This Is the Best Gas Station Winery in Napa
There's no gas at Tank Garage Winery, but there's plenty of wine.
Along Route 128 in Calistoga, California, sits what used to be an old, abandoned service station. Built in the 1930s, complete with classic Art Deco vibes, it officially stopped pumping gas around the late 1970s or early 1980s and for the most part sat untouched for 30 years. That is, until 2014, when wine industry veterans James Harder and Jim Rugusci discovered a way to bring the station back to life with Tank Garage Winery.
Tank isn’t your typical Napa Valley wine-tasting experience. With an eclectic tasting room called “Lubrication” and wines named “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “Love Now More Than Ever," Tank is an ode to dreamers. Earlier in his career, Harder visited a winery in an old gas station in Walla Walla, Washington, that would ultimately serve as inspiration for a venture he would one day pursue.
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Harder, along with Head of Marketing Ed Feuchuk and Head Winemaker Bertus van Zyl, are always collaborating to develop wines that each have their own unique story and original labels. In the new normal of social distancing, Tank recently reopened its doors with strict guidelines that aim to keep customers and employees safe in the age of COVID-19.
On average, most wineries typically work with about four to eight grape varieties to make wine blends that are bottled, matured, and then sold. In 2019, Tank crushed 47 different grape varieties to experiment with different tastes and textures of wine. “Most wineries choose to focus on a single variety, region, or style, and obtain a reputation for making that specific wine, which can limit the amount of experimenting that they can do,” van Zyl says. He and his team focus on finding the best spots for growing the varieties that they work with, and work hard to maintain relationships with their growers.
“Most of our esoteric, kind of ‘wild stuff’ we find outside of Napa. Some of it has been grape growers reaching out to us and other times we’ve gone out and discovered really interesting vineyards in Mendocino, Sierra Foothills, and Contra Costa,” van Zyl says. “Once the grapes are harvested and transported to the winery, that’s where we basically try not to screw it up.”
The Tank team, led by van Zyl, uses different winemaking methods such as whole cluster fermentation (which involves stomping the grapes) and extraction techniques to decide how long the grapes stay on the skins and when to press the juice. Most of the wines, other than the Bordeaux varieties, are put in old, larger format barrels that hold up to 132 gallons of wine. After a month or so, Harder, van Zyl and Feuchuk come together to discuss how to blend and market the wines in production, leaving no stone unturned. Beloved creations of the past, which now reside in “The Vault,” include a chrome-dipped bottle that served as a love letter to the classic American automobile, a 100% Barbera Pét-Nat sparkling wine, and an all-natural Cinsault.
Part of what makes Tank unique is its philanthropic initiative, Tank Cares. The organization came about organically after supporting neighboring vineyards that had been impacted by the wildfires of 2017. “That next spring, we produced a really small batch of 100% Charbono wine, had people contribute artwork for the label, and it sold out immediately,” Feuchuck recalls. “In 2019, we wanted to raise and donate $20,000 to charitable causes that we believe in—and we did. We're really proud to do these things, and the more we do them, the more we realize we can make an impact.”
Most recently, Tank Cares released This Too Shall Pass, a limited-production blend to which 100% of profits went to the GlobalGiving Coronavirus Relief Fund. In the next few weeks, they’ll be releasing another project in collaboration with young Black artists to raise awareness around racial discrimination and injustice.
“We're constantly learning and evolving so that we can help dreamers keep dreaming,” Harder says. “We’re very passionate about what we do, and believe our good fortune should lead to giving back and creating more good fortune for others.”