Inside a Winemaker’s ‘Significant Undertaking’ Repurposing a Historic Manufacturing Site

LISTEN (4:25): The historic district dates back to 1890.

Common Wealth Crush's facility rests in the Virginia Metalcrafters Historic District.
Common Wealth Crush's facility rests in the Virginia Metalcrafters Historic District.
Nolan Beilstein

Common Wealth Crush (CWC) began "winemaking as a service" in August 2022 in Virginia with three workers on its staff.

According to co-founder Ben Jordan, a Virginia native, the idea for the winemaking contract manufacturer stemmed from a desire to create a business that made wine for small projects.

"There needed to be a place in Virginia for projects that aren't at the level of production where they need to build their own winery but need a place to make wine," Jordan said. "Giving a winemaker a place where they can have their wines made is something relatively new."

Still, Jordan and fellow co-founders Patt Eagan and Tim Jordan needed a location to launch their business. 

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A tip from fellow Virginia spirits maker Basic City Brewery led the co-founders to a space in the Shenandoah Valley, where they grew fond of the building's proximity to developing vineyards and a local wine-drinking population.

However, CWC's new home in Waynesboro was hardly a location built with winemaking in mind. Instead, the area rests in the Virginia Metalcrafters Historic District. 

According to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the district dates back to 1890. The first building at CWC's location was developed by Stehli Silk Corporation in 1925 as part of the Swiss company's expansion in the U.S. The building was thought to have initially produced yarns and threads. 

As the demand for silk declined, Stehli Silk left the Waynesboro facility in 1941 and decided to consolidate its workforce at a plant in Pennsylvania. 

Virginia Metalcrafters occupied the site soon after, and by the time the company closed in 2006, it had made a wide range of products, including lamps, chandeliers, kitchen and garden accessories, and sculptures.

CWC started renovating its 16,000 square feet of space in March 2022, which Jordan estimated to be 10% to 15% of the complex's overall footprint. 

The renovation took place from March to August. Jordan described the timeline as "tight" while he painted a picture of multiple contractors, lifts and tools working simultaneously in the same space.

Projects included clearing out old equipment and infrastructure, cutting a large mezzanine in half and adding a slope to the building's flat floor for drains, a process Jordan described as a "significant undertaking."

The fact that the building is listed by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources also offered a few challenges. Preserving the historic site included leaving the floor scale alone, refraining from painting parts of the wall, and stopping a new wall six feet short of another wall in order to make a hallway that would protect a historically important corner in the barrel room.

"It definitely would slow things down from time to time," Jordan said. "You work with a consultant who understands the review process and who tries to get you on a path to not doing anything that you would have to undo. So that sort of vetting process takes longer than just the normal permit approval process."

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In August 2022, CWC began winemaking as a service and carried eight clients for its first vintage. 

CWC set the building up with multiple workspaces, allowing for work on up to four different projects by four sets of employees simultaneously. The building's high ceilings also accommodate tanks, barrel stacking and up to 15 feet of dumping in the processing area.

CWC will look to add four to six clients for this season's vintage and expects to add another one to two production workers by the next harvest.

Jordan admitted that enough business likely exists for the company to reach total capacity in half its planned time, but he wants to manage its growth. 

"If you have the tank and square footage capacity, but you don't have the right staff in place yet, you put all that burden on your undersized staff, and that leads to burnout and unhappy employees," Jordan said. 

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CWC plans to eventually reach full capacity and expand from winemaking as a service. In addition, Jordan said the company intends to introduce a direct-to-consumer and vertically integrated portion of the business.

Part of that vision includes a tasting room, which the company aims to house in the saw tooth space of the building. 

"Longer term, [we want to] open into a bigger, more beautiful space," Jordan said. "Then really foster an environment in both of those tasting rooms, which is a little bit more wine bar than tasting room; meaning that we have our clients represented in a way that is exciting to the customer, that makes them want to come to try different things."

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