Diageo Warehouse Complete, Production to Begin by December

Diageo USVI Vice President Dan Kirby shows off one of the 100,000-square-foot warehouses completed Thursday.International spirits makers Diageo reached another milestone in its move to St. Croix, taking possession Thursday of its gigantic warehouse complex from the local construction company that built it.
Jonathan Ruiz, senior project manager of J. Benton Construction, handed over the keys to the Estate Diamond warehouse complex to Diageo USVI Vice President Dan Kirby at a noon reception at the site off West Airport Road.
According to Kirby, the company is on target to begin producing its Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum on St Croix in early December.
The two 100,000-square-foot warehouses are where the rum will be stored and aged for a year in barrels of Kentucky white oak. Some 3,000 empty barrels are already on site, waiting to be filled.
When the St. Croix operation is in full swing, the company will be making about 700 barrels of rum a day in its new, state-of-the-art distillery nearing completion at the Renaissance Industrial Park and transporting them a short drive down the Melvin Evans Highway to the warehouses.
There the rum will be aged for a year before being drawn from the barrels, loaded into tanks and shipped to the company’s facility in Baltimore, where it will receive what Kirby called the company’s "secret herbs and spices," aged some more, then bottled and shipped around the world.
The warehouse facility cost about $15 million to construct, Kirby said, and includes an administrative building, forklift garage and service buildings. It is capable of holding 200,000 barrels, the equivalent of 100 million 750-milliliter bottles.
About 230 workers for J. Benton Construction worked on the facility, pouring 6,000 cubic yards of concrete and laying 35,000 cinder blocks.
Six Diageo employees are already at work in the warehouses, and another 46 are in training, Kirby said, preparing for the day in November Kirby expects the new distillery to be ready.
Another eight or so workers are likely to be hired in the next few weeks.
Ruiz, who spoke at the key ceremony because James Benton was off island on business, said he took a great deal of pride in the work that culminated Thursday.
"That’s what it’s about," he said, "Completng the project on time, on budget, and meeting your commitments."
J. Benton Construction is a St Croix-based company that in its 20 years has built some of the island’s iconic structures, including the Divi Casino and Hotel and the air traffic tower at the Harold E. Rohlsen Airport.
Diageo has been purchasing rum distilled on Puerto Rico for its Captain Morgan’s label under an agreement that expires Dec. 31. The company decided not to renew that agreement and was looking for a place to build its own distillery when the U.S. Virgin Islands made its bid.
In 2008 the company and the territory announced a 30-year public-private initiative for the construction and operation of a distillery on St Croix.
The V.I. government will begin receiving rum cover-over funds for Captain Morgan’s when the rum made in the territory and stored in the warehouses begins to be shipped to the states in 2012.

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