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Sierra Starr Vineyard’s opens facility

By Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer

Phillip Starr, left (with dog Chewy), his son Jack Starr, and contractor Steve Becker toast the completion of Sierra Starr Winery's expanded facility built into the side of a Grass Valley hill. 

Cheers
Phillip Starr, left (with dog Chewy), his son Jack Starr, and contractor Steve Becker toast the completion of Sierra Starr Winery’s expanded facility built into the side of a Grass Valley hill.
Photo for The Union by Christopher Rosacker
Sierra Starr Winery's expanded facility built into the side of a Grass Valley hil houses two 1,000-gallon stainless steel wine tanks, three 500-gallon tanks, and a 340-gallon German oak tank. The tanks are used to hold wine while barrels are cleaned, for storing wine during bottling, and even for fermentation. 

Sierra Starr Winery’s expanded facility built into the side of a Grass Valley hil houses two 1,000-gallon stainless steel wine tanks, three 500-gallon tanks, and a 340-gallon German oak tank. The tanks are used to hold wine while barrels are cleaned, for storing wine during bottling, and even for fermentation.
Union photo by Christopher Rosacker
Phillip Starr, left, his son Jack Starr, and contractor Steve Becker standing inside Sierra Starr Winery's new cellar within its expanded facility built into the side of a Grass Valley hill. 

Phillip Starr, left, his son Jack Starr, and contractor Steve Becker standing inside Sierra Starr Winery’s new cellar within its expanded facility built into the side of a Grass Valley hill.
Photo for The Union by Christopher Rosacker
Amid a sluggish economy, Phil Starr’s family-run wine business in Grass Valley has managed to grow. 

Despite construction of what might resemble an elaborate bunker, Starr is not hunkering down — he’s investing in the future.

“We now have a 50-year vision for this business, instead of only a 10-year vision,” he said.

Built into the side of the hill, Sierra Starr Vineyard & Winery’s new 7,500-square-foot facility retains the winery’s original cellar, which was also burrowed into the depths of earth next to the family’s 12 acres of growing grapes.

More than a year ago, the Starrs excavated around the cellar. After about 70 trucks hauled more than 500 cubic yards of concrete, the family has a new production and storage facility.

It has a new barrel room, and a wide-open area for storage and space to work during bottling.

“It gives us an incredible flexibility,” Starr said. “You can drive a forklift around in here like it is a racetrack.”

In this open room, there are two 1,000-gallon stainless steel wine tanks, three 500-gallon tanks, and a 340-gallon German oak tank. The tanks are used to hold wine while barrels are cleaned, for storing wine during bottling, and even for fermentation.

Above the tanks, on the roof is a crush pad, where grapes are transformed into liquid. Having the tanks below the crush pad allows gravity to do all the work of transferring to the tanks.

The facility as a whole allows Starr, his wife Anne, and their son Jack to make a higher quality wine easier and faster. With the help of a handful of dedicated part-time employees, Sierra Starr is less restricted by space, has more convenience to operate, and is cleaner in its operation, Starr said.

“It allows us the freedom of looking way longer into the future than we are going to be around,” said Starr. “It gives us confidence to make an investment in something like this that we know is sorely needed for this company to exist and grow.”

The overall cost for the facility is still being accounted, Starr said. He estimates they spent a couple hundred thousand dollars, but probably not as much as $500,000 — money saved by father and son doing a lot of the work themselves.

“This is a dream for us,” said Phil Starr, “We can produce around five times what we could do previously.”

With thick walls built into the hill — only half of them actually exposed to direct sunlight — the structure retains the natural temperature of the ground. No heating or air-conditioning is needed, which is a substantial savings in both initial construction costs and future bills, Starr said. 

The only electric usage is intermittent use of equipment and lighting, which the Starrs have made energy efficient. With the sun seeping in through skylights and solar tubes, Jack Starr joked that they could run the whole facility on an extension cord.

“One of the goals was to walk in here and be able to work without turning on the lights,” said Steve Becker, Precision Design Builders contractor who helped the Starrs build the facility.

With a wine-tasting shop in downtown Grass Valley and an expanded production facility, Sierra Starr Vineyard & Winery is looking for 16 more seasons than it has already had, and beyond.

“The only reason this really happened is because we have the next generation involved,” he said. “This is where Jack wants to live.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

 

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