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Derby Wine Estates: a dilapidated former nut-processing facility is turned into a modern winery.

Ten years ago, the city of Paso Robles in California's Central Coast region was set to say goodbye to a landmark building that had stood since 1922.

Known colloquially as the "old almond growers' warehouse," the 11,000-square-foot structure had become a local landmark because of its pink color and signature tower, which was the highest structure in Paso Robles.

But the building had steadily deteriorated since the late 1970s due to neglect, and it was turning into more of an eyesore than a landmark. By 2005 the building had been purchased by the discount grocery chain Smart & Final, which submitted plans to demolish and replace it with a new structure featuring a replica tower. That proposal sparked a public outcry that goaded the city council into commissioning a report that deemed the structure of historic value.

What had been a vacant and dilapidated building became a historic, vacant and dilapidated building with an uncertain future.

That all changed in 2010, when Ray and Pam Derby, the owners of Derby Wine Estates, stepped in to buy the building with the ambitious goal of restoring it to serve as a winery and tasting room for their fledgling wine company.

The restoration took three years and required extensive work to the exterior and interior of the building, finishing in time for the Derbys to crush grapes there in 2014. The top floor of the tower that once stored almonds is now a private tasting lounge, and the bottom floor is used to store hoses and other cellar equipment.

Working within the limits of a renovation

Winemaker Tiffinee Vierra has worked at Derby Wine Estates since 2005. She said that fitting a modern winery into a historic renovation project is much different than constructing a new facility. "You're limited in that you can't put anything new on the building," she said.

Prior to moving the winery into the historic structure, the Derbys made wine at a custom-crush facility and then leased winery space in 2011. Vierra said the advantage of having worked at a custom-crush location was that she knew exactly what types of equipment she wanted to purchase before the company moved into the leased winery.

She also knew that equipment would have to fit into the limited space of the historic building once the renovation was complete. "Our goal is to just maximize the potential of the fruit and make the best quality of wine possible," Vierra said. "One of the important aspects of doing that is your equipment: making sure it's achieving what you want it to achieve, and obviously you've got to fit it into this footprint."

After selling his family's auto parts-manufacturing company, Ray Derby came to the Central Coast looking to retire. He and his wife purchased their first vineyard in 1998 and dubbed it the Derbyshire Vineyard. They would go on to buy the Laura's Vineyard estate in 2004. That property included a tasting room, which the Derbys operated for a few years before deciding to launch their own wine brand under the name Derby Wine Estates in 2007.

In 2006 they purchased their third vineyard and now own about 450 acres planted to more than 20 grape varieties. They sell grapes to about 30 winery clients.

Eventually the Derbys decided to move production and hospitality under one roof, and that led to buying the almond warehouse. Derby Wine Estates produces around 2,500 cases per year, but the winery has space to grow to 10,000 cases. At around 7,000 cases, however, Vierra says they'd probably have to lease room at another location for barrel storage.

Shared goal in the cellar and vineyard

Tiffinee Vierra's husband Steve Vierra has worked with the Derbys since 2001, and he now oversees all vineyard operations. The two share a similar goal and respect each other's role in the company. "That's the only goal of Steve and I is just to really make things better than they were a year ago," the winemaker said. "I mean it's not all unicorns and butterflies, because we're going to have debates about things, but there's always that respect there. He knows I'm making the wine and he's the vineyard guy."

The Derbys check in at the winery almost every day, but Vierra said they still give her and her husband the creative freedom to make changes in the vineyard or cellar to try and improve the wines. "We're seeing our efforts in the vineyard and the winery come around in these past couple of vintages, so it's really kind of exciting," she said. "I think our best wines haven't been released yet."

Vierra said the other benefit of in-house vineyard management is she doesn't have to rely on a separate company to find time and staff in its schedule to do the work or make the pick at just the right moment. "Timing is everything in viticulture, and unfortunately that's just how the cookie crumbles: Somebody or more than one person isn't going to have things done at the appropriate time," she said.

All of the picking for the Derby wines is done by hand before dawn. Vierra said she is working with small lots of just a few tons that arrive at the winery in half-ton MacroBins.

Grapes are unloaded into a hopper feeding an inclined sorting table by P&L Specialties based in Healdsburg, Calif. Vierra said the clusters undergo a quick sorting before being destemmed with a Pellenc Selectiv' machine. Vierra said she doesn't have to worry too much about the quality of the clusters from the pick, which is another benefit of having the vineyard team as part of the same company.

Vierra was one of the first in the Paso Robles area to purchase a Pellenc Selectiv' after seeing one in action at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif. "I never liked the results of the traditional destemmer, and I was always hoping that somebody would have the forethought to create something that was more gentle and effective at separating the berries from the rachis," she said.

Like all machines, the destemmer and sorter took some time to get used to, but Vierra said she and her team have it well dialed in and know how to adjust it for certain varieties and vineyard blocks. She has found that it helps to grease the machine after every 10 hours of operation.

For Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varieties, Vierra will often place a custom-built crusher by Burgstahler Machine Works in St. Helena, Calif., beneath the Pellenc.

A Francesca must pump from ColloPack Solutions pushes the must via a hose through an opening in the wall that separates the crush pad from the cellar directly into tanks. Vierra said before she purchased the crusher she tried using the pump at a high speed to crush Cabernet berries and instead wound up with quite a few intact berries in the tank. "So that kind of spoke volumes to the gentleness of the pump," she said.

Derby only produces a small amount of white wine, and typically it's a Pinot Gris. The grapes for this wine are pressed in a Diemme bladder press. The juice is sent directly to a tank where it settles before getting racked into another tank for fermentation. Vierra has done a few experiments with small batches of Albarino and Grenache Blanc fermented in a clay amphora that she said does add an intriguing complexity to the wine.

The bladder press is also used to produce juice for the Derby rose, which is made with whole-cluster pressed Mourvedre. Vierra also has a Diemme basket press that she uses for the red wines. Both presses are from ColloPack Solutions.

She worked with San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based equipment fabricator Steve Rinell ("Stainless Steve") to produce a hopper with adjustable legs on casters, which she uses to fill the basket for the press or bins for small-lot fermentations. She said she likes the Diemme basket press because it has an "intelligent cycle" that can detect back pressure and adjust the press cycle accordingly. "If you're doing some whole cluster, and it senses a lot of the back pressure because of those whole berries, it's not going to just continue to press to a certain amount that's programmed. It detects that back pressure and throttles off a little bit until it gets to the point that it's safe to push a little bit more," she said. "It's a longer press cycle with that, but we gain quality."

The biggest obstacle at the winery is that the fermentation cellar is separated from the outside crush pad with no door providing direct access. To reach the crush pad from the cellar, one has to walk through a roll-up door on the east side of the building, walk around the building and enter the crush pad through a fence. An easy solution would have been to just cut a new door through the wall separating the crush pad from the cellar, but that wasn't an option in a historic renovation.

Vierra admits it's not ideal, but she and cellar master Ethan Heller communicate via walkie talkies when filling a tank from a press on the crush pad or other jobs where communication between the two areas is necessary. "You've got to know your blind spots in the cellar," she said.

Fermentation and aging

The winery is equipped with stainless steel fermentation tanks in varying sizes and from a few suppliers. The largest are three 1,500-gallon tanks from Paul Mueller Co. in Springfield, Mo., that can handle 6 to 7 tons of grapes. Vierra also has three 4-ton tanks by JVNW in Canby, Ore., that feature removable lids so she can use them as open-top fermentors as well. Small-lot fermentations take place in MacroBins as well as Transtore tanks that range in size from 250 to 550 gallons. All of the tanks can be linked to a hot and cold glycol system.

Because she's working with so many different varieties in the cellar, Vierra inoculates all of the must and juice with yeast to add a layer of control. She said she conducts a nutritional analysis on all juice lots and then picks a yeast strain that fits each lot's parameters to achieve "painless fermentations." For whites and rose, Vierra uses yeast that can ferment at 48[degrees]-52[degrees]F.

"On the flip side, I have also have some high-Brix lots, and I use a yeast that is capable of finishing those fermentations," she said. "I've found commercial yeasts to be beneficial for those types of variables, not necessarily for flavors and aroma profiles."

Red wine fermentations are managed by pumpovers to get oxygen into the must. Vierra places stainless steel screens on the interior ends of the tank-racking valves so she can send just juice over the cap via an air pump. For smaller fermentations in open bins, the juice is pumped up through a stainless steel screen tube and spread over the cap.

Once fermentation is complete, the wines age in wide variety of barrels. Vierra said she likes using Tonnellerie Taransaud puncheons for Rhone variety wines and Francois Freres barrels for the Derby Pinot Noir, which is made with grapes from the Derbyshire vineyard. Other coopers Vierra uses are Tonnellerie Meyrieux, Ermitage-Berthomieu Tonnellerie and Tonnellerie Sirugue.

The base of the building's tower is used as a storage space for miscellaneous winemaking equipment, and the winemaking staff has taken advantage of the extra vertical space to rig up a unique hose-storage system. Each hose is suspended with a loop of rope that is stretched over a metal bar at the top of the tower and then tied to an eyelet set in a rail near the floor. When a worker needs a hose, he or she detaches the lower portion of the rope and lowers the hose to the ground. When a clean hose is put away for the day, the worker reattaches the hose to the rope and then hoists it up to dry.

The top floor of the tower features a small hospitality area known as the Almond Room, which is ringed by windows that provide views of downtown Paso Robles. The tower room is used for wine club tastings and other special events. A large tasting room, open to the public, is housed in the bottom floor of the structure opposite the wine-production area. The white marble tasting bar and Art Deco design evokes a bar or malt shop counter from the 1920s or '30s.

Back in the 1920s the tower was full of almonds, and the building could process 500 tons of nuts in a day. The building was constructed by the Paso Robles Almond Growers Association to serve as its main processing facility as well as a symbol of how the region had, at that time, become the "almond capital of the world."

The boom was short lived, and just a decade later declining orchard productivity and the Great Depression forced the almond association to sell the building to the Farmers Alliance, which processed wheat and other grains in the building until 1975.

It's fitting that the structure has now been revitalized to process the crop that's fueling Paso Robles current growth: wine grapes.


The winery and crush pad had to fit within the existing footprint of the historic structure.

Supplied by the owners' 400 acres of vineyards, the winery can process several different varieties of grapes.

The top floor of the building's iconic tower is now a private tasting room for wine club members.

Caption: The tasting room is partly housed beneath the new structure on the right of the historic building. A room in the top of the tower is reserved for private tastings and wine club members.

Caption: All red grapes are destemmed and sorted with a Selectiv' Process from Pellenc. Derby was one of the first wineries in the Paso Robles area to purchase such a machine.

Caption: Screens inside the tanks keep seeds and skins separate from the juice during pump overs.

Caption: This custom-built crusher is often used for Bordeaux varieties.

Caption: Grapes are first field sorted by the winery's own vineyard teams and then receive a quick cluster sorting at the winery.

Derby Wine Estates

525 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles, Calif * (805) 238-6300 *








Paso Robles


Ray and Pam Derby


Tiffinee Vierra


Steve Vierra


Derby Wine Estates                  2,500
San Luis Obispo County Average     26,500
California Average                 87,000
U.S. Average                       47,000

Source: Wines Vines Analytics

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Derby Wine Estates                 $27
San Luis Obispo County Average     $13
California Average                 $11.50
U.S. Average                       $12

Source: Wines Vines Analytics

Note: Table made from bar graph.

The Technical Spotlight is a regular feature highlighting wineries in North America that have recently opened or undergone major renovations and improvements. Wines & Vines seeks to report how facility design and winemaking equipment is used to achieve a particular winemaking style while also exploring new trends and techniques being used in the industry. If you think your winery would be a good candidate for the feature, contact us at


Architect             Craig R. Smith, CRSA Architecture,

General contractor    Mike and Neal Construction, Paso Robles, Calif.
                      (has since ceased operations)

Interior design       Pam Derby

Other key suppliers   3C Engineering,; Rossi & Carr
                      Electrical,; Steve Rinell &
                      Associates--Stainless Steve,


Bottles               Encore Glass,

Corks                 MA Silva USA,

Screwcaps             Amcor Flexibles American Canyon,

Capsules              Ramondin USA,

Label design          Kraftwerk Design,

Label printing        WS Packaging Group,


Receiving hopper/   P&L Specialties,
incline sorting

Destemmer           Selectiv' Process Winery sorting system,
                    Pellenc America,

Optional crusher/   Burgstahler Machine Works, (707) 967-0553

Pumps               Francesca F08, ColloPack Solutions,
          ; Waukesha, Yamada
                    Diaphram NDP-50, Carlsen & Associates,

Portable hopper     Steve Rinell & Associates--Stainless Steve

Bladder press       Diemme Velvet 80, ColloPack Solutions

Basket press        Dlemme Vintage 12, ColloPack Solutions

Tanks               3x1,500-gallon, Paul Mueller Co.,;
                    3-ton portable convertible tank (872 gallons),
                    4-ton portable convertible tank (941 gallons),
                    JVNW Inc.,; 530-gallon portable,
                    Quality Stainless Tanks,;
                    3 x 550 gallons, 1 x 450 gallons, 1 x 350 gallons,
                    1 x 250 gallons, TranStore, Custom Metalcraft,

Barrels             Francois Freres, Tonnellerie Taransaud,
                    Mel Knox Barrel Broker,; Ermitage-
                    Berthomieu Tonnellerie,;
                    Tonnellerie Meyrieux,;
                    Tonnellerie Sirugue,;
                    Gamba USA,

Lab analysis        ETS Laboratories,;
                    Enartis Vinquiry,;
                    Baker Wine & Grape Analysis,

Crossflow filter    iPak Wine,

Yeast               Scott Laboratories,

ML bacteria         Gusmer Enterprises,

Hoses & fittings    Paso Robles Winnelson Co., (805) 238-7300

Barrel washer/      AaquaBlaster LT barrel washer & KEW
pressure washer/    Poseidon 7-66 pressure washer,
tank cleaner        AaquaTools,; Cellers 360 tank
                    cleaner, Cloud Company SLO,

Chillers            2 x portable glycol fire & Ice units
                    (backup system) G&D Chillers,

Bottling            SLO Bottling Services,


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Comment:Derby Wine Estates: a dilapidated former nut-processing facility is turned into a modern winery.(TECHNICAL SPOTLIGHT)
Author:Adams, Andrew
Publication:Wines & Vines
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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