The Wine Foundry

Bespoke labels, customized wine brands, and the democratic promise of America

Val, Philip and KodiakWhat do you do if you want to be a Napa Valley vinter but lack the requisite $5-10 million investment for a châteaux, gravity-flow winery, estate vineyards, superstar winemaker, dedicated vineyard manager, tasting room, resident chef and several large dogs? You contact The Wine Foundry.

Valerie and Philip Von Burg have been providing one-stop shopping for the creation of personalized wines for nearly a decade. “Very few people can offer what we do,” says Philip. “We give clients access to quality fruit, winemaking talent and a state-of-the-art facility—things that would be difficult and expensive for them to access on their own.”

These are not empty boasts. The roster of grapes from available vineyards includes some of California’s most famous names such as Stagecoach, Hyde, Melville and Monte Rosso. Clients commit to a minimum of one barrel (25 cases) and can become as involved as they wish in selection and blending. If they choose not to, the wine will be professionally made, aged and bottled for them.

The Wine Foundry’s private customers range from hobbyists such as retirees, urban professionals and “people who have a curiosity about the process and want to learn more about it,” according to Valerie. On the commercial side, it’s possible for a serial entrepreneur or celebrity athlete to have The Wine Foundry construct a brand from scratch. The Von Burgs will handle all the messy and time-consuming details: label design and approval, federal compliance and the paperwork that typically makes life difficult for the small vintner. They will even collaborate on a marketing strategy and set up a shopping cart on your website. Little wonder that the market has been inundated with previously unknown boutique wine brands in recent years.

WineThiefPrices range from $6,000 for a barrel of Gewurztraminer from Rodgers Creek Vineyard to $13,200 for Cabernet Sauvignon from Stagecoach, with bottle prices of $20 and $44 respectively. This leaves a healthy profit margin for the would-be entrepreneur. Case in point: Foundry client Kagan Cellars, owned by the husband-and-wife team of Emily and Mark Ellenberger, which celebrated its 12th vintage in 2020. You can go on their website and order a bevy of premium wines from California’s most celebrated regions and vineyards, including their 2016 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon ($80). The Ellenbergers live in Houston, where they operate a tasting room and wine bar near their home.

Consumers are taught that great wine is a fortunate combination of location, weather, passion, knowledge and luck. Purists may find it disturbing that anyone with a certain amount of desire and cash can now become a player in the game. That situation is very different from the traditional European model, which is rigidly dependent on heredity, but there’s an upside: to be a winemaker, you no longer need to be the oldest male child of a wealthy family. The Wine Foundry offers a possibility considerably more democratic and uniquely American.


Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His latest release, Impeachment, is now available on Amazon.

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