Vineyard vs. Vineyard: Water Is The Great Unequalizer

grapes submerged in water

By: Orest Protch

The Impact of Water Irrigation is more then turning on your Sprinkler or Drop Irrigation. Although the water you see may look, well, boring, when you delve deeper into its secrets, you are entering the realm of rocket science, with a dash of magic and a pinch of voodoo.

  Vineyard water chemistry is more than just pH and a few other high school level chemistry tests. It can possibly explain why some vineyard wines can be award winning some years and other years be best forgotten.

  Vineyards take their raw water from lakes, rivers, water wells and in some cases use treated potable municipal waters. No two waters carry the same chemical and nutrient loading. And this loading taken from the same source can even vary daily, monthly and yearly.

  One side of a lake may have different water chemistries than the other due to the way water flows through it. It can have numerous streams and rivers feeding it, each draining a different watershed. These may be draining mineral outcroppings, storm sewers, municipal wastewater plant discharges, mines, farms and even burnt forests. Each of these will add differing kinds and amounts of chemical elements and compounds to waters. Even a few hundred meters apart, water samples will show varying amounts of TDS, total dissolved solids and TSS, total suspended solids. One stream may discharge its nutrient load farther into a lake than another.

  As an exercise, If your vineyard is on a lake or river, download a satellite image and mark its location in relation to all of the above. You may be shocked at what you see.

  At one point in my career as a research chemist in a pulp mill first owned by Proctor & Gamble and then by Weyerhaeuser, I believed that the seasonally changing chemistry of incoming river water for the mill was impacting the final pulp fiber morphologies in different ways throughout the year. The mill pumped in 6.3 million litres per hour, 24 hours a day.

  I proved that individual elements such as iron, calcium and sodium in the river water, in parts per million (ppm) and parts per billion (ppb), were impacting the final processed fiber properties by interfering at the chemical bonding sites of the fibres at the molecular (atomic) level. 15 pulp mills in both corporations changed the way they ran their processes.

The author in 1997 using an AA, atomic absorption spectrometer with graphite furnace, to do accurate and precise river water analysis. His stereoscopic microscope photography work was later verified by using scanning electron microscopes by corporate chemistry PhD’s.

  I then carried this type of testing later in my final career as a senior lab technologist for an oil company using an ICP-OES, (Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer). The flame of this instrument burns at a temperature 2,000°F hotter than the surface of the sun. I measured elements down to the very low ppb level and high ppt levels in daily/weekly process and environmental samples from lake water, river water, fresh water wells and brackish water wells. Even in the harsh industrial environment of oil production, as in the pulp mill, the changing water chemistries manifested their effects.

The author in 2018, as the senior lab technologist for an oil company, using an ICP-OES (Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer) to do elemental analysis of various types of water samples down to the very low ppb, high ppt level. The plasma flame burns at a temperature 2000°F hotter than the surface of the sun.

  Plant roots absorb the waters and simple elements such as iron and cobalt and along with plant enzymes and biological catalysts, create the complex chemicals in grapes. Throughout the complicated grape’s biological chemical processes, water chemistry changes can inadvertently modify chemical reactions and the final reaction product can change.

  What happens in a vine is the equivalent to the most complicated industrial chemical processes known.

 A vine takes simple elements from the water and soil and creates extremely complex molecular chains that would take the largest industrial facilities to duplicate.

During all chemical reactions, elements and chemical compounds look for reaction bonding sites and at the molecular level zero in on specific locations of individual molecules of plant cells. Plant cells absorb these and start creating sugars, acids, phenolics, ethonals, enzymes, montoterpenes and a host of other products that give the mature grape its final properties. But as in all complex chemical reactions, simplicity does not exist. Different atoms, due to their concentrations, may battle it out for molecular bonding sites.

  Elemental bonding sites are the drivers of all reactions. Some chemical bonds prefer other elements if they are available and so the final molecule may not be the one a vineyard wants in a grape. It all comes down to concentrations and availability of needed as well as competing atoms.

Chemical reactions do not occur with the grace and choreography of synchronized swimmers forming their final complex shapes. Instead they are more like the chaos found on the rugby field where each element tries to be the alpha and fights and blocks for supremacy and forming what can either be a desired or undesired molecule. One misallocated atom can change the properties of a molecule and a grape.

  Figure 1 is part of an actual 2019 Government lake water analysis report for the local vineyard industry. If this report had been generated by a third party commercial laboratory for me at my previous work position, I would have rejected it. Look at the number of decimal places and zeros of elements such as cobalt and iron. Research papers show all the elements in the figure are important for grape development. This analysis was obviously done on a very basic ICP, Inductively Coupled Plasma Spectrometer, found in all commercial labs.


Figure 1: Part of a 2019 Government lake water analysis report for the vineyard industry. Most industrial chemists would reject it outright. The number of decimal places to the last number indicate the lower detection limit of the instrument used and the ‘<’ sign is like a flashing hazard light to question the analysis precision and its worth to you.

  Figure 2 is the type of analysis that an instrument like the ICP-OES that I used can give. It can reach detection levels by a factor of 100 to 1,000 lower than a basic ICP. In this case the difference between the detection limit of 5 decimal places in cadmium and chromium with 6 decimal places was the quality of the standards used to calibrate the instrument on a daily basis. Analytical standards can vary batch to batch.

Figure 2: Analysis from an ICP-OES adds more decimal places making it more accurate and useful for better understanding of actual water chemistry.

  Why is it important for vineyards to have the most accurate and precise analysis of their waters? Just like in metallurgy and metal standards, trace amounts of elements can have large impacts on chemical and physical characteristics.

  The analysis report in Figure 1 lists iron composition at <0.010 mg/L. This is completely useless information for a vineyard and a waste of test analysis money.

  What if the mg/L of iron required to make a grape that creates that reproducible excellent wine that you are striving for is between 0.0012 mg/L and 0.0079 mg/L and anything out of that range changes your grape’s characteristics? This kind of tight elemental tolerance is the most critical aspect of a metal’s metallurgical grade. Why would the extremely complicated chemical composition of a grape be any different?

  The best instrument for extreme lower detection limits is an ICP-MS, Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer. It can not only easily go to the very low ppb, but to the very low parts per trillion range. A basic ICP will cost about $75,000, (all these costs in CDN$) an ICP-OES $140,000, an ICP-DRC (Inductively Coupled Plasma Dynamic Reaction Cell) $200,000 and an ICP-MS upwards of $500,000. All contract labs will have an ICP, some will have an ICP-OES and perhaps a few an ICP-DRC and only a very few will have an ICP-MS. For any given sample, the analysis cost reflects the cost of the instrument and the professional level of the analyst. For example, an ICP water analysis may cost $100, an ICP-OES analysis $150, ICP-DRC $200 and using and ICP-MS $300.

  These are all just examples and the actual costs will be determined by working with your contract lab’s client account manager. If asking for XRD analysis for leaf and soil analyis, there is only one lab that I know of in Canada where the analysts are all PhD’s. I only used that lab. You get what you pay for.

  Remember, this is a long term endeavor, much like your goals to create great award winning wines year to year.

  Your winery, land and associated equipment are worth many millions. The quality of your wines and your reputation is priceless. Do all that you can to win awards every year. In the next article we can discuss the rocket science of soil chemistry. Cheers!

Determining Which Vegetative Index is Best for Your Vineyard

a vast vineyard

By: Michelle Podolec, Extension Suport Specialist, Cornell AgriTech

The Takeaway

•   Canopy sensors are optical devices that use reflectance at different wavelengths to differentiate between healthy, vigorous plants and unhealthy, stressed plants. The information gathered using the sensors can help vineyard managers identify and address vineyard issues.

•   Optical sensors used in canopy sensing have improved a lot over the 45+ years since the introduction of normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). NDVI was one of the first vegetative indexes (VI), and uses satellite-based optical sensors. It is still the most commonly used vegetative index in viticulture.

•   Other vegetative indexes use combinations of different wavelengths to measure canopy attributes. This may not only indicate leaf area “quantity” but may also identify information about leaf healthy or quality, and may add additional information to the vine size prediction.

•   More recently, affordable tractor-mounted sensors have provided close-range metrics of canopy density and health.

•   In this study of different VI, there was no clear overall winner. Researchers suggested the development of a multi-VI application that would allow vineyard owners to customize to their unique vineyard traits may offer a future potential for innovation.

Background

  Canopy sensors are used to differentiate between healthy, vigorous plants and unhealthy, stressed plants. The sensors used in canopy sensing have improved over the 45+ years since the introduction of normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). NDVI was one of the first vegetative indices (VI), and uses satellite-based optical sensors. Currently, vineyards use proximal reflectance sensors (e.g. CropCircle) to collect spatial information on grapevine canopy NDVI. The information gathered can help vineyard managers identify and address vineyard issues. Most previous studies use NDVI, but there are many new modes available.

  When used, sensors are aimed at the actively growing region of the canopy throughout the season to determine leaf area “quantity” (i.e. are there a lot of leaves in the region of interest or not?) Could researchers identify the most effective VI currently available?

Methods

  In this study, researchers used the Taylor et al. (2017) protocol of sensing surveys to review a variety of commonly utilized vegetative indices and see if the most effective combination or approach to vineyard analysis could be identified. Using this method, the researchers showed that strong vines will have a high NDVI signal and weak vines will have a low NDVI signal and this correlates with vine size (measured as vine pruning weight in dormancy1). Therefore, we can use NDVI sensors to spatially map vineyard vine size and use it in our spatial crop load (Y:PW ) calculation2. Each VI was ranked, and the paper contains a useful table of rankings. The researchers found there was no overall winner VI, each performed well in at least one area.

Conclusions & Practical Considerations

  No individual VI was found to be ‘best’ at predicting pruning weight. Ideally, operators would have access to a fully automated modeling software that would allow them to select the best fit for their vineyard from single or multi-VI applications.

  Further studies would be needed to adapt an automated modeling software to a wider variety of vineyards, trellis systems, soils and other vineyard traits. The authors add that there are several active projects that are looking to identify reflectance wavebands and/or Vis to identify other leaf “quality” attributes like nutrient or pest status.

References

1.  Taylor JA, Link K, Taft T, Jakubowski R, Joy P, Martin M, Hoffman JS, Jankowski J, Bates TR. 2017. A Protocol to Map Vine Size in Commercial Single High-Wire Trellis Vineyards Using “Off-the-Shelf” Proximal Canopy Sensing Systems. Catal Discov into Pract 2:35–47.

2.  Taylor J, Dresser J, Hickey C, Nuske S, Bates T. 2019. Considerations on spatial crop load mapping. Aust J Grape Wine Res 25:144–155.

  Michelle Podolec is extension support specialist with the statewide viticulture extension program, based at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, NY.

Contact Seeding for Cold Stabilization

cold tanks in a facility

By: Tom Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Potassium Bitartrate Stabilization

  During the winemaking process and before bottling, there may be instability with a juice or wine termed Tartrate Stability or Tartrate Instability.  Unknowing customers often view these crystals as a fault and are therefore unsure of whether or not to consume the wine.  Once a customer is turned off by sediment, such as a tartrate precipitate, it may be difficult to get them to return to your label.  An in depth discussion below is to help winemakers achieve desired results in their cellars not undesired results in their bottled wine!  Winemakers are encouraged to make sure wines are bottled that will be sediment free.

Mechanism

  Tartrates are, very simply, a chemical salt made when potassium and tartaric acid combine making cream of tarter.  This cream of tarter [Potassium Bitatrtate] is harmless and is used, in the refined form, to cook meringues.  When most grapes arrive on the crush pad there is often a significant quantity of tartaric acid and potassium available in the grapes to result in instability.  Furthering the complication is the fact that the crystals are encouraged out of solution, forming further precipitation, in the presence of alcohol.  The fact that the winemakers have completed a successful fermentation will only force more of the crystals to precipitate. The processes to remove these crystals are largely a time temperature relationship.  Over time, and at low temperatures, most to all of the tartrates will form and fall out of solution.

3.65 pH Bifurcation *

  A very interesting phenomenon does exist with tartrate stabilization in wine made from grapes that all winemakers should understand.  (This may not apply to fruit wines) For a wine above a pH of 3.65, one should expect the pH to rise as tartrates form and fall out of solution.  For a wine below a pH of 3.65, the pH will drop to a lower pH value.  The shift, of the pH, is usually about 0.06 pH units but it can go as high as 0.19 pH units.  This knowledge can be used, factored into and forecasted by the winemakers’ ultimate plans for a certain wine’s final pH.

Tartaric acid and pH relationship

  Noting the example above, one must understand another relationship.  In both examples, whether the pH rises or lowers during tartrate stabilization, the tartaric acid level will decrease in the wine as it has formed in a salt and precipitated.  The tartaric acid has formed with potassium and become insoluble at that temperature during that time.  If the wine were to warm, however, the salt could re-soluablize negating the above statement.

Temperature and Potassium Bitartrate Formation

  As noted previously, the precipitation is largely influenced by a time temperature relationship.  Wine allowed to store over long periods of time will most likely achieve stability and it can be bottled.  With the advancement of sophisticated chilling systems in the wine industry, another process can be used.  Wines were often chilled for two to three weeks at 27 degrees F and allowed to drop their tartrates during this time.  This process was often successful but it did have its failures due to complexing agents that prevented the tartrates from forming.

Contact Seeding

  Perhaps contact seeding is more widely used today especially with wines that are blended late in the winemaking process or for getting younger wines ready for bottling sooner.  This process rarely fails and it does allow acid additions to be made even hours prior to using this process.  Some winemakers claim this action can be intrusive and beyond gentle processing; yet, others would have it no other way.

Procedure

  For those interesting in contact seeding, a procedure follows.  One must have an adequate chilling system, mixer, tanks that have little temperature stratification and a filtration system that can filter reasonably rapidly.  A properly sized plate and frame filter is sufficient for most winemakers while using a pore size pad of roughly 7 microns.  It is assumed the wine is clean enough to go through the filter pads without clogging and at a rate that will not allow the wine to warm too much potentially redisolving the tartrates previously formed during the filtration process. It is best to always check a wine first to make sure the wine is unstable before proceeding with this process.  One may be able to eliminate this process if the wine is already stable.

1.Chill the wine in need of stabilization to approximately 27 degrees F or potentially lower if the alcohol level is high enough and if greater stability is desired.  The wine will be stable at the seeding temperature of the wine at seeding so this temperature reduction step is critical.  (In the unusual case that the wine is below 8% alcohol, one would not want to chill the wine this cold.)

2.Start to mix the wine with a Guth or Keisel style tank mixer after the desired temperature has been reached.  Wait until the wine is thoroughly mixed and then double check that the desired wine temperature has been achieved and holding.  (Mixing may be done in a non-splashing pump over fashion with a pump, or two, that does not bleed any air into the system)

3.Weigh 3.0 (three) grams of Potassium bitartrate for every liter of wine in the tank.  Example:  for a 5000 liter batch of wine we would weight out 15000 grams of potassium bitartrate or 33.0 pounds.

4.Mix this amount of cream of tartar in water or wine before adding it to the tank.  (This step may be avoided but make sure no clumps exist in the cream of tarter and understand a larger quantity of oxygen may go into the wine if the substance is added dry)

5.Add the cream of tartar mixture to the chilled wine while mixing and mix for 3.0 hours or longer.  Make sure all the cream of tartar stays in solution and settling does not occur.  Make sure the temperature has remained at the desired level, as well, during this process.

6.After the 3.0 hours, mixing may stop but the chilling must remain on and continue to hold the desired temperature.

7.Allow the wine to settle overnight, or longer, if keeping the wine cold is not a concern.  [Recent research has shown an additional three days at 27.0 degrees F will improve the final conductivity results favorably on the wines.]  The wine could remain in contact with the seed for months as long as the temperature of the wine is not allowed to rise. After the overnight settling period and when filtration is desired. 

8.Vent the tank and start from the racking valve filtering on coarse filter pads making sure the filtration will go rapidly.  (One may want to remove any sediment “plug” first out of the racking valve by purging into a bucket before starting filtration.)

9.Continue to filter very cold into a clean, tartrate free, receiving tank.

10.Filter down under the manway door to the bottom of the tank as any filtration would be performed making sure to get all of the wine possible out of the tank.  Leave the solids behind.

11.If using water to push the wine through the filtration system keep in mind these crystals are water-soluble.  Make certain to use cold water and very limited amounts to not redissolve the cream of tartar making the wine unstable once again.  Do not dilute the wine with the water.  Perhaps consider using CO2 or nitrogen as well.

12.It is recommended to purge or sparge the receiving wine tank with Carbon Dioxide and the tank headspace of the wine tank being filtered during this process to eliminate or reduce the potential for oxygen uptake.  Other gases may be used such as nitrogen or argon.  (Keep in mind the principal that gases are more easily dissolved into a cold liquid solution during this step.)

13.Once the filtration is finished one may allow the tank of wine to warm and a representative sample of the tank’s contents may be taken to test that the cold stabilization action was successful and completed as desired.

14.Always double check the stability of the wine just prior to bottling and remember if more tartaric acid were added – the wine may become unstable once again.

Time / Energy / Quality

  The above process works very well to achieve cold stability.  The cream of tartar needed does have a cost factor yet the payback may be in the limited cooling cost for shorter periods of time during this process.  Others argue this process is damaging to the wine and it is over production on wine to support chilling a tank for 14 days or more.  This process will often work, yet the longer a winemaker stores a wine at cold temperatures – the more chance that the same wine will take in more dissolved gases.  This greatly increases the chance for oxygen uptake and potential oxidative reactions with that wine causes further damage.  Much of the above is determined by how each winemaker handles his or her wine and each factor should be considered.

Calcium Tartrate Stability Unaffected

  The reader should keep in mind that the process of cold stabilization in this manner does not necessarily affect calcium tartrate stability and many of the lab tests to check stability will not measure this form of instability either.

Miscellaneous Pointers:

  The winemaker must keep in mind that wines blended after cold stabilization must be reestablished or at least checked to determine their stability.  Two cold stable wines blended together will not always result in a cold stable wine and most often will reveal an unstable wine due to the chemistries of each wine and their resulting blend.  This may even be true with same blends cold stabilized separately.

  Make sure when purchasing the seed that it comes from a company that is aware of your use.  The cream of tartar seed size needs to be small enough to make sure the crystals have the proper surface for the seeding to be effective.  The seed particle size is best at 35 micrometers.  This will give the fastest rate of precipitation and growth.  A mix between 30 and 140 micrometers will do fine for this operation and is most likely the size mixture found commercially.

  One may re-use the seed from tank to tank using on whites first and then on reds.  If the seed is used in conjunction with bentonite, after cold stabilization has been achieved, then the seed must be retired.  This re-use of the seed may greatly drive down the cost of the seed per gallon as one moves it from tank to tank.  [The author has used one set of seed for over 40,000 gallons (8 – 5000 gallon tanks) of wine with success and has not experienced a failure of the process]  Cross-contamination is less of an issue at this time because the wines are generally moving toward filtration and bottling in stainless steel tanks or equivalent for sanitation purposes.

  Ion exchange and cross-flow filtration are rapidly approaching our industry.  These processes can be used to obtain cold stability should your winery have the technology and equipment to do so.

  In step three above the author has had success reducing this amount to 2 grams per liter as long as the wine is clean, chilled properly and at a desired cold temperature.

  Common sense tells us that if we can do this process in the winery, during colder winter temperatures, our chilling systems will be more effective and the cellar temperature will be more conducive to the complete process.  This applies to the filtration and making sure the wine does not warm too much during filtration.

  Be careful when rinsing the tank after filtration.  Ice may fall!

Summary

  This is just one method of achieving cold stability for a winemaker working with grape based wines.  Other ways are successful and may achieve the same results just as well.  Each winemaker is encouraged to try the process that works best for them and their particular cellars.  This process does have the quality of shorter chilling time and reduced utility bills plus faster turn around time for a specific wine – should those goals be desired.  Recall non grape fruit based wines may perform differently.

*  The 3.65 Bifurcation term was not located in any research literature by the author and it is a term the author has used to describe this phenomenon in his cellar work.

  Tom Payette, Winemaking Consultant, has over 30 years’ experience with winery start-ups and assisting wineries already established in the industry.

Holiday Email Best Practices

woman towards the mail icon

By: Susan DeMatei, President of WineGlass Marketing

If you’re like most, you have a holiday calendar crammed full of events, sales, shipments, and recipes ready to communicate to your mailing list. Email marketing is a staple among wineries trying to communicate to wine clubs, provide holiday offers and reach new customers. Follow some of these tips below to make sure your holiday sales are bright.

There are three major influences on the success of an email campaign. From most important to least, they are List, Offer, and Creative.

List: Take some time each year in September and October to perform some basic data hygiene. An intern or consultant can help you here with a well-organized couple-week project.

• Clean up duplicates and merge duplicate records from the tasting room, wine club, website, MailChimp, or other (sales_email_marketing) databases. When doing so, carefully identify the correct master record and fold all the visit history, source, and transactional data under that master customer record.

• Append data with addresses, emails, and phone numbers.  There are several resources to do this simply through excel for pennies a record.

• Remove bounces and anyone who has opted out of any communications over the course of the year.

• Add in any stray lists – like that tasting you did at the event in Vegas in July or the Winemaker’s alma matter list that wants to hear about his wines. And make sure you notate a source on all lists so you can refer back to see what programs procured good, qualified leads.

• Once you have a clean list, then take some time and segment and the time your communications thoughtfully – don’t just send every offer and update to everyone. Perhaps the October Wine Club should not get the Thanksgiving sales to email so close to their Club Shipment email alerts, but instead a printed insert in their club shipment.  If you have the transactional data, you’ll want to target email-marketing messages based on behaviors such as past purchases, tasting note downloads, visits to the winery, links clicked, or other captured actions.

Offer: Only after you’re happy with your lists should you focus on the offer.  Based on your steps above, now consider what sales message will incite the best response to your segmented list?

• What did they respond to in the past? Did you have any past learnings to guide you on what resonated, or failed, previously? If not, perhaps your database is big enough to split and test. For instance, if you suspect that shipping offers will be popular this season, should you give a % off shipping, shipping included, or shipping for $1? And at what volume: 6 bottles? A case? These are things you can test with an email and then do a follow-up email to the entire database of the winner

• What are your goals? What wines do you need to move, and what costs or discounts are appropriate for your other channels? Make sure the wine you just sent to the Wine Club at 20% off isn’t in a holiday sale email a week earlier for 25% off. (A calendar is beneficial this time of year to keep the tasting room, website team, social media, and emails all in synch.)

• Use tracking tools and analytics to determine which emails and corresponding landing pages are the most successful in generating sales.

• Know (or set) Click-Through and Open Rate goals. According to the 2020 WGM Wine Industry Email Benchmark Study (which you can download on our website), email Open Rates for wineries average 24.66%, and Click-Through Rates for wineries average 5.08%.

Creative: The design of your email is essential. There are two reasons email design should follow specific layout rules. First, as of August 2021, mobile phones account for 41.6% of email opens (Litmus). Second, most email service providers, such as Outlook and Gmail, now block images by default. If your graphics contain text including important information, such as the offer or wine details, make sure you repeat the information in the text.

•  Email marketing is just another branding opportunity. Place your logo in the upper left-hand corner or centered as a header of the email.

•  Include navigation like on your website. You don’t have to have every page from your site, but the significant sections help customers engage with you online and create familiarity with your website.

•  Make sure your email is no more than 500-650 pixels wide. Any more than that means your reader will be scrolling horizontally.

•  Keep text to less than 250 words and have frequent links to deeper levels of content or more information on your website.

•  Keep it clutter-free. The less clutter you have in your email, the better. Don’t use more than two typefaces.

•  Keep your main message and call to action (CTA) at the top of the email. It’s ok to scroll in an email and have it laid out vertically but keep your primary message upfront.

•  Create an engaging, concise subject line. A relevant offer that creates a sense of urgency will be your best bet. Your subject line needs to have an incentive for your audience to open the email.

•  While your site may have a lot going on, your email message should be singular in focus. Make sure the message and the requested action are clear. Instead of splitting up readers’ attention, focus on driving home a single-minded message.

•  The landing pages that prospects reach after clicking through are just as important as the initial email. Your landing page should match the email in terms of headline, copy, and content. Use similar colors, fonts, and overall design to keep your customer on the right track and avoid confusion.

•  Make sure your CTA from the email has a connection to the CTA on your landing page. Again, keep the call to action above the fold and relevant to your marketing message.

  Having an effective email marketing campaign is about being intelligent and concise. Focus on the list first, differentiate yourself with targeted segmentation, and then deliver a tested sales message with clean creativity, and your Q4 emails are destined to be a blast!

Susan DeMatei is the President and Nathan Chambers is an Account Director at WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California

Irrigation Research & Management Strategies in the Vineyard

soaked cropped in a vineyard

By: Becky Garrison

During a panel at the Oregon Wine Symposium held virtually from February 16 to 19, 2021, Simone Castellarin, Ph.D., of the Wine Research Centre, University of British Columbia, presented research that spoke to the biological mechanisms that determine grape and wine quality. Also, Nazareth Torres, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, unpacked her findings in sustainable irrigation.

  Alexander Levin, Ph.D., a viticulturist at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center and assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University, opened this conversation by summarizing the Fifth Oregon Climate Assessment findings.

  “Hot summer days are projected to become more frequent in Oregon under continued global emissions of greenhouse gases, and overnight lows will continue to become warmer. The frequency, duration and intensity of extreme heat events are expected to increase. Not only are summers expected to warm more than annual average temperatures, but the hottest days in summer are projected to warm more than the mean summer temperature over the Pacific Northwest. The hot summers of 2015 and 2018 are salient examples of summer temperatures that are expected to become relatively common by the middle of the 21st century.”

  Given the ongoing rise in temperatures, Levin said a major challenge for vineyards is mitigating the impacts of these climate changes. In particular, how do grapevines respond to extreme heat and drought, and what can be done about this in the vineyard?

Biological Mechanisms that Determine Grape and Wine Quality

  Castellarin opened his presentation by commenting on how studies show that drought events affect grapevine physiology by limiting transpiration, photosynthesis, canopy, berry growth and yield, as well as impacting fruit composition. In particular, the topic of managing drought in vineyards has been investigated for many years and has always been a hot topic. “We know we need water to manage grape production. But we also know that we have to treat water carefully because by applying water, we might affect the quality of the grapes and also the quality of the wine. So we want to optimize the use of water in vineyards to optimize the quality of fruit and wine,” he said.

  The major compounds affecting the quality of grapes and wines are aromas and phenolics. As most of these compounds are synthesized in the berry’s skin, their concentration can be affected when the size of the berry is reduced or increased through irrigation management.

Improving Berry Quality by Reducing Berry Size

  Smaller berries tend to have a higher concentration of aromas and phenolics because they are synthesized in the skin. Less flesh, and the water produces a higher concentration of these com-pounds. By increasing the amount of water in the flesh, the water dilutes these compounds. The addition of water can occur via irrigation or high precipitations.

  Castellarin cited studies that show that by applying some level of deficit before variation, after operation, or prolonged levels of deficits during the season, growers decreased their yield but increased the concentration of total phenols.

  In his research, Castellarin found that applying a water deficit in vineyards increased the concen-tration of pigments and tannins, not only by reducing the size of the berry but also by stimulating the biosynthesis of these compounds. He also observed that several aromas were affected along with the color of the wine. In addition, wines produced from vines exposed to this water deficit had a darker or higher intensity of color and aromas associated with red fruit.

  The effect of drought or water deficit application on white grapes is less noticeable. Water deficits in the vineyard are not often applied to white grape varieties. In a 2012 study on white grapes grown under severe stress, researchers observed that the fruit harvested from those stressed grapevines had a higher concentration of terpenes.

  Researchers also observed that the trapped water stimulated the metabolic pathways that synthesize terpenes. That means that it did not only affect berry size but significantly affected the biosynthesis of specific metabolic pathways that work during berry ripening. The study showed that what they saw on the grapes directly affected the wine, and that by applying a water deficit, they could increase the concentration of these aromas.

  A three-year study was conducted in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, a significant Canadian wine region and an area called the infamy desert “Nk’Mip” by Canada’s First Nations. This semi-arid shrubland has very low precipitation, with only 100 to 130 millimeters of rain during the growing season. In this study, researchers sought to develop strategies that limit irrigation by applying moderate stress levels to the grapevines to improve aromas and save water.

  They wanted to assess how providing suboptimal irrigation amounts could affect yield and the composition of the fruit at harvest. The study focused on regulated deficit irrigation, managing irrigation so the plant receives regulated stress. They decided on moderate stress conditions that they knew would not strongly affect the plant’s growth but that they hoped could strongly affect the quality of the grapes.

  The study concentrated on Gewürztraminer, a variety known for its aroma. The study started with a control treatment: standard commercial irrigation, which would not put the plant under stress. They applied stress 30 days from blooming to harvest for a moderate level of prolonged water stress. They analyzed brief gas exchanges, photosynthesis, all the physiological parameters related to the grapevine and physiology, and then the compositional parameters of the fruit like sugars, acids and free and bound terpenes.

  According to Castellarin, they managed irrigation by weekly measuring leaf water potential and then applying irrigation volumes accordingly. “The irrigation volume change obviously depending on treatment. With the early deficit (a deficit applied from 30 days after blooming to veraison), we could save 30% of the irrigation water. With late deficit (a deficit applied from veraison to harvest), we saved 38% of the irrigation water. With prolonged deficit (a deficit applied from 30 days after blooming to harvest), we saved 50% of the irrigation water,” he said. 

  When they applied some level of stress, one of the first responses was a reduction in leaf gas exchanges. Moderate stress levels reduced photosynthesis by 50%, a finding that was pretty consistent across the seasons.

  While early and prolonged deficit treatments reduced yield, applying deficits later on during the ripening process did not affect the number of grapes grown or harvested. When they measured the grapes for composition, total soluble solids and acidity, researchers found that the irrigation treatment with the most significant effect was the prolonged deficit, which reduced sugars and increased the acidity.

  Across three seasons, the late deficit treatment consistently improved the concentration of some of the free terpenes, particularly Geraniol, which is the primary terpene synthesized in Gewürz-traminer grapes. They did not observe an increase in the bound terpenes. Researchers learned that if they applied a moderate water deficit during ripening, they could save 38% of irrigation water and increase the aromas of the grapes.

  Castellarin noted the tension between grape quality and commercial viability when factoring in how much growers can stress their grapes. For example, when conducting a study on Merlot grapes, researchers found that they limited the yields to an unsustainable point for commercial vineyards when they applied severe deficits.

Considerations of Sustainable Irrigation

  According to the California Water Resources, irrigated agriculture in California is the largest consumer of water, accounting for about 80% of the state’s water supply. Also, California’s climate is changing to limited or no cloud cover and a warming trend with no increase in precipitation supply.

  To evaluate if standard irrigation practices are economically sustainable, Torres summarized the results of a two year study conducted at UC Davis Oakville Experimental Vineyard in Napa County, California. This study sought to investigate the effect of different irrigation amounts on the plant physiology and berry quality of Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Napa Valley and evaluate the impact of these irrigation practices on water resources and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi associated with grapevines.

  Similar to Castellarin’s findings, this study found that water deficit irrigation strategies reduced the amount of water applied to grapevines, decreasing the water footprint and maintaining or increasing grape quality at the cost of some reduction of potential yield.

  This study also found that the ecosystem services provided by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increased plant resistance against biotic stresses while reducing photochemical input and plant resistance to abiotic stressors such as drought, salinity, metals and other mineral nutrient depletion. These fungi can reduce the fertilizer requirement by promoting plant growth and increasing plant quality for human health while improving soil structure, stability and water retention.

Tips for Helping Increase Bookings in Off-Peak Wedding Season

wedding couple standing in a vineyard

The months of January, February and March are typically considered “off-peak season” in the wedding industry and tend to be slower months. Getting more bookings in these months require a different strategy than peak season as well as thoughtful planning. Let’s look at some strategies to consider to help increase your business in the off season.

5 Tips to Booking in the Off-season

1.   Offer Off-Season Rates: There is a market for off-season weddings, you may just need to work smarter to reach it. Find budget-conscious couples through online target marketing (Social Media ads) and offer discounts for your slower months. Create a list of keywords that couples may use to search online for and include the words in your ad strategy. Some keywords may include affordable weddings, wedding discounts, wedding deals, wedding offers, wedding venue discounts, off-season wedding deals, off-peak wedding season discounts, etc.

2.   Promote Early: As you know, it takes time to plan a wedding. It makes sense to, start advertising your off-peak season discounts at least a year in advance. This gives couples looking for affordable alternatives a chance to decide if having a wedding in the off season is right for them.  An affordable way to advertise is through your blog and a special section on your website.

3.   Target Last-Minute Weddings: Most couples plan their weddings, at the very least, 6-months in advance. However, there are still couples who plan a wedding in less time. This can work to your advantage in the off-peak season. You may not have to offer the deepest discount to win this business because these couples are motivated to tie the knot. Again, the best way to find these couples is through targeted ads. Keywords that may appeal to these couples are last-minute wedding deals, last-minute wedding offers, booking wedding venues last minute, wedding planning in a short time, etc.

4.   Partner with Vendors to Offer Exclusive      Deals: The broader your network with local wedding industry professionals and vendors, the better positioned you may be for the off-season months. You may not be a couple’s first stop in their wedding planning – think bridal shops and jewelers. Consider exchanging voucher coupons with these vendors to promote each other’s businesses. In addition, if you partner with other local wedding vendors, you may be able to come up with an attractive package to offer budget-conscious couples and couples who are planning their weddings in a short amount of time. Partner with wedding planners, photographers, floral shops, DJs/bands, caterers, and more.

5.   Highlight the Advantages of an Off-Season Wedding: Engaged couples have a variety of concerns about booking in the off-season. Concerns they likely wouldn’t have to face in the peak season, mainly weather related. By highlighting the advantages of an off-season wedding to the couple, they may decide the risk is worth it. Here are some points to highlight:

•    Saving money with discounts.

•    Creativity with the theme and photos. Winter-themed weddings are unique and memorable because most weddings take place in the summer months. Their photos will be stunning with the natural beauty of the season and choice of winter fashion for outdoor photos (beautiful coats and capes for the wedding party).

•    Winter-themed décor and food choices that wouldn’t be offered in the summer months. For example:

      a. crystal icicles, shimmery linens and silver and gold accents lend a magical aura

      b. warm desserts such as death-by-chocolate, mini rum cakes, warm cobbler and crumbles

      c. hearty comfort food with creamy soup, whipped potatoes and roasted vegetables

      d. seasonal drinks like hot chocolate, hot apple cider, coffee, cappuccino, hot buttered rum, spiced wine, and eggnog

•    Increased attendance. People are busy in the warmer months and are more likely to decline invitations for other commitments. In addition, out-of-town guests, can experience lower airfare in the off-season.

•    Highlight the ways you prepare your venue for colder months, including your assurance of a comfortable, warm atmosphere (like a fireplace), cleared parking lot and walkways of snow and ice, a large, accommodating coat room, hand-warming towels in the restrooms, a backup generator, and many other ways you take care special care in the off-season to provide the best service possible.

  We hope these tips will help you attract more clients to your venue during the off season who should also think about event insurance. 

  Markel* offers event liability insurance to hosts and honorees, providing coverage such as property damage to the venue or injury to a guest. Up to $2 million in event liability insurance can be purchased by your client from Markel any time at least 1 day before the event. Policies start as low as $75. 

  By offering Markel Event Insurance, it will not only help protect your clients, but it can also help protect you by potentially decreasing your own business liability risk for accidents due to negligence of the event host or honoree. Markel Event Insurance is an easy and affordable solution for your clients – a free quote takes only a few minutes online or on the phone – turning you into a one-stop-shop for your clients.

  This document is intended for general information purposes only. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. Markel does not assume any obligation to update any information herein, or remove any information that is 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.

* Coverage is underwritten by Markel American Insurance Company and policyholder services are provided by the underwriting manager, Markel Service, Incorporated, national producer license # 27585, in California d/b/a Markel Insurance Services, license # 0645481.  Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply.  Insurance and coverage are subject to availability and qualifications and may not be available in all states.  

Don’t “Blow Off” Cybersecurity

person wearing a black jacket

By: Mark Sangster, Vice President and Industry Security Strategist, eSentire

Martin Luther, the famous German theologian and religious reformer, is credited with saying “Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Had he lived another 475 years, he likely would have added that “Cybercrime is made by the Devil.”  And, he wouldn’t have been too far off.

  Cybercrime is insidious: It knows no borders and as we’ve seen, knows no bounds. In fact, a report from Cybersecurity Ventures predicted that the global cost of cybercrime will reach $6 trillion USD this year. According to the 2019 Cost of Cybercrime study by Accenture and the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of cybercrime to a U.S. organization was $13 million — a significant sum. And, a report from my own company eSentire found that cybercriminals netted more than $45 million in the first four months of 2021 alone. But before you start thinking that means cybercriminals only go after the big guys, consider the fact that it’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) that are the primary targets for data breaches (Data Breach Investigation Report, Verizon 2020).

  To be sure, there are threat actors that are out to make trouble, whether it’s disrupting critical fuel pipelines or, like the modern-day equivalent of sleeper agents, quietly accessing classified systems to gather top-secret information or cripple it at a later date. However, what most companies encounter comes as the result of unadulterated greed from a run-of-the-mill cyber crook. Just like your average street criminal, these people attack businesses because that’s where the money is. And like it or not, SMBs, such as family-run wineries and vineyards, make for low-hanging fruit. Cyber attacks on the wine, spirits and beer industry have ramped up in the past year including hits on Brown-Forman, E & J Gallo Winery, Molson Coors, and the Campari Group.

The Earth Is Mine. (What About Your Network?)

  On the one hand, it’s a brave new world for the farming and production aspects of winemaking, thanks to automation advances. But on the other hand, a great deal of manual labor is involved, and despite advances, the wine industry is still considered very much old-school, lagging behind other industries when it comes to the use of technology.

  When you consider the production process from grape to glass, some of the greatest risk of cyber exposure lies on the farming side. Growing the perfect grape comes with a lot of moving parts, and like other production businesses, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are in place to track a variety of processes, from what pesticide was applied on which date,  to the costs involved, etc. Whereas how these things are tracked will vary from vineyard to vineyard, the common denominator is that in most cases the people interacting with these systems are predominantly field workers who might not be the most tech-savvy. Add to this the fact that many front-line remote systems are loosely managed and run on personal field laptops or mobile devices, and you have an ideal attack vector.

  Regardless of whether you are operating a small, family-run vineyard or have a large-scale wine operation, you face an even greater risk each time you sit down at your desk. The vast majority of cyberattacks begin with malware, typically embedded in an attachment sent with a seemingly innocuous email. Maybe it’s an invoice from a distributor you work with, maybe it’s your bookkeeper asking you to review a document, or maybe it’s a complete stranger, hoping you’ll slip up, open his attachment, and launch a malware script that will encrypt your data until you give in to his demands.

  While unsecured computer systems and mobile devices are common attack vectors, it’s safe to assume that as your operation grows, so too does your attack surface. Now wine operations have barcoded, inventory-tracking devices that are used on a remote workflow in the field. That information is fed into a central ERP system that’s tied to another automation system, and so on throughout the production process, as tank temperatures and acidity levels are monitored. Then, too, consider the controls that regulate humidity levels inside a facility or the transfer of wine from tank to tank. Any and all of these systems can be tampered with and if they are, it can negatively affect the end product and your business.

Data, Decanted

  Outside the confines of your vineyard or winery lie even further risks. Supply chains are attractive targets not just for the information they hold but the damage they can inflict if disrupted. Distributors, especially smaller ones, often track depletions manually and share updates via email. Consider the example of a small warehouse in Kansas City that might have 20 pallets of your wine and little to no security solutions in place and then consider how quickly a threat vector could spread via a spreadsheet attachment.

  On the retail side of wine operations, both on- and off-premise operations, offer up other strike zones. Each of these channels has its own supply and inventory management systems that track activity all the way out to individual shops, bars, and restaurants, which again, may or may not have the strongest security posture.

  Nor can you overlook the direct-to-consumer aspect. Customer relationship management(CRM) systems that are used to manage your wine club or market tasting events hold a wealth of personal information, not to mention credit card numbers. They’re gold mines for those looking to sell that information on the Dark Web for a tidy profit and scarily enough, you might never know you’ve been compromised.

Just Enough Rain to Stress the Vine: A walk in the cloud(s)

  In the face of myriad risk and attack vectors, it’s tempting to take the path of least resistance, and send up a prayer that you’ll be among the lucky ones to not suffer a cyber breach. But in today’s climate, that’s risking a lot more than bottle shock. Companies today, regardless of their size or industry, need to assume that it’s not a matter of if they will be targeted by cyber crime, but when. Depending on your size and budget, running a full-scale Security Operations Center might not be in the cards, but there are steps you should be taking to protect your business today and in the future:

●    Suspicious emails should trigger the same reaction as a wine that’s corked. Avoid it at all costs. Phishing emails are a popular attack vector, and unless you know what to look for (and how), you are putting yourself and your company at risk each and every day. Educate your staff on what to look for and make sure that whatever training they receive is specific to the vineyard/wine industry. People like to think they won’t fall for the “Congratulations! You’re a winner” emails, but are they prepared to investigate those emails from your attorney or best vendor? Additionally, you should ensure that your department systems are segmented, preferably using the principles of Zero Trust. That way, if one person accidentally opens a malicious email, they won’t be granting a hacker access to the whole system.

●    Maintain Security Hygiene: Network systems need to be maintained and cared for just as you would oak barrels. Security  hygiene is a critical component of cybersecurity and at the very least should include:

1.   Regularly patch and update your software You’d be surprised at the number of breaches that could have been avoided simply by keeping software systems patched and up-to-date. It’s estimated that a third of all data breaches come as a result of unpatched vulnerabilities when patches were available. (Looking at you, Equifax).

2.   Two-Factor Authentication Is a MUST . Make sure to implement two-factor authentication around all of your company’s key software applications and systems, providing an additional layer of security. Never, ever reuse passwords across accounts or devices, and if your budget allows, implement solutions that employ a Software Defined Perimeter (SDP) approach. Be aware, however, that while these solutions offer advanced security, because they are more complex they are costlier; plus, there are the added costs associated with hiring staff who have the proper expertise to manage them.

3.   Operate on a need-to-know-basis. In general, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of network access your employees have — compromised accounts can be used to create shadow employee accounts which in turn can be used to move around a network. It’s especially important that top-level executives and owners aren’t given the full set of keys to the kingdom just because they’re the boss. Senior-level employees and owners are prime targets for cybercriminals looking for ways to infiltrate a system and move around with impunity. Someone might ask why your front-desk staff is nosing around a payroll system, but no one will question the boss.

4.   Virtual private networks (VPN) are more than a good idea. They provide secure and encrypted connections between systems (files shares, email servers, etc.) and ensure that your communications can’t be intercepted.

5.   Lock down your operational technology (OT) systems and ensure that they are not left internet-facing.

●   Automation technology is complicated and protecting it, even more so. You can’t assume that everyone further down the supply chain is taking a serious approach to cybersecurity or even knows where to start. It’s incumbent on you to protect your business, so talk to the experts. Be sure to talk with your insurance providers, legal team and other key vendors to ensure you have a plan in place for when the inevitable happens.

Something to Think About

  Too often, companies fail to adequately protect themselves against cybercrime, because they are laboring under a trifecta of misconceptions:

●   “We’re not a bank or even a household brand name so we aren’t a target.” This is a prime example of absolutist thinking and the harm it can cause. To the thief, even the poorest person has something worth stealing.

●   “We could never defend ourselves against massive ransomware gangs and state-sponsored actors so why even try?” When it comes to the average cybercriminal, Thomas Crowne they are not. That said, there’s no reason to stand up when the bullets are flying. By carrying out basic cyber protections you can reduce your risk by up to 80 percent.

●   “We never saw it coming.” In the world of cybersecurity, by the time you see the red flag, it’s too late. Heed the little signs. They won’t all pan out to be cyber attacks, but when things go bump in the cybernight, it usually means there’s a monster there. It just hasn’t struck yet.

  The wine industry has a long and storied history and holds an important place in culture and daily life. From small vineyards to wine conglomerates, there are financial gains to be made for the hacker looking to grow his ill-gotten gains. By following some basic steps, you can ensure that cyber criminals are the only ones claiming sour grapes.

About the Author

  Mark Sangster is vice president and industry security strategist at eSentire. He is the author of No Safe Harbor: The Inside Truth About Cybercrime and How to Protect Your Business. Mark is an award-winning speaker at international conferences and prestigious stages including the Harvard Law School and RSAConference. He has appeared on CNN News Hour to provide expert opinion on international cybercrime issues, and is a go-to subject matter expert for leading publications and media outlets including the Wall Street Journal and Forbes when covering major data breach events.

The Pandemic’s Impact on the Wine & Spirits Industry

man in mask looking at wine section

By: Quinton Jay

The year 2020 was a complicated one for the wine and spirits industry. According to information published in Beverage Industry, the sale of wine at retail and convenience stores grew by some 11.4% in multi-outlet stores throughout the 52 weeks between December 1st, 2019, and November 29th, 2020, and champagne, as well as other sparking wines, saw year-over-year growth by nearly 29%, topping sales at roughly $1.6 billion.

  This boost to wine sales, however, could not fully offset the losses incurred by many other businesses throughout the wine and spirits (WS) industry.

  Fortunately, the U.S. seems to have since turned a corner in the pandemic struggle, and most restaurants and other WS businesses like wineries, distilleries, and breweries (WDBs) that were able to survive the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact are now back open and able to serve customers indoors, or at least in some form of hybrid indoor-outdoor seating arrangement. While this return to normalcy should help the WS industry experience an upswing capable of putting business back on track, some industry experts are still analyzing the true depth of impact the pandemic has had on the industry and the businesses in it, regardless of whether those businesses survived the pandemic’s fallout or not.

  One such expert is Quinton Jay, a WS industry expert, Japanese whisky otaku, and industry consultant with more than 20 years of experience in owning, building, operating, and investing in businesses–specifically those in the wine and beverage industry. We recently sat down with Quinton to learn more about the trends he saw arise within the WS industry throughout the events of last year’s pandemic, how those trends impacted the WS industry as a whole, and where he sees the industry heading over the next few years as a result.

WS Trends Resulting From COVID-19

  According to Jay, one of the most widespread trends that impacted the WS industry as a result of the pandemic was the increase in the amount of WS businesses – including WDBs – that began offering e-commerce and Omnichannel retail marketing. By offering these channels, businesses across the entire WS industry were able to continue selling products directly to consumers (D2C), saving many businesses from having to shut their doors to customers – both online and offline – for good.

  “Methods like Omnichannel retail allowed businesses in the industry to continue selling products D2C,” Jay tells us. “For many businesses, especially WDBs, this was the difference between surviving the pandemic or not.”

  Along with the growing trend of Omnichannel retail marketing, many business owners in the WS industry have experienced what Jay refers to as “business fatigue.” This feeling of fatigue is one that many business owners who experienced the pandemic can sympathize with, but for the WS industry specifically, it could mean more owners of WDBs, restaurants, eateries, or other businesses preparing for financial exits from their ventures.

  “Business fatigue is a real thing,” Jay tells us, “and rather than simply close up shop and call it a day, the better option for business owners is to sell their company to someone willing to acquire, rebrand, and revitalize it.” This trend of business fatigue, according to Jay, could hint at other ways as to how the pandemic left a lasting impact on the industry.

The Lasting Impact of COVID-19 on the WS Industry

  In describing the ways that Omnichannel retail marketing has affected the WS industry in recent years, Jay also mentions the historical lack of innovation – particularly technological innovation – within the industry. In mentioning this, it begs the question as to just how innovation, both during the pandemic and immediately following it, will evolve both for businesses and consumers.

  “Many WDBs and other businesses in this industry aren’t necessarily at the forefront of innovation, especially when it comes to growing their market share,” Jay says. However, as Jay continues to explain it, the writing is literally on the wall for the continued growth of Omnichannel retail, given the industry’s historical customer demographics, current and emerging technologies, as well as the ever-evolving nature and growing competitiveness of the WS industry’s supply chains.

  “The U.S. has been lagging behind much of the world in Omnichannel retail offerings, obtaining less than 10% of all global e-commerce sales for the WS industry compared to China’s roughly 25% share,” says Jay.

  In these matters, Jay’s predictions may not be far off from aggregated industry data. For instance, according to McKinsey’s 2021 Consumer Report, e-commerce sales in the U.S. were projected in 2019 to reach 24% of all retail sales by 2024. This projection later increased to 33% by June of 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing larger growth in e-commerce retail across the U.S. in six months than it had over the past 10 years.

  “As we continue to emerge from the pandemic,” Jay continues, “I expect many more businesses in the WS industry – especially WDBs – will begin offering or broaden their offerings regarding Omnichannel retail as more American consumers opt for D2C retail channels.”

What’s Next for the WS Industry

  As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, every global industry was forced to evolve virtually overnight. The WS industry was no different. Along with broader implementations of Omnichannel and D2C retail methods and deeper technological innovations, Jay tells us that he also expects many businesses in the industry to rethink the way they operate internally and interact with customers on all levels.

  “Overall, I think the pandemic has left many business owners in this industry feeling defeated,” Jay says. “As a result, we can expect to see an increasing number of companies in this industry become more creative in the ways they can target, reach, and sell their products to consumers, as well as become more innovative in the ways that they handle and react to crisis situations.”

  Indeed, the revitalization of crisis management detail is one vital aspect that every business that survived the pandemic will inevitably have to revisit. For the WS industry in particular, this could mean the addition or inclusion of additional D2C sales channels (similar to the inclusion of Omnichannel retail), but also the way that many establishments in the industry hire and retain talented employees.

  “The U.S. has been experiencing a hiring crisis over the last few months,” Jay adds, “and tons of restaurants, eateries, WDBs, and other businesses that survived the pandemic initially are now struggling to keep up with increased consumer demand as the threat of COVID-19 wanes. By implementing policies that promote employee safety and wellness, offering more competitive wages, and remaining adaptable enough to stay ahead of society’s ever-changing curve, the industry as a whole can prevent the detrimental effects that came as a result of last year’s pandemic from having such a deep and lasting impact in the future.”

How to Succeed in WS Post-Covid

  As Jay mentions, there are a number of precautionary methods and strategies that business owners and managers, and other industry professionals in WS can use to better protect their businesses from suffering in ways similar to how they may have during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  “The first step every business in the WS industry should take is to implement more actionable mea

sures in planning their business strategy,” Jay says. “Start by taking a look at what types and quantities of grapes you have coming in, what bulk wine you have in the tank, your total count of bottled finished goods, and become intimately familiar with your sales run rate: if you know those 4 things, you can plan out your business very well and forecast what your business should be focusing on acquiring in order to avoid jamming up your supply chain.”

  For example, if your winery business finds that its sale run rate has slowed down, perhaps the winery needs to look at selling its bulk wine (wine in barrel or tank), or perhaps can temporarily focus on committing fewer grapes for an upcoming vintage. However, once any particular wine has been bottled, that’s it, which is why Jay says to avoid bottling your inventory until you know what your sales run rate is and how it directly impacts your business. While selling out of a certain inventory item can sometimes be a boon for your business, not selling enough can cause inventories to back up, alerting you that your business will need to discount other items and sell that portion of your inventory faster in order to get back into balance.

  A second method WS businesses should consider, according to Jay, is to revisit and revitalize their plan regarding capital management, or the funding of their business initiatives as they pertain to the needs of a business’s financing or cash flow.

  “Most business owners and professionals in the industry want their business to grow,” Jay adds, “but don’t realize how much money they need, especially regarding the lead time required for fine wines and of many products in the industry as a whole, especially aged beverage products.”

  Indeed, as Jay explains, it can often take one year for most white wines and Pinots to be made and bottled, as well as 2-3 years on average for wines like high-end cabernets. Most red wines can take anywhere between 12-30 months to properly process in-barrel and add to their in-bottle age time from Grape to Bottle. This, of course, takes cash, which is why planning your capital budget is just as important as your sales plan.

  By carefully considering these crucial factors to any business in the industry, Jay explains that they can be better positioned to survive in the face of the next inevitable threat the industry will face in the years to come.

Trends in Wine Packaging

Follow Consumer Awareness, Expected Use & Material Availability

beer beverage in a grocery stall

By: Gerald Dlubala

Statistics prove that a well-designed, eye-catching package can set the tone for consumers’ perception of a product’s quality and desirability. But with all the different wine packaging options available, how do you know which is the right one for your wine? Demographics and the corresponding lifestyle can heavily influence your packaging choices. By recognizing your preferred market segment, you can choose the most appropriate product packaging to enhance shelf presence and heighten your product’s perceived quality and desirability.

  Glass remains the overall preferred choice because of its ability to hold the wine’s intended sensory applications better than the alternatives, sometimes up to twice as long when compared to plastic options. In addition, glass can be molded into endless eye-catching, distinctive shapes and sizes, making it accommodating for different uses down to single-serve glass bottles, presenting a modern premium feel and look. Alternative and more innovative designs might feature Stelvin, or cork finishes on the bottle.

  Single-serve wine packaging has grown due to the pandemic and continues, including single-serve cups and goblets, plastic bottles, cartons, aluminum cans and anything else that offers convenience and transportability.

  Cork for use as a closure remains strong due to being an original and traditional choice, now enhanced by improved and more cost-effective technical corks. Aluminum screw caps and plastic dispensing closures on some current packaging present the opportunity for resealing and recycling.

  Ultimately, containers and bottles that are aesthetically appealing and fit a consumer’s lifestyle are the products that will cause them to stop, take notice and pick up the package. Consistency in using that same packaging will build consumer loyalty and recognition of your products in the future.

Using Packaging Options to Appeal to the Consumer

  Alcoholic beverages rely on packaging to maintain the integrity of the content’s chemical composition. For example, packaged wine must maintain the intended aroma, flavor and appeal. Glass keeps the chemical composition intact and has no chance of reacting with the alcohol. Additionally, colored glass adds a layer of protection against changes due to light exposure.

  “Glass goes as does the economy,” said Bradley Tucker, Vice President of Sales for Encore Glass. “When the economy gets tight, companies look to cut costs. Unfortunately, it’s common for packaging to take the hit, whether switching to lightweight bottles, choosing more cost-effective labels, or changing shipping methods. Our shippers remain popular because they are cost-effective, lightweight and stackable, made from 99% recyclable materials, and are themselves 100% recyclable and biodegradable. We also distribute custom printed boxes, decorated bottles and custom molds to meet specific customer needs.”

  Tucker said that all current packaging options have their place and purpose. Still, he believes glass will always be the preferred choice, especially when bottling premium wines. “Glass provides an extended shelf life, providing a premium touch and visual aesthetic without changing the taste, aroma or overall quality of the wine inside. We see increased use in the smaller 375 ml bottles. And the smaller, single-serve bottles are another way to appeal to customers who love wine but drink it only occasionally or want to avoid waste. Honestly, the bigger issue in packaging right now is supply. Like everything else right now, supply channels are difficult to maneuver. It’s a constant battle just trying to get the amount of glass needed, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. Again, it’s a global issue. Orders that used to be ready in three weeks might now take six to nine months, so some winemakers are just going with what they can obtain.”

  When asked if the glass shortage may be driving some producers to choose aluminum packaging, Tucker told The Grapevine Magazine that it might be accurate, but aluminum distributors are going through the same supply difficulties as everyone else.

  “The most important thing to do is choose a packaging supplier that also can provide a type of supply insurance. Encore Glass fulfills your order by offering great selections of glass bottles, expert preparation, and a commitment to get your bottles to you when you need them.”

Aluminum Brings Versatility into Focus

  Like glass, aluminum is a solid and cost-effective choice for overall packaging effectiveness and performance, but similar difficulty in sourcing can be an issue. Aluminum offers convenience, recyclability, maximum portability and, in some cases, the ability to be resealed. Canned wines gained popularity and broader acceptance during the pandemic and continue to be favored by following the successful methods pioneered by canned cocktails and seltzers. Aluminum is easy to handle and customize with uniquely designed sleeves for shelf appeal and is perfect for occasions where glass containers are not allowed or practical. In addition, aluminum packaging is much lighter to ship and can ultimately help cut price points on wine.

Polyethylene Terephthalate and Plastic Find a Niche

  The pandemic brought on the idea that consumers would more frequently look to purchase and drink wine at home. To support this, wine companies looked to offer minimal contact accessibility, and plastic provided a solution.

  Garcon Wines acted on that new dynamic, finding that traditional bottles used in the wine industry no longer fit the dynamics of how and why most wine is purchased and consumed. With the growing belief that the existing carbon footprint of wine is unsustainable, they developed a 100% recyclable, 750 ml, flat Polyethylene Terephthalate wine bottle. It is designed to fit through mail slots and is manufactured from 100% food-grade, post-consumer recycled PET, saving energy and weight.

  When compared to the traditional glass bottles, they are 87% lighter and 40% smaller spatially. The flat bottles are a little taller than standard bottles and are stackable to save space. The taller profile helps them stand out and be a little more noticeable on a retail shelf. They pack tightly into shipping cartons without additional packaging, better utilizing the space on a standard pallet. Fewer deliveries are needed, and with more efficient loading and unloading times, the savings add up.

  However, under 30% of PET containers are recycled in the United States, so good intentions aren’t producing the proposed results. In 2023, Bacardi will begin using novel plastic for their containers that use seed oil rather than crude oil. The biopolymer bottles are made by fermenting canola and other seed oils that biodegrade within 18 months in any environment containing microorganisms, including compost bins and fresh or saltwater.

Alternative, Sustainable and Eco-conscious are Trending

  Packaging trends are moving towards more eco-friendly and sustainable options, thanks to shifting consumer ideology. Winemakers have found that the key to storing their wines in alternative containers is providing a tight seal. Among these options, boxed wines have been the most popular and recognizable, opening up new possibilities of how and where wine is consumed. Although it’s still a small segment compared to other packaging choices, bag-in-box wines are attractive to those who shop less and want to enjoy an occasional glass of wine at home without worrying about spoilage and waste. The inner pouch removes the need for glass, and the box shape makes them easy to store, transport and use without the chance of breakage. Additionally, they can offer a better price point, modern look and shelf appeal to consumers looking for more thoughtful, eco-friendly and sustainable options.

  With the pandemic driving consumers to drink differently and more often, boxed wine allows them that opportunity, staying fresh for six weeks after breaking the seal. Consumers continue to value convenient and lifestyle-friendly products—boxed wine answers that demand with a 2.25-liter box that perfectly fits a refrigerator shelf, saving space and offering on-demand accessibility.

Bag-in-a-bottle: a Paper Bottle

  Bag-in-a-bottle is an option for consumers who want all of those eco-friendly benefits but still yearn for the traditional bottle. Like the bag-in-box, the outer container is recyclable paperboard fused with water-based glue and molded with heat and moisture into a more conventional wine bottle shape. It is five times lighter than glass and is resistant to spillage, humidity and breakage, with a 12-month shelf life. Proponents believe a time will come where the paper bottle molding unit would be available for use on-site or near the winery for on-demand bottling. Five times more paperboard blanks than rigid bottles can ship at once wherever needed to be assembled and filled.

Return and Reuse: the Good Old Days

  Because only a little over 30% of glass wine bottles get recycled in the U.S., some distributors want to revisit the bottle deposit and return practice for use with wine bottles. The idea is that each glass wine bottle could be reused up to 10 times, allowing the consumer to experience the traditional and romantic experience of wine in a glass bottle while being eco-conscious. In addition, this practice hopes to appeal to those that still want to please those guests that are not comfortable with bag-in-box or canned wines. This business model would issue digital credits to distributors for returned bottles and help the winemaker build loyalty, communication and marketing contacts with participating distributors. The plan is to have the returnable program in thousands of venues, natural wine shops and participating big box stores in 2022, as a three-month pilot program in New York saw an 88% success rate.

  “Encore Glass started their business by sterilizing and recycling glass wine bottles to have an encore use, but with all of the current bottle shapes, sizes and custom structures, it would be nearly impossible to continue on a broad scale,” said Tucker. “I would have doubts about the feasibility of the program, including the willingness of consumers to continue long-term participation.”

Match Packaging to Consumer Awareness

  Creative packaging has always been one of the best and most effective ways to help a brand get noticed in a crowded market. But consumer awareness of a winemaker’s story combined with convenient options in packaging has never been more vital. Over half of consumers are committed to buying from sustainable brands when possible, and they are searching for more responsible behavior from the vineyard through the retail channels. Matching these behaviors with responsible packaging will help winemakers successfully differentiate their products and fuel their brand’s growth in today’s market.

Pruning Phases, Tools & Techniques for Vineyards

man cutting a stem

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Around this time of the year, addressing the topic of pruning is essential for vineyards. Now that harvest is over, grapevines enter into a winter dormancy phase, losing the rest of their leaves and exposing only bare cane shoots in the canopies. Now is the crucial time to refresh your memory about the different pruning phases to get the timing right and learn about the best tools and training strategies to implement for safety and efficiency.

Basics of Pruning

  Pruning is an essential part of managing a vineyard to remove foliage, fruit and branches. However, the pruning method used can affect how future grapes grow and their quality at harvest.

Pruning is an opportunity to control vine damage and disease early on and ensure that grapes have enough air circulation to prevent mildew and rot. Pruning maintains the consistency, predictability and structure of a vineyard while keeping it organized and looking clean. The ultimate goal is to maximize the one-year wood on each grapevine without letting the plant make more grapes than it can support.

Phases of Pruning

  Pruning is described as both a science and an art because of the intricacies involved in the process. Removing vine branches that are a couple of years old, known as canes, comes first. It is typical to cut the cane back to 12 to 15 inches from the trunk in this first phase. Then, remove the spurs, which are the young branches about a year old. The second phase is done later to leave only shoots that will produce fruit.

  For winter protection, remove all old-growth except for new fruiting canes and renewal spurs that will supply fruit canes for the next growing season. Proper canopy management allows vineyard workers to pull leaves and control the vigor of the vines. Many vineyards use a machine pruner first to do the bulk of the cutting and then hand pruning for greater precision.

Tools for Pruning

  In general, the tools necessary for pruning are fairly straightforward. Vineyard workers use hand shears, lopping shears, saws, gloves, and ribbons or colored cloth strips to identify renewal spurs and fruiting canes.

  Innovative companies have developed specialized products for pruning that seem simple at first glance but are very technologically advanced. One example is Infaco-USA’s F3015 electric pruning shear. Infaco-USA is based in Livermore, California and produces tools used in vineyards and orchards in at least 35 countries. Infaco’s president, Daniel Delmas, is credited with inventing the world’s first electric pruning shears.

  “Our F3015 electric pruning shear came out a few years ago, but it remains the most technologically advanced shear in the world, in part because it works with our patented safety system,” Ananda Van Hoorn, operations manager for Infaco-USA, told The Grapevine Magazine. “No other shear has anything that comes close to it, as this system prevents users from accidentally cutting themselves or lopping off a finger. In vineyard pruning, this is particularly important since mistakes happen when workers are fatigued and in crews try to go as fast as they can, especially if they’re paid piece-rate, and they often work long hours.”

  Meanwhile, Zenport Industries is another company that has developed several tools, accessories and technologies for the vineyard. Based in Sherwood, Oregon, Zenport has introduced battery-powered pruning shears and, more recently, a new “cordless” version of this product. In general, Zenport manufactures specialty horticulture tools and supplies for the agriculture, landscape, irrigation and lawn and garden markets.

  “The reason why we say ‘cordless’ is because unlike previous generations of battery-powered pruners, there is no external battery pack or electronics, as everything is encapsulated inside the tool,” Daryl Shatto, who handles marketing for Zenport, told The Grapevine Magazine.

  Shatto said that the interchangeable battery packs offer three to four hours of pruning runtime per battery charge.

  “The Zenport EP26 cuts one-inch and comes with two batteries and a charging cradle,” he said. “The Zenport EP27 cuts 1.25-inches and comes with three batteries and a charging adapter that will charge three batteries at once. The batteries charge faster than the pruner runtime, so the user will never run out of juice!”

  Zenport offers spare batteries and blades and all parts for the cordless pruners, such as housing, motors, gears, and electronics. The new Zenport EP26 and EP27 have features not found on the original cordless pruners, including progressive cut mode, an adaptive cut option, simple “hair-trigger” mode and a digital LCD readout.

Training for Pruning

  A topic that deserves extra attention is training staff on safe and effective pruning techniques. The most common pruning injuries are strained shoulders, sore back muscles and hand lacerations. Some vineyard operators train staff using the four-arm Kniffen method, which utilizes two horizontal wires to support the vine. This method features a bottom wire that is three feet high and a top wire that is five feet high and is used for grapes that do not require winter protection.

  Vineyard workers should also be trained on sterilizing equipment after each vine using an isopropyl alcohol solution. Part of the training process should cover removing diseased wood with lesion or sap by either burning it or discarding it according to municipality requirements.

  Regarding training, Van Hoorn said Infaco-USA’s hand-held tools are designed to be intuitive and come with user guides in both English and Spanish.

“Our pruning shear, patented safety system, electric tying machine and vineyard desuckerer can be mastered in minutes,” Van Hoorn said. “When in doubt, our YouTube channel features how-to videos, we offer on-site training for crews, and we have also conducted live video training online for customers in remote areas.”

  “Vineyard managers can train their employees to use our products in the safest and most effective way by first educating themselves on the safety, operation, maintenance and proper use of Zenport tools,” said Shatto. “Zenport offers an easy-to-read manual and maintenance instructions, including over the phone support to help the vineyard manager with not only technical and service support issues, but also operational and safety concerns.”

Pruning Considerations and Tips

  One of the most significant decisions to make is whether to machine-prune, hand-prune or do a combination of both. Hand-pruning is labor-intensive, especially for large vineyards. Pruning machines can keep workers safe if they are trained properly; however, this is a costlier approach to vineyard maintenance, especially for newer vineyards and vineyards struggling to make ends meet. Therefore, it often comes down to weighing the pros and cons of short-term investments versus long-term cost and labor savings. Yet, common-sense rules still apply, such as having workers take breaks, stay hydrated and work in teams.

  Van Hoorn said vineyards should consider mechanization because it is easier than they might think. She said small, hand-held electric pruning shears can increase vineyard productivity by 30% on average and that it only takes a few minutes to mechanize an entire crew.

  “Pruning is the number one labor expense for most vineyards, and minimum wage in many parts of the U.S. is going up,” Van Hoorn said. “Many of our clients are experiencing 14% increases in prices that they pay labor crews and contractors each year, so an investment in mechanization now will have huge payoffs!”

  Aside from productivity, Van Hoorn said other benefits of mechanization include better crew retention rates, fewer repetitive motion injuries and better cuts that improve consistency and the quality of the grapes while reducing the risk of disease.

  Shatto from Zenport said that a vineyard can decide its best pruning strategy by evaluating each pruning job and the available resources. It is Zenport’s position that using a battery-powered pruner doesn’t mean you stop hand pruning. However, the tools offered at Zenport can make a big difference if labor is an issue.

  “Zenport battery-powered pruners have excellent endurance,” Shatto said. “A sharp blade and charged battery will keep the user pruning all day long! A person who is healthy and very experienced with pruning can prune very fast. As a day of hand-pruning progresses, even the fastest of the fast will start to slow down, while the person with the battery-powered pruner will stay consistent all day long. You can count on the consistent performance.”

  Shatto also said it is wishful thinking to expect a full crew of young, fast and experienced workers to never get tired and always be available.

  “With the battery-powered pruner, a vineyard can utilize a much larger labor pool, including people who know what they are doing, but their arms or wrists just can’t take rigorous hand-pruning any longer,” he said. “There are a lot of folks who miss being out in the vineyard but who just can’t do the work because of the pain.”