Good Fruit Grower

February 2013

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Viticulture Zirkle Fruit MOVES INTO WINE First crush season successful. The two 50-ton grape presses came from Italy and fit perfectly when put in place on the concrete pad. T he idea for the new Zirkle Wine Company custom crush facility allowing Washington's largest wine company the ability to expand in Prosser, Washington, evolved over several years, Mark Zirkle without investing in a new facility. says. Zirkle Wine joins a handful of large custom bulk wine "The idea for a winery was slow recognition facilities operating in the state. that the state doesn't have enough processing He acknowledged that the move to a custom bulk wincapacity," Zirkle said. "It takes a lot of capital to put in ery with its million-gallon capacity was a bit speculative, crush equipment and fermenting tanks and storage. All even with the Ste. Michelle contract. But, in their first seathat is difficult for small wineries to absorb." son, the winery crushed more than he anticipated, and The Zirkle family is a major player in Washington State's operations went better than he could have expected. tree fruit industry with its Zirkle Fruit Company and sales Zirkle Wine is located next to the family fruit-packing company Rainier Fruit, growing, packing, and marketing and storage facility in Prosser. The winery was designed —Mark Zirkle apples, cherries, pears, and blueberries. with expansion in mind. There's room to add another But the Zirkles are no strangers to the wine industry and have grown million-gallon capacity by just bringing in more tanks. After that, if more wine grapes for the last 15 years, contracting grapes from its 400 acres to space is needed, an outside wall can become a retaining wall and the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. winery footprint expanded. "We know packing and shipping," Zirkle said. "That's what we do. Is a Zirkle wine label in the winery's future? When asked, Mark Zirkle Processing is not foreign to us," although he admitted that the fermentquickly said no, explaining that the wine market is too competitive and ing side of grapes and turning the fruit into wine is new to their family the liquor distribution regulations too constraining. business skills. He believes the recent entry of E. & J. Gallo Winery into the state is The custom bulk winery is a model that works well in California, he proof that Washington still has opportunity to grow. "Gallo's involvement said, adding that it's a segment that's been missing in Washington. Zirkle in our industry should help improve our national presence." Wine has a contract to make bulk wine for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, "Processing is not foreign to us." • 24 FEBRUARY 1, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Photo by melissa hansen by Melissa Hansen

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