wine without walls pouring


Mar 11, 2024Jason Wagg

“Before, only rich people made wine,” says Winemaker Chris Condos. “But the rise of custom crush facilities changed that.” Chris and fellow Winemaker Richard Bruno founded Vinum Cellars in 1997 by maxing out their credit cards. “We put our money into the actual grapes instead of physical property. We were on the leading edge, but we didn’t know it.”


What is a VIRTUAL Winery?
A virtual or “garagiste” winery has no vineyards and no physical winery. Winemakers buy grapes from vineyards, then rent winemaking space to produce small amounts of wine.

What you need to succeed:

Great Fruit:

“I’ve got growers that I’ve been working with for 25 years. We have great relationships, and they know what I want.” Says Chris.

Custom Crush:

Chris uses Napa Wine Company for some of his winemaking. “It’s like renting: The facility, or winery, provides the equipment and most of the labor, but you are the winemaker,” says Chris. “You supply the barrels, the grapes, and make the decisions.”

Know How:

Many winemakers study in programs like the one at U.C. Davis but just as many apprentice, work their way up or are self-taught. “You need more than passion,” notes Winemaker Eric Laumann, solo-preneur Founder of Cambiata Winery. “You have to actually know what you are doing.”

Garagiste Wisdom From Winemaker Chris Condos

The Joys:

  • Freedom: We make what we want, with a focus on quality not quantity.
  • Less Pressure: No mortgages and no payroll mean fewer management headaches.

The Challenges:

  • Competition: Small production means no distribution on a national level.
  • Scheduling: Sharing space with other winemakers during harvest gets tricky.
  • Recognition: It takes money and time to enter competitions.
  • Cash Flow: It took 12 years before we made money.

What I Wish I Knew Then:

  • Without investors or a hefty bank account, you’ll need outside employment.
  • Winemaking has plenty of upfront costs.
  • You’ll often be working with three to four vintages: wine you are making, wine you are aging and the wine you are selling.

The Upside:

Multiple winemaking gigs provides contacts for finding fruit. Plus, it’s exciting to make wines for other people in styles that I may not have made before. I love making wine and I never get bored!

About The California Wine Club

Discover great wine with The California Wine Club. Since 1990, it’s been our wine club’s mission to help artisan wineries share their small-batch wines with wine enthusiasts everywhere. At The California Wine Club we happen to think these wines simply taste better than the mass-produced wines that dominate store shelves. Signature Series members will enjoy  Elkhorn Peak Cellars’ 2018 Estate Grown Reserve Napa Valley Pinot Noir their next delivery.

We visit the wineries, meet the families and winemakers behind the wines and then invite them to share their favorite wines with our wine club members. Every wine featured in our wine of the month club comes from a real-working winery.

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