Designing a Commercial Production Winery with Expansion in Mind

By Piero Spada, LLC

Are you starting a winery while only considering what it will take to open your doors on day one? That’s a great place to start but big picture that can also be a huge mistake! Most wineries I have worked with experience at least 1 major expansion (if not 2) in their first 5 year of business. WHY? Well, in short because their business demands it. In the first 3 years you are likely to hit your stride and have a much better idea of consumer demand, and in turn your business will need to match that demand with supply (basic business 101). Generating more supply will require a larger working area in which to create and store the wine.

Consider this, in Wisconsin alone, it has been estimated that only 4% of all wine sold in the state is produced in the state of Wisconsin. WOW! The same is true of most cold climate production areas, where growing V. vinifera varietals is not an option. The point here is there is a lot of room to gain market share but only if you’re poised to capitalize on this opportunity. Don’t let poor upfront winery layout be a deterrent to future building expansion plans.

Below, we’ll cover the basic construction elements of a startup production winery, while considering the most efficient means of expansion. There is not a one size fits all solution to this conundrum but certain elements remain true from project to project. Note, this article doesn’t cover the necessary legal hurdles, nor am I certified electrician, plumber, contractor, or in the “trades” whatsoever. Outlined below are the nuts and bolts (or raw essentials) of what needs to be discussed with a professional in their own respective field or general contractor.

Size / Scale / Layout

The minimum suggested scale for a commercial winery that I typically recommend is in the 1000 – 2000 case size. For the most part, this starting scale is needed to justify the upfront cost of starting a winery (building cost, commercial wine equipment, etc.). For a 1500 case winery, plan on a minimum building size of 3,500 ft2 with roughly 1/3 space devoted to tasting room and 2/3 production/finished case storage. Obviously you can add a porch, office, event space (to be discussed), kitchen, etc. as you see fit. In the production area, other space “hogs” not considered here are: a separate barrel room and warehouse room for stored cased goods (the most common space obstacle that beginning wineries face).

Other than getting the minimum dimensions correct, the one big tip I can offer once the area of expansion has been identified, is to keep in mind how future building additions will tie together. Elements such as: roof line, utilities, placement of windows and doorways, and wastewater drains. These elements should be discussed with your architect, contractor, and/or builder before the initial winery building construction commences.

Electrical Power

At the aforementioned starting scale, at least 200-amp electrical service to your building should be installed. Ideally 400-amps of electrical service will provide more than ample power for your startup winery with significant room to grow into while keeping expansion in mind. And with regards to voltage, in general “Smaller boutique wineries, 10,000 square feet or less, require 208 volts. Motor sizes are generally 20 horsepower or less…” 1. This is a general rule of thumb, and for one or two pieces of equipment that require 480 volts it may be less expensive to have a transformer bump-up voltage to 480 volts for those two pieces of equipment than having 480 volts delivered to the building and having to step-down the voltage for all remaining piece of equipment on 220 volts.

Single Phase electrical power is an okay starting point at this scale but if you have access to 3 phase (common near urban / industrial parks/ large scale farms), I’d recommend tying into that upfront. At larger scale, most large pieces of equipment utilizing a frequency drive or motors at greater than 5 hp demand 3 phase electrical power.2 However, the need to upscale to 3 phase power depends on your end-goal production. If 3 phase power is only needed for several key pieces of equipment (press, destemmer/crusher, tank mixer, monoblock bottling line, etc.), purchasing a phase converter may be all that is needed. Ultimately there is a lot to consider here and your electrician should determine what supply is needed to meet your peak electrical load.

Water Supply / Wastewater / Drainage

For sanitation, you’ll want an on-demand hot water heater capable of hitting 180-185°F (commercial grade units start out ~$1500). In order to maintain 180°F for prolonged periods of time, the min. recommended flow rate is 1 – 2 gallon per minute. The on-demand water unit can have dual functionality as it can be used to sanitize winery production equipment on the production end and it can also be used to sanitize stemware on the tasting room end.

In the production area, figure on having 1-2 water access points (hose bibs) per wall. Minimizing the distance between heat source and end-point should be considered in order to increase efficiency and decrease heat loss. And lateral water lines that carry water from the source to its endpoint should be at least ¾” in diameter, as opposed to the standard ½”.

For wastewater management, there is no universal system that is suitable to all wineries. The four most common options to choose from include: surface spreading, aerobic biological treatment, settling holding tank / septic tank, or municipal sewage system (easiest if available near you).

The placement of such systems should be outside the zone of potential expansion! For example, placing a holding tank or septic tank in area that is in the area of possible expansion is going to cost you a pretty penny to have it moved out of the way – an easy fix that could have been avoided with prior proper planning.

Each winery should consult with local authorities to determine the best course of action. For more information on this topic see Winery Wastewater Treatment by Bruce Zoecklein.3

Just as water use is a ubiquitous part of winemaking, so is its removal from the winery (typically done by a drain system). Take into consideration figures A) and B). In this scenario if you likely know that production area will expand outward (the 40’ x 40’ area on the right side of the picture in Figure B), adding a connection point for the trench drain that is near the right wall in section A, will allow for a seamless transition. In this scenario the builders won’t have to tear up the concrete floor in the current site to tie the drain system in to the new site. And if the current winery floor has in-ground (radiant) heating and you haven’t planned accordingly? Your cost has just skyrocketed.

Building Ceiling Height

In the Production area, the ceiling height should ideally be at least 16’ high. Why? For two reasons: 1) this allows you to stack 2 pallets of empty glass high during bottling (note a minimum 14’ is needed for filled bottles, assuming cases are stacked 5 high/each pallet and 2 pallets per column) and 2) as your production volume increases size, so will your tank size – having tall ceilings allows for larger tanks! In short, as tanks often increase in size a greater rate upward than outward, investing in tall ceilings upfront makes it a lot easier to increase wine capacity.

Misc. Items that Should be Considered

a) Outdoor Crush Pad: At the starting scale of 1500 cases, a good size crush pad is 30’ x 30’ but could easily be 50’ x 50’ off of the production-end. One of biggest mistakes I see, is having a crush pad that is too small. During harvest and crush you don’t want to be working in the mud! Like all production areas, the concrete that is poured should be able to withstand the weight of a forklift, pallets of bottles, tanks, etc. (typically 5” or greater in thickness). In addition, due to local wastewater runoff regulations, one may need to install a specific wastewater containment system on your crush pad.

b) Garage Door: Cater the winery’s overhead garage door to the largest piece of equipment that will need to enter your building. Sometimes this is a tank, or a press and other times it may be mobile bottling line or semi-trailer. In the last scenario, a minimum clearance of 13’ is often required in order to properly back a mobile line into the winery.

c) Loading Dock: Although not an absolute necessity in the beginning, a loading dock with a docking plate (height adjustable) makes loading and off-loading logistics much simpler that taking the forklift to the back of semi and using a palette jack to move items to the back of the truck for pickup (Figure C). Unloading and loading glass in this manner can quickly become cumbersome and inefficient.

d) Production Floor Sealant: Production floors must be able to withstand a battery of abuse from constant foot traffic, heavy loads (forklift / pallet jack), and should be chemical and water resistant. In addition to being able to withstand the wear and tear of winemaking, the floor should be user friendly (i.e. slip resistant). In order to get the most out of your concrete floor, consider using an Epoxy Resin and Urethane protective coating. Doing so will increase the longevity of your production floor and there are many products on the market to choose from. For more information see “Finding the Right Floor System” (GVM Nov./Dec. 2017).

Event Space / Tasting Bar

Last but not least, the bulk of this article is viewed through a production lens. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the sales side of a winery building. After all, when you’re not busy making it, you should be busy selling it.

Without a doubt, the wineries that I’ve bared witness to with the fastest rates of growth are hosting events (weddings, rehearsals, private parties, live music, craft shows, food & wine pairing dinners, part of wine trails, etc.). Other than having the obvious space to hold events, you must have in place the appropriate support amenities: prep. kitchen, restrooms, storage space, etc. And according to your local building code, make sure your plans have been submitted to ALL local and state authorities (Commercial Building inspector) before starting construction! I recently heard of one horror story involving a winery that built a special events barn to the tune of $400K only to find out from a state inspector after construction that it was out of code due to the building’s occupancy capacity. It needed a fire mitigation system to comply with the state building codes – tack on another $120K after the fact — Ouch!

For the tasting room, the two tips I can give you is with regards to flow of people. First, have a dedicated and segregated checkout area that is separate to your tasting bar. Ideally, this checkout area would be located right next to the exit of your building. Secondly, on busy days when you need to setup multiple tasting bars to cater to all your customers, devise a plan that considers flow from both a customer and staff perspective. Planning and implementing these flow through systems are important to efficiently moving traffic in / out of the tasting room. For more information on Visitor Flow, see “Trends in Winery Construction that Maximize Revenue” (GVM, Nov./Dec. 2017).

In short, putting in the upfront effort to implement some simple layout considerations for your new winery can help save significant money down the road when in comes to expanding your production area. After all, in this business, there is no shortage of places to spend money elsewhere.

Happy Winemaking!

Many thanks to Ryan Prellwitz of Vines & Rushes Winery for his input and review of this article.

Designing Wine Racks for Your Retail Space

By Jessica Spengler

The love of the land, of the vine, of the grape, and of course, of the wine is the reason many vintners get into the wine industry. The idea of building a business with the sweat of your brow and creating a fantastic result is what motivates people to keep going. However, to make the dream a reality, you have to sell that product. Your product needs to appeal to the consumer through smell and taste, but also with a well-crafted label and an interesting bottle. Then, you need to show it to your customers in the best way possible. This is where a beautiful built display becomes essential.

There are many ways of thinking about how to display your wine. For some producers, just getting the wine in front of the customer is what matters, and as long as it’s there, they don’t care how it looks. For others, high-end woods and displays even more impressive than the wine are all that will suffice. Most wineries and retailers prefer to be somewhere in between, with a display that will attract consumers to purchase their wines but also allow for customer accessibility, inventory management, and other day-to-day functions.

Types of Wine Displays & Racking

When wine racks are set up correctly, they lead to higher sales. Ideally, customers should have access to a label-forward display and inventory behind, underneath or above. There are multiple ways to set up a retail space that accomplishes this.

Standard wine racks

A standard wine rack is one of the best ways to maximize space, control inventory and display wine beautifully. Racks can be made from a bevy of materials, but most often are wooden, with a label-forward display row and cork-forward storage below and above. Standard racks are built to fit a case of standard wine bottles, and sometimes two cases, depending on height.

Diamond and Rectangular Bins

For bulk storage wines, diamond and rectangular bins allow retailers to stack standard Bordeaux bottles without fear of breakage. These are most often used for less expensive wines or wines with large inventories. Diamond and rectangular bins should not be used for wines in burgundy bottles that have a rounded bottom and no shoulder. The decorative element of these bins can add an element of design to this bulk storage.

Wine Islands and Tables

Wine islands are similar to standard wine racks. However, the top of the island is where the display bottle is laid with a place for 12–to–13 bottles underneath. Wine tables are similar to islands in that they hold a full case of each wine, but instead of a display on top, there is a flat surface or table for displays or to hold tastings. This is a common option in retail environments where there is not a specified area for tastings.


A new trend in wine storage is the metal “Vintageview” style. These powder-coated racks display the wine bottle on its side rather than cork-forward, and the back stock of bottles are laid in a similar fashion behind the display bottle and moved forward as customers purchase inventory. This is a versatile rack fashioned to a winery’s or retailer’s liking and seems to take up less space than traditional wooden racks. However, displaying the bottle on its side doesn’t necessarily save room, and the racks offer little bulk storage.

Barrel Racks

While many retailers may not have wine barrels in store, most wineries have them on the premises. Barrel racks are an excellent way to store, move and monitor your aging wine in an organized way. These racks come in single, two-barrel, four-barrel, or customized sizes by companies such as Rack & Maintenance Source ( near Walla Walla, Washington.

Rack & Maintenance opened in 2000 as a small shop that initially serviced wineries in their hometown of Walla Walla and parts of the Northwest. Now they’re a world-wide barrel rack supplier. The company makes their racks in-house with the highest grade American stainless steel, as well as from mild steel with powder coating. Powder coating gives producers color options while protecting steel from rust, and when maintained correctly, can help these racks last a lifetime.

Rack & Maintenance has a bevy of barrel rack options that allow vintners to move barrels using a forklift, stack barrels safely and even stack different rack setups on top of one another.

The standard barrel rack, a seven-inch, double-bar, two-barrel rack, was designed with safety in mind. “Double-bar means the pocket opening, where you would put the forklift in to lift it. It’s also a safety feature. If [the forklift driver] stops too quick, the rack catches on the fork, so [the barrels] aren’t gonna fall off,” said Kristin Subryan, Rack & Maintenance Source VP of Regional Sales. These racks are available in both two-barrel and four-barrel and can be stacked up to six high, with the bottom of the rack resting on top of the barrel beneath.

Unlike standard barrels, Rack & Maintenance’s “stack rack” locks into the rack beneath it rather than on top of the barrels for a stable, more flexible rack setup.

“The price point is a little bit higher but [vintners] like them because they’re versatile. We can do a standard barrel rack, or we can do a chardonnay barrel with a roller. That way you can stack regular racks [on top of] racks with rollers,” said Subryan.

Stack racks provide stability unseen in standard barrel racks.

“When we did the crush test on them, they were able to withstand up to 10,000 lbs of pressure before the feet flattened on the floor. It’s just a well-built, steady-on-the-ground rack,” said Subryan.

For those vintners looking for barrel racks to help them maximize space, the four-inch single-bar racks are best, according to Subryan. “It’s popular because of height restrictions. If you’re down in a cellar, if you have caves or places like that with a low ceiling, a four-inch rack’s gonna get you more barrels on your height.”

For inventory management, she suggests the seven-inch double-bar. “If you need to get into the bung of the barrel, the seven-inch rack is the rack you’re gonna need,” she said. “If they need to get a [wine] thief in there, if they need to access the wine in the barrel, their gonna want a seven inch-rack. The four-inch racks are too close to each other that they’re not able to access the bung.”

Rack & Maintenance also offers a single-barrel rack that will safely stack an uneven amount of barrels together. This accessory is designed to fit nicely between two barrels and distribute weight evenly. Additionally, they offer a raised barrel washing stand outfitted with wheels for easy cleaning.

“If you come in with your forklift and you pick up your two barrels [on the rack], you can zip it over to a barrel washing stand and drop the rack down. The barrels will land on the rollers, and the rack will drop down, right underneath the barrels, and rest there. It’s at the right height, so you’re not breaking your back to move these barrels,” said Subryan.


Customized cabinetry and racks expand display options for wineries and retailers. Wine and barrel rack designers and manufacturers are more than willing to work with their consumers to fit their differing needs and requirements.

Rack Materials

The materials available for wine storage, from wine cellars in tasting rooms to displays in retail stores are varied, and each has their purpose, pros and cons. For wood racks, hardwoods are best.


Metal is commonly used for backroom storage, barrel racks, as well as VintageView and other metal racking.


Once the most commonly used material for constructing wooden wine racks and wine cellars, the endangered status of coast redwoods and giant sequoias means industry alternatives are necessary.
Wine Cellar Innovations (WCI), a wine cellar design firm and manufacturer in Cincinnati, Ohio, uses redwood guaranteed to be harvested sustainably for nearly 75 percent of their constructions. On its website, WCI explains why.

“All of our redwood is purchased under the guidelines of SFI, Sustainable Forestry Initiative ( SFI Certification provides customers with the assurance that the redwood you purchase from Wine Cellar Innovations has been harvested in an environmentally sound manner.”

WCI’s continued use of redwood trees is simple: they believe it is the best option.

“It is naturally moisture resistant, and it is non-aromatic. A refrigerated room is going to have high humidity, so you want wood that is going to hold up well to high humidity. It is non-aromatic, which is good because wine will breathe and take on odors in the room,” said Brett Norris, a wine cellar design consultant at Wine Cellar Innovations (


Charles Griffiths is the owner of Vigilant Inc. (, a Dover, New Hampshire-based designer of wine cabinetry, cellars and racks. He told The Grapevine Magazine that his first choice is mahogany, a wood that is similar to redwood in its ability to hold up in high humidity and non-aromatic qualities, among other things.

“We’ve been using different types of mahogany for the entire time the company’s been around. We really like the material, it’s great to work with, it’s strong, it looks good, it takes stain well,” said Griffiths.

Other woods

For wineries or retailers looking to use a different sort of wood for their racks, wine rack manufacturers are more than willing to take requests— but at a cost.

“Black walnut’s been popular the last three years; it’s finally starting to die down a little bit. So that’s fine, we can say ‘yeah we can do this in black walnut, it’s gonna be this much more because we’re gonna have to source the material and mold the material and get it to where you want it to be,’” Griffiths said.

Finishing is just as important as wood selection, Griffiths said. “It’s not just what it looks like, but we use conversion varnish or lacquer on all our racks and all of our cabinetry that’s good for protecting the wood and keeping dust and wine, if it spills, off the product. It’s just a nice protective product.”

Planning the Space

Designing a cellar or display rack should start as early as possible when planning a new construction or remodel, particularly if there are any plans for climate control or refrigeration.

Norris told The Grapevine Magazine, “When an architect specs out a wine cellar room, that’s when they need to start reaching out and figuring out what this customer might need. You don’t want to wait too long. I would say one of the challenges I run into is people not giving us a call early enough in their projects,” he said.” I’ve seen many new house constructions and remodel projects be nearly finished, and then they call the wine cellar guy and say ‘Hey can you come help us with this project?’ Well, we might be past the point of no return on somethings or people may have to redo work that’s already finished.”

Griffiths agreed. “When we get proposals, what happens is, someone may call us, and they haven’t done much of anything. That is preferable to us because they say, ‘Look I’m just reaching out, we’re a year out from opening a new location, and we’re thinking about doing this, we’re trying to get some ideas going, we just want to include you in the design process.’ That’s when they’re using us to the biggest advantage.”

The key, said Griffiths, is to define what you want for the business early in the planning process.

“We’re very design-oriented, so we like to start out with the stakeholders and find out what it is they’re trying to do. Sometimes their goals are well-defined, and we’re just coming in and slipstreaming it into what their plans are, and we are able to get them what they want. A lot of other times they’ve got a blank slate, and then, a lot of cases they’ve got an architect or designer who’s said, ‘I’ve earmarked this area for wine storage, I don’t really know a lot about exactly how it’s all supposed to go together, but can you please help us with that,’” he said.

According to Norris, one of the first things to discuss is the how a winery or retailer would like to display their wines.

“A wine retailer specifically, one of the things they have to think about is how are they going to display the wines. Alcohol, liquor, wine need to be in front of the customer to be purchased instead of in a box in the back waiting for a spot on the shelf,” he said. “Talking with us about how our racks can be organized together, how we can lay out a store to help separate different wineries versus how many types of bottles or how many kinds of bottles, or whether they want to do a case – or threes, fours or sixes – of a wine. They pretty much work with us to help maximize a space, help display a lot of bottles.”

Location in the store, often referred to as “real estate,” is a primary factor, too.

“We get into formats; we get into how many different areas and how you’ll set your store up. Are you setting your store up by country, are you setting your store up by region, are you setting up your store by varietal?” Griffiths said. “That’s the stuff that we bring up, and they usually ponder on it for a while before they come back and want to dig into a design and come up with what they think is most important.”

In the end though, what is most important is functionality. Getting feedback from the often overlooked store or tasting room manager may be worth the effort.

“You can build a lot of pretty cabinets and racks and stuff, but it always has to make sense in terms of functionality,” said Griffiths. “It’s funny, I go out on a lot of these projects for the implementation, and the people that are actually using your product, you’ve never met them before. They’re the food and beverage manager, or the store manager, and nobody ever consulted them at all. And they wonder ‘How come it’s being done this way?’ Those people at that end, they want things to be very functional because they’re using it every day and they want to be able to do their business in as easy a way as possible.”

Benefits of Using a Consultant

Enlisting companies like Vigilant Inc. ( and Wine Cellar Innovations will allow you to make the most of your space and to address questions that you may not know the answers to such as climate control. These companies also offer installation and customization to make sure you have what you want and can offer advice on things an owner, builder or designer may not have fully considered.

“We listen to the customer and figure out what their goals are,” said Norris. “We help them take that space, come up with racking designs, and show them bottle capacity information and work with their builder to execute the construction of the room. We offer installation services as well. The customer can elect to hire us to come and assemble the racks and install them in the room, which, can be a bit of a complicated process too, so it’s good to have us and our factory trained installers assemble the wine racks in the field too.”

Baker-Bird Winery: Tasting the History of American Wines

By Nan McCreary

Most people assume that California is the birthplace of American wine. In fact, in the 1870’s — when California was just establishing commercial winemaking — tiny Bracken County, on the banks of the Ohio River in Kentucky Bluegrass Country, was the leading wine-producing county of the U.S., supplying over 30,000 gallons of wine annually. At the center of this production was Baker-Bird Winery, the oldest commercial winery in America that is still operating on its original land.

“At the time, the Ohio River Valley was the place to grow grapes in the U.S.,” according to Dinah Bird, who purchased the winery in 2003 with the intention of bringing the property back to its glory days. “The German immigrants who settled here said the hilly area reminded them of their homeland and they called it ‘America’s Rhineland.’ With their heritage of wine, grape production flourished. I want to restore that history, and create wines that reflect our culture and our terroir.”

The Baker-Bird Winery was established by ancestors of John Baker, a German immigrant and early settler of Augusta, Kentucky. Baker’s son Abraham purchased land where the winery stands today, and his son, Abraham Baker, Jr., built the winery in the 1850s. During this era, a Cincinnati entrepreneur named Nicholas Longworth planted hundreds of acres of grapes in the Ohio River Valley and became internationally famous for his sparkling wine made from the native Catawba grape. Longworth helped put the area on the wine map, creating a market for the growing number of German immigrants who wanted an affordable, drinkable table wine to continue with the traditions of their homeland.

The “Golden Age” of wine in Northern Kentucky, however, was short-lived. “After the Civil War, there was a labor crunch when the slaves were freed,” Bird told The Grapevine Magazine. “Also, there were wet summers in the late 1860s and early 1870s, and grapes succumbed to black rot and powdery mildew. The nail in the coffin was the discovery of a mutant strain of tobacco in the area — white burley — which was extremely popular. As farmers were losing grapevines to fungus, they started growing tobacco. Soon, the area was the premier tobacco producing region in the U.S.”

The Baker-Bird winery, like so many, sat dormant until Bird purchased it in 2003. She named the historic wine cellar in the German tradition, Baker-Bird Winery, combining the names of the founder and the current owner. “My goal is to restore a lost piece of history, and to help people have a positive agricultural wine experience,” Bird said.

For Bird, with a background in chemistry and a passion for history, the purchase was serendipity. “I love the ‘magic’ of the winemaking process,” she said. “This is where my background and my love of winemaking and history intersect.”

The Baker-Bird Winery is one of 22 wineries in the U.S. National History Registry, and the vineyard land is on its own National Historic Registry. It is the only winery in the country that was in a Civil War Battle, where it served as a refuge for women and children during the Battle of Augusta in 1862. Because of that rich history, the winery is also on the Civil War Heritage Trail and the Freedom Trail.

Today, under Bird’s direction, the Baker-Bird Winery is poised to make a comeback. “While we have done a lot of restoration, we have left the building as it was as much as possible,” Bird said.

The original winery, mostly intact, is a three-story structure built into a hillside, with the vineyard on top of the hill. The cellar is 90 feet long by 40 feet wide and 40 feet high. The room is cavernous, with stone walls and a dirt floor. Bird has added drainage tiles and gravel to keep the floor dry. The cellar is a popular venue for special events, particularly wedding-related events such as bridal showers, rehearsal dinners and receptions. The second story, the original pressing room, is now the tasting room, with a bar, fire pits and tables and chairs. Bird installed decking and a bathroom and upgraded the electricity (from the 1930s), so it would meet code. The third level is an attic, which serves as a storage room. “The people who owned the property before me used the attic for hanging tobacco and they’d auction off the leaves,” Bird said. “The room still smells like tobacco.”

To one side of the building is a small winery, required for a Kentucky Small Farm Winery License. In 2009, Bird opened the cellar and the tasting room to the public. Currently, Bird outsources her grapes from local growers, producing 400 to 500 cases per year, all premium wines. Bird’s goal is to replant the vineyard and add a much-larger wine-making facility.” In 2006 we had the soils tested, and determined that it’s the perfect place for growing grapes,” she said. “The site is terraced, with good orientation and ventilation. You can still see the stone terraces from the original vineyard. There’s a lot of limestone in the soil, so drainage is excellent.”

Bird’s passion for winemaking — and training in viticulture and winemaking at the University of California Davis — give her a leg up in bringing out the true expression of grapes native to the Ohio Valley. Most are French-American hybrid grapes, including Vidal Blanc, the most popular grape grown in Kentucky for white wine. “Vidal Blanc is planted so much because it can tolerate the freeze/thaw cycles we have in the spring,” Bird said. “It is a very versatile grape. Like Chardonnay in California, it can be made with many expressions.” Bird makes a dry, semi-dry and sweet version of Vidal Blanc.

The only Vitis Vinifera on the Baker-Bird menu of nine wines is a Cabernet Franc. Vitis Vinifera grapes cannot survive the cold temperatures of Northern Kentucky, but Cabernet Franc can tolerate temperatures as low as minus-25 F. One of Baker-Bird’s best-selling wines is a Cabernet Franc Blanc, where they remove the skins before fermentation. According to the Baker-Bird website, the Cabernet Franc Blanc ‘releases a burst of exotic aromas’ and is ‘a distinct Kentucky wine produced from a French grape.’

The signature wines at Baker-Bird Winery — and the ones that have received national and international accolades — are the Bourbon Barrel Wines, complex red and white wines that have been aged at least six months in bourbon barrels. “Anyone can make wine,” Bird said, “but the best wines have a story behind them. Bourbon barrels reflect our culture: what wine is to California, bourbon is to Kentucky. This is who we are.”

Baker-Bird’s Black Barrel Wine, a red made from Cabernet Franc, takes 11 years to produce. The Kentucky bourbon ferments in a heavily-charred barrel for nine years. The Cabernet Franc ferments in a white oak bourbon barrel for one year. Then the wine is racked from the oak barrel to the used bourbon barrel for six months to a year. The resulting wine is a very smooth dry red wine with bourbon undertones.

According to Bird, the bourbon barrel wines account for one-third of Baker-Bird’s sales. “I didn’t invent this process,” she said, “but I did commercialize it and make it in quantities, and now I ship it to three states. The wines go great with hushpuppies, a local favorite around here, so it reflects our culture and our climate.”

Bird noted that she was, indeed, the first to make a white wine in bourbon barrels. The wine, called Lightning Strike, is made from Vidal Blanc with a hint of bourbon that comes from the bourbon barrels. Initially, this was slightly problematic. “It was very difficult to make the white wine from a charred bourbon barrel,” Bird said. “All bourbon barrels are charred, and even though the wine tasted good, it did not look good. So, the process had to be perfected.”

As Baker-Bird is aspired to grow, she delights in watching Kentucky viticulture also grow, especially now that tobacco production has moved overseas. In 1990, Kentucky had one winery. In 1994, the State passed legislation to allow small farm wineries. By 2000, there were 10 wineries in Kentucky, and today there are over 70 registered and bonded wineries. While the state’s wine industry is growing, Bird acknowledged that opening a winery is always a challenge.

“It usually takes four or five years to harvest a crop, and farmers have to wait for a paycheck,” she said. “I decided that I was not going to compete against farmers and other wineries, but rather, work with them. The average vineyard is only two acres, and there isn’t a huge market for the wine, so I work in the vineyards gratis, and the farmers give me first choice on the fruit. It’s a win-win for everyone. I do all I can to support the local wine business.”

In a further effort to support the local economy, Bird hires people to help in her tasting room, including a guitarist who has been playing almost every Saturday and Sunday afternoon since the winery opened. She also employs local teenagers to lead tours at the winery and help with special events. “This gives the students something to put on their resumes, plus an opportunity to learn responsibility,” she said.

In the meantime, Bird keeps “plugging away” at her small business. Proceeds from the sale of wine go toward restoring the historic winery and supporting local farm families. Recently she began turning an old tobacco barn on the property into a bar, where visitors can drink beer (from an old claw-foot tub) and, if so inclined, smoke cigars or hang tobacco and roll their own. Bird has purchased a 1953 Pontiac to carry customers to and from the winery and the bar. She is calling the bar Bootlegger’s Barn, in a nod to the history of moonshine flowing along the Ohio River between Kentucky and Ohio.

As Bird looks to the future, she is hoping she can introduce more and more people to Kentucky’s wine country. Currently, she has five to six thousand visitors a year, many who bring pictures of family members that worked on the Baker Winery back in the mid-1800s. Bird expects that number to increase, as a new Bourbon Trail is being added to pass through Bracken County. By stopping at Baker-Bird Winery, and savoring a glass of Black Barrel Wine or Lightning Strike aged in bourbon, visitors on the Trail can enjoy a slice of Kentucky’s architectural past — and experience first-hand the crossroads of Kentucky’s storied wine and bourbon history.

Baker-Bird Winery is located at 4465 Augusta Chatham Rd., Augusta, KY. The winery is open for tastings and tours Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.

For more information, visit

Barrel Care (Part 2)

By Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Continued from Part 1 which ran in the
January – February 2018 issue of
The Grapevine Magazine.

Monthly Management

Whether full or empty, each barrel needs monthly attention. Try to store full and empty barrels at or as near 50 degrees F when possible.

When full: One will need to taste and check the free Sulfur Dioxide and pHs of these wines monthly at a minimum. After this check, additions can be made to the wines in the barrel and then they can be topped. Topping is one of the keys to keeping a barrel safe from bacteria spoilage. The wines must be of sound chemistry to make this a successful statement and the topping wines need to be “clean”. The author will often use wine from a tank that has been filtered and nearing bottling to know the bacteria load is greatly reduced from that vessel.

When empty: Once again we will need to visit each barrel monthly. In all cases the barrel will have been rinsed and sulfured prior. We should return to these same barrels and, retreat with Sulfur Dioxide by gas or wick (see above) to insure the barrels integrity will continue to be sound.


Most work with empty barrels will happen outside on a crush pad or strung out in caves and warehouses. When possible, try to have as much space and ventilated air moving through the workspace if using liquid Sulfur dioxide or wicks/discs. When possible, the author prefers to unstack the barrels, remove the bungs, look inside the barrel with a flashlight and then smell the barrels at each visit.

If the barrels must stay in place, one can easily work with them also but some of the more critical reviews of sight and smell become more cumbersome.


At certain times, at certain winery locations, the author likes to use Mother Nature. It is not uncommon to plan a day’s barrel work around the weather. If the weather forecast is for rain the author finds advantages, with uncovered crush pad areas, to do a days barrel work, rinse the interior and then allow the barrels to remain on racks, bung down, in the rain to get a nice soaking cleaning on the exterior as well. This can also apply in conjunction to the swelling procedure above but with barrels full of water and bung upward. Please try this experimentally first on a small batch of barrels since some wood discoloration may take place and not be visually to ones liking.

Always clean the bung opening area and when needed one can cauterize / burn that area again. This process may be needed about every 5 years or so at the maximum and a special tool is needed for this process.

Tartrate Removal

Tartrate removal can be a nuisance for those that focus on it. In general it should not be a huge issue. Do note some winemakers care to cold stabilize their wines before placing in barrel for this reason. Most do not however. Also note that when one looks inside the barrel one will see more tartrates because they typically “fall out” and go to the bottom. In the case of sur lie wines in the barrel the yeast layer does a great job of protecting the bottom of the barrel from tartrate adhesion to the wood.

A high-pressure rinse may remove these tartrates effectively. A hot water rinse my help them “flake off” and dissolve more readily.

Some winemakers use a high pH (warm water helps here) soak followed by a light citric acid soak. This can be very effective in tartrate removal. Makes sure the soda ash, the high pH solute, and citric acid, the low pH solute, dissolve completely before adding any one of them barrel.

Some more European trained winemakers will insert a stainless steel chain and have the less stipend “summer help” roll the barrels with the chain inside to knock the tartrates free – then rinse and Sulfur. Be sure to devise a way to retrieve the chain from the barrel.

In most cases, however, the tartrate removal is not a huge focus for the majority of the winemakers due to practical applications.

Tools Needed

Many tools for barrel care may be purchased at winery supply stores, cooperage houses and other specialty suppliers specific to these type products. Research your needs and then contact these companies to see what they offer. In general, only a good barrel rinser, good to great water pressure (chlorine free) is needed and way to introduce the SO2 – wick or gas.

Glass head barrels: A great tool to be able to see inside the barrel when performing certain tasks from burning sulfur wicks, filling, rinsing, lees stirring etc. Watching fermentation and malo-lactic with these glass head barrels can be fascinating beyond the other features. Every cellar should have just one of these glass head barrels to better know what is happening inside their barrels with certain specific functions.


Humidity is undoubtedly a factor when dealing with barrels. The author prefers a less humid cellar to make sure the vacuum needed inside the barrel is fully established on barrels with wine in them. If barrels are kept full and production practices to store few barrels empty for any length of time are employed, this can be the best way to use barrels to their fullest and best capacity. There is some “angel’s breath” evaporation loss but that is a part of the process. If a barrel is stored for less than three months empty most will have few to no issues with reswelling.

Spicing It Up!

Some winemakers prefer to cold stabilize their wines before placing them in barrels to prevent tartrate build up in the barrels. (Referenced above) This can be effective but most winemakers do not do this in large practice.

Burning a sulfur wick in a barrel (5-6 grams) does two things. It puts sulfur dioxide in the barrel as well as displaces oxygen with carbon dioxide. This practice may lend toward mimicking by the winemaker using a carbon dioxide flush on their barrels then using pure liquid sulfur dioxide, following. Many large wineries use liquid Sulfur Dioxide and this may apply to their needs best. Many large wineries also could make dry ice, on site, and this could be used as the Carbon Dioxide source. This may be the way of the future to help combat spoilage bacteria growth in barrels. This may well be the future established standard for proper barrel care.

Wrapping It Up

Tackling the barrel care issue is a trying one but actually an easy one. There is only one way to do it right. The way it works for your cellar. There are many off branches and combinations of what has been described above. Please take from this article anything you think may help your current process and refine, for the better, what will work best for your winery and wines. As can be seen these are some must do processes but most recommendations have some variation.

In all be diligent and respectful of the barrels in your cellar and they will provide many years of service to you, your cellar and your wines.

Other Helpful Tips

Alcohol is less dense than water or juice. It is not all too uncommon to fill a barrel with water to validate the barrel will not leak, only to find a barrel may develop a leak later on. These leaks can typically be fixed on sight of the winery with little effort.

Do not fill a barrel with wine you know to be bacterially unsound. This will only start the spread, further, of the unwanted bacteria.

Smelling the barrel is one of the best ways to acknowledge its condition and readiness to potentially help or harm your wines in the cellar.

Whether full or empty, each barrel normally requires some form of monthly maintenance.

Topping, on time, is critical and resulfuring, on time, is critical.

Lower storage temperatures (50 degrees F) can be a very useful tool and one more winemakers should try to strive to use.

Resist the temptation to store barrels outside. There are many wood boring insects that may take fancy to this easy target leaving the winemaker with leaky barrels. Small periods of time outside may be acceptable.

American oaks tend to need reswelling more than European woods. The author has noticed American oak may develop more ethyl acetate type aromas when stored empty due to a reaction of the wood, moisture and Sulfur dioxide. This is generally not a bacterially generated ethyl acetate aroma if sound procedures are followed and not a concern – just an observation winemakers may notice in their cellars and to be aware.

Uprights and ovals beyond the 600-liter capacity are beyond the scope of this article and care should be taken to establish contact with appropriate sources to secure proper methods of working with these wood vessels.


Verbal discussion with Jacques Boissenot, Chris Johnson, Joachim Hollerith and Jacques Recht.

Many thanks to Mark Heinemann and all the Demptos Cooperage team for their help.

Short Course:

• Visit each barrel monthly.

• Use the basics of this article to establish your best procedure.

• Make this a part of your HACCP plan.

• Be timely and don’t ignore your barrels. Respect them.

• Cool temperatures aid you with full or empty barrels.

Why Data Matters

By Susan DeMatei and Sara Redahan – Wine Glass Marketing

Imagine you are on the marketing team for a direct-to-consumer (DTC) winery, dutifully sending out emails to your newsletter lists and club members, updating posts across social media channels, maybe even sending print notices through the mail. And yet, there does not appear to be any increase in sales conversions or an uptick in club sign-ups. Perhaps there is even a sense of things going into decline. But no one can say why or understand what is contributing to the stagnation.

This confusion is often the case when a new client comes to us, and asks for help. Our response usually starts with, “What does your data show?” To which we often receive a slightly blank or confused stare. Unfortunately, data gets a bad rap as either a bunch of random numbers or as something scary or indecipherable. For the clients who do understand the value of their data, they are often unsure where or how to pull the data to guide their marketing strategies. This mindset requires a reframe – data is not just numbers and figures, it is quantified behavior. Each data point represents an action – a behavior – of the customer. Viewing data in this light allows us to understand how our clients act; then we can anticipate those actions and adjust our marketing strategies to match.
So what kind of data gives the most insight? Well, that depends on where you are looking.


The three essential statistics to consider in email campaigns are open rate, click-through rate, and bounce rate. Open rate and click-through rate will show how many people opened the email and clicked a link, and allow you to understand how your customers are engaging with your marketing. Bounce rate will tell you how many people on your list were unreachable, giving you a snapshot of the health of your database. All of these metrics are the most helpful when compared over time, or with industry standards from a company like Mail Chimp. By tracking a series of emails you can set goals, and experiment with your content to see how your audience reacts to different messages and set-ups.

For example, WineGlass Marketing had a client with clear branding and what they thought was a strategic plan for email releases, yet their open rates were low, and the click-through-rates were abysmal. They asked us to look at the emails and determine how to improve engagement rates. We examined the emails based on category (newsletter, club emails, special releases), and looked at the types of promotions offered. We also charted the open, click-through, and bounce rates for all emails from the previous two years to determine any patterns. What we found was significant disorganization in email schedules (no clear pattern regarding time of month or distribution across months), confusing subject lines, and obscured links (or no links at all.) Using this data, we were able to convince them to engage in a round of A/B Testing, where we systematically varied aspects of the emails. With each test, we isolated components of the emails that their audience responded well to, and were able to build an email campaign with over a 15 percent increase in open rate and a 10 percent growth in click-through rate.
This client eventually implemented a staggering of promotions, newsletters, and club emails intertwined with triggered emails. This strategy created a conversation between the winery and their customers that resulted in increased engagement and sales.

But how do we measure the success of an email campaign and attribute sales to a particular email?

As many DTC wineries know, much of the sales from campaigns do not directly link back to email clicks. Maybe the person came into the tasting room later that month and referenced the email, or maybe someone was more comfortable phoning in their order. Perhaps they clicked through the email links, abandoned the cart, and then came back to the website later and made a purchase. How do we track these types of conversions? For phone calls and tasting room sales, we help train staff to use order notes or source codes to indicate the email campaign. For website sales, we use Google Analytics, an incredibly powerful tool that is both easily setup and often under-utilized. Our favorite function allows us to tag links used in email campaigns and on social media posts. These tags feed information back to Google Analytics on the behaviors of those who click-through to the website using email links. We can directly track the success of these campaigns by the bounce rate, by the number of and what pages are viewed, if a conversion is completed, and if the individual returns to the site at a later date.


How do users find your website? Once on there, what pages do they view? Does your site encourage conversions and what is the conversion rate? Are you putting your marketing resources in the channels with the highest return?

If you have asked yourself any of these questions, then you should be using Google Analytics to help refine your marketing strategies. Surprisingly, many of our DTC clients are not using this tool, or if they are, it is at a very shallow level, barely accessing the data collected. We believe data is behavior, and the more we utilize data and data analytics, the more we can impact future actions.

One area of Google Analytics that we have consistently seen under-utilized is the setting of goals. Setting goals does not require the eCommerce functionality to be engaged and allows you to track conversions and utilize other tools, such as funnels and assisted conversions, that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Funnels can be extremely important when understanding site functionality and how that is impacting sales. For example, we had one client who was sending emails to their newsletter promoting the release of a limited wine. The email itself had a high open rate and a substantial click-through rate but generated few sales, and we noted a significant number of abandoned carts. Because we had a funnel set-up, we were able to see at which point during the purchase process individuals were dropping out – in this case, it was when the visitor clicked through to the shipping address page after the billing address. By editing the website, we were able to optimize their online sales funnel and improve conversion rate. Google Analytics also allows business to set goals and funnels for non-sales conversions, such as club membership or newsletter sign-ups, and these goals can help optimize those sessions as well.

Setting goals also allows tracking what Google Analytics refers to as “assisted conversions.” An assisted conversion is a marketing channel that assists with, but cannot be directly linked to, a conversion. What does this mean? Imagine you engage in paid promotions or boosted posts on social media and notice a high number of link clicks. However, you do not see any conversions linked to social media or referral sources. It may be that these channels are providing an assist – someone visits your site by one channel, explores a bit and leaves, then a few days later returns from a different channel (usually directly or by a search engine) and then makes a purchase or signs up for the newsletter. The original channel will be credited with an assisted conversion, but only if goals are set beforehand. Across our DTC clients with goals, we have found that approximately half the conversions occur on the first interaction with the site, with an additional 20 percent happening on the second interaction, and the remaining needing three or more interactions for conversion. Therefore, you want to be driving people to the site multiple times, and from various sources.

Using Google Analytics not only allows WineGlass Marketing to track the functionality of a website, but the impact marketing strategies have on a website visits as well. A good example of this is paying for ad space on third party sites. One of our clients who does off-site tastings was paying almost $6,000 a year for a listing on a trip-planning site. However, Google Analytics was showing less than 2 percent referral rate from this site per month. We were able to use that data to renegotiate with the listing site and improve our client’s visibility on their pages. Keeping track of your data allows you to know if you are spending your marketing budget in the right channels, and what type of return on investment those channels provide.

Social Media

Social media is a funny beast. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to Pinterest, and all the various sites between, social media offers a unique way to interact with your customer base and provide a way to promote your brand, narrative, and promotions in a cohesive way. Social media also allows your audience to engage with you, and responding to posts and comments is an easy way to increase a potential customer’s awareness of and positive associations with your brand. When looking at how successful a post is, you must look beyond the reach of the post. Reach and impressions refer to how often a post was seen on timeline feeds – it does not indicate engagement. What is better – a post that reaches 500 people or 1000? What if we said the post that reached 500 people had a 25 percent engagement rate and the post that reached 1000 people had 10 percent. You can argue the 25 percent is better (125 versus 100 interactions). Some platforms will provide insights or analytics with your engagement rate, whereas other platforms require a little more work on your end to calculate it. Overall, examining engagement is the best way to determine what types of posts your audience participates in and how well social media is being used to help your brand awareness.

One and Done?

Data is, in a sense, a living-breathing organism. It will change daily depending on how your customers behave. Looking at your data is not a one-time-fix-all for your marketing team. You should integrate data with every campaign, both as a post-mortem and as part of the planning for the next campaign. Your marketing strategies should change and adapt as your customers do, and what works for one segment of your database might not for another set. Perhaps what was once a successful marketing strategy is slowly decaying, and you need to refresh your message. Analyzing your data on a monthly basis will help you craft your marketing messages and allow your brand to shine.

Susan DeMatei is the owner, and Sara Redahan is the Analytics Supervisor of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

10 Tips for Making the Most out of Q4

By Susan DeMatei

As harvest wraps up, you should be ready to pounce on Q4. There are several reasons OND (October, November, December) is a crucial period for Direct to Consumer Sales. First, it in the high point between the summer slump, where it is often too hot to ship or consumers go for cold beers and cocktails over wine, and Q1 where New Years Resolutions have us grabbing electrolyte water and swearing to balance our budgets. Second, the reasons to remind our consumers about wine are too numerous to count. There are large family dinners in need of wine pairings, parties in need of hostess gifts, corporate and personal gifting in need of that classy yet universal item. And, thanks to Daylight Savings time, we leave work in the dark during the OND months—making us feel as though we’ve worked harder, longer, stretched our capabilities farther—and are deserving of a reward. So, just in general we tend to spend more money on luxury products during OND on ourselves. In strictly financial terms, Q4 often shows better ecommerce sales than the other three quarters combined, and it is your last chance to show your shareholders, board or boss that you can make the yearly sales goal.

The downside – everyone knows this. From car companies with gigantic ribbons to your local grocery store with a discount on cranberries, everyone has a sale on something and the competitive noise is deafening. As an individual winery, it may seem daunting to compete with Amazon and and jump into the ecommerce pool with the sharks, but there are ten things you can do to make the most out of your fourth quarter.

  1. Silver Bells, Silver Bells, its Shipping Time in the City.” Know and widely share your Holiday shipping deadlines.

The Amazon affect is never more keenly felt than in the shipping and delivery expectations of consumers. Amazon offers insanely fast delivery and even has the US Post service working for them on Sundays. This has set the expectation bar VERY high for consumers. How does Amazon do this? They self-fulfill, and according to GeekWire’s analysis released in February, Amazon lost $7.2 billion on shipping costs in 2017. While this is clearly great for consumers, it puts the rest of us in the untenable position to compete. And while, logically, consumers should know that a small family winery cannot take an order at 8pm on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and have the wine there the next day in time for celebration, that is what the public is being trained as the “new normal”.

You can avoid this confusion right off the bat by clearly posting your shipping deadlines. You don’t have the power to compete, but you do have the power to set your own customer expectation. Make sure they are posted on your site, in your emails and on your cart checkout pages. Also, make sure your staff knows all your “drop dead” dates. It will help alleviate disappointed customers, which is a sure fire way to lose Club Members, lower Yelp scores, and raise your boss’ blood pressure. You can turn this into an advantage, as well. You can use the cut-off dates to create urgency by sending out reminders or sweeten the deal right before your shipping cutoff.

  1. Grandma Got Run Over by a John Deere.” Visiting family is a great sales opportunity.

If you’re like most wineries, many of your Club Members live locally. The holidays bring the inevitable in-law invasion and it will not be long before they want to get out of the house and are looking for things to do. Holiday Club events at this time of year offer your Members a chance to relax as well as a welcome distraction for guests. For you, they are an effective way to capture a new audience.

Now is not the time for “Member +1” limitations. Come one and come all and keep the event simple and festive, like a drop by open house with mulled wine and “make your own cork tree ornament”. Invites can be simple, too. For Club Members and VIPs, you might want to use something more tangible and personal like a physical Holiday gift card or event invite. But for others, there are many inexpensive card services like Paperless Post and Evite offers online cards as part of their invite system. Don’t try to compete with corporate holiday parties in the evening, but grab a Sunday afternoon to provide that break from holiday shopping. And, encourage shopping. Be sure to provide wine gift boxes and bags, and since everyone is from out-of-town, an additional shipping incentive might be a good idea, too.

  1. Have a Holly Jolly Gift Box.” Provide packaging.

Speaking of gift boxes and bags, 2, 3 and 6 bottle gift boxes are hot items during the Holidays. These need not be expensive wood burned or custom labeled, but your local shipping store may have a simple black, red or cardboard box that will fit the bill. You can offer them as stand alone, or put gift packs together at a discount. But if you do pre-select, make sure to offer variety, include the best sellers and set them at a variety of price tiers – such as $25, $50 and $100. Remember to include the price of the box in the gift pack price before discounting, or as the discount. (A nice box will often trump a discount.)
Gift boxes are nice for consumers, but really great as corporate gifts. Be sure to get the word out early to business owners that might be looking for employee, vendor, or customer gifts. For most wineries, email is still the most effective direct line of communication of gift sets. Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and Vertical Response users can find holiday template ideas to spruce up their marketing. Emails are most effective as a delivery for these sales or events to your contact list. Be sure to include a call-to-action link and ALWAYS give them opportunity to purchase direct with a click to your ecommerce store from the email.

  1. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Tchotchkes.” Non wine items can add incentive.

‘Tis the season for ornaments, candles, and bottle sweaters. But, keep a couple guidelines in line. First, make sure it goes with your brand, and the concept of wine. A logo hat or that cute baby onesie probably doesn’t make people think about buying wine. Second, think about shipping. A decanter with your logo may seem like a logical gift, but just make sure you have a way to safely ship it. Thirdly, steer away from the corkscrew or bottle stopper. This year resist the temptation to offer the same ol’ Holiday swag and stand out. People generally shop in wineries for local, unique products that look like they came from a winery. Partner with local craftsman and designers who are trying to capitalize on the Holiday’s, too. Finally, offer these items individually, but also with wine as a discounted pack and gift packaging for the highest opportunity for sales.

  1. I’ll have a Blue Facebook Christmas.” Update your social media.

The rising use of e-commerce in Q4 increases opportunities for wine marketers, but it also increases the difficulty of truly standing out in the market. For wineries looking to effectively engage with online consumers, one of the most important components will be effectively integrating the brand’s social media platforms into the overall online experience. Consumers shopping online will also be referencing the brand in either positive or negative ways on social media. Brand owners can use social media to be part of those conversations to build their brands, or miss that opportunity. If your winery has Holiday spirit, then show it off. Now is a perfect time to update your profile photos and post your holiday sales deadlines and events. Pinterest and Instagram are obvious choices, but also temporarily update your Yelp, TripAdvisor, Twitter, and Facebook profiles.

  1. O Come, All Ye Fruitcakes.” Food pairing ideas give customers a reason to buy.

The Holidays are more about food then they are about wine. Play off this natural partnership with Holiday food pairing ideas. When you offer recipe pairings, or recipes that include your wine, it just gives your existing buyers a way to incorporate your wine in their life and a reason to buy more. Share them on your website, emails, in-the-box Club materials and Social Media. Don’t have any recipe ideas? Call for entries on Twitter or Facebook. It’s a great way to create engagement while showcasing your best Holiday wines.

  1. Do You Hear What’s Around Here?” Tie in with offsite events.

Don’t’ have the time, space or resources to hold your own event? Take advantage of Holiday opportunities in your area. Find events you can participate in and get the message out. Concerts, street fairs, tree lightings or craft fairs are all great opportunities to get your brand out to the public so you can bolster your mailing list and reach new potential customers.

  1. Santa’s Got a Bag of Swag.” Don’t forget your best customers.

Now is the time to thank those faithful evangelists that bring joy every year by buying copious amounts of your wine. A quick analysis of your database should reveal who your top 5 or 10 purchasers have been this past year. A signed bottle of their favorite wine or a gift package with a personalized card shows a personal touch that will be appreciated and go a long way to continuing your relationship. Gift cards are a popular way to say thank you and bring more sales, as well. Customers can choose to redeem or re-gift and sales almost always exceed the card value

  1. All I Want for Christmas is a Nebuchadnezzer.” Bring out the large formats.

They’re dusty, heavy, and take up space in the warehouse. No, we’re not talking about your cellar staff, we mean the large formats. While they seemed to be a good idea during bottling, they are usually forgotten for the rest of the year. However these big boys make impressive presents and are popular during the holidays. So, dust them off, find a gift box for them, display them, pour them, sell them…now is the time.

  1. Let it Show, Let it Show, Let it Show.” Charitable tie-ins tug at heartstrings during the holidays.

The Holidays are about giving, and if you want to get mercenary about it, this is also the last time for tax write-offs. There are many charities around this time of year looking for auction items. Donate some large formats or remaining cases that aren’t moving. Or show your support by offering a percentage of sales as a contribution to a local charity. You can also support an employee food or gift drive or volunteer day. All of these suggestions are good PR, good for morale, good for sales, good for social media content, and good for your community.

Whew! That’s a lot of bad jingle puns for what is a short amount of time in your marketing calendar. So many options, so little time. Let’s make a list and check it twice:

  • If you do a Holiday campaign, know its objective. Sell wine? Not necessarily. Often times, Holiday promotions are about retention and brand recognition. This is a festive time of year and marketing is all about “emotion”, as described in a recent Forbes article. Don’t just throw out a discount, but make a theme that’s reflected in everything you do this time of year.
  • Make a list of all the assets you can use to make sales in Q4. Do you have a great property that is already decorated? Do you have inventory you can afford to discounts, or large formats the trade isn’t using? Are you already partnering with other businesses or charities? Often if you look at what you have to work with, the ideas will flow from there.
  • Make a campaign theme. Now tie the objectives and assets into a coordinated theme. This can be a visual element, or a tagline or focus that makes sense for your winery brand. Then carry this through the website, all the emails, and social media.
  • Set a timeline. A campaign has a lot of moving parts: copywriting, design, event planning, etc. Timing is everything. Allow plenty of lead-time for design and be sure to accommodate any lead times required by your vendors. Send your emails out well before your shipping deadlines. Message your audience early and often, but be sure to keep it all in sync, and make sure to build in contingencies for mishaps and mayhem.
  • Communicate to the team. Is everyone clear on roles and timing? Does your staff know what to do when a gift card shows up at the register? The team needs to be fully informed of the promotion, the messaging and the timelines in order to successfully deliver on that customer expectation.
    Still too much? Don’t worry, you won’t get to all of these ideas. Just pick a few and do them well. The important thing is to not let the Holidays get by without some marketing effort.

Susan DeMatei is the owner of WineGlass Marketing, a full service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.


By Dr. Richard Smart, “the flying vine-doctor”

This article will continue with the theme of the last one, that is vine balance. Here the emphasis will be on management of vine balance. The last article included my suggestion of how to measure vine balance at winter pruning by recording pruning mass. I have always previously termed this metric pruning weight, as Prof Nelson Shaulis taught me. I now understand that pruning mass is the preferred term.

Better Balance for Better

Yield & Quality

At the one extreme of poor vine balance are over-vigorous vines typically with canopy shading. Such vines are characterised by large leaves, long shoots and many lateral shoots. Without remedial treatment such canopies have shaded fruit which affects berry competition and wine quality, and also reduces fruitfulness and yield. Some diseases such as Oidium and Botrytis are encouraged by dense canopies. This contribution will deal particularly with vines of high vigour, and present management strategies to avoid them.

Vineyards of low vigour are an important cause of low profitability. Growth inhibition can be due to many causes, too numerous to mention here. In recent years Grapevine Trunk Disease has been frequently implicated in poor vine health.

We will discuss the two most important methods of vine balance management, firstly by root competition and secondly by pruning level.

Tools of Grapevine

Balance Management

Using Root Competition

It is more difficult to manage root competition with rainfall-fed vines than for those which are irrigated. One can use volunteer weeds or select a cover crop species which will more efficiently compete with vines. Because vines are generally deep rooted, the most efficient, competing species are those which are also deep rooting. However even species with moderate or shallow root depth can be effective in competition when rainfall amounts are small.

Normally competing species are planted in the inter row space, where they can be mowed or even cultivated if the level of competition is excessive. Recent research from Europe has shown that planting competing species under the vines within the row is much more effective at competition. Such plantings can however be more difficult to manage.

How much stress is desirable? I suggest some simple guidelines here. Shoot growth rate or more exactly the extension activity of the shoot tip is the criterion I prefer to determine the degree of vine stress. Generally we like to see the shoots growing actively early in the season up through flowering and fruit set. Then say about four weeks or so before veraison the shoot tip growth should slow, and then be limited around the time of veraison. Ideally this mild stress should continue until harvest, avoiding severe stress so that leaf health and function are maintained. Such timing can be difficult to manage when rainfall is the water source.

Using Pruning Level

Our aim here is to determine the appropriate bud number for even and adequate shoot growth. My general preference is to have shoots that are 3 to 3 ½ feet long with tapering tips indicating modest water stress during fall. How many buds should we retain to achieve this ideal length?

We understand that if too many buds are retained at winter pruning then the vine reserves which support initial shoot growth become diluted and shoot growth can be  somewhat stunted. Conversely, if too few buds are retained then the growth of only a few shoots is very much encouraged. The shoots grow rapidly often with many laterals. Because of less crop on the vine they will continue to grow most of the season.

The correct shoot number per vine is obviously somewhere between these two extremes. There are several ways in which it can be determined. The one I favour was again taught to me by Nelson Shaulis, and relates the pruning mass to bud number retained at winter pruning. Again there are various forms of this formula ; the one I prefer is to retain 20- 30 buds per kilogram (9 to 14 buds per pound) of pruning mass. In cool climates, I suggest 20 buds per kilo (9 per lb) although in warmer climates I suggest 30 (14 per lb). And I judge if it is a warm or cool climate by summer temperatures, obviously not those of the winter.

There is a simple rationale for this approach. The pruning mass is related to the amount of leaf area of the previous growing season, which in turn is related to the vines capacity for growth in the new season. Another way to put it is that we are balancing the bud number retained at pruning to the amount of vine carbohydrate reserves available to promote new growth.

The careful reader will be concerned about the apparent need to measure pruning mass of so many vines prior to pruning. In fact, by recording pruning mass for a range of vine sizes teaches the pruner to estimate pruning mass sufficiently well to make the judgement. This can be reinforced for very experienced pruners by assessing last season’s shoot growth. If it appears balance as I describe here then pruning to about the same bud number as last winter is a good guess. Obviously one might make some allowance for the last growing season.

In practice many vineyards are pruned by unskilled labour and one can but hope that pruning level will be reasonable. I think it a good investment to spend time for experienced pruners to train those less experienced in some simple guidelines.

The Golden Rules of Viticulture

I like to think that some decisions in vineyard management can be reduced to simple concepts or rules. I have developed two which are as follows:

Golden Rule 1: Pruning to 20 to 30 buds per kilogram (9 -14 per lb) of pruning mass.

Golden Rule 2: Aim for 15 shoots per metre of canopy (4-5 shoots per foot).

We need some more definitions here. If the vines are trained to a simple system like vertical shoot positioning, then there is 1 ft of canopy per ft of row. If the canopy is divided, as for saying with the Scott Henry, then we have 2 ft of canopy per ft of row.

Golden rule two relates to the density of the canopy and aims to avoid excessive shade. Provided the shoots are of moderate vigour, a canopy with this shoot spacing should not be shaded. There will be sufficient gaps between the leaves to allow sufficient sunlight for adequate leaf and fruit exposure. There will be limited leaf overlapping, and shading.

Implications for Choice

of Training System

Vineyard vigour is also an at important reason for choice of the trellis system. In principle, the higher is the vigour, then the more buds needs to be retained to accommodate this vigour, and so there are more shoots per vine. There for higher vigour vines have more shoots and so need a larger trellis system to better display them without crowding.

Again there are some simple guidelines. Simple single canopy trellis systems like the popular vertical shoot positioning (VSP) are well suited to low vigour conditions. For example, these are vineyards with less than 0.5 kg of pruning mass per metre row length (1/3 pound pruning mass per foot of row). The most common vineyard balance problem I see is for too-high vigour vines trained to the simple VSP system. I wonder is this also the case in the Mid West.

Medium vigour vineyards are characterised by pruning mass ratios of 0.5 to 1.0 kg per metre, or1/3 to 2/3 lb per foot of row. This vigour classes is quite common for rain fed vineyards. We cane pruning is commonly used, I suggest the simple conversion to Scott Henry trellis. For those preferring spur pruning the smart Dyson can be used. Both of these trellis systems are vertically divided.

High vigour vineyards are characterised by pruning mass ratios of more than 1 kg per metre or more than 2/3 lb pruning mass per foot of canopy. The Geneva Double Curtain GDC is normally recommended here as the pendant shoot growth helps devigorate the vine. This training system is well suited to some hybrid varieties with less erect shoot growth. If the recent experience is hot and sunny summers than caution needs to be exercised regarding excessive fruit exposure. This can be readily overcome by training up one or two shoots along the cordon wire to provide some protection.


  After a while the concept of vine balance becomes quite intuitive, and one knows some tell-tale signs of problems at different times of the year. For example, it is very easy to look out for excessive shoot growth around veraison which we know will harm fruit ripening.

A second useful visual cue which I suggest growers learn is the appearance and weight of an ideal shoot. As I have previously indicated such a shoot normally has 15 to 20 nodes of moderate spacing and average shoot diameter. The length is normally around 3 to 4 feet and the most recent growth should be obviously tapering with internode length becoming shorter indicating growth with moderate water stress. When measured in winter such a cane will weigh around 40 to 50 g, or 0.1 lb. Learn to recognise such canes from the pickup in summer or winter and you will be well on the way to growing balanced vineyards.

A Winery Roadmap for Data Capture

By Susan DeMatei

If you’re trying to sell your wines through direct channels, your customer database is the most valuable tool in your marketing arsenal. Most wineries understand the importance of a database, but few have a documented list for which consumer data points should be collected, and why.

In any given business, different departments have different needs and will require certain customer data points. These needs can often be in conflict. It is common, for example, for senior management, marketing, accounting, and tasting room staffs to all prioritize different aspects of data collection. Without a list that is agreed upon by all departments of what customer data should be captured by whom and in what manner, consistent data capture simply won’t take place. A collection plan will ensure that everyone is on the same page, knows what data they are responsible for, how to collect it, and why collecting it is so important.

Primary Data Capture

Full contact information should be collected whenever possible. These touch points might be on the phone when making a reservation, online when placing an order, or in the tasting room as a walk-in visitor. Each touch-point channel will have different success rates for capturing data, and different responsibilities, needs, and technical limitations.

By “full” contact information, we mean:

• First and last name
• Billing address
• Email address
• Phone number
• Birth date (if a shipping or club customer)

Why capture this information?

This information is helpful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you can contact them again in the future, and have a choice for how to do so. If you only collect email addresses, then you won’t have the option to send out a special event invitation via snail mail should you choose. Or, you won’t be able to perform an outbound call campaign if phone numbers are not routinely captured. The more data you have, the more flexible your marketing strategies can become.

Another reason this information is helpful is you can start to look at database segmentation. Combine contact information with your marketing or sales results, and you can begin to see if those ad placements in Miami are bringing up any Florida visitors, or if it is worth getting that shipping license for Pennsylvania.

What do you do if you don’t
have this information?

One easy thing to do if you have a lot of partial records in your database is to perform what is called a “data append”. There are several subscription websites, like Spokeo, where you can search for missing phone numbers, addresses, or emails on a one-off basis. Or, if you have an extensive list with missing data, there are mail house and list companies that perform quick and inexpensive data appends based on the NCOA registry. The National Change of Address Registry is that little card you fill out with the post office when you move. Often it has phone and email and other information that can be appended for as little as $.30 a record.

Even if you don’t have a lot of incomplete addresses in your database, it is a good idea to scrub your bounces and undeliverable emails in this way at least semi-annually. Marketing Sherpa research shows that data decays at a rate of 2.1% per month – that is an annualized rate of 22.5%. So, even if you do have full contact data for the majority of your database, you can count on 1/5 of your database churning every year. That’s a lot of updates to keep on top of.


It is always easiest to collect data via the Internet during the checkout process on an eCommerce transaction. Customer data is mandatory when checking out of an online shopping cart for billing verification and shipping information, and most consumers are used to providing it in this scenario.

You may need to remind your staff that is it is also quite reasonable to ask for detailed contact information on the phone when someone is making a reservation. If someone is visiting your property, you have a legal right to know who you’ll be entertaining.

But, what about when a customer walks in and is simply tasting at a busy bar? This is where your team’s tenacity and creativity come into play.

It is imperative to work with your staff to find ways to insert data collection into the tasting room process. Capture their ideas and provide them with the tools they need. This could involve a sign-in sheet, or sign-up pads, filling out order forms or iPad check ins. There are many ways to capture data in a customer conversation that doesn’t feel like an interrogation or violation. The important thing is to make it top of mind with your team and encourage them to incorporate it into how they handle every customer. You won’t be 100% successful. But for every address you collect, that is another potential sale from your database in the future.

One tool that some of our clients have used is providing goals for their tasting room to meet. In the last DTC Survey published by Wine Business Monthly the average monthly visitor count across all regions of the US was just over 1,100 visitors a month. If you set a goal for your tasting room to capture even just 20%, you can expect approximately 220 new customers to your mailing list every month. Some have found success posting this goal in the back, and some wineries (about 7% according to that same article) give bonuses or pay outs per sign up.

Second Tier Information

After the basic data collection mentioned above, information that can help you segment your database is the next assignment for collection.

By segmentation data, we mean:

• Customer group
• Source
• Spending history per customer (linking sales to a customer record)

Why capture this information?

This information can include basic customer groups such as “trade”, “employees”, “wine club” or “locals” and will need to be set up in your database prior to collection. Spend some time looking at your database to determine what groups might be appropriate to your business. This information is helpful if you’re sending out different messages for a wine club event or a trade hospitality party. In a few clicks you can have your list pulled with some forethought and effort on the front line to put customers in their proper groups.

Other second tier data that is helpful to collect is source data. A source is defined as where you got the potential customer. Most databases have a source field where you can standardize input sources such as a neighboring bed and breakfast, other wineries, programs such as Lot 18 or, livery services, or a friend of a wine club member. You will find this data invaluable when planning out your next year’s activities and deciding what programs and relationships are worth your time and what efforts were not as fruitful. Without source data, how are you to know what worked?

Finally, and most importantly, is spending history. This involves making sure a customer record is recalled, or appended with a sale or club transaction. Only in this way can you tell this customer’s value. Marry this information with information like the source of the customer, and you start to see the full picture of what efforts are paying off and what are wastes of time.
What do you do if you don’t
have this information?

You can export your data and put them into groups at any time. Things like addresses and companies and purchase history will help you determine what labels might apply. Many systems allow you to re-upload information into these groups, keeping your edits in place within the database.

In the case of source data, you need to do some sleuthing to back-fill this. Sometimes the date of a large order will make it clear it was with an event, or a note or shipping address will provide clues. But, if all else fails, it is never too late to begin to collect this data on all future database members moving forward. Just start fresh and set up the procedures and process to collect it now.

If you haven’t captured spend data under your customers, you can’t really go back and re-create that. When working with our clients, it is our recommendation that not only should purchases be captured and attached to a customer record, but also the lack of a purchase. For instance, let’s say you agree to pour your wine at two events. You pay for your staff and write-off wine to pour for free and hand out 2-for-1 tasting coupons inviting attendees to visit your tasting room at both events. People show up with that 2-for-1 coupon. Some buy and join the wine club, and some take the tasting coupon and the discount and leave without purchasing a thing. If you don’t capture the name and source of the people who just walked in and walked out, you won’t be able to look back and determine if one event over another did poorly.

Tertiary Information

For those sophisticated in data collection, the third tier is behavioral data.

By behavioral data, we mean:

• Channel response
• Sign-up preference
• Notes

Why capture this information?

This data will provide you with insight into how the customer wants to receive marketing messages from you, and, more importantly, how they are likely to respond. For example, if you send out emails monthly, but this club member always responds to the offer in the printed newsletter, that is helpful in planning out and projecting your next program. Take things like timing, responses, mobile and frequency into account.

The reason for this is simple – we all have different preferences for communication. Some of us are more active on Twitter, some like the phone. Once you know your customer’s channel preference – for communication and sales – you can not only provide the best customer service, but boost your sales as well.

This level is the holy grail of direct marketing: combining 1) contact data, with 2) segmentation, with 3) behavioral preference.

In this manner, you can almost predict within a range of certainty how programs will perform and what the best option is for sales to your database. This is hard to achieve and even harder to mine, but with some set up and planning on your part, you will reap the rewards.

So, what level are you?

The trick is to know what stage your winery is working on and set goals and procedures to move forward from there. You, your management, and your staff should know why you’re collecting data, and what the process is to do it.

Data capture is an ongoing struggle and will change as new methods of communications are developed and customer habits change. But it reaps rewards with ongoing email sales and club shipments. The key is to keep at it and keep moving forward.

Susan DeMatei is the President of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Wine Label Branding: Stay True to Yourself

By Robin Dohrn-Simpson

Imagine you’re a customer in a wine store, searching for your next bottle of wine. What would attract you beyond the style? Does a label displaying Jesus on the cross or an elderly Frenchman with a bulbous nose and colorful beret intrigue you enough to buy? Often, the consumer is casually browsing for something that catches their eye. Maybe they just traveled to a particular region of the world, drawing them to wine from that area. Perhaps a wine label triggered a pleasant holiday memory. Possibly it’s the color of the label that attracts them. Regardless, it takes about four seconds to make that first impression.

Wine branding strategy has reached a point where marketing and merchandising play as important a role as the product itself. Wine labels are your brand and your billboard, influencing a consumer’s purchasing behavior. It is the first contact you have with your customer, and the more unique and appealing the label design, the higher the chance of it being purchased.

“Winemaking is an art; the label is a reflection of that art in the printed form,” said Maurice DiMarino, Certified Sommelier for the Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego. “The label is an expression of the wine. It has to connect with the consumer on some level. If that means only writing than let it be if it means images then that is it.”

Define Your Brand

Wine producers should research and understand their target demographic and design the label to appeal to that market, but not so much that it becomes off-brand.

“The real starting point is your brand. Not just your logo – the whole collection of elements that is ‘brand,’” said label and graphic designer Sara Nelson of Sara Nelson Designs in Kennewick, Washington. “Everything works together to build market presence, then market share. There is nothing more expensive than indecision. If you don’t know who you are – not wish you were, want to be or hope you are, but who you really are as a brand – then you aren’t ready to worry about a label. Solve that problem first.”

“Stay true to yourself,” agreed Teri Kerns, co-owner of Ramona Ranch Winery in Ramona California. “We wanted something that reflected our personality and brand as a sustainable ranch with horses and grapes. The two came together perfectly. Not too stuffy, but we hope still conveys that there is something special about our wine.”

Don’t let it get out of hand, though, said DiMarino. “Tell your story; however, the most important thing is just because you have a favorite animal, hobby or loved one it does not need to be on your label,” he said. “The label should be a reflection of the wine or the consumer you want to attract. Sure, you can include some elements that bring it back to you, but make it subtle.”

DiMarino suggests using your label to reflect what’s in the bottle, almost literally. “There is a study in synthesia, which is the perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Imagine if you could taste the label. What if the wine was colors and fonts, what would it look like?”

Label and Bottle Appearance

Beyond branding, when creating a label, winemakers should determine how and where their wines will be sold.

“After you have created your brand, not just your logo, but the whole collection of elements, then you must consider where your wine is mainly going to be sold,” said Nelson. “How is it going to be sold? At what price point? Hand-selling through a tasting room is very different from going off a supermarket shelf. If the wine will compete as one of many on a supermarket shelf, or even within a small wine shop, you get a tiny bit of space and a tiny slice of time from a potential customer scanning a display. In this case, the label needs to catch the eye from several feet away. It also needs enough contrast to be readable.”

Selling exclusively through a wine club is another option beyond tasting rooms and retail shelves. In each situation, how you express value is different. “We considered playing it safe, mirroring our label after a typical French label, but that’s not us,” said Kerns of their cowboy theme. “We’re not French. We’re not in France, and we’re more fun! We worried that our limited edition cowboy label might be too narrow of market appeal. However, we only sell that specific wine directly from the winery, so that has not been an issue. In fact, the wines with those labels sell out.”

As a sommelier, DiMarino wants to see specific bits of information on a label. “I want to know grapes, region, alcohol level, and – most importantly the back label – where it was produced and bottled,” he said. “The majority of wines in California are wines where the owner of the brand had very little to do with the production of the wine. The back label lets me know how much the owner of the brand was involved in the winemaking process. ‘Cellared and bottled by’ means that someone else made the wine and the brand owner bought the juice. ‘Made and bottled by’ means at least 10 percent was made by the brand owner. When new wineries come to show their wines, and the labels are not up to par, I will mention something to them.”

As a designer, Nelson said, she likes the label to be memorable, but also thinks it should reflect the price point. “I like enough differentiation between varietals and tiers that one easily recognizes just what they have their hands on. Good consistent branding doesn’t have to look and feel like cloning with just the name of the varietal changed out. The design and materials used should let you know where that bottle stands in the brand’s value chain and should represent that accurately. Putting an $8 bottle of wine in a heavy bottle and using a low contrast palette and gold foil doesn’t make it a $40 bottle. If you pretend that it does, it will bite you in the long run.” Nelson says one of her pet peeves is faux humility. She warns against brag sheets on the labels or writing in a voice that no human uses.

Color, font, and bottle type

Color themes differ from bottle to bottle and brand to brand, and opinions vary on what works best.

“It would be easy to throw out quick hits like, ‘bright colors are always better’ or ‘don’t use this or that font,’ but there are few absolutes,” said Nelson. “With solid design principles, you can usually accomplish what you need to in catching eyes and being readable with a wide range of colors and fonts. Don’t forget that words can be artwork, too. The wine industry is very traditional. A great deal of what is purchased and consumed has more to do with tradition than perceived superiority to every other beverage at any time.”

Ramona Ranch Winery has matched the color of the bottle to the color of the label to accentuate their labels. “We’ve even played with picking up accent colors from the wine in our label if we are using a flint bottle,” said Kerns.

DiMarino believes fonts should vary depending on how winemakers want their wines to be perceived. “The font and lettering need to match the brand that you are selling,” he said. “If the wine is a simple, easy drinking everyday wine, the font may be whimsical; it matches the wine. However, if it is a wine with structure, oak, high-quality grapes, whimsical fonts do not work. The wine is not taken seriously. The font needs to be more classic, more serious.”

Words of Wisdom

Nelson reminds winemakers not to assume anything about who is drinking their wine.

“There is no single archetypical wine drinker, and there is no monolithic United States ‘wine market.’ For some people, wine consumption is a nearly religious rite, carefully prepared for and rigorously performed,” she said. “Others open a wine bottle with a sheet metal screw, then pass around the Dixie cups; and there are thousands of others somewhere in between those two.”

Winemakers should, however, learn what attracts customers, no matter who they are or how they’re drinking the wine, and they will see even more success.

“There are two kinds of people making those decisions: those who think that doing what appeals to them personally is best, and those who realize that their target audience is the real boss,” said Nelson. “The former will sell some wine- to themselves and maybe to a few relatives. The latter will sell a lot more wine to a lot more people. Many smaller wineries tell you that they can’t afford to spend money on things like research – or professional design, for that matter – but the tighter your cash flow, the less you can afford to guess at these things.”

Three Biggest Challenges Facing Small Wineries Today?

I think the real story in the Willamette Valley (and other small regions nationally) is that 75% of wineries produce fewer than 5,000 cases annually. It’s micro-production by any measure. They have survived because of so-called “Premiumization” and the recent fascination with their AVAs. What will happen when the next economic downturn occurs, as the distribution consolidation continues, and/or as vineyard and winery acquisitions accelerate (which they are doing now)? Are there business parallels between what is happening in Willamette Valley and other wine producing regions in the United States; and what about other burgeoning industries such as craft beer or high tech? Is large destined to win? How will small craft producers survive and thrive in the long run?


Distribution is one of the most challenging business problems small-production wineries face. Consider that just 20 years ago there were roughly 2,500 wineries and 3,000 distributors. The odds of having your wines represented by distributors were very high due to the demand for excellent wines. Distributors worked hard to help build winery brands, and being 100 allocated to wholesalers was not uncommon. That is not the case today. There are more than 9,000 wineries in the U.S., and with the consolidation of the largest distributors, I estimate only 700 distribution companies remain. Making matter worse, is that there are five or six national beverage wholesaler powerhouses that control 65% of all wines on the shelf nationally. And for economic reasons, they focus on large family or corporate winery groups, high profit margins and depletions. Additionally, International brands are flooding our markets with good quality and aggressively priced imports. Finally, large retailers like Total Wine, Trade Joe’s and Costco have significant purchasing power and we’re seeing more private labeling from these businesses. The small winery simply cannot compete. Ironically, market research and industry studies show that today’s consumers want to try and purchase more from small craft brands (as opposed to the well-established brands that used to be consumers’ preference), but cannot find them available in the marketplace.

Additionally, I was reminded of the purchasing power of retailers that act as wholesalers. I made a trip to Costco recently and discovered cut-rate pricing for Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs on display for Oregon Wine Month. Would you believe $10.99 for Willamette Valley label wines? Concurrently, there are active initiatives to control labeling and varietal percentages to enhance the Willamette Valley brand and presumably our price points. I can’t make sense of this discounted pricing in the long run, despite the recent large yield vintages.


While there are still many small winery operations starting up these days, there are many others that are better equipped for this hyper-competitive environment. I believe we are living in a wine bubble that is destined to pop for economic, political or other unforeseen reasons. Starting a winery today requires significant funding and marketing wherewithal to stand out in today’s crowded, competitive market. We not only have too many wineries in small regions like Willamette Valley, we’re seeing many more from all over the world that bring serious investment dollars and business savvy to bear. Many smaller wineries aren’t so well prepared.

The California wine business and especially Napa Valley may offer perspective. It has been estimated that 75% of Napa winery brands are corporate and 25% of those with international owners. The remaining 25% are still small family wineries where personalities, stories, customer interactions and accessibility are the keys to survival. My hope is that those small producers are building their consumer and trade loyalty during these halcyon days to brace for whatever this next cycle brings us.

In Willamette Valley, I am starting to see high quality and reasonably priced $20-$30 Pinot Noir – which I believe is sustainable for most small wineries – and should act as a good hedge against eventual restrained consumer spending, as well as to supply national wholesale markets.

Brand Building

Why do this? Because distributor will no longer help you “build your brand”. And more importantly, is that top of mind awareness is the only way to ensure consumers will buy wine from you when they are ready. The adage goes something like this – Repetition breeds familiarity; Familiarity breeds trust; and Trust leads to Sales. It’s the justification for advertising and media relations programs.

Consumer still appreciate third-party opinions from experts to help guide their purchases. When a writer tells your story or reviews your wines you’ve received an implied endorsement from that wine expert. We call this “earning media”, versus paying for media such as advertising. These endorsements are critical if you want to expand your reach beyond the subscribers, followers and customers you already have and are currently marketing to.

This area of Earned Content or Earned Media is important because it contributes to the library of content your winery can use in its marketing efforts. Wine is still an esoteric luxury purchase for many consumers, and even in this premium economy we need to influence consumers choices about their discretionary income. Links to articles, podcasts, and video interviews about your brand are great marketing content. Share your scores, medals and other achievements in your general interest and wine club newsletters, and on social media. These are the bragging rights that you’ve earned, and that makes a huge difference in today’s wine world. On the flip side, garnering media attention but not doing anything with it, such as mentioning and linking to it on your website, blog and social media pages, is a terrible waste of a precious resource.

While getting consistent and ongoing media coverage is essential for businesses, it is increasingly challenging due to the proliferation of wineries and dearth of established writers with ongoing columns. In other words, the days of being “discovered” and handed a strong fan base due to media coverage have passed.

Writers are not paid enough to research and discover, nor do they have time to do so. Wine brands that stand out in today’s world tend to get ongoing media coverage for three reasons: (1) They are already popular, often written about, and quick and easy for writers to review; and/or (2) They are easily found in the marketplace due to distribution; and 3) They spend advertising dollars with a media outlet. Many print and online publications rely on a pay-to-play system to survive in a post-Internet world. This leaves many small-production wineries out of the equation, and mostly for financial reasons.

Another aspect of branding is controlling your winery profiles on social media. I like to think of social media as Consumer PR. Have you claimed your profiles on all the relevant sites? I mean not only the obvious ones – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but also the travel itinerary, wine country mapping, wine rating and mobile app sites. Monitor, post and engage consistently.


My feeling is that a balanced mix of direct-to-consumer marketing (direct sales in tasting room/club members and eCommerce), ongoing brand building (using media coverage in your marketing), and specialized targeted distribution options (online brokers, targeted states) are required to ensure success. Unless you have been established for a long period of time (5 years or more), a reasonable goal is 20-30% wholesale and 70% direct sales.

I’m been observing that my clients and other small do-it-all-yourself wineries are finally hiring marketing staff – DTC or Hospitality Managers – either from within the wine business or outside – experienced hospitality professionals (hotel and restaurant staff come to mind) are excellent hires. They understand the importance of the customer service experience and can quickly acquire sufficient wine knowledge. And they have direct experience with seated tastings, proven to generate higher sales per visitor. Give them a mobile POS and cut them loose.

Consider creating a staff position to manage your wine club, and choreograph the “customer path to join” with your staff. Why? Loyalty programs might be the saving grace for small producers. Revenue is recurring and mostly predictable. Members refer friends when treated well and their business is appreciated. Get a handle on this important revenue channel of your direct sales program while wine clubs are still viable.

Doing outreach and getting media exposure will continue to build awareness of your brand and unique market position to support these goals. Using third-party expert opinions (feature articles, wine reviews and scores) in your content marketing will help you to stay top of mind with your customers.

Despite our new 21st Century challenges, these are actually sunny days for the premium wines category. Get your Marketing and PR game on now, and bank enough Earned Media content to help you weather the more difficult times to come.

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background, going on his 10th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years – originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (