Designing a Commercial Production Winery with Expansion in Mind

By Piero Spada, LLC

Are you starting a winery while only considering what it will take to open your doors on day one? That’s a great place to start but big picture that can also be a huge mistake! Most wineries I have worked with experience at least 1 major expansion (if not 2) in their first 5 year of business. WHY? Well, in short because their business demands it. In the first 3 years you are likely to hit your stride and have a much better idea of consumer demand, and in turn your business will need to match that demand with supply (basic business 101). Generating more supply will require a larger working area in which to create and store the wine.

Consider this, in Wisconsin alone, it has been estimated that only 4% of all wine sold in the state is produced in the state of Wisconsin. WOW! The same is true of most cold climate production areas, where growing V. vinifera varietals is not an option. The point here is there is a lot of room to gain market share but only if you’re poised to capitalize on this opportunity. Don’t let poor upfront winery layout be a deterrent to future building expansion plans.

Below, we’ll cover the basic construction elements of a startup production winery, while considering the most efficient means of expansion. There is not a one size fits all solution to this conundrum but certain elements remain true from project to project. Note, this article doesn’t cover the necessary legal hurdles, nor am I certified electrician, plumber, contractor, or in the “trades” whatsoever. Outlined below are the nuts and bolts (or raw essentials) of what needs to be discussed with a professional in their own respective field or general contractor.

Size / Scale / Layout

The minimum suggested scale for a commercial winery that I typically recommend is in the 1000 – 2000 case size. For the most part, this starting scale is needed to justify the upfront cost of starting a winery (building cost, commercial wine equipment, etc.). For a 1500 case winery, plan on a minimum building size of 3,500 ft2 with roughly 1/3 space devoted to tasting room and 2/3 production/finished case storage. Obviously you can add a porch, office, event space (to be discussed), kitchen, etc. as you see fit. In the production area, other space “hogs” not considered here are: a separate barrel room and warehouse room for stored cased goods (the most common space obstacle that beginning wineries face).

Other than getting the minimum dimensions correct, the one big tip I can offer once the area of expansion has been identified, is to keep in mind how future building additions will tie together. Elements such as: roof line, utilities, placement of windows and doorways, and wastewater drains. These elements should be discussed with your architect, contractor, and/or builder before the initial winery building construction commences.

Electrical Power

At the aforementioned starting scale, at least 200-amp electrical service to your building should be installed. Ideally 400-amps of electrical service will provide more than ample power for your startup winery with significant room to grow into while keeping expansion in mind. And with regards to voltage, in general “Smaller boutique wineries, 10,000 square feet or less, require 208 volts. Motor sizes are generally 20 horsepower or less…” 1. This is a general rule of thumb, and for one or two pieces of equipment that require 480 volts it may be less expensive to have a transformer bump-up voltage to 480 volts for those two pieces of equipment than having 480 volts delivered to the building and having to step-down the voltage for all remaining piece of equipment on 220 volts.

Single Phase electrical power is an okay starting point at this scale but if you have access to 3 phase (common near urban / industrial parks/ large scale farms), I’d recommend tying into that upfront. At larger scale, most large pieces of equipment utilizing a frequency drive or motors at greater than 5 hp demand 3 phase electrical power.2 However, the need to upscale to 3 phase power depends on your end-goal production. If 3 phase power is only needed for several key pieces of equipment (press, destemmer/crusher, tank mixer, monoblock bottling line, etc.), purchasing a phase converter may be all that is needed. Ultimately there is a lot to consider here and your electrician should determine what supply is needed to meet your peak electrical load.

Water Supply / Wastewater / Drainage

For sanitation, you’ll want an on-demand hot water heater capable of hitting 180-185°F (commercial grade units start out ~$1500). In order to maintain 180°F for prolonged periods of time, the min. recommended flow rate is 1 – 2 gallon per minute. The on-demand water unit can have dual functionality as it can be used to sanitize winery production equipment on the production end and it can also be used to sanitize stemware on the tasting room end.

In the production area, figure on having 1-2 water access points (hose bibs) per wall. Minimizing the distance between heat source and end-point should be considered in order to increase efficiency and decrease heat loss. And lateral water lines that carry water from the source to its endpoint should be at least ¾” in diameter, as opposed to the standard ½”.

For wastewater management, there is no universal system that is suitable to all wineries. The four most common options to choose from include: surface spreading, aerobic biological treatment, settling holding tank / septic tank, or municipal sewage system (easiest if available near you).

The placement of such systems should be outside the zone of potential expansion! For example, placing a holding tank or septic tank in area that is in the area of possible expansion is going to cost you a pretty penny to have it moved out of the way – an easy fix that could have been avoided with prior proper planning.

Each winery should consult with local authorities to determine the best course of action. For more information on this topic see Winery Wastewater Treatment by Bruce Zoecklein.3

Just as water use is a ubiquitous part of winemaking, so is its removal from the winery (typically done by a drain system). Take into consideration figures A) and B). In this scenario if you likely know that production area will expand outward (the 40’ x 40’ area on the right side of the picture in Figure B), adding a connection point for the trench drain that is near the right wall in section A, will allow for a seamless transition. In this scenario the builders won’t have to tear up the concrete floor in the current site to tie the drain system in to the new site. And if the current winery floor has in-ground (radiant) heating and you haven’t planned accordingly? Your cost has just skyrocketed.

Building Ceiling Height

In the Production area, the ceiling height should ideally be at least 16’ high. Why? For two reasons: 1) this allows you to stack 2 pallets of empty glass high during bottling (note a minimum 14’ is needed for filled bottles, assuming cases are stacked 5 high/each pallet and 2 pallets per column) and 2) as your production volume increases size, so will your tank size – having tall ceilings allows for larger tanks! In short, as tanks often increase in size a greater rate upward than outward, investing in tall ceilings upfront makes it a lot easier to increase wine capacity.

Misc. Items that Should be Considered

a) Outdoor Crush Pad: At the starting scale of 1500 cases, a good size crush pad is 30’ x 30’ but could easily be 50’ x 50’ off of the production-end. One of biggest mistakes I see, is having a crush pad that is too small. During harvest and crush you don’t want to be working in the mud! Like all production areas, the concrete that is poured should be able to withstand the weight of a forklift, pallets of bottles, tanks, etc. (typically 5” or greater in thickness). In addition, due to local wastewater runoff regulations, one may need to install a specific wastewater containment system on your crush pad.

b) Garage Door: Cater the winery’s overhead garage door to the largest piece of equipment that will need to enter your building. Sometimes this is a tank, or a press and other times it may be mobile bottling line or semi-trailer. In the last scenario, a minimum clearance of 13’ is often required in order to properly back a mobile line into the winery.

c) Loading Dock: Although not an absolute necessity in the beginning, a loading dock with a docking plate (height adjustable) makes loading and off-loading logistics much simpler that taking the forklift to the back of semi and using a palette jack to move items to the back of the truck for pickup (Figure C). Unloading and loading glass in this manner can quickly become cumbersome and inefficient.

d) Production Floor Sealant: Production floors must be able to withstand a battery of abuse from constant foot traffic, heavy loads (forklift / pallet jack), and should be chemical and water resistant. In addition to being able to withstand the wear and tear of winemaking, the floor should be user friendly (i.e. slip resistant). In order to get the most out of your concrete floor, consider using an Epoxy Resin and Urethane protective coating. Doing so will increase the longevity of your production floor and there are many products on the market to choose from. For more information see “Finding the Right Floor System” (GVM Nov./Dec. 2017).

Event Space / Tasting Bar

Last but not least, the bulk of this article is viewed through a production lens. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the sales side of a winery building. After all, when you’re not busy making it, you should be busy selling it.

Without a doubt, the wineries that I’ve bared witness to with the fastest rates of growth are hosting events (weddings, rehearsals, private parties, live music, craft shows, food & wine pairing dinners, part of wine trails, etc.). Other than having the obvious space to hold events, you must have in place the appropriate support amenities: prep. kitchen, restrooms, storage space, etc. And according to your local building code, make sure your plans have been submitted to ALL local and state authorities (Commercial Building inspector) before starting construction! I recently heard of one horror story involving a winery that built a special events barn to the tune of $400K only to find out from a state inspector after construction that it was out of code due to the building’s occupancy capacity. It needed a fire mitigation system to comply with the state building codes – tack on another $120K after the fact — Ouch!

For the tasting room, the two tips I can give you is with regards to flow of people. First, have a dedicated and segregated checkout area that is separate to your tasting bar. Ideally, this checkout area would be located right next to the exit of your building. Secondly, on busy days when you need to setup multiple tasting bars to cater to all your customers, devise a plan that considers flow from both a customer and staff perspective. Planning and implementing these flow through systems are important to efficiently moving traffic in / out of the tasting room. For more information on Visitor Flow, see “Trends in Winery Construction that Maximize Revenue” (GVM, Nov./Dec. 2017).

In short, putting in the upfront effort to implement some simple layout considerations for your new winery can help save significant money down the road when in comes to expanding your production area. After all, in this business, there is no shortage of places to spend money elsewhere.

Happy Winemaking!

Many thanks to Ryan Prellwitz of Vines & Rushes Winery for his input and review of this article.

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