet. And then we'll work with them to understand what the different vineyards are capable of doing in terms of creating wine and then select that vineyard. And then there's a process called a wine plan - the Crushpad 30 - 30 decisions about how to make wine to achieve the style that they want.

WERTHEIMER: Like what? What would be a technical decision?

Mr. BRILL: Oh, how hot do you want to ferment your wine. Do you want to crush the grapes or leave them whole cluster? What type of yeast? What type of oak? Decisions that most of our customers don't know, but…

WERTHEIMER: I was just going to say that I would have - I would be clueless.

Mr. BRILL: But we help them do that.

WERTHEIMER: I understand you get to make your own very fancy label if you want to.

Mr. BRILL: That's when the gloves come off. I think most of our customers are actually groups of people, two, three, four people who get together and make a barrel of wine. There's a fair amount of agreement about the creation of the wine. But when it gets into packaging and specifically label design, and then getting some sort of agreement on the packaging - no, I want my kid; no, I want my dog - they're very, very difficult.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: It seems to me that this would be fun, but it also, I think we should say, is a very serious investment. I mean, it's thousands of dollars - somewhere between $5,000 and $13,000 to make a barrel of wine. I mean, what does that come out to per bottle? That's pretty costly.

Mr. BRILL: A barrel is approximately 25 cases or 300 bottles. And so at $5,000, it's around $17 a bottle and it goes up to $40, $42 a bottle. That's comparable to wine that sells between $40 and $95 per bottle, retail price. Again, our focus is on the high end.

WERTHEIMER: So you're - so the wine you produce is actually better than the price would indicate.

Mr. BRILL: Yes. We, sort of, target somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of a comparable commercial wine in terms of the retail price. I should also note that about half of our business is actually commercial customers, people who had started to make a barrel and basically decided to go pro. And so we have a whole backend of our business that allows them to pursue this new American dream of launching their own wine brand but to keep their job and not take their kids out of school and sell their house and move to Napa.

WERTHEIMER: Well, it certainly does sound like fun. Michael Brill is the founder and president of Crushpad. Mr. Brill, thanks so much.

Mr. BRILL: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: And if you're not ready to plunk down a few thousand dollars for a barrel of wine, you'll want to hear next week's show. Scott Simon visits the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey, where he samples some grape juice from a very affordable case.

(Soundbite of music)

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