Wine Filtration Basics

By: Alyssa L. Ochs  

Filtration is a technique that winemakers use to clarify wine and remove sediment and haze. Through one of several processes, filtration prevents wine from appearing cloudy and re-fermenting in the bottle. It’s typically done using membranes or pads, but there are various methods that wineries can use to achieve their desired flavor and appearance. Therefore, it’s essential to learn about the basics of wine filtration, including methods of filtration commonly used, maintenance and cleaning considerations and tips for choosing a filtration system that works best for your winery.

The Purpose of Filtration

  One primary reason winemakers filter their wine is to make it look and taste more polished. Filtration also improves the microbial stability of wine, which prevents premature spoilage that makes a wine undrinkable. Typically, white wines are filtered to give them clarity. Some red wines are not filtered because they are better at absorbing off-aromas and flavors. This leads many winemakers to only filter reds when necessary and no more than truly needed.

Types and Methods of Filtration

  Filtration methods vary among wineries based on facility size, budget and wine quality. The most common methods of filtration used today are gravity-feed and pressurized systems. Gravity-feed filter systems offer coarse filtration, are affordable and ideal for small quantities of wine. However, these systems cannot effectively do very fine filtrations. Enter pressurized filter systems, which offer faster processing times and finer filtrations, making them more favorable among larger wineries. Unfortunately, pressurized systems also come with a higher price tag.

  Peter Wojnarowicz, President of Filter Process & Supply in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, told The Grapevine Magazine that the method of filtration depends on a couple of factors. He said that the size of the winery is the most important factor, followed by the winemaker’s preferred method of processing. Filter Process & Supply started working in the craft beverage market over 10 years ago, giving them the insight and experience to explain each system’s pros and cons and find the right one for your winery.

  “Larger scale wineries use more crossflow systems, followed by the filter press, then lenticular (stacked disc). Rounding out the last method, small mom-and-pop wineries may use a cartridge-based system,” Wojnarowicz said. “Filter Process & Supply can provide all four types of filtration. There are advantages and some disadvantages of the four methods.”

  Filter Process & Supply works with established wineries and start-ups and has a consultative approach that helps people understand that filtration does not have to be a headache, even though it can be at times. 

  “After the set-up and training, our customers become more comfortable in filtering,” said Wojnarowicz. “Our goal is to process the entire batch without replacing filters, as that not only wastes wine but also time.”

  The type of filter pad used during filtration is also something to consider. Filter pads are rated by microns, and each type—coarse, medium and fine—has a useful purpose in winemaking. Coarse pads help polish a wine without making it lose its color or body. Medium-micron pads are a standard, all-purpose pad that will only take a limited amount of body and color out of a wine. Fine pads can remove 80% or more of leftover yeast and sediment and are best used after filtering through a medium pad.

  Depth filtration is a process in which wine moves in a perpendicular flow towards the filter, allowing clean wine to pass through after particles get captured within. These particles build-up, causing pressure in the filter to increase and flow rate to decrease. Once the filter reaches a termination point, the winemaker must clean the system before continuing to use it. There are a few different forms of depth filters used for making wine, including pressure leaf, plate and frame, cartridge and lenticular.

Filtration Strategies and Steps

  There are different times in which a particular filtration type makes more sense than others. The smallest particles in wine are colloidal or precipitated proteins, which are about 0.2 to five microns, compared to yeast and bacteria that are in the 0.65 to three microns range. Grape solids and fining agents can be hundreds of microns in size.

  The first step in this process is pre-filtration, which involves removing the larger particles in suspension. Often this method includes filter pads with diatomaceous earth. These same products can be used to polish wine after this initial phase.

  The next stage moves wine through a sheet or module filtration process to reduce yeasts and bacteria. Finally, sterile filtration with a 0.45-membrane cartridge is performed after the wine is made as clear and bright as desired.

  Crossflow filtration is a technique that was first developed for the food industry in the 1940s and has become popular in winemaking in more recent decades. Developers have created a new membrane that works better for wine, increases flow rates and makes systems more automated and easier to clean. For wine filtration, the common types of membranes are hollow fiber, spiral wound and ceramic.

Filtration Maintenance, Replacement and Cleaning

  Not only is it important to learn about the different methods and processes of filtration, but also the best practices for cleaning those systems and keeping them working. One tip to remember is to store unused filter cartridges in a clean and dry environment. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper rinsing and cleaning a filtration system after use. Organic matter can stick to the surface of the membrane and clog the filter in an undesirable way if it’s not cleaned and sanitized well. 

  The filter equipment cleaning process involves pumping with an adjustable flow that can be back-pressured and withstand temperatures of around 125 degrees. PBW cleaner, a non-caustic cleaning product made with alkaline, is often used along with SaniClean or StarSan products in large buckets. Set the filter up to soak, purge the filter, rinse with hot water and acid rinse with SaniClean for the best results. Since each filtration system is a bit different, it’s best to check with the company where you purchased the equipment to inquire about the availability and cost of replacement parts.

  “We take the approach that all contact surfaces with wine should be kept clean and sanitized,” said Wojnarowicz. “Sanitizing before use is highly recommended. I have seen customers using the same barbed tri-clamp hose for years and kind of cringe knowing that the hose was clear braid, and now it is discolored beyond recognition, and you cannot adequately clean into the barbs. Fitted hoses are better; however, the lifecycle of hoses should be monitored.”

Common Filtration Mistakes

  Wojnarowicz told The Grapevine Magazine there are a few common challenges for wineries, especially when there are too little filter media with too much flow. 

  “For filtration in general, we size for a two psi or less clean pressure drop,” he said. “Flow rates and pressure differential will vary depending on how coarse or fine the porosity of the media is. With cellulose media, the clean pressure drop is typically higher, between five and 10 psi after wetting out. Generally, the higher the initial pressure, the shorter the life of the filter.”

  Another common mistake that Wojnarowicz has noticed is the inadequate conditioning of the filter media sheet or pad.

  “I have seen wineries use the pads and stacked disc right of the box with no rinsing or conditioning,” he said. “Conditioning with citric acid recirculation helps remove the initial wet cardboard taste associated with cellulose. After a 20-minute recirculation, flush with an adequate amount of fresh water, and the taste should be neutral.”  

Choosing a Filtration System

  Every experienced winemaker has a preferred way to filter wine, which is one of the many reasons why winemaking is more of an art than a science. Before purchasing a pump-based system for filtration, vintners might want to see if the product is available to rent. Wojnarowicz said they will typically pilot-trial equipment on a rental basis so the customer understands what is involved.

  Determine the capacity needed for filtration and talk to filtration companies about what types of systems can best accommodate that volume. Since each filtration pad rating is useful for different levels of clarification, wineries may benefit from keeping multiple pad types on hand.

Pumps for Filtration

  Pumps are an essential part of the filtration process, and winemakers should work with companies that can guide them towards the best pumps to use for this purpose.

  “If a customer has an existing pump, we incorporate the pump into the process as long as it makes sense,” Wojnarowicz said. “We have the ability to provide equipment for both large and small wineries. While the pump can matter, rubber impeller pumps are the most popular. Positive displacement pumps work well, as the flow tends not to decay as pressure builds. I do not care for diaphragm pumps due to the pulsing, which interferes with a stable gauge reading. Pulsation also disrupts the particle build up on the filter and can force irregularly shaped particles through the media.” 

  Filter Process & Supply recently became an East Coast distributor for Francesca Pumps after meeting with their North American representative at an Iowa trade show. Functions of this pump include pulling a vacuum from 8.5 meters, running dry for 90 seconds without damage, having a pump panel programmed for spraying the cap as many times as necessary, and not de-gassing wine due to excessive suction. This pump also has an optional function for filling barrels without fear of overflowing and pumping whole grapes from the de-stemmer into the fermenter.

Current Filtration Trends

  As with many aspects of winemaking, some filtering methods and processes are currently trending with winemakers. Fining is sometimes used as an alternative to filtration because it is a more affordable way to get control over tannin profiles while also achieving heat stability. Crossflow technology and new lees recovery developments are trending because of the energy efficiency potential. For example, crossflow filtration methods now have lower water consumption and waste production, are more resistant to heat and chemicals and have lower polysaccharide and polyphenol absorption.

Wojnarowicz said that the primary trend his company has seen is the use of backwashable media. However, while he agrees that backwashable media is cost-effective for use in the beer market, wine is another matter.

  “I would hate to recommend a backwashable media to a winery and find they stored the lenticular media for three months, then found it had odors and mold growth throughout pore structure,” Wojnarowicz said. “Even if stored based on the factory instructions, cellulose media is an organic, and organics can decay and pick up minute flavor notes. Pall Filters is a big promotor of backwash media for wine, but from what we have seen and discussed with knowledgeable industry personnel, why risk using a previously used depth filter on a flagship wine? I am not saying it cannot be done, but not everyone will re-condition media correctly.”

Filtration Tips and Advice

  Among the many best practices for wine filtration are to rinse the filter with clean water before the first use and always sterilize the filter materials with hot water. Make sure to follow the product specifications for the specific filtration system you choose and keep up with regular maintenance. Also, understand that filtration has its limitations when it comes to wine because merely using a filter won’t make a cloudy wine clear or drastically change the flavor profile to something it wasn’t meant to be.

  Wojnarowicz said that when reviewing a start-up or existing winery’s filtration goals, the gentle impaction of wine on the filter media will yield a larger throughput compared to pumping as fast as possible to get through the process. He also said the correct sizing of the pump and the filter media are crucial.

  “As a general rule, we recommend about one-half to one GPM per square foot of filter media,” he said. “You can certainly go two to three GPM per square foot or more, but the higher flow will compact the solids and pore structure, shortening the media life. Most 40-plate filter presses have one-inch ID on the piping, so flowing 15 to 20 GPM is about the maximum we recommend. The surface area and micron rating typically dictate flow recommendation.”   

  Wojnarowicz also said that the type of pump can also affect the wine. 

  “The suction side of the pump can de-gas wine, which degrades the wine,” he said. “There are sensors available to alert the operator of too much suction. If you are using a clear hose, the bubble formation in the hose can be the telltale sign.”

Preparing for a Successful Harvest

By Dana Hinders

Most vineyards in North America and Europe will harvest grapes in August, September, and October. Typically, sparkling wine grapes are harvested first to ensure lower sugar levels, followed by the white wine grapes. Red wine grapes take a bit longer to reach full maturation, so they’re harvested later in the season. Finally, the grapes for ice wines make their way to crush, as it’s desirable they dehydrate on the vine to create a raisin-like grape with highly concentrated sugars.

  In most cases, a vineyard manager will check the grapes every day during the week or two before the scheduled harvest date because each part of the vineyard must be harvested at precisely the right moment. Matthew Clark, Assistant Professor of Grape Breeding and Enology at the University of Minnesota, says that understanding basic juice chemistry isn’t as difficult as it sounds. “The question is ‘Do I have enough sugar to make my wine product?’ Higher sugar grapes provide you with higher alcohol content in your wine. If there’s not enough sugar in your grapes, you can’t make wine without adding additional sugar. The best way to test sugar levels is with a handheld refractometer, either analog or digital. Each variety has a known point at which sugar levels won’t increase.”

  It’s usually preferable to harvest when temperatures are coolest. The cooler temperatures during the evening hours make grapes firmer and easier to de-stem, as well as creating better working conditions for those in the field. And, by harvesting at night, your grapes will already be closer to the temperature needed during the cold soaking process. “In order to reduce high fruit temperatures during harvest, which accelerates deterioration and demands more energy to cool fruit down further, harvest should be carried out early in the morning when temperatures are cooler or at night if a grower has sufficient lighting,” according to Elizabeth Wahle of the University of Illinois Extension Office. “Morning harvested grapes should be kept shaded until moved to a cooling unit.”

Choosing a Harvest Method

  Traditionally, all vineyards were harvested by hand. Hand harvesting gives you more control over the process and has the advantage of doing a better job of protecting the grape’s juice content from the oxidation caused by damaged skins. Mosbah Kushad, Postharvest Horticulturist at the University of Illinois, recommends hand harvesting if possible. “The biggest concern is fruit injury,” he said. “Damaged fruits enhance the rate of fungal and bacterial growth due to the seepage of their sugars. Damaged fruits also attract insects that could affect the quality of the finished product. For a small grower, hand harvesting is the way to go.”

  The main disadvantage of hand harvesting is the amount of labor required. If you can’t recruit temporary laborers or volunteers from the community, you may need to advertise on a site such as WineBusiness.com. However, Clark stresses that your labor force has to be flexible. “The biggest mistake I see smaller growers making is picking when labor’s available,” he said. “If you arbitrarily schedule harvest for Saturday and the grapes aren’t ready until the following Wednesday, you won’t happy with the results. Garbage in, garbage out is a computer science mantra with relevance to winemaking. For quality wine, you need quality fruit.”

  When hand harvesting, you’ll need to make sure your buckets are cleaned and sanitized before the big day. Sharpen your picking slips and lubricate them with a bit of olive oil. Provide cotton picking gloves for all your workers to protect against small cuts as well as the risk of bee stings.

  Mechanical harvesting is efficient and cost-effective. “Labor availability and quality is a big factor in choosing mechanical harvesting,” says Eric T. Stafne, an Associate Extension/Research Professor at Mississippi State University. “Economics is another. There is a certain economy of scale that makes it worthwhile to have harvest equipment. The market for the fruit may also dictate which method is used.”

  The mechanical harvest method works best for large vineyards that lay on a flat patch of ground, where the rows have been laid out straight, and the posts are of uniform height.  Additionally, harvesters shouldn’t be operated near ditches, embankments, holes, steep slopes, or within 15 feet of electrical wires.  Even for vineyards prepared with mechanical harvesting in mind, it’s always a good idea to do a pre-harvest survey for low hanging limbs, wires, or any obstacle that could obstruct the path of the harvester.

Post-Harvest Essentials

  As a winemaker, you want to avoid “reinventing the wheel” with each vintage you produce. This is why it’s crucial that you keep accurate records throughout the harvest process. Don’t expect to rely on your memory to recall the exact brix and pH you want or your average crop load per vine. Jot down relevant details on a notebook in your pocket or use a voice recording app on your smartphone. When the harvest is over, transfer everything to a spreadsheet so you’re ready for the following year.

  “At a minimum, records should be maintained to monitor vine balance: dormant pruning weights and yields are used to calculate crop load (Ravaz index),” Wahle said. “Over the years, this helps determine the impact of management and fruit quality. Yield can be estimated by keeping track of the number of vines per block, the average number of clusters per vine, and average cluster weights annually at harvest.”

  You’ll also need to tend to your field after your grapes have been picked. “Don’t forget the vines after harvest,” Stafne said. “They may need fungicide and insecticide applications to retain leaves, irrigation during dry periods, etc. to reduce vine stress and promote good health going into fall and winter. This will reduce chance for winter injury and encourage bud fruitfulness in the following year.”

  Vines should be pruned in winter when they are fully dormant. Without the leaves in the way, it’s easier to see the structure of the plant. When pruning, promptly remove and dispose of any diseased wood with lesions or sap, grapes that didn’t ripen, mold, and discolored leaves. Sterilize your pruning equipment by dipping the cutting blades in a solution of isopropyl alcohol after you’ve finished with each vine.

Harvest Time at Adelaida

  Located just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Adelaida’s family-owned vineyards are in the mountainous terrain of Paso Robles’ Adelaida District. “We are one of the oldest wineries in Paso Robles, established in 1981,” explained Glen Mitton, winery and vineyard ambassador. “Our estate vineyards are planted between 1,650 ft. and 1,980 ft. We own the oldest continually producing Pinot Noir Vineyard in the Central Coast, planted in 1964. Our soil is a diverse combination of limestone, chalk, and clay with amazing water retention properties to enable us to dry farm 30% of our vineyards and also 100% of our 700 plus acres of walnuts.”

  The vineyards are farmed with Earth-friendly practices, which earned Adelaida the honor of being named a Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Winery & Vineyard (CCSW) in 2015. “We pick our grapes based on flavors and condition of plant, as our winemaker is in the vineyard daily,” remarked Mitton. “We hand harvest all of our 157 acres of estate vineyards at night usually starting at midnight. Grapes are placed and transported from vineyard to winery in 20 lb. trays. While each year is different, we find our estate vineyard is a four to six weeks harvest process.”

Harvest Time at Laurita Winery

  Central New Jersey’s Laurita Winery is committed to creating wines that derive as much character from the fruit as possible. They pride themselves on being responsible stewards of the land, with 43 fully cultivated acres of vineyards and 200 acres of woodlands, meadows, and pasture. “We hand pick based on what varieties are ripe at the time,” noted Nicolaas Opdam, Oenologist/Vineyard Manager. “The process is monitored carefully. We take samples for two to three weeks to monitor sugar levels and pH. Since each grape variety ripens at its own pace, we usually have a few days between harvest sessions. This makes us fortunate to have a little flexibility in scheduling our labor force.”

  Laurita Winery employs staff members, their families or friends, and seasonal labor to pick the grapes. The pickers are taught to pay close attention to the vines, only picking the highest quality grapes. A second sorting occurs after picking to make sure damaged grapes or foreign material is removed. Opdam commented, “We’re an old school winemaker.  We watch the weather forecast and the condition of the vines carefully, but there’s a family feel to the whole harvest process.”

Harvest Time at Garvin Heights Vineyards

  In Winona, Minnesota, Garvin Heights Vineyards specializes in the growing of cold climate grapes developed by the University of Minnesota and Elmer Swenson. Made by cross breeding native American varieties with those from Europe, their grapes can withstand Minnesota’s colder temperatures while producing wine similar to what you might find in more traditional growing areas.

  According to co-owner Linda Seppanen, deciding when to harvest involves several factors. “Our primary chemistry considerations are the brix (sugar level) plus the acid level for the style of wine that we are intending to make,” she shared. “Along with this is when we can get a picking crew, what the weather will be, if we are having a lot of bird pressure even through the netting, and when the Asian Lady Beetles numbers are getting bad.”

  To find supplemental labor for their hand picking, Garvin Heights Vineyards enlists the help of local students. They also work with clubs that want to earn money for extracurricular activities, thereby streamlining the harvest process while also helping to support the community.

The Unexpected is Growing in Niagara

By: Alyssa Andres

As a cool climate wine region, the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, Canada, is traditionally known for planting specific grape varietals that thrive in a colder climate. The region is known for its delicate Riesling and Cabernet Franc with a distinct note of green pepper. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are planted widely across the Peninsula and flourish. This is unsurprising since Niagara is situated at the same 43-degree latitude as Burgundy, France. However, that is not all that is being planted in Niagara. Within the region, winemakers and grape growers are experimenting with the unexpected, taking on grape varietals that have never before been grown in Canada.

  It’s true; Niagara is technically a cool climate wine region, but the weather varies dramatically from year-to-year,  just as in Bordeaux. In certain years, temperatures start rising as early as April or May, and early bud bursts allow for an extremely long ripening season. Other years the region can be devastated by frost shortly after temperatures start to rise, and winemakers are at risk of losing entire crops. Summers are warm and even Mediterranean, with days reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Long, sunny periods leading into the winter let even late-ripening grapes become quite juicy in the warmest of vintages and allow winemakers to create single-varietal expressions of grapes typically known to be hot climate varietals.

  J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux of Stratus Vineyards is one winemaker that began experimenting with warm climate varietals as soon as he started his vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2006. Known for his mastery of the Old World Art of assemblage, when Groux planted his first vines, he included half an acre each of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Tannat and Mourvedre. He wanted to experiment with what was possible in Ontario, and use this unique combination of grapes to create his Stratus Red blend, an annual release that Groux deems the perfect combination of aromatics, mouthfeel, length and complexity.

  Of the four unexpected varietals, the only one that did not survive the Canadian climate was Mourvedre. Even after being left on the vine until December 21st, the berries were still not ripe enough. However, the other three grapes were successful, including Tannat, which is known to be extremely late-ripening. Traditionally grown in the South of France and now the national grape of Uruguay, Tannat requires excessive heat and sun to avoid being overly acidic and astringent. This means that in Ontario, a lot of maintenance is needed in the vineyard to achieve success with Tannat, and, as a result, it is an expensive varietal to produce.

  All of the leaf removal, pruning, crop thinning and picking of the Tannat is done by hand with the goal of creating the best expression of the grape as possible. Unlike in hot climate wine regions, there is no risk of sunburn for the grapes in Ontario. Pruning must be done early; most of the leaves are removed from the vines in the spring to allow grape clusters complete exposure to the sun. After leaf removal, the crops must undergo a complete adjustment, with the majority of the fruit getting dropped to the ground, reducing yields from approximately six tons an acre down to just two. Yield reduction encourages more quality grapes that are at less risk of being underripe. Frost eliminates most of the leaves by late October or November, but the winter can still see lots of sunshine during the daytime and can lengthen the harvest substantially. The grapes are left on the vine to ripen for as long as possible; most years, Tannat will not be harvested until the second week of November.

  Groux typically uses the Tannat in his Stratus Red Blend to add acidity, tannin and alcohol. If the Tannat is needed for the blend, 100% of harvested grapes will go into it. In some years, however, Groux has been able to produce a single varietal expression of the grape. In 2017, an early budburst and a late harvest meant an amazing yield for Tannat, and Stratus was able to release a 2017 single varietal expression. 2018 brought heavy rainfall during harvest, and, as a result, was a bad vintage for Tannat. However, Stratus managed to produce a 2018 single varietal Petit Verdot that was just bottled this past July. It won’t be until May 2021 that Stratus winemakers decide if the 2019 Tannat grapes will be used in a blend or on their own. This year looks promising for the hot climate grape, with lots of heat and sunshine sweeping across the Niagara-on-the-Lake region so far this summer.

  This year’s weather is also helpful at Ridgepoint Wines in Vineland on the Niagara Escarpment, where winemaker Mauro Scarsellone has been growing Nebbiolo since 1999. The warm weather is a relief for Scarsellone after experiencing harsh winters in Ontario the past couple of years. Cold weather is the biggest issue for Nebbiolo grapes, which need to spend more time on the vine to ripen fully. While the vines can survive the cold, it is challenging to produce a reliable Nebbiolo every year in the Niagara region. To achieve a quality product requires a lot of thought in the vineyard. The yield of the vines will have a significant impact on the wine, so Scarsellone will thin clusters to as few as one or two per shoot. During veraison, if he sees clusters that have not significantly started to ripen, he will drop the fruit to the ground, reducing the yield to as little as one and a half tons per acre. 

  In the hottest years, Ridgepoint can produce single-varietal Nebbiolo that is reminiscent of a Barolo. In cooler vintages, the Nebbiolo starts to resemble a Barbaresco, a softer expression with more elegant, floral notes. The winery is currently offering its 2010 Nebbiolo in the tasting room, a big and bold wine with smooth tannins and a lengthy finish. However, this is not their only unexpected offering.

   Ridgepoint is also offering a sparkling wine made from what could be the only Glera growing in North America. Glera is a Northern Italian grape that is the dominant grape used in Prosecco. By definition, Prosecco must be made using 85% or more Glera and made in the Charmat method. Scarsellone wanted to make his own version of Prosecco from Ontario but could not find Glera vines growing anywhere within the region. He started asking around in British Columbia and even California to no avail. After an intense search, he discovered a grape grower in Stoney Creek, Ontario, whose father was born in Friuli, Italy, and had brought Glera vines over to Canada 20 years prior. Scarsellone bought all the grapes the farmer produced in 2019 to use in his version of Prosecco. The resulting sparkling wine is bright and fruity with notes of mandarin orange, ripe peach and even tropical notes of guava and passionfruit. While technically the wine cannot be bottled under the classification of Prosecco because of labeling laws surrounding the term, it’s an exciting first for the Niagara Peninsula and Ridgepoint Wines. Equally as exciting, 2020 is the first year the winery will grow Glera on-site.

  Scarsellone plans to continue experimenting with classic Italian grapes in his vineyard. He is growing Rondinella and Corvina for use in an authentic style Appassimento, but he says he has to be careful. He currently uses approximately 25% of the vineyard for “sensitive” varieties that run the risk of not making it through to harvest. It’s a balance between an art and a business for him, and each year brings new challenges. This year, he says, he almost put up a “for sale” sign after temperatures dropped and snow hit in mid-May, forcing him to use wind machines to keep frost off the newly budding vines. However, he managed to pull through and is cautiously optimistic about the 2020 vintage. With lots of sunshine, heat and a lack of moisture so far this summer, the berries should be ripe and concentrated as long as there isn’t too much rain throughout harvest. September and October can be tumultuous months for the wine region and can make or break a vintage. 

  Grape growers and winemakers in the Niagara Peninsula can only hold their breath and wait to see what kind of weather the rest of 2020 will bring. Temperatures might rise or fall, and winemakers will have to react accordingly to ensure the quality of their crops. By planting a diverse variety of grapes that thrive well under different circumstances, winemakers can ensure they have a successful harvest each year. From Tannat and Nebbiolo to Corvina, Malbec, Aglianico and Old Vine Foch, it is all growing in Ontario. As this New World wine region continues to grow and blossom, it is becoming more apparent that Niagara is capable of more than just ice wine—it is becoming a world-class wine region for the unexpected.

Covid, Community & Commerce: The Emergence of Online Engagement & eCommerce

By: Carl Giavanti

Many wineries, business partners and consumers are at home in some form of quarantine or under stay at home restrictions. This is a communications opportunity – to interact with other tasting room and wine industry professionals on social media – as well as with your customers, and not just to sell wine.

  Consumers will want to know what’s going on with the winery, and may be interested in engaging with you online. DTC marketing outreach by old school mail, email and social media will keep people informed and updated, as well as offer them online opportunities to enjoy your wines shipped direct to their homes.

  Be authentic and genuine. What is Your Brand really all about? I’m reading that people don’t want more pitches for wine, but want to know what the winery is doing to accommodate followers and community during the crisis. I would hedge a little on promos, and err on the side of subtlety and indirect offers, by focusing on wine education and entertainment experiences which are brand appropriate.

  Is this the long-awaited inflection point to meaningful winery eCommerce? Now is the time for wineries to find creative ways to shift their business models and shift their sales channel strategies. The last 10 years saw an adjustment from reliance on distribution sales to selling Consumer Direct. Small producers with fully established DTC programs are the most affected by this disruption and many are reacting very quickly and creatively with online solutions. I think this will be the point of transition for those wineries that have not fully embraced eCommerce, to establish online sales as a significant and ongoing part of their DTC programs.

  In addition to curbside pickup and drop-off services, there has been lots of interest and many calls for Virtual Tastings from the winery associations and the media. They are looking for events that are part of your programming, so scheduling and publishing well in advance – to allow for system testing (Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Zoom, Skype, etc.) and presentation practice is important, as well as providing ample time for shipping if customers are interested in acquiring specific wines for the event. From my perspective, this could and should become part of your ongoing DTC program – post pandemic – to reach out-of-state and other targeted groups, i.e. consumers, out of state club members, trade or media – so why not get a program in place now and take a leadership position?

  I also suggest you do the math and focus on “Shipping Included” promotions versus discounts. Develop a progressive schedule of different packages and gift packs for instance. Consider which wines to offer for virtual tasting events featuring winemaker and staff. You might be surprised at people’s willingness to meet and taste with you online – with either your wines or for wine education. Finally, remember the phone? I know its old school, but the human voice is reassuring. Keep your staff engaged by having them contact your best customers, not just club members. Check to see how they are doing, let them know what’s happening at the winery – and just this one time – don’t ask or mention selling them wine. You might be surprised at the results.

  Here are some best practice marketing articles I’ve read that you may find helpful:

•    Wine Direct – scheduling, engaging and selling wine direct to consumer: https://www.winedirect.com/resources/knowledge-center/covid-19-and-your-winery

•    Amber LeBeau, SpitBucket Blog – discusses the importance of authenticity. Offers recommendations and creative ideas for winery pandemic responses: https://spitbucket.net/2020/03/19/the-coronavirus-email-id-like-to-get/

•    Rob McMillan, Silicon Valley Bank – eCommerce is your pivot from tasting room sales, and Rob offers fun ideas to engage, sell and ship wines to consumers: https://svbwine.blogspot.com/2020/03/selling-wine-in-pandemic.html

  For my part as a publicist, I’m focused on shipping wines to reviewers across the U.S., not only the large national publications but also critics and writers whose opinion matters. Their reports and reviews will help my clients stay top of mind and provide important content to support their marketing efforts. I’ll also reschedule canceled March and April visits, and hopefully start booking media tours again late spring, early summer. That’s my best guess timing at this point. Of course, pitching client stories to national and regional outlets including magazines, broadcast and radio seemingly never ends.

  Things that wineries can do on the digital and marketing side are:

•    Website – update all pages with current information, virtual offers and photos. Position the site as if you are an online only business, with tasting room and in person experiences coming soon. Special focus now should be on the shopping cart and mobile shopping experience. Is the site fully responsive? If not fix that. What shipping or “quarantine” promos can you run to capture online sales?

•    Photo Gallery – setup or update your gallery by category (Seasons, Views, People, Vineyard, Harvest, Events, etc.) and populate with best available high-resolution photos. Someone will need to curate your library of photos. I use this resource often for media image requests. Why is professional photography so important?

•    Content Schedule – setup and maintain a schedule for email and social media marketing. Identify content in advance – news, promos, photos, etc. This also helps me coordinate media outreach and with your marketing department.

•    Wine Club Retention – you are likely to get some cancels or credit card rejections. Offer membership suspends for 3 months, downsize club levels or at least keep them on the general email list for future “we want you back” campaigns.

  I believe the 2020 pandemic will trigger an industry-wide transition to more meaningful digital and social communications, and most importantly eCommerce as a profitable channel. Not all wineries will get it done. Those that do will be in a better position going forward.

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

www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media