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Bespoke List: Become a Winemaker Without Giving Up Your Day Job

Blend, barrel, and bottle your own vintages through one of these custom winemaking programs.

Napa Valley Reserve winemaking program

Creating an automobile, timepiece travel experience, or wardrobe tailored specifically to your tastes requires professionals of uncommon skill. It also demands an investment of time on your part. To simply your search for the personal touch, we’ve assembled a directory of select purveyors who have mastered the art of the custom-made—this article is a part of the 2017 Robb Report Bespoke List.

The Napa Valley Reserve

For many people, the pull of a wine-country lifestyle is as persistent as that of the moon upon the ocean’s tides. This influence compels some to become collectors. Other, more adventurous souls take the financial plunge and become winery owners. Yet a third path exists for those who are as interested in making wine as in drinking it but have no desire to go into the business themselves.

With the help of some of the industry’s most gifted professionals, oenophiles can craft their own wines and drink them, too. A handful of bespoke services have emerged over the course of the last decade to cater to those who want to participate as well as partake.

Nowhere is this concept more elegantly and informatively realized than at the Napa Valley Reserve. This members-only wine club, located in the heart of Napa Valley and adjacent to the Meadowood resort, is the creation of H. William Harlan, one of the most innovative thinkers in the United States’ contemporary wine culture. “We say that our members should be the kind of people that, once you meet them, you would invite them to your home,” says managing director Philip Norfleet, who has operated the Reserve since it opened in 2003.

Each year, resident winemaker Marco Gressi and renowned Harlan Estate winemaker Bob Levy select the best blocks of fruit from the club’s 80-acre vineyard estate and other vineyard sites in its portfolio to make a master Bordeaux-style blend, though a white blend can also be produced. Members can acquire it in amounts ranging from six to 75 cases. About half of the customers make their own labels for these master wines, while others go a step further, concocting their own individual cuvées—with the guidance of experts—from the same lots used by Gressi and Levy. Members who want to have hands-on experience with pruning and harvesting also have that opportunity.

Prospective members may meet with any of the team at the Reserve or with friends of the Reserve. The $165,000 membership fee, which is actually a deposit, does not include an equity position. “More than a dozen of our members have gone on to create their own wineries,” says Norfleet. “[The Reserve] proved to be a good way to get their feet wet.”

Viniv

Few bespoke wine programs come with a more impressive pedigree than Viniv, a dedicated facility run by the Cazes family of Pauillac’s Château Lynch-Bages. The service draws on the family’s Left and Right Bank vineyards, enabling clients to craft individual barrels of wine (which hold 288 bottles each). The process takes about 2 years, though clients who choose to blend existing wines can reduce delivery time to 6 months. Prices for barrels range from $16,000 to $24,000.

Viniv wine program

Viniv wine program  Photo: Courtesy Richard Moran Photography

City Winery

One of the first urban wineries, this facility provides clients with two bespoke winemaking opportunities: a spring crush with grapes from the Southern Hemisphere and a fall program using fruit from California, Oregon, Washington, and the Finger Lakes region of New York. Members can host private barrel tastings at the winery and adjourn to dinner afterward in the winery’s restaurant. Finished wines range from $30 to $40 per bottle. A similar program is available at City Winery in Chicago.

The Wine Foundry

A custom crush service for small commercial wineries in Napa, Calif., the Wine Foundry also works with amateur winemakers. Beginners can get as involved as they like in the process, choosing vineyards from across California’s North and Central Coasts and even helping to bottle the finished product. Prices per bottle range from about $13 for a rosé to $45 for an ultra-​premium Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tin Lizzie Wineworks

Since 2008, winemaker Dave Zuchero has conducted a bespoke program at Tin Lizzie Wineworks in Highland, Md. The experience is divided into four parts: crushing and fermentation in September or October; pressing and barreling 1 week later; racking and tasting in February; and bottling and labeling in August. Varietals are sourced from California, Chile, and Tuscany, and quantities range from a quarter barrel (60 bottles) to a full one (252 bottles). Full barrels range in price from $3,500 to $8,100.

Judd’s Hill

Judd’s Hill was one of the first wineries to engage in bespoke winemaking, through its MicroCrush service. Launched in 1992, the program has welcomed hundreds of would-be winemakers. Clients are encouraged to meet with the staff early to select vineyards and grapes (about half a ton is needed to yield a single barrel). Prices begin at about $4,500, though that amount can increase depending on the type of wine and regimen.

For information on how to donate to Napa Valley and Sonoma County following the recent wildfires, please click here

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