Winemaker Chris Graves describes how a new $17,000 egg tank works in producing wine in the Naumes custom crush facility in Medford. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Quest for quality

When a start-up's goal is raising the bar in any field, the task can be daunting.

When it's a new custom crush winery, it's nearly a foreboding endeavor.

Naumes Custom Crush & Fermentation has reached the two-year mark and appears well on its way to developing premium wines for the region's vineyard owners.

Mike and Laura Naumes, whose family company was once the largest pear grower in the world, has branched into Southern Oregon's vino scene, planting vineyards where orchards once stood.

The custom crush facility on North Central Avenue, with its array of stainless steel tanks and production machinery, was still being pieced together during the 2015 harvest, creating its own set of challenges.

"The biggest thing to overcome is just getting comfortable with your facility," said winemaker Chris Graves. "Learning the ins and outs of how the place operates, drainage, tanks, where they go and how they work. In the first year, there is a lot of trial and error in figuring things out. After the second vintage, we feel a lot more comfortable."

Naumes Custom Crush & Fermentation has a dozen clients, enabling it to add staff, including assistant winemaker Dustin Andries, an Oregon State University fermentation science graduate and North Medford High School alum.

"It's proceeding to get easier and easier as I have more staff that know what they're doing, and have been trained," Graves said.

As the region sees more plantings and produces more tonnage, knowing the characteristics of grapes at particular vineyards comes in handy.

"When you continue to produce wines for the same clients, learning the vineyards and the ins and outs of the wines we're producing becomes easier," Graves said.

Clients are primarily from the Rogue Valley, ranging from a vineyard yielding a couple of tons, which turns into 120 cases of bottled wine, to much larger growers. Those clients, he said, are generally seeking high-end boutique results.

"Most of the equipment in this investment isn't really designed for high-volume production processing," Graves said. "It's for more low-volume, high-quality, hands-on winemaking."

The beauty of custom crush is that varietals reflect the region's wide-ranging micro-climates. There are few varietals you won't find in the tanks.

"It pretty much runs the gamut of the varietals and styles that do so well in the Rogue Valley, Graves said.

From day one, Naumes Custom Crush & Fermentation was high-tech, employing an optical sorter to improve fruit consistency.

A pneumatic pulsatorm is employed to turn the tank using gases from the bottom or middle, depending on the size of container.

"It uses large bubbles of nitrogen or oxygen to mix the tank," he said. "It's very gentle and good for the fermentation."

More recently, a $17,000 concrete egg to ferment and age the juice was added.

"I believe that is unique to this winery," Graves said. "There may be some folks around using it, but I haven't heard of it."

In a few weeks, Naumes Family Vineyards will release its first vintage, 130 cases of 2016 Pinot Noir Rosé. The rosé was poured at a local event last week, along with Pebblestone Cellars releases.

The last couple of vintages in 2015 and 2016 were bumper crops," Graves said. "Folks who were getting three tons per acre were getting four or five. That makes a big difference when you're trying to balance supply and demand."

In the end, all the technology and shiny tanks don't win the day.

"The proof is in the quality of the wine," Graves said. "Timeliness and organization is important in this industry, as is communicating, packaging and making sure the wine is prepared properly."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter at, on Facebook at

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