California's Tank Garage Winery Uses Spiritual Crystals To Ferment Wine

In a part of the world where wine is serious business, one quirky winery brings a refreshing approach to the process. Established in 2014 by James Harder, a Napa Valley vintner with some serious wine-making chops, Tank Garage Winery was founded as a beacon for original thinkers and convention-defying innovators with a passion for wines "with soul and purpose." And occasionally, a bit of good juju in the form of healing crystals.

It all started with an abandoned gas station. Harder, who had previously visited a gas-station-turned-tasting-room in Washington wine country, became intrigued by a vintage 1930s garage located on Route 128 in Calistoga, California. Despite its dilapidated state, Harder recognized the structure's authentic Art Deco features. He already owned and operated nearby James Cole Winery with his wife, Colleen, but he had a different vision for the run-down gas station.

"We took a painstakingly long time to kind of bring a really creative vibe to the place," Harder told The Drive in 2021. "When you walk in, it feels like a period-correct gas station with a bubble gum machine and we added some fun cool elements like a vintage pinball machine." Harder also restored the vintage gas pumps out front, and, though they're purely decorative now, occasionally, a driver pulls in expecting a fill-up only to discover they're out of luck — unless they're interested in tasting or maybe filling their trunk with, unique wines produced in a no-holds-barred creative winery.

Daredevils and dreamers

In addition to wine, Harder's other passion is vintage cars and motorcycles. His collection includes a 1959 Corvette and a 1947 Indian Chief once ridden by mid-20th-century motorcycle-racing legend Eddie Bratton, who, in an unexpected twist, also owned and operated the service station where Tank Garage Winery is located. Bratton's former racing bike holds a place of honor in the tasting room at Tank Garage Winery, along with a collection of old spark plugs and oil can guitars.

"Eddie was a retired Indian Motorcycle racer, a daredevil and a hell of a mechanic," Ed Feuchuk, Tank Garage Winery general manager, told Rue Daily in 2016. "When we got the place, it wasn't in great shape and our goal was to restore some of Eddie's spirit and really draw on vintage California culture to create an inviting space for like-minded dreamers."

So Tank Garage Winery, a one-time gas station owned by a daredevil motorcycle racer, set out to become a gathering place for dreamers and individuals not afraid to think outside the box — or bottle, as it were. A place where a winemaker might like the idea of infusing wine with crystal energy.

Good vibrations

In a distinct departure from more traditional wineries, Tank Garage produces only one-offs, so each season brings a new round of experimentation, which means their only limit is their imagination. "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," head winemaker Bertus van Zyl told Food & Wine in 2020, "Once the grapes are harvested and transported to the winery, that's where we basically try not to screw it up."

It's a pretty safe bet that van Zyl was being facetious, but the creative process does sound a bit chaotic — in a good way. After all, as the Tank Garage Winery website points out, "Experimenting is in our DNA. Doing what others haven't, or won't, is what drives us in wine-making." The team has been known to employ whole cluster fermentation (good, old-fashioned foot stomping) and to experiment with different extraction techniques as they chase their dream of producing an ever-changing roster of unique, one-and-done vintages, which brings us to Crystal Vision, Tank Garage Winery's 2021 crystal-fermented cabernet sauvignon.

Let's make this crystal clear

Always on the lookout for inspiration, Tank Garage Winery has a tradition of inviting forward-thinking winemakers to share their thoughts and lead a discussion prior to each harvest season. In 2021, Jason Ruppert, owner of Ardure Wines, addressed the crew, sharing his thoughts on crystal fermentation. Ruppert had been experimenting with employing crystals during fermentation as a way to enhance the energetic vibrancy of the finished product. "We knew Jason had his own brand where he did crystal fermentation, which intrigued us," Feuchuk told Tasting Table. "Since we have a huge emphasis on experimenting and learning, we had Jason come give our cellar team a talk before the 2021 harvest about crystal fermentation and his beliefs, and we were inspired by his passion and decided to try it out."

According to Tank Garage Winery, Ruppert is well aware of the New-Agey connotations of crystal fermentation, but he's also a firm believer in the science of the process, citing the natural vibration of quartz, which describes as a sort of tuning fork capable of transforming energy. Since experimenting is in their DNA, the Tank Garage Winery team was on board, tweaking Ruppert's process just a bit by placing the waxing-moon-charged crystals adjacent to — rather than inside — the wine barrels. Wait. What was that about the waxing moon?

Crystal wine persuasion

There's more to crystal fermentation than dropping a few pieces of quartz around a bunch of wine barrels. There's a process. First, the crystals have to be washed, charged overnight under a waxing moon, and kept in the dark until it's time to use them. Is the end product worth the time and effort? The Tank Garage Winery team seems to think so, describing the first as heralding "a vision board of emotions."

Feuchuk told Tasting Table, given their location in northern California and general openness to New-Agey traditions, the Tank Garage Winery team may have been predisposed to experiencing the crystal connection, but that doesn't mean it's not a possibility. "We really approached this project from a curiosity more rooted in the spiritual side than the scientific side," Feuchek told Tasting Table. "So we really just leave that up to the drinker. Some feel the vibrancy, others don't. In some cases, the placebo effect is very real. It's really left up to interpretation."

There's only one way to find out — do your own wine tasting. But act fast. Remember Tank Garage Winery's one-and-done policy? That means when the 2021 Crystal Visions vintage is sold out, the experiment with crystal fermentation is done, and, at the moment, there are no solid plans to produce another crystal-infused wine. "We didn't have the opportunity to do it in 2022," said Feuchek, "But we never say never to anything, including bringing the good vibrations back into the cellar."