Keeping it Social: How to Approach Your Online Connections Post-COVID

3 people drinking wine

By: Tracey L. Kelley

Aspects of target marketing are quite fluid right now and are projected to be for some time. As the world continues a slow but seemingly progressive recovery from COVID-19, and as the United States, in particular, addresses other key issues affecting its citizens, how you approach a purposeful social media presence for your brand has a significant impact on your turnaround.

In an article for Scientific American, tech expert David Pogue said, “No longer are you on top of the mountain, blasting your marketing message down to the masses through your megaphone. All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another.” These are the conversations and actions you need to engage in on your social platforms to reposition your wines, tasting room, community engagement and other advances of your business.

Community and Locality Matter Now More than Ever

You may have experienced extra support from existing and new customers during the pandemic. This momentum, said Meaghan Webster, is essential to maintain through online channels. “People are sourcing inspiration from social media for how to support local businesses and their employees. There’s been a huge push from consumers to support local restaurants and beverage producers they know are struggling, and wineries should acknowledge this sentiment on social media, emphasizing the local nature of their products.”

Webster is the founder of Meaghan W. Marketing and current marketing manager for First Batch Hospitality, the group behind urban winemaking and events at Brooklyn Winery in New York, District Winery in Washington, D.C., and RiNo Point Winery in Denver. She told The Grapevine Magazine that how you use social media to enhance alliances in the community—both with your charitable partnerships and to celebrate the efforts of employees and customers—matters now. So steep your posts with gratitude. “For example, if a winery is donating a percentage of its sales to recovery for their laid-off employees or a special industry fund, then social posts referencing these efforts should thank followers and customers for contributing to the stated cause,” she said. “People love when you show them the impact that their purchase has made. Therefore, follow up and post about how much ended up being contributed to the cause.”

Chad Richards is vice president of Firebelly, a “social media marketing agency on a mission since 2007” based in Indianapolis. Firebelly has worked with JUSTIN Winery and Landmark Vineyards, as well as breweries and restaurants. Richards also recommended taking a less self-serving approach. “Whatever you do, make sure the hero is the charity or community you’re supporting. Nothing elicits eye rolls faster than ‘Look at us—we’re so charitable!’”

If you shredded your social media plan already, don’t worry. There’s still strong potential for authentic communication. “Humans like stories, and we’re storytellers by nature. It’s how we connect to one another, and right now, people are seeking connection more than ever,” Richards said. “And don’t worry about trying to be creative or clever—just be honest.”

We all appreciate uplifting stories right now, according to the media team at Happy Medium, a full-service digital creative agency in Des Moines, Iowa. Keeping this intent in mind helps you craft social media content that showcases community involvement as a result of the energy of your brand and, by close relation, all your customers.

“Overall, audiences tend to react well to community involvement because it’s inspirational and aspirational. If your team is volunteering, share a photo of employees at the volunteer event. If you made a charitable donation, ask the recipient to share digital assets that align with the cause you’re helping them support,” the Happy Medium media team said. “This demonstrates how your brand builds and supports communities in a way that’s relatable and impactful. Write a brief caption about why the cause you’re supporting is relevant to the brand. Always tag the organization!”

Creating Evocative Content

The critical nuts and bolts of pandemic communication are still necessary. On your website and across all social media channels, points about safety, sanitary practices, operational hours and tasting room traffic allowances, among others, must be continuously updated and with proper sensitivity. But, Webster added, you can also use this time to create a haven of comfort.

“Offering a bit of escape from reality is received very well, according to social media analytics for the wineries I work for,” she said. “People are longing for normal times of the past, which means they enjoy seeing photos of what wineries were like before everything shut down. All businesses should be especially cognizant of the tone they use, and always acknowledge the current state of the world in their captions in some way. But providing the nostalgia and temporary escape that followers are looking for right now is a good way to keep people engaged.”

Webster suggested showing the human side of the business through Instagram stories and static posts to “connect people of the business with people who want to support the business.” What’s going on in the vineyards right now? Who’s putting wine shipments together while the winery is closed? What’s the origin story of the winery and vineyard, how did it evolve pre-COVID and how is it navigating this difficult time?

“While the entire story may be long and not fit into one social media post, a winery should know its full narrative, so when it writes a shorter Instagram caption or creates a few slides of an Instagram story about their business, they can distill the most important parts down into a digestible format, and weave it into posts whenever they can,” Webster said.

Happy Medium advised using interactive content whenever possible, to build confidence and trust. “Customers are more likely to engage with content that entertains, educates and tells an authentic story. Engaging customers with your content makes your brand more memorable and creates a deeper connection,” the media team said. “Try incorporating polls, question and answer stickers, or feature the people who make your brand what it is in Instagram stories or by hosting a live stream. Both of these are growing social trends that bolster higher engagement and should be a staple to any social media strategy.”

Don’t feel you have to do all the heavy lifting of brand awareness and connection alone. Once again, Richards said, think about potential alliances. “Get your bottles into the hands of influencers—allowing people to learn about your product via someone they already trust or admire. And think outside the box. These don’t have to be wine or foodie influencers. A travel, fashion or beauty influencer could easily weave your brand and bottle into their story.”

And if the budget allows, boost your social media ad views. “I realize they may be a luxury in times like these, but ads really are the fastest way to get the right message to the right people in the right places,” he said. “Many brands have cut their ad spends, so the marketplace is less competitive right now. You’ll get more for your money if you’re able to participate.”

As reopening continues, your messaging to various demographics might change slightly. Take time to evaluate your core audiences and cater to how they might be feeling. For example:

• Promote your best practices for safety and cleanliness to reassure and comfort people who want to visit your winery but express concern about contagions.
• Consider how other individuals, including those new to the wine tasting experience, might want to know about both your in-person and virtual interactive opportunities.

• Finally, there are additional people, especially those in younger demographics, who are eager to get out and make new memories. Show them through social media why your establishment is the perfect choice for safe-but-fun gatherings.

Remember the message of online interaction: simply ask your followers what they might be interested in, and listen carefully. Their suggestions might be different than what you’ve tried before, but now is the time to take advantage of fresh ideas.

Social Media Tips for the Next 12-18 Months

“Flexible consistency” is the action plan for your social media efforts now—and the foreseeable future. Maybe your marketing manager is temporarily furloughed. Perhaps your state allowed gradual reopening, but as you approach early harvests, you don’t feel you’ll have time to maintain your online presence like you did last year.

The media team at Happy Medium suggested three areas of focus:

• Post consistently. While so much consumer activity has slowed during this period, it’s especially important for brands to stay top-of-mind with their consumers. Even if operations are currently paused, still send at least a couple of posts per week.

• Stay positive. Audiences have been overloaded with COVID-19 messaging over the past few months and are starting to become jaded to overused marketing verbiage. Send positive messages while still being respectful to the current situation.

• Don’t post content exclusively directed at sales: share photos and stories about your team, industry news or fun facts about your winery and operations.

A 2017 study from the American Express Customer Service Barometer reported that Americans are “more likely to post about good experiences (53%) than poor experiences (35%).” So, in addition to staying realistic and flexible about your content and posting efforts, reaffirming customer service is one of the strongest messages Webster offered.

“For small wineries without dedicated marketing or social media staff, that means digital customer service often gets put on the back burner.” She suggested navigating it this way:

• Respond to comments from followers on your posts—or “like” them at the very least.

• Acknowledge when an excited customer shares a photo of your wine on their Instagram story by at least “liking” it. More preferably, respond to it with thanks, and re-share it to your winery’s story.

• Not only “liking” a photo that a loyal fan tagged your wine in, but also commenting on their post and thanking them for their support.

“This kind of gratitude and engagement is always important for building brand loyalty on social media, but it’s especially crucial during this pandemic when financial difficulty is rampant, and fans are giving your winery free, unprompted promotion,” Webster said.

Also, pay close attention to direct messages and respond promptly, and help customers find links to website pages. “This is an important aspect of social media management that many wineries and small businesses could improve on.”

Finally, be realistic, Richards told The Grapevine Magazine. He provided these tips:

• Be flexible. These are unique times, and we’re not sure what will happen next. That’s okay. Nobody does. Be prepared to update your plan and approach as needed.

• Think short term. Take it month-by-month or maybe even week-by-week. Any really long-term campaign planning will likely be disrupted.

• Show vulnerability. If you’re struggling, say so. It makes you relatable, and people will want to support you and come to your rescue.

“Know that it’s okay to ‘not know,’” said Richards. “Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when it comes to business and finances—but we’re all in the same boat right now. A ‘best guess’ is sometimes the best you can do.”

The Media Team at Happy Medium
https://itsahappymedium.com/
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:
@itsahappymedium

Chad Richards, Vice President, Firebelly
https://www.firebellymarketing.com/
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:
Chad Richards: @chadrichards
Firebelly Marketing: @wearefirebelly

Meaghan Webster, founder, Meaghan W. Marketing
meaghanwebster.com
Social Media Handle on Instagram:
@meaghanwmarketing

Carbon Farming for Successful Vineyard Systems

row of vineyard

By: Becky Garrison

At the Oregon Wine Symposium held in Portland, Oregon from February 11-12, 2020, Dr. David Montgomery, MacArthur Fellow and University of Washington professor of geomorphology, presented his work researching and writing about farming methods that use less fossil fuel, fertilizer and pesticides than traditional farming. In his books, “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations” and “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” Dr. Montgomery digs into the history of traditional farming methods and how these practices negatively impact the health of vineyard workers, the vigor of the soil and profitability.

  Dr. Montgomery advocates that, if we want to feed people in the next century, we need to change agriculture in this century. He cited the United Nation’s 2015 State of the Soil Assessment, which presented a global review of the world’s soils. According to this assessment, each year, the world loses 0.3% of net agricultural production capaci-ty to ongoing soil loss and separation.

  “If we play this out for the next hundred years, we are slated to lose about a third of our agricultural production capacity at a global scale. Our population is slated to rise by about a third,” Montgomery said. Furthermore, about a third of the world’s cropland has been degraded to the point where it’s no longer in production. 

The History of Soil Erosion

  While working on several continents, Dr. Montgomery noticed the connection between the degraded state of soils and the impoverished state of people living in different landscapes. He observed how soil erosion contributed to undermining civilizations around the world, starting with the earliest agricultural civilizations such as Neolithic Europe, Classical Greece, the southern United States Neolithic and more.

  In a review of over 1,500 scientific studies, soil erodes at the rate of one inch every twenty years. At this rate, the soil of a large civilization outside major river flood plains depletes in roughly 500 to 1,000 years. Dr. Montgomery described how flood plains like the Tigris and Euphrates bring sediment and silt, tires, school buses and whatever is coming down the river. “These places can maintain balance, as what the plow takes away on average is replenished by flooding. Nature is fixing the damaged of the plow.”

  His findings debunk the traditional theory of soil erosion found in environment history textbooks, that deforestation led to erosion, which undermined civilizations. “I found out it was the plow that followed that did it. The villain of this tale is tillage.”

  He described soil as akin to a bank account, whereby it is the natural capital that fi-nances civilizations, as it’s used to grow food, wine and everything else people grow from the ground.

  According to Dr. Montgomery, the plow leads to soil degradation because, by design, it inverts soil. “It provides incredibly good weed control, which is why it’s often used in organic systems. A plow takes those nasty weeds upside down and makes fertilizer out of them.”

  In addition, tillage accelerates the breakdown of the organic matter in the soil by stimu-lating microbial activity. In effect, this draws down the batteries of the soil by degrading its organic matter. Also, tillage leaves the soil vulnerable to erosion until the next crop. If this process goes on for long enough, the soil’s organic matter can deteriorate to the point of impacting the fertility of the land, negatively affecting the health of the crop.

Is Soil Restoration Possible?

  “The problem with long-term soil degradation is not that we farm. The problem is the way we’ve been farming. Tillage has been a major destructive element in human histo-ry,” said Dr. Montgomery.

  While traditional farming methods account for the loss of a millimeter to a millimeter and a half of soil each year, no-till farming only erodes less than a tenth of a millimeter of soil during the same period.

  When Anne Biklé, Dr. Montgomery’s biologist wife, turned their degraded yard into a garden, she added organic matter consisting of compost and mulch. After a decade, their yard went from 1% organic matter to 12% in some places. In their book, “The Hidden Half of Nature,” they attributed this shift to the work done by trillions of micro-organisms that were feeding underground. This zone, called the rhizosphere, is one of the most life dense areas on the planet. Dr. Montgomery described the rhizosphere as “a biological bazaar where microbes and plants trade nutrients, metabolites and exu-dates.” Like any living organism that consumes something, the plants metabolize the organic matter and produce waste products like growth hormones.

  Understanding the symbiotic relationships between soil microbiota and plants presents farmers with two very different diets for feeding their plants. The first is the fertilizer diet, where if you give a plant enough fertilizer, even bad soil can produce big yields. How-ever, as Dr. Montgomery assessed, once the plants get all the significant elements they need for growth, they stop investing in their root system. “This means they’re not get-ting as many micronutrients, like zinc and copper, that they need for health, which those microbial partners provide.”

  In comparison, growing plants in healthy, fertile soils that have more organic matter to feed those microbes will produce comparable growth. In addition, farmers get the ben-efits of mineral micronutrients and microbial metabolites. Simply put, organic matter produces higher carbon in the soil.

Principles of Conservation Agriculture

  To assess if these theories could be implemented on a large scale, Dr. Montgomery visited farms in Equatorial Africa, Central America and all across North America. What he found was a common recipe for rebuilding soils.

  First, he said, ditch the plow. Minimal tilling can produce better results, but more car-bon generates when not using a tiller. Second, cover up the soil by maintaining perma-nent ground cover using cover crops and retaining crop residues. Finally, grow diversi-ty. Rotating three to four crops will break up pathogen carryover. In a vineyard, one can achieve this by rotating what’s growing between the vines.

  According to Dr. Montgomery, these principles could be scaled up or down, depending on the farm, within two decades. Restoring agricultural soils in this manner can help increase farm profitability, feed the world, help with climate change and prevent envi-ronmental degradation through non-chemical practices.

How Microbes Relate to the Wine World

  Discussions about terroir focus on climate and soil; however, Dr. Montgomery sug-gests rethinking terroir in terms of the microbes, which are related to climate, soil and geology. “As we examine the relationship between the soil, the vines and the wines people enjoy, we should think about how the microbial ecology is a big part of that foundation.”

  Recent journal articles have begun to cover the landscape of microclimates, including those of a particular vineyard. Microclimates affect the microbes that live in the rhizo-sphere around the roots of grapevines and can carry through to the winemaking pro-cess.

  “Microbial abundance and diversity come into play on leaves, roots and fruit, and then carries on into the fermentation process. How you operate your vineyard will determine what you will have in terms of the fungal community,” said Dr. Montgomery. “Hence, understanding the role of microbial ecology is important for rebuilding soil organically, but also in understanding every step of the wine production process.”

  Addressing the practicalities of soil management in the vineyard, Dan Rinke, proprietor of Roshambo ArtFarm and Director of Vineyard Operations at Johan Vineyards, said, “If you are continuously tilling and depleting organic matter from the soil, those resultant soils are going to be more prone to compaction. But you can have more resilient soil through no-till systems.”

  In Rinke’s estimation, the best way to rotate cover crops is to use a no-till seed drill, which can be rented from some soil and water conservation districts. However, he added that he’d like to see research done in this area to see more comprehensive re-sults using conventional, reduced and no-till means specifically for vineyards.

  More research is needed to confirm Dr. Montgomery’s findings and develop and under-stand the implications for vineyards. For biodynamic farmers like Barbara Steele of Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, carbon farming is not unique. “Carbon cycling in the soil is the basis of successful dirt farming,” she said.

  Biodynamic practices include building a fresh compost pile every year and growing plants whose sole purpose is to create carbon. “By increasing organic matter in the soil, we slowly increase the cation exchange capacity or CEC (the measure of the soil’s ability to hold positively charged ions), and thus the carbon cycling in the soil,” said Steele.

  For more information about soil health, check out the resources available from the USDA National Resource Conservation Service at…https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs) and www.dig2grow.com

Liability Coverage for Chemical Drift

helicopter spraying pesticides on crops

Protecting your vineyard from damaging pests and grapevine diseases with pesticides may be an essential part of your vineyard management.  Keeping these chemicals on your property can be challenging even if you have followed all the required procedures.  Nationwide, the EPA estimates up to 70 million pounds of pesticides valued up to $640 million are lost to drift each year .  Drift is the movement of chemicals off your vineyard, through the air away from the intended target, and can be in the form of liquid droplets, vapors, and particles.  You have reason to want to limit drift simply because of the economic consequences, and these chemicals are too expensive to just blow in the wind.  Furthermore, drift that damages a neighbor’s property may lead to litigation. In certain instances, liability insurance specifically designed for chemical spray drift may allow you to mitigate this risk. 

  You have seen examples of herbicide and pesticide drift from agricultural application in the news recently.  Stories abound of alleged damage to neighboring crops, communities, and even bird habitats. If you are growing the same crop as your neighbor is on their vineyard, you may have limited or no impact. However, in certain instances there can be a more substantial impact when your neighbors are raising other crops or livestock, operating an organic farm, or you are adjacent to other susceptible properties like a golf course, an apiary, or a residential community.  Damage has occurred miles away from a farm, so even if one is not next door, one may be nearby.

Why Does Spray Drift Occur?

  Spray drift often occurs when wind or application equipment blows the chemicals off your property.  You may think that drift will only occur when applications are done improperly.  However, even if properly applied, drift may ultimately be unavoidable. Drift can happen days after application when chemicals volatize into gas naturally or due to higher temperatures.  You can minimize drift by using the correct chemicals, properly maintaining equipment, always following manufacturer labels, factoring in the weather, and training employees.

  Despite your best efforts, what happens if your pesticides do drift and damages your neighbor’s crop?  As the growing season approaches, consider ways to properly protect your business from this exposure.

  This article will not address the legal theories surrounding the liability of vineyard operators applying or hiring an applicator.  Courts have differed on finding liability so we will leave the intricacies of the law to others.  Elements of liability aside, if you are alleged to be negligent, you will need a defense.  If found liable, you will want indemnification.  Let’s discuss where to find that coverage with liability insurance.

Insurance

  Every insurance policy is different, so it is important that you read the terms of your policy and discuss them with a professional insurance advisor.  Winery and vineyard policies may include multiple coverage parts including a Commercial General Liability (CGL) part and a Basic Farm Premises Liability (FL) part.

  Standard commercial general liability coverage forms  may contain an exclusion for pollution coverage for ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’ related to the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release, or escape of pollutants or some similar pollution-related exclusion.  Such exclusions could apply to spray drift claims. Accordingly, consider obtaining an endorsement that provides coverage specifically for chemicals drifting off of your property resulting in damage to someone else’s property, such as their crops or livestock. The specific language in these endorsements vary so it is important that you read the endorsement terms carefully and discuss them with a professional insurance advisor.

  Certain farm premises liability coverages include a limited amount of coverage for damage from chemical drift, which may include drifts that naturally occur during normal farm operations.  However, the coverage may not include drift from aircraft, loss of market, or loss of use of soil and crops. Some farm premises liability coverage forms also exclude discharge from aircraft, which may be a concern if you contract for crop dusting services. Other coverage limitations to the farm premises liability coverages may also apply.

  Commercial general liability and the farm premises liability coverages can be amended to include certain pollution-related coverages.  However, this pollution coverage may require the release of chemicals to be “sudden and accidental” and take place while in “storage or being transported”. Such language may affect the application of the coverage to a drift claim.  Accordingly, you may consider an endorsement specifically designed for chemical spray drift.

Chemical Drift Liability

 A chemical drift liability endorsement may provide coverage for damage to other’s crops and livestock, but an endorsement may also contain policy conditions, limitations, and exclusions.  For example, a chemical drift liability endorsement may not provide coverage for the following:

•    Damage to your own property, crops, or animals.

•    Damage you expected or intended to occur

•    Bodily injury to people

•    Government mandated testing or clean-up of pollutants

  Other limitations and exclusions may also apply. It is important to read the policy and any potential endorsements carefully.

  To obtain chemical drift coverage and to increase the liability limits, your insurance company may require additional information, such as:

•    Demonstrating you have a strong risk management program in place to include proper documentation, employee training, and record retention for at least five years. 

•    A list of chemicals used to determine if any are restricted. 

•    If you are hiring an applicator, they may ask for a list contractors, the total annual cost for those services, and will want to confirm that each is properly licensed. 

•    A review of high risk surrounding exposures (organic farms, public parks, golf courses, schools, churches, apiaries (bees), or other public facilities) neighboring any of the farm locations where chemicals are applied.

  If you are operating a tasting room or holding events at your vineyard, you may be asked to confirm that you are limiting access to the vineyard after an application, and that you are observing re-entry time intervals.

  As with any other winery process, documenting your operations is a good management practice. In the event of a negligence claim, do you know:

•    What brand or product name was used?  Consider keeping a copy of the label. 

•    How much was applied and using what equipment? 

•    Where on the vineyard were chemicals were applied?

•    What crops received the pesticide?

•    The time the application started and stopped?  A best practice would be to document the temperature, humidity, and rainfall too.

  You may also want to review the level of worker training and supervision and ask:

•    Are supervisors experienced with pesticide application?

•    Be sure to document what specific employee training was completed.  Have you kept records to show that you have trained them on the directions for applying each type of chemical used? 

•    Do they know how to use the equipment properly? 

•    Are you doing this each season with each new cohort of workers?

  Spray drift of chemicals is a potential risk for vineyard operators.  Liability insurance specifically designed for chemical spray drift may allow you to mitigate certain types of risk.  For additional questions on chemical drift liability contact your professional insurance advisor.

  This document is intended for general information purposes only, and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This document can’t be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedures or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. 

  Markel does not guarantee that this information is or can be relied on for compliance with any law or regulation, assurance against preventable losses, or freedom from legal liability.  This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional advice.  Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser.  Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are no longer accurate or complete.   Furthermore, Markel does not assume any liability to any person or organization for loss of damage caused by or resulting from any reliance placed on that content.

Protein Fining Trials Step by Step

bottles lined-up

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Fining trials on white, blushes and some rose wines can be critical to determine the least amount of bentonite needed to achieve heat stability or protein stability.  Other fruit wines may need fining also.

  The most difficult part of fining trials is to have an understanding of working with such small volumes of wines in the lab and how to apply the trial calculations to the larger tanks.  Once one has a clear understanding and methodology the tasks become easier.  It may take several fining trials under ones belt before it becomes second nature and the task becomes “a piece of cake.”  It is recommended an outside lab be used to mirror your winery lab until such point the internal winery lab technician feels comfortable doing the test on his or her own.

Why Fine?

  It is important to do bentonite fining trials on even perfectly clear wine.  These perhaps perfectly clear wines may contain proteins that, when becoming warm or hot, may denature and form a haze, cloudiness or even sediment in your bottled wine. Although your winery is generally very cool you must anticipate “outside abuse” of your product and protect it because anything wrong in a bottle with your label on it – reflects poorly on your winery.

  Below is a list of equipment and instructions to perform your own trials in your winery lab.

Equipment Needed:

  Most winery labs have the basics and one should be able to acquire these additional items with little financial outlay.  Here is a list of basics.

1.   Bentonite from your cellar bulk fining agents.

2.   375 milliliter screw cap wine bottles (splits) – may reuse these.

3.   500 ml  beakers

4.   500 ml Erlenmeyer flasks

5.   Millipore filter apparatus plus ample 0.45 micron filters.

6.   545 DE as a filter aid, if needed

7.   Vacuum source for filter

8.   20 x 150 mm test tubes with screw caps

9.   Test tube rack holder or coffee cup

10. Stir plate with magnetic stir bars

11. Good scales to weight fining agent / bentonite

12. Good eyesight or a Nephelometer (optional)

13. Distilled water or tap water (non-chlorinated) for mixing bentonite.

14. Graduated cylinder ( 100 milliliter )

15. Pipettes 1ml, 2ml, 3 ml, 4ml, 5ml.  Or serological (preferred).

16. Crock pot cooker or similar

17. Wine glasses – don’t forget the wine glass!

  Agents should be made fresh each time a fining trial is to be performed or kept less than a month at room temperature.  Always remix the bentonite slurry before using in a trial.  Use bentonite directly from the cellar to make sure the trial will match/reflect the desired reaction in the wine tank.  If different batches of bentonite are used in the lab and cellar – the results may vary.

Instructions

1.  Select and prepare a 5% bentonite slurry solution by carefully dissolving 5 grams of bentonite in about 80 milliliters of 80 degree F water.  After properly mixed bring to volume with water to exactly 100 mils to make the 5% solution.  This step may be done in the 100 milliliter graduated cylinder listed above.

2.  Collect the proper volume of wine from the wine tank desired to perform the fining trial on.  Make sure the sample is representative of the complete wine tank otherwise results will not be reflected properly after the fining has been completed in the wine tank.   If planning to do 5 different levels of additions in a trial you may need 3 liters or more of wine.  Break down the volume of wine into 6 – 500 ml Erlenmeyer Flasks and have them remain as close to the cellar tank fining temperature as possible.

3.  Label the Erlenmeyer flasks at the rates desired to be tested in the lab trial.  Typically each wine will have two controls, a one pound per thousand, two pound per thousand gallons and so on up to 5 pounds per 1000 gallons trials.  Some varietals may require more bentonite but those will start to identify themselves in your winery and each year you will “know or anticipate” they may require more.

4.  Now we know the above mixed solution is a strength that 0.24 mils of a 5.0% solution per hundred milliliters of wine sample will equal a one pound per 1000 gallons addition rate.

      Extrapolating that out for example:  If one prefers to make a 400 milliliter trial and to settle in a 375 milliliter screw cap bottle one would add 0.96 milliliters of a 5% solution to a 400 milliliter sample to represent 1 pound per thousand gallons; mix and transfer into the 375 milliliter bottle. Further – add 1.92 milliliters of a 5% solution to 400 milliliters of sample to equal 2 pounds per thousands and so on.

      Metric:  For those that prefer metric the addition can be viewed this way.  One pound per thousand gallons equals 454 grams per 3785 liters or 0.048 grams in 400 milliliters.  This is the same as the above calculation using 0.96 milliliters of a 5% solution in 400 milliliters.

5.  When adding the bentonite slurry to the wine – make sure to be mixing the sample well yet do not use shearing force mixers such as a blender.  Use the amount of agitation one can expect to have in the wine tank while adding the fining agents while mixing in the cellar.  Always try and mimic the actual cellar experience as closely as possible in the lab.  If your lab has a magnetic stir bar assembly these work very well.

6.  Continue to mix the samples thoroughly after the addition of the agent or agents.  Perhaps a minute or so on a magnetic stir bar mixer.

7.  Discontinue mixing and transfer the wine into a labeled 375-ml wine bottle and place the screw cap on top.  The label should reflect the addition rate of that sample such a 0, 1,2,3,4,5.

8.  Place, in a dark area, in the cellar or lab at or near the exact wine tank temperature if possible.

9.  Allow to settle overnight or several days.

10.      Decant into a labeled beaker at least 250 mils of the 400-ml samples from each fining trial.  One portion, approximately 50 milliliters per person, may be transferred into pre-determined labeled clean wine glass for visual, sensory and palate evaluation.   The other portion should move forward for further lab testing for the protein stability examination.

11.      The above analysis will allow one to taste different fining agent levels to help understand the rate of bentonite added and the expected sensory changes, if any, found at different levels.  Remember to incorporate an unfined sample in your tastings and lab work as a reference point to determine if a fining should be performed, at all, on a certain wine.

12.      If the wines are not settled enough for visual examination one can employ the 0.45 micron filter listed above to filter out suspended particles.  If sensory is to be done after filtrations make sure to treat the filter pads prior to use with a light citric acid solution.  This will remove any filter pad flavor.  This same filtered wine can then be moved forward to the protein testing below.  Use a new filter pad for each sample to eliminate sloughing of the proteins from one sample to the next.

Simple Protein Test

  Using the clean, dry 20×150 mm screw cap test tubes above fill each one about half full with the varying filtered fining trial levels created above.  Label each test tube respective to its “pounds per thousands” contents.  For each wine have a control sample that will go through the heat treatment described and one that will remain with no heating.

  Collect each sample after filtering in the lab in its respective test tube labeled 0,1,2…5.

  Heat the test tubes in a crock pot with water to roughly 70 degrees C ( near 160 degrees F) for 8 hours.  (See photo bellow)  This is a great place to use the test tube holder or coffee cup.

  Remove the test tubes from the heat source and allow to cool to room temperature.  Visually inspect, under a bright light source, for any sediment or haze that may have formed in the test tubes of wine.  Compare to the control sample as well.  Re-examine the following day to see if other changes have taken place with a flocculate formation or haze.  Most winemakers may use eyesight while others trust the Nephelometer listed above.  (I have always just used eyesight)

  Determine what fining level gives the wine the desired protein/heat stability.

  Once you have determined what amount of bentonite is necessary to make the wine protein/heat stable then perform the fining in the tank at that same rate.  For example if you find two pounds per 1000 gallons remained clear in the testing after heating then you have determined that rate should be used in the cellar after proper rehydration of the bentonite.  Once the wine is racked off the fining agent and collected in a clean tank you should perform another heat test, without the trials as a pass / fail test only, to determine if the wine performed in the tank as the trial predicted.  Always double check the results after performing the fining in the tank. 

Other Helpful Tips:

  Make sure the wines or juices are low in Carbon Dioxide gas since the bubbles may attach to the bentonite preventing it from settling in the tank or lab beaker.

  PH affects the rate of settling – lower pH wines generally settle faster in almost all cases.

  The bentonite protein reaction is a positive negative charge reaction – and then settling allows separation from the reacted bentonite.

  Most winemakers leave the bentonite in the wine tank to settle roughly 20 days.  Anything past 30 days may result in the proteins sloughing off the bentonite since the positive /negative charge may weaken.

  The ultimate goal of a fining trial is to use the least amount of fining agent possible to achieve the stability desired for the wine.

  Use pipettes to accurately measure the fining agents.  Serological pipettes offer nice results with incremental additions. Think of how you can perform fining trials in your lab and set aside future time to work with your plan.  You will be amazed at how much refining can be done to wine and how easy it really is.  Make this a part of your work improvement schedule for the year to come!

  Summary: Recall this is only one task to perform on white / rose wines wines generally prior to bottling.  Often three months from bottling is a time to look at the blends to perform finings and other stabilities before bottling.  Bentonite finings in the cellar should settle 20 days, roughly, to avoid heavy racking losses.  Don’t forget aroma trials also before adding bentonite.  Copper additions before adding bentonite may help remove any excess copper after reaction.  Cold/tartrate stability actions are typically taken after achieving protein stability.  Those wineries still going “unfined and unfiltered” may look at their products with the above tests just to make sure they are comfortable with the possible results.

Grapevine Plant Quarantine and Certification Programs

harvest secured with fence
Apparently healthy grapevines growing at the nursery.

By: Judit Monis, Ph. D.

As I write this article, the world is experiencing the SARS-COV-2 pandemic responsible for causing COVID-19 disease.  Generally, I find it difficult to explain quarantine measures.  Today, I am sure that all of my readers might had practiced some sort of “sheltering in place” or “social distancing”.  Therefore, the concept of quarantine will feel closer to home at this time. I am revisiting the quarantine and certification topic as this time; it is expected that my audience will be more receptive to the concepts.

Years ago, when I worked at the United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services- Plant Protection and Quarantine (USDA APHIS PPQ), my group learned about the interception of citrus cuttings (intended for planting) that were packed pretending a box of chocolates was in the shipment.  I am sure that you have heard before about “suitcase clones”.  These are grapevine clones that people have brought from abroad before or after quarantine measures were developed  It is my hope, that what we learned about the introduction and spread of SARS-COV-2 world-wide will provide a lesson to people to think twice before breaking the law by introducing plant material without import permits or respecting quarantines. 

  Plant quarantine programs have been developed worldwide to reduce the risk of introducing plant pests and/or pathogens that do not occur in a country or region.  My expertise is plant pathology and throughout my career I have specialized in the study of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that affect the vineyard and fruit orchards.  In spite of the current existence of plant quarantine programs, all grapevine pathogens with rare exceptions occur in all grape growing areas worldwide.  The reason for this is that in most cases, quarantine programs were implemented after the introduction of the infected plant material.  In addition, modern techniques for the detection of these pathogens were developed after the plant material was introduced. In other words, the majority of grapevine pests and pathogens were moved unknowingly. 

  The advancement of science and the use of sophisticated detection methods for grapevine pathogens has helped keep certain viruses outside of Australia.  For example, Grapevine fanleaf (GFLV) and Grapevine red blotch viruses (GRBV) have not been reported in Australia as of yet. But even now with the use of advanced methodologies, pathogens continue to be discovered. As science progresses with the development of more refined technology (e.g., next generation sequencing also known as high throughput sequencing), it is expected that new (or unknown and established) pathogens will be discovered. In practice, most grapevine pathogens have originated at the centers of origin of the Vitis (a plant genus that includes both table, wine, and rootstock grapevine varieties) species and moved to many grapevine growing regions in the word when plant material was introduced. 

  In the United States, the USDA APHIS PPQ regulates the introduction of plant material for planting from foreign countries.  However, the USDA does not have a centralized government plant quarantine system.  Instead, APHIS issues permits to specific clean plant centers with proper containment facilities and approved protocols to manage the quarantine of specific crops. For grapevines, two import centers are available for introducing quarantined planting material: The Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at the University of California at Davis and the Clean Plant Center at Cornel University in Geneva, New York.  

  Since pathogens are present in most grapevine growing areas, certification programs are needed to produce tested plant material that is free of known important pathogen.  These plants are be distributed to nurseries that further propagate and sell them to growers.   In the United States, certification programs are voluntary and are managed by individual states.  I am most familiar with the certification program in California, and many US grapevine growing regions purchase planting material from California nurseries. 

  The Grapevine California Registration and Certification (R&C) Program was first written into law in the 1980’s.   The Grapevine R&C Program is administered by the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) and provides for the testing of source vines for grapevine viruses that cause important diseases. Registered sources and certified nursery stock are periodically inspected by the CDFA staff and are maintained by the participant nurseries.   Starting in 1996, I participated and provided input at the industry meetings that lead to the revision of the California Grapevine R&C program many years later.   In 2010 the Grapevine R&C program was revised to include testing of foundation mother vines for the presence of a comprehensive list of viruses. With funding from the National Clean Plant Network, a new of foundation block “Russel Ranch” was started at the University of California at Davis in 2009.  

  The planting material (both scion and rootstock varieties) included in the new foundation block had to pass a rigorous testing program and have been propagated using the “apical micro-shoot tip culture” technique.   The apical micro-shoot tip culture process is a plant tissue culture technique that is used to eliminate pathogens from vegetative propagated plant material.  The testing program is known as Protocol 2010.  The maintenance and testing of the scion and rootstock mother blocks are performed by UC Davis FPS personnel.  Shortly after the update of the California Grapevine R&C Program, GRBV, a virus of significant importance for the vineyard industry, was discovered.  Consequently, the California Grapevine R&C Program was revised again to include the testing of foundation and nursery increase blocks for the presence of GRBV.  

  The California Grapevine R&C Program rules can be found in CDFA’s website:  https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/pe/nsc/nursery/regcert.html

  The testing of the foundation mother plants includes a list of well characterized viruses, Xylella fastidiosa, and phytoplasmas using biological, serological, and molecular testing techniques (https://fps.ucdavis.edu/fgr2010.cfm).  The nursery increase blocks are inspected and tested by CDFA personnel.  The nursery increase blocks are only tested for GFLV, Tomato ring spot (ToRSV), and Grapevine leafroll (GLRaV)-1and -3 using the Enzyme linked Immuno assay (ELISA). The updated Grapevine R&C added the testing for the detection of GRBV using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to vines in the foundation and nursery increase blocks. 

  Unfortunately, other insect vectored viruses such as GLRaV-4, Grapevine virus A (GVA), GVB are not being tested at the nursery.  Related to nursery certified plants, the rules are vague and state that these plants may be tested (particularly if after inspection suspected symptoms are observed). 

  According to CDFA, the goal is to test a statistical sample with a 95% confidence level assuming a 1 % disease incidence.  It is disappointing that in spite of the importance of the decline and canker diseases caused by fungal pathogens (and how easily the pathogens can be transmitted by activities carried out at the nursery), the regulations do not include inspection or testing for fungal pathogens in mother or increase blocks.  

  In the past few years, the Russell Ranch foundation block became progressively infected with GRBV.  The infection status is so high that last year FPS suspended the sale of plant material to nurseries.  I will not elaborate on this issue as I have recently written about this topic.

  Obviously, in spite of the limitations of the R&C program mentioned above, the use of certified material is expected to be less risky than planting field selections of unknown infection status.  However, it is always prudent to consult with me to assure that the planting material meets the expected cleanliness standards.

  An important piece of advice when working on the procurement of clean planting stock is to plan in advance.  Most nurseries in California collect cuttings for bud wood as soon as the vines are dormant.  However, grafting activities are performed during the spring of the following year.  Planning with time will allow for inspection of the increase blocks early in the fall before a freeze.   Being familiar with the nursery’s operations and their staff is important.  Good communication will help with scheduling inspections and testing of the increase blocks from which bud wood and rootstock cuttings will be collected. 

  Diseases, pathogens, and/or their vectors do not know or respect the borders between vineyard blocks (at the nursery, foundation block, or your vineyard).  Even if the planting material came from a reputable certification program, paying attention to the surrounding vineyards as well as having knowledge of the potential presence of disease prior to planting is important. 

  The planning of a new vineyard is not trivial and requires specialized knowledge.  I am available to help look for suspicious symptoms (inspect scion and rootstock source blocks), evaluate the planting site, develop a testing plan based on science and statistics, and review nursery and vineyard disease testing history.  

  Judit Monis, Ph.D. provides specialized services to help growers, vineyard managers, and nursery personnel avoid the propagation and transmission of disease caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their vineyard blocks.   Judit (based in California) is fluent in Spanish and is available to consult in all wine grape growing regions of the word.  Please visit juditmonis.com for information or contact juditmonis@yahoo.com to request a consulting session at your vineyard or virtually.

Grapevines and Water Stress, a Key to Quality

rows of vineyard

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

Where is the best place to grow wine grapes,” I am often asked. The answer I give surprises many people. I say, “A cool desert, that is where! Deserts are typically sunny, but should be cool, and with sustainable supplies of irrigation water.” A desert is preferred because rainfall can be a problem for quality wine production.

  There are two significant problems associated with rainfall, both relating to how difficult it is to control, in terms of timing and quantity. Firstly, rainfall induces many fungal diseases on leaves, shoots and fruit, which may have direct or indirect effects on fruit ripening and wine quality. Secondly, and often less appreciated, is that water supply is a principal means of regulating vine growth and physiology to maximize fruit ripening and potential wine quality.

  In brief, we prefer to have slight moisture stress during the period of active shoot growth after flowering to inhibit lateral shoot growth and to limit leaf expansion and size. In association with an appropriate training system, this will help maintain a light, porous canopy—essential for wine quality. Secondly, and critically, we can use moisture stress to stop shoot tip growth in the period just before veraison. This is essential to avoid carbohydrate competition between the active growing shoot tip and the ripening berries.

  If grapes are grown in a desert, of course, we need to irrigate. This gives us a chance to manipulate vine water stress at our will, in the absence of rainfall. The rest of this article discusses how to manage the desired level of water stress.

Irrigated Vineyards

  Irrigation research was one of my first projects when I started a viticulture career in the mid-1960s in Australia. Then, drip irrigation was very new, and I published one of the first studies on the method with wine grapes, comparing drip to flood irrigation.

  This was also a time of new technology for measuring plant and soil moisture. Gypsum block and tensiometers were common then, and soon soil capacitance meters were to be introduced to measure soil moisture.

Evaluating the Pressure Bomb

  In the late 1960s, pressure bombs used to measure leaf and stem water potential were introduced. The pressure bomb was a powerful tool to directly measure plant water stress, and help understand how grapevines respond to soil moisture conditions and the daily pattern of weather conditions.

  After sunset, grapevines recover gradually from the water stress of the day before. Then, at sunrise, the plants begin to experience mild water stress. As air temperature increases, and as humidity decreases, so water stress experienced by the plant increases, being at a maximum in early afternoon. As sunlight levels decrease towards late afternoon, the water stress experienced by the grapevine recovers somewhat, again declining substantially after sunset.

  Our published studies determined a major impact of current weather conditions on grapevine water stress. Grapevines experience the most water stress with bright sunlight, high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speed. These are all conditions that cause the most rapid water loss from the vines.

  As soils dry out, the level of plant water stress is higher during the morning and in the afternoon. However, one must be careful to distinguish the effects of soil moisture from those of higher sunlight, temperature, wind speed and lower humidity. It is challenging to take spot measurements with the pressure bomb during the day to predict soil moisture conditions. Direct measurement of soil moisture profiles is preferred, which are much less variable over the day.

Use of Plant Appearance

  I had almost side-by-side vines with different soil moisture conditions in an irrigation trial I conducted, and I soon learned how the appearance of vines change as they develop water stress. One of the most obvious symptoms is that shoot tips stop rapid growth, and eventually, they stop growth altogether. This symptom relates to moisture stress over several week’s duration.

  Another of the visual effects of water stress is on leaf inclination. Initially, the petioles droop a little, and as stress continues and becomes worse, the leaves first hang vertically and then begin to cup by folding inwards along the main vein.  When very stressed, you will see the backs of several leaves if you look along the row. I was working with the Shiraz (Syrah) variety, and the leaf backs are hairier than the front, so they are easy to distinguish. These symptoms may take several days or a week to develop.

Leaf Temperature Assessment

  This assessment relates to present vine water stress. When vines are water-stressed, stomata (leaf pores controlling water loss on the leaf underside) partially or fully close, and so the loss of water from the leaf ceases. Transpiration (like evaporation) acts to cool leaves. So a sunlit leaf will have a temperature not so different from that of the air, perhaps a little warmer or cooler. However, when the vine is water-stressed, sun-exposed leaves are noticeably hotter than air temperature because the stomata close, and shade leaves are around air temperature.

  I proposed a leaf temperature-based water stress index, which is in Table 1 (Below).  Measurement is suggested in the early afternoon, or when it is sunny and air temperature reaches its maximum. Mid-shoot leaves well exposed to the sun are tested. I suggest pressing the leaf blade between fingertips and palm and quickly sensing leaf temperature on the palm. One must take an instantaneous impression of leaf temperature, as holding a leaf will quickly bring its temperature to that of your hand!

  The reader might be thinking, “Why not use an infrared thermometer to measure air temperature as we have seen used recently to indicate forehead temperature with Covid-19 virus detection?” Indeed, such devices are now quite cheap, portable and accurate, but be careful always to measure leaves with the same angle to the sun.

Conclusion

  Leaf temperature will give an instantaneous measure of vine water stress. In contrast, leaf inclination and shoot tip growth assessment will indicate water stress over the previous two weeks or longer. Therefore, leaf temperature can give a better indication of water stress, and so, irrigation needs, while shoot growth will advise how effective the irrigation has been.

  The clever vine irrigator might believe these visual guides more than those of randomly taken pressure bomb tests to manage vineyards to optimize wine quality. Modern irrigation monitoring is developing systems based on thermal images, either close up or remote, related to my simple system of using one’s hand!

Email Is Not Dead…But You Can Be Deadly With It!

Woman watching online videos on desktop
Woman watching online videos on desktop

By: Susan DeMatei

I actually looked it up; AOL started in 1993, which brought in a revolution of using email for personal and business communication. Because this is not a new marketing channel, people assume it is passé. In fact, if you look at Google searches, “email is dead” as a searched term appears very frequently. But the fact that there are so many of us using a 27-year-old technology shows just how alive it really is.

  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In 1997, online emails got a 7% response rate because it was new and shiny and relatively few companies were using it to communicate with customers. In 2019, we saw a 48% conversion rate on winery emails because today’s brands understand the value of this channel. As more emails are sent, we compete for attention and the stakes have increased.

  According to Statista, the daily number of emails received and sent today is 306.4 billion– and 55% of them are spam. Templafy tells us the average office worker sends out 40 work-related emails a day – but gets back 90. With so much demanding attention in the inbox, you’ll need each email to exhibit a killer performance.

The Six Drivers of Success

  About once a month I get a call from a client that says, “my emails aren’t performing well, I want to talk to you about redesigning them.” My response is usually to ask them a bunch of questions about their database and collection plan, which confused them. So much work needs to be done before you get to the design to make sure you have a successful campaign. There are six key drivers to the success of any email campaign:

1. The quality and the rate of the list sign up.

  Even if your tasting rooms are closed or limited, you can still grow your list, so don’t panic. Capturing leads digitally is nothing new to online retailers who don’t have a physical location – they’ve been doing this for years. In a study by 250ok.com of the top 500 online retailers:

•    7.7% put email sign up in the header

•    44.4% used pop-ups to collect emails on their sites

•    54.3% added an email sign up below the fold or in the footer 

•    29% of retailers incentivized people to opt-in to their email program

  So, formulate a plan to capture emails on your website, Facebook page, and send-to-a-friend links in emails. There are probably other touchpoints you can capitalize on if you brainstorm with your team. The point is to not just give up on this objective if your physical operation is closed or limited.

2. Once they click to sign up what are they greeted with – what’s the landing page?

  Landing pages are so important. Don’t just drive people to your home page––drive them to a specific landing page on your website. A specific landing page increases your conversion and is a very effective way to capture leads. Get creative with videos, images, stories, or bios––the more personalized you can be the better the conversion.

3. The management and the health of the database

  The health of the database is how engaged or responsive your database is. When you send out an email, do you get sales, or do you hear crickets? Some stats to look for here are not just the total number of your database, but also pull out the bounces and then the un-mailables. Another helpful thing to know is the makeup of your database––how many people are purchasers, and how many people are just sitting there like deadweight on your list. When you pull this data, it will give you an overview of your database and some ideas on where to start.

4. The email touchpoint strategy (the HOW and the WHO)

  So, what is the right frequency? In January 2018, we started recording our clients and tracking the data in aggregate across 3 million emails, over 1,700 campaigns over 21 months. We released the data last winter as a benchmarking study and it shows that, at least for our clients, they are choosing to email between every 2-4 weeks.

  And, please make sure to segment your list. Segmented campaigns see a 14% higher open rate, a 60% higher clickthrough rate, and a 7% less unsubscribe rate. We talked earlier about the send-to-a-friend, well targeted messages and those sent to smaller audiences are 90% more viral than untargeted messages sent to large audiences.

5. The offer (the WHAT)

  I don’t have a silver bullet here. I can’t tell you what your database wants to hear––but your database can. You should know your average open and click-through rates and look for trends in responses to tell you what your database is reacting to and what topics they are silent on.

  The open rate is largely a factor of three things; your sending address, your subject line, and the teaser text that comes up in Outlook and other browsers that gives you a summary of the email. These three things are so important, don’t make them an afterthought.

  If you can, also get a conversion rate, which is what happens after the click and is largely dependent upon the landing page and your eCommerce cart set up.

  If you succeed with your subject line to get them to open your email – what do you say? This is particularly nerve wracking in today’s market but no matter how you position it, there are a few main points that you need to hit with your copy. Those main points are your customer’s pain point, the solution you have to that pain point, how your solution works (features), how your solution will improve their situation (benefits), and verification that it works (social proof).The majority of what you write needs to address how you can help your prospect, not how awesome you are (because that’s implied).

5. And then, finally, the design

  Design is important and there are well tested and universally regarded guidelines to follow here.

  First, is text length. More is not better in this regard. As a matter of fact, the more you write the less likely you are to get a response; but don’t be too brief. The sweet spot appears to be between 50 and 125 words––or at least the length of this paragraph which is 57 words.

  A second best-practice is to break up your text––meaning layout three small paragraphs versus one long one. Also, watch your graphic elements. They should be there to illustrate, not distract. White space is very important when scanning emails so try to keep white areas around your call-to-action buttons.

  In English, we read left to right, so it is easier for us to comprehend that quickly. Left justification also works for calls to action and buttons.

  Emails are still the most popular marketing channel used with the best ROI. The shelter-in-place orders have made us even more a slave to our phones. Hopefully, some of these tips will help your email campaigns create and sustain sales for you even when your tasting rooms have limited guests.

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

Palmaz Vineyards: The Winery of the Future

ai system monitoring wine age
The barrel room in the cave. Christian Palmaz is designing an artificial intelligence system that will monitor wines as they age in barrels.

By: Nan McCreary

If you want to envision the winery of the future—a winery that leverages cutting-edge technology with the ancient art of winemaking—look no further than Palmaz Vineyards, hidden within the forested ridges of Napa Valley’s Mount George. Here, the Palmaz family is applying innovative, if not futuristic, tools to enhance the artistic elements of wine.

  Winery founder, Julio Palmaz, a physician and inventor of the Palmaz Coronary Stent, a device that revolutionized medicine, is clearly a man ahead of his time. From the beginning, he and his wife, Amalia, set out to create a winery that made harmonious use of tradition and technology to craft great vintages. That vision led them, along with their children Florencia and Christian Gastón (and Christian’s wife, Jessica Louise), to an abandoned property in Napa Valley, the former Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery, founded in 1881 by German immigrant and wine pioneer Henry Hagen. Hagen’s early success, the cool climate and stony soils—as well as the mountain’s potential for housing a multilevel gravity winery—inspired the Palmaz family to purchased the property in 1997, and spend the next three years restoring the house and developing the new winery and vineyard.

   “The 640-acre property was one of Napa’s few contiguous vineyards to retain its acreage after prohibition,” Christian Palmaz told The Grapevine Magazine. “Henry Hagen had planted grapes at three different altitudes, and we wanted to retain that philosophy. With so many different soils and microclimates, the place was begging to be planted by terroir.”

  Before planting, the Palmaz family analyzed 4,900 core samples from around the property to reveal the vineyard’s geology.  This data, along with analysis of climate and irrigation needs, led to the designation of 15 unique terroirs subdivided into 46 blocks, or parcels, throughout the property. Planting began in March 1998, and ultimately included eight different rootstocks based on geological considerations, plus some vines grafted onto various clones. Grapes were planted on 64 acres at three elevations—400, 1,200 and 1,400 feet above sea level—to take advantage of the varied terroirs and microclimates at each altitude.

  While the vineyards matured, the Palmaz family began construction of The Cave, a remarkable feat of engineering bored 18 stories into the bedrock of Mount George.  The cave was specifically designed to accommodate true gravity-flow winemaking, which treats the grapes and resulting wines as gently as possible on their journey from the sorting table, to the fermenters, to the filters, to the barrels and, ultimately, to the bottle. 

  “When gravity-flow wineries became prevalent, we realized that all had elevators, but the process compromised the wines at the end—when the wine was most delicate—by using pumps to move the wine through filtration,” Palmaz said. “We believed that this agitation could potentially degrade the wine’s delicate tannin polymers, so we engineered the winery to solve that problem. That’s why the structure is so tall.”

  The cave-building odyssey lasted nine years and now stands as a technological wonder in Napa Valley. At 100,000 square feet, it is the largest wine cave in Napa, as well as the largest soft-rock excavation in a single space in the area. In a testament to the Palmaz family’s commitment to sustainability, the cave houses its own water treatment plant, capturing and treating 1.5 million gallons of water per year, water which would ordinarily be drawn from the water table.

  At the heart of the winery is the fermentation dome, lined with 24 fermentation tanks that can accommodate grapes from individual vineyards across the estate. The tanks sit atop a carousel that rotates to receive grapes from the optical sorter located directly above them, exposing the grapes to as little handling as possible. Because each tank has many variables depending on the characteristics of the specific vineyard, Palmaz developed an intelligent winemaking assistant, FILCS (Fermentation Intelligent Logic Control System), nicknamed Felix. Felix measures events in the fermentation process, then adjusts the temperature and rate of fermentation as needed. Essentially, Felix utilizes the latest technologies in machine learning algorithms to project real-time conditions within the tanks onto the ceiling of the dome, giving the dome the appearance of a space-age command center. As winemakers digitally monitor what is happening at the moment in the tank, they are free from tasks that normally require manual testing and can concentrate on tasting and other creative aspects of producing great wine.

  “Winemaking is a biologically controlled reaction, plus things we can’t put numbers to,” Palmaz said. “These things are what you can see, smell, taste and feel. It’s the art. I designed Felix to free winemakers from distractions so they could add that human touch and enhance their artistic influence. If the winemaker wants a more extracted aroma, or a more extracted color, for example, they can tell Felix how to manage it. If they catch the moment when a beautiful aromatic shows up, they can put Felix on hold and preserve that moment. It’s all about time and efficiency and a little bit of quality control.”

  Felix is only one component of the Palmaz family’s merger of tradition and technology to make great wine. Christian Palmaz, with his strong background in computer science, also designed VIGOR (Vineyard Infrared Growth Optical Recognition) to monitor and adjust conditions in the vineyard. Twice a week, aircraft fly over the vineyards and take infrared images that illustrate vine health by measuring chlorophyll in the plants. That data, along with ground data collected manually, helps determine how much irrigation each plant requires.

  “The objective,” Palmaz said, “is to make adjustments so that all of the vines are ripening evenly. I had a college professor who said, ‘Low tech farming is farming the group so that all the vines behave like an individual. High tech farming is farming the individual to behave as a group.’ That’s what we’re doing. It’s the future of farming.”  For Palmaz Vineyards, VIGOR has paid off: in its first year, Palmaz experienced a nearly 20% reduction in water usage per acre.

  In addition to Felix and VIGOR, Palmaz has incorporated Veeam Backup Essentials software into the system as tools for data backup and recovery. With data-driven decision making, Palmaz generates multi-petabytes (one petabyte equals one million gigabytes) of information.  “Data was burying us,” he told The Grapevine Magazine.  “Data was getting produced faster than I could find a place to store it.” 

  Before Veeam, Palmaz was storing all of its information on the cloud. The cost was high, and the data was unorganized and difficult to access. With Veeam, data is arranged in a chronological format.  Some data— the more important data that needs to be readily accessible—is stored on site. The rest resides in the cloud.

  Today, while founders Julio and Amalia play a lesser role in the winery’s day-to-day operations, Christian and his sister, Florencia, steer the ship, following their parents’ vision of bringing innovation and invention to the art of winemaking. Christian is in charge of all winery and vineyard operations, and Florencia is CEO at Palmaz Vineyards and president of the family’s other primary business, GoodHeart Brand Specialty Foods Company. Christian’s wife, Jessica, is president of Palmaz Vineyards and responsible for the day-to-day management and customer experience. In total, the winery employs 50 people. The vineyards grow five Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec), three white (Chardonnay, Muscat and Riesling), as well as Grenache for a Provençal-style Rosé.  According to Christian Palmaz, case production floats between 7,500 and 10,000 cases per year. “Our wines have a lot of personality,” he said. “Each wine has an unspoken characteristic that gives it a sense of place. We are extremely fortunate; we have a great following.”

  As Palmaz Vineyards looks to the future, technology will inevitably play a leading role. Later this year, Palmaz will roll out STAVES, which stands for Sensory Transambiental Variance Experiment, to monitor wines as they age in the barrel. According to Palmaz, STAVES is a suite of sensors that attach to the barrel, measuring a host of variables. “Each barrel is handmade, and each barrel breathes a little differently,” he said. “We think that’s important, and we need to study it to help us determine when to rack, for instance, or when to the pull the wine.  It’s like Felix but for barrels.”

  Clearly, technology is in the blood of the Palmaz family as the second generation follows the footsteps of Julio and Amalia. Being bullish on innovation, Christian Palmaz is sharing his data with universities, such as the University of California, Davis, so oenology students see, for the first time, the fermentation process thermographically.

  “I hope that Palmaz gets remembered not for just developing tools for winemaking, but for setting a tone on how innovation can coexist with the oldest man-made food product,” Palmaz told The Grapevine Magazine. “The most important ingredient in wine is the people, and we will always respect that. Even with innovation, wine is as handcrafted as a painting; it’s way past quality control. It’s waving a wand; it’s magic. That’s what makes the process so special.”

Mobile Bottling Provides Experience, Expertise and Cost Control

truck parked on the side
Photo Credit: Signature Mobile Bottlers

By: Gerald Dlubala

The proper bottling of your wine is important. Timing, experience, state of the art equipment and expert knowledge are critical to the wine’s integrity, taste and shelf life. However, many wineries don’t have the budget for all the intricate machinery needed to bottle wine properly, or the expertise and availability of dedicated technicians to keep bottling equipment running at peak performance.

  Mobile bottling has filled that void, and for good reason. The average production winery may only need a week to 10 days for product bottling a year, making it hard to justify the number of resources it takes to purchase, run and maintain an in-house bottling line. Some wineries have chosen to let go of their in-house bottling machines, citing the amount of maintenance, upgrades and training that goes into keeping up a system that remains idle most of the year. Others have used mobile bottling since their inception. The benefits of using mobile bottling include utilizing the resulting space for more useful purposes, saving money once used on necessary machinery and technology upgrades, and the use of industry experts rather than needing to train employees on the ins and outs of the bottle machine each year. 

Quality Bottling with Experienced Professionals

  Dave Scholz, President of Signature Mobile Bottlers, knows the importance of bottling in maintaining the integrity of a winemaker’s product. He operates his mobile bottling company as if the wine he’s bottling is his own. Reflecting this, Signature Mobile Bottlers offers the same quality and convenience of having a permanently installed bottling system, but in a customized trailer that comes to you when you need it and out of the way when you don’t. The winery need only provide power, employees to assist, and the consumables, meaning bottles, labels and closures. The price for bottling with them starts at about 20 cents per bottle.

“After your wine has gone through all the necessary stages of filtration and is in a storage or holding tank, we’re ready to bottle,” said Scholz. “Our trucks back up to your dock, and the wine is pumped to our trailer to begin the bottling process.”

  That process starts with the empty wine bottles being fed onto an unscrambling table where Signature uses inverted bottle cleaning and nitrogen to expel any debris while simultaneously removing oxygen from the bottle. Since nitrogen is heavier than air, the bottles are turned upright and conveyed to the filler while remaining nitrogen filled. A gravity-fed rotary filler dispenses the wine into the oxygen-free environment, pushing the nitrogen up and into the bottle’s headspace. Auto leveling devices ensure exact fill levels before quality sealing by corking or screw cap. Corks are compressed and driven into the bottle under vacuum, and screw caps are installed using 400 pounds of downforce.

A final nitrogen dose using Chart Industries dosing machines form and create the seal between cap and bottle. Mechanical arms with rollers adjusted with precise tolerances form the threads and safety seal for perfect capping. Signature Mobile Bottlers use multi-head capsule spinners to apply Tin, Polylam or Aluminum capsules to provide that complete, finished bottle look. Labels are applied using Impresstik Vacuum belt labelers, so the winery must have the labels prepared to the correct specifications. Once the wine is bottled, sealed and labeled, the bottles make a U-turn and are conveyed back alongside the trailer wall to be packed and sent out ready to ship.

  “We bottle everything at roughly 60 bottles per minute, which gives us 1,800–2,000 cases per day,” said Scholz. “We’ve found that’s a good rate, both for bottling and the human side of the process. Additionally, changeovers between varietals can take place more quickly at this speed, averaging about 15 to 20 minutes per changeover versus an hour on higher speed lines. We do have a high-speed truck available if someone needs faster speeds, but the 60 bpm rate is a reasonable daily output and seems to work best for our customers.”

  Scholz told The Grapevine Magazine that with 15 mobile bottling trucks on the road, Signature Mobile Bottlers have the largest fleet in the business. “We use our bottling trucks nearly every day. Every harvest, our trucks are torn down to replace normal wear parts and be put through a comprehensive maintenance program that keeps our machinery tolerances at original factory specifications. Our trucks and systems are continually updated and serviced, virtually eliminating the chance of breakdowns during the critical timeframe of bottling. On top of that, our technicians are on the job every day, bottling wine under every type of condition and specification, rather than being a general employee that is expected to also run a bottling system for a few days out of the year. They’ve seen most issues and know how to react on the spot.” 

  “We’ve been doing this for 31 years, so I’d like to think we’ve learned some things,” said Scholz.

Mobile Bottlers Become Partners in the Winemaking Process

  Brandon Dixon is the general manager and executive winemaker for Noboleis Vineyards in Augusta, Missouri. Noboleis Vineyards has successfully used mobile bottling services since 2011. 

  “We’ve been with Old Woolam Custom Bottling since the company’s inception,” said Dixon. “The mobile bottling service that Old Woolam provides fixes all of the problems that we had when we bottled our wine on a manual line. The manual line consisted of a rinser, sparger, six-spout gravity filler, corker, capsule spinner and labeler and took six people to run efficiently. Even then, it was still a very slow process compared to an automatic bottling line, and our wine was still being exposed to a fair amount of oxygen. On top of that, it was a constant headache to keep the bottling line in proper working order for when we needed it. Conversely, there is very little oxygen pick up using an automatic line, and our maintenance responsibility is zero, so it became an easy decision for us to switch to a mobile bottling service when one became available.”

  Dixon told The Grapevine Magazine that by using a mobile bottler, he can bottle considerably more wine in a day while using only four people, and can do it using only three if needed. Noboleis typically bottles between 2,000 and 2,500 gallons per day, a significant increase over the 300 to 400 gallons using their manual line.

  “Brent Baker, the founder of Old Woolam Custom Bottling, is always there on bottling day,” said Dixon. “He sets the line up to our specifications, steam sterilizes it, and is responsible for keeping it running efficiently during bottling. The only hurdle we had to overcome to be able to use a mobile bottler was to install a dedicated electrical circuit and a specific type of outlet so the bottling line could be plugged into our power.”

  “We start to schedule and prepare for bottling about four to six weeks in advance. Once we have a date scheduled with Old Woolam, we order all of our bottling supplies,” Dixon said. “Prior to the day of bottling, all of the wines we’re bottling are filtered to 0.45 microns and finished however would be appropriate for that particular wine’s style. On the day of bottling, we set up the filter again because we will run the wine through the filter just before it goes into the bottling line. We use 0.45-micron pads and a 0.45-micron absolute membrane filter. This ensures that our wine is sterile as it goes into the bottling line. This step is just a precautionary step that helps us winemakers sleep at night! As we are setting up the filters, the bottling lines are being steam sterilized. The set up takes about 60-90 minutes, and then once everyone is ready to go, bottling starts.”

  “Old Woolam offers the option of corks or screwcaps for closures,” said Dixon. “The only real limitation with using an automatic bottling line is the size and shape of the bottle that we can use. There are several parts on the line that need to be changed out when changing the size and shape of the bottle. Old Woolam has the change parts for all of the standard sizes and shapes, as well as a few non-standard sizes. Old Woolam is typically able to meet all of our bottling needs except for a few exceptions. We have a few small volume specialty wines that we use irregular-shaped bottles for, and we do continue to bottle those wines on our manual line.” 

  Notably, many mobile bottlers use gravity fillers, making them unable to bottle carbonated or under-pressure wines. Dixon told The Grapevine Magazine that it isn’t a big deal for Noboleis because they don’t currently have a need or the equipment necessary to carbonate their wines.

  “When looking for a mobile bottler, it’s important for wineries to look for a great working partnership like the one I have with Old Woolam,” said Dixon. “The prices are fair, he’s reliable, hardworking, and goes out of his way to make sure our expectations are met. At the end of the day, I would never want to go back to bottling all of our wines on a manual bottling line. It wouldn’t be feasible given the volume that we have grown into. We would spend all of our time bottling!”

End-of-Line Packaging:

Protecting Your Product, Productivity and Profit

wine packaging machine

By: Cheryl Gray

For any winery, end-of-line packaging is the protector of hours expended by both man and machine to get the finished product safely from vineyard to glass.

  Such a huge responsibility is shouldered by companies whose integrity is measured solely by how carefully they help winery clients select the right end-of-line packaging to accommodate their needs.

A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation

  A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation, a privately held, family-owned business founded in 1940, counts itself in that number, selling packaging machinery to a wide range of companies manufacturing consumer packages goods. Since the 1960s, the end-of-line packaging company has been an equipment supplier to some of the wine industry’s biggest names, providing a complete line of machinery for winery packaging focused on the dry end of the packing line. Brian Sinicrope is Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

  “The dry end of the packaging line starts with the bottles being delivered to the winery. These are either delivered in reshipper cases or bulk pallet loads. If reshippers, the bottles must be unloaded from the cases to feed the line, using a decaser. Then, the cases are transported to the packer for repacking. When receiving bottles in bulk, the winery will use a depalletizer to unload and single file the containers from the bulk pallets to feed the line. At the other end of the line, filled and finished bottles are packed into either reshipper cases or new cases (if the bottles were purchased in bulk), then on to case sealing, and finally, palletizing for shipment or warehousing.”

  Sinicrope told The Grapevine Magazine that case sealers are another must-have component of a winery’s automated end-of-line packaging operation.

  “Case sealers are always used at wineries that use reshipper case packaging, as they are needed to seal the top flaps of the cases after the bottles are packed. A-B-C manufactures several models for various speeds and that seal with either hot-melt adhesive or pressure-sensitive tape. A-B-C case sealers have exclusive features to manage the flaps of the reshipper cases to ensure smooth folding and sealing of the inner and outer flaps, without the need for a separate flap positioner,” he said.

  “Case sealers are also used on lines that receive their bottles in bulk. In this scenario, a case erector will set up and seal the bottom flaps of corrugated cases. Then, the cases travel to a partition inserter that erects and inserts either a corrugated or chipboard grid into the case. After the bottles are packed, the case goes to a top case sealer that closes and seals the top flaps.  Finally, [the case goes] on to the palletizer.”

  A typical A-B-C winery client runs anywhere from 15 to more than 20 cases per minute. Sinicrope added that while there are trends, the purchase of end-of-line packaging machinery depends upon a robust assessment of a winery client’s need. 

  “A winery transitioning from reshippers to bulk may need a depalletizer, case erector, and partition inserter, and use their existing packer, top case sealer and palletizer. Or, a winery may decide to automate their palletizing, and we supply only a palletizer,” Sinicrope said. “Many companies are evaluating robotic equipment, and we offer robotic packers and palletizers as well. So, I would say, although there are trends, the equipment purchased depends on the application.”

  For small wineries packing fewer than ten cases per minute, the cost to fully mechanize every aspect of end-of-line packaging might be prohibitive. Therefore, many opt to perform end-of-line packing functions manually. However, Sinicrope said that A-B-C offers a semi-automatic palletizer that can improve productivity for small wineries looking to automate this specific element of end-of-line packaging.

  “Fully packed wine cases are heavy, and palletizing can be labor-intensive, even at low speeds. In addition, there is a potential for liability because of the repetitive motion of the task. Our semi-automatic palletizer lets one operator slide cases into the pallet pattern at the conveyor level. Then the layer is lifted and placed into pallet formation. The machine eliminates the repetitive lifting and potential strain of manual palletizing at an economical cost.”

  Sinicrope told The Grapevine Magazine that A-B-C typically works with customers packaging their products in corrugated cases with partitions, and those cases are palletized for shipping and warehousing. The packaging materials used and equipment deployed has proven to be a successful combination for its clients.

  “A corrugated box with partitions is highly effective at protecting products during shipment and final delivery. However, it is important to make sure the packaging equipment performs secure case sealing and that the packed cases are not subjected to enough moisture that could cause corrugated failure.” This, he said, is rare. “Corrugated boxes have been a standard for packaging for many years because they are durable, provide good product protection and superior stacking strength. Today, companies are looking for sustainable packaging solutions, and corrugated boxes are a cost-effective, renewable solution.”

Wine Country Shipping, Inc.

  Wine Country Shipping, Inc., does precisely what its name implies. In business for more than 25 years, the company services approximately 150 wineries, retail outlets and hotels throughout Sonoma County, California. Its sister company, Wine Country Cellars, LLC, provides more than 10,000 square feet of temperature-controlled storage space for winery products. Janice Laskoski is President and Managing Owner of Wine Country Shipping and sole owner of Wine Country Cellars. Using rigid quality control standards in packaging and shipping, Laskoski told The Grapevine Magazine that the priority for both of her companies is to protect what she describes as her winery clients’ “liquid assets.”

  “If time has taught us one thing, it is that every customer wants their wine shipped quickly, safely and easily. That is the premise upon which we have built our reputation,” she said.

  Wine Country Shipping uses cartons, pallets or shrink-wrap pallets for end-of-line packaging materials. Quality control includes careful inspection of all items before, during and after packaging to ensure nothing goes amiss during shipping. Laskoski said that using the right packaging makes a tremendous difference in protecting winery products during both shipping and final delivery.

  “The right packaging is very important. Styrofoam has proven with our partners, UPS and FedEx, to be the most reliable, but pulp is being requested more and more due to the environment,” said Laskoski.

Tetra Pak

  Tetra Pak cartons are the end-of-line packaging choice for wineries doing business with California Natural Products. The company, located in the San Joaquin Valley in northern California, has been in business for 40 years with customers across the U.S. and Canada. The attributes of a Tetra Pak are attractive to many consumers. Among them is sustainability, since the product is made from at least 75% recyclable paper derived from responsibly managed forests. It is portable, flexible and unbreakable packaging, designed with a “grab and go” concept popular with consumers. The Tetra Pak also has the convenience of a resealable cap, giving the option of either consuming now or storing for later use.

  Tom Jansen is Vice President, Business Development for CNP.  He said that using a Tetra Pak format for end-of-line packaging benefits wineries in other tangible ways. “Tetra Pak protects the product by eliminating oxygen entry and light from exposure to the product, which is ideal for wine. Tetra Pak is lighter than glass or cans and allows for more efficient delivery as a result.”

  Tetra Pak is one of three companies under the umbrella of the Tetra Laval Group, a trio of firms headquartered in Switzerland. Tetra Laval Group provides end-of-line packaging equipment for the wine and spirits industries, covering critical needs such as packaging, secondary packaging, conveying and palletizing.

  Bandit Wines is one brand that prefers Tetra Pak cartons because of its own mission to utilize eco-friendly end-of-line packaging. Take, for example, fuel efficiency. The California-based wine producer said its shipping costs are lower before and after filling because of the lightweight and space-saving features of Tetra Pak cartons. Bandit Wines also said that for consumers, not only do they buy a wine product that is convenient and environmentally safe but also packaged in a container that holds 50% more wine than a comparably sized wine bottle.

  Boris Munster, Vice President of Contract Manufacturing, Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada, told The Grapevine Magazine that as a global innovator for end-of-line packaging, Tetra Pak is in a position to help wine producers and their products stand out.

  “Wine is traditionally bottled in glass, but several wine producers have discovered the advantages of using Tetra Pak’s packages,” Munster said. “Carton packages are available in a wide range of sizes and are printable on all sides, opening big opportunities for design and branding.”

  From machinery to shipping to branding and more, there is virtually no end-of-line packaging need that is not essential to getting wine to the marketplace and into consumer’s hands.