Marketing During a Crisis: Tips to Pivot Your Marketing Messages

phone showing viruses

By: Susan DeMatei

Recession Marketing Pro Tip: Understanding consumer psychology and the underlying emotions is critical when advertising during a recession.

  In the wine industry, we don’t typically analyze consumers’ psyches or emotions. We tend to think of our customers demographically – mid 40’s – 60’s, lives in New York, Texas, and Florida, HHI over $150k, and the like. But in times of stress, demographic segmentation may be less relevant than psychographic segmentations that take into consideration consumers’ behavioral reactions and the underlying emotions they are feeling at the time.

  The coronavirus sanctions have created an undercurrent of fear, worry, and stress. People are looking for stress relief and a temporary distraction. By understanding and appealing to their emotional needs you have a better chance of connecting with and engaging them. This is not a novel approach. Research shows that ad campaigns that focus on emotional engagement tend to have a higher ROI than ad campaigns focusing on rational messages (such as low prices or special offers) even when times are not tough.

  But how do you know what your consumers need to hear right now? To guide us, I found an insightful study in the Harvard Business Review that looked at marketing successes and failures of dozens of companies during recessions from the 1970s – 2010. HBR identified patterns in consumers’ behavior and resulting company strategies that either helped them succeed or ultimately fail during a recession. Additionally, they strongly encourage companies to understand the evolving consumption patterns and fine-tune their strategies accordingly.

  For example, did you know that baking yeast is flying off the shelves? An NPR article on March 27th listed the products consumers are buying beyond the necessary cleaning products and everyday groceries. Baking yeast is high on the list – people are baking bread because it is comforting to make, smell, and eat. Two other items on the list are boxed hair dye and dress tops, which speak to the psychology of “keeping up appearances.” With the increase in video conferencing, these make complete sense.

  So, how should we in the wine industry alter our strategies to fit the current climate? First, we need to understand the psychology of our customers. The HBR article suggests there are four key psychological segments and your strategic opportunities will strongly depend on which of the four segments your core customers belong to, and how they categorize your products.

1.  Slam-On-The-Brakes: These are the people who feel most vulnerable and/or are hardest hit, financially. This group cuts all their spending to the necessities. Although lower-income consumers typically fall into this segment, it also includes those anxious higher-income consumers who fear health or income changes.

2.  Pained-But-Patient: This group is the largest of the four segments and represents a broad income swath. While they are more resilient, pained-but-patient consumers are less confident about recovery, and their ability to maintain their current standard of living. So, they economize, but less aggressively. For these consumers, time is their enemy. As the current situation drags on many will migrate down to the slamming-on-the-brakes segment.

3.  Comfortably Well-Off: These are the consumers who feel secure about their ability to ride out the current and future changes in the economy. Their consumption patterns don’t change that much with one exception; they tend to be a little more selective (and less conspicuous) about the brands/companies purchased.

4.  Live-For-Today Segment: This segment carries on as usual. Typically, urban and younger, they are more likely to rent than own, and they spend on experiences rather than stuff (except for consumer electronics.) They’re unlikely to change their everyday consumption behavior unless they become unemployed.

  In addition to the customer segmentation, the HBR article gives us some guidance with emotional product prioritization:

1.  Essentials: Necessary for survival or perceived as central to well-being.

2.  Treats: Indulgences whose immediate purchase is considered justifiable.

3.  Postponables: Wanted or needed items whose purchase can be put off.

4.  Expendables: Perceived as unnecessary or unjustifiable.

  Wine is a luxury item no matter which way you slice it. But your price point and your target will fall into one of these four segments, and your product into one of these four prioritizations. Are you a high-priced allocation wine that mostly sells to the comfortably well-off that are comfortable spending money online? Or are you a strong on-premise brand for the pained-but-patients that would benefit from positioning yourself as an affordable treat in these uncertain times?

  Wine over $20 is best targeted at the Comfortably Well-Off (our traditional wine club target audience), and the Live-For-Today-Segment (our emerging target, and typically our tasting room traffic) and should be positioned squarely in the treat/affordable luxury category.

  So, how do we sort through all of this to create marketing and advertising campaigns and programs that recognize your customers’ psychological and emotional state? Here are my recommendations:

 #1 Support your brand by staying true to yourself:

       Look at your current plans through the lens of “would my winery do this if it wasn’t a crisis?” Tweak your messaging to dovetail with the psychological and emotional pressures your target market is feeling. When sales start to decline, the worst thing companies do is alter their brand’s fundamental proposition. If you have a high-priced and valuable wine, you may be tempted to decrease your price. This may confuse and alienate loyal customers. Drifting away from your established base may attract some new customers in the near term, but you will find yourself in a weaker brand position when the crisis is over. Your brand can acknowledge the new world but fundamentally should remain unwavering.

#2 Move budgets toward measurable channels that fit with customers’ digital lifestyles:

       The Harvard Business Review article reported during the recession of 2008, marketers spent +14% more on online ads than they did over the same time frame in the previous year. Even before most of us were asked to “shelter in place,” our purchasing behavior had shifted significantly to digital platforms, driven by technology advances, access, and convenience. For marketers, the shift allows us to surgically target, show results, and pivot quickly. Even without a recession environment, marketing departments are under pressure to do more with less and demonstrate high returns on investment. Digital advertising is targeted and relatively cheap, its performance is easily measured, and it is where our customers live.

#3 All businesses will increasingly compete on price:

       You may think that discounting is in opposition of #1 – but we didn’t say don’t offer discounts, we said don’t discount outside of what your brand would typically offer. Also, watch the frequency as you will likely feel pressured to increase the frequency of temporary price promotions. Three tips here:

a)   The article notes research shows discounts that require little effort from consumers and give cash back at the time of sale are more effective than delayed value, or “buy more” promotions. Look for the quick benefit, keep it easy, and keep the barriers low. Know your average order value. If your customers are used to buying 4 bottles an order, a case offer might be pushing it.

b)   Make sure you sign up for lots of mailing lists and carefully monitor consumers’ perceptions of “normal” price levels. As an industry, we need to watch over ourselves and not create “a new normal” that we can’t sustain. Excessive promotions lead consumers to revise their expectations about prices and this threatens profitability in the recovery period. People will resist the steep increases as prices return to “normal,” and extreme price deals only lead to costly price wars.

c)   Focus on giving extra value to consumers. As much as it may pain us, this is about them, not you. While it is tempting to ask for help from your most loyal customers, this is not of value to them in their current state of mind. In addition to offering temporary price promotions or list-price changes, improve perceived affordability by reducing the thresholds for volume-based, club member, or allocation discounts. Expand loyalty programs to reward not just big-time spenders, but also people who purchase small amounts frequently.

#4: Keep your messaging calm and trustworthy:

     Last, but not least, in stressful and uncertain times consumers in all segments see familiar, trusted brands and their products as safe and comforting. Reassuring messages that reinforce your brand’s humanity and creates an emotional connection demonstrate empathy, as evidenced in the popular hashtag #alonetogether. But, remember empathetic messages must be backed up by actions demonstrating the brand is on their customers’ side.

  The Harvard Business Review article concludes after 40 years of research, those brands that come out the other side of economic crisis will be stronger. First, the discipline around marketing strategy and research we develop during this time, and the ability to respond nimbly to changes in demand will continue to serve us when the economy recovers. And second, we should prepare now for a possible long-term shift in consumers’ values and attitudes, and a certain shift in where and how they shop.

   Susan DeMatei is president of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm operating within the wine industry in Napa, California. Referenced and reproduced by approval from the April 2009 Harvard Business review article “How to Market in a Downturn” by John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz. www.wineglassmarketing.com

Wine in the Time of COVID-19

an empty winery

By: Briana Tomkinson

Tasting rooms, restaurants and bars across Canada were abruptly shut down in March in an unprecedented move to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming health care services. Boutique wineries from coast-to-coast immediately pivoted to focus on online sales to try and soften the blow.

  For established brands, this meant re-jiggering the marketing plan and reallocating resources to push local delivery or contactless pickup orders instead of targeting wine country tourists. For two fledgling wineries on opposite ends of the country, wine in the time of COVID-19 meant embracing a crash-course in online marketing.

  At Priest Creek Winery (https://priestcreekwinery.com/) in Kelowna, British Columbia, founder Jane Sawin was all set to finally open the tasting room to the public on March 20. Instead, she got an ugly surprise when the province suddenly announced that bars, pubs and liquor-only tasting rooms had to suspend operations until health authorities determine the pandemic is under control.

  “The day we would have opened the tasting room was the day the Canadian health authorities shut everything down. The tasting room is ready, beautiful, clean and ready to go,” Sawin said. “It’s a little sad.”

Complicating matters, the winery’s website launch had been delayed when the webmaster fell ill with COVID-19. Sawin decided to improvise: she created a special social media promo, of-fering a 15% discount and free local delivery, and began taking orders via Facebook and In-stagram.

  Orders have been steady, Sawin said, and social media and word-of-mouth marketing has been working.

  By early April, the winery was processing between 10-to-15 orders per day, she said. Some local customers were ordering as few as two bottles at a time, but many others, especially those farther afield, bought Priest Creek wine by the case. Priest Creek produces six varieties of red and white wine, with list prices ranging between $19 and $46 CDN per bottle. The win-ery’s website is finally up and running too, now that the webmaster has recovered.

  For now, Sawin is just hoping to keep the momentum going while the winery tries to get its name out there. Unlike competitors in the wine trail area who have built up a base of loyal cus-tomers through tourism and event marketing, Priest Creek has no reputation to trade on.

  “The hardest part is that no one got to taste our wine before this happened,” Sawin said.

  On the opposite side of the country, the new owners of Ontario’s Vankleek Hill Vineyard found themselves in a similar predicament.

  Like Sawin at Priest Creek, Vankleek Hill owners, Teresa Bressan and Scott Lambert, had to scramble to find a makeshift solution to sell wine without an online store when health authori-ties closed down all the province’s tasting rooms in March.

  The vineyard’s tasting room opened in October, but Bressan and Lambert had prioritized cleaning up the property’s bedraggled vines before building an online store. They had been counting on events and tourist traffic to drive sales this year, but with group gatherings of all sizes banned and even driving between regions discouraged or restricted, they’ve had to re-think the business plan.

  “We kind of jumped in with two feet,” Bressan said. “Our website isn’t ready for it. We don’t have an online store.”

  Like Sawin, one of Bressan’s biggest challenges is just finding ways to get new customers to try her wines. In Bressan’s case, it’s not just that the wine brand is new to consumers—it’s that many locals didn’t much like the wine produced by the former owners of the vineyard.

  “We have a big stigma to remove,” Bressan said. “Their wines are not on our shelves. We couldn’t even come up with a good recipe to make sangria with it.”

  Bressan, a former realtor, found an upside to the additional legwork required to process orders without a proper online system in place: it created an opportunity to build a more personal connection with customers. For example, when she learned one customer was ordering a case of 12 wines to give away for Easter gifts, she included tissue paper and gift bags at no extra cost to spare the person having to make another trip to the store.

  “If you show your customers that you appreciate them, they will come back for sure. We really put a lot of emphasis on personalized attention,” Bressan said. 

  While Vankleek Hill Winery launched its wine delivery by offering a 15% discount on purchases, Bressan said when the promo ended, the orders kept on coming in.

  “We’re still so new, and we’re learning a lot. Vankleek Hill is just amazing. It truly is,” she said. “This unfortunate event has really brought the community together, truly. I’m finding a lot of goodness in a lot of people these days.”

Alcohol Sales Increase, Even with Delivery Hiccups

  Canadians across the country have taken shelter-in-place orders very seriously. An online sur-vey conducted between March 29 and April 3 by Statistics Canada found that 90% of re-spondents reported that they were following physical distancing guidelines, such as avoiding leaving the house, using social distancing when out in public, and avoiding crowds and large gatherings. Sixty-three percent had stocked up on essentials at the pharmacy and grocery store, so they didn’t need to go out as often.

  The same survey found that 20% of those aged 15 to 49 admitted to increasing their liquor consumption during lockdown, compared to just 7% of those over 50. Yet liquor store sales skyrocketed in March, suggesting that some consumers have begun stockpiling more than just toilet paper.

  According to the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch, sales of boxed wine jumped 144% in March. Sales of bigger 1.75-liter bottles of vodka, rum and whisky were up an impressive 153%, and 24-packs of beer were up 120%.

  Yet home delivery has also had its hiccups. On March 26, the National Post reported that the Liquor Control Branch of Ontario had to halt home delivery of wine, beer and spirits outside of Toronto because Canada Post had halted delivery of packages requiring proof of age at the doorstep to limit the COVID-19 risk to mail carriers.

  A prior partnership with the home food delivery app, Foodora, has allowed delivery to continue in Toronto. Ontarians living outside the Foodora delivery limits can still order online, but must now go pick up their delivery in person at a Canada post office.

  In Quebec, the Société des alcools du Québec announced a partnership with Purolator to en-sure direct-to-door delivery would continue. Delivery fees are $12, which will be donated to provincial food banks.

  Some boutique wineries, including both Priest Creek and Vankleek Hill Vineyard, are bypassing the post office or courier service, however, to personally offer free local delivery for larger or-ders. According to the B.C. Wine Institute, 86% of British Columbia wineries were offering free shipping on some orders in March.

  Even in provinces like Quebec and Ontario, which both announced a total ban on the operation of “non-essential” businesses for a month or more on March 23, the production and distribu-tion of wine, beer and spirits are allowed to continue. Yet it is far from business-as-usual.

  In addition to sales challenges, many wineries have also been impacted by supply chain dis-ruptions and unexpected labor issues.

  Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper reported that some British Columbia winemakers are behind schedule on bottling because they have not yet received shipments of bottles, labels or corks from international suppliers. Many wineries have had to lay off tasting room staff, yet are also faced with a shortage of field labor because foreign seasonal agricultural laborers are not yet allowed to cross the border. 

  Priest Creek was among the wineries affected by production delays. Sawin said she would have been able to open the tasting room as much as two weeks earlier had bottling not been delayed due to illness-related slowdowns at the factory that produced her labels.

  Across the country, provincial officials have urged Canadians to shop local and support small businesses as much as possible, including local wineries.

  In Quebec, the provincial government launched a website called “Le Panier Blue” (https://www.lepanierbleu.ca/) (a ‘blue basket,’ referencing the color of the provincial flag), to help Quebecers identify local businesses where they can order products for pickup or home delivery. At press time, over 228 Quebec wineries, breweries, distilleries, cideries and dépan-neurs (convenience stores specializing in wine and beer sales) had registered on the site.

  “Let us remember that every dollar invested counts and helps support our local products and our expertise, which further stimulates our economy,” said Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, in a news release about the program.

  In British Columbia, officials continued the tradition of officially decreeing April “wine month” with a social distancing twist: urging consumers to buy 100% British Columbia wine to enjoy at home.

  In a press release issued by the B.C. Wine Institute, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham called on consumers to choose locally made products to keep small wineries from folding.

  “Many B.C. winemakers depend on sales within our province to keep their businesses running, and our support for them and all B.C. farmers and businesses during this pandemic will help the resiliency and future of food and beverage production in British Columbia,” Popham said.

  Back at Vankleek Hill Vineyard, Bressan said she has noticed many of her friends, neighbors and customers are making a point of buying local. Moving forward, she thinks this trend will continue.

  The support from local customers has been a lifeline for the winery, and has inspired Bressan’s family to make a significant effort to buy from local producers as well—especially when it comes to wine.

  “We love wine, but now we only buy local wines from Ontario and Quebec. It’s also good prac-tice for us to learn and see what other people are doing, and develop our palate for wine from cold-climate grapes,” she said. 

So You Want to Make an Icon Wine?

line of vines

By: Dr. Richard Smart, vinedoctor@smartvit.com.au, www.smartvit.com.au

Many companies are now focused on the production of an icon wine in the belief that it will help market other products in their portfolio. I suppose there is a high degree of self-satisfaction as well for all of the people involved.

  Over the last few years, I’ve had several clients in several countries who were on this path, and I was always interested in how they went about it. Sometimes the approaches were (in my opinion) seemingly naive, like…”We just thinned really hard, and then hand-picked,” or, equally as trite…“I went into the vineyard every morning for three weeks and tasted the fruit and looked at seed colour to choose when to harvest. This made all the difference!”

  One has to ask, is this all the difference between icon and premium wines, a few simple vineyard manipulations?

  When pressed harder, I found it difficult to locate anyone in the winemaking team—including the viticulturist—who could give sound reasons (in my opinion) as to selection and management of vineyards to make icon wines. To develop icon wines is not just a matter of marketing, but of producing a truly distinctive and better wine.

Wineries or Vineyards, the Source of Icon Wines?

  I want to recap and look at this notion from a very general perspective. We can conceivably create icon wines by using any of three processes.

  Firstly, one may use techniques in the cellar, which will have an unusual but significant wine quality impact. Examples that come to mind from several decades ago were the use of new wood barrels on red wines, and, some years later, for the white wines. By now, most cellars around the world have adequate access to new wood, so that treatment is no longer an icon differential. Nor do I think icon wines can be made by any special yeast strain, or perhaps fermentation process. I should quickly add that the ACE process described in the last issue (achieved by the Della Toffola DTMA machine) certainly produces distinctive wines; however, as its application becomes widespread, its possible use for creating iconic wines becomes less likely. So, from my perhaps limited knowledge, icon wines will likely not be “created in the winery.”

  Secondly, some wineries make many small parcels of wine, and the icon may be a selection of their best lots. A valid process, I think, but one which neither guarantees outcome, nor reliability of result from year-to-year. So such wines would not meet normal icon criteria.

  Thirdly, is the option of choosing an “icon wine vineyard,” having one or more blocks, or parts thereof, producing distinctive wines. These parcels may be managed differentially to create icon wine.

  I have been critical of other people’s approaches to the selection and management of “icon” parcels. Here is their chance to criticize mine.

A Smart Approach to Selection and Management of Icon Vineyards

  When I think of growing fruit suitable for an icon wine, I think of an analogy involving a suspended chain holding a weight. Each link in the chain is a different thickness and represents a different vineyard attribute or management process. The weight at the bottom is related to the wine quality outcome and will be heaviest for an icon wine.

  The point of this analogy is that if any one link fails, then the whole chain is rendered useless. Those processes or attributes which are the most important can be represented by weaker links in the chain. In other words, it is more important to get these right than some other management options or attributes, which can be represented by stronger links. The important point here is that if any link fails, then the whole chain fails, and the wine quality goal will not be met.

  These are the factors which I think are important in growing icon wine, arranged more or less in order of priority. The weaker links, which deserve the most attention, are towards the top.

1.   The right climate-variety-clone combination:      

      I see little sense in trying to make an icon wine from a variety that has no possibility of being especially distinctive. If the variety you have chosen does not already have a reputation for premium wine quality in your region or elsewhere, then the possibility of creating a true icon wine is limited. Please note that I am not endorsing only the limited number of “international varieties.” Icon wines can be made from many varieties, and in a perverse way, it will be likely easier to have wine press attention if you use a not-so-popular variety.

      I mention clone because, for some varieties like Pinot Noir, the clone chosen can have a significant outcome on wine quality.

2.   Vineyard uniformity and vigour: There is little prospect of making an icon wine from a very large vineyard or one of low uniformity. A uniform vineyard is typically variable in vigour, often due to soil variation, but sometimes due to pest or disease. Unhealthy vines rarely produce quality wines. Variation in vigour can be linked to physiological status and canopy microclimate, and appropriate selection may be used to select vines, which are candidates to provide fruit for icon wines.

3.   Vine balance:  Proper vine balance is essential for producing premium fruit suitable for icon wines. By vine balance, I mean the ratio of fruit to functional leaf area. Vine balance depends on the pruning level decision, which ideally should be related to vine vigour, and there may also be components of subsequent shoot and cluster thinning. I obviously think vine balance is more important than yield per se, but this, of course, is not the common European perspective.

4.   Canopy microclimate: While microclimate requirements may vary from variety-to-variety and season-to-season, in general, there is a need for sufficient leaf and fruit exposure, and the avoidance of shade. There are trellis and foliage management techniques available to achieve such an outcome. My book, “Sunlight into Wine,” details many such procedures and their management.

5.   Vine physiological status: There are many aspects of physiological status, and most are regulated by soil moisture, nutrient supply and canopy management decisions. As an example, we have recently found an influence of late-season foliage health on Pinot Noir wine quality.

6.   Shoot tip growth: Regulation of shoot tip growth is especially important for red wine quality but also for many white varieties. A good rule of thumb is that active shoot growth should stop some two weeks before veraison, and be associated with early and rapid onset of veraison and lignification.

7.   Disease, pest and environmental stress: For most commercial vineyards, this is not an issue; however, heat stress is becoming an increasingly important consideration for many regions worldwide. Failure to adequately control pests or disease and to avoid significant stress can be a cause of diminished fruit quality. Some regions face changing varieties to ones more heat tolerant.

8.   Timely harvest decision: Again this is not an issue that it is found wanting in most commercial vineyards. For many varieties, I am skeptical about the claims by enologists that they can determine the optimal time for harvest by tasting grapes, or by determining seed colour in limited berry samples.

9.   Excessive yield: I find in many commercial vineyards that yield levels are generally not inappropriate nor excessive. Yet, the first command that comes from the wine company is generally one of yield reduction! In my opinion, in the pursuit of icon wine, the factors listed above are generally more important than vineyard yield, when the vines are in balance.

10.Harvest method: For many situations, it seems to me that harvest method is quite unimportant.  What seems more important is the temperature of the fruit and the time taken before processing. I have clients in California who hand harvest at night in a very economical fashion, and this process could be adopted in Australia.

A suggestion to get started, a beginners guide to identifying candidate vines

  Decide how much icon wine you want, then calculate how many vines you might need to provide fruit. Walk the vineyards at the beginning of veraison, and mark vines (paint on trunk?) which show early colouring, and early lignification on the basal (bottom) part of the shoot. Typically these vines should not have active shoot tip growth. Hopefully, you may have enough vines to make your icon wine, though the average yield might be a little less. A second inspection about two weeks later should confirm your selection.

                          Conclusion        

  Generally, these ideas are not new, but one does not often see them ranked as I have. I would emphasize that each of these entries can be readily quantified, and it would be easy to develop a protocol of measurement systems as a form of quality assurance of events. Anyone interested in making icon wine the smart way?

  Dr. Richard Smart is an experienced Australian vineyard consultant residing in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. He specializes in internet consulting, using commercial software to interact with clients worldwide in their office and vineyards. Contact him at vinedoctor@smartvit.com.au for a quotation and appointment.

Topping Gasses

By: Tom Payette, Winemaking Consultant

There is no substitute for a full tank and this article is not to suggest that using an inert gas is the right thing to do.  Avoid, when at all possible, keeping wine in less than a full fixed capacity tank with the minimal amount of surface area possible.  When one does find themselves in the compromised situation of storing wine in a tank that is not full – the following information will help minimize degradation of your product.

  When? Most winemakers typically only use protective inert gases after the wine has fermented and less natural Carbon Dioxide bubbles are being given off.  This is often after the first or second racking after fermentation.  In some cases, however, especially with varietals of a high terpene load, contributing to the floral aroma and palate, winemakers may explore use of gases while handling juice at pressing and forward.

  Where? Many winemakers use an inert gas in the headspace of an unfilled fixed capacity tank.  Typically after the transfer is made into the tank a winemaker will layer an amount of gas, usually by “gut feel”, into the headspace of the tank.  I recommend having the gas flow from the cylinder with the regulator set to mimic a soft whistle blow from ones mouth.  My estimate is it may be coming out of the tube at near 1 mile per hour or slower.   My regime is to lower the tube off the regulator down to the surface of the wine and then raise the tube to about one inch above the surface of the wine and allow the gas to flow out slowly at that level.

  How much? The amount of gas needed is dependent on the headspace one is trying to fill.  Smaller unfilled tanks will take less time and gas than larger tanks.  One thing is certain, outside of cost, it would be rare to add too much inert gas to the tank headspace.   Try to run some calculations based on cubic feet to determine what is best for your operation.

Frequency of Application

  Often I will top a tank with carbon dioxide (my gas of choice – see below) just after completing the transfer into a tank.  The next day I will top it again and then start that same tank of wine on a weekly topping schedule, Fridays, so that each tank gets additional gas every week.

  Why? The inert gas is to protect the wine from oxidation.  The goal is to fill the headspace of the tank with enough gas to dispel as much oxygen as possible and to protect the wine from oxidation and potentially more importantly, micro-aerophilic spoilage yeast and micro-organisms.  This process is a noted temporary protective step that should be corrected by filling the tanks as soon as possible.

  Which inert gas? My preference is to use Carbon Dioxide because the gas is very heavy, will lay nicely on the surface of the wine, and protect the wine.  Carbon dioxide is relatively inexpensive, easy to obtain and use.  Argon can be used with success but the costs are near more than triple from the gas company I polled.  Nitrogen, due to its buoyancy and physical properties is my last choice as a topping gas in tanks.  Nitrogen can be used at bottling with great success, however, so please do not confuse this statement.

Measurement

  Few winemakers actually measure the amount of the gas entering the tank outside of the crude measurement of the regulator and gut feel.  Others will sometime use a match or form of flame and insert it into the headspace of the tank of wine (between 8 and 14% alcohol) to see if the flame dies out.  An oxygen meter may be used also but most winemakers will use this tool briefly to understand the effects of what they are doing and then the meter measurement looses its appeal due to time etc. 

Preferred Method of Carbon Dioxide Use

  Dry ice bricks 7”L * 3”W * 2”D  ( about the size of a common household building brick) is without doubt the best method of carbon dioxide use I have ever used.  A special dry ice block maker can be purchased making these bricks that weight about one pound.  These bricks must be handled with extreme care and caution due to their temperature at -109 degrees F.  These bricks may be used in their entirety into tanks being transfer to, from or both.  When topping tanks weekly, with airlocks on them, winemakers may open the tank, drop in a brick or any portion of a brick deemed appropriate to fill the headspace and latch the lid.  Warning : Make sure the tank does have an operating airlock on the vessel.  Depending on the actual temperature of the wine, the brick may take several hours to dissolve while slowly topping the headspace with CO2.

Notes of Warning

  Do understand you are dealing with a gas that is/may be harmful to humans and/or animals.  Extreme caution and care needs to be exercised when using and handling this gas as well as the other gases mentioned in this article.

  Some may argue that the intense cold of dry ice contact with the wine may harm the wine if the ice comes into contact with the wine.  I am unaware of any winemaker that has found this contact of dry ice with the wine to be a detriment.

  Carbon Dioxide is known to dissolve into liquids readily.  It is always recommended to warm any wine, driving off the carbon dioxide, before bottling and to potentially check the amount of dissolved gas in the wine before bottling or other critical control points that having dissolved carbon dioxide in the wine may be a detriment.  This may include finings.

  Please adhere to any and all M.S.D.S. sheets or safety data related to these gases and their use.

Spicing it Up

  Some winemakers have successfully scaled back the amount of carbon dioxide used during harvest by attaching a small hose to a fermentation tank and topping down tanks with that naturally produced carbon dioxide. 

  Years ago research was being done to see if carbon dioxide from wine fermentations could be captured, compressed and used to top tanks or even used to slightly sprits up a wine such as a Muscat or Riesling giving more of an aromatic nuance from the aromatic fermentation gases captured.  Care must be taken to capture only clean fermentation gases.  I am unaware of anyone using this practice commercially to date.

Summary

  Use extreme cautions while handling these inert gases and always remember an inert gas, in the headspace of a tank, is very short of acceptable.  A full tank should always be a priority for any winemaker and these gassing techniques should only be used when absolutely necessary to hold wine in a “down tank”.  Many new winemakers to the wine industry have adapted this practice as a recognized common practice only to learn the wine spoiled with extended storage.  These gases are very effective as a short term solution only.

  Now – please go back and read the first two sentences of this article.

Short Course:

•    Topping gases are only for the short term.

•    Carbon dioxide is preferred and used the most.

•    Dry ice is an excellent form to use.

•    Handle these gases safely.

•    Full fixed capacity tanks are best.

References: 

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

Innovation on Sustainable Pest Management Practices

a row of vineyards

By: Judit Monis, Ph.D

This year I attended a session organized by the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium on Sustainable Pest Management.  The invited speakers were Marc Fuchs, professor at Cornell University, Steven Lindow, professor at the University of California-Berkeley, and Dr. Michelle Moyer, extension specialist at the University of Washington.  Each of the speakers presented an update on their research which I summarize below with some of my own opinions.

Sustainable Control of Leafroll and Red Blotch Viruses

  Marc Fuchs presented his research on leafroll and red blotch viruses.  These viruses can cause revenue reductions as high as $3700/acre.  Presently, the recommended management of these viruses is done by reducing the source of inoculum (i.e., rogue infected vines).  The practice of rogueing or removal of infected vines from the vineyard reduces the amount of virus available to the insect vectors, therefore reducing the transmission rate.  Economic studies indicate that removal of individual infected vines must be done if less than 25% of the vineyard block is infected.  If there is more than a 25% infection, the recommendation is to remove the entire block.

  Ideally, viral and other diseases would be controlled using disease resistance genes present in the plant.  Unfortunately, no natural resistance to leafroll or red blotch viruses have been found in commercial or wild grape species.  In a project funded by the California PD GWSS Board (PD Board) Professor Fuchs’ group has proposed to develop dual resistance to leafroll and mealybugs by modifying the genome of grapevine varieties using a gene silencing technology known as RNAi.   Using genetic engineering it is possible to introduce portions of DNA that specifically will degrade the nucleic acid of the infecting virus and the mealybug able to transmit it.  This method is being successfully used in Hawaii to control Papaya ringspot (PRSV), a virus that had decimated the papaya production in the islands.  Thanks to this technology, Hawaii is able to produce healthy papayas that resist PRSV.  Simply described, the plant genome would be able to detect viral and/or insect nucleic acids and chop them up before they are able to sequester the plant’s metabolic machinery to their advantage and cause disease.  

Biological Control of Xylella fastidiosa the Causal Agent of Pierce’s Disease in Grapevines

  Steve Lindow presented the research focused on the use of an endophytic bacteria capable of reducing the incidence of Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) in grapevines.  Pierce’s Disease (PD) is a devastating disease and in the past years an increase in the infection rates of the bacteria has been seen in California vineyards.  It is not clear what is the reason for the sudden increase of disease incidence.  It is theorized that the increased infections could be due to the ability of other insects (cicadas, spittlebugs) to transmit the bacteria or perhaps due to climate change (less severe winters in California). 

  In a project funded by the PD Board, Professor Lindow’s group has discovered an endophytic bacterial species that appears to inhibit Xf propagation in grapevine and acts as a biological control agent.  An endophyte is an organism capable of living and multiplying in its host (in this case grapevines) without causing disease.  The endophytic bacteria is Paraburkholderia phytofirmans strain PsJN (Pf PsJN).  As described at the presentation, the endophytic Pf PsJN acts as a vaccine activating the disease resistance pathways in the colonized plants.   The endophytic Pf PsJN can multiply rapidly in the colonized grapevines without causing disease.

   Furthermore, Pf PsJN is able to reduce the population of Xf and avoid disease development in experimental vines. The challenge presented in the application of this biological control agent (as well as others) is to develop an appropriate delivery system.  Initial experiments to introduce Pf PsJN were done by prickling the leaves of the vine, however, this would not be practical in a commercial setting.  So far, experiments using a surfactant to help the bacteria penetrate the grapevine’s conductive tissue (xylem) have been successful.  The work is in progress and has shown that Pf PsJN is capable of inhibiting Xf disease development even after Xf infection had started.  Research will continue and is focused on determining the timing of application that would offer the best disease protection.  It is expected that once developed, the product will need to be tested and registered with the EPA as biological pesticide before its commercialization and/or use in the field.

Use of UVc Light (Germicidal Lamps) to Control Powdery Mildew

  Dr. Michelle Moyer described the powdery mildew disease agent as a “Goldilocks fungi”, as conditions must be “just right” for infections to occur.  The temperatures must not be too cold, and not too hot.  The humidity cannot be too high or too low. It is well known that controlling powdery mildew in the vineyard is probably the largest pest control item line in the budget.  We all know that there are management practices that can be applied to reduce the incidence of powdery mildew such as leaf thinning, opening the canopy to favor air flow and light but these are not sufficient to avoid the multiple powdery mildew season’s infections in a vineyard.

  Over the years, in spite of the practice of rotating the different chemistries available for control, the powdery mildew fungi have mutated due to the selection pressure.  Presently many resistant strains have evolved that are not affected by the different fungicides available, even when used in increased doses.  The presentation by Dr. Moyer focused on work done by her group and others at Cornell University on the application of UVc light in the vineyard to control powdery mildew. A prototype machine was fabricated that is able to cover the canopy and emit UVc light capable of killing the fungus. 

It is known that the powdery mildew pathogen is epiphytic and has adapted to resist day light UV lights.  However, it has not adapted to UVc when applied at night.  The UVc light is obtained from germicidal lamps, the same ones that are used to eliminate harmful human bacteria from tainted food or water.  This technology is presently used to control powdery mildew in commercial strawberry fields in California and perhaps soon will be applied in the vineyard.  The research continues and focuses on constructing the best equipment that is able to deliver the UV light in commercial vineyards.

Conclusions

  The session presented alternative methods that can be applied for the control of different diseases.  In a time, when insects and fungal pathogens are becoming resistant to chemicals it is refreshing to learn of alternative sustainable methods.  These methods promise to have less impact on the environment as they are developed to target the pathogen and do not affect beneficial organisms.

  I cannot emphasize the importance of planting material that has been tested free of important pathogens.  However, once planted, vines are susceptible to become infected.  As mentioned above, for virus control, the most efficient practice is to reduce the source of infection by eliminating diseased vines.  In my experience, it is difficult to convince the grower to remove entire blocks.  Sadly, often times, they will agree to remove and replant half of the block to avoid missing the production of grapes.  In all cases, this practice is risky as invariably by the time the grower is ready to replace the portion of infected vines, the new plantings have become infected.

  With no sources of resistance to important viruses available, pathogen derived genetic resistance is the only hope to keep vines from becoming re-infected in the vineyard.  Presently, genetic modified technology is not widely accepted by the general public but we need to work hard to educate consumers that this is a sustainable method for disease control. 

  It is my hope to see more of these “out of the box” approaches on the control of grapevine diseases and pests will be used in the near future.

  Judit Monis, Ph.D. provides specialized services to help growers, vineyard managers, and nursery personnel avoid the propagation and transmission of diseases caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their vineyard blocks.   Judit (based in California) is fluent in Spanish and is available to consult in all wine grape growing regions of the world.  Due to the COVID19 pandemic, Judit is offering virtual vineyard visits. Contact juditmonis@yahoo.com  for more information or to request a consulting session. To learn more about the vineyard health services offered, please visit juditmonis.com

Irrigation Best Management Practices

water dripping

By: Craig Macmillan, Macmillan Ag Consulting; Kris Beal, Vineyard Team;         Jacob Hernandez, JH Ag Consulting

The Project

Vineyard Team is a non-profit outreach and education organization based in Atascadero, California. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) awarded a grant to Vineyard Team in 2017 to study grower adoption of irrigation best management practices in vineyards. Over three years 57 growers were recruited into the project. An irrigation interview was conducted with the growers creating an inventory of current irrigation-related behaviors. Irrigation system performance was measured using a Distribution Uniformity evaluation (DU). A DU evaluation measures pressures and flows at key points in an irrigation system to calculate a DU score between 0 and 1.0 that correlates to irrigation system efficiency.

Grower Irrigation Practices

  Following growers for several years revealed best management practices for maintaining a high Distribution Uniformity score and a well-functioning irrigation system. These practices address three issues found with the irrigation systems in this project. System performance was affected by plugging from particulates, plugging due to water quality issues and problems with pressures.

  Some practices one would expect to be associated with system performance did not stand out as being important. Frequency of drip hose flushing was one such practice. This suggest that the flushing events were not long enough to clear built up material from the hose.  During DU evaluations substantial amounts of material were found at the end of hoses even in vineyards where flushing lines multiple times per year was reported. The implication is that flushing for longer periods of time or even more frequently is required before flushing will have a positive impact on maintaining DU scores.

  Having a system for identifying problems is associated with a higher DU score. The most common system was visual inspection of lines when starting up the system and immediately repairing blowouts and plugged emitters. Replacing plugged emitters was also associated with higher DU scores. Although most growers reported inspecting lines and replacing plugged emitters, it was apparent from the DU evaluations that some growers were more aggressive in their replacement programs than others. Other recommended practices include using a nylon to capture debris for inspection when flushing hoses, cracking open emitters to look for particulates, slimes, or calcification and cleaning or replacing blinded over screen washers in riser tees.

  Waiting until an emitter is completely plugged is too late from a DU point of view. A fully functioning emitter should drip constantly. It should look like a continuous flow. Irrigation systems with plugging problems will have few if any emitters that look like this indicating that lines and emitters need to be replaced and the filtration system is inadequate or failing due to damage or poor maintenance.

  Filtration can prevent plugging from particulates pumped up from the well like sand or silt.  Filters experience wear and tear like any other part of the system and even a small failure leads to plugging downstream. If filters plug rapidly one solution is to install greater surface area of filtration to spread the load. Increasing the frequency of cleaning the filters is also important. When troubleshooting irrigation system performance problems, considering the adequacy of the filter station is important. It is common to install a filter that is too small for the particulate load to reduce cost of the system install, but this increases costs in the long run due to down time and emitter plugging downstream.

  The higher the frequency of cleaning filters, the higher the DU score. Filters need to be cleaned regularly during the irrigation season.  It is not enough to simply back flush filters regularly. Back flushing should be viewed as a secondary form of cleaning, not the primary type of filter maintenance. Screen filters must be physically cleaned and the sand in sand media filters must be monitored and replaced. Any pressure drop greater than five psi across the filter is a sign that there is material plugging the filter and it could be cleaner. One vineyard with a high scoring system removes the screens from their screen filters and pressure washes them several times during the irrigation season.

  Although almost all drip emitters on the market today are pressure compensating emitters, pressure variability still effects system performance. In this study, many systems were found to have pressures in the field that varied from below the minimum to above the maximum specifications for the emitters installed. This leads to flows lower or higher than expected. In the case of low pressure, it can also be associated with inadequate flow rates. In the case of high pressures, it can be associated with blowouts. Installing or replacing pressure regulators can even out the pressures in the field and improve system performance. Consult the system design for reasonable target pressures in the drip line. Generally speaking, the pressure at the farthest point from the pump or the highest point in the system should be above 8 psi to ensure emitters are functioning properly.

The Benefits

  The benefits of properly equipping and maintaining an irrigation system can be seen when one tracks water use over time. This is more than simply recording runtimes or water meter readings. These measurements need to be considered in the context of previous measurements. This allows a grower to see if they are using more water over time indicating that the system uniformity is declining, as more water is required to deliver what is needed to the weak areas of the vineyard. Obviously, every season is different in terms of weather, but this can be accounted for when multiple years are compared.

  Scheduling of irrigation is the other component of irrigation efficiency. In this study, we found some growers applied twice as much water during a warm year than an “average” year. Other growers also delivered more water during that warm summer, but nowhere near twice as much indicating they were able to supply what the plants needed in an efficient manner. It may be the case that these growers were able to irrigate more efficiently by scheduling irrigations more accurately to the needs of the plants using plant-base, soil-based, or weather-based technologies to estimate vine water use rather than relying on visual assessment or other less grounded methods. In a few cases, water use went down as a result of system improvements from the previous year demonstrating how important implementing best practices like replacing plugged emitters and addressing pressure issues were to efficient system performance. 

A Success Story

  Project staff evaluated two blocks at  Zabala Vineyards, in Greenfield, California. The initial DU score in the spring of 2018 for the 20-year old vineyard was 0.88. Significant pressure variation was observed during the evaluation due to dirty and plugged hose screen washers installed in riser tees. Plugging accounted for about one-half of the problems with DU, and chemical remediation was recommended. After the initial evaluation, the grower improved his maintenance program by implementing a more rigorous flushing routine, removing or replacing dirty screen washers, and remediating drip hoses and emitters with a strong acid treatment and flush.

  The DU score improved from 0.88 to 0.91 between the two evaluations. Problems due to pressure were reduced by about 20% in the retest evaluation. High pressure losses at the pump station were not present in the retest, and the difference between riser pressures decreased by 5 psi, from 7 to 2 psi even though average set pressure between the two tests was unchanged. On average, emission devices performed about 8% better after chemical remediation and flushing.

  This is an excellent example of how small changes and a more aggressive maintenance regime improved system efficiency without major changes to the system itself at an affordable cost. Costs were $35/acre to treat with strong acid, plus his labor to flush. Water treatment was done based on water quality analysis and with the help of a professional water treatment company.

Recommendations

  When troubleshooting irrigation system performance issues, start at the pump. Determine if the pump is operating properly. Confirm that the pressure supplied by the well pump is sufficient to deliver water to the highest point in the system or the farthest point from the well pump. If not, install a booster pump.

  Then, investigate whether the quality of the water coming out of the well is the source of irrigation system problems. This can be in the form of plugging due to precipitates from bicarbonates, bacteria, algae, or other biological slimes. Correct these issues before sending water into the system. Precipitates can be managed by adjusting the pH of irrigation water. Biological issues are often managed with chlorine. It is easy to overlook the importance of water treatment for the functioning of the system. If there is a water quality issue, however, it is the most effective way to reduce plugging of emitters and maintain a high DU score.

  Distribution Uniformity evaluations are offered by many Resource Conservation Districts, County ag departments, State ag agencies, and USDA offices as mobile irrigation lab services. Simplified versions can also be performed by growers themselves.

  Other metrics like water use over time, changes in system pressures, and frequency of filter flushing over time can indicate changes in system efficiency. By monitoring the system’s performance, it is possible to reduce the amount of water used over time and reduce pumping costs thereby saving money and resources.

Managing Powdery Mildew in the Vineyard

close-up of grapes

By: Becky Garrison

According to “The Pacific Northwest Plant Disease Management Handbook,” grape powdery mildew represents “A fungal disease common to all areas of the Pacific Northwest. The disease tends to be more severe on the west side of the Cascade Range but is a chronic problem in arid districts where over-the-canopy irrigation is used for early-season frost protection or watering.” Over the winter, the fungus may lay inside the vine’s dormant buds as a group of thin threads (hyphae) or as small black bodies (chasmothecia) located on the exfoliating bark of the vine. In the spring, sexual spores are released from bud break through bloom that can infect the vines. Once the fungus becomes active on infected buds, it covers the emerging shoot with asexual spores.

  As part of the 2020 Oregon Wine Symposium on February 11-12, Dr. Jay W. Pscheidt, professor and extension plant pathology specialist at Oregon State University, spoke about the problems managing grape powdery mildew in the vineyard. Throughout this presentation, he noted that since powdery mildew can be difficult to manage once it’s become dominant in the vineyard, prevention remains paramount in addressing this disease.

Monitoring Fungicide Resistance

  Sarah Lowder, a third-year doctoral candidate at OSU, offered a succinct analysis of the types of resistance exhibited by products available to control fungus in the vineyard. “The type of re-sistance exhibited by DMIs (FRAC group 3 such as Rally or Procure) often has several muta-tions where the fungus becomes more tolerant of the fungicide. The other type of resistance can be sudden due to a single mutation. Products like the QoIs (FRAC 11, such as Abound or Flint) that exhibit this resistance are often classified as ‘high resistance risk,’ but they also are easier to monitor using modern approaches.”

  Collecting samples represents a key challenge in testing for powdery mildew in the vineyard. “When doing visual scouting, not only does it take more time than most growers have during the season, we also get a lot of false detects as scouts misidentify the disease,” Lowder said.

  To address these concerns, they tested swabbing a worker’s gloves in order to ascertain if this could be a viable way of collecting spores quickly and inexpensively.

  They tested this theory by taking swabs from worker’s gloves using cotton swabs with a plastic cap. Then, they compared those swabs with data obtained by swabbing the leaves directly. In both tests, they obtained samples from the same canopies to ensure consistency in testing.

  Their analysis of the results proved testing a swab from a worker’s glove produced a 96% accu-racy in detecting resistant powdery mildew. Additionally, they found that glove swabs could de-tect the presence of powdery mildew in a vineyard better than the visual scouts. Thus, these sam-ples were faster and more efficient than visual scouting. As a side note, they tested different glove materials and discovered that the type of glove worn by the workers made no difference regarding the degree of accuracy.

  They also tested the efficacy of glove swabs in comparison to Airborne Impaction Spore Traps. Currently, these devices are used commercially as a decision aid for timing fungicide applica-tions. “These spore traps can help determine when to initiate sprays at the beginning of the sea-son by detecting when powdery mildew is present,” said Lowder.

  In their testing, both glove swabs and spore traps detected the presence of mildew and the re-sistant mutation to QoI products at similar rates. This similarity showed that the glove swabs could be used in a similar fashion to spore traps.

Anti-resistance Strategies

  Pscheidt offered some recommendations designed to prevent powdery mildew from spreading. First, watch for bloom, he said, adding that signs of powdery mildew have been spotted earlier in the season then they would appear in years past. Then, he said, adjust the programs in order to be in a position to begin applications when the vineyard hits 10% to 50% bloom.

  Rotate the individual fungicides chosen or use a mix by combining two fungicides into the tank. Start a fungicide program with multi-site, mode-of-action materials, taking care to limit the total number of applications in any one group, as well as using labeled rates of sulfur. Prepackaged mixes can be useful in this regard, though one needs to make sure not to mix biological and anti-microbial products.

  In terms of how to best spray these fungicides, the OSU team experimented with reducing the number of gallons per acre using a laser-guided intelligent system sprayer. The smart sprayer reduced the amount of pesticide used per acre and got the same level of control as a regular sprayer, as long as the amount of sulfur used did not go below labeled rates.

Dealing with a Vineyard Powdery Mildew Outbreak

  Prevention in the vineyard is key to avoid problems with powdery mildew. According to OSU’s Extension Service’s website, “The best powdery mildew management plan is to attend to details before and during the spray season, especially during the transition into and during bloom.”

  According to Pscheidt, if one needs to do rescue in order to save the crop, it’s probably too late. “Once grapes are damaged, they’re damaged,” he said. “A vintner can make wine from these grapes, but it won’t taste very good.” Hence, a rescue should only be employed as a last-ditch effort to save an already damaged vineyard. For those looking to rescue their vineyard, Pscheidt stresses that oils are the only things that can eradicate powdery mildew when it hits the rescue stage.

  Also, on OSU’s Extension Service’s website, Pscheidt outlines a three-step “spa” treatment to rescue a vineyard infected with powdery mildew. The first step is a water bath. He recommends that managers start with a high volume application of water (200 to 400 gallons/acre) plus a wet-ting agent (surfactant) to wash off all the spores from the grapevine, which will prevent them from being dispersed to healthy parts of the grapevine. Be sure to cover the entire vine, with a particular focus on the clusters. However, as new powdery mildew will develop rapidly within a day or two, this should be seen as a very temporary measure and not a long-term solution to eliminate powdery mildew.

  Next, apply horticulture mineral oils to these vines. As most of the mycelia reside on the outside of the plants, these oils will denature the fungus. They recommend a 1-2% oil treatment to the vines within two days after bathing the vines. Spray thoroughly for best results. They recom-mend petroleum-based oils over plant-based oils, as well as avoiding bicarbonate products. Be-fore using sulfur, be sure to follow the labeled intervals in order to avoid leaf burn.

  The final step is a complete cover of the entire vineyard. After applying the oil, wait five to sev-en days. Then apply a strong fungicide. Be sure to pay attention to the spray application and product selection. Go slow to ensure that the entire vine gets thoroughly covered.

Powdery Mildew Management Plan for 2020

  Pscheidt recommends the following steps for managing powdery mildew during the upcoming 2020 season:

•   Review the overall 2019 plan devised for managing powdery mildew to assess its suc-cess, as well as the areas needing improvement.

•   Devise a fungicide program based on the historical use of those products in this particular vineyard. Assess those products that were proven to be the most effective.

•   Engage in timely vineyard management in terms of canopy, system, leaf pulling and sucker control.

•   Do hotspot monitoring. Focus on the vigorous areas of the vineyard, as that is where there’s most likely to be problems with powdery mildew. Monitor weather and vine growth, and scout for disease in this area to ascertain exactly where adjustments to the program are needed.

•   Use short intervals during and shortly after bloom by using the best products at the be-ginning of the season. Do not wait to use the best products until later after powdery mil-dew has begun to form.

•   Adjust intervals of application of products to hit 10% bloom.

•   Sulfur and alternative products should have multiple applications during bloom.

  Those looking for additional information about wine grape production with a focus on Oregon can log on to https://extension.oregonstate.edu/crop-production/wine-grapes. For the latest re-search on resistance in powdery mildew, check out this the resources offered via the Fungicide Resistance Assessment, Mitigation and Extension Network (FRAME) at https://framenetworks.wsu.edu

Turning Award Medals into Marketing Gold: How Wine Competitions Build Community & Recognition

corporate man analyzing wine

By: Tracey L. Kelley

If there’s one aspect of wine we can all agree on, it may be that what’s “good” or “bad,” in most applications, is all a matter of taste. Of course, some qualities must be consistently present, such as acidity, alcohol, aroma, body, clarity, sweetness and tannin. But when vintners place their bottles next to one another in a wine competition, each judge lends not only industry knowledge to a winning selection, but also palate preference. So why enter?

  Quite simply, exposure. Few avenues of marketing and promotion provide such an effective boost as medaled wines sitting prominently on shelves. From regional appreciation to international recognition, competition awards wave a sparkly hello to customers at retailers and in the tasting room. Additionally, the judging panels—often staffed with sommeliers, publicists, wine reviewers, distributors and other industry notables—provide another layer of marketability. Some studies in France assess the impact of gold, silver and bronze medals on wine producers’ ability to increase prices by as much as 15%. That, at the very least, might be just enough to offset the cost of entry fees, shipping bottles to various competitions and printing medal-announcing bottle neckers.

  So, which competitions should you enter, with what vintages and for what purpose? There are many variables. Some winemakers feel the current market is oversaturated with events—a rough estimate suggests more than 100 competitions in the U.S. and Canada alone—which lessens the impact of winning. Others are concerned about entering contests that award the equivalent of participation medals instead of segmenting the truly best. 

  Nevertheless, the practice is still stacked with advantages. So, prioritize your rationale. If you’re new to the market, revising your marketing strategy or want to showcase longstanding vintages or fresh approaches, venturing into competitions might help build your network and increase visibility. To guide vintners looking to compete, we talked with four distinctly different directors to provide an overview of possibilities.

The Unique Flavor of Each Competition

  It’s essential to research competitions a year or two in advance to gauge which ones match your objectives. Study their entries and winners. Examine the judges’ qualifications and whether the evaluation is a blind process for impartiality. Also, determine if their promotional partnership will be beneficial and how it positions your wines.

Critics Challenge

  “A wine competition medal is a third-party endorsement. It says to the consumer that a group of wine professionals found the wine had merit. That can tip the scales when a consumer is undecided about which wines to buy from the many options available,” Robert Whitley told The Grapevine Magazine. Whitley is the wine reviewer for Wine Talk and founder/director of four international competitions: Critics Challenge, San Diego Challenge, Sommelier Challenge and Winemaker Challenge, all based in San Diego.

  Whitley designed each competition to celebrate the differences in wine, regardless of origin. Entries are open to all wines produced for commercial sale from any part of the world. “I launched the Critics Challenge 17 years ago because I believed my colleagues in wine journalism had important and unique perspectives on wine evaluation,” he said. “For one thing, their understanding of the differences between wines based on place of origin and cultural influences was deeper than most.”

  The competitions have judging panels comprised of experts representative of the topic event, except the San Diego Challenge, which includes a combination of journalists, sommeliers and winemakers, plus other expert evaluators. Whitley believes this segmentation provides additional benefits. “Wineries had a hunger for critical feedback. Hence, we provided comments from the judges on the medal-winning wines. Those comments, in turn, could be used as a marketing tool on POS shelf-talkers or wine-club newsletters,” he said. 

Whitley’s Tips for New Entrants?

1.   Understand that young wines don’t always shine. They go through phases as they mature, so don’t be discouraged if your wine doesn’t medal or doesn’t earn the prize you think it deserves.

2.   Enter multiple wine competitions for the reason above.

3.   Study the lineup of judges before you enter any competition and choose the competitions that field the best evaluation teams.

INDY International Wine Competition

  You might also find that certain characteristics of a competition matter more than others. Jill Blume is an enology specialist with the Purdue Wine Grape Team at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and executive director and chief judge for the INDY International Wine Competition.

  “It’s the largest independent, scientifically-organized wine competition in the nation, accepting both commercial and amateur entries from 94 countries and the U.S.,” Blume said. “It’s a unique competition because it’s based at a university and administered by faculty and staff from the departments of food science, computer and informational technology, and horticulture and landscape architecture.” There are 75 classes to enter.

  The INDY, established in 1992, features a broad judging panel that’s craft-specific. In addition to retailers, distributors and winemakers, professionals might include grape growers, chefs and social media promoters. “This mixture makes the event an ideal testing ground for experimentation and an opportunity to receive professional feedback from leading wine experts,” Blume said. “It’s a great opportunity for new wineries due to the diversity of our judges, their knowledge and openness to new varieties and wine styles.”

  Blume noted that an important characteristic of the INDY is to “evaluate traditional and non-traditional Indiana wines with those from the U.S. and around the globe in the same competition. It’s exciting to see humble, unpretentious wines from the Midwest and new cold-hardy grape varieties like Vignoles, Chambourcin, Traminette and La Crescent win big at the INDY,” she said. “In the final Best of Show round, judges don’t know the wine’s variety, packaging, vintage, price or region. The winners are chosen solely by the judge’s senses—sight, aroma and taste.”

  Blume’s top tip for selecting competition wines? Choose those that have big aroma, big finish and balanced sugar, acid and alcohol.

Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition

  Regional pride and a sense of community enhance other international competitions as well. For the past 20 years, the Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition (FLIWC) in Mendon, New York, has accepted entries from all over the U.S., Canada and other countries. The event began as a fundraiser for Camp Good Days & Special Times—a non-profit organization that provides programs and services free of charge to children and families impacted by cancer.

  “Supporters of Camp Good Days recognized the opportunity to harness the goodwill in the Finger Lakes wine community to benefit funding, and at the same time, bring visibility to the quality of Finger Lakes wines,” said Bob Madill, head judge of the competition. “With the support of wineries and wine judges from around the world, over 90% of the funds raised go directly to the residential camping programs that are provided free of charge to the participants.”

  Winning entries receive special POS material detailing the event’s mission, so, “wine lovers can choose a quality wine with a heart,” he said. “I worked in the high tech world for over two decades and in the world of wine for even longer. Nothing I’ve done professionally has given me so much honor, pleasure and satisfaction as being Head Judge for the FLIWC and working alongside my colleagues and hundreds of volunteers at Camp Good Days.”

  FLIWC judges are selected to represent the major wine regions in the U.S. and have varying professional industry backgrounds—sommelier, media, educator, winemaker, trained/accredited/experienced judge and so on. Madill pointed out that, in 2019, a change in the selection process ensured an equal number of men and women judges and an equal number as table captains.

Madill told The Grapevine Magazine the award-winning Finger Lakes wines are being compared with others from well-known wine regions and that the awards are given by panels of “exceptionally experienced judges on the basis of merit.”

  “About 20% of the FLIWC judges are local winemakers. This provides them with the opportunity to interact with other judges from all over the U.S. and Canada—who in turn place all of the wines that they taste within a broader perspective,” he said. “Conversely, it provides the other 80% of participants with the opportunity to become familiar with Finger Lakes winemakers and later, in social situations, with their wines. This networking has proven invaluable over the past two decades.”

  Madill advises winemakers to consider three points when submitting to a competition:

1.   Place the beverage in the appropriate category and provide all of the information requested. Reach out to the head judge for assistance if in doubt.

2.   Respond to the call for entries in a timely fashion and ensure delivery to the proper address.

3.   Lead with strengths.

Central Coast Wine Competition

  Standing out in America’s wine epicenter is a unique challenge. Still, Lacie Johns of Solterra Strategies, event manager of the Central Coast Wine Competition (CCWC) in Paso Robles, California, believes this is one of many reasons why the event is so important.

  “A group of winemakers, including Gary Eberle, started the CCWC in an effort to showcase the quality of wines coming from the Central Coast, as there wasn’t one specifically focused on them,” Johns said. “This event promotes the excellent quality and diversity of commercial wineries and grape growers while recognizing the fastest-growing wine region in California.” The competition began in 2011.

  Johns told The Grapevine Magazine that 75% of the grapes used to produce the entries must have been harvested within the eligible grape growing regions. “The Central Coast AVA includes these counties, from north to south: Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties,” she said. “This competition also includes wines made from grapes grown in Ventura County.”

  Current chief judge, Tim McDonald, rotates judging panels with new judges each year, featuring experts who “can make connections with our brands that would benefit them outside the competition. Most of our judges are wine writers, restauranteurs, wine merchants and some select sommeliers and winemakers to add variation,” Johns said.

  She added the CCWC promotes entries all year long with various partnerships, including local media profiles, stand-alone retail space in Central Coast grocery stores, and a significant event, the California Mid-State Fair. The competition also provides newcomers a foothold in the industry. “It’s a perfect way to weigh your wines against your neighbors and peers within the Central Coast. It encourages friendly comradery with your neighbors, and also can be a way for younger brands to emerge and be recognized amongst their peers,” she said.

Johns Offers this Competition Insight:

1.  We suggest wineries make sure to enter the wines that they’re most proud of, but also know that every judge is interested in different wines, so it helps to enter more options than less.

2.  Unique wines are always encouraged. It’s not the biggest varietals winning every year. Last year we had a Fiano take the top prize, and the year before that was a Grenache Blanc.

3.  When the competition is over, we encourage winemakers to take advantage of any opportunity/benefit offered through the competition. For example, we have the benefit of the partnership with the California Mid-State Fair, which allows us to reach thousands of consumers for wineries.

Listed below are the 2020 event dates for each competition. Some may be a result of rescheduling due to the U.S. public health emergency this spring. Please review individual competition sites for rules and dates of entry for this year and request 2021 information:

Central Coast Wine Competition: The 2020 competition is scheduled for June 17th–18th. https://centralcoastwinecomp.com/

Critics Challenge Wine Competition: The 2020 competition is scheduled for June 20­th–21st.  Please visit this site for updates on Whitley’s other competitions. https://www.criticschallenge.com/

Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition: The 2020 competition is scheduled for July 18th and 19th.
https://fliwc-cgd.com/

INDY International Wine Competition: The 2020 competition, usually held in May, is still postponed at press time.
http://www.indyinternational.org/

Varieties of Winery Tanks and Important Differences to Consider

2 winery tanks

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

The tanks you choose for your winery can be just as important as the grapes you grow and the bottling processes you use.

  This is because tanks play a crucial role in the winemaking process and deserve to be high on the priority list for professional winemakers. The market is chalked full of tanks, all with different purposes, made with various materials and at many sizes, which can become overwhelming or confusing.

  In that spirit, The Grapevine Magazine offers an overview of tank varieties and their most significant differences to guide winemakers towards the best product decisions.

Categories and Purposes of Tanks

  Winery tanks typically fall into two broad categories: multipurpose tanks and specialty tanks. The common uses for winery tanks are storage, fermentation, blending and bottling.

  Some wineries may use tanks for other reasons, which is where specialty tanks come into play. For example, specialty tanks can be smaller portable tanks outfitted with forklift pockets to allow for easy movement without damage. They can also feature select accessories that help manage headspace, have self-cleaning capabilities or make racking easier.

Specific Tank Types

  Winery tanks vary based on their material, shape and unique features.

  Stainless-steel tanks are most common in wineries; however, concrete is making a comeback in the industry. Wineries may also use vessels made from plastic and oak.

  Winery tanks come in different shapes, such as conical or square, and may rotate or be portable to suit a winery’s needs. Variable volume and sealed tanks are options that modern wineries may consider when buying new or upgrading their current equipment.

  Chase Vienneau, the winemaker for Arrington Vineyards in Arrington, Tennessee, told The Grapevine Magazine that his winery uses 100% stainless-steel tanks in the production facility for red and white wine fermentation.

  “We have many tanks bought from Prospero Equipment out of New York, along with a few Santa Rosa stainless-steel tanks,” he said. “All tanks have cooling jackets built into the sidewalls for controlling fermentation for red and white wine fermentations.”

  Paul N. Roberts, President of R&S Supply Company in Napa, California, told The Grapevine Magazine about the wine containers, adapters, tank vents, valves, heating jackets, PVC covers and other products that his company offers for multiple purposes, including shipping and storage.

  “R&S Supply Company is one of the few suppliers who only sell brand-new IBC totes, so you can guarantee they will not impart any flavors or unwanted substances,” Roberts said. “These totes are the most popular products among wineries nationwide.”

Major Tank Considerations

  One of the most important things to plan for as a winery is the overall tank capacity. Closed top and variable capacity tanks are available, ranging in size from 396 to 2,641 gallons. However, depending upon the winery’s specific needs, vintners might choose a tank that is as small as 250 gallons or as large as 8,000 gallons. As a general rule, fermentation tanks tend to be between 450 and 2,500 gallons, while storage tanks are more likely to be in the 250 to 1,000-gallon range.

  Another primary consideration is the cost of tanks. Depending on the brand and style, a 2,500-gallon stainless steel fermentation tank can be as high as $9,000, while storage tanks tend to be less expensive, around $3,000 to $4,000 for 1,000 gallons of storage. When calculating costs, winemakers should factor in the pricing for bins, tank stands and tank washers for fermentation and storage. Some wineries make the mistake of not considering the costs of tank accessories and end up going well over budget.

  “In our purchasing process of the tanks, we want to make sure the quality is at its finest,” said Vienneau or Arrington Vineyards. “This includes everything from how smooth all the welds are to making sure the racking valves are positioned correctly for racking purposes and making sure you have manways large enough to slide in and out.”

Tanks based on winery size

  The size of a winery often determines the types of tanks it buys, but this isn’t always true. Small wineries may choose small-batch processing tanks of 180 to 2,000 gallons, along with portable tanks that can be moved by forklifts or pallet jacks to overcome space restrictions.

  Medium-sized wineries may buy larger tanks than they currently need to allow room for growth. For large wineries, bigger isn’t necessarily better, especially when producing several varieties of wine.

Vienneau said Arrington’s tanks range anywhere from 270 to 3,750 gallons. “Having many different size tanks is key in a winery,” he said. “Headspace in a wine tank can be detrimental to the wine. You always want to have options.”

  For wineries of various sizes, Roberts said R&S Supply Company supplies 275-gallon and 330-gallon brand-new IBC totes that are ideal for shipping wine and also for short term storage.

  “They are stackable up to three high when full,” he said. “We sell these totes to all sizes of wineries all over the country.”

Differences in Winery Tanks

  Although winery tanks may look similar at first glance, there are differences between the various models and brands. Some tanks are better at controlling temperature, while others have better oxygen level regulation. Tanks may impact tannins and flavor as well. In the end, what it comes down to, is what type of wine the tanks will be holding.

  “I would say 50% of our tanks have manways on the lowest point of the tank so that we can use them for the fermentation of red must along with a side door that can be opened to help retrieve the fermented must out,” Vienneau said. “White wine can be fermented in any kind of stainless-steel tank that has a closed top and a cooling jacket.”

Comparing Winery Tank Options

  In addition to the type of wine held within a tank, when comparing tanks for the winery, consider whether it will be used indoors or outdoors, and how easy or difficult it will be to keep clean and sanitized on an ongoing basis.

  “The type of tank you choose will depend typically on application and budget,” said Roberts of R&S Supply Company. “The IBC Totes we sell are a very economical solution for short-term storage and for transporting finished wine or juice from one location to another.”

How to Choose the Best Tanks for Your Winery

  One effective way to learn about the best tank options is to ask other wineries what they use and what works well for them. Read product reviews online and try to see potential tanks working in action. The tank industry is becoming more innovative as the years go by, so keep up with industry news to stay informed about new tank developments.

  Vienneau advises start-up wineries to purchase multiple tanks in a few different sizes. When buying several tanks at the same time, look for package deals from manufacturers and retailers. He suggests buying thermowells, a minimum three-inch bottom valve, a two-inch minimum racking valve, large manways and an air vent with a lock on top. He also recommendations clean welds, a CIP set-up and leveling feet for accurate DIPS.

  “I’ve been working in this industry for some time now, and sometimes you work with what you have and still can make great wines!” he said.

  As a general piece of advice, Roberts at R&S Supply Company recommends winery owners buy the highest quality equipment they can afford.

  “Used equipment can be great, but it does come with a past,” Roberts said. “It is important to know the history of any type of tank you purchase. It is also important to be sure that it will be the right choice for the application.”

Destemmers and Hoppers: Key tools in making great wine

wine mixer

By: Cheryl Gray

A crucial step in making a good wine a better one is to keep things out that don’t belong.

  That process starts in the vineyard, where hoppers are used to collect the grapes, while destemmers separate the fruit from what some in the industry call “MOG,” which is winery shorthand for “material other than grapes.” For every vineyard, which brand and type of destemmers and hoppers used largely depends upon the volume of the harvest.

  Family-owned Mercer Estates Winery in Washington processes tons of grapes during harvest.  Its vineyards stretch across Horse Heaven Hills, which is bounded on the north by Washington’s Yakima Valley and on the south by the Columbia River. The winery does releases twice a year—in May and October—and distributes its wines to more than 30 states. The demands of an operation this size require vigilance over its grapes that technology and years of expertise provide. Jeremy Santo is the company’s winemaker.

  “With the size of the loads coming to the winery (22 tons in three gondolas per truck), we use a hopper large enough to unload one gondola at a time to complete the truckload. Here at the winery, we do have the ability to use a destemmer while receiving grape loads, but rarely use it. Because of the ability to selectively harvest in the vineyards, the fruit is very clean and free of MOG when it arrives at the winery. If destemming is necessary on a grape load, it will feed from the hopper through the destemmer, and the clean fruit would be sent to tank for fermentation,” Santos said.

  When leaves, stems and rachis (the latter described as the grape structural skeleton) traditionally make it into wine ferments, they sometimes increase undesirable characteristics in wine, such as vegetative flavors and aromas that winemakers would just as soon do without. Richard Hoff, Director of Viticulture of Mercer Ranches, points to technology now available that allows for destemming huge harvests before the grapes leave the vineyard. A combined tractor and harvester performing multiple functions can cost more than $400,000.

  “We utilize Pellenc harvesters that have onboard Selectiv destemming technology,” said Hoff. “Each Pellenc harvester has two bins onboard. Each bin can hold 1.5 tons of fruit before needing to be emptied.”  

  Hoff told The Grapevine Magazine how the harvested grapes are then emptied into a gondola, which can hold three-plus tons of grapes. He added that the gondola’s technological advantage in bringing grapes from the vineyard to the winery is its ability to hydraulically lift itself to dump the grapes into a semi-truck trailer, which then hauls the grapes away to be processed at the winery. One gondola can cost about $18,000, and the semi-truck trailer hauling the grapes to the winery runs an approximate cost of $38,000.

  Given the significant capacity needs of Mercer Ranches and Mercer Estates Winery, Hoff said that the equipment, technology and costs are all in line.   

  “This setup works great for us at our scale. Some smaller wineries may not be set up to receive 22-ton trailers. In those cases, they will likely receive their fruit from macro bins—similar size to what you’d see apples picked into. These macro bins range in size to hold anywhere from a quarter ton, half-ton or one ton of grapes.”

  Martinez & Martinez is another Washington State winery in Horse Heaven Hills that started in 1981 from plants gifted to the winery by Mercer Estates. Co-owner Andrew Martinez says his winery deploys a destemmer manufactured by Diemme.

  “We use a small-sized Diemme brand destemmer with crushing capability. This small destemmer/crusher has the capacity of running about four to five tons per hour. For being a smaller unit, it is quite functional, versatile and industrial in its use. It can crush berries from a slight crush to a full berry pop. It can be run at a slow or fast pace to leave stems in the fruit or not. Also, it can easily be taken all the way apart for full sanitation. The cost of units comparable to this one would be from $5,000 to $10,000. Since our winery is still doing small lots of each variety, this smaller unit still fits our needs exactly.”

  Martinez added that information on destemmers and hoppers often comes from others in the viticulture industry.  

  “When deciding on equipment, the best knowledge comes from different vintners who have used the equipment, so asking what others are using and if they like it is some of the best info you can get. Also, talking to the sales reps and manufacturers of the products is a great way to find out about what they have, and they can usually refer you to someone in the industry who uses the equipment and can give you insight on what they like and don’t like.”

  Providing a variety of destemmers and hoppers is a specialty of The Vintner’s Vault, located in Paso Robles, California. The company has its own fabrication facility to serve a client base that stretches across the United States and beyond, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, China, Nova Scotia and Indonesia. Ryan Horn is the company’s president.

  “We sell IMMA for people looking for high quality, whole berry destemmers with all destemming/crushing options possible. This is, by far, our most popular,” said Horn. “For clients on a tight budget, we sell units that we work with Enotecnica Pillan, based in Vincenza, Italy, to design in such a way that they work very similar to higher-end destemmers with options like you would find on the IMMA destemmer. They cannot produce as much whole berry but are still excellent, well-received destemming units.”

  Horn added that the hoppers his company sells are produced in multiple configurations, including those mounted to a destemmer, on wheels over the destemmers, those that feed the destemmer, as well as those with lift conveyors. It all depends on the client’s needs, which includes factoring-in the size and age of the winery.  “Sometimes, it is a completely new winery we are building. We get the total production the desire they to do and size accordingly. Other times, it is clients who have grown…and want to increase the quality of their production. Our options for destemmer capacities range from a few tons per hour up to 90 tons per hour. Our most popular units are around 10 to 12 per hour, but we have units of all ranges in the market.”

  Horn said that clients base their product choices on two things: quality and budget. In the case of some purchases, leasing is an option. Although he declined to name pricing, the company’s website lists a basic destemmer (with an added auger feature) starting as low as $1,100. More sophisticated models, including some of the IMMA brands, which have multi-functions such as combined destemming and crushing, can run well over $40,000.      

  The Vintner’s Vault can provide just about every range and capability of destemmers and hoppers that a client may need. One example is a hopper unit with a variable speed auger feed. This configuration allows wineries to dump in several tons of grapes at a time and, using a variable speed drive, adjust the speed at which the destemmer is fed. This time-saving feature allows the winery to continually dump grapes into the hopper, eliminating the need to stop between bins. Horn said the company also consults with clients to determine what they need now and in the future.

  “Some clients want the best of the best, and we can provide that for them. Others just need the necessary equipment to get them started. We try to provide all options and realistic details on what each machine is capable of and the long term cost for each. In many cases, our clients lease the products.”

  Hoff agrees that buying options are important, as is having a choice of products designed to protect the grapes from the moment of harvest.

  “We look for a product that can give us clean fruit but is able to handle our grape yields without leaving valuable fruit in the vineyard on the vine or the vineyard floor,” Hoff said. “Generally, if you are large enough to spread the costs across your acreage, it would be better to purchase.  If your acreage is not sufficient, you would opt to lease. Products are compared based on fruit quality, harvest efficiency, overall cost and that capability of multi-tool use.” 

  Viticulture industry experts can agree that cutting the amount of time to get a job done can add up to savings over time. For this reason, investing in destemmers and hoppers that can perform a task and, at the same time, be gentle with the fruit, leads to improved quality of the product. With technology on the market that can save time and protect the grapes, wineries enjoy a variety of choices.