When Robert Torres started working for his family's winery as 5-year-old boy, he helped his grandmother on their home bottling line. She would fill the bottles by hand, and Torres would screw the cap on before it was tightened with a machine.
Today, the same process happens, but on a much, much grander scale.
Torres is the senior vice president of operations for Trinchero Family Estates, the wine production giant that carries his grandfather's name and is responsible for more than 30 popular wine brands.
The company is moving forward this spring with a $200 million plan to expand their vast winery just west of Lodi along Interstate 5 over the next three years. The expansion will add 400 jobs. The plant produces Sutter Home and 30 other brands.
It was several years ago that Torres took a look at where exactly all of the grapes for his family's wines were coming from. He found that 90 percent came from the Lodi area. But their presses and bottling machinery were all in Napa and St. Helena. By the time the grapes got off the vine and up to the Napa Valley, they had already begun fermenting in the bins.
"It was like, 'What are we doing? We need to be closer to the grapes,'" he said.
Plans began to move more production to a 426-acre plant west of Lodi.
"We know it's going to make shipping easier," he said. "It will be easier to contract with growers who are reluctant to transport so far."
Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, said the new source of jobs will be a boost for the area.
"It's a terrific injection to the Lodi economy," he said. "That's outside money coming in, which has greater economic impact. If you have 400 of those paychecks come to town and spend money, it helps."
The winery is located five miles west of Lodi's city limits, said City Manager Rad Bartlam, so all taxes related to the expansion will go directly to San Joaquin County.
"It's good for the area, certainly. Any jobs are good jobs. But in terms of direct city impact, all of that is secondary," Bartlam said.
When the three-year project is complete, the plant's crushing capacity will increase from 100,000 to 200,000 tons per year. There will be more fermenting and wine storage capacity, and wine will be packaged in a high-speed bottling line and shipped out in a fully automated distribution warehouse.
The last of the massive steel storage tanks is expected to be up and useable by summer. The 600,000-square-foot bottling line and warehouse will be up by fall.
The big part of the project is the automated distribution technology. Getting that system online won't be complete until July 2015.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.