Only Tim Slater (owner and proprietor of Sarah’s Vineyard) could pull off naming a business something few can pronounce, but there’s an inherent charm in that.
Even though the official name for this recently inaugurated custom crush facility in Gilroy is Atelier des Savants Fous, you can just call it Atelier (“ah-tell-yay”). Slater said it translates to “The Mad Scientists Workshop,” but it’s more like “studio of crazy brainiacs.”
Slater has a soft spot in his heart for all things French, having on several occasions attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, gaining newfound inspiration each time. During one December stint about eight years ago, he came back obsessed with making the absolutely perfect sous vide eggs. He would try different temperature settings and lengths of time, searching for the quintessential soft-boiled eggs. His dogs got fat. His tasting room staff rebelled. Can we just have an omelet?
Luckily, they never lost their taste for his wines, which, after 20 years of familiarity with them, are getting better every year.
When he wearied of soft boiled eggs, Slater teamed up with some fellow winemakers and winery owners three years ago to create what was then a novel concept for Gilroy: a combination of custom crush and tasting room. It was called The Stomping Ground. Housed in a former roof tile factory east of Highway 101, it provided a variety of services, including custom crush, storage and even tasting privileges to several winery brands. Among them were Alara, Calerrain, J Winston and Jason-Stephens.
Fast forward to now, and the concept is slightly different. Gone are the multiple tasting room cubby holes. Only one winery is open for tasting now, La Vie Dansante, although a number of original wineries, and some new ones, are utilizing the facilities for its production assets.
After some considerable cleanup and improvement, they were ready to show off the co-op winemaking space to the local wine industry, and held an open house on Aug. 19.
“We have nine wineries involved for this year’s harvest, including Calerrain, Cinnabar Winery, Hollow Wines, J Winston Winery, La Vie Dansante, Sarah’s Vineyard, Wargin Wines, and Wonderwerks,” Slater said. “Harvest is already underway.”
He said they are working on long-term beautification of the facility, but it is primarily a production house. He emphasized the assets available in the roughly 40,000 square feet of temperature controlled winemaking and wine storage.
“We feature large and small wine lot crush equipment sets (five tons per hour and 30 tons per hour), multiple presses (1500L and 5000L), multiple grape conveyors, dosing hoppers, destemmers, must pumps, wine transfer pumps and plenty of electricity to run it all.”
Fermentation equipment ranges from 1.5 ton macrobins to chilled stainless 1,300-, 2,200-, 3,000- and 6,500-gallon tanks. Cap management in stainless tanks can be done by manual pumpover, a variety of dedicated irrigators, and in larger tanks the Pulsair automated cap management system is available. The onsite lab features an Oenofoss wine and juice analysis system, a WineLab Pro wine analysis system, and a variety of wet chemistry and optical analytical systems.
Atelier also offers small-lot bottling on site (up to 500 cases). Slater said he was able to acquire a brand new top-of-the-line Italian Eurostar setup that is capable of doing screwcaps.
While the well-insulated wine storage warehouse is mostly dedicated to existing winery co-op members, there is some room for local winery storage.
Slater said that for the 2021 harvest, they have a dedicated production staff, and will work with wineries to meet their needs.
Cinnabar has been making wines at the facility since 2017, as has Sarah’s Vineyard and Calerrain. Among the new wineries doing production at Atelier for 2021 is Wargin Wines, who moved their wine production from Watsonville after their warehouse location at Hangar Way was purchased by a retail cannabis operation. This brings them closer to fruit sources in Santa Clara Valley where they buy Italian varietals for their label, which was officially launched in 2012 by owners Mikael and Denise Wargin.
Hollow Wines and Wonderwerks are also new custom crush clients, both of which moved from Los Angeles to be closer to their vineyard sources. Quinn Hobbs of Hollow Wines was delighted to find Atelier.
“I have been buying fruit from the Siletto Vineyard for a while,” said the winemaker, who lives in LA. He had been using another custom crush facility on the Central Coast, and was looking for a change. “I asked John Siletto if there was a place I could move my wine, and he told me about Tim Slater’s place. This is so perfect.”
He brought in Cab Pfeffer from Siletto, followed by Pinot Gris from Cienega and eventually Mission and Carignane from Santa Clara Valley vineyards. With an ambition to crush 15 different varieties this year, he’s truly found his tribe at Atelier.