Ashley Trout: Blazing the Trail for Women Winemakers

woman holding a wine
Ashley Trout, Flying Trout Wines

By: Nan McCreary

If anyone can rightfully boast about their place on Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2018 “Top 40 under 40,” it’s Walla Walla, Washington winemaker and social justice advocate, Ashley Trout. As an integral part of the Washington wine industry since 1999, she has started three wineries, including a non-profit winery for better access to health care for vineyard and cellar workers. With expertise that comes from working eight harvests in Argentina, she is putting her stamp on wines created by a new generation of women winemakers.

  Trout’s journey on the wine trail began when, at age 18, she chose to use college as an opportunity to do something different, so she gave up big-city living (Washington D.C. and Los Angeles) and landed at Whitman College in the small town of Walla Walla. “I’ve always been a ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ kind of person,” Trout told The Grapevine Magazine, “so I took a part-time job at Reininger Winery. It was right at the inception of the Washington wine industry, and there were lots of us in our 20s who would do any and every job. We’d show up at midnight, or on Saturdays, we’d pack boxes, and if we didn’t know how to drive a forklift, we’d figure it out. It was a quintessential example of being at the right place at the right time.”

  She worked at Reininger Winery for eight years, and in her fifth year, had an “aha moment” that ignited her passion, and led her to where she is today. “I was in a rock-climbing accident and broke everything,” she recalled. “When I missed harvest, I realized how inappropriate it felt that other people were doing harvest, and I wasn’t harvesting with them. That’s when I really doubled down.”

  Trout began working the harvest regularly in Mendoza, Argentina, following her love of the Malbec grape. In 2006—at only 24—she opened Flying Trout Wines, named for her surname and the fact that she was flying between Argentina and Washington state.

  “I’d been in the wine industry for five or six years, and I loved everything about the job and wanted more control over the wines I was making,” she said.  “I also wanted the freedom to go to Argentina and participate in harvest and make wines there as well as here in Washington, so I just did it.”

  At Flying Trout, Trout focused on Malbec, because, she said, “It’s a wonderful grape to work with, and gives you everything you need on a silver platter—acid, color and tannins—which are the bones of what you really need for an amazing wine.” Trout sourced her grapes from top Walla Walla vineyards, which, except for altitude, have a nearly identical terroir as Mendoza.

  Trout sold Flying Trout in 2010 but stayed on as winemaker until 2013. In 2016, after a brief hiatus, she launched Brook & Bull Cellars. “I was at a point in life where I wanted to have creative control of the wine and the winemaking process and creative control over the business parts as well,” Trout told The Grapevine Magazine. “I’d had it before at Flying Trout and wanted it back.”

  At Brook & Bull, located in the rolling hills of the Walla Walla Valley, Trout produces Malbec, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and blends. She also makes a Provence-style Rosé from Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Counoise grapes. Rather than start a vineyard, Trout prefers to source grapes from top vineyards in the area. “Maintaining and managing a vineyard and maintaining and managing a winery are two different skill sets,” she said. “In a vineyard, you’re dealing with mold and mildew and insects and pest and irrigation issues, and you’re dealing with biology and geology and meteorology. Within a winery, …it’s more like cooking, blending and tasting. It’s organic chemistry more than anything.”

  While she was launching Brook & Bull, Trout also started Vital Winery, which supports free, bilingual healthcare for workers. “Vital had been stuck in my head for a long time,” Trout said. “I grew up in a bilingual, bicultural home, and I did a lot of translating for grandparents who needed help with information, especially when it was medical jargon, so I understand the need.”

  Vital Winery is fully supported by donations, from grapes to bottles to corks, and all profits go into the mission, “Taking Care of Each Other.” Besides providing health care, Vital Winery raises funds for a project called “A Day at Home,” so vineyard employees potentially exposed to COVID-19 can stay home for testing without concern for the loss of daily wages. The non-profit winery has earned Trout accolades throughout the country, not just for her wines but for her services. And it is has benefited tremendously from wineries eager to donate—Trout said she turns down 30 to 100 tons of donated fruit every year, much of it from top wineries in Washington state. 

  While Brook & Bull and Vital Winery are two different types of projects, both are wineries and require the same winemaking knowledge and skills. At Vital, Trout’s wines fluctuate between which grapes and vineyards are used, changing every year. On the other hand, at Brook & Bull, Trout can count on consistency—other than what Mother Nature delivers—by using the same vineyards, the same varieties, the same rows and the same clones every year. 

  “I know what’s coming, and I can wrap my head around that and can get into an artistic zone because all those variables are taken care of,” she said. At both wineries, Trout strives for “varietally driven, nuanced and intricately balanced wines.”

In summing up her winemaking philosophy, Trout said, “I set myself up so I could say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ If you set yourself up to fight (nature, for example), you’re going to lose, and it will be a slow, painful battle.”

  In applying this philosophy, Trout sources from vineyards and varietals that excite her. To attain balance, she picks on the early side. “By picking early,” she said, “I get grapes with more acid, which have antibacterial properties, and produce wines that are more food-friendly and more balanced. Balance is a big issue for me.”

  Trout is not a big fan of oak, as she prefers to “showcase” the grapes. “Most high-end wines are slammed with oak,” she said, “but I have $40, $50 and $60 wines with almost no oak. I’ve made it my little personal mission to teach people what an amazing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Malbec tastes like without the oak band-aid covering things up.”

  While Trout has indeed received plenty of recognition as a winemaker—and a rising star among women winemakers—she continues to be committed to her craft, and to set an example to other women in the field.

  “Today, 70% of wines are purchased by women, but only 8% of winemakers are women,” she said. “And 47% of male winemakers own their own winery, while only 4% of women do. That’s a huge disconnect. I think it’s really important for women in the wine industry to stand tall and proud because there aren’t many of us. If we want the next generation to join us, we need to show that there are other women doing it, having a good time and being successful.”

  Many women are reluctant to enter the industry, Trout believes, because the work is so physically demanding. Women may also stay away, she said, because there are so few women winemakers that they assume there’s a reason and don’t consider it. While Trout said she’s never experienced sexism, she has run into age-old prejudices where people expect her to be the winemaker’s daughter or wife.

“When I’m behind the bar in the tasting room, no one ever imagines that I’m the winemaker,” she said. “They always think I’m a family member. But finally, when they get it, everyone is really excited.”

  As Trout looks back on her journey, her only regret is that she didn’t bet on herself in a bigger way. “I can see that I didn’t look hard enough for investment dollars, I didn’t hire experts and I didn’t grow. I didn’t take myself seriously as an owner of a major winery. But as a minority in the industry, and a 20-year-old, it wasn’t surprising, even if it was a mistake.”

  As for the future, Trout seems content to stay where she is. “It’s an exciting time to be in Washington now,” she said. “We still have a young and dramatic and passionate industry. We’re still filled with 20-somethings who are showing up at midnight doing whatever needs to be done, and that’s exciting. But now we have the efficacy we didn’t have when I was getting started, as the industry has been here for 15 or 20 years. It’s really the best of both worlds.”

For more information on Ashley Trout and her wines, visit… www.brookandbull.com and www.vitalwinery.com

Don’t Get Caught Off Guard During Wildfire Season: Tips For Your Winery

winery in front of a wine vineyard

Weather conditions and natural disasters occasionally take a toll on vineyards and other agricultural production systems. Due to climate change and recurring droughts, some of which are severe, the frequency and severity of wildfires is expected to increase. These risks highlight the need for winegrowers and winery owners to be as prepared as possible to reduce risk.

Putting Your Plan Together

  Many wineries may have already revisited their evacuation plans and filed them with their respective state agencies. Staying current of wildfire season developments can help enhance your ongoing planning and preparedness. Technology can also support your wildland fire planning and response. Additional planning resources by the American Red Cross are available at: www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/wildfire.html

Steps to Take Before a Wildland Fire Event

•   Take a close look at your winery’s communication protocol for evacuations. Everyone should have a clear understanding of any community alarms that signal when you need to evacuate. Assign specific accountabilities to staff so everyone works collectively to achieve a positive outcome of protecting lives and property.

•   Work with your regional Forest Service to better understand emergency evacuation procedures in your area.

•   Coordinate with the American Red Cross, FEMA, and other emergency agencies to give them the locations of your evacuation sites. Invite your local fire department out as part of a fire pre-incident plan. They should be provided a map of your property, highlighting planned evacuation routes. They can also offer technical assistance to support your plan.

•   Prepare and post route maps for each site, including alternate routes. With a large fire, you may need to use “Plan B.”

•   Consider forming a cooperative agreement with another site to share resources and serve as an evacuation site.

•   Identify key equipment to be evacuated, including computers and other vital records. As part of your business continuity planning, programs should already have information backed up and stored remotely. But, in case you don’t, practice removing this equipment as part of your practice response.

•   Stock an ample supply of water and easily-prepared foods until rescue arrives.

Controlling Wildland Fire Exposures

  Wildland fires are one of the most catastrophic threats to wineries.  Protecting your structures from ignition and fire damage is an important program objective second only to an evacuation plan. Taking precautions ahead of time can help reduce the exposure of a wildfire intrusion. There are a number of proactive measures a winery can take to mitigate the property damage a wildland fire can cause.

  To support a fire adaptive community philosophy, the local fire department or authority having jurisdiction for your winery should require you to develop a landscape plan for your property. It is wise to seek their advice and incorporate their recommendations as you develop a plan specific to your location. You can learn more about fire adaptive community planning at the Fire Adaptive Communities, www.fireadapted.org

According to the NFPA 1144 – Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fires, fire protection plans should address four zones around a property.

What are the Primary Threats to Property During a Wildfire?

  Research around property destruction vs. property survival in wildfires point to embers and small flames as the main way that the majority of properties ignite in wildfires. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind, they can cause spot fires and ignite structures, debris and other objects.

  There are methods for property owners to prepare their structures to withstand ember attacks and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching the structure or any attachments. Experiments, models and post-fire studies have shown structures ignite due to the condition of the structure and everything around it, up to 200’ from the foundation.  This is called the Structure Ignition Zone.

What is the Structure Ignition Zone?

  The concept of the structure ignition zone was developed by retired USDA Forest Service fire scientist Jack Cohen in the late 1990’s, following some breakthrough experimental research into how structures ignite due to the effects of radiant heat. 

The structure ignition zone is divided into three zones; immediate, intermediate and extended.

Immediate Zone

  The structure and the area 0-5’ from the furthest attached exterior point of the structure; defined as a non-combustible area. Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers.

  START WITH THE STRUCTURES then move into the landscaping section of the Immediate Zone.

•    Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.

•    Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.

•    Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8” metal mesh screening.

•    Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8” metal mesh screening to reduce embers.

•    Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows. Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.

•    Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – wooden pallets, mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.

Intermediate Zone

  5-30’ from the furthest exterior point of the structure.  Landscaping/hardscaping – employing careful landscaping or creating breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior

•    Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.

•    Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.

•    Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of 4”.

•    Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns. Prune trees up to 6-10’ from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.

•    Space trees to have a minimum of 18’ between crowns with the distance increasing with the percentage of slope.

•    Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than 10’ to the edge of the structure.

•    Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.

Extended Zone

  30-100’, out to 200’. Landscaping – the goal here is not to eliminate fire but to interrupt fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground.

•    Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.

•    Remove dead plant and tree material.

•    Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.

•    Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.

•    Trees 30 to 60’ from the structure should have at least 12’ between canopy tops.

•    Trees 60 to 100’ from the structure should have at least 6’ between the canopy tops.

If an Evacuation Becomes evident

•    If possible, identify the location and direction of the fire event. Remain cognizant that this can quickly change direction and speed.

•    Clearly explain your evacuation procedures to all that may be involved.

•    Identify special medical needs and gather emergency equipment and necessities, including trauma supplies for ready access.

•    Designate enough vehicles to evacuate everyone safely. Reinforce safe driving practices with all drivers.

•    Equip staff with emergency communications equipment (cell phones, walkie-talkies, whistles, flares, colored smoke canisters, etc.). Ask your local jurisdiction authority for suggestions.

•    Load key equipment, vital records, food, and water.

•    Ask qualified associates to disconnect and move LP gas tanks to a safer location, such as a gravel lot, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions to empty the tanks.

•    Warn firefighters of underground fuel storage or LP gas tanks before you leave.

  Making your facility fire resistant can help reduce property loss. However, keep in mind that these steps should be done only by assigned staff in conjunction with an evacuation and never require or allow staff to remain behind. Close and secure all doors and windows once combustible materials have been moved away from these openings.

•    Wet down buildings and roofs. There are commercial grade fire retardant products available that can help support your efforts to protect your property. But do your research ahead of time; and don’t let the application of these products reduce the priority of evacuating.

•    Have qualified personnel cut down trees in the fire path, bulldoze a firebreak, and cut field grass as short as possible.

•    Remove brush and dry vegetation near buildings.

Fire Evacuation – What You Need to Know

  During wildfire season, you may be forced to evacuate in a hurry. People are your first priority; to include guests, staff and firefighters. Most fire evacuations provide at least a three-hour notice; but due to the scope of your operation, you may need to do it sooner. Take proactive steps before and during an evacuation to reduce anxiety and avoid injuries. Plan, prepare and practice.

Filing Claims

  In the event your area experiences a wildfire event, it is highly likely it will not only be monitored by your insurance agent, in addition to your insurance company. Pre-loss documentation, such as video recordings and pictures of buildings, business personal property inventories, should be up to date and included as part of your evacuation materials. Working with your agent is a great resource to understand what might be necessary to help with documentation, if you should need it.

Ref:

•    NFPA 1144 – Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fires, 2018 Edition. National Fire Protection Association. Quincy, MA 02169, 2018

•    Fire Adaptive Communities. Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. www.fireadaptednetwork.org

•    Wildfire Safety. www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/wildfire.html. © 2019 The American National Red Cross

  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.

Litigation of Herbicide Drift Cases

a small helicopter in the sky

By: Brian D. Kaider, Esq

Chemical drift, the movement of herbicide/pesticide to unintended areas from the site of application, is a continuing problem in many farming areas, including vineyards.  In the Nov/Dec 2019 issue of The Grapevine Magazine, Judit Monis and I wrote an article (https://thegrapevinemagazine.net/2019/11/herbicide-drift-a-common-issue-affecting-vineyards-worldwide/) describing how herbicide drift affects vineyards and some of the legal causes of action that may be available to those who have suffered damage to their crops  

In the July/August issue, another article (https://thegrapevinemagazine.net/2020/06/liability-coverage-for-chemical-drift/) addressed insurance coverage for herbicide drift.  This article will focus on litigation of these cases, including the types of evidence needed to pursue or defend against the claims.  As with any legal issue, the details will vary from state to state and from case to case, depending upon the facts.  So, this article is not intended to convey legal advice, but rather to provide background information of the types of issues that may arise.

  To frame the discussion, we will discuss a hypothetical case in which Victoria is the owner of a vineyard who discovers damage to her vines, such as distorted leaves, defoliation of some vines, and damaged fruit.  She believes a neighboring farmer, Stephen, applied an herbicide to his soybean fields, which are adjacent to Victoria’s vineyard, that damaged her vines.  As a first step, Victoria should look to her own insurance policy to see if damage caused by third parties is covered.  If so, and if the policy covers the extend of the damage to her property, Victoria’s best option may be to simply file a claim with her insurance.  Assuming that not to be the case, Victoria may need to file a lawsuit.

  Before going to court, Victoria has to have a reasonable basis for alleging that Stephen is responsible for the damage to her vineyard.  So, when she speaks with her attorney, the litigation process begins with a “pre-suit” investigation.  Because the effects on her plants are likely to change over time, it is critical that Victoria start to document the damage as soon as she notices it.  She should take photographs and detailed notes about the condition of her vines, the location and extent of the damage on her property, as well as weather and environmental conditions, and she should update this information regularly.  If she has any knowledge or reason to believe that Stephen applied an herbicide to his soybean fields prior noticing the damage to her vines, she should document that information as thoroughly as possible. 

  Causation is always an issue in these cases.  Victoria will have to show that it was Stephen’s chemical application that caused the damage to her vines.  So, she should also attempt to collect data that would rule out any other cause of the damage.  For example, she should have thorough documentation of all chemicals that she has applied to her own property, she should note the location of farms other than Stephen’s in the area, whether she has seen them apply chemicals, and what the prevailing wind patterns are in her area.  She should also take samples from her vines to be sent for analysis to determine, if possible, to which herbicide(s) the vine has been exposed.

  Once the pre-suit investigation is complete and there is a reasonable basis to assert that Stephen caused the damage to her crop, Victoria’s attorney will prepare a Complaint and file it in the relevant court.  This begins the official litigation process. 

  When Stephen receives the complaint, he will have a certain amount of time to respond, typically with an Answer to the Complaint.  As his attorney begins to prepare the Answer, he will need to begin collecting information, as well, including documentation of the time, place, and manner of all chemicals he has applied to his land. 

  The vast majority of all lawsuits settle out-of-court rather than reaching trial.  While the parties may reach settlement at any time, there are three points at which it is most common.  The first is during the Complaint/Answer stage.  At this point, the parties have not expended a great deal of money on the litigation process and if it is very clear which party is in the wrong or if the damages are not substantial compared to the cost of litigating, it is often prudent to settle at this stage.  If the parties do not settle, the case will proceed to the “discovery” phase, and things get expensive very quickly.

  Discovery is the process by which the parties seek information from one another in order to evaluate the strength of the claims and defenses and to obtain evidence they will use at trial.  There are four main forms of discovery: document requests, interrogatories, requests for admission, and depositions.  Document requests, as the name suggests, is the process of asking the other party for documents or other tangible evidence.  Interrogatories are written questions that the other party has to answer in writing.  Requests for admission present a series of statements and require the other party to admit or deny the truth of those statements.  And depositions are a process where a person is placed under oath and asked questions to which they must respond on-the-spot.  There is typically a court reporter there taking a transcript of the questions and answers and they are often videotaped, as well.  All four of these processes take a tremendous amount of attorney time and are, therefore, very costly.  Discovery is often the most expensive part of a lawsuit.

  Whether the case involves negligence, strict liability, trespass, and/or nuisance, there are several issues that will almost certainly arise in discovery.  As the plaintiff, some of the materials that Victoria should request include:

•   documentation of the time, place, and manner of all chemical applications on Stephen’s land, including the type of chemical, who applied it, how it was applied, the quantity, and the environmental conditions at the time of application

•   copies of the labels and/or package inserts for the chemicals

•   information about crop buffer zones or setbacks on Stephen’s property and/or request permission to inspect the property to measure these areas 

•   a copy of any and all insurance policies that cover Stephen’s land

  In preparation of his defense, Stephen will not only want to seek information that undermines the case against him, but also evidence that supports his affirmative defenses and/or counterclaims.  He will want, for example:

•    documentation of all chemical applications on Victoria’s land

•    all information Victoria has on chemical applications by third parties not in the case

•    historical records about the health of Victoria’s vines and crop yields from prior years

•    detailed accounting of the number of allegedly affected vines and their condition

•    documentation of Victoria’s current and previous irrigation practices

•    documentation of insects or other pests on the land in current and prior years

•    any other information that could suggest that the damage to Victoria’s crops was caused by something other than Stephen’s chemical application

•    documentation of any and all tests Victoria has had conducted on her vines before or after the commencement of the litigation

  Discovery may also involve the services of experts.  Both sides may use experts to support or refute the theory that the damage to Victoria’s crops was caused by Stephen’s chemicals.  Each expert may submit a written report and is then likely to be deposed in order to try to undermine or discredit that report.

  The court will set a specific time period during which discovery must occur.  When that window closes, there is generally no more exchange of evidence between the parties.  This is the second point in which it is common to settle the case.  Each side is then in full possession of all of the evidence that may be presented.  Often it becomes clear from discovery that one side’s position has significant weaknesses and is likely to lose if the case goes to trial.  Since it will still require a significant investment of time and money to see the case to the end, it makes sense in that instance to reach settlement between the parties.

  If again the parties do not settle, they will begin to prepare for trial.  Typically, this involves a variety of written motions asking the court to rule on certain issues in the case.  There may be summary judgment motions requesting that the court rule in a party’s favor as a matter of law.  One or more parties may file evidentiary motions seeking to exclude certain information from the judge or jury’s consideration.  There are also many procedural issues for the court to decide, such as what instructions will be given to the jury, how much time each party will be allowed to present its case, etc.  Depending upon the outcome of these various issues, a third opportunity to settle the case often presents itself just before trial.  For example, if the court rules that a key piece of one party’s evidence is inadmissible, that party may be more inclined to throw in the towel.

  Of course, if the parties still do not settle, the case will then go to trial.  Litigation is not to be entered into lightly.  The costs for each party to take a case all the way to trial will almost certainly reach six figures and, for more complicated matters, could reach seven. 

  As always an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If you are applying herbicides to your property, there are several precautions that can help keep you from affecting neighboring properties and exposing yourself to legal liability.  First, examine the surrounding properties to identify potentially vulnerable crops.  Some states even have listings of vulnerable crops that may help guide your choices.  Second, make sure you fully understand the chemicals you are applying and what crops may be adversely affected.  The University of Kentucky has a great resource website to cross reference herbicides, what weeds they affect, and which crops are vulnerable or resistant to the herbicide (https://www.uky.edu/Ag/Horticulture/masabni/xreflist.htm).  Third, when applying chemicals, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter and document everything, including date, time, volume of chemical, manner of application, and environmental conditions.

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

For more information please email or call…bkaider@kaiderlaw.com

(240) 308-8032

Understanding the Domino Effect of the European Wine Tariffs

finger pushing euro block

By: Tracey L. Kelley

At press time, the Office of the United States Trade Representative is deciding the revised outcome of a controversial decision from 2019: an increase in import tariffs for European wines by 25%. This action is part of a World Trade Organization judgment against the European Union to end subsidies granted to aerospace giant Airbus. The USTR issued the tariff hike in response to what it believed to be an unfair disadvantage to U.S.-based competitor Boeing.

  In February 2020, the USTR announced it wouldn’t raise European wine tariffs to 100%, but for the upcoming review, it’s unclear if last year’s decision will be upheld, or if those WTO tariffs will shift to other European products. 

  To provide a more tailored scope of the issue, The Grapevine Magazine talked with Benjamin Aneff, president of the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance and managing partner of Tribeca Wine Merchants in New York City; and Eric Faber, chief operating officer of Cutting Edge Solutions in Cincinnati, a wine import and distribution business.

Why the Tariffs Create Conflict

  The Grapevine Magazine (GV): Let’s break down the issue for the layperson: what does U.S. and European wine have to do with Airbus and Boeing?

  Benjamin Aneff (BA): Great question. Nothing. Unfortunately, the USTR has decided to put large tariffs on most wines from the EU because of the dispute involving Airbus and Boeing. It’s incredibly unfortunate, given that these tariffs do roughly four times the economic damage to U.S. businesses than they do their targets overseas. They’re back-firing and hurting mostly small, family-owned businesses in the U.S.

  Eric Faber (EF): I’ve heard the arguments that these tariffs protect American jobs, that people can just buy domestic wines instead of European. In some cases, this may be true, but to believe this about the wine industry shows a complete lack of understanding into how our industry uniquely works and how it’s connected. These connections exist based on an industry that is among the most regulated in the U.S. Companies shouldn’t be asked to change their business model because of an international trade dispute of an unrelated industry.

  The truth is that these tariffs may cause job losses and business closures in Europe, but they will cause job losses for the American small businesses who rely on these wines for their livelihood. Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, the USTR, can try to tell us it will simply lead to new American jobs, but that only shows his lack of knowledge about our industry.

  It’s an industry that—unlike Boeing and Airbus—has always paid its fair share of taxes. In fact, the regulation of alcohol means we pay more than most businesses. We don’t get the tax breaks that massive companies like Boeing, Amazon, Apple and others enjoy. Taxes on the alcohol industry help provide billions of dollars to state and local governments. And we’re more than happy to do so, but we shouldn’t be burdened as a result of the poor practices of two of the largest companies on the planet.

  Airbus has recently offered a solution to this entire dispute, and it’s equivalent to the changes made in regard to Boeing. If the goal is to punish Airbus for its misgivings, then punish that industry. But leave the lives of millions of hard-working Americans who aren’t affiliated out of it.

  GV: What would be the direct impact of the 25% tariff increase on small- to medium-sized producers/vintners, and what tangible change happens for them if it’s defeated?

  (BA): Well, ending these tariffs would certainly help small- to medium-sized producers in the U.S., particularly producers looking for distributors that rely on this access to market. These are the companies that actually make sure those small producers in, say, Oregon or California, can make it to the shelf of a wine store or get poured in a restaurant in Chicago, Dallas or New York.

  When distributors are having trouble financially—which they are now due to the tariffs—it’s much harder for them to take the risk of bringing on a new U.S. producer, which generally are unknown and require time and capital investments from distributors. It’s less clear how it helps producers in, say, France.

  There’s pre-pandemic data from the Global Trade Atlas that showed, despite a huge drop in wine exports from France to the U.S. after the enactment of the tariffs, the overall wine exports from France actually grew. In a nutshell, they sold their wine elsewhere. This is just one of the reasons why these tariffs are such a bad idea. They do significantly more damage to the U.S., and they’re incredibly unlikely to influence the EU to change behavior.

  (EF): Should the tariff be justifiably rolled back, things will mostly go back to normal. I say “mostly” because the pandemic has its own role to play in our industry, which adds to the need for the tariffs to be lifted.

  The European wineries we work with love the American wine market and experiencing the amazing wine and restaurant culture so many Americans have worked hard to create. Right now, they’re facing difficult choices about where to sell their products and how to maintain their businesses in the face of tariffs. I think it’s important for Americans to know that the effect on European wineries isn’t money lost from paying the tariffs—because American businesses pay them. It’s from lost sales due to price increases and importers downsizing or going out of business.

  From a larger view, you don’t have to look farther back into our history than the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 to see the negative effects tariffs can have on our own economy and the global economy we’re part of. It turned a difficult recession into the Great Depression. It set people back 20 years and created a “lost generation” across the world. These tariffs will harm people across the globe, so by lifting them, we give small businesses—specifically here at home—the opportunity to be successful, experience growth and create jobs.  

The Domino Effect

  GV: As an example, how does an import/distribution company balance its portfolio to include both international and U.S. wine products?

  (EF): We strive to have a portfolio that represents top producers from around the world, specifically boutique producers that fit our model in terms of quality and price point. Domestic wines are the backbone of our portfolio. 

  Like most small distributors, it’s important to have a good mix of products from around the world so we can provide our accounts with a wide variety of options. Domestic wines are certainly a large part of this, and the balance is largely driven by the demands of our customers and the wine-buying public. For us to be successful, we work with producers that we believe in and that our customers have a desire to purchase. While we have very strict standards for the producers we add to our portfolio, we’re ultimately driven by the market.

  The other part of this is profitability. We typically work on lower margins on domestic wines than we do on imported wines, specifically the wines we import ourselves. The slightly-higher margins we make on European wines allow us to keep our prices on our domestic portfolio lower. This is commonplace for most companies in our industry.

  GV: What type of trickle-down effect does the tariff issue have?

  EF: The tariff has an enormous impact on importers and distributors. Many people who argue the tariffs are a penalty on the producers, or the countries on which they have been levied, are simply wrong. We pay the tariffs—not the producers and not the EU.

  A 25% tariff means prices on those products have to go up for importers and distributors to maintain their ability to function. In a state like Ohio, for example, we’re legally required to have a certain margin to our accounts to maintain state tax revenue. We legally can’t make less on the wines, so we have to charge more. This means our retailers and restaurants must raise their prices to the consumer.

  While this may not be the case in every state, no industry could suddenly take a loss of 25% or even 15% of its margin and still be successful. How do people pay employees if they don’t make any money on the products they sell?

  In terms of how this affects domestic producers, the biggest issue outside of distribution is money. Our industry works on “terms”—meaning, we pay for our products typically 30 days after receiving them. This model has been set for decades. But with tariffs, they’re paid as the product clears customs. This creates a significant problem in terms of cash flow.

  So if we’re typically paying a few thousand dollars to clear product into the country, and suddenly have to pay upwards of $25,000, that depletes our bank account in a way our long-standing model wasn’t prepared for and makes it more difficult to pay our domestic suppliers on time.

  We also have to pay our employees, our bills and our taxes. If it takes longer for our domestic partners to get paid, this cash flow problem moves on to them, then to their vendors.

  GV: If certain import relationships fail, do fewer distributors mean fewer channels of retail and restaurant opportunities for U.S. products? Why?

  EF: That’s an excellent question and raises one of the most important points of this debate. If our company relies on a mix of producers from the U.S., Europe and other countries to be successful, then eliminating sales from one of these avenues would force us to close. If companies like Cutting Edge go out of business or contract significantly less, who will sell domestic wines to restaurants or independent retailers that the wineries rely on as the largest part of their sales network? For most domestic wineries, they can’t sustain their business through direct-to-consumer sales alone.

  This leaves wineries without a home. It’s not as simple as just finding another distributor if you’re a domestic winery. Boutique American wineries need to be in a portfolio that gives their products appropriate attention to attract sales and create valuable placements in restaurants and independent retail. They have to find someone who cares about their wines and their stories, someone who can pay for the products, and who can actively promote their products to accounts and consumers.

  Larger, multi-state distributors typically don’t work with smaller domestic producers because it isn’t a part of their business model. They have obligations to their own, typically larger and more corporate, partners. This means that smaller wineries have no focus in their portfolio.

  To sum it up from the point of view of our domestic producers: if 20 Oregon producers suddenly lose their distribution in a state like Ohio, maybe 10 will eventually find a new home and those that do will likely lose significant sales because the new distributor has to essentially re-build the brand in its own portfolio. This is especially daunting when you look at the current climate in our industry as a result of COVID-19. If a producer loses representation in just a small number of states, especially now, it would likely lead to bankruptcy.

  GV: Please explain why a zero-tariff policy on wine imports benefits U.S. producers/vintners in our wine industry.

  BA: Wine from the EU is a keystone species for the health of the U.S. wine market. It represents critical profit margins for tens of thousands of U.S. wine businesses–the same businesses that sell wines from the United States. If those businesses are weak, it’s going to be harder for them to adequately support particularly small- and medium-sized U.S. producers.

  Those wines are often handsels from distributors, retailers and restaurants. That means you need more staff, more time for training, more samples. Further, there may come a point where U.S. distributors are so weakened by tariffs that they’re forced to ask for lower prices from everyone. That’s what happens when companies industry-wide are faced with such hardship. U.S. domestic producers could be one of the first impacted by this need.

  Bottom line, the entire wine industry, from producers to distributors, to restaurants and retailers, are significantly better off when there aren’t tariffs on wine.

Make Connections in Congress

  GV: At press time, the U.S. will have experienced more than 5 million COVID cases, and many wineries continue to be shuttered or downsized in production and tourism. How do you encourage them to take an active stance on this issue when so many other factors have them at a disadvantage? What immediate results will they see from their activism?

  EF: We’ve worked with dozens of domestic wineries to raise awareness of the tariff situation and how it will negatively affect them. I’ve spoken to many of them personally to get them involved, as have countless other distributors. No independent domestic winery thinks the tariffs will benefit them in the short- or long-term.

  We’ve helped provide information on how to contact their elected officials and make their case to members of Congress, the administration, and the USTR. Many have spoken out publicly to condemn the tariffs. People like Jason Lett of Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon have led the charge to raise awareness amongst their peers. They need a strong economy here at home to promote their brands and continue to operate their businesses, and strong partnerships with successful distributors to weather the current storm.

  It’s tough to say what results any of us will see from our activism on this issue because we don’t get to make the final decision. As a community, we have been able to gain support from elected officials from both sides of the aisle and raise public awareness of the negative effects the tariffs will have. Hopefully, awareness will lead to a better understanding of why it’s so important to remove the tariffs currently in place.

  Truly, if there’s anything positive from the battle against tariffs, it’s been the coming together of so many in our industry from all facets: importers, distributors, domestic producers, European producers, restaurants and retailers. I’ve even had wineries we work with in Australia and Chile ask how they can help. All see the incredibly negative outcome of these tariffs on the American wine industry and are united in standing against them. Hopefully, this will help to sway the decision-makers.

  BA: There are so many hardships right now, in every corner of our country. I would say the voices of U.S. wineries can be incredibly impactful with their representatives. We are so interconnected; I think many see how clearly that we rise and fall together. 

  We don’t begrudge the job of the U.S. government to protect our trade interests abroad, but there are better, less damaging ways to do so. We’re all trying to get back up off the mat right now. It’s the wrong time to try to pull the rug out from underneath us.

  Though the public can no longer submit comments to USTR, Congress can! Tell your elected officials, both in the House and Senate, to reach out to the USTR and voice their opposition to these tariffs. There are better ways to influence the EU than a tariff policy that does disproportionate damage to mom and pop businesses in the U.S.—particularly during a pandemic that just saw the U.S. economy contract by 33%. [Editor’s note: The carousel date for the expected USTR announcement regarding its decision, was August 12. Look for an update on thegrapevinemagazine.net]

  When the wine industry is healthy, everyone benefits. When we’re suffering, we all see the impact. Bottom line, we’re in this together.

UPDATE: August 31, 2020; Update from the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance: “The USTR published their decision regarding the August 2020 carousel for the WTO / Airbus award. The tariffs on wine remain the same, with no changes to either tariff percent or category.” Read the full statement here

Post Fermentation Management Choices for Red Wines

wine in fermentation process

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

“The winemaker is a warrior.  He has to fight the vagaries of nature, storms, insects, disease, rot, hail and bad luck.  This is why every bottle is worthy of respect and every glass must be drunk with the honor it deserves.  That soil, that man, that fight, are embodied in your glass” Anonymous but supplied to me by Kathrine Brink of Grapevine, Texas.

  It has been said that a winemaker makes at least 2000 decisions, during the winemaking process, before a wine goes into the bottle.  This statement was produced, 20 years ago, before items such as tannin additions, fining agents in the gelatin family that have specific target sites and micro-oxidation were added to our tool box.  This article will make the assumption that the red wine has been fermented to complete dryness during the maceration regime of the winemaker’s choice and that it was a clean fermentation.  One must keep in mind as we change a process in our wine making other parameters may need adjustment to accomplish a desired effect from the process.  One must know, as a winemaker, what is desired as a wine style and implement that knowledge and the processes to achieve the desired wine style.  This article will address a few questions to help the winemaker along the winemaker warrior’s path to victory.  It is not intended to address every possible path a winemaker may take as that would involve writing a book and not an article.

Have Knowledge of What can be Done

  Know what wine to make and have the style determined ahead of time.  This will help with fruit selection, growing and the harvest of the fruit.  What was the growing season like?  Was the vineyard canopy managed for that style of wine?  Was the condition of the vines monitored during the growing season?  What was the fruit like and how was its development?  What was the soil like and does this terrior support the style of wine desired?  Does the trellis and training system support this style?  These are some of the questions one will need to address before trying to make a wine in a certain style.  If the foundation of the fruit is not underneath to support the style and desired wine goals it will be difficult to move the juice, must and wine into a particular direction.  An example of this may be producing a full bodied red wine.  If the vines are not properly managed to achieve a full bodied red wine one may be best off picking early and pressing the grapes to make a blush wine or white wine style.

Know the Limits

  What has developed during the fermentation?  In the prior example know the limits.  If after fermentation of the red grapes the color, mouth feel, aromas and tannin profile are not supporting the precursors of what is to be achieved in the long run – know when to back off.  To try and “overly manipulate” the wine and “beat it” or “force it” into a certain profile will not work in most cases.  Make sure after fermentation that everything is present in the wine to work with.  It is necessary that the fruit and fermentation give the winemaker this solid foundation.  Wine is made in the vineyard!

Do We Want to Enhance any Characteristics?

  After fermentation the winemaker should have a good idea between what is in the glass and the numbers from the lab if the resulting wine style is on track.  Now the choice becomes how to enhance the positives one sees in a certain wine or to enhance certain qualities in several separate lots of wine – knowing they will be reviewed at the blending table.  Will air bring forward a certain quality?  Should free run be separated from press juice?  What type of malo-lactic should be performed?  Will it be best to have a malo-lactic fermentation?  What culture should I choose?  Should new oak barrels be used?  Should older more neutral oak barrels be employed?  What size of barrels should be used?  One can alter the wood to wine ratio simply by changing the size of the cooperage.  Should wood chips, slabs or staves be entered into the mix?  Should the wine remain in stainless to settle longer?  Should the wine be chilled to remove the tartrates early?  Should the wine be warmed to drive off the carbon dioxide early?

Do We Want to Suppress any Characteristics?

  Sometimes one can suppress a characteristic while bringing out another to be enhanced all at the same time.  This is often the case with a reduced wine that may have some hydrogen sulfide [ H2S ] issues.  While suppressing the H2S another element is brought to the forefront and perceived to be enhanced.  Always review this situation with a quick aroma   screen in the lab after fermentation.  Aeration can often solve this issue and if not one can use copper sulfate or a number of legal chemical addition regimes.  What other characteristics may need suppressing?  Try a lab trial to see if the task to be performed will suppress what it should.  Does that action bring forward another desired component in that wine?  Is a fining needed early on?  Is the wine balanced?  Are the tannins supporting the wine?  Are they refined or rough and aggressive?

Do we Want to Eliminate any Characteristics?

  This can often be a real battleground.  Trying to eliminate a characteristic from a wine is usually most difficult after the wine has been made.  If a green character has formed in the red wine due to under ripe fruit selection, usually attributed to Methoxy-pyrazines, the battle can difficult and up hill.  Oak chips in the fermenter are often a good choice and this decision needs to be made early on before the post fermentation decision. Micro-oxidation has shown some beneficial results.  Finesse must be used with both of these potential solutions.

Sur Lie Ageing

  Ageing red wines in the barrel or tank with suspended yeast cells can produced excellent results adding to the mouth feel of the wine through manoprotiens and yeast autolysis.  The mouth feel is often lengthened in the finish and it fills out the mid-palate.  The aroma will often be enhanced with a yeast autolysis toasty aroma.  Is this something that will add to the wine style desired?  If so – this may be a solid choice.  Make sure the lees are “clean” however to minimize the risk in this potential risky step for higher pH reds.  These yeast lees often contain higher loads of spoilage microbes to be wary and informed about.

How are the Tannins?

  As soon after fermentation as you can – try and assess the tannin profile in the red wine.  This can often be a challenge as the tannins are evolving and will continue to evolve during the ageing process.  One must develop the skills to taste underlying tannins and become a confident predictor as to how they will evolve.  A wine that may seem very supple early on may develop a more aggressive tannin profile later in its life, generally in the cellar during ageing.  Become confident in tasting a wine and “reaching” deep into the wine to find those tannins.  Are they good supple tannins or bad harsh tannins?  What has that block or lot of fruit delivered in past vintages?  Are they harsh seed tannins?  Should seed deportation have been considered with delestage? [Make this decision prior to this moment but for this article we are looking at post fermentation]  The sooner the winemaker can predict and react to the tannin profile the better the tannin management may be handled.  Generally reacting sooner than later is best, as with most wine making intrusions.

Extended Maceration

  This is a great tool when the fruit will allow it.  The fruit must be very ripe and clean.  Extended maceration is the process of the leaving the wine in contact with the must and skins after fermentation for approximately 30 days to be determined by the winemaker.  The results can give more refined and pronounced good tannins with a lengthy supple fruit finish provided the fruit is very ripe, supple and clean.  Color may be reduced somewhat but the color will be more stable in most cases.  This may be a great tool for many winemakers and the results are more than gratifying.  Risks are and can be high, so, if trying this for the first time – stay on your toes!

Summary

  The above data is often reviewed by most winemakers every season during their battle in the vineyard and the cellar to make the best wine possible.  Each year gives different situations making the challenge different from year to year.  Take every opportunity to get to know your vineyard, soils, trellis, fruit clones, rootstocks, climate and growing seasons to adapt each year with the wealth of knowledge gained in previous years to bring forward the fruit to craft the wine desired.

  As can be seen in this article many features of post-fermentation choices are directly linked to the fruit and what it yielded in terms of quality.  It is not just a post-fermentation decision!

  Taste the wines every several weeks to determine their progress.  Think, during the tasting: What was the fruit like?  How did the wine progress last year?  Is the wine developing into the style desired?  Are corrections needed?  Will correction trials be performed in the lab?  What are the choices from here?  The winemaker is in the driver seat.  If the wine is not developing into the desired wine or the desired component to a wine blend, it needs to be addressed.  Always taste a wine thinking what was the past like and where is this wine going?  With this type of tasting and professional critical thinking one will be able to step in at the needed times to enhance the product during the Post Fermentation Management Choices.  This is what a winemaker does.

A Review of Laboratory Methods for Grapevine Pathogen Detection and Diagnostics

By Judit Monis, Ph.D.

Presently there are many laboratories that provide testing services dedicated to the detection and diagnosis of plant pathogens.  It can be confusing to the grower, vineyard manager, and/or nursery staff to decide which laboratory to choose.  My recommendation is to work with a plant pathologist who can provide guidelines towards the best option.  At the time, there is no accreditation that is specific for grapevine diagnostic laboratories in USA.  Therefore, each laboratory is free to develop their own testing and sampling methodologies.    

My expertise in grapevine disease diagnostics and my past work on developing state-of-the-art testing laboratories puts me in a position to evaluate the different choices for my clients.  The short answer is that there is no “one lab that fits all”.  In my experience, it is best to choose a lab based on the knowledge and capabilities specific to the needs of the project.  Generally speaking, choosing the lab because it offers the best prices or quicker turn-around-times might be a huge mistake.

This article will describe the different methods used for grapevine pathogen diagnostics and discuss the advantages and pitfalls of each of them.  Ultimately, I will attempt to convince the reader that the standardization of the diagnostic methods used for the detection as well the development of an accreditation of testing laboratories should be a goal for the future.

Different testing Scenarios

In an ideal world, the nursery or grower is interested in learning that their propagation and planting material is free of important pathogens.  But unfortunately, the grower may suspect disease in the vineyard due to specific symptoms.  Or as you may have heard me say many times, diseased vines may not always be symptomatic.  A knowledgeable plant pathologist will be able to help on statistical sampling as well as what type of laboratory is best suited for each case.  Regardless of the purpose for testing, below I will describe the most common methods available for the detection of important bacterial, fungal, and viral infecting pathogens.

Microbiological Culture

pipet filling up the vials
Photo 1.  A stack of plates containing a number of different fungal species isolated from declining grapevines

Fungal and bacterial pathogens can be cultured and isolated in specialized media (see fig.1).  However, microorganisms may compete among each other.  Generally, the microbe(s) with the most competitive growth capacity will overshadow microbes that grow slower, making the diagnosis difficult or even impossible.  In some cases, the diagnosis will be biased and a laboratory may not be able to report the disease causal agent unless sophisticated molecular methods are used (for details see NGS/HTS section).  Generally, in the case of the diagnosis of a declining vine in the vineyard or nursery, the identification of the fungal family (i.e., Diatripaceae species are associated with cankers) or bacterial genus (Agrobacterium species causes crown gall) may be sufficient to decipher the cause of the problem.  Phytoplasmas (a special type of bacteria that lack cell walls) and viruses cannot be cultured and their identification must be carried out using molecular and serological methods.

ELISA, PCR, RT-PCR, qPCR

The Coronavirus pandemic has made some of the terminology that I use in my articles much easier to explain.  The general media talks about antibody tests (ELISA is one) and PCR (this is a molecular test).   ELISA is the abbreviation for “enzyme-linked immuno-sorbent assay, and consists of sticking the virus coat protein on a plastic test plate that was coated with specific antibodies (Fig.2 Shows the loading of an ELISA plate in the laboratory).  A positive reaction is seen when there is a change of color in the wells of the test plate (colorimetric enzymatic reaction). ELISA detection is limited to the amount of virus present in the sample. PCR, is the abbreviation for polymerase chain reaction.  The technique allows the multiplication of viral nucleic acid from the initial titer (concentration) of pathogen present in the vine. The process is specific, and utilizes copies of small portions of the pathogen’s genome (called primers) to start the copying process. The amplification is repeated many times, with each copy making more copies, so after the completion of an appropriate number of PCR cycles, more than a billion copies of the nucleic acid is produced. For RNA viruses the detection is done using RT-PCR (RT stands for reverse transcription, a molecular way of converting RNA into DNA).  PCR and RT-PCR are sensitive techniques used for the detection of grapevine pathogens.  Quantitative or Real Time PCR is a modification of PCR that can provide the relative quantitation of the pathogen present in a sample (abbreviated as qPCR).

Photo 2. The loading of an ELISA plate to determine infection status of plant material at the Bioreba AG Laboratory in Switzerland

The sensitivity and specificity of the detection of pathogens can be influenced by the season as well as the part of the vine from which samples are collected. While ELISA is generally thought to be less sensitive than RT-PCR, ELISA has a broader spectrum of detection and can detect a range of virus variants. On the other hand, PCR is very specific, this can be an advantage but also a disadvantage.  If the detection is too specific, it could miss the detection of isolates of the same virus even when small changes (mutations) are present.  This is even more true when TaqMan, a type of qPCR that in addition to specific primers uses a specific probe is applied for the detection of viruses in grapevine samples.   This is why running both ELISA and PCR consecutively is recommended for the reliable detection of grapevine viruses, as each method is designed to detect different portions of a virus.   Since Grapevine red blotch virus is a DNA virus, and no ELISA has been developed as of yet, I recommend that PCR is performed to amplify at least two different portions of the viral genome.

Single Use Strips for “in house” detection

A molecular single use strip test has been developed for the detection of Grapevine red botch virus (GRBV) that claims it can be used for in-field testing.  However, for reliable results, the assays should be conducted by experienced technicians in a clean laboratory.  If a lay person were to attempt to run this type of assay, the instructions must be carefully followed.  The protocol includes many steps that are complicated and require measuring small quantities of reagents (microliters of components).   In my opinion, it is worthwhile to have an experienced laboratory run these tests.  Laboratory personnel are used to running different protocols and are trained to keep the sample and other materials free of contamination.  In the past, a kit was available for the “in house” detection of Grapevine leafroll associated -3 (GLRaV-3).  However, many different leafroll viruses can cause leafroll disease and obtaining a negative result for GLRaV-3 would have given the false impression that the vineyard block or sample in question was not infected.

Next Generation or High Throughput Sequencing

The next generation sequencing (NGS) also known as high throughput sequencing (HTS) is a powerful method that allows the laboratory to detect any organism present in a sample.

Photo 3.  Soil sample extracts being prepared at BiomeMakers Laboratory in Sacramento, CA

When NGS or HTS is applied, the complete sequence of the genetic material or microbiome present in the tested plant material or soil can be obtained.  Generally, during the sample preparation, the pathogens specific sequences are enriched to increase the sensitivity of the assay (for example the lab may just amplify fungal sequences).  The data obtained is analyzed with sophisticated software that is able to list the bacteria, fungi, virus, or other organisms (beneficial or pathogenic) present in the sample.  The method can provide relative quantitative data, generally expressed in percentages, of each organism found.   The NGS has been widely used in research and has allowed the discovery and characterization of important viruses such as Grapevine red blotch virus. Presently, this technique is being applied commercially to test plant and soil samples for the detection of bacterial and fungal microorganisms.  It is recommended that a plant pathologist with expertise in bacterial, fungal, and/or viral taxonomy be available to associate the presence of the microorganisms found with disease symptoms (or potential disease development).


Need for Accreditation of Laboratories

As mentioned earlier, at the moment, there is no accreditation system for laboratories performing grapevine diagnostic testing.  The closer we have gotten to these efforts is a ring (comparative) test run by the Lodi Wine Grape Commission.  A ring test consists in providing laboratories with “blind” samples of known infection status to determine if the laboratory’s in-house procedures are able to detect the correct infection status in each sample. In the past, while affiliated to various laboratories I was a participant of such ring tests.

In the fall of 2018, the Lodi Wine Commission ran a ring test to evaluate the different labs that offer testing for the diagnostics of grapevine viruses.   The laboratories received a large number of homogenized samples that were infected with various grapevine viruses.  The results of each laboratory were shared privately with the participant laboratories.  To the best of my knowledge no accreditation was granted.  While it is a great first step to carry out a ring test with the laboratories, future tests could be improved by providing the laboratory with portions of grapevines rather than a homogenized powder.  While it is understanding that homogenized samples may avoid the possibility of uneven distribution of viruses in the grapevine material, the capacity of the laboratory to process whole samples is important.  The integrity of the samples would determine if the laboratory is proficient on processing each sample without cross contamination or degrading the potential viruses present.

Conclusions

The standardization of the diagnostic methods for the detection of grapevine pathogens should be a goal for the viticulture industry in the near future.  The accreditation of laboratories is of upmost importance for evaluating the reliability of testing labs.  Standardization of sampling and testing is common in other fields of food and plant biotechnology.  It is puzzling that the grapevine industry has not adopted a system given the importance of this perennial crop.  My philosophy is that a vineyard must be planted with the healthiest available material as vineyards must live a long healthy life.  If a vineyard is planted with diseased material, its life expectancy is reduced (not to mention the possibility of perpetration and spread of pathogens in the vineyard and neighboring vineyards).

It is encouraging to know that new and more sensitive pathogen detection methods are being developed and applied for the diagnostic of grapevine pathogens.   The next generation sequencing or HTS is becoming more affordable and available for the detection at the species level of microorganisms in plants and soil.  It is expected that in the near future, these methods will be applied at the nursery and on new planting material to help develop healthy vineyards.

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.  During the Coronavirus pandemic, you can also schedule virtual vineyard consultations.  Please visit juditmonis.com for information or contact juditmonis@yahoo.com to request a consulting session.

An Open Letter to Winery Owners: Things I Would Do If I Owned A Winery

woman pouring a wine drink

By: Susan DeMatei

It’s tough out there right now. COVID cases are on the rise, scaring both our customers and employees. Bank relief programs are ending, but the virus looks like it is just getting started. Even if we are in an area that can open a tasting room, we’re not sure what the rules are this week, or exactly how to alter our protocol to keep everyone safe. With harvest looming and the farming community profoundly affected, some wonder if they’ll get their grapes picked at all this year. My day is spent hearing the stories and struggles of so many within our community, I wish I could do more to help. All I have to offer is my experience. This is not a sales article. I’m not pitching anything. I don’t have a silver bullet, but I can share some advice on how to help your businesses.

Waiting is not a Strategy

  The first day wineries were closed in California we lost 5 clients – all calling to apologetically say they were cutting spending while the tasting room was closed and would be back when it reopened. 5 months later, most of us realize there is no going back at this point. We’ve also recognized acting like an ostrich with our head in the sand isn’t going to work, either. The keyword for 2020 is “pivot,” and the Darwinism of survival will favor those who adapt quickly and are flexible.

  My favorite example of a pivot is Tuco, a turn of the last century subsidiary of the Upson Company, which initially produced 3/16” wallboard for home construction. This was all good until the Great Depression hit, all construction stopped, and Tuco found itself stuck with warehouses of drywall and construction equipment. Not giving up or waiting it out, they realized they had boards, printers, and jigsaws, so they could, theoretically, print images on the board and cut them into pieces. By 1932, Tuco was the largest producer of picture (jigsaw) puzzles throughout the early-1980s. You can still find them all over eBay, and they’re now quite collectible.

  I’m not suggesting we all start making board games, but we have one client who began turning their alcohol into a grape-based hand sanitizer, which I thought was clever. We are also witnessing a surge in others making their websites more streamlined for sales, and a swap in traffic efforts redirected toward website traffic over tasting room traffic.

My point here is, don’t just turn off the faucet of tasting room traffic and sales without having plans and programs to replace that stream somewhere else. You need alternatives to sales and new list signups and engagement with your members and customers that can’t come to visit. How well you continue those three critical goals will determine if you make it to whatever “normal” will be post-COVID. Let’s look at each one next.

eCommerce is Now Critical

  Since February, you should have been focused on optimizing your website sales wherever possible. But if you haven’t, it’s never too late to emphasize this channel, and you still have time to get your act together before the critical Q4 selling season. Let’s break down some specific things you can do to help shore up this sales channel.

  Search Engine Optimization: SEO is all about Google (or other search engines). Google scans sites and pages to serve up results that match search queries. SEO is the hidden message in which you tell Google what is on your site’s pages. Part of SEO is the meta tags, which are like a little ad for each page. Put your winery website in Google and see what comes back. If you don’t see an “ad” for each page, then Google has pulled random words, usually the navigation or footer, because it didn’t know what the page was about. Meta tags are essential and should be action-oriented 155-character statements that describe what is on the page and why someone would want to go there.

  How do you do this? If you’re on WordPress, many plugins make this easy. We like Yoast. If you’re on a proprietary platform, ask them or look at your documentation site. It is unlikely that there is no way to access these page tags.

Website Presentation

  You wouldn’t open your tasting room if it wasn’t stocked and clean and ready for visitors so, why do so many fail to keep their website store updated? Takedown old products, update new ones with scores or notes. Update your shipping options and tables. Please invest in professional bottle shots or, at the very least, buy a $40 product table-top lightbox on Amazon. Review everything on mobile. Put in test orders to confirm your work and ensure it is easy to purchase, and the shipping is calculating. If your eCommerce system allows, use every tool they have, such as carrots or bundles or automatic emails. Your website is your tasting room now and for the foreseeable future. Put as much care into it as you would your property so it can do the heavy lifting.

  Drive Traffic to Your Newly Refreshed Website

  At a high level, you can bucket your efforts into three buckets – existing customers, existing non-buyers on the mailing list, and new potential customers.

  For existing customers, make sure you have a strong email campaign touching them at a minimum once a month (twice a month is better.) They may not feel comfortable visiting you in person, but you can keep in touch with them. Alternate your sales offers with general news, recipes, and information about the winery, vineyard, or people. Everyone is feeling isolated and a bit disconnected now, so they will appreciate your outreach.

  For non-buyers on your mailing list, follow much the same strategy as the existing customers but target them with “trial” offers with low barriers. This is not the group to send a case offer to. Lean toward 2 bottle packs and comp shipping to nudge them to make their first purchase. And possibly lean more toward introductory copy about you and your winery since they don’t know you as well as your existing customers.

  Gathering brand new customers is a must. Consider that we’re experiencing double-digit unemployment at the moment and that databases, in a good year, decay at a rate of 2% a month. This equates to my prophetic prediction that if you check now, you’ve lost, at a minimum, 12% of your mailing list since the COVID closures in March. All those newly canceled business emails will only increase your bounces. You’ve got to start working on accumulating qualified leads as soon as you’re done reading this article.

  There are two significant ways to get qualified signups to your mailing list and get sales from new customers online: Facebook ads and Google Adwords. Facebook is, by far, the easiest. If you can Google Search, you can find tutorials and blogs written about how to set up Facebook ads. I can’t encourage you enough to do this right now. You should have two, maybe three campaigns running at all times. The first one, with a smaller budget, maybe $100 a month, with the goal of “like-ing” your page, so you are continually gathering a community online. A second campaign with a slightly higher budget, maybe $150-$200 a month, should focus on lead generation. Facebook has collection forms and a whole ad category for collecting leads. Just follow the directions or Google for help. The third campaign would be for sales. Pick that same introductory two-pack you’re offering to your non-purchasers on your database and create an ad on Facebook. Upload your purchasers and unsubscribes to Facebook and target this sales campaign to a “lookalike” audience.

  Google can be very effective at these three objectives as well. We have had particular success with the sales approach. Targeting is more complex, and you’ll have to watch a few online tutorials to master this, but I would encourage you to give it a try. Expect to spend about $600+ a month, however, to see decent results.

What Do You Say?

  It is understood that times are tough, and you need sales. It is also understood that your wine is delicious, award-winning, handcrafted and that if you are open, you are doing everything possible to keep it clean and contact-free. It is so universally understood – try to avoid saying it because it isn’t about you… it’s about them.

  They are feeling lonely, isolated, unsettled, burnt-out, and exhausted. While we don’t want to market ourselves as an alcoholic elixir that will solve all problems, wine is a lovely balm for much of what ails us. Over the past months, we have seen plenty of creative emails and social media posts about zoom happy hours, food and wine pairings, wine and toilet paper offers, and everything from updates on winery dogs to staff members to keep us engaged. Don’t forget to remind them there is good in the world and you are part of that good, and they are good and should treat themselves with your good wine. Keep it positive and heartfelt.

  We didn’t mention discounting. On the whole, discounting (beyond what you usually do) isn’t an effective strategy for a downturn. Why? Because in times of stress, people tend to purchase for emotional reasons, not logical ones. If you were to re-read that list in the previous paragraph of what our customers are feeling right now, a 35% discount doesn’t solve them. So, don’t rush to devalue your product. Instead, position your product as an integral part of their new reality.

One Last Point: Do Something

  I realize many of you are feeling very alone now. You’ve had to furlough or let go of staffers and are now winemaker, general, tasting room, wine club, and marketing manager. But, to circle back to the beginning of this article, doing nothing is not a strategy for success. Please don’t sit back and watch all that you’ve built fall apart around you while you wait for tasting rooms to return to their former glory.

  You don’t have to be radical or expensive or even   innovative – just pivot your efforts and your businesses toward online sales. I tried to give you tips here to get online sales on your own. If you still need help, you can literally Google how to do almost anything. But, if you don’t have the time, don’t give up. Instead, get some help. You don’t have to hire WineGlass Marketing; there are many other capable agencies. You could work with one of the hundreds of consultants out there that specialize in email or social media or website editing. And don’t forget about recent graduates. We have an entire graduating class with nowhere to go who are eager to get started with their lives. A quick and free ad on Craigslist might find someone capable who can help you for a very reasonable hourly rate and have you reaping in online sales by this time next week

  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

Highlighting the Women of Washington State Wine

woman interacting with a wine enthusiast

By: Becky Garrison

A media luncheon of Washington winemakers hosted by the Washington State Wine Commis-sion during Feast Portland 2019 featured presentations by Rachael Horn of AniChe Cellars, Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars and Kent Waliser from Sagemoor Vineyards. This luncheon afford-ed a glimpse into the bounty of Washington State’s vineyards and highlighted the contributions of the state’s women winemakers.

  According to the Washington State Wine Commission, women constitute about 8% of total winemakers operating in Washington state. Given that women account for 57% of wine volume consumed in the U.S. (Nielsen Spectra 2015), why does this industry remain male-dominated? In an attempt to shed light on this question, Horn and Womack, along with a few other Washington state-based women winemakers, offered their perspectives regarding making inroads in the in-dustry.

Mari Womack, Damsel Cellars (Woodinville, WA.)

  When Mari Womack transitioned from the restaurant to the wine industry, she saw herself as a blank slate. “I didn’t feel there were any barriers for me coming into the wine industry, other than my lack of experience and knowledge about the subject.”

  After a stint working as assistant winemaker to Darby English at Woodinville, Washington’s Darby Winery, as well as managing its tasting room, Womack set off in 2012 to make her own wine. She chose to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. “As there isn’t a predominant varie-tal in Washington State, there’s ample room for people to experiment and implement their own style of winemaking,” Womack said.

  In Woodinville, she’s encountered a number of male allies looking for diverse perspectives, with a push towards supporting women and minority-owned businesses. Along those lines, more women appear to be designing tours specifically geared towards helping women winemakers. With more women’s voices impacting and telling the story of wine from different and original perspectives, she sees the industry becoming more diverse.

  To bring about long-lasting transformative change, Womack stresses promoting diversity in her hiring practices. “You have to see it to be it.”

  She believes female winemakers must do what they can to promote the visibility of their busi-nesses and make sure their own hiring practices are inclusive and expansive. “We just don’t see enough of it. I recommend searching for qualified candidates via different avenues and programs, as well as mentoring other women,” she said.

  Even though hers is a boutique winery, though events like Taste Washington, Womack can con-nect on a large scale with vendors and consumers beyond her immediate vicinity. Also, by par-ticipating in Feast Portland, a food festival that highlights the bounty of the Pacific Northwest food and beverage culture, she became aware of the expansive nature of the Portland food scene and was able to get her wine introduced to several restauranteurs. 

  When tasting rooms shut down due to Covid-19, Womack observed how women winemakers could utilize digital media to partner with women’s groups and produce virtual wine tastings with a women-centric focus. “I don’t think we considered that customers don’t have to come to our tasting room and physically meet us in order to have a very meaningful experience. They can order our wine in advance, taste it in a virtual setting, and then become a really loyal follower at that point,” Womack said in an interview with The Grapevine Magazine

Rachael Horn, AniChe Cellars (Underwood, Washington)

  When Rachel Horn tried her hand at fermentation in 2008, her focus was on making wines that would pair well with the foods grown in the Columbia Gorge and surrounding environs. The re-sults were reflective of her favorite European wines–blended wines with a regional focus.

  Hence, she entered this industry with no concept of any gender bias. She attributes this attitude to her upbringing and the competent, intelligent women in her social group capable of making their dreams happen. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make wine because that’s what I want to do.’”

  As the only winemaker in the Columbia Gorge at this time, Horn found she lacked access to mentors and support from the all-male winemakers in the region. Also, many growers, all men, had no interest in selling fruit to her. In her estimation, they treated her as though she was engaging in a cute little hobby. “After I was called ‘sweetie’ a few times, that lit a quickfire under my ass. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll show you.’”

  Eventually, she found a vineyard that would sell her fruit. This vineyard was owned by an Amer-ican who had worked for two decades in France and was more accustomed to working with women in the wine industry. However, she still faced difficulties in purchasing equipment. Even though Horn visited vendor booths at trade shows with fellow women winemakers with the in-tention of spending $100,000 on equipment, they were ignored as the vendors focused on the males entering their booths.

  Furthermore, she found that her wines received a lower rating whenever she presented them for a tasting under her name. If she entered her wines in a blind tasting, her scores would go up by about seven points. This discrepancy proved her point that wine is gender-neutral. “Wine doesn’t care if you’re a female or male making it.”

  This lack of support also drove Horn to mentor other women looking to enter the industry. She found herself to be a person who asks questions such as, “So, we formed this new committee. How many women, people of color and queer people who represent our industry are on this committee?” In this quest, she does not seek preferential treatment for her wines because she is a female winemaker, but to have a fair shot selling her wines at the same price point as male winemakers producing similar wines.

  For those looking for more diversity at their wineries, Horn recommends identifying their demo-graphic and designing marketing materials to attract these consumers. “It’s kind of the Field of Dreams thing that ‘if you build it, they will come.’”

  Also, Horn said events like Taste Washington enabled her to truly understand consumers’ inter-ests. “When I went to Taste and stared creating relationships with people, these barriers didn’t melt away, but they were certainly lowered.”

Making Connections Regionally and Nationally

  Kerry Shiels, winemaker, Côte Bonneville in Sunnyside, Washington, felt fortunate to grow up with a mother who decided to start her winery along with many of the pioneering people in the Yakima Valley, such as Sara Spayd, Kay Simon and Marie Eve Gilla. “When my mom decided to start our winery, quality, consistency and continuous improvement were important attributes, and remain so to this day.” These women winemakers and viticulturists motivated her to get her graduate degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California Davis and work around the world before returning home.

  Jody Elsom, winemaker and owner of Elsom Cellars in Seattle, benefited from making connec-tions with local women winemakers. In particular, her interests lie in the rise of women getting their hands dirty by hanging out in the vineyard and the cellar. She recalled that when she started in the industry, she would show up to vineyards in her minivan to purchase fruit with a newborn baby and pregnant with another one. The vineyard manager would come up to her van and knock on her window, suggesting that perhaps she took a wrong turn. “It was an interesting experience for me being in that situation. I was a single mom and had to take my kids with me,” Elsom said.

  She found support with the Sisters of the Vinifera Revolution, a group of women based in western Washington who serve as a resource for female winemakers trying to break into what she describes as the “good ole boys club.” “The camaraderie has really grown, and it’s like we’ve cre-ated our own little support network–bouncing these stupid questions off of one another without feeling stupid.” 

  Elsom also benefited from bringing together female business owners from other industries and exposing them to SOVR’s wine and what they’re doing. “We all can see we have similar chal-lenges regardless of our particular industry.”

  Like Elsom, Anna Schafer, winemaker at àMaurice Vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington, found it challenging to make wine while young and pregnant, and then after having a newborn. Since her father and other male growers supported her, Schafer did not perceive her role as a winemak-er as unique. She credits her fellow winemakers in the Walla Walla Wine Alliance as wanting her to succeed, being supportive and willing to help. “If you’re there to listen, people are there to help you,” Schafer said.

  Holly Turner, winemaker at Three Rivers Winery, also found support among her fellow winemakers in the Walla Walla AVA. She, too, acknowledged the challenges still inherent in the in-dustry. “I’m pretty sure most women in the wine industry have a bit of feisty grit that has gotten them to where they are today.”

Resources for Women Winemakers

Bâtonnage Community

Winewomen.net

Womenofthevine.com

Reliability, Performance & Versatility Determine Winery Pump Choices

winery pumps
Photo Courtesy of Gorman-Rupp Pumps

 By: Gerald Dlubala  

When it comes to pumps used in the winery, there’s a pump to match every size and budget, and usually, those two variables are the deciding factors,” said Ross Battersby, sales and equipment design professional for Carlsen and Associates, an industry leader in winemaking equipment and systems. 

  “But speed can also play a part,” he said. “Large scale wineries are usually more interested in that aspect, but for the smaller volume wineries, it’s best to use something that gives the user the ability to move it around the facility for different applications. Air operated diaphragm pumps like our Yamada series are popular for wine transfer applications because they are less complicated to operate, gentle on your juice and easy to maintain and service. Positive displacement pumps like our Waukesha 130 are winery workhorses. They are popular choices and loved throughout the wine industry because of their portability and versatility. By simply using a different diameter of hose, you can easily use the same pump for many different applications throughout the winery, including must, moving 30 to 320 GPM.”

  Battersby told The Grapevine Magazine that Carlsen Waukesha’s positive displacement pumps are the best solution for all of a winery’s needs, including bottling, juice transfer, pump-overs, barrel work and must pumping. Positive displacement pumps consist of winged rotors, similar to interlocking ice cream scoops that turn and lock your fruit in and then push it out without causing any structural damage to the grapes. Pump speed is directly related to your desired GPM flow rate. Positive displacement pumps allow the operator to reverse the flow and pump wine back into the tank if and when needed. Battersby said this would be even more beneficial if your lines are configured in short runs.

  “Carlsen Waukesha pumps are operator friendly, reversible, reliable and truly last forever with minimal maintenance,” he said. “Performing annual oiling and occasional O-ring replacement, maybe three or four times a year depending on the amount of use, you’ve got a reliable, multi-use, workhorse pump.

  “But the important thing for operators to know for whatever type or brand of pump they choose to use, is that your enemy is cavitation,” said Battersby. “Cavitation occurs when the pump head can’t quite keep up with the pump speed, causing the pump to start extracting the dissolved gases in your product. It tends to happen whenever the winemaker’s only consideration in the pumping process is speed. It’s very noticeable when the hoses or lines at the end of the pump start flopping around like a fish while making a loud thrashing sound. This will eventually pit the stainless head or crack diaphragms on your pumps. It’s critical to match the orifices on your pump to the diameter of the lines that you use.”

  Battersby said that when looking to buy a pump for your winery, two main features are critical—the number of gallons per minute, or flow rate, and the head pressure, or pounds per square inch. Flow rate is self-explanatory, but your winery layout should always be considered when looking into the head pressure and pounds per square inch capabilities of a pump system.

  “We like to say that short suction provides the best delivery, so it’s best if you’re able to have everything close together for shorter lines and maximum pump efficiency,” said Battersby. “The longer your run, the more friction you have building up with your flow, making the pump work harder to move the wine. Add in the valves and bends in your lines, and it starts to take a bite out of the ability and efficiency of the pumps, especially must pumps. You have to take into consideration the highest head pressure your pumps will experience on your facility’s longest run. If you’re pumping up a high arc into a tank, there’s a lot of head pressure building up.

  “Air operated diaphragm pumps can shut off against this scenario while still holding pressure. If those same lines shut down while using a positive displacement pump and you’re not there to shut it down, the pump will keep rolling and, in short notice, will blow a line. There are pump options to help with this, like a float switch that will shut things off based on the float level. You can also set cycle timers that will switch off and on based on what you set as an adequate cycle to pump the amount of liquid over you want to move.

  “Because of these scenarios, we see a lot of tanks with their own dedicated and fixed base pump, usually a centrifugal pump, for pump-overs. They’ll have a screen over the pump and [be] programmed to do pump-overs unmanned, which is a godsend for wineries experiencing labor shortages. This worked wonders during all the recent wildfires, helping winemakers monitor and control their pumping functions from their iPhones. Winemaking protocols have changed a bit, so this type of slower, shorter bursts of pump-overs has become more common instead of one long pumping session.” 

  Like positive displacement pumps, centrifugal pumps are a reliable, long-lasting pump option for winery applications, complete with minimal maintenance needs and mechanical seals.

  “Centrifugal pumps have gotten a bad rap in the industry,” said Battersby. “In the old days, they were only set up to run at top speed, somewhere around 750 rpm. The only way to change the speed was to use methods to baffle the flow, but then the pump would keep running and shear your liquid apart. Now we have variable speed controls to tune the centrifugal pump to the speed that’s appropriate for the process. Our Waukesha 200 Series Centrifugal Pumps have been very successful, mainly used in wineries for the pump-over process and juice transfers. These pumps can empty a tanker truck in about a half-hour. The centrifugal transfer pumps allow solid particles to pass through without harming or changing their structure that would cause product breakdown. Centrifugal pumps do have to remain below the liquid level because they don’t have the self-priming capabilities of other pumps.”

Gorman-Rupp Pumps Provide Performance And Serviceability

  “We’re probably best known for our self-priming waste and trash pumps, used after the initial winemaking process is completed,” said Jeff Hannan, Product Manager-Centrifugal Pumps for Gorman-Rupp Pumps, a leading producer of waste and sewer handling applications in many industries, including wineries.

  “Our pumps can pass three-inch spherical solids when needed, and they won’t clog or bog down during the process. When we came out with our modified T Series Pumps a few years ago, it changed the way wineries go about their cleanup and waste removal. Our Super T Series, equipped with our Eradicator Solids Management System, can pass two and a half inch solids using three-inch lines, and our four-inch lines will easily move three-inch spherical solid masses. Our Eradicator Solids Management system design is an excellent choice for an easy-to-operate,  no-clog, self-cleaning pumping system.”

  Gorman-Rupp’s Eradicator system incorporates an aggressive self-cleaning wear plate containing several notches and grooves, plus a lacerating tooth to break up solids and pass them through the pump as smaller particles, ultimately reducing clog-related downtime. The Eradicator system’s additional benefits include easy access to impellers, improved efficiency, fewer maintenance costs and lower life-cycle costs. Pumps equipped with the Eradicator system do not use consumable chopper blades and are available in cast iron or hard iron configurations. The Eradicator system can also be retrofitted into all sizes of current Gorman-Rupp Super T Series pumps that are already operating in the field.

  “Our pumps are designed with removable inspection covers, wear plates and material covers,” said Hannan. “We’ve always included back cover plates for manual clog cleaning access, but those plates can get heavy, upwards of 100 pounds, so they weren’t very convenient to move and maneuver. Now we have a separate inspection plate, only weighing about 15 pounds for performing the same task, so you get the quick, pointed access needed without having to remove the entire backplate of the pump. Quicker cleaning means quicker resolution and more uptime, and that’s always the goal. This type of design was initially used to help municipal waste lines deal with those so-called flushable wipes that were not, and still are not, flushable in any way. Anything stringy like that can ball up and get hung up in the eye of an impeller, causing notches and grooving in the teeth and interior parts. The Eradicator system minimizes those issues. Then, with every rotation, the eye of the impeller is wiped clean so that there is no buildup on the impeller, and the waste can continue to pass through the system and lines.”

  “No matter what type or size of pumps you choose to use, you need to look ease of maintenance, reliability and longevity statistics of the pump, and of course the reputation of the pump manufacturer,” said Hannan. “The maintenance and service needs of Gorman-Rupp pumps are minimal and easy. Clearances between the impellers and the backplate are easily adjusted externally through the use of adjustable and locking collars to get the pump’s settings back to original factory clearance. This is important because as the gap between those parts widens with use, pump efficiency goes down. Being able to check and adjust those gaps from an external vantage point is a big advantage in retaining pump efficiency and uptime.”

  Gorman-Rupp offers full five-year warranties on their pumps, with many local distributors always willing to help and solve problems.

  “Our pumps are pretty simple to work on and maintain, with it being common to now get 25 to 30 years of service out of them,” said Hannan. “Gorman-Rupp pumps are manufactured so that the important and normal wear parts can be replaced on their own without having to replace the whole pump. And our pumps can handle all situations, including caustic cleanup activities.”

Crush Season Opens with New Methods and Challenges

man crushing grapes

By: Cheryl Gray

Annual harvests of wine grapes are already underway, and that means two words are now in motion: crush season.

  Whether in-house winery processing or custom crush and wine production services, crush season 2020 is like no other. While the challenges in each wine region are different, industry experts say that there are universal standards. The checklist includes planning, preparation, equipment maintenance, PPE for workers, supplies, lab testing for grapes, and, this year, health and safety measures that protect against the coronavirus pandemic. Not only is COVID-19 impacting crush season, but unusual weather in some parts of the United States is also affecting grape harvests.  

  For these reasons and more, this year’s crush season demands a new approach. Such is the case in Texas, where Texas Custom Wine Works, located just outside Lubbock, services vineyards across the Lone Star State. Cary Franklin is Vice President. 

  “One thing to note about this year is that we have seen widespread damage across the High Plains of Texas from an early freeze [last] October. Most growers are down 50 to 80% of their average crop. Many plants are completely wiped out and have been cut down and re-planted,” says Franklin. “The Texas wine industry has been forced to become very creative to sell wine during COVID-19 related closures. The loss of sales, combined with a major shortage of wine grapes, is creating a very interesting situation for this harvest and possible effects the industry could see over the next few years.”

  Fruit that survived arrived early this year, says Franklin, some of it as soon as mid-June. The company’s advanced planning and preparation, starting as early as February, is all the more important this crush season. As the fruit ripens, an in-house lab gives growers across Texas an opportunity to test field samples for Brix, pH, TA and seed color. Michael Hellman is Texas Custom Wine Works executive winemaker. 

  “High heat and drought-like conditions this year are causing some very high Brix and early development,” says Hellman. “We are seeing most varieties ripen at the same time. Even some of the reds will be coming in before whites.”

  In addition to standard-issue PPE supplies, such as goggles, raincoats, rubber boots and gloves, Texas Custom Wine Works has incorporated industry-wide COVID-19 protections in its health and safety protocols. Hellman says that other worker protections for entering tanks and press cleaning are standard procedure. 

  “Removing grape skins from a large tank requires tank entry and can release large amounts of CO2 as the skins are removed,” he says. “Our procedures require anyone entering a tank to have proper PPE and an O2 sensor on them with a fan pushing fresh air in the tank before entering.”

  In California’s Sonoma County, the award-winning Rack and Riddle Custom Wine Services begin harvesting the first week of August. The full-service wine production operation is famous for creating sparkling wines using the traditional French process known as Méthode Champenoise. Penelope Gadd-Coster, Executive Director of Winemaking, and a well-respected master of the Méthode Champenoise process, says that planning for crush season happens virtually year-round. 

  “Planning really never ends, as we are evaluating the wines for the blends, evaluating what has worked and what didn’t, upgrading equipment—all working towards the next harvest,” she says.

  Not one to rest on its gold medal wins in international and regional competitions, Gadd-Coster says that Rack and Riddle continually works on ways to make good wine better. Its winemaking team provides a thorough assessment of key fundamentals, such as training and workflow. Consideration of new processes and equipment plays a role in determining what will work towards improving the end product.

  “By May, we are looking at vineyards closely and working with growers,” says Gadd-Coster. “Projects are being evaluated to make sure they will be ready for harvest. About a month before harvest, the meetings become weekly to fine-tune protocols, train teams and check equipment. Then, harvest begins!”

  Key to that harvest is equipment—looking for innovation and keeping existing machinery in shape. Gadd-Coster says both earn equal attention.

  “There seems to always be something we see to make processing more efficient,” she says. “We have a new lees filter and some flotation pumps for this year. Maintenance always wants to check all of your equipment: pumps, crusher, presses, filters, temperature gauges, heating and cooling systems, punch down devices, lab equipment, scale, forklifts, pomace truck—anything mechanical—two to four months ahead of harvest.”   

  No matter the size of the operation, those in the wine industry know to expect the unexpected. Among the largest in the business is Napa Valley’s Trinchero Family Estates, which introduced the world to the first White Zinfandel. Since its founding in 1948, the company has amassed a globally recognized brand portfolio of some fifty wines and spirits. Its harvest begins in early August. Glenn Andrade is Senior Vice President of Winemaking. 

  “We know that preparation for the upcoming harvest starts after the finish of the previous harvest,” Andrade says. “Learning from every step and building onto our knowledge with each passing year is so important. We do extensive recap meetings to determine what our successes were and identify areas where we can make improvements. Hiring staff for harvest is also critical—which we start in January and do through July before harvest. Getting those folks and our regular employees trained on safety is a priority for us. Then, of course, reviewing grapes, barrels and all other harvest ingredients before the fruit starts to come in.”

  Andrade says Trinchero Family Estates has an intensive, year-round equipment maintenance protocol to accommodate its massive operational needs. Its COVID-19 protocols include on-site test kits and a company-instituted emergency response plan. 

  “This year, we’ve added a complete backup team called the Winemaking Response Team, which are individuals within our organization who can be activated if our labor force should be depleted due to COVID-19. This team is being safety trained and trained to jump in with a day’s notice to support harvest activities at any site.”

  In Washington state’s Yakima Valley, Two Mountain Winery begins fruit picking around mid-August, transferring grapes to the winery’s production facility at the beginning of September. Patrick Rawn, General Manager and head of vineyard operations, says that crush season increases the winery and farm labor team by about 30 workers. Equipment maintenance is also a priority.

  “Our primary preparation is ensuring all equipment, both farm and winery, is fully serviced and prepared to operate safely and efficiently. Additionally, any new equipment is installed and operational by [August 1], so any kinks can be worked out, and the team properly trained. We also try to predict what the timing will be so we can be sure our hand labor teams are large enough.  Along with this is training of any additional team members.”

  On the same grape-growing 45th parallel is Black Star Farms. The family-owned winemaking enterprise, located on the Leelanau Peninsula of Northern Michigan, typically begins harvest during the last week of September. Lee Lutes, winemaker and managing member, says that this year’s timetable for the winery could be different. 

  “Harvest typically begins the last week of September with early hybrid white varieties (Cayuga, Frontenac Gris) and fruit for traditional method sparkling wines,” says Lutes. “In a year like this, as we are advanced at this stage, that could move up one week or so. September is the telltale month for our industry, and much will depend on how the weather is during that month. We will be crushing approximately 650 tons of fruit between the two facilities. We farm approximately 175 acres of that, and the balance is purchased from a couple of long-time local growers.”

  Aurora Cellars is also located on Leelanau Peninsula. This full production boutique winery usually begins crush season in late September. Winemaker Drew Perry says that in late August, he spends time with the winery’s vineyard manager, testing fruit in every block twice weekly, charting a trajectory for harvest. As to fundamentals, Perry champions good and constant communication.

  “I begin by looking at what we ideally want to produce and create a master list of all the ingredients I will need to achieve that scenario.”

  Perry says that equipment maintenance occurs a week before the region’s cherry harvest, serving as “spring training” for the grape harvest.

  “Harvest is the most equipment intensive time of year. Much of the equipment we use during harvest is only used for that three-month period,” he says. “The presses, destemmer, crusher, and fruit elevator are our lifeblood this time of year.”

  Crush season 2020 is like no other in recent memory. The combination of a pandemic and adverse weather has affected nearly every facet of the wine industry—from the vineyard to labor to inventory still on hand. The path to recovery, some experts say, includes creative thinking and time-tested perseverance.