Post-Harvest Vineyard Maintenance: Tips to Finish the Year Off Right

narrow path of a wine vineyard

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Although the busy time of harvesting grapes is winding down or has ended for many vineyards, there’s not much time to sit back and relax before more critical work must be done. Many post-harvest vineyard tasks should be on every vineyard’s to-do lists to prepare for next year’s crop and sustain the longevity of the vineyard’s operations.

The Basics of Post-Harvest Vineyard Management

  After the growing season ends and the grapes have been picked, grapevines go dormant and signal that it’s time to start preparing for next year. Some of the vital maintenance tasks to do after harvesting are removing bird netting, analyzing the soil with samples, repairing or replacing trellising and equipment, and planting a cover crop to reduce soil nutrient loss and control erosion. It is also the time of year to be proactive about pest control, consider irrigation strategy, stock up on new vines and put some thought into overall vineyard management strategy.

  As vineyards wrap up harvest operations and prepare for winter, some specialists may be helpful for advice, products and services.

•    Vineyard management companies

•    Pest control companies

•    Irrigation consultants

•    Nurseries

•    Trellising companies

•    Soil companies

Check and Repair Trellising

  Trellising is a big part of post-harvest maintenance, because, in most climates, grapevines need supports to secure the wood and summer shoots within the training system, and ensure proper ventilation and exposure.

  “Furthermore, the trellis helps to improve the implementation of viticulture work and facilitate mechanized procedures, like machine harvesting,” said Oliver Asberger, Vice President of PA Trellising Systems in Charlottesville, Virginia. “If a trellis is not designed right or maintenance is not kept up, it will lead to deficiencies in vineyard performance and higher costs in labor and parts.”

  Asberger told The Grapevine Magazine that two primary signs of a good trellis are tight wires and stable posts. “Each growing season, the trellis experiences pressure on its systems, and that leads to loosening of parts or even breakage,” he said. “To optimize the performance and keep costs down, the trellis is best fixed when the pressure is off and the vine is dormant.”

  PA Trellising Systems is a distribution company, rather than a vineyard management company, but it can offer advice on how to modify and repair existing materials if a vineyard notices a problem with its trellising system.

  “When it comes to new establishments, we guide the buyer to what options are available and optimal for post models, forms of galvanization, size and length, inside or outside hooks, set depth and use of accessories, like cross-arms or wire extenders,” Asberger said. “Also, we are able to customize our posts to offer the best solutions for a unique growing situation.”

  Another company that provides trellising products is Gripple, which offers the Gripple Plus for simple push-fit splicing, locking and tensioning system that is up to five times faster to install than traditional methods for broken trellis wires. Gripple joiners and tensioners have patented ceramic rollers that deliver a better grip and non-corrosive hold on the high tensile wires that are used in vineyards today. They can be used in conjunction with the Gripple Torq Tool or Gripple Contractor Tool to return tension to slacked or broken trellis wires quickly.

  “The Gripple Plus range is perfect for ongoing maintenance and allows for re-tensioning year after year,” said Erik Shortenhaus, Gripple’s Business Development Manager. “Gripple also provides pre-made cable bracing kits designed for the quick and easy repair of end post assemblies. Within our end post cable bracing kits, we offer a range of clips and end-fittings that are designed to quickly and securely attach to any end post material on the market, such as wood, drill pipe and channel steel. Additionally, Gripple offers a range of below-ground, percussion-style anchors that can be instantly load-locked and serve as a dead man anchor point or additional reinforcement for existing anchors. Gripple products make vineyard installation, maintenance and repairs simple and secure.”

  Shortenhaus pointed out that the growing season, crop load, weather, farming practices and harvest activities all contribute to possible wear on a vineyard’s trellis system. He said that the rigors of harvest, especially machine harvest, take a strenuous toll on a vineyard’s trellis structure, making this a prime time to check trellising.

  “Taking account of any damage that has occurred during harvest or over the year, and addressing it prior to next year’s crop, is essential to providing a solid, consistent and hassle-free foundation for your vines,” said Shortenhaus.

Check and Improve Irrigation

  Vineyard managers should remember to check their irrigation systems after harvest since machine harvesting can be rough on the vines and system. Look for physical damage, such as fallen hoses or emitters.

  Brett Curtis and James Bengtson of California’s Bennett Water Systems recommend using the post-harvest time as an “alarm clock” to handle yearly maintenance and “do an eyes-on evaluation with a full system flush and a line treatment to clean the emitters.”

  At the filter station, they recommend inspecting the sand for the sand media filter, working condition of the backwash valves and screen of the screen filter. Other recommendations are to check the pressure gauges to assess the accuracy of the pressure differential and to look for gasket leaks and other visible signs of failure.

  “Post-harvest irrigation is what lets you double-check that all of your fixes were successful before you put the system to sleep for the year,” said Curtis and Bengtson.

  Bennett Water Systems has knowledgeable key-account managers, salesmen and project managers who can perform evaluations, get to the root of the problem, and perform any fix that is required.

  “We have crews with years of experience both in installing drip systems for vineyards and performing repairs and regular maintenance,” said Curtis and Bengtson. “Whether it’s an issue with a pump, filter station or anything downstream of the filter, like pipe, tubing or emitter issues, we have a way to fix it or a solution to prevent it from causing issues in the future.”

Soil Enhancement and Maintenance

  One of the essential tasks to do post-harvest is evaluating the soil for determining nutrient and organic matter needs.

  “The vines utilize nutrients during the growing season, but not all nutrients are absorbed at the same rate,” said Coult Dennis of Superior Soil Supplements in Hanford, California. “The pH level of the soil makes a big difference in the availability of nutrients to the vines. Some nutrients are more readily available at lower pH; others are more available at higher pH. It’s important to look at the pH levels of both the soil and the irrigation water sources in order the make the best possible decisions regarding soil amendments.”

  Founded in 1983, Superior Soil Supplements dedicates themselves to building healthy soil and being California’s largest distributor of bulk agricultural soil amendments and landscape materials. It has facilities in Ivanhoe, El Nido, McFarland, Hanford and Coalinga and believes that balanced soil builds a strong foundation for crops, saving the farmer money on fertilizers and other crop inputs in the future.

  “Making sure your vines are set up for optimal growth in the spring is vital to having flourishing canes and ultimately, a strong and profitable yield,” Dennis said.

Order New Vine Stock if Needed

  After harvest is the ideal time to determine whether the vineyard will need new vine stock for the next growing season.

  “If you are looking to order vines for the spring of 2020, the best time to order vines is from August to December 2019 to ensure that varieties you want are still available,” said Ray Winter of Winterhaven Vineyard and Nursery in Janesville, Minnesota.

  Established in 2001, a year after starting a vineyard of over 14 acres and 6,000 vines, Winterhaven nursery specializes in cold-hardy wine grapes and sells many bare-root grapevines for red, white and table grape varieties. Winter said that the most important things for a vineyard to consider when ordering vines from a nursery should be whether the varietal is hardy to the growing location and if there is a market for them if the vineyard does not plan to use them in their wine.

Final Words of Advice

  In addition to these post-harvest maintenance tasks, vineyards will also want to spend time identifying and removing diseased vines, perhaps with the guidance of a local pest control company that specializes in vineyard pests. It’s also time to check vineyard equipment for routine maintenance or repair needs, as well as to identify which pieces of equipment to replace.

  Take time to reflect on the season and discuss with staff what went well and how to make improvements for the year ahead.

In closing, here are a few final words of advice from our industry experts to guide vineyards across the country through the post-harvest time of year and ensure a successful 2020 season.

For trellis maintenance, Oliver Asberger of PA Trellising Systems advises vineyards to establish a trellis that will last for the lifetime of the vineyard—approximately 25 years— and is mostly maintenance-free.

  “Too often, at the time of establishment, growers choose materials at lower costs or cut corners within the stability performance but later end up with extremely high maintenance and replacement costs,” Asberger said. “Also, in this era of less labor and more mechanization, a grower should consider if the system is set up to use technology in the future, even if the vineyard doesn’t currently own it. A later modification will be costly or not applicable at all.”

  Asberger also said that a trellis is best maintained during the dormant time because, with no canopy present, it’s easy to see loose or missing parts and replace them more cost-effectively.

“Doing this work when the canopy is present will hinder the effectiveness and most definitely will lead to damaging the shoots,” he said.

  Shortenhaus of Gripple also advises vineyards to take a visual inventory of their trellis systems and make any needed repairs or adjustments to give the vineyard a strong foundation for the next growing season.

  “Using Gripple for your trellising repair and maintenance needs couldn’t be simpler or more reliable, and it will effectively reduce your work time,” he said.

  Bennett Water Systems’ most significant piece of advice for irrigation is to remember that the system installed impacts yield directly.

  “The efficiencies of the system all play into it, such as pump efficiency, pressure losses, if supplements are going where you expect and need them and if your water is being evenly distributed throughout the whole field,” said Curtis and Bengtson. “For Bennett Water Systems, it is our goal to design and install a system with the highest distribution uniformity as possible that provides our customers with the tools that they need to produce maximum yields most sustainably.”

  Dennis of Superior Soil Supplements said that the thing his company sees most in California is a lack of organic matter in the soil. He said that organic matter should make up about 5% of soil composition and while this is difficult to achieve, adding any amount of organic matter will help. Organic matter helps retain moisture and nutrients in the soil, promotes beneficial soil flora growth to chelate nutrients, and breaks them down into a structure that can be used by the plant.

  “Compost is the least expensive and easiest way to build up organic matter,” Dennis said. “Compost can be derived from municipal green waste sources, as well as from manure and even processed sewage. Green waste is the most popular choice for vineyard applications. Like any other crop input, organic matter is depleted in the soil through the growing season and needs to be replenished.”

  Dennis recommends compost application as part of a grower’s yearly soil fertility program. “To maximize spreading efficiency, we often blend fertilizers, sulfur, limestone or dolomite with the compost, so the year’s soil needs are addressed with one pass of the spreader,” he said.

  Concerning ordering vines, Winter of Winterhaven Vineyard and Nursery said vines coming from a cold climate nursery tend to grow better than those purchased from warm climate nurseries, even though the genetics are the same.

  “We have had many customers tell us this,” Winter said. “After the fruit comes off our grapevines, we always try to do a fertilizer spray on the leaves to feed the vine and get them ready for the winter.”

Sample Your Juices & Wines

2 people inspecting wine

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Representative Sampling

While in the lab, and tasting wine at blending session etc, the winemaking team spends considerable time on getting procedures and processes correct to run each particular test on a sample of wine or juice.  Yet, equally as important, if not more, are we obtaining data and flavors that represents that particular batch or tank of wine?  Has the sample, in any way, been compromised so that it does not reflect the tank or lot of wine intended?  One would not want to take winemaking action on a wine only later to find out the action was not necessary.

  How often does a winemaker go into the cellar, select a sample of wine and then run a particular test, tasting analysis or blending trial on the sample drawn?  Are these test(s) run with confidence?  Do these numbers reflect the true tank’s contents?  Do we need to sample each individual 60 gallon barrel and spend countless hours in the laboratory?  Not necessarily unless the winemaker suspects a certain flaw to be identified with a particular vessel.  If that is the case, it is best to “quarantine” that particular lot of wine until the proper blending time making sure not to infect other batches.

  The author wants to emphasize for the purpose of this article the lab test results are correct and the lab technicians are not at fault.  The numbers reflect the sample given to the lab but the sample is not representative of the complete batch of wine in that tank.  Take the opportunity to resample a wine that shows suspicious numbers in the lab.  Remain open-minded and always quiz yourself to the possibilities of improper sampling.

  Below are some pointers to help with the scope of sampling properly

Tank Sampling

  Sample Valve: Perhaps one of the easiest situations to monitor a large quantity of wine, yet, this process must be taken seriously with particular attention to the contents.

  If taking a sample from a stainless tank understand where the sample is coming from in reference to the contents of the tank.  If a cloudy sample is taken from a sample valve near the bottom of the tank, understand it may not be cloudy throughout the whole tank and most likely very clear at the top of the tank.  Was the sample valve cleaned after it’s previous use?  Was the valve flushed of its spoiled contents to bleed off any high VA or bacterially loaded wine, prior to sampling, that may have formed in the unsealed body of that valve?  This flushing action of the sample valve, due to the positive pressure in the vessel, has little risk for cross-contamination and it is recommended in order to obtain a representative sample of the tank’s contents.

  From the top lid or manhole: Perhaps one of the best ways to sample in well managed cellars if all the tanks are kept topped up and a catwalk exist to each man way.  This gives the winemaker a chance to visually inspect the wine tank contents while taking the sample.  Caution should be expressed not to sample the surface of the wine but to get the collection flask well under the surface of the wine to collect a representative sample.  The surface of the wine may have a lower SO2 reading and false numbers other than these that do not reflect the majority of the wine.  Please keep in mind this sampling choice could be a large source of cross-contamination if not done properly because certain items may contact each wine as samples are collected.

  Ball Valves: Known to be the largest offender of panic and false a test results from the lab.  Ball valves often have high spoilage counts, if not cleaned properly, lending toward off values most particularly with Volatile Acidity and Sulfur Dioxide just to name two.  Other tests may give false reports in terms of the tank’s actual contents.  One should flush ball valves diligently when taking samples and one should be able to clean these valves well while not in use.

  Butterfly Valves: These offer an excellent source to sample a tank’s contents if a sample valve is not present.  Care should be taken to flush these valves, too.  This flushing is more to remove solids and less to remove any potentially spoiled wine.  The butterfly valve often will collect solids in them and deliver an unrepresentative sample unless flushed prior to sampling.

Barrel Sampling

  This is often the easiest yet most winemakers try and dodge this exercise making large decisions after tasting one barrel in a particular batch.  One needs to isolate the vessels of a certain lot of juice or wine.  With proper record keeping and a logical marking of each container this process is not too bad.  One may sample an equal portion from each vessel of a particular lot (recommended for blending session exercises) or fifty percent of the vessels for that lot.  Many times the winemaker can hedge this knowing a particular test or cellar action will be run in the future.  One could use the fifty percent rule, or even less, if only addressing minor actions.  Knowing the wine will be racked from barrel in 6 months may lend toward running further tests, double checking current data and making larger corrections at that time if needed.

  Stratification: If taking a sample from the very top of a tank – does the sample represent the complete wine tanks contents?  If taking a sample from near the bottom – does this represent the wine tanks content?  Should mixing be used to make the tank contents uniform?

  Mixing: It may not always be prudent to mix a tank of wine for sampling purposes.  Much of the lees and solids may have settled to the bottom of the tank and mixing the tank would only re-suspend those solids.  Certain times the winemaker may want to mix the tank prior to sampling may include: Prior to bottling, just after a racking or blending, just after and during additions and anytime a true representative sample is known to be needed for a particular winemaking decision.

  Blending Sessions: Getting prepared for a blending session is a time to make sure your samples are very representative and broken down into areas of distinction – perhaps even inside various “same” lots.  For example:  Mountain Fruit Cabernet New French Oak, Mountain fruit Cabernet Old French Oak, Mountain Fruit Cabernet New American Oak, and so on. 

  All of these samples in the example may be from the same raw material but the cooperage influence incorporated into them has made them very different.  These differences make blending sessions a joyful challenge and yet offers the best chance to have the flexibility and control needed during a blending session.  This sampling will give the blending session the greatest flexibility and control to the outcome of the final blend.  After wine samples are taken from each vessel – make sure to mix the sample so the actual sample taken will be representative of the complete number of vessels sampled and that incomplete mixing will not adversely affect the blending session’s outcome in the cellar.

  Fining trials: This is an important time to have a representative sample.  Mixing a reasonably clean wine, free of sediment, is desired to make sure this important refinement tool is employed properly prior to fining the tank’s complete contents.

  Sampling collection beakers, vessels and containers:  Make sure to take samples in clean containers free from any debris or residues.  An example may be the adverse reaction to a sample taken in a beaker that was recently used during a Sulfur Dioxide addition or used to dissolve meta-bisulfite.  If residual sulfur dioxide remains in that container, it may adversely affect the lab test results and needed additions may be overlooked.  The lab test result will show ample quantities, when in fact, the actual tank contents sample may have indicated otherwise.

Temperature Measurement and Stratification:

Outside of the sampling topic, keep in mind when looking at a thermostat on a tank, where the thermocouple is inside that tank.  If the reading is from a lower area in the tank, it may not be given a representative reading of that tank’s true temperature.  This is especially important when cold stabilizing wines.  Mix the tank prior to seeding (if seeding is the practice used for cold stabilizing) the wine.  With large capacity tanks, one may notice during mixing the temperature may rise.  Another temperature stratification check, prior to mixing, is taking a temperature reading from the top of the tank’s contents.  Notice any difference?  One will often see a difference in warm cellars with tall and large capacity tanks.

Summary / Miscellaneous

  Representative sampling applies well beyond the wine cellar.  This principal has huge applications in the vineyard when sampling the raw fruit to determine when to pick a certain variety or block.  This concept is often reflected in grape berries sampling – a potential article in itself not to be dealt with in this article.

  With above knowledge, keep in mind how the wines were sampled and how important that sampling technique may be when a particular decision is being made.  When in doubt – resample and re-run the test in question.  The winemaker is encouraged to make sure to think about the sample he or she has and to think what is actually inside the tank.  Keep a keen sense of when tasting or when chemical data from a sample does not “measure up” to what is expected.  Be sure to investigate all angles before proceeding with drastic processes toward a tank of wine.  It may just be the sample!

  The data collected, whether blending, tasting or chemical analysis in the lab, can only be as effective as the sampling.  The samples content should be directly related to the tank and it should represent as closely as possible the contents.  Always keep in the winemakers’ mind how a sample represents the tank contents while tasting, testing and blending.

Know your wine or juice sample and what it represents!

Enforcing Your Trademarks: How Far Should You Go?

legal protection
Legal Protection word cloud concept

By: Brian D. Kaider, Esq.

You’ve secured federal registration for your trademarks and you’ve been building your brand recognition.  Per your trademark attorney’s recommendation, you’ve had quarterly searches conducted to find similar marks.  Lo and behold, a new entry to the market is using your trademark.  Now what?  Stop and take a breath; let the initial surprise or anger settle. There is a lot to consider before taking any action.

Take Stock of the Situation

  First, take a look at your own trademark.  Is it the name of your winery or of one of your products?  Is it a national brand or one that is distributed in a small geographic area?  In what classes of goods and services is it registered (e.g., class 033 for wine, class 040 for “custom production of wine for others,” etc.)?

  Then look at the competitor’s mark.  Is the mark identical to yours or similar?  How similar?  Is it broadly distributed?  Is it used for the same goods and services as your mark?  If not, how similar are the goods and services?  Are your products marketed through the same trade channels?  Are consumers likely to encounter both your products and theirs?  Have they attempted to register their trademark and, if so, where are they in that process?

  No one question will be determinative in any given case, but on balance, they will help develop a sense of how much effort should be expended to enforce your rights.  As discussed below, there are numerous paths, each with its own set of risks and potential rewards.  An international brand that is known throughout the industry, like E. & J. Gallo, must be far more protective of its Gallo® mark than a small winery in Oregon that has a registered trademark for a rosé product only distributed in the Pacific Northwest.

First Contact

  As the owner of a registered trademark, it is your duty to “police” your mark; that is, to monitor unauthorized use of your mark by others and to enforce your right to exclusivity of that mark.  When large corporations learn of potential infringement, their immediate response is generally to have their attorneys send a cease and desist (C&D) letter.  For smaller companies, a personal attempt to contact the owner of the infringing business is often effective.  Sometimes the other party simply did not know about your mark.  If you found their use of the mark before they spent considerable time and money developing it as a brand, they may be willing to simply let it go.

  When making these calls, it is important to maintain a demeanor that is both friendly and firm.  There is no need to accuse the other side of wrong-doing or of violating your trademark knowingly.  However, you should simply let them know that you do have a registration for the mark and that their use is likely to cause confusion in the market as to the source of your respective goods.  If you give them a reasonable amount of time to work through any inventory bearing the infringing mark and to rebrand, this can often be the end of the matter.

Cease and Desist Letter

  If the friendly approach doesn’t work, the next step is generally a cease and desist letter.  This is most effective if drafted and sent by an attorney.  The tone of these letters tends to be more matter-of-fact.  They identify your trademark(s); explain that you have spent a considerable amount of time, effort, and money to build your brand around the mark; identify the other party’s infringing use; state that the use is unauthorized and likely to cause economic harm and loss of goodwill in your brand; and demand that they stop using the mark within a given time frame.

  While these letters can sometimes be effective, especially against smaller companies, they have become so commonplace that often they are simply ignored by more savvy companies who may wait to see if further steps are taken before deciding whether to rebrand.  Accordingly, you should carefully weigh all of your options and decide in advance whether you will escalate the matter if your C&D letter is ignored.

Trademark Opposition

  If the other side has attempted to register their mark, there is a narrow window of opportunity for you to challenge their application before it registers.  If, after conducting a search of other marks, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) determines that the mark is registerable, it will publish the mark in the Official Gazette.  This publication opens a 30-day window for anyone who believes they will be harmed by registration of the mark to file an opposition to the application.  

  This process should not be entered into lightly.  In some cases, simply filing the opposition will be enough to get the other side to give up its mark.  But, if they choose to fight the opposition, you will find yourself in a litigious process that takes time, effort, and money to complete.  As in civil litigation, the parties to an opposition file motions and briefs, request documents from the other side, take depositions, serve interrogatories that must be answered, and present their evidence to the Trademark Trials and Appeals Board for its consideration. 

  If the opposition goes all the way to the trial stage, it will generally take at least 18 months from when the notice is filed to when the last brief is due and will cost each side in the tens of thousands of dollars.  As with civil litigation, most oppositions do not reach the trial stage, because the parties are able to come to terms and settle the dispute on their own.  But, this often does not occur until sometime in the discovery phase, after both sides have spent a considerable amount on legal fees.

  It is important to note that the object of an opposition proceeding is to prevent registration of the other side’s trademark and, if you are successful, that is your sole remedy.  There are no monetary damages awarded, nor can you recover your legal fees from the other side.  Moreover, while they will lose their ability to register their trademark, it does not necessarily mean the other side will stop using the mark on their goods or services.  In that case, you would have to file a trademark infringement litigation (see below) to get them to stop using the mark, entirely.  In practical terms, succeeding in an opposition will often be enough to get the other side to abandon their mark, because if you were to follow through with a civil litigation, they could be on the hook for treble damages for willful infringement.

Trademark Cancellation

  If you discover the other side’s trademark application after the 30-day opposition window has expired, your only option to challenge the mark at the USPTO is to wait until the trademark actually registers and then to file a trademark cancellation proceeding.  Though there are some differences between cancellation and opposition proceedings, particularly if the challenged mark has been registered for more than five years, they are similar in most procedural respects. 

Trademark Infringement Litigation

  As one might expect, filing a trademark infringement case in federal court is the nuclear option.  Depending upon the jurisdiction, the time frame for completing a litigation may be faster or slower than an opposition or cancellation proceeding at the USPTO.  But, whereas those procedures will likely cost the parties tens of thousands of dollars, a civil litigation will likely reach six figures, or more. 

  The reason for this higher cost is that there are more issues to consider in these cases.  If  your are successful in a civil litigation, you may not only obtain injunctive relief, foreclosing the defendant from all future use of the mark, but also may obtain monetary damages associated with the defendant’s past use of the mark, as well as attorney’s fees expended in the proceeding.  Moreover, if the defendant is found to have willfully infringed your trademark, they may be required to pay treble damages. 

  These issues, which are not even addressed in an opposition/cancellation, add breadth to the scope of discovery taken, which increases the cost.  Further, whereas most opposition/cancellation proceedings are decided without an oral hearing, a civil litigation generally requires live testimony and argument in front of a judge or jury.  These proceedings require a great deal of attorney preparation, dramatically increasing legal fees.


  As the owner of a valid trademark registration, you are obligated to police your mark and failure to do so can result in a dramatic diminishment of your rights or even outright abandonment of your registration.  But, that does not mean you have to file a civil litigation against every minor infringement.  Determining the appropriate path in any given situation requires a careful evaluation of all the circumstances and balancing the risks of action versus inaction.  It is critical to engage a knowledgeable trademark attorney, who will properly assess these risks, your likelihood of success, and the most effective course of action in your case.  

  Brian Kaider is a principal of KaiderLaw, an intellectual property law firm with extensive experience in the craft beverage industry.  He has represented clients from the smallest of start-up breweries to Fortune 500 corporations in the navigation of regulatory requirements, drafting and negotiating contracts, prosecuting trademark and patent applications, and complex commercial litigation. or call (240) 308-8032

Dealing With Contracts

2 people conversing

Winery and Vineyard operations are a happy mix of old world charm with agricultural roots, where a neighbors word was as ‘good as gold’ and a handshake was an iron clad agreement, mingled into the modern world with exposures  that are more diversified and with specialized job duties, broader national reach and the increasing litigious environment.

  Contracts can be quite intimidating, confusing and even deceptive at times.

Contract ATips

  Before we get started, as with all editorial information, this should in no way be considered legal advice.  Please contact your attorney for all legal advice specific to your needs or situation.

For simplicity, we will look at two main views; contracts that you create and have others sign and the contracts that you sign as a winery/vineyard operation.

Contracts You Create

  Some of the most common agreements or contracts that a winery and vineyard operation creates can include worker contracts, processing contracts and vendors.

  Depending on the circumstance, contracts for workers need to be clear on employment relationships as an employee, subcontractor or increasingly, a co-employee through a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). 

  The winery industry has a wide breath of operations with the larger accounts that need H-2A seasonal workers contracts to the sole proprietorship where the labor is all family.  A contract should be specific on the conditions and expectations for both parties.

  In processing, there are custom crush operations that handle the complete cycle of wine production from crush to storage, down to a single task process, like using a mobile bottler.  Contracts can relate to a transportation exposures where a hired contractor is used to move the stock between locations or a storage warehouse exposure that needs to address the conditions and the insurance responsibility for the wine value.

  Consider the time element and any penalties associated if an operation under contract fails to meet expectations.

Contracts You Sign

  If you have a contract with a bottle manufacturer, cork maker, label printer, bottle filler and transportation company, do they line up with the timing and expectations to make sure your production is a success? 

  If you are responsible for the production operations, are there service contracts in place for the equipment if a part or service is needed at a crucial time in production? 

  Another common contract to the business is the Lease Agreement.  The basics are familiar to most, with renting a location to run an operation, having a monthly fee and a term agreement are very generic.  The contract can also have specifics as to the type of operations and alterations allowed.  It may be OK to make wine but not allow pressure vessels or brewery operations.  You can have the tenant improvements and betterments with installing a tasting bar, but no authority to add a kitchen space. 

  Contractors and vendors can also require a winery or vineyard to sign a contract.  Examples include a band playing on the stage, craft vendors at the harvest festival or food services.  In the best interest of the winery, the contract should address the insurance aspects of the agreement.  Each of the details in the contract should be viewed through the lens of the risk manager.  A contract should be clear and valid but remember, it is not an insurance solution.  The contract should address the specific insurance requirements needed.

  Insurance policies can also be considered a contract. Verify the language on your insurance policy protects and defends the winery.  The language should be clear to both the scope and the limit of insurance required.  In most cases, providing proof of insurance with the adequate limits is enough justification for the insurance clause.  Taking it one step further, the contract may require the signer to add the winery as an Additional Insured for events that are hosted on the insured property.

  In many cases, having a contract in force can be one of the triggers on many insurance policies that allow for an additional insured status to apply. 

  After the contract is properly executed and additional insured status is secured, the insured should verify that the limits of insurance available are at least equal to the limits under their commercial general liability policy.

  Time to ‘punch down’ and get a little more flavor.  When we switch gears and look at contracts the winery/vineyard operation is being requested to sign, paying close attention to details is paramount.  Signing a contract without understanding the consequence can have huge implications on your business.

  The nature of operations in the industry has many vendor exposures, whether as a festival booth or as a supplier to a restaurant or grocery chain.  Many of these contracts will have a requirement for limits as well as an indemnification clause that requires an additional insured status under the winery/vineyard insurance protection.  The contracts can get detailed with requesting high limits, giving up rights to subrogation of a loss or to ignore negligent acts. 

  One important point in reviewing a contract is to understand from an insurance standpoint, if you agree to a condition in a contract, is it something your insurance policy will cover?  If you sign a contract that is not supported by your insurance policy, you could be responsible for payments in the agreement that are not payable by the insurance carrier.  Failure to satisfy a contract may not be related to a covered cause of loss under the insurance language.

  As a vineyard, do you have a contract to be a supplier to a winery, in which the contract states if you fail to provide a certain volume you would owe a penalty?

  As a custom crush operation, are you under contract agreement to produce a product in a certain timeframe?  Are you contractually obligated to insure the wine stock of others at a certain settlement price?

  As a vendor in a national chain store, are you required to carry higher limits of insurance or coverage lines such as auto and worker compensation?

It may be difficult to do business today without contracts in one aspect of your operation or another.  Having the right contract in place can be a form of risk management, but can also be a source of liability on your operations.

  Not every business is the same and in fact one of the hallmarks of the industry is to celebrate the differences in both product and experience.  This creates a unique situation that should have an equally unique contract for the specific needs.  It is best practice to have professional legal counsel in drawing up any contract in lieu of the generic options.

  Ideally contracts will be written with clear and simple language that will address the relationship and expectations for the situation.

  The subject matter of contracts is complicated and often creates confusion. It is important for operations to begin considering some of the issues BEFORE a loss or conflict occurs.

  The best contract you can enter in, is a high quality insurance policy.  The insurance policy is a contract agreement that is signed by both parties.  Although it can be somewhat complex in the language, the details of the contract indicate the expectations of both parties and what is to happen if certain criteria is met, what coverages are included, what responsibilities are required for the insured and what promises of settlement are made by the carrier.  Insurance can play a major role in working with the various business contracts.

  As contract partners, it is recommended you work with your insurance agent or carrier to review any contract agreement to determine how it will affect your liabilities and to confirm if additional risk management tools may be needed.

Top 3 Tips for Contracts

  • 1. Get it in writing.
  • 2. Keep it simple in language and form.
  • 3. Seek professional advice from your insurance advisor and legal counsel.

For more information, please, contact us Markel Personal Lines or 262-548-9180.

Wine, Widgets & Website Accessibility

fingers typing

By: ADA Site Compliance

Like most businesses today, wineries are grappling with making their websites accessible to users with disabilities. Plaintiffs and their attorneys continue to target the wine industry and have now filed dozens of lawsuits alleging that growers, distillers, distributors, and merchants are non-compliant under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If the current litigation wave follows that of other verticals recently hit – retail apparel, hospitality, restaurants, travel, among others – the trend will likely persist until every player in the space has either revamped its existing website, built an entirely new one, or closed its doors altogether.

  So how have wineries and vineyards fared so far in facing this new risk? While the final chapter in this story has yet to be written, defendants in such suits across similar retail-based industries have found that their outcomes largely depend on the strategy they choose to adopt. There are three basic approaches. One option is to do nothing at all and hope for the best.

  A second option is to take some incremental step or steps toward improving the website. Often, this involves fixing the easy-to-find compliance failures – issues like color contrast violations and missing alterative (“alt”) text on images. The advantages here are convenience and cost; many software tools can assist with this, and for not much money. The primary disadvantage is that the results are mixed, since no technology can catch every failure. In fact, most automated tools only detect about 20-30% of the non-compliant issues. As a result, while software offers a step toward ADA compliance, it will continue to leave website owners exposed and vulnerable. And given that “copycat” suits are now the norm, your odds of escaping further litigation are low.

  The third option is for wineries to make their websites ADA compliant. The only way to do this is through human expert auditing that involves actual people going through the site manually to check for all 78 “success criteria” under the current web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1). After that, wineries can use the audit reports to remediate their sites and achieve meaningful compliance. While this option costs more, it remains the only reliable way to stop successive suits. It is also the right thing to do.

Widgets: Savior or Snake Oil?

  Many businesses – not just wineries – turn to third-party accessibility “widgets” as an apparent cure-all. These software plugins or overlays go directly on a website and claim to provide disabled visitors with an expanded set of accessibility tools to help them better navigate the site. To the uninitiated, widgets seem to be the long- sought solution: an inexpensive and easy-to-use button that makes fonts bigger, contrasts sharper, and other enhancements. Their simple integration with any website accounts for their widespread adoption.

  Unfortunately, as lots of their former advocates have found, widgets fail to make any website. In fact, there is reason to believe they make sites less compliant than before and more susceptible to litigation. The reason: the features they offer are already available to users via their browsers, their operating systems, or their assistive devices such as electronic screen readers (JAWS and NVDA are the two most popular). Most users who would benefit from a widget’s functionality already have these options available and are using them when needed. So instead of providing new ways to access information, widgets only succeed in further confusing assistive devices, which now have yet another potential barrier on the website to try to “read” and “understand.”

  Some experts have been vocal in their opposition to widgets as a quick-fix tool. Jeanne Spellman, a 19-year veteran of web accessibility, represents the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the group that creates the WCAG guidelines. When asked about the rise of widgets, Ms. Spellman referred to them as “snake oil” and noted their likelihood of exacerbating a website’s accessibility hurdles. “Installing plugins that provide text-to- speech or screen magnification,” she writes, “does not help people who are blind or low-vision, because these inferior plugins interfere with real assistive technology the blind or low-vision person already owns and uses.”

  Fair enough. But what about the benefit of widgets as a risk-mitigation tool? Is there not some advantage that website owners derive from prominently displaying this software on their site? To this, Ms. Spellman offers a definitive no: “Plugins do not help you if you are sued. Additionally, installing a custom overlay over your code … requires changing the custom overlay every time you make a change to your site. In the end, you still have an inaccessible site.” In the end, the only use Ms. Spellman sees for widgets is as a temporary patch while business owners fix their sites.

Take Action Now

  In the short term, what should wineries do in order to minimize their risk of costly litigation? Here are some steps that make for a good start:

•   Hire a true expert in website accessibility. There are many new players in the digital accessibility world, many of whom come from other businesses like web design or marketing. They may be experts in their core business, but they’re not web accessibility specialists. Don’t let them learn on your dime.

•   Post an accessibility statement. This can be simple verbiage on your site that lets visitors know you are addressing the issues. It also lists your contact info so that users can reach you if they need help navigating the site. Nearly every lawsuit filed in his space cites the lack of such a statement on the site.

•   Perform human audits. Again, technology does have some benefit for those looking to gauge their general accessibility level. But it will not make your website compliant. If true accessibility is the goal, you must have human beings auditing your website for all instances of all WCAG errors.

•   Commit to ongoing auditing and maintenance. Post-remediation, you’ll need to periodically review your site to make sure it stays compliant. Your content may change, as do laws and regulations, and so a set-it-and-forget-it strategy can land you back in court. Accessibility is a journey, not a destination. 

  Lastly, remember that website accessibility is about more than merely avoiding lawsuits; it’s about doing what is lawful and making your website accessible to all, which ultimately benefits everyone, including your winery. 

  For more information about becoming ADA compliant, please contact Gemma Petrón at ADA Site Compliance at…

(561) 258-9875;

or find us at…

Vineyard Fungal Trunk Diseases: Prevention and Control

leaf infested

By: Judit Monis, Ph.D., Plant Health Consultant

Grapevine trunk diseases occur worldwide and may be caused by bacterial or fungal pathogens, or both. This article will focus on trunk disease caused by fungal pathogens.  It is important to note that the same fungal pathogens that affect grapevine are capable of infecting other fruit crops and landscape trees. It is my intention to provide information on the different species involved in the different diseases and learn how to prevent new infections in the vineyard.

  If you read other articles I wrote or heard me speak, you already know that the only way to avoid diseases in the vineyard is to prevent the introduction of pathogens in the first place.  Once established in the vineyard, there is no cure for graft-transmissible diseases and new infections are difficult to control.     This means that care must be used when selecting planting material prior to developing a new vineyard block. 

  Below I describe the most common grapevine trunk diseases caused by fungi.  As with viruses and bacteria, fungal pathogens can be found in mixed infections with other fungi, as well as with bacteria and viruses.

Petri Disease, Young Vine Decline, Esca

  The disease is caused by Phaeoacremonium and Phaeomoniella species in young vines.  In older vines (defined as older than 10 years), the disease is known as Esca.  Esca disease can be chronic when vines are infected for a long period of time showing gradual decline symptoms or acute when the vines decline and die within a few days (apoplectic stage). It is not uncommon during the apoplectic stage to see dried up canes carrying grape bunches with raisins.

Bot Canker, Eutypa and Phomopsis Die Back, Other Cankers

  Various pathogens can cause canker disease in the vineyard. Bot-canker is caused by different species in the Botryosphaeriaceae family.   Eutypa dieback is caused by different species in the Diatrypaceae family.  The best characterized and known species is Eutypa lata species.  In my lab we characterized Seimatosporium as a canker species, but within the same group others have reported Pestalotipsis and Truncatella to cause cankers in grapevines.  Other canker pathogens include Diaporthe (also known as Phomopsis).  The canker symptoms observed when sectioning the trunk or cordon of a vine can look similar even when caused by unrelated fungal species, however, the life cycles and mode of infection may be different.

Black Foot Disease

  Species of Dactylonectria and Ilyonectria (previously known as Cylindrocarpon spp.) are the causal agents of this complex disease.   These fungi are soil born and most active on compact soils with poor drainage.  Symptoms above ground are indistinguishable from Petri disease and the often the decline symptoms can be confused with Pierce’s disease. 

Other Diseases

  Species of Armillaria mellea (Oak root fungus), Verticillium, Phytophthora, and Fusarium are soil born fungal species capable of causing decline and rots in the vineyard.

  Disease Prevention and Control (Management)

  As mentioned earlier, the best disease control measure is to prevent infection.  Unfortunately, our certification programs do not test or exclude the infection of fungal pathogens in propagation material. The implementation of appropriate sanitation measures at the nursery is needed to produce high quality planting grapevine material.  You probably heard me say that one infected vine can produce at least 100 -200 vines each year, potentially producing a significant number of infected grafted plants. Because fungal pathogens cannot be eliminated in the vineyard once introduced, it is important to inspect nursery material prior to planting.  Since the effect of grapevine fungal pathogens generally will increase with the age of the vineyard growers must adopt management and control measurements as soon as the vines are planted in order to prevent the propagation and the dispersal of pathogens.

  When planting a new vineyard, it is important to inspect the quality of the planting material (graft union integrity, lack of streaking or pitting) and plant in well prepared and drained soil, at the correct season.  It is important to apply best practices in the vineyard (i.e., enough water, nutrients, etc.) as many of the fungal pathogens are endophytic (can live in the vine without causing damage) but can become pathogenic during stress situations.

  Management at the vineyard should include trained personnel for pruning.  In California where the rainy season coincides with the pruning season it is recommended to prune as late as possible.  If the vineyards are large, double pruning is recommended.  In all cases, after pruning, the fresh wound produced should be protected using fungicides or SafeCoat VitiSeal.  The recommendation of pruning as late in the season as possible is related to wound healing (the vine is more active in the spring and will heal faster) as well as most fungal trunk disease pathogens release spores during the rainy season and in the spring time the proportion of spores would have reduced to a minimum.  However, wound protection is still required because fresh wounds are more susceptible to infection and can remain susceptible for long periods of time.   Things to avoid during pruning are: producing large wounds, cutting near the trunk, pruning after long periods of rain, and leaving vine residues in the vineyard floor.

  A more drastic disease management practice includes vine re-training (training a new shoot from the base of the trunk to replace the old decayed vine trunk or cordons).  The technique can help gain some years of production but will not cure the vines from the disease. 

  Economic studies performed by Kendra Baumgartner and colleagues (USDA in UC Davis, California) has shown that preventative methods (late pruning, double pruning, and pruning wound protectants) are sustainable only if applied before symptoms appear in the vineyard.  Adopting these methods in vines that are 10 years old or older will not recover the cost of investment.

  Other methods that have been reported for the management of fungal diseases include mustard greens cover crops and biological control agents such as Trichoderma and Mycorrhizal fungi.

  New and more sensitive pathogen detection methods that apply next generation sequencing are now available for the detection at the species level of microorganisms in plants and soil.  It is my hope that in the near future, these methods will help reduce the infection levels of planting material and consequently will translate into healthier vineyards.

  Judit Monis, Ph.D. is a California-based plant health consultant, provides specialized services to help growers, vineyard managers, and nursery personnel avoid the propagation and transmission of disease caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their vineyard blocks.   Judit is fluent in Spanish and is available to consult in other important wine grape growing regions of the word. 

  Please visit for information or contact to request a consulting session at your vineyard.

Fruitful Partnerships: Family-Run Vineyards and Wineries

Mercer Family Estate
Mercer Family Estate, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington

By: Cheryl Gray

From grapes to glass, teamwork is at the top of the list of requirements for any successful vineyard  or winery.  And what of the extras that come into play if that team happens to be family? 

  Just ask Brenda Mercer of Mercer Family Vineyards, whose family settled in the Prosser, Washington area in 1886, before Washington became a state.  Three Mercer brothers, Don, Bud and Rick, founded  the fifth-generation enterprise right in the heart of what is now the world-renowned, grape-growing Yakima Valley. 

  “They moved out to the Horse Heaven Hills after World War II to run a cattle and sheep operation, initially.  As things progressed and irrigation water became available, the Mercer (Ranches) began growing row crops such as sugar beets and potatoes.  Under the recommendation of Dr. Walter Clore, Don and Linda Mercer planted the very first wine grapes in the HHH in 1972 on what is now known today as Champoux Vineyard.” 

  Mercer adds that the family has incorporated education and technology into the variety of wine grapes they produce, spread across at least a half-dozen vineyards totaling nearly 1,000 acres.  ”There is a great deal of education and training happening in our neck of the woods in the field of agriculture and viticulture.  We are blessed to have the WSU (Washington State University) Wine Science Center in our back yard.  But even with education and outside training, a lot of knowledge is still gained by hands on experience. “

  John Derrick, Vineyard Manager for Mercer Ranches, has been with the family for three generations.  Derrick points out that the success of this family-run business has always included collaborating with educational partners who are in the region. “We are lucky enough to work with WSU, WSU Tri-Cities, Yakima Valley Community College, Walla Walla Community College and LAEP (Latino Agricultural Education Program).  We also work directly with educators and extension in the vineyard doing experiments and collaborating on new ideas and products. Working with the programs above, we have built up a great team here at Mercer Ranches. “

  Derrick adds that Mercer Ranches has recently placed emphasis on expanding its vineyard operations, providing, he says, the perfect opportunity to try new methods and ideas.  “I have always appreciated     the family’s willingness to try something new and I have seen that first hand with three generations now.  Mercer Ranches was well positioned to mechanize the vineyards because of the vision and drive  provided by Rob (Mercer).”

  Brothers Rob and Will Mercer, both of whom attended Washington State University, have been running the family business since 2010.  Rob is in charge of the farming and viticulture operations.  Will serves as General Manager at Mercer Estates.  In fact, many of the Mercer family offspring either currently work or have worked the farm and vineyards    Liz Mercer-Elliott, another WSU graduate who also trained in winemaking at Hogue Cellars, runs the company’s Carma Wine Club out of its Prosser Tasting Room.  Calvin Mercer, another WSU graduate, runs Austin Sharp Vineyard.  Still other family members have worked in many different facets of the company.

  According to Andrew Martinez, Head Winemaker of Martinez Vineyard & Winery, the Mercer family helped to bring to life his own family’s dream of operating a vineyard and winery in Yakima Valley.  Martinez says his immigrant father, Sergio, and mother, Kristy, a Washington native, bought and planted clones from Don and Linda Mercer back in 1981, planting three acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on property the Martinez family bought on Phinny Hill in the Horse Heaven Hills in 1978.  Martinez was born a year and a half after his father planted the family’s first vineyard. 

  “Helping to lay irrigation, plant grapes, sucker, prune, hoe weeds, shoot thin, and harvest are all things that were fairly normal chores in my upbringing. All the hard work that is spent in the vineyard is the reason for realizing the need to go to college for a better life.”  Martinez graduated from Yakima Valley Community College with a degree in Science and attended as many wine-making seminars and other educational outreach programs as he could.  He honed his wine-making skills four days out of the week while working as a dental hygienist part-time.  In the meantime, Martinez says that his wife, Monica,   who also grew up on a farm and whose grandfather, he says, was among the first winemakers in Prosser making wine from Washington grapes, earned her MBA.  The couple’s return on investment in education, Martinez says, has greatly benefitted the family business.  “Needless to say, wine and grape growing runs thick in our blood.  Monica’s MBA and my Science degrees have helped the vineyard and winery be elevated with tools they needed to be more successful.”

  Martinez says the family made the leap from grape growers to wine makers in 2005.   “… I talked my dad into making two barrels of wine for our first 50 cases. For years, we had sold the grapes but now, it was time to start utilizing them ourselves. It was time to show all the hard work and dedication in the vineyard to everyone!  Barrel-aging wines for 24 months, we had time to stockpile vintages and slowly increased amounts until 2007, where we started selling in a corner of a shared room at Winemakers Loft.  In 2009, the facility was sold and new owners wanted to fill actual tasting rooms. So, we were up with a hard decision. Was it time to have an actual tasting room of our own?  Being a microscopic winery, it was either sink or swim and we decided to go for it.  Thirty-eight years after the vineyard was planted, 14 years after our first two barrels of wine made, and 10 years after having the tasting room opened, we are making over 2,000 cases of wine and selling 95% of that through that same door each year.”

  Martinez says the business tasks are now split among the family members.  While he serves as Head Winemaker, Sergio Martinez is Grape Grower, Kristy Martinez is in charge of Tasting Room/Hospitality and Monica Martinez is Business Manager.

  Two Mountain Winery is a fourth generation enterprise headed by brothers Matthew and Patrick Rawn.  Located in Yakima Valley near Zillah, the Rawn brothers oversee 228 acres of wine grapes on seven vineyard sites used not only for their own wine production but also for their winery grape clients.

  Patrick Rawn, who is General Manager and Head of Vineyard Operations, says that once the brothers returned to their family’s land, they focused their interest, passion and skillset(s) on producing grapes for making wine, transforming what was once a family-owned tree fruit farm into a successful vineyard and winery.  They planted the first vineyard in 2000.  “Our production facility and a couple of our vineyards are located on the farm our grandparents started in 1950, near where our grandfather grew up farming… it is very important to us we honor our history and their legacy. “

Handling That First Crush

Closeup of wine grapes being dumped from a truck into crusher
Closeup of wine grapes being dumped from a truck into crusher

By: Tracey L. Kelley

The anticipation of your first wine crush is a different kind of love story. Waiting for this moment to come to fruition requires years of planning, plotting and production. If you’re a grape grower, your pulse quickens with vérasion as the potential presents itself. If you’re a winemaker relying on partnerships to provide you with grapes, the sweat on your brow is both excitement and a little anxiety until you know everything is just right.

  How can you speedily process grapes while enjoying the journey of this process? Choose the right equipment, craft a solid contingency plan and ask the right people for help. Every year provides a chance to reassess, but in most cases, each crush will be better than the last when you know what works for you.

What Crushing Process Works Best for You?

  In some business plans, scaling your equipment to a larger level at startup is often the recommendation so you’re prepared for projected growth. However, if your winery goals require you to stay small, at least until expansion possibilities solidify by demand and profitability, there’s no need to have volunteers for foot treading or hand-cranking grapes—unless that’s part of your marketing and promotions efforts, of course.

  Many small and mid-sized producers benefit from automation. Leo Birdsall is the inventor and owner of FASTRAK Cider Press, based in Springfield, Oregon. He developed a press powered by an air compressor that handles destemmed or shredded fruit. He said he got the idea from talking with producers at trade shows who wanted a motorized method for crush with a lower price point. The automation also helps reduce labor.

  “You can have one person operating the destemmer, feeding the clusters into it. Then another person can collect the pomace in a bag and put it on the press. Once the press is activated, it takes 2.3 seconds to get about three–to–four gallons of juice,” Birdsall told The Grapevine Magazine. Depending on your flavor profiles, you choose how much pomace set aside and add to the juice during fermentation.

  The average price of mechanized destemmer crusher is approximately $3,800–$5,500, especially if you want features such as variable speed control and hookups for must pumps. A wine bladder press is often two times that amount. If your operation is processing about one ton of grapes at a time, as an example, averaging 120–150 gallons of wine per ton—or roughly 60–65 cases of wine—it’s easy to see why even a small automated system makes a speedy difference during crush season.

  FASTRAK retails for $2,500, so paired with a hand-powered or motorized destemmer with an estimated price of $350 might be a more comfortable entry point for some small producers.

  Other producers may find high-quality destemmer crushers at auction, then learn how to rebuild and repair the equipment and save costs that way. Michael and Kelly Amigoni own Amigoni Urban Winery in Kansas City, Missouri. Winemaker Michael specializes in dry wines crafted from Barbera, Cinsaut, Sangiovese and Tempranillo grapes. Although the couple once had a vineyard, Amigoni now receives 70–90 tons of whole clusters from their partner growers in Lodi, California. They crush, press, ferment, barrel-age and bottle at their winery in the revitalized Stockyard District of Kansas City’s West Bottoms neighborhood.

  Amigoni’s initial production started with 300 cases. Twelve years later, the winery produces more than 4,000 cases a year of award-winning cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, chardonnay and viognier.

  “We have a rebuilt French crusher destemmer that we bought at auction, and we rebuilt the motors—one that propels the destemmer, and one that propels the crusher rollers. We tore the guts out and rebuilt it all,” Amigoni said. With this machine, he can crush about three tons in an hour.

  Machines with gentle overlapping lobe roller crushers continue to be the most prominent choice for small–to–mid-sized producers. Ultimately, a winemaker has to choose a machine that allows for more control over color and tannin. Equipment with variable speeds might enhance the process not only for production but also final quality.

Get Your Equipment and

Supplies in Order

  On average, you have a day—maybe two—to crush grapes. Checking all equipment now is critical to ensure efficient process flow. Inspect, repair and prep:

•    Destemmer, crusher, press, pumps, bladders and hoses—make sure to only use food-grade grease, paint, and cleansers for oiling, metal coating and sterilization. Check seals, bearings, paddles, clamps and hose integrity. You’ll also need a special bladder cleanser. Double-check that you have all the necessary lubricants

•    Buckets, bins, hold tanks, must chillers, fermenters and barrels—pressure wash as needed and sterilize. Check tank fittings and valves.

•    Crush pad and winery—fill cracks and low spots, sanitize for mold and other foreign material.

•    Forklift—even if it’s a rental, run the machine a few days before crush and check the operation. You’ll also probably need extra gas canisters, so call the gas company and have them on hand.

•    Refractometer—use distilled water to recalibrate it to ensure proper brix reading levels.

•    Brooms, mops and other cleaning supplies—have two or three sets so workers don’t have to wait to use them.

•    Hot and cold water options—you’ll need to check your microwave or kettle to make sure they’re working to warm up water for optimal yeast temperature. Check all nozzles, faucets, and sprayers.

•    First aid kit—plan for every medical emergency, from a minor bee sting to a slip and fall, and stock accordingly.

  Amigoni is a careful planner. This technique, he said, helped reduce the pressure of crush. His checklist is quite extensive, and he adheres to it. “I used to panic before harvest,” he said. “Now, I don’t. I’ve seen it all over the years, and realize preparation is everything.”

  Proper gear such as boots, raincoats, and pop-up tents, Amigoni said, make it easier to crush outside. Have a few extra sets of gloves, safety glasses, and masks beyond the number of workers you’re expecting to prepare for any contingencies or additional people stopping by to watch the process.

  “Make sure you have enough covers for open bins and tanks, too—even heavy-duty cardboard is fine. I get extra cardboard from a local brewery. Also, be sure you have enough tape. You never have enough tape,” he said. “If it’s windy or there’s a hose problem or whatever, tape solves a lot of problems.”

  Order about 10% more cleaning and lab supplies than you think you might need—many will keep for a full year. For example, Amigoni said, get a few extra packets of the highest-grade yeast to have on hand.

  “You order yeast according to your variety, but there are times when you have high brix, and normal yeast will die at 16, and maybe you had something come in at 28 or 30 brix,” he said. “Make sure you have high-quality yeast that will go to 17, just one or two packets sitting by, because if you need to have yeast overnighted, it’ll cost a lot more.”

  “Additionally, if you’re doing a cold soak technique, make sure you’ve lined up your dry ice. If you’re using a jacketed tank or chiller, have plenty of glycol available in case there’s a leak or if you need to add some to get down to a certain temperature.”

  Like many winemakers creating different styles, Amigoni has a staggered crush season: a hurry and wait on each varietal’s arrival over the course of a few weeks. He’s learned proper preparation before each crush is essential. “If you’re not prepared, you’ll implode. You have to be precise. I’ve seen times when we’ve spilled things or hit things because we’re in a hurry. This rushing causes a ripple effect, and it’s detrimental to your whole operation. Preparation helps the whole process run more smoothly.”

Create an Environment of Joyful Work

  Crushing is often at its best when it’s done “in kind,” Amigoni told The Grapevine Magazine. “Along with a couple of regular workers, we also have quite a few people—typically 12 people—who volunteer. We have some people who come back each year, and actually, have a waiting list of others wanting to help. They get paid ‘in kind,’—kind words, kind people and a kind smile when you say ‘here, take this home’ as you hand them a bottle of wine.”

  However, he recommends being discerning with who does what. “My biggest challenge is sorting through people and putting them on the right task. Only certain people go on the crusher, for example, or only a couple of people can operate the forklift. Maybe others are marking bins, or putting together little buckets of stuff for me, taping stuff. They like helping, and everyone has a purpose.”

  His advice for getting through your first crush, and others, is threefold:

1.   Pace yourself. “You’ll have a tendency to think ‘I need to do everything at once!’ and rush through everything. Most of the time, though, grapes can sit for a day or so.”

2.   Take the proper amount of breaks. “You might want to push through the whole day—12 hours or more without any breaks—but it’s better to tell your crew to stop, have no equipment running and sit down. Have burgers or pizza or whatever and talk for a while. Your productivity goes through the roof afterward. I used to have a bad habit of not stopping—it took me a long time to find the value in that. It’s not right to push everyone so hard. So make a point to say, ‘Okay, that’s a half-ton done. Here’s your next one waiting when we come back. Now let’s all sit down and eat.’ You can time it—a half hour or so to rehydrate, eat and relax. It may take some volunteers a little longer to get up than others, but they’ll get up to speed eventually.”

3.   Always remember to have fun. “People say, ‘What do you think about your job?’ and I say, ‘I don’t have a job.’ In the early years, yeah, it seemed like a little more of a struggle, especially when I wasn’t prepared. You’ll run into a sweet spot eventually—your budget will increase, you’ll get better equipment and continue to keep yourself motivated.”

Maragas Winery: Old World Greece Meets New World Oregon

crowd outside a winery

By: Nan McCreary

Deep in the heart of Central Oregon, strategically located between the beautiful rock formations of Smith Rock State park and the majestic peaks of the Cascades, is a gem of a winery that traces its history to the 13th century in Greece.  It’s Maragas Winery, owned and operated by Doug Maragas and his wife, Gina, and, while it sits in a New-World location, it’s wine-making traditions date back to those used by the founders’ family hundreds of years ago.

  The Maragas story began in Crete, when the island was a province of the Roman Empire, and the family started a vineyard to support the growing wine culture.   From this beginning, they farmed grapes, olives and figs for centuries, surviving the invasion of the Ottoman Empire and the occupation of Crete by the Germans in World War II.  The family still owns the vineyard today.

  The family narrative spreads to the U.S. when, in 1941, Doug’s grandparents, George and Anna Maragas, began commercially brokering grapes and making wine out of Lodi, California.  It was Anna and her stories of family history, said Maragas, that led him to winemaking. “My history inspired me, particularly my grandmother, who I was very close to at a young age,” he recalled.  “She was a head of a business, which was unusual in the early 40s.” Maragas remembers spending a lot of time with her, learning about winemaking and the business of owning a vineyard. Essentially, his grandmother was more than a loving family member: she was a mentor.

  With encouragement from Anna, Maragas left his law practice in Ohio and, after searching the country for a viable and affordable place to grow grapes, he settled on Central Oregon.  Not only did the beauty of the area appeal to Maragas, it also reminded him of Crete, with identical soil (volcanic and sandy loam) and a similar Mediterranean climate (warm dry summers and wet winters).  In 1999, he and his wife established Maragas Winery as the founding winery and vineyard of Central Oregon.

  The Maragas vineyard is located near Culver, 25 miles north of Bend.  Conditions are optimum: well-draining soil, a south-facing slope located at 2800 feet and a large diurnal range that promotes seed and berry growth and complex flavors.  After more than a decade of experimenting (with over 48 varietals), and defying naysayers who said it was too cold to grow grapes in the area, Maragas Winery is producing award-winning wines and bringing recognition to Central Oregon as an official wine region.

  Maragas’ grapes are all grown organically, just as they were centuries ago in ancient Greece. This means selecting the right grape variety for the specific region, and excluding the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Rather, Maragas relies on hand labor to control weeds, and chickens to eat the bugs.  He also has large dogs to keep the deer out, as well as small dogs and feral cats to control the rodents.

  Honoring his Greek heritage and extending his “all natural” philosophy to winemaking, Maragas uses proven Old World techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation. “I don’t put any ‘junk’ in my wine,” Maragas told the Grapevine Magazine.  “I only use four ingredients: bacteria, yeast, grapes and sulfur. There’s a movement to make wine according to the American palate, and to use chemistry if the vintage is not quite right.  I don’t think those chemicals are good for you.”  What makes Maragas’ wines particularly unique is extensive use of barrel aging.  Maragas barrel-ages his red wines anywhere from two to eight years, longer than any known winery in the U.S.  These red wines are all natural, with no filtration or fining.  The result is wines with exceptional Old World flavor and complexity.

  Currently, Maragas is growing 24 grape varieties in his vineyard and at a contract property in Warm Springs, Oregon.  Wines for sale include five barrel-aged red wines:  Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and a Bordeaux Blend; and three white wines: a Pinot Gris, a barrel-fermented and barrel-aged Chardonnay, and a barrel-fermented and barrel-aged dry white blend, Blanco, that includes Muscat Ottonel, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris,  Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Prices range from $20 to $52.  Because Maragas is a boutique winery with limited production, these wines are only available at nearby limited retail outlets or by ordering direct from the winery.

  Maragas Winery in Oregon, like the winery in Crete, is still a family, hands-on operation. The winery produces 2,000 cases annually, with no more than 400 cases of any varietal.  “This gives me more control, and I love what I do,” Maragas said. All work, from crushing grapes to bottling wines, is completed onsite in the 4,000 square-foot winery. “I manage the vineyard, make the wine, and do maintenance. Our office is in the house and my wife does the books. We do it all.” Maragas employees four additional people who help with everything from pulling weeds to operating the crush pad. “I received a strong work ethic from my Greek heritage,” he added, “and we all work very hard and help with whatever needs to be done.”

  While Maragas takes his winemaking seriously, he has added a little fun to his enterprise with his comic wine bottle labels, which feature artwork from his late mother, Joanne Lattavo. The drawings are caricatures of family members and friends created during the beatnik area of the late 50s and early 60s,’ “I’m trying to be a great winemaker,” Maragas told The Grapevine Magazine, “but I don’t want people to see me as stuffy.  I think the drawings are funny, and if I can make people laugh, they won’t see me as hoity-toity.” As a further tribute to his mother, Maragas is displaying paintings from her former art gallery in Ohio in his Barrel Room at the winery.  The winery’s website notes that this may be the first art gallery in a Barrel Room in the country. 

  As Maragas looks to the future, he is experimenting with many different grapes, including Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, as well as Alsatian varieties such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. He is also growing Nebbiolo, an Italian red wine grape known world-wide for making outstanding Barolo and Barbaresco wines.

  Maragas, in his enthusiasm for Central Oregon, is also working to promote the area as a great grape-growing region. His Estate Vineyard, he notes, sits on the same parameters of famous grape growing from the Burgundy and Alsace regions of France, while the Contract Vineyard is on par with similar growing degree days and average growing temperatures as the Loire Valley. “Just because an area hasn’t been tapped doesn’t mean you can’t make great wines there,” he stated. “After years of experimenting, we now know that Central Oregon, in particular Jefferson County, is a fantastic place to grow traditional wine grapes.”  With global warming, he adds, the prospects are even brighter for the area.  “We have lots of people looking,” he said.  “I’m hoping we can attract winemakers who want to make great wines rather than grow grapes as a hobby or as an asset to increase grounds beauty for resorts.  There is great potential here.”

  In an area dominated by craft breweries, a growing number of wine destinations are already popping up, and, along with Maragas Winery, are part of the new Oregon Wine Trail.  And most recently, the Oregon Wine Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to promoting wines in Oregon and southern Washington, established a Central Oregon chapter, with Doug Maragas as one its supporting members.

  While growth in the area is inevitable, Maragas has no plans to expand his operations.  “We were growing,” he said, “but it took so much time that we decided to wait until our teenage daughter grows up and leaves home.” In the meantime, Maragas is content to focus on making distinctive, hand-crafted wines. He is also committed to sustainability. For example, the “corks” he uses are the first zero carbon footprint “corks” and are actually made of sugar cane.  The company also has a solar array that powers a substantial part of the operation. And finally, he doesn’t use foil around the bottle neck because it has no beneficial effect on the wine and isn’t recyclable.

  Doug Maragas, with his passion for his heritage, has created a taste of ancient Greece in Central Oregon. His tasting room, scenic and family-friendly, is a popular destination for weddings and special events.  One of his premiere events, the annual “Love of the Grape”  Grape Stomp, has become a Central Oregon tradition, a full day festival of food and wine where hundreds of visitors climb into ½ barrels and stomp the grapes with their bare feet, just like they did at the Maragas family vineyard in the 13th century. The crowds at Maragas Winery may be New World, but the traditions are clearly Old World.  And you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to enjoy them.

For more information on Maragas Winery, visit their website at

Four Important Ways to Use Software in a Winery

staff placing info at a tablet

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

For hundreds of years, wineries got by with keeping track of their operations with little more than pen and paper. But in today’s competitive wine industry, getting by isn’t good enough, which is why an increasing number of wineries are relying on high-tech solutions that make running a wine business more productive and profitable. Fortunately, there are some excellent software companies that specialize in wine business software to address the common challenges that wineries face.

  With a focus on inventory, fulfillment, compliance, and wine club memberships, here’s how an investment in software can assist modern wineries.

Inventory Software

  Inventory management is a tedious job at a winery, which is why this type of software is in such high demand. Inventory software helps winery owners keep track of how many bottles of wine are available, understand the production history of the bottles, and ensure that each wine batch is traceable. This is a good type of software to invest in because it can ensure fewer counting errors and reduce the amount of time your staff has to spend manually keeping track of wine bottles that are produced, sold, and shipped.

  Fulfillment Software

  Order fulfillment can also be a challenge for wineries because it is a time-consuming and error-prone task. Fulfillment software winery can help winery staff create new orders, search past orders, view inventory details, facilitate returns, and be alerted about inventory shortages. Other fulfillment software features include the ability to view invoices, run reports, and get order status updates.

  It’s important to choose fulfilment software that integrates easily with the current information you are working with and that can provide detailed reports about supply chain issues.

Compliance Software

  Wineries must comply with many rules and regulations, which can be hard to keep track of and put you out of business if guidelines aren’t met. This is why compliance software is a popular choice among wineries to reduce business risks and keep up with important deadlines. Software companies offer solutions that help wineries follow the legal requirements of operating an alcohol-based business in a more accurate and precise way. This is particularly important when your winery begins to sell bottles to new markets outside your home region.

  However, this type of software can be unnecessarily expensive if you have a very low production volume, and you’ll still need a staff member to manage the compliance software system in-house or on an outsource basis.

Wine Club Software

  Wine clubs are great ways to retain loyal customers and stay connected with the wine-loving community. Good wine club software informs consumers how much they will save over time by becoming a member, makes it easy to buy bottles, and simplifies the process of running a wine club. With this type of investment, a winery can create shipments, print shipping labels, report on member statistics, customize shipments, and stay in touch with members more regularly.

Recommended Wine Software Companies

  The wine industry is big business for software companies, but it is a smart idea to choose a company that has specific applications for wineries rather than more general applications that are broad enough for any type of company.

  One company that specializes in the business side of wine is Microworks Technologies in Napa, California. Microworks provides direct consumer sales management software for the wine industry though tasting room, wine club, wine marketing, and winery accounting solutions.

  Scott Meloney, the president and CEO of Microworks Technologies, told The Grapevine Magazine that one thing that sets his company apart from others in the industry is that when you call Microworks, you will reach a real human being.

  “If you need technical support, we encourage you call us by phone, where you will speak to a live person and your question(s) will be answered to closure on the first call 99% of the time,” Meloney said. “Our staff is made up of industry veterans who understand the wineries business and will relate to your questions.”

  Meanwhile, VinNOW LLC is a winery software company that provides customer, wine club, and sales and inventory management all under one roof. This Mesa, Arizona-based company also offers free training and support, extensive reporting real-time wine club management, point of sale, and QuickBooks integration.

  Ted Starr, the CEO of VinNOW LLC, said that what sets his company apart is VinNOW’s extremely reliable customer service.

  “This ranges from customer support when the wineries need it, seven days a week, to the ability to support wineries who can’t rely on their internet connection.”

  Another company that provides a comprehensive software package that integrates numerous aspects of winemaking is The Winemaker’s Database. This Los Gatos, California company has been in the industry since 1983 and assists wineries with everything from tank transactions to barrel tracking, analytical data, customizable reports, 702 generation, and more.

  The Winemaker’s Database’s Vice President, Emily Vahl, told us how her company was originally created by a winemaker and how it still offers winery solutions from a winemaker’s perspective, rather than that of a company or programming team with no winemaking experience.

  “Also, our entire support team consists of former winemakers or winery employees that have worked hands-on with crafting wine,” Vahl added. “When our customers call WMDB, they speak with people who understand their specific needs.”

Considerations and Important Software for Wineries

  There are many considerations to take into account before investing in a new winery software system, and you may want to talk to other wineries in your region about what they use and what works well for them before making any decisions. Compare costs for similar types of software and think about whether you only need a single-service type of software or would benefit more from a comprehensive software program that addresses multiple needs.

  Other considerations include how customizable software is for your winery’s specific needs, the data setup process, and how you will transition from your current system to a new one. You might also think about the ability to use software through a mobile app, how easy to navigate the web interfaces are, and how secure the site is for cloud computing technology and data center privacy. Customer technical support for software purchases and access to future software updates as technology improves are also important considerations.

When asked about the most crucial products that are must-haves for a modern winery, Meloney of Microworks Technologies said, “At the very least, a winery will need a good CRM package with POS, club, ecommerce, inventory, and accounting software so it can leverage sales efficiently with the right tools to promote, track, and measure business goals.”

  Starr of VinNOW pointed out that crucial software needs vary with each winery because some only sell wine online, while others sell through retail, clubs, have tasting rooms, or incorporate a combination of these sales channels.

  But overall, for software or hardware, POS, club, cart, compliance, accounting, communications, and other products, Starr said that wineries “need products that work the way the winery wants to run their business, which are affordable and supported with great service and have the ability to grow with the business as the business grows and changes.”

Vahl of The Winemaker’s Database said that the most important type of software for a winery to have is anything that can help it reduce paperwork and be efficient and organized.

  “Winemaking is an art form, but it is also a craft, meaning the end product needs to be consistent each time,” Vahl said. “Software is an excellent tool because you can click a few buttons and gather the data instantly to view the numerous components of a blend.  Plus, since nobody enjoys paperwork, so it’s pretty handy to let your computer do the leg-work when it comes to providing the required reports to the government.”

How to Avoid Common Software Mistakes

  Meloney from Microworks Technologies said that many businesses make the mistake of not taking the time to learn the full capabilities of their software. This means that you might be missing out on important efficiencies that the software has to offer. Another common mistake he noted was inadequate hardware.

  “Can you image pulling a boat up a hill using a bicycle?” Meloney asked. “Recognizing the impact of outdated computer equipment on the performance and reliability of software can be the difference between success and failure of a software system.”

  To avoid future regrets, Starr of VinNOW emphasized the need for wineries to call multiple references with similar business demands and review the hidden costs and expenses of possible solutions.

  “Ask references about the surprises and difficulties they uncovered during the installation and first six months of using the solutions,” Starr advises. “Also, ask references about any shortcomings and strengths of features and service.”

  Vahl of The Winemaker’s Database said that a common mistake is looking for an entire software package from just one provider. For example, her company has specialized in wine production software for over 35 years and that is its primary area of expertise.

  “Often, wineries approach us looking for a software package from a single company that can do everything from vineyard management to POS,” Vahl explained. The areas of vineyard management, wine production, warehousing, accounting, point of sales, and wine club are vastly different from one another, which is why I am a fan of software interfaces. When companies work together to create interfaces, then they can offer some pretty amazing options to clients because they are each doing what they do best.”

Software Advice for Wineries

  Modern wineries rely on software for accuracy, efficiency, and to be competitive, but a software decision could either help or hurt your business. Therefore, it is advisable to talk to a few software companies to get a sense of how their products can work with your current operations.

  Meloney from Microworks Technologies advises wineries to know their business needs, be thorough, and check with as many references as possible before implementing new software for their operations. 

  “You don’t want to favor one department in the decision when it may cripple another,” Meloney said. “Make sure you are provided an in-depth demo of the features in detail. Know that what you see on the surface does not represent the software’s capabilities. Ask references about the vendor, not just the software, because the quality of your vendor is just as important as the software itself.”

  Starr of VinNOW’s main pieces of advice are to review your winery’s goals, assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team and location, and know what questions you need to ask software companies. He also recommends making sure a company has the features you need and to remained focused.

  “It is so easy to get distracted with features like customer photos in your POS and club, but since most of us don’t have facial recognition features, we end up finding out that a customer is a club member when we speak with them,” Starr said. “And every customer should get excellent customer service, so the feature sounds great but is not highly used.”

  “Then have a hands-on test-drive of the software,” Starr recommended. “If you plan to keep the solution for three to five years, dedicate a few hours per solution to truly see the depth of the solution and avoid picking the wrong solutions. Try adding a sale, changing the order mid-stream, cancelling an order, processing a club release, and managing returned packages and cancelled orders. Take the time to access reports that you need. Some solutions are strong in reporting but need a rocket scientist to use them. Ask how they meet ADA and PCI compliance and how they deal with D2C compliance and all the new tax reporting requirement and permits that are required.”

Finally, Vahl of The Winemaker’s Database advises wineries to start small and not try to resolve all of your issues right away because this is a common way that wineries end up paying too much for way more software than they really need.

  “I always recommend starting with the simplest form of the program and then adding on components as they are required, when users become accustomed to how the software works,” Vahl said. “Modular-based solutions are excellent for keeping costs down and also for helping wineries create a tailored solution for their operations.”