A model for saving time and money from the manufacturing world of Toyota and Sony is flowing into the unlikely province of California wine grape growing and winemaking.

Time is ever present in the vernacular of enology and viticulture. Right time to pick; right time to treat for powdery mildew; proper aging time and even taking time for wine to breathe after it is uncorked are just a few of the “times” of grape growing and winemaking.

But just-in-time (JIT)?

JIT as an inventory strategy model to reduce carrying costs in manufacturing items like cars and televisions seems as out of place in grape growing and winemaking as a Mondavi Rothschild Opus One in a bag-in-a-box.

Nevertheless, Mendocino County, Calif., grape growers and winery owners Martha and Charlie Barra say it is a concept more premium wine grape growers must embrace to survive the rough-and-tumble world of wine globalization.

Rather than putting all their efforts on selling grapes to wineries, growers should focus on marketing the wine made from the grapes and delivering it to winery buyers just-in-time, say the Barras.

About 20 percent of any given California crush moves in the bulk wine market before it is packaged. However, growers usually do not play in that world except out of desperation. Custom crushing often is a last minute, harvest time decision when growers cannot sell the grapes at a reasonable price and decide to crush the grapes and store the wine in hopes of making a profit from the wine they could not gain from the grapes.

It takes a season’s investment growing the grapes and turns it into an investment that might not see return for several years. Most consider it a risky business for growers to go alone. Bankers are known to frown upon it.

Charlie Barra scoffs at the idea that it is a huge producer gamble.

“Grape growers are capitalists; they plant vineyards on borrowed money and wait three years before they have a crop to sell,” Charlie says. “What is the risk compared to that in crushing your own grapes, if they are premium grapes to make premium wine? You are in a better economic position than if you leave grapes on the vines too long hoping a winery buys them. I bulked wine 40 years ago and did well.”

Martha says the mistake many growers make when they eventually decide to take them to a winery for custom crushing is that grape quality has often deteriorated, waiting for a winery buyer.

“Make the decision to grow grapes from the beginning of the year like you are delivering grapes to a Napa Valley winery,” Martha says.

This is not idle tasting room chatter, but the valued opinion of two people who have devoted their lives to grape growing and winemaking; and understand the business from both sides of the crusher.