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Vineyard expands in spite of down economy

Phil Starr is doing something not many are during a national recession – growing.

In the last year, Sierra Starr – the Starr’s family winery – already has opened a new tasting room in downtown Grass Valley.

Now, they’re digging a new winery out at their vineyard south of the city. And in the next year, they’re planning to buy more land to plant, Starr said.



“I’ve been self-employed since 1970; and if you manage out of fear, you don’t get anything done,” Starr added, standing in the orange dust of a recently dug pit surrounded by his green vineyard.

His success boils down to a fairly recession-proof business, keeping work both in house and in the family, and taking advantage of the lowered costs of the down economy.




“We’ve been very fortunate – able to maintain during the slow spell and we’ve still had a little growth year over year,” Starr said. “The kind of business we’re in tends to at least maintain, but I believe I can follow the public sentiment – how frightened they are, by what wines they buy.”

Working with his wife Anne and his son Jack, Phil Starr has been able to keep costs way down in day-to-day operations, based in a 1,200- square-foot building on their property.

Now, the family is saving on their next big project, quadrupling their wine-making space by digging the roughly 4,000-square-foot winery.

“We’re the epitome of a family business,” he said. “We basically did most of the excavating ourselves and probably saved $15,000 to $18,000.”

And the flip side to the downturn has been lowered costs, Phil Starr said.

They had been looking to buy a tasting room downtown for quite some time, renting over the last few years. As real estate prices dropped, they scooped up a prime space at a much lower cost, he said.

“We felt the time was right. We are saving 25 percent on the cost of building, materials and labor,” he said.

While business practices have stacked up in the Starr family’s favor this year, mother nature was more of a mixed bag.

The weather was punishing to grape growers, Jack Starr said, killing 40 percent of their cabernet franc, and 10 to 15 percent of everything else.

The weather has also meant a later harvest and crush, however, that’s good timing for the construction, he said.

“It’s almost a blessing in disguise, it gives us time to do this,” the younger Starr said.

Looking forward, Phil Starr said he wants to buy at least two more acres – maybe more – to add to the 12 he already has vines planted on.

At the end of the day, Starr said it comes down to taking a risk.

“You take your chances in everything,” Phil Starr said. “I worry all the time, but it doesn’t stop me.”

To contact Staff Writer Greyson Howard, e-mail ghoward@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4237.


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