One Serious Crush

By John Darling

Wineries are multiplying so fast in Southern Oregon—and meeting with such success at the market—that two entrepreneurs thought it was time to create a custom crush facility right in the heart of it all: downtown Medford.

Based in the gigantic brick-and-timber Cooley-Neff Warehouse, now being totally gutted and refurbished, the firm will open this summer as Pallet Wine Co.

It will not only crush your grapes and give them back to you at any stage of the bin-to-bottle process, but will provide full-service winemaking, storage, lab, wine education and marketing, not just to the region but to other wine-lean parts of the U.S., said Pallet owner and managing partner Dan Sullivan.

A resident of Texas who plans to move to Medford soon, Sullivan said he’s eyeing markets in Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Texas and the Northeast, which are not getting penetration with Oregon wines. His wife, Olivia Sullivan, is also a partner.

The explosive growth of wineries, grapegrowers and planted acreage in the past 25 years has squeezed the excess capacity of wineries, enhancing the viability of a central crush facility, he said.

Sullivan has 25 years in software sales and sales management, including with Symantec. At Pallet, he will handle sales, marketing and client and financial relations. In 2005, the Sullivans started the Domaine Paradox and Daniel Joseph wine labels.

Custom crush clients can be regional vineyard owners, boutique wineries or people who want to make their own label, and most clients are expected to make 500 to 5,000 cases a year. Pallet will also do overflow processing for larger wineries that buy grapes in Southern Oregon.

“We’re extremely confident the demand is there and the prospects for success are good,” said Sullivan. “The irony of the state of the economy is that we’re able to secure a large and suitable building at an advantageous cost ($550,000) and contracting as low as any we’ve seen in 10 years.”

Winemaker and partner Linda Donovan, a graduate of the noted enology program at UC Davis, pointed out the Spanish Colonial building’s massive 10-inch square beams, vast storage rooms and the Herculean labors of a refurbishing crew, who plan to get the building operational by this summer, with storage slated for summer and production this fall.

Donovan brings 15 years of experience at major California wineries, including Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu, Schramsberg and Flowers. She managed construction of the Agate Ridge Winery in Eagle Point and was winemaker at the biodynamic Cowhorn Winery in the Applegate Valley.

Built in 1924 for lumber and dry goods storage, the 21,000-square-foot building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is being restored under the eye of noted regional historian George Kramer.

Pallet has three spacious floors for temperature-controlled storage, a laboratory to control the chemistry in fermentation and barrel aging, a tasting room and seminar space. Plus, Pallet will have staff for labeling, logo design, websites and direct sales to retail stores, restaurants, wholesalers and institutions.

The firm is going green, composting all solid waste for community gardeners, reducing water use with steam and high-pressure cleaning, and using minimal chemicals and energy-saving lighting.

Regional winemakers have welcomed the operation. Bob Denman of Slagle Creek Winery in the Applegate Valley has shipped his grapes to Eola Hills Wine Cellars near Salem but confesses he’d like to shrink his carbon footprint. He likes the idea of being able to use a lab and crush grapes locally; and he’ll be able to safely store 20 pallets (56 cases each) closer to his clients in Medford and Ashland.

“There’s really nowhere to store in the area now,” said Denman. “It makes sense to have it [located] downtown so people don’t have to drive way out here (the Applegate is 12 miles from Medford) to tastes my wines, although a lot of people still want to come out to wineries. Also, Linda Donovan makes great wines.”

Michael Donovan (no relation), managing director of RoxyAnn Winery in Medford and former president of Southern Oregon Winery Association, said the demand is very strong for grapes to be processed in the region, and new vineyards are continually coming on line.

“It’s wonderful anytime we get a new business that expands the industry,” said Donovan, adding that it will allow more grapegrowers to create their own labels.” 

John Darling is an Ashland writer.

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