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For the love of fine wine

Local vintners open one of L.A. County’s first wineries

Posted: January 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Pulchella Winery co-owners and winemakers Nate Hasper, left, and Steve Lemley in their crush facility in Valencia.

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For years local winemakers — often amateur winemakers and hobbyists — traveled outside the Santa Clarita Valley to produce their wines.

But with a growing number of local vintners, and thanks to a new crush facility — SCV Custom Crush Services — Santa Clarita may become the new gateway to California wine country.

In a labor of love, Steve Lemley and Nate Hasper, wine producers and owners of Pulchella Winery, decided to open the SCV’s first certified wine crush facility in Valencia.

Lemley and Hasper — both of whom support themselves through other businesses — saved hours of their time and about 10 years worth of gas money by opening their own winemaking facility instead of driving up to Paso Robles where they previously produced their boutique wines, Lemley said.

But they spent countless hours and plenty of their own money to open SCV Custom Crush Services.

Crush facility

“We spent in the high-fives to low-sixes to pull off what we did,” Lemley said. “We had to purchase equipment but a big chunk of the money was spent on meeting health department requirements.”

The price tag for that “big chunk” came to tens-of-thousands of dollars, he said.

L.A. County is one of the few counties in the U.S. that considers a winery a food processor, Lemley said. And while it worked with the two men to help them get up and running, falling under that category meant doing a lot of work that is not standard in the industry, he said.

Most California wineries don’t need a health permit to produce wine, Lemley said.

To be a bonded facility, a winery has to be federally bonded and have 17 permits and licenses to produce a product commercially, he said.

“We’re one of the very, very few that have attempted it and actually pulled it off,” Lemley said. “We’re the first in SCV. And one of the first in a city in L.A. County.”

Los Angeles’ San Antonio Winery had their licensing since pre-prohibition, he said.

The 2,000-plus-square-foot facility allowed Lemley and Hasper to produce about 50 tons of wine this year; but it meant both men working every spare minute of their time, he said.

“Harvest time is an unbelievable amount of time and logistics,” Lemley said. “We dedicated 20 hours a day, seven days a week for three months, with just four hours of sleep (per day) just to pull off the harvest.”

The two Newhall residents launched Pulchella Winery in 2006. A storefront in downtown Newhall has served as a tasting room but now that they have their own local crush facility, the two men save time by not traveling, and they have control over their own wine production, Lemley said.

The two men did not have any investors, he said. The partners work off a very simple business plan that includes putting every single dollar back into the business and not taking any money out for personal gain. Together they saved money made on wine sales, he said.

Lemley joked that “one way to make a big fortune small, is to open a winery.”

“It costs us a lot to do this, but we do it because it’s a passion,” Lemley said. “We love to make wine and like that other people enjoy it.”

And now SCV Custom Crush Services may be able to fill a void for many other local vintners that were traveling out of area as well.

“We’re taking a few applications for 2013 harvest,” Lemley said. “But we want to make sure we don’t get too large and enjoy what we do.”

More information can be found at www.scvwinery.com.


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