Steaming the Bottling Line

bottles in line for sanitation

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Steam is one of the most widely used methods of sanitizing a bottling line and cartridge filter prior to bottling.  If done properly a “sterile bottling” can be secured at each bottling run.  Steam, for safety reasons, is a nuisance, yet most wineries still find it the bottling sanitation measure of choice.  Steam is hazardous to use and the author accepts no liability for error on behalf of the operator.  Please be careful if this is your first time!  Be careful every time!

  Bottling is an important time to be on your game.  You will only get one chance to do this properly so it must be taken very seriously.


  A winemaker interested in bottling a wine sterile will want to eliminate all viable bacteria and yeast from the bottling line and final filter prior to bottling day.  Even winemakers who are bottling unfined and unfiltered wines sterilize their bottling lines before bottling for extra security.  Steam, when used properly, is lethal to all living organisms.


  Live steam is the key to doing this procedure properly.  If an orifice or filler spout is expected to be sterile, a flow of live steam must be coming from that area.  Below are guidelines for steaming a bottling line and final filter prior to bottling.  Some of these principals may need adjusting for your specific line set up.

  Before starting the below procedure, it is recommended to rinse out all the areas that will come into contact with the steam.  Do a visual inspection for dust or foreign matter in areas that will come into contact with the wine – filler bowl, filter housing, filler spouts, etc.

1.    Secure a source of steam that will be abundant enough to handle the set-up.  A six-spout gravity flow filter may require less output from the steamer than a 16 spout filler.

2.    Secure a wine hose that will allow steam to flow through it safely and use it for all the connections down stream of the steam.  This hose should also be appropriate for wine.

3.    Have the steamer as close to the bottle filler as practicably possible while also allowing for a sterile filter cartridge(s) to be placed prior to the filler.  (The closer the items are – the shorter the runs – leading to less error and faster ramp-up in the steaming cycle.)  Some bottling units are nice since a cartridge filter may be attached directly to the bottom of the unit minimizing hose length.

4.    Place a stainless steel T with two valves prior to the cartridge filter and a T with two valves after the cartridge.  Accurate pressure gauges should be placed on the T’s so the winemaker can monitor the pressure during steaming and during bottling.  (Remember to use pressure gauges that are designed to be steamed!)

5.    Attach the hoses as if pumping wine through the filter and to the bottling line.

6.    Open all valves in the beginning.  (If using a mono block – make sure the automated solenoid valve is in the open position to allow steam into the filler bowl.) {If a safety blow off valve is not on your steamer – please install one yourself or take it to a qualified mechanic to install one.}

7.    Turn on the steamer to initiate the creation of steam leaving all the valves down stream of the steamer open.

8.    During the ramping up of the steam, condensed water may flow out of these open valves.  Allow this to happen until it turns to steam.  Then turn the valve toward the closed position but do not fully close.  Leave the valve(s) “cracked” open to allow a small amount of live steam to flow from the valve.  This insures that the valve(s) has come up to the steam temperature and that it will remain at that temperature as long as live steam is flowing from it.

9.    “Chase” the steam through the complete setup and throttling back valves as steam appears.

10. When a full set of steam has reached the final destination of the end of the run (This may be the ends of every filler spout or the leveling mechanism in some mono blocks, etc.)  – we can start timing the steaming operation. Double check that all the filler spouts are open and that steam is flowing.

11. Places to look in the filler bowl may be a drain valve.  Make sure that it is cracked open slightly to allow for a free flow of steam.  Plus the tops of each filter housing etc.

12. Step back and look at the operation asking yourself “Is steam getting everywhere and on all the surfaces that may come into contact with the wine?”  If the answer is – “YES” proceed to timing the operation.

13. Most winemakers steam for a minimum of 18 minutes and up to 25 or more should do little or no harm.

14. During the steaming operation – one may take steaming temperature crayons around to double-check they have achieved the desired temperature at a specific location on the bottling line. Steaming crayons are pencil like devices made of materials that melt at certain temperatures. 

         Caution is important when using these crayons on parts that may contact the wine.  If wishing to test an area coming into contact with the wine – run a trial steaming operation – use the crayons – allow the line to cool and then thoroughly clean the area the crayons have contacted.

15. During the steaming operation – continue to check on the operation to make sure the function is continuing as planned and for safety reasons. Check that filler spouts have not “jiggled” into the closed position.

16. After the steaming operation time limit has been met, the operator may once again check to make sure all the orifices are steaming as needed.  Then turn off the steam source and allow for cooling of the lines, spouts and cartridge(s), etc.

17. Allow the system to come to room temperature and perform an integrity check (procedure to be covered in a future article) on the final absolute membrane filter to insure the unit will perform properly at the rated micron level.  Make sure the parts used to do this are free from microbes and that they have been cleaned with a 70% ethanol solution or equivalent protocol.

18. Do not disconnect any of the lines at this juncture.  Use a spray bottle of the ethanol referenced above on all areas that have a possibility of compromised sterility.  When in doubt – spray it!  Filler spouts – too! The winemaker has a totally sterile system from the final filter down stream to the filler spouts!

19. Aseptically close the filler spouts so they will retain wine when wine flows to them.

20. Attach the upstream line that was connected to the steamer to a source of appropriately pre-filtered wine.

21. Start the flow of wine slowly through the system once again “chasing” the wine through the cracked valves.  Some water may be allowed to drain off before wine reaches its destination.

22. Once the wine is completely through the system – complete the cycle by running several sets of bottles through the filler and returning that wine to the wine tank being bottled.  This will insure the first bottle of wine off the line will be exactly the same composition, as practically possible,  as the last bottle of wine.

23. Resume the normal bottling operation.

24. After bottling rinse the final filter with water and perform another integrity check to confirm the filter held all day.

25. Once bottling is complete, make sure to rinse all the areas of the transfer lines, final filter housings and filler bowl / spouts to remove any residue of wine.  Some winemakers (like me) will actually rinse and then resteam the line without the final filter while cleaning up at the end of the day.  This is a great idea especially after running a cuvee for sparkling wine on your “everyday” bottling line.  Remember one will still want to steam prior to the next bottling – too!

26. Send a bottle off to a certified lab or test in house under a microscope to make sure the wine is indeed clean and refermentation or a malo-lactic is not a concern.  Taking samples at different times of the days bottling run can be a great idea to help identify any problem areas if they should occur later during the bottling day.   

Some Other Helpful Hints: 

•     Use water that is clean and free of minerals to extend the life of the steamer.  Also, some water issues may clog the filters prematurely or during the steaming cycle.

•     If the bottling line has ball valves on the filler or other areas – make sure these are physically clean and sterilized properly with steam.  This is an area that can create cross-contamination issues with bottling.

•     Contact your final filter supplier to make sure the procedures about to be incorporated are in line with their recommendations and to see if they recommend other helpful advice about their product and the specifications of their product.   

•     Contact your equipment dealer to make sure the equipment will hold up to the procedure and to hear potential areas of concerns.  They may be familiar with other wineries that have done these procedures so they may be able to give helpful tips and suggestions.

  If looking to sterile bottle your wines for the first time – take the above steps and recommendations and implement them to cater to your specific bottling line setup.  Every line is different with a new set of places on which to focus or of which to be aware.  Open the lines of communication with your suppliers, winemaker and bottling crew to make sure the above can be implemented successfully. 

Vineyard Bacterial and Fungal Trunk Diseases Prevention and Control

infected crop
Crown Gall symptoms caused by A. vitis

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

Grapevine trunk diseases occur worldwide and can be caused by bacterial or fungal pathogens, and sometimes a combination of both. Pathogenic bacterial and fungal pathogens can be found colonizing the vineyard soil.  It is important to note that important trunk disease fungal pathogens not only affect grapevines, but also cause disease in landscape and fruit trees. Grapevine stock can be infected with important pathogens which makes it important to screen nursery material for their presence prior to planting.

  Below I describe the most common grapevine trunk diseases caused by bacteria and fungi.  As with viruses, bacterial and fungal pathogens can be found in mixed infections (even viruses can be present), exacerbating the problem in a vineyard.

Crown Gall

  The disease is caused by the tumor-producing bacterial species, Agrobacterium vitis.  The bacteria penetrate the vines through mechanical injuries caused physical damage caused during vineyard operations or by freezing temperatures.  The galls are generally visible at the crown area of the plant but can also be found in the upper portion of the vines and at the graft union of nursery produced vines.  The bacterial-induced galls cause a reduction of the flow of water and nutrients that eventually cause vine decline and death.  Although the disease occurs more frequently in the Eastern and Mid-Western United States vineyards, I have observed vineyards severely affected by A. vitis in Californian vineyards.  The best practice to avoid the infection of this bacteria is to plant material from vineyards free of A. vitis.  There are diagnostic tools for the detection of pathogenic (tumor-inducing) strains of A. vitis.  However, often times the tests may yield false negative results. 

Petri Disease, Young Vine Decline, Esca

  The disease caused by Cadophora,

Phaeoacremonium and Phaeomoniella species in young vines is known as young vine decline.  In older vines, the disease caused by the same fungal pathogens is known as Esca.  The disease is chronic when vines express a gradual decline of symptoms over time, or acute when the vines decline and die within a few days.  These acute symptoms are known as the apoplectic stage of the disease. It is not uncommon during the apoplectic stage of the disease to see dead vines carrying mummified grape bunches.

Bot Canker, Eutypa, Phomopsis Die Back, and Other Cankers

  Various pathogens can cause canker diseases in the vineyard. Bot-canker or dead arm disease is caused by different species in the Botryosphaeriaceae family.   The most severe Bot-canker species is Lasidiplodia theobromae, while weaker symptoms are caused by Diplodia spp.   Eutypa dieback is caused by different species in the Diatrypaceae family.  The best characterized and known species is Eutypa lata, but species of Criptovalsa, Diatrypella, and Eutypella can also cause canker disease in grapevines.  In my lab we characterized Seimatosporium species as a fungal pathogen that causes decline and cankers in grapevines, but within the same fungal group others have reported Pestalotoipsis and Truncatella to cause disease in grapevines.  Another canker pathogen includes Diaporthe (also known as Phomopsis).  The canker symptoms observed in the sections of affected cordons or trunks in grapevines may appear to be similar but caused by unrelated fungal species, however, the life cycles and mode of infection may be different.

Black Foot

  Species of Campylocarpon, Cylindrocladiella, Dactylonectria, and Ilyonectria (previously known as Cylindrocarpon spp.) are the causal agents of this complex disease.   These fungi are soil-born and most active on compact soils with poor drainage.  Symptoms above ground can be indistinguishable from young vine/ Esca disease described above.  Additionally, the decline symptoms can be confused with Pierce’s disease, caused by Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterial pathogen.

Sudden Vine Collapse (previously known as Mystery collapse)

  A couple years ago, Lodi growers in California reported a syndrome in which their vines collapse and die within a short period of time.  In 2011, while working at STA, we tested vines with similar symptoms, not just from Lodi, but from California’s Central Valley, and Central Coast vineyards.  We detected a combination of fungal pathogens (not always the same usual suspects) and viruses, namely Grapevine leafroll associated -3 (GLRaV-3) and the Vitivirus Grapevine virus F (GVF).  Last year, researchers at the University of California at Davis with fungal expertise (Dr. Akif Eskalen) and viral expertise (Dr. Maher Al Rwahnih) analyzed symptomatic vines with this syndrome.  The samples were subjected to high throughput sequencing for the discovery of novel viruses and to fungal culture diagnostics.  The results were similar to those found in my laboratory: various fungal pathogens (not consistent in every sample), GLRaV-3, and Vitiviruses were detected in the collapsed vines.

Other Diseases

  Species of Armillaria mellea (Oak root fungus), Phytophthora, and Verticillium are soil-born fungal species capable of causing decline and rots in the vineyard.  Just as described above for black foot disease, these pathogens strive in compact soils with poor drainage.

Disease Management and Control

  The best disease management and control measure I recommend is to prevent the introduction of pathogens in the vineyard.  None of the US-certification programs exclude trunk disease pathogens.  Therefore, propagation material is most likely infected with A. vitis and various fungal pathogens.  It is encouraging to learn that work at Marc Fuchs laboratory at Cornell University has shown that it is possible to eliminate A. vitis from vines using the standard meristem tissue culture technique. 

  The availability of clean planting material (tested to be free of A. vitis) are most important in areas that are prone to freezing such as the North East and Mid-Western United States vineyards. 

  The implementation of appropriate sanitation measures at the nursery is most needed to produce high quality planting grapevine material.  It is known that one infected vine can produce between 100 -200 vines each year, potentially producing a significant number of infected grafted plants.  The use of hot water treatment (HWT) for 30 minutes at 50C (122F) at the nursery has shown a reduction of fungal pathogens in propagated vines.  However, there are mix reports on the effect of the HWT on bud mortality.  Reports in warmer winegrowing regions (e.g., Spain) have shown a lower effect on bud mortality compared to HWT in cool climate regions (e.g., Australia).   Because fungal pathogens cannot be eliminated in the vineyard once introduced, it is important to learn and apply the best management practices available. 

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

  It is known that the effect of grapevine fungal pathogens increases as the vineyard ages (the fungal pathogen population build up over time).  Therefore, growers must adopt management and control measurements as soon as the vines are planted in order to prevent and minimize the propagation and dispersal of fungal pathogens.

  Management at the vineyard should include expertly trained personnel for pruning activities.  In California where the rainy season coincides with the pruning season it is recommended to prune as late as possible.  If the vineyards are large, the double pruning method can be applied. This consists in the mechanical pre-pruning of vines, leaving canes of 1-2 feet long.  In the spring or late winter, the pruning is completed by leaving the desired final number of buds per spur. In all cases, after pruning, the pruning waste must be removed from the vineyard as soon as possible. The freshly produced wounds should be protected using fungicides or SafeCoat VitiSeal. 

  The recommendation of pruning as late in the season as possible is related to the healing of the wounds.  Since the vine is more active in the spring, it is expected that healing will occur faster.  Another reason is that most fungal trunk disease pathogens release spores during the rainy season. 

  Therefore, by the end of the winter or early spring, the proportion of spores is expected to have been reduced to a minimum (in areas with predominantly winter precipitations). 

  However, wound protection will still be required because fresh wounds are more susceptible to infection and can remain susceptible for long periods of time.   Things to avoid during pruning are: producing large wounds, cutting near the trunk, pruning after long periods of rain, and leaving vine residues in the vineyard floor.  It is also important to respect the flow of sap, which is accomplished by cutting always on the same side of the vine.

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

  A more drastic disease management practice includes vine re-training also known as remedial surgery.  The procedure consists of training a new shoot from the base of the trunk to replace the old decayed vine trunk or cordons.  The technique can help gain some years of production but will not cure the vines from the disease as likely the pathogens are systemically established in the vine.  In areas with winter freezing temperatures, it is recommended to grow more than one trunk per vine. 

  If one of the trunks is compromised by disease, others are available to continue with the vine’s productive life.  Keep in mind that the pathogenic fungi are systemic in the vine, and as mentioned earlier this method can buy some time before the vine declines and dies. 

  When replacing vines, the grower must understand that the A. vitis and fungal pathogens are able to survive in dead portions of the roots, therefore new vines that are planted (even if free of bacterial or fungal pathogens) can become infected over time if vine roots are not completely removed from the vineyard.

  Other methods that have been reported for the management of fungal diseases include planting mustard (Sinapsis alba) plants as cover crops that act as a biofumigant and biological control agents such as Trichoderma species, and mycorrhizal fungi. In areas prone to crown gall infection, I have observed growers produce soil mounds to protect the trunk from freezing. 

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

  Judit Monis, Ph.D. is a California-based plant health consultant, provides specialized services to help growers, vineyard managers, and nursery personnel avoid the propagation and transmission of disease caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their vineyard blocks.   Judit is fluent in Spanish and is available to consult in other important wine grape growing regions of the word.   Due to COVID 19 Pandemic, Judit is available to perform virtual vineyard visits.  Please visit for information or contact to request a consulting session.

Are You Seeing the “Low Hanging Grapes?”

(What if OSHA Came Knocking at Your Door?)

Frequent Winery OSHA Violations – Are You in Compliance?


By: Michael Harding, Senior Risk Solution Specialist, Markel Specialty

If you’ve been doing this for a while, no one needs to tell you that operating a winery is NOT a simple business. There are many things to pay attention to in order to run your winery efficiently. You have to contend with regulatory approval, deal with all of the aspects of making your wine, obtain the right equipment, staffing, marketing & sales as well as sanitation and waste management – just to mention a few. Oh yea, don’t forget safety and OSHA compliance! Is that also on your list of things to manage?

  You might think that safety is just common sense and that your employees will always  work safely while on the job. This is not always the case. Each year thousands of employees die from work-related deaths and thousands more are injured on the job, many of which require numerous days away from work. This not only causes pain and stress for the employee and family but also costs employers (such as you) billions of dollars each year.

  The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA, commonly called the OSH Act)was enacted in 1970 to “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions to preserve our human resources”. This OSH Act consists of a number of safety and health regulations that employers are required to follow. The OSH Act also allows states to enact their own safety and health laws as long as they are at least as strict (meaning some states regulate more than others) as the federal standards. As a winery, you are required to comply with these standards (either federal or your state’s program). So how do you think you doing?

  If you’ve never experienced an OSHA inspection, the National Safety Council has an excellent article, “What to expect when OSHA is inspecting” that can provide you with valuable insight regarding OSHA inspections. This article also highlights a list of programs that require records and proof documents that you may need to be maintaining.

  For this article, we’ll highlight frequently cited federal OSHA regulations for wineries (within NAICS Code of 312130) during the past year as well as violations cited in California (with one of the larger state OSHA programs and a large number of wineries).  We hope you and your winery find this information useful. We suggest you use this information to develop a checklist that you can use to help improve your safety program, where needed, and perform inspections to help you “see the low hanging grapes” regarding OSHA compliance. Of course, there may be  other safety regulations that may also apply to your winery so you’ll want to consider seeking out professional advice regarding any additional standards that may apply.

  Should you need help with any of these regulations, you can contact your local state OSHA office; most of them have a free voluntary compliance division that can offer free advice and assistance. They can also provide you with the specifics of each of the regulations governing your state.

Frequent Winery Violations

  Below you will find some of the frequently cited OSHA regulations within the winery industry. If you click on the heading of each, it will take you directly to the federal OSHA regulation.

  General Duty Clause: OSHA requires that each employer “furnish to each of its employees a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees.”

  With this you’re expected to identify and correct any health or safety hazards present in your work environment. This is a “high level” standard and a serious responsibility that you as an employer must address to reduce the chances of one of your employees being injured or harmed. OSHA provides guidance on what elements should be included in an effective occupational safety and health program.

  Some states (such as California) even require that employers develop a written “Injury and Illness Prevention Program” (IIPP) which is a basic safety program tailored to your winery operations. As part of an IIPP you are required to identify the hazards within your workplace and how you can eliminate or reduce them.

  Hazard Communication:  This standard requires that you must provide your employees information about the hazardous substances to which they might be exposed. This needs to be a written program that outlines your winery’s policies and procedures. You must use Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), appropriate labels and other forms of warning, along with training to make sure your employees understand the substances and how to protect themselves.

  Permit-Required Confined Spaces:  Generally speaking a confined space is a space not intended for continuous occupancy and has limited means for entry or exit. These have the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere and other potential safety or health hazards. Fermentation tanks, silos and sumps are examples and must be evaluated to determine if they meet the definition of “permit required.” In turn you must prepare the space before entry and test the atmosphere with a calibrated direct-reading testing device. This standard also requires a written program that outlines how your winery will comply with the regulations governing confined space entry.

  Respiratory Protection:  Wherever needed, this regulation requires a written program that governs how your winery will select and use all respirator types ranging anywhere from disposable dust masks all the way up to a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). With this you must develop written worksite- specific procedures.

  Medical Services and First Aid:  As an employer, you need to ensure that medical advice and consultation on matters of winery health are readily available. Since most wineries are not in close proximity to a medical facility, you need to have a person or persons adequately trained to provide first aid AND have adequate first aid supplies readily available. If you have any corrosive chemicals that your employees could be exposed to, then you need to have quick drenching or flushing capabilities provided in your work area for immediate emergency use.

  Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment:  The most common citation from this regulation is the lack of or insufficiency of an emergency eye wash. You must have an emergency eye wash whenever the eyes of one of your employees might come in contact with a substance that can cause corrosion, permanent tissue damage or severe irritation to their eyes, such as a fork truck lead battery charging station. Eye wash stations must meet certain criteria as defined in ANSI Z358.1-2014 and either be plumbed or have a self-contained reservoir capable of providing at least a 15 minute hands-free flow of continuous water.

  Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):  This is OSHA’s standard for governing personal protective equipment. As an employer, you must provide and employees must wear appropriate PPE whenever they could become injured or sick by not wearing it. This standard, linked above, places the responsibility of determining the where, what, when, how along with proper storage and care on each winery.

  Flexible Cords & other Assorted Electrical Hazards:  This is a common violation among wineries. Flexible extensions cords are frequently cited for misuse and abuse. Generally speaking you cannot use flexible cords to provide electricity to a piece of equipment when you should have installed an electric outlet. Also, you can’t connect one extension cord to another and then to another (also referred to as a “daisy chain”); you cannot extend cords through walls, windows or doors. You should have someone knowledgeable in this standard review your facility to identify any electrical concerns so that they can be quickly remedied.

  Moving Parts of Machinery or Equipment:  You can be cited for a machine guarding violation when moving parts of your equipment are not properly protecting the operator and other employees. Just think about an area where an employee could get part of their body injured by moving portions of your machinery or equipment. Crushing areas, bottling lines and conveyors are but a few examples that should be evaluated to make sure that they are adequately guarded. Your maintenance shop also should be regularly inspected to make sure that tools such as grinders and saws and the like have proper guards in place. Bottom line – if someone can get any part of their body into a moving part while it’s in operation, it probably should be guarded.

  Guardrails and Elevated Work Locations:  Your winery can be cited for not installing guardrails on the open sides of work areas that are more than 30 inches above the floor, ground, or surrounding working areas. Examples that might require guarding include platforms or other elevated locations which are accessed for maintenance or storage.

  A standard guardrail consists of a top rail, midrail, and posts. You must also install a toe board if falling tools or materials would be a hazard to employees working below. The vertical height of the guardrail must be 42 to 45 inches measured from the upper surface of the top rail. The guardrails must support 20 pounds per linear foot applied either horizontally or vertically downward on the rail.


  The intent of this article is to ensure that safety and health regulatory compliance is both “on your radar” and a recurring part of your business focus. By inspecting these and other safety and health matters in and around your winery, you can be in a better position to address the “low hanging grapes” and enhance the overall safety and well-being of your employees.

  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.

  *Markel Specialty is a business division of Markel Service, Incorporated, the underwriting manager for the Markel affiliated insurance companies.

The Results Are In! The Annual Email Benchmark Report

By: Susan DeMatei

Each December, WineGlass Marketing releases email benchmarks for the wine industry. We do this because having a bar to evaluate email performance has always been a challenge within the wine ecosystem. Benchmarks are widely available for broad categories such as “Retail” or “Food and Grocery,” but finding something to compare a Wine Club email to is historically as accurate as predicting what would happen next in 2020.

  2020 will forever have an asterisk next to it, noting numerous external forces outside of our control which affected our marketing and response rates. When looking at the calendar, there are many force majeure events worth noticing that likely prevented our customers from responding typically:

•    We had an initial Shelter-in-Place order closing tasting rooms and restaurants in mid-March. The government asked us to work at home and limit our time outside, so eCommerce delivery options filled the void. Our media consumption changed as we searched for connections, and we became glued to CNN and obsessed with Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. Business suffered, and by the end of Spring, our unemployment rate was in the double digits.

•    Tensions rose with the temperatures as several racial injustices made headline news culminating in the death of George Floyd on May 25. This horrible tragedy unleashed weeks of riots and demonstrations throughout the summer months. Some states relaxed their grip on the Shelter-In-Place orders, albeit cautiously, which resulted in a flurry of changing rules. Forced to interpret the rules, wineries tried to convince customers to visit again.

•    And then came the fires. Not one but two waves in August and September devastated western states, including California. The fires destroyed a few wineries but caused extensive smoke taint damage to the 2020 vintage for a larger group. The media descended, and reporters were everywhere convincing consumers to stay away from a Northern California that was in flames, leaving wineries the practical duty of reporting the actual impact to their mailing lists.

•    The fire of different views on how to handle the virus and inequality in our country was fanned brighter in the fall with a very contentious national election. September and October saw media ads and email boxes jammed packed, so there was very little else on anyone’s mind.

•    Finally, in Q4, there was no letting up with another wave of Coronavirus underway with several states considering going back to strict stay-at-home guidelines. Some expect the most significant online holiday shopping season yet, but that will uncover itself in time.

  Throughout all of this year, our customers have endured. They have accepted their club shipments and opened our emails, and God bless them, they have ordered wine.

wine consumption frequency

  A lot of wine, actually. Early in the year, Wine Intelligence reported initial growth in wine consumption frequency due to the shift to at-home occasions more than compensated for the loss of on-premise occasions. Thus, making our emails more critical than ever.

  However, did this trend continue? Hubspot says no. The marketing juggernaut released a report at the end of October this year asserting that after initial explosions of emails and subsequent consumer mass consumption, the responses to emails, and sales, are dwindling.

total marketing emails sent and open rate

  With the outrageous context of 2020 in mind, we widened our scope for this year’s benchmarks and leaned into the data. We pulled statistics for the past year on 222 wineries with over 9,000 campaigns and just shy of 46 million emails, and what we found was interesting.


  We all increased our email campaigns. The average number of campaigns sent per winery in our 2018-2019 report was 1.88 per month, equating to a little less than 23 emails a year or a frequency of one email every 2-3 weeks for sales, events, or wine club communications.

  The average number of campaigns sent per winery in 2020 is double this at 3.63 per month, which means that on average, we sent one email a week to communicate with our customers this year. It seems that we followed suit with other industries who jumped on email as the logical replacement for in-person customer care, sales, and support. And why not? Email is relatively inexpensive, and it does not require staff to be present in the office or consumers to be in a particular location either. It is, actually, the perfect COVID marketing platform.

open rate graph

  However, did these emails work?

Open Rates Fell

  Initially, we look to open rates to gauge if customers are receptive to our messages. An open rate is how many people, expressed as a percentage, opened an email and is largely a factor of three things:

•    The sending address or who the email is from.

•    The subject line.

•    The teaser text that appears in browsers to

      provide a summary of the email.

  However, environmental factors that contend for attention can trump all of these rules. The data exposes that after an initial spike in March during the initial COVID Shelter-In-Place orders, there has been a steady decline in Open Rates in 2020. Moreover, although this study ended on 9/30 – we can also assume we will experience lower rates in November and December with the election and the standard holiday email burnout.

bounce rate sin 2020

Bounce Rates Increased

  Bounces fall into two classes. A soft bounce is when the receiving server recognizes the email recipient, but the address is blocked at the moment: such as an out of the office response. A hard bounce means the address is no longer on the server.

  With office closures and unemployment hitting the double digits mid-year, we can confidently assume that many email addresses changed this year.

  This hypothesis played out in the data as we saw bounce rates jump by 20% from pre-COVID to post-COVID months.


Click-Through Rates Skyrocket

  The Click-Through Rate is how many people click on an email, expressed as a percentage, and mostly depends on how compelling the email is. What is considered compelling is mostly subjective but includes the offer itself, the copywriting, and the presentation, such as an image, text, or a button.

The exciting thing about the Click-Through Rate is its independence of other metrics – such as Open Rate or frequency. Click-Through Rates are an accurate indication of a customers’ interest in the message.

  The closure of thousands of wineries and restaurants forced customers to look to other channels for their essential wine needs. The most obvious of these channels is emails directing sales to eCommerce. Therefore, consumer attention and consumption of email messages swelled in March and Click-Through Rates stayed high through the summer. But then we see the exhaustion and distraction set in the fall and we fall below previous years. When we pull data next year, we hope to see the typical Q4 spike in 2020 with results in strong eCommerce sales for everyone.

Want To Hear More From the Report?

  Go to our website for the full report that dives into frequency, subject lines, and eCommerce conversions. Alternatively, use this QR Code.

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

Farming & Making Alternative Varieties for a Changing Climate

winery path in a vineyard

By: Becky Garrison

According to Steven Thompson, winemaker for Analemma Wines (Moiser, OR), they chose to plant new varietals in their certified biodynamic winery because they are a good match in terms of micro-climates, as well as a strategic marketplace differentiation. “This spectrum of varietals ripen at different times to allow us to take advantage of shifting seasonal variations,” Thompson opined. This move also enabled them to have a range of products on the market to meet shifting consumer demands.

 As evidenced at a joint Viticulture and Enology Session held as part of the Oregon Wine Symposium (February 11-12, 2020), Thompson joins a growing cadre of wine growers and winemakers, who are exploring producing alternative varieties that can appeal to wine consumers.

Wine Varietals and Climate Change

  Dr. Gregory V. Jones, Evenstad Director of Wine Education, who holds the Evenstad Chair in Wine Studies, and a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University, opened the conversation with a discussion about the dramatic effects of global climate change on the wine industry in terms of landscapes, marketplace, and wine growing. Citing data coming out of Berkeley Earth laboratory, which Dr. Jones noted is similar to data from other climate laboratories, since 1980, the trend in global temperatures has risen nearly three to four degrees Fahrenheit. All signs signs indicate the temperature will continue rise along with accelerated trends towards warmer summers and winters, as well as less rain with the exception of spring in many regions.

  When examining the global response from the wine industry, Dr. Jones stated that growers from different wine regions are discussing how to adapt to this future warming climate. “You can see investment in reducing energy and water needs, along with changes in viticultural practices and varieties of grapes grown.”

  Due to climate change, the limits of viticulture have change dramatically in the past 20 to 40 years. For example, the 58 degree latitude mark that designated the furthest north one could establish a viable vineyard has grown up north to 61 degrees latitude. Also, this overall warming has created changes in ripening characteristics with grapes now coming to fruition in less time.

  In his assessment, the way to increase adaptability is to decrease vulnerability. “We need to realize the large potential that we have for adaptation, Dr. Jones reflects. Here he points to some recent research from Cornell involving DNA sequencing kind of framework where they can breed varieties plants in the order of months and weeks instead of years. He adds there’s also a need to develop increasing regenerative agriculture processes that maintain healthy soils and optimize energy and water systems.

   As expected, climate change has produced a global shift in the types of grapes being grown. For example, Jones pointed out that Bordeaux added new varieties to its list, and France just adopted a whole collection of new hybrids that are specifically designed for warmer climates. He added that many regions are going to be interested in places where indigenous varieties have been grown in warmer climates like Greece and Cyprus. Also, Israel is doing research on the cultivar performance of grapes by replicating the types of climates that we might see in the future.

Selecting Alternative Varietals

  Brian Gruber, winegrower and winemaker in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley with Swallow Hill Vineyard, Barrel 42 Custom Winecraft, and Quady North Winery, spoke at this symposium  about how his specialty is variety. Presently, 28 varietals make up more than 80 percent of their harvest. “We have so many microclimates, terroir, soil types, elevations, and other aspects. There’s no one thing that grows best in southern Oregon. It’s very much matching a site to the best varieties,” Gruber stated.

  When Gruber began exploring growing different varietals, he looked too see what other winemakers in the region were growing. “I had a neighboring winemaker who was growing nine varietals. And that gave me a chance to see what was growing in my neighborhood.”

  Next he assessed those varietals he planted via trial and error with test plots. In addressing one’s particular site Gruber suggested taking the following factors into account: climate (growing days, length of frost free season), elevation, soil test results, wind direction, sun exposure, and water availability. Also Gruber pointed to the necessity of assessing how much to plant of a new varietal. Plant too little and that could hamper the growth of a successful program. Conversely, plant too much and there’s the risk of having more grapes than one can sell.

  In addition, Gruber encouraged wine marketers to examine what varietals appeal to them by asking these questions:  What gets you interested?  What keeps your work fresh and fun? What are other wine markets doing, and how much does it matter being “first” or “new” matter to you?

  Based on the overall assessment of those varietals that match a particular site’s profile, a winemaker’s interests, and the current market, create a final list of varietals that fall in the sweet spot. Gruber remarked, “I’m looking for that combination of what I like, what grows where I live, and what the market wants.”

Farming Metrics & Logistics

  Like Gruber, Scott Zapotocky, Vice President of Winegrowing for Geodesy Wine’s Eola Springs and Chehalem Mountain Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Sage Ridge Vineyard in Napa Valley, grows a range of alternative varieties with 17 different varieties of grapes planted across these three distinct vineyards.  He offered a series of practical pointers in preparing blocks for conversion to new varieties from existing plant material. In conducting a block assessment, he assesses the vigor potential through soil testing and virus risk through plant testing to detect diseases and viruses like Leaf Roll, Fan Leaf, Red blotch, and trunk disease, as well as determining if a trellis retrofit or redesign is needed. He then ascertains if he can mitigate any issues that arise or if a complete replant would be faster and more economical.

  In detailing the conversion timeline, Zapotocky pointed to winter as the period to conduct a thorough assessment of vineyard blocks and securing source materials before bud swell. Bud wood sourcing can be from local sources like other farmers (do your due diligence) or in partnership with a nursery that may sell certified material. Be mindful that as viruses can come in one form or another, conduct virus testing to assess the potential risk your business/farm plan can tolerate if a virus is found.

  Planning considerations that Zapotocky noted: April through June is grafting season. Here, he cited the importance of vetting the grafter within the local winegrowing community. Weed management: one farming task that is often overlooked throughout the conversion process is weed management. Be certain to take care of any weeds before the grafter begins their work. Budwood stock: a metric of two to three times the amount of buds for the number of plants described. Success rate: it is common for 10 percent or more of the buds to not take, and be prepared to either re-graft in-house, call the budder to come back, or replant as needed.

  Do not expect any production during the grafting year though. Zapotocky estimates a block should yield 50 to 70 percent in the first year post grafting and then 90 to 100 percent by the second year. During the field prep for the grafting, be sure to track the prevalence of trunk disease in order to understand the future lifespan of the block. Also, an examination of the growth from individual clones of different varieties can determine which specific clone (or varietals) proved to be the most successful for future planting or grafting projects.

Marketing Alternate Varietals

  For those winemakers looking to expand into alternate varietals, Dr. Damien Wilson, Sonoma State University’s inaugural Hamel Family Chair in Wine Business Education, stressed the need to focus on the consumer. As research has demonstrated, global consumption of wine dropped from the 1980s with fewer millennials being attracted to wine.

  While wine marketing may highlight specific AVAs, according to Dr. Wilson, less than ten percent of American wine consumers could name the specific AVA that produces their favorite wine. “Consumers start by thinking of wine as a beverage, then an alcoholic beverage, then style, then varieties of grape, and then region,” he stated. The other two criteria that most effectively lead to wine sales are awareness in the consumer’s mind and the availability of a particular wine at the point of sale.

  Furthermore, Dr. Wilson noted how during periods of economic upheaval, consumers tend to switch back to blue chip wines. “This switch impacts those wines that don’t have the recognition of say an Oregon Pinot Noir,” he said. Hence, when marketing say Oregon Pinot, lead with what consumers know which is the premium attached to Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

  Keep alternative varieties in mind when crafting marketing campaigns but make them less of a focus initially. Continue to conduct research on the those varieties grown and their popularity with a customer base. Use these benchmarks to evaluate marketing strategies, which should be monitored and adapted over time as applicable.

Innovations & Technologies for Large Vineyard Equipment

man operating a vineyard equipment

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Vineyards use several types of equipment to turn grapes into wine, and this includes everything from tiny devices to huge pieces of machinery. Large machinery is used for canopy management, spraying, maintenance, harvesting and other purposes, which means that vineyards need year-round support from equipment companies to keep operations flowing smoothly.

  Here’s a look at the large pieces of equipment essential to a modern vineyard’s operations and the innovations and technologies that may help vineyards improve their practices.

Types of Large Vineyard Equipment

  Row tractors are the vineyard’s true workhorses and are among its most essential and versatile pieces of large equipment. There are many different attachments that vineyard workers can put onto a tractor. With the appropriate attachments, tractors can be used for leaf pulling, pruning, hedge clearing, suckling removal and various other purposes.

  Other pieces of equipment commonly used in vineyards are spray systems, mechanical grape harvesters and fertilizer spreaders. Rotary mowers, rotary shredders, rotary trimmers and excavators are also used for the various operations required to grow wine grapes successfully.

  To help vineyards work more efficiently and safely, heavy machinery producers have developed multi-functional lines of equipment suitable for vineyard use. When an expensive piece of machinery can do more than one thing, a vineyard saves money on investments, maintenance and storage costs. For example, there is equipment that can handle both berm sweeping and mowing, and hedging and disking can also be performed by a single machine, thanks to modern innovations. These enhancements aim at saving time through more efficient processes that overcome past mechanical challenges.

Examples of Vineyard Equipment Innovations

  Bob Giersbach from Gearmore Inc., a company that provides quality implements through servicing tractor dealers, told The Grapevine Magazine that one of Gearmore’s most popular products is the Venturi Two Row Air Sprayer, which features a fine micron droplet spray.

  “By spraying two complete rows, spraying time is cut in half, thereby reducing labor, fuel and wear and tear on your tractor and sprayer,” Giersbach said. “Also, the atomization of spray droplets is smaller and more uniform to ensure better coverage and less chemical waste and soil and water contamination.”

  Based in Chino, California, Gearmore offers a wide range of vineyard implements, including vine trimmers, leaf removers, pre-pruners and compost spreaders. The company also provides sulfur dusters, rotary tillers, in-row cultivators, soil conditioners and other large machinery.

  Greg Christensen is the go-to-market manager for 5 Series tractors, Frontier Implements and high-value crops at John Deere. He told The Grapevine Magazine that John Deere 5G Series specialty tractors were designed and built specifically for vineyard applications. They are the most popular piece of large equipment that John Deere offers customers in this segment.

  “Offered in narrow and low-profile configurations and ranging from 75 to 100hp, the 5G Series is small and nimble enough to operate effectively in the narrow confines of a grape vineyard and versatile and powerful enough to handle the many operations required of it,” Christensen said. “Recent updates to the 5G, derived from direct feedback from vineyard operators, include new ergonomics throughout the operator station for ease of use; a new front hitch option that expands the applications the tractor can be used for; and a super narrow cab option on the 5GN models for ultra-narrow environments.”

  Rick Cordero, the grape harvester product specialist at New Holland Agriculture, told The Grapevine Magazine about New Holland’s BRAUD grape harvesters. This line has grown in popularity in the North American market because of its demonstrated harvest quality, capacity and four-season versatility. BRAUD harvesters are already a global market leader in other winegrowing regions across the world.

  “New Holland offers nine BRAUD grape harvester models in the North American market. What is at the heart of each of these models is the Noria Collection System and the SDC Shaking System, coupled with best-in-class optional cleaning systems, such as the Opti-Grape and Destemming,” Cordero said. “Our product lineup is capable of harvesting rows from as narrow as 0.9 meters with the Model 9080NH while offering models capable of high-capacity harvesting up to 14.5 tons per hour with our Model 9090XE.”

  Not only does this product offer four-season versatility, but it can also interchange the picking head with seasonal work tools available through New Holland’s vineyard partners, Berthoud Sprayers and Provitis Vineyard Pruning Tools. These tools integrate into its chassis and control systems.

  “New Holland is your single-source provider of vineyard mechanization for your vineyard operation, as our grape harvesters are complemented by our complete lineup of vineyard and utility tractors,” Cordero said.

  Kubota product manager, Matt Walker, said that the Kubota M5N range of tractors is specifically designed to work in vineyards where a powerful yet compact package is required. The M5N range has a proven track record for efficiency, reliability and operator comfort, making it a popular choice for both operators and owners. 

  Walker said that recently more attention has gone to the effects of soil compaction on vineyard rootstock development and fruit production.

  “Due to the nature of working in vineyards, heavy machinery is repeatedly passing over the same ground and extremely close to the vines time and time again,” he said. “This inevitably leads to soil compaction, resulting in poor drainage and restricted root growth.”

  Kubota helps with this issue by providing the M5N-091 Power Krawler, a machine unique in the narrow tractor market due to its Kubota-designed-and-built track system instead of a traditional wheel.

  “By replacing the rear wheels with tracks, Kubota offers its customers a great, low ground pressure alternative to fitting a wider tire, which can compromise overall vehicle width,” Walker said. “The tracks fitted to the M5N-091 Power Krawler keep the narrow profile of the tractor down to just 54 inches while increasing the soil and tire contact area, allowing greater weight distribution, so it’s great for treading lightly around those valuable roots. In addition, the tracks provide additional traction and stability when working in hilly terrain, giving operators the confidence they need to get the job done.”

Promising Technologies for Vineyard Equipment

  While many things have remained constant in the operations of vineyards over the years, new technologies make it easier for vineyard workers to do their jobs well. Updated software is helping vineyards streamline processes and keep better tabs on how grapes are grown and harvested. Meanwhile, computer-guided machinery and moisture sensors offer greater accuracy than manual methods and save vineyards time and money over the long-term. Yet, the most effective solutions for a vineyard’s evolving equipment needs are often the simplest ones.

  Giersbach from Gearmore said, “In general, most new vineyard implements are basic improvements of existing products, such as new vine trimmers that will perform in difficult trellis systems, like California Sprawl. Also, with current large reductions of in-row spraying, more companies are developing new and improved in-row cultivators.”

  Christensen said that John Deere’s JDLink technology is becoming more commonplace in vineyards to enhance connectivity and remote diagnostic capability. JDLink provides remote access for monitoring critical tractor systems and functions. Christensen said this continuous communication, alongside custom alerts, can prevent downtime by helping customers avoid equipment failures.

  “Producers can give their dealer remote access to the machine to troubleshoot potential problems, provide fast repairs or schedule routine maintenance and help keep their machines up and running,” he said. “For operations with a fleet of tractors, JDLink can be used to check machine location, view location history, see reports on historical performance and utilize and compare machine performance across the fleet.” 

  Meanwhile, New Holland Agriculture has enhanced its harvesters’ performance with feedback from its customers and through new offerings and mechanization partners. The company has done this by growing and implementing its Precision Farming and Telematics capability to elevate the vineyard operator’s efficiency.

  “GPS integration allows Row Tracing System technology and the operator to see harvested, or unharvested, rows on the onboard Intelliview IV display or to see what rows have been sprayed or pruned for full integration,” Cordero said. “This is complemented by our grape weighing system on our Twin-Hopper models, providing static harvest data.”

  Cordero said GPS integration allows New Holland to offer a precision farming solution called SmartSteer. This automatic guidance system utilizes a 3D camera to self-steer the harvester by following the vine canopy.

  “It also self-aligns the picking head pendulum angle to correct the unit steering direction,” Cordero said. “This helps in reducing operator stress and increasing harvesting safety and efficiency.”

  Walker of Kubota has seen GPS/GIS technology becoming more widely available, leading to an increase of adoption in the industry as prices come down.

  “By giving the manager and team more information about soil moisture and plant health, vine health can be maximized, while allowing costly treatments to be made at the optimal time to maximize effectiveness and reduce cost,” Walker said. “There have been several interesting developments in automation technology in the past years, and it will be exciting to see where it takes the industry in the future.”

Choosing Large Equipment for Your Vineyard

  With recent innovations and technologies introduced into vineyards, now is an exciting time for professionals who work with large vineyard equipment. Simple equipment can help a vineyard minimize downtime, but it’s still important to regularly clean and maintain it to keep things running at all times. When possible, vineyards should purchase large and costly machinery from companies that it can truly rely on for quality products, warranties and access to parts for future repairs.

  John Deere’s Christensen said that just as each brand of fine wine is different and has distinct qualities, each vineyard’s needs and requirements are also unique.

  “This is where a local John Deere dealer can play a key role as a trusted advisor to help select what products will work best for the job at hand while providing ongoing support throughout the life of the machine.”

  Walker of Kubota advises vineyards seeking new equipment to “make sure you speak to your local Kubota dealer, explore all available options and look at the overall package. While negotiating a new machinery purchase, the focus is heavily on the price and features, but the dealer backup and service capability are equally important. After all, missing a few hours of harvest can be extremely costly. That’s why all Kubota dealers are staffed by competent, highly trained technicians who are linked to our state-of-the-art online service center with all the technical information they need to keep you running.”

  New Holland’s Cordero said vineyards interested in buying new large equipment should plan and plan again, not just for the financial aspect of the purchase but also for the vineyard’s infrastructure, service support and machine transport. He said the things to plan for include sizing the proper harvester model to fit the rows, where the grapes are collected and where or how grapes are transported to the winery.

  “If you will be moving the harvester between blocks, counties or AVA’s, consider how you will transport it and who is capable of hauling,” Cordero said.

  More than ever, during these pandemic times, it is crucial to plan for large equipment purchases to ensure that the necessary machinery is available when you need it.

  “Order from your supplier months before the equipment is needed,” Giersbach from Gearmore said.

  He also advised vineyards to make sure the implements they purchase will end up reducing their labor costs.

  “Purchase high-quality equipment, which usually costs more than similar products but will normally last longer and perform better with less downtime,” Giersbach said.

Automated Inspection Systems Offer Consistency, Reliability and Measurable Results

machine filling up bottles

By: Gerald Dlubala  

Research shows that wine purchases are primarily made based on the bottle’s overall shelf presence, meaning the label, the brand, the story behind that brand and total aesthetic appeal. Every part of that shelf appearance is geared toward having the consumer pick your bottle from all the other choices in front of them. By incorporating automated inspection systems into your winery’s filling and packaging operation, you can present a consistently reliable product that will build brand awareness, product recognition and consumer trust. The types of automated inspections are varied, so the ones that are right and most economical for your winery will depend on the specific aspects of your winery’s production and operational speed.

  “Typically, wineries will perform different inspections based on their output and line speed,” said Rick Reardon, General Manager, FT System North America. “A smaller winery where every bottle is touched by hand may only do a visual inspection, but this isn’t practical as line speeds increase, so the winery usually moves to automated inspection systems. Commonly used automated inspections include incoming glass inspections, fill level with cap/cork inspections, label inspections and case or packaging inspections. The most common are the fill level, cap and cork closure inspections, followed by label inspections. An improperly filled or labeled bottle is simply harmful to the brand consistency, while a bottle that is not properly closed can be a problem further down the line, particularly in the casing application. An open or leaking bottle in a case causes issues either in the warehouse or while in transit. These inspections are the easiest to implement and are proven to be cost-effective. The more important inspections are those that identify a hazard to the consumer. These inspections detect things like a chipped finish in the bottle, a foreign object inside the bottle, or some other defect in the glass that increases the potential of the bottle to fail. These inspections prove to be more critical in the wineries that manage bulk glass or use automatic uncasers.”

  Automated in-line inspection systems are designed to inspect 100% of the contents in a consistent, repeatable and measurable way. Unlike their human inspector counterparts, they don’t impart any environmental interpretations or change their inspection parameters due to weariness, distractions, daydreams or some other type of inattentiveness. Machines inspect every bottle using the same parameters every time. Suppose the inspection system detects any defects or misapplied labels. In that case, the line workers will be alerted and allowed to take immediate corrective action versus waiting until the problem is detected further down the line in the packaging application or during a routine quality control check. If inspection applications detect that a filler or labeler is trending out of the desired tolerance or calibration settings, the operator will be able to take preventative action before an issue arises that would halt or disrupt production.

  “An Empty Bottle Inspection system is commonly found on lines that run either bulk glass or lines that have automated uncasers,” said Reardon. “It is located before the filler and uses a series of cameras with specific lenses and illumination. By design, it looks for defects in the bottle glass, incorrect bottle sizes or foreign objects that may be inside the bottle. More specifically, the systems will inspect the individual bottle’s complete outer surface, including the finish, threads, neck and base. If your line utilizes a liquid rinser before the filler, there is available technology to detect any residual liquid left from the rinsing function as well. When a rejection occurs, there are a number of options to how the bottling lines can manage that. FT System inspection units can push the bottle off of the line, or we can sound an audio alarm or, if desired, we can send a signal that would immediately halt the line. It’s the user’s preference. The most common way for systems to reject a defective glass situation from the line is by using a standing rejector to guide the bottles off from the line without knocking them over. The reject device is always a critical part of any overall inspection system.”

  Reardon said that because the wine sector traditionally uses round glass, the EBI systems are designed and optimized to manage that traditional round shape. But EBI systems will work on nearly any color or shape of glass bottle, including round, square, rectangular and flask shapes. FT System’s empty bottling inspection systems are flexible enough to easily change from one size or color to another while having the ability to store a large library of recipes to accommodate the different types of glass a winery will use throughout its production.

  Empty bottle inspections are just one of the many bottling line inspection systems available. “Inspection systems on the bottling line are typically stand-alone units at different locations along the line to perform whatever inspections are desired,” said Reardon. “Glass inspection is done before the filler to remove any defective glass before it is filled with product. Fill level and closure inspections are placed after the filler, capper and corker block. A system performing label inspections would be located after the labeler and a case inspector immediately after the caser or case sealer. FT System inspection units are modular, so they are easily added, combined and mixed to meet every client’s unique needs.”

  Operator and maintenance training is critical to the success of any piece of machinery on a bottling line, and Reardon said that the expectations for an automated inspection system are no different. But the level of operator and maintenance training varies depending on the inspection technology. While some systems, namely the fill level and closure inspection systems, can almost reflect a set and forget mentality, others require specific levels of training.

  “Covid has illuminated the need and challenge of consistently receiving and delivering quality support while using different yet still successful ways that are still efficient,” said Reardon. “FT System maintains a dedicated U.S. field service team located across the country so that in the event on-site training or service is needed, we have a team based in the United States to manage that, meaning our customers will never have to rely on and wait for international travel restrictions to ease or open up. Additionally, all FT System inspection units can be accessed remotely for real-time diagnostics and remote support, which is a huge benefit. We have also had a few inquiries from wineries that are considering reducing the number of line workers to meet their needs or successfully increase social distancing between line staff. If a winery is still using human inspectors, then systems such as ours will allow them to meet that need.”

  Reardon told The Grapevine Magazine that a common request he hears from wineries is to have the ability to identify minuscule pieces of glass inside a bottle after filling, seeming to suggest that this type of inspection requirement hasn’t been adequately accomplished or addressed. On the flip side, wineries are just not aware of the many needs they could easily meet by using automated inspection systems and the data they produce.

  “We are seeing a trend in how the resulting inspection data is handled and managed, and it has proven to be critical and extremely valuable information. FT System is releasing a system that tracks the supplier quality data as part of the overall quality management system versus having and considering glass inspection as a stand-alone component or a single quality control point. Then the data results can be fed back to the glass supplier for support in their own production process. A future release will begin applying artificial intelligence analysis with data from the inspection system to provide the winery with predictive information, allowing them the ability to improve both their line efficiency and product quality.”

  If a winery is looking to purchase and install a new automated inspection system, Reardon suggests they look past the simple return on investment analysis and include the resulting opportunities for improved line quality and efficiency. Always make sure that the inspection system has the flexibility not only to meet your current needs but at least some of your future projected needs as well. Then, make sure the supplier can offer and follow through with quality training and support, especially under less-than-ideal circumstances like those that we are all going through currently.

  “Any winery that relies on some form of human inspection can benefit from an automated inspection system,” said Reardon. “And many customers are surprised when they hear just how cost-effective an automated system is. Aside from the fact that the inspection system is more repeatable, consistent and reliable than a human, an automated inspection system will free up the affected manpower for other tasks.”

  As the canned wine business continues to grow, FT System is fielding an increased number of inquiries regarding similar types of automated inspection systems for canning lines. FT System does offer inspection solutions for wine canning lines to include empty can inspections, fill level inspections and leak detection systems. FT System has also recently developed and patented a solution that makes it possible to precisely and accurately assess whether the cap has been properly screwed onto 100% of bottled production, eliminating the possibility of finding bottles that are difficult to open or prone to leaking.

Biologicals, Organics And The Sustainable Vineyard

vineyard enclosed by a fence

By: Gerald Dlubala

Biologicals represent a broad grouping of pest management products that are sourced from nature and derived from plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and minerals. Whether or not a biological can be certified organic depends upon the active ingredients, inert ingredients and formulation procedures, as well as whether transgenics are used in their creation. Guidelines established by organic certification agencies such as the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) determine whether a biological is qualified for certification in organic agriculture. And according to Dr. Melissa J. O’Neal, Senior Product Development Manager of Marrone Bio Innovations, the world of biologicals encompasses a new frontier for growers, and regardless of the size of their operation, they can benefit from biological use, with new and novel tools to add to their 21st-century vineyard management toolkit.

Marrone Bio Innovations Knows The Importance Of Integrated Pest Management

  “The use of biologicals is particularly important when taken in context with the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM),” said O’Neal. “IPM programs combine chemical, biological, cultural and other control methods to manage pests. In doing so, the efficacy of both biologicals and conventional materials is preserved for longer periods, and the development of resistance in pest populations is delayed through using multiple modes of action in rotational or tank-mix programs. Because the hurdles to registration for biologicals are lower compared to products based on synthetic chemistry, they can be brought to market more quickly and offer flexibility in terms of re-entry to treated areas. They are also safer for humans and other non-targeted organisms because they generally have favorable toxicity profiles compared to synthetic chemistries. All of Marrone Bio Innovations’ products have been proven to be safe for use with commonly utilized biocontrol organisms applied in vineyards.”

  The conditions of use are flexible, as biologicals can be used either in place of or in combination with conventional treatments. Both rotational programs and tank mixes are elements of what Marrone Bio Innovations refers to as their BioUnite™ approach, combining chemistry and biology. By using this combined approach, results outperform solo applications of conventional materials because of a higher efficacy due to the additive effect of multiple active ingredients in multiple methods of action. Programs like Marrone Bio Innovations’ BioUnite™ provide growers with IPM programs that harness the power of biology with the performance of chemistry, resulting in a more efficient food production system that is safe, affordable, sustainable and easy to use.

  “The comparative costs for biologicals can be very competitive to conventional chemistry, especially when used in programs,” said O’Neal. “All of Marrone Bio Innovations’ products are user-friendly requiring no additional labor, time, or logistics beyond those already used with conventional methods. Our products also have favorable safety profiles, with four-hour re-entry intervals and zero-day pre-harvest intervals. They are reduced risk, tolerance exempt, and all except Haven, our abiotic stress manager, are OMRI certified.”

  Biopesticides like those offered by Marrone Bio Innovations are split into two different categories, microbials and plant extracts.

  “Some of our most commonly used products are Regalia for Powdery Mildew and Venerate XC for mealybugs,” said O’Neal. “But we do offer a product portfolio to address insect pests, diseases and abiotic stressors of grape, including two bio fungicides, Regalia and Stargus, two bioinsecticides, Grandevo and Venerate, and a heat and sun stress protectant, Haven.”

  O’Neal said that biologicals have excellent efficacy when used in the manner they are intended, typically meaning with earlier application compared to conventional methods. Specifically, treatment thresholds should be much lower when working with biologicals, and in many cases, preventative treatments should be made when conditions become conducive to pest development. Although biologicals tend to kill pests more slowly, the damage being done by the pest is stopped at the time of application, even if complete mortality takes several days. Necessary practices connected with the use of biologicals involve careful scouting for pests, thorough recordkeeping, and the utilization of pest prediction models to lead the vineyard management’s decision making. Because treatment thresholds with biologicals are lower, the decision to treat must be made early in the pest population cycle. The methods aren’t any more time consuming than performing those of conventional materials, but they are likely to occur at earlier junctures. Retreatment intervals with many of their products occurs within one to two week intervals.

  “All in all, the future of organic farming is bright,” said O’Neal. “It’s a product of consumer preference, desire for sustainability, increasing regulatory agency pressure on the synthetic chemistries, and the boom of technologies that are available to growers. Trends and innovations in the organic space currently have a keen focus on the technology front, with computer prediction models, drone applications and remote technologies of many types being among recent hot topics. Biologicals will become a key component in both organic and conventional farming because of the many benefits, so vineyard managers and farmers are urged to always use a holistic mindset in their decision-making approach. Pest and disease management are continual tasks that extend beyond the growing season. These tasks require year-round planning based on continuous program revision and research of newly available and emerging management tools. In the present agricultural landscape, managers likely need to utilize a combination of biological, chemical and cultural management tactics along with any others that they encounter.” 

BioSafe Systems, Protecting Crops, Water And People

  “Vineyard managers today have many more options for producing a high-quality crop with minimal impact on their land or budget,” said Taylor Vadon, PCA, Technical Sales Representative along the North and Central California Coast for BioSafe Systems. BioSafe Systems are innovators of environmentally sustainable practices and products to protect crops, water and people across North America.

  “Biological inputs have become essential for vineyard crop protection and critical for integrated pest management programs, offering growers effective, low to no residue products that are less susceptible to pest resistance and have a minimal environmental impact. Some of the more innovative biological products bolster plant health, strengthen plants against abiotic stress, build soil biodiversity, improve nutrient and water uptake and boost crop quality and yields. Overall, biological products provide vineyard managers with a unique class of product options outside of the traditionally available chemistries to develop holistic management plans for their operations that still successfully meet the challenges of today.”

  As with many aspects of organic and conventional farming, choosing the correct method for your situation is critical. Vadon tells The Grapevine Magazine that organic products can always be used in conventional vineyards, often providing benefits that many conventional products don’t. A great example of a crossover organic is BioSafe Systems’ OxiDate®5.0, a broad-spectrum fungicide/bactericide that proves to be an ideal tank-mix partner with many conventional chemistries because its on-contact activity immediately eradicates pathogens reducing disease pressure, allowing the other chemistries to more effectively provide crop protection.

  “Biopesticides can be just as effective as conventional products if the correct product is chosen and used properly,” said Vadon. “The key to success is knowing when and how to use them. A grower must properly scout the vineyard and build a thorough understanding of the pests that challenge their crop. Then they will know what types of products to use and the correct timing threshold for peak efficiency. Many biopesticides require applications ahead of a widespread disease outbreak as a preventative approach. Depending on the target pest, level of pressure and timing of application, a grower can expect results from biopesticides within hours or days of application. The organic pesticide product sector has been one of the fastest-growing, encompassing categories like biopesticides and antimicrobials utilizing innovative ingredients including microorganisms, plant extracts, organic peroxide/peracetic acids, oils, soaps and minerals.”

  Sustainability of any biological use program is achieved through a well-structured management strategy that utilizes best practices to successfully manage the vineyard with the least amount of negative bearing on the ecosystem. We should all know, especially after the last couple of years, how unpredictable Mother Nature can be, so being flexible enough to adapt to changes is critical to success. It will always be the insect or disease pressure, incidence, and severity that dictates any adjustments to the vineyard manager’s schedule.

  “Our goal of sustainability extends beyond just the product itself and includes our manufacturing process,” said Vadon. “BioSafe Systems produces many of its products at target facilities throughout the United States, allowing us full control of the manufacturing process with the ability to provide the purest products for vineyard use. This way, we minimize our carbon footprint by having the products strategically located in the geographical areas of demand. With many conventional products becoming more restricted or removed, the rise in natural resistance building up in pest populations, and the growing concern of protecting people and land, the benefits of incorporating biological products into a winery’s management program are more apparent than ever. From the backyard trellis to the small family vineyard to the rolling hills of massive operations, biological products can always find a home. No longer is the question about if it’s worth it, but the question has become how you can afford not to use them. Actual product application frequencies and associated time implementing these management tactics do not greatly differ between organic and conventional practices, and when done properly, can be no more economically expensive than the conventional methods. The real hidden cost is the price on the environment that the traditional and conventional pest management practices present by leaving harmful residues due to improper handling or management.”

  “The number of acres using organic practices has steadily increased and shows no signs of slowing,” said Vadon. “Chemical companies will be focusing their efforts on the development and promotion of biologicals in farming that will ultimately address the changing needs of the end-users. The rising popularity of organic methods has begun a massive shift in pest control techniques and spawned many tank-mix programs combining conventional and organic methods. Mixing applications decreases pest resistance, strengthens the efficacy of other solutions and initiates smooth transitions to more sustainable growing methods. BioSafe Systems’ vineyard production guide lists ten organic product options for vineyard managers to use in the production practices, such as OxiDate®5.0 (organic fungicide/bactericide) for disease control from bud break through dormancy, AzaGuard® (bioinsecticide) for pest management, and TerraGrow® (organic soil inoculant) for improvement of soil microbiology increased vine vigor, reduction of transplant shock, increased root development and improved nutrient and water uptake.”

  “My advice is the same for any conventional and organic growers that use pest management products. Know your vineyard and know your products. It’s a good idea to get to know and develop a relationship with your pest control advisor and technical sales representative, as open communication with experts can only help you become more knowledgeable and better prepared as a grower.”

Brooks Winery: A Model Of Biodynamic Winemaking

  Since 2012, Brooks Winery has been Demeter certified as a biodynamic winery, working to uphold the integrity of their fruit and guide their wines as gently as possible while simultaneously considering the interconnectedness and impact of their operation on the environment and community.

  “Biodynamic farming is an integrated system that treats the farm as a whole and living organism,” said Claire Jarreau, Assistant Winemaker and Grower Liaison. “It is made up of the plants, soils, microbes, animals and people that are all working together in pursuit of harmony. Our holistic approach in the vineyard is to build soil fertility through the use of compost, biodynamic preparations and biodiverse cover crops with the incorporation of animals where possible. Through greater soil health, we grow stronger, more resilient vines that yield balanced fruit for great wine production. I highly encourage others seeking to practice biodynamics on their land to find community and support among other practitioners.”

Software for Wineries: Time-saving Technology Lifts Wineries to Higher Levels of Productivity

man inspecting tanks
Credit: Vintrace

By: Cheryl Gray

Software applications are helping wineries worldwide manage day-to-day operations from vineyard to table, including that often elusive commodity: time. From tracking product inventory to monitoring grapes’ ripeness, time-saving winery software choices are available for virtually every business need. The question of what applications are on the market is immediately followed by where to find it.

  Process2Wine:  Leave it to the south of France to provide an answer by way of Process2Wine, a cloud-based SaaS vineyard and winery production management platform for desktop and mobile devices, developed by Ertus Group in Bordeaux, France. Created by a team of technicians, winemakers and oenologists, Process2Wine has been in use in wine regions of France, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Languedoc, since 2013. To expand into the United States, Ertus Group acquired Wine Management Systems in 2018. Clement Chivite, an experienced winemaker turned business manager in California, spearheaded the adaptation of Process2Wine to fit the U.S. and Canadian markets.

  “With Process2Wine, you can record all operations from vine to bottle. The software helps winemakers and growers manage record keeping and allows them to monitor their production by creating reporting at every stage of the winemaking process. Comparing procedures, inputs, analyses and costs year-over-year helps viticulturists and winemakers make the right decisions and find efficiencies based on accurate data. Plus, it saves so much time to be able to generate a 5140 report or a pesticide use report at the click of a button.

  “The software is continuously being updated. Our R&D aims to help the industry respond to new challenges, such as climate change, using the internet of things and precision agriculture.”

  Process2Wine customer assistance includes training sessions, online support and direct contact with client account managers.

  Vintrace:  Arriving from Australia to the U.S. in 2008, vintrace is a cloud-based global competitor, serving wineries of all sizes in North and South America, Europe, New Zealand and its native Australia.  Heather Crawford, general manager for the company’s North American division, told The Grapevine Magazine why the word “trace” is part of the company’s name.

  “Starting in the vineyard with assessments for harvest planning, creating bookings, writing work orders for grape processing, labs and all movements, ending with the final packaging and tracking of inventory, vintrace enables every part of the winery. With accurate, real-time information, time is saved at critical moments, like harvest, and fewer mistakes are made as all tanks, all vessels and all wines are tracked.”

  Crawford added that using vintrace’s application programming interface makes it possible for clients to expand the software’s productivity.

“Increasingly, we are seeing wineries extract production information from vintrace to put alongside other data, such as planning and forecasting, in tools like Microsoft Power BI, to better measure their operations. Using vintrace APIs makes this completely self-service.”

  Clients have access to either self-help or hands-on technical support from the vintrace team. Crawford said the application increases scanning capabilities and is available on Android and iOS for mobile connectivity.

  TeraVina:  Oztera, based in Pleasanton, California, partnered with Microsoft to offer TeraVina, a winery software application built on the Microsoft Dynamics Business Central (NAV) platform. Oztera provides both cloud-based and computer-installed winery software. Michael Stallman is the company’s director of business development.

  “We took the base functionality and underlying technology from Microsoft and extended that solution to provide winery specific functionality. We were fortunate to work with some very prestigious wineries and seasoned industry veterans to really focus on winery requirements and automating common tasks. We continue to grow our solution to meet the needs of all our clients and push the buck on technology. It is important to note that we can move more quickly with changing technology trends because we have Microsoft behind us. We can extend their technologies to keep up with the larger market and not bootstrap wineries to specific technologies.”

  Oztera can also apply its toolset to integrate with external systems, allowing wineries to keep existing functions they like and improve the output of others, even if that application is an Oztera competitor.

  “A good example is a recent integration with Winemaker’s Database. We encountered a scenario where the winemaking team really liked where they were at with their winemaking systems, but the rest of the business needed help. While on the surface, WMDB is a competitor of ours, we were willing to work with them and provide a solution that helped our client achieve their goals.  We delivered a system that provided them with the gains they needed on other fronts while building a bridge to WMDB, making that part of their business more streamlined. “

  VinNOW:  Another choice for wineries with small budgets looking for big package solutions is VinNOW, the brainchild of Ted Starr. A software engineer, Starr put his 40 years in the industry to work by creating a software system that he said can handle just about anything. 

  “VinNOW was created in 1999 as a custom program for wineries with a need: telesales, customer records, inventory tracking, order discounting and invoicing. It has been growing ever since to include point of sale, robust wine club processing, QuickBooks integration, compliance and shipping integrations with multiple vendors, comprehensive reporting and time cards, to name a few. “

  Starr and his wife, Deanna, an experienced winemaker, use VinNOW in their Milano Family Winery, based in Hopland, California. He explained to The Grapevine Magazine how the software helps to save time. 

  “We utilize our integration with ShipCompliant to collect and submit various states’ compliance reporting for sales tax and excise taxes, saving countless valuable hours of time. Our extensive reporting capabilities allow us to get the information needed to complete various reporting requirements such as sales tax, wine sales by alcohol level, and shipments, inside and outside of our state. 

  In addition, we use our VinTracker bulk wine and custom crush billing module to track the wine’s containers, volume and work performed, as well as generating work orders for current work to be completed.”

  Starr said that VinNOW offers an alternative to cloud-based software systems, which can be a problem for wineries with poor internet connections.

  “As many wineries are in areas which experience this, that is a major challenge.  On a busy day, if you can’t use the solution, you lose sales. Using software that is on your computer ensures you are in charge of your data – it is located at your site. With cloud-based systems, if your internet is down or slows, it will hinder your ability to sell your products.”

  Starr added that product installation and data maintenance are intuitive and VinNow also comes with free unlimited live support and training. New features and functions are added continuously, including some adaptations to accommodate the demands that COVID-19 restrictions have placed upon wineries.

  “We have redesigned our point of sale to facilitate the sales process. We are also able to process credit card transactions away from the winery or tasting room.”

  InnoVint:  Ashley Leonard started her career as a winemaker nearly a decade ago.  Frustrated by winery software that didn’t quite fit her needs, Leonard founded InnoVint, a cloud-based, mobile software solution managing all aspects of the winery. Backed by a team of experienced winemakers and modern software engineers, Leonard said her company is the first to bring mobile-driven software to the wine industry.

  “The software goes beyond activity tracking as a digital workflow productivity tool, uniting winery teams both within production and with other departments such as finance and compliance. Daily activity is recorded in real-time, whether in the vineyard, the lab, the cellar or on-the-go. Production integrates seamlessly with compliance and costing, so the winery has confidence that their entire operation is running smoothly.”

  Leonard said that InnoVint puts the winery back in charge of time management, taking the head-scratching out of technology use.

  “Winemakers are not software gurus. They shouldn’t have to waste their time figuring out clunky, legacy databases to fit their unique processes. They deserve purpose-built software that caters directly to their specific vineyard and winery activities. InnoVint is designed by a team of winemakers with 75 harvests under our belt, and it shows in how catered our solution is for them.

  Whether the winery is a small boutique producer, large custom crush operator or bulk wine supplier, we save them hours of time per week by reducing communication friction, bringing relevant winemaking data to the surface and uniting production with the other departments at the winery through a single pane of glass.”

Pest & Disease Control:

Industry Specialists Help Vineyards Protect Their Most Valuable Commodities 

the wizard of oz

By: Cheryl Gray

In “The Wizard Of Oz,” Dorothy and her friends were afraid of lions and tigers and bears. For vineyards, danger lurks behind mealybug and nematodes and fungi. Oh my.

Insect pests and diseases can wreak havoc on vineyards, often causing irreparable and costly damage, destroying fruit, vines, even trunks – down to the root. That is why experts in managing these risk factors brandish prevention as their weapon of choice.

Atlas Vineyard Management

One such company is Atlas Vineyard Management, a Napa Valley, California, company founded in 2006. Its vineyard clients stretch from California to Oregon to Washington state. The company offers vineyard development, farming and viticulture services along with grape sales and marketing. AVM underscores what it describes as a successful track record of developing more than 2,000 acres of vineyards as proof that its pest and disease control methods are all built on best practices.

  Madeleine Rowan-Davis is Senior Viticulturist for AVM. With degrees from the University of California at Davis and Mount Holyoke College, she is a certified Pest Control Advisor with a Qualified Applicator’s License, both through the state of California. As a former researcher at UC Davis, Rowan-Davis’ education and experience focus on sustainable farming. She pointed to one of the most dangerous insect pests to vineyards.

  “The insect pest that incurs the highest costs per treated acre and poses a significant threat in the Northern California region, where we do a good amount of farming, is vine mealybug, which is arguably impossible to eradicate. Once it is present in a vineyard, it requires continued inputs to minimize spread into uninfected areas of the vineyard and prevent damage to the fruit.”

  Rowan-Davis told The Grapevine Magazine how vine mealybug triggers multiple problems, including disease. “Not only can it damage the fruit by producing copious amounts of honeydew that results in the fruit being covered in sooty mold, but they also vector multiple strains of grapevine leafroll virus, which reduces the ability of the grapevine to ripen its crop. The plant cannot be cured once it is infected, so this can result in a lot of expense – ripping out & replanting infected vines – as well as lost revenue since it takes several years for the replanted vines to produce a crop. Because this pest has multiple generations in a single season, it can be particularly bad in warm growing regions where populations can multiply more rapidly.”

  AVM offers its clients pest and disease scouting along with a customized management program.  The company deploys spray programs that involve Integrated Pest Management principles, which it says minimizes chemical use while maximizing the effectiveness of sprays required to eradicate a problem.

  “I would say that we advocate for management strategies to be well rounded,” said Rowan-Davis. “IPM guidelines are very helpful and allow us to minimize our reliance on chemical solutions while producing the highest quality wine grapes that a given site can produce. We use chemicals and management practices that are permitted in organic farming, even in our conventionally farmed properties.” 

  Like insect pests, there are diseases that affect some grape growing regions more than others, including leafroll and red blotch.

  “These diseases are both caused by viruses and can dramatically impact the quality of the fruit,” Rowan-Davis said. “Grapevine viruses are moved around with planting material if one doesn’t follow safe practices, and many can also be vectored from vine-to-vine by insects or other pests. Red blotch and leafroll are found in many growing regions, but the severity of the disease can differ depending upon varying environmental stresses.”

Advanced Viticulture, Inc.

  When it comes to fighting the diseases and insects that can destroy a vineyard, education, backed by experience, matters.

  Mark Greenspan, Ph.D., President and Viticulturist of Advanced Viticulture, Inc., has 30 years in the field, earning his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Master of Science in Viticulture and doctorate in Agricultural Engineering, all from the UC Davis. He is also a certified crop advisor, certified professional agronomist and a licensed pest control advisor with the state of California.

  Advanced Viticulture opened in 2005 as a technical consulting firm specializing in water and nutrient management, soil evaluations and vineyard design. Its vineyard clients are along  California’s north and central coasts, across the U.S. and internationally. In 2011, the company expanded into vineyard management, providing services that include farming grapes and developing vineyards, primarily in Sonoma and Napa counties. Greenspan gave The Grapevine Magazine an overview of the damage caused by a range of insect pests.

  “Spider mites can rapidly cause loss of leaf function and can retard fruit maturation as a result, if the infestation and damage become excessive. Nematodes weaken the vines overall and can eventually kill vines. The nematodes can spread in the soil and create weak and dead areas within a vineyard block,” he said. “All of these pests are found throughout grape growing regions of the U.S., but spider mites tend to thrive under hot, dusty conditions under periods of vine water stress. The West Coast experiences far fewer insect pests – and definitely diseases – than the East Coast and other grape growing regions of the U.S.”

  According to Greenspan, some common diseases inflict significant damage to vineyards. “Powdery mildew is the most common and most damaging. It is fairly easy to control with fungicides, but the rotation of materials, timeliness, spray intervals and spray coverage is important for its control. This is a common problem in all growing regions. Trunk diseases are also very common and very damaging, and they include Eutypa and Botryosphaeria fungi, as well as Esca types of fungi. These are common in all regions and can damage a vineyard by killing the permanent structure of the vine.”

  Choosing between either chemical or organic methods is about weighing outcomes. “We don’t advocate for either, but find that a mix of ‘chemical’ and organic materials is often the best approach,” Greenspan said. “Purely organic methods can be very difficult to make effective, especially for difficult pests like vine mealybug and spider mites. Fungal diseases are more readily treated using organic methods, but conventional materials are often more effective and require fewer passes through a vineyard to attain control. Also, it is not correct to label this ‘organic versus chemical.’ Organic products may be chemical as well but are derived from natural sources without extensive processing.”

Sym-Agro, Inc.

  Sym-Agro, Inc., based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, has developed new takes on what nature has to offer to combat insect pests and diseases plaguing vineyards. President and CEO Peter Bierma founded the company in 2012.

  “I started Sym-Agro based on the belief that nature has antigens for every problem and, if you balance control with biology, you can grow really good crops with very little conventional pesticides,” said Bierma. “Now, with technology to validate [the] efficacy of essential oils, beneficial bacteria, etc., and more pressure on synthetic pesticides, this segment is growing very fast.”

  Bierma, with three decades of industry and field experience, said Sym-Agro offers three specific products for grape crops: Cinnerate, Instill Copper and ProBlad Verde.

  “ProBlad Verde provides excellent control of powdery mildew and botrytis. It is one of the few fungicides which has direct activity on all life stages of disease and provides 10-14 day spray intervals. Secondly, it is excellent for powdery mildew knockdown, stopping disease within four to eight hours and then providing control for 10-14 days.”

  Cinnerate is a triple-action threat, Bierma said, acting as a miticide, fungicide and insecticide. Based on emulsified cinnamon oil, it is touted as a crop-safe but direct killer of all life stages of disease, including spores. Results come through either direct contact with the spray solution or through fuming activities. Used to reduce post-harvest rot through a pre-harvest application, Cinnerate is also a combatant against well-known insect pests, including mites, leafhoppers and mealybug.

  Phomopis, powdery mildew and botrytis are the primary targets of Instill Copper, a low dose, liquid copper fungicide. Bierma told The Grapevine Magazine that Instill Copper leaves no visual residue on treated grapes and is safe to use throughout the growing season.


  Suterra, a global leader for more than 30 years in pheromone insect pest control, creates products for use in six continents. In California alone, it provides services to an estimated 180,000 vineyard acres. Suterra is located in Bend, Oregon, where it houses research and development, pheromone synthesis, product engineering and manufacturing. Its parent company is The Wonderful Company, one of the world’s largest agricultural conglomerates and owner of wine brands that include Landmark, Justin and JNSQ.

  Suterra products are available in multiple forms, including proprietary aerosol emitters, sprayable formulations, membrane dispensers and specialized monitoring lures. Its chief innovations are CheckMate VMB-F and CheckMate VMB-XL, touted as groundbreaking in the market. Sara Goldman, Technical Support Manager for Suterra, explained why these synthetic replicas of the sexual reproduction pheromones of vine mealybug are so formidable.

  “By hanging VMB-XL dispensers or spraying VMB-F microcapsules, vineyard managers confuse flying male vine mealybugs so that they can’t find females to mate. This reduces the pest’s overall populations and is completely safe for all beneficial species and humans,” Goldman said. “CheckMate prevents damage and extends the lifespan of insecticides by mitigating resistance development. We also offer specialized lures to help Pest Control Advisors monitor for vine mealybug and grape mealybug.”

  Goldman told The Grapevine Magazine that CheckMate VMB-F is more commonly used by conventional growers. It works with any IPM tools, from beneficial parasites and predators to conventional insecticides. That flexibility and compatibility make it a popular choice for vineyards defending against vine mealybug. An infestation, she said, can happen to even the most careful growers. 

  “Although the adult male vine mealybug can fly, the females and immature vine mealybugs, also known as ‘crawlers,’ are wingless and unable to fly. It is these non-flying life stages that spread the infestation into and through a vineyard in several ways. The most direct way is at planting through infested nursery stock,” she said. “Another common transmission method is through farm equipment. Do not allow contaminated equipment, vines, grapes or winery waste near un-infested vineyards. Mealybug crawlers can even hitch a ride on field crews that have been working in an infested vineyard or with prunings and plant residue from the previous season. They can also be dispersed by birds and other wildlife, surprising even the most meticulous growers.”

  Once insect pests & diseases get out of control, both can create an uphill battle for vineyards. Experts say that for new vineyards, prevention starts with clean and disease-resistant plant materials. For mature vineyards, early detection and strategies developed by specialists who know best how to control and eradicate the threats can make the difference.