The Evolution of California’s Winery Industry (2013-2023)

A Decade of Challenge, Change and Resilience

Napa Valley Sign outside of Vineyard says Welcome to this world famous wine growing region

By: Mike McNulty, Managing Principal at EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants

Over the past decade, California’s wineries have witnessed changes in the property insurance marketplace that would have seemed impossible ten years ago. As an insurance broker focused on the winery industry, I have seen firsthand how movements in the insurance marketplace have reshaped how our wineries do business. As we look for a way forward, it helps to look back at the road that brought us to where we are today.

  Think back to harvest time in 2013; vintners prepared to reap the rewards of a long and sunny year, enjoying a high-yield, high-quality crop of fruit. We were all a little nervous about another dry year (California’s rainfall was less than 34% of what forecasters had hoped to receive). And while the state was in the grip of what we eventually realized was its worst drought in recorded history, there was no question that the California wine industry was ascending.

  There was so much confidence in the future of California’s wineries that insurers were fighting for the right to provide property and liability coverage. In 2013, the average winery owner/operator could expect four to five insurers to compete for their business, each offering broad coverage, low deductibles, and attractive pricing.

  As the wine industry grew and expanded, it sprawled, literally. New wineries were established further and further from urban centers, nestling closer to and even within California’s forests. Proprietors created tasting “experiences” as their properties became tourist destinations. They used the backdrop of California’s incredible geography to blend their wineries into the picturesque terrain with breathtaking results.

The Rise of Climate Change

  We would soon discover the unmanaged fuel in those woodland areas were ticking time bombs.

  The drought of 2013 would last for another 4 years in most of California – killing plant life, felling trees by the millions and creating acres of tinder ready for a spark. California is no stranger to wildfires, but most of the state’s coordinated efforts went into suppression, not prevention.

  According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 601,635 acres of California burned in 2013 wildfires – worryingly ahead of 2013’s rolling five-year average of 449,178 acres of yearly wildfires.

  Our current five-year average for California wildfires has grown to 1,158,028 acres. To give a sense of scale, that is on par with the entire Grand Canyon National Park set ablaze every year. There is every indication that this is the “new normal.”

2023: The Dynamic Shifts

  The insurance industry was not ready for the increasing magnitude and severity of wildfires in California. Blazes like the Glass Fire of 2020, which spread from Napa into Sonoma Valley, threatened the stability of carriers who had once competed for the privilege of serving California wineries.

  Their retreat was not subtle. Coverage policies became more restrictive, narrowing the safety net wineries had come to rely on. For many, the cost of insuring their wineries became prohibitively expensive. And it was not just about the cost – the very availability of comprehensive insurance became a luxury item.

  Proprietors bolt sprinklers onto rooftops, create fuel breaks, remove trees, bushes, and anything else a blaze could use to sustain itself. In many cases, these owners are frustrated to learn their efforts are not enough to get insurers’ attention and support.

Embracing Technology and Collaboration

  We have discovered there is no turnkey answer to the threat of climate change. But wineries have two advantages that might have been unthinkable 10 years ago: emerging technologies and a willingness to collaborate with competitors for mutual survival.

  Early detection can make all the difference in responding to a wildfire event. Communities can install camera monitoring systems throughout the community in hopes of catching fires before they get out of control. Once a novelty, flying drones are now table stakes for many wineries. They conduct routine flyovers and capture aerial imagery that can persuade insurers of the comprehensive scale of their mitigation practices.

  These images and high-fidelity satellite imagery can now be used in tandem with data analytics to optimize fire mitigation planning and prevention. Companies like FortressFire use aerial assessments augmented with site inspections and other indices to identify and correct fire vulnerabilities that might otherwise have been overlooked.

  Wildfires do not respect property lines or municipal jurisdictions, so homeowners and businesses in wine country have banned together to coordinate their mitigation strategies collaboratively.

The New Normal

  Over the past few years, California wineries have undergone a profound transformation, confronting challenges that have reshaped their operational landscapes. As the threats of climate change and shifting insurance dynamics loomed, the industry’s response was pragmatic: leveraging technology, refining practices, and fostering collaboration.

  The road ahead for California’s wineries remains uncertain, with climate unpredictability and financial challenges. However, the past decade has shown the wine industry’s proactive strategy, built on innovation, collaboration, and strategic adaptation, has equipped their communities to overcome the challenges it faced. It’s a strategy of resilience we should all hope to emulate, including the insurance industry.

Mike McNulty headshot

Mike McNulty is managing principal at EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants. Mike holds over 30 years of experience in the insurance industry, specializing in cost and risk management. He oversees the delivery of extensive insurance and risk management solutions to clients in the consumer beverage business.

Custom Crush Host & Guest

Photo of winery building with grape crushing equipment and people using bins to put grapes on crushing equipment

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Having been on both sides of custom crush not only as a winemaker as a host winery but also as a winemaking client in another’s winery I feel especially adapted to help people with custom crush endeavors.  Making sure your grapes and wine get the excellent treatment they deserve is always the top consideration.  You want to make excellent wine, without winemaking flaw, as a bottom line.

Choosing Your Custom Crush Partner

  Make sure to choose a custom crush winemaking facility that is adapted to your size and style.  If you care for the products that winery makes that is a key asset that you can hopefully build on but it is not a given your wines will be as clean and assertive as the winery making your wines.  Research the winery you plan to be involved with and make sure they are the correct fit.  Research their sanitation and explore if brettanomyces could be a long term issue, especially if making reds and moving the bulk wine back to your facility.

Discuss How Far to Go

  Discuss with the winery how much of the process you plan to have done at their facility.  Will they just crush and ship? Will they crush, ferment, press and ship?  Will they crush, ferment, press, age, bottle and ship?  What should the label say?  What should they expect from you?  If you are building a new winery building are there contingencies’ for a construction delay on your end?  There are many ways to configure what your needs are and the winery should have some idea of how long you plan to stay and what their role is in your vision.


  Now we can see communication is already a huge part of this relationship.  Beyond how long you will stay at the winery leads into division of responsibilities.  Who will decide the yeast, enzyme, nutrient, style, maceration, whole cluster press, crush and press, etc?  Will tanks be available?   Should you bring your own tanks and barrels to the winery to be helpful?  What can the winery supply to you in the way of fermentation capacity and how soon will the wine get into your barrels so the production path is clear for their grapes and wines?  Map out a process with the winemaker and/or GM to make sure a plan is in place.


  Every harvest comes with new challenges.  Often winemakers are already stressed with their own fruit and winemaking demands only to find owners and GM’s piling more on them with custom crush.  Make sure the winemaking team really wants you there and that they will treat your fruit with the same respect as their own.  Is the winemaker being compensated extra for your presence?  Should they be?  Are they happy you are “on board” or is this process a thorn in their side?  Are you just in their way? This is hugely important to your success as a client in their cellar and what are your buffers or remedies if you find your expectations are not being met?  This happens and you need expertise to know when things are not just right.


  Make sure you have expertise on hand to help coax your winemaking process along.  Make sure a detailed plan has been placed, on paper, for the resident winemaker to follow.  Make sure the plan has the flexibility needed to shift to address the potential abnormalities every harvest has.  This ability to make decisions on the fly will be imperative to your overall wine quality success.  Not knowing the ins and outs can lead you subject to agreeing to things you may not have agreed to and having the wines suffer in the process.  Make sure you don’t become “second fiddle” for the cost of a “front row seat”.

Being a Priority

  Keeping yourself in the forefront will be a delicate balance.  Harvest has everyone under stress and that starts to show quickly in the game.  Make sure level heads approach reactionary winemakers with compromise and offering solutions.  It will help the stress level of the onsite winemaker remain low and you will gain respect.  This will typically pay off later when you do need a little something extra from the winemaking team.  They will respectfully step forward and help on the back end.  Show that you understand the shoes they are in and that you are not only present to help them navigate the waters, with them, but ready to look after your wines, too. 

How to get the Best

  Getting the best is by getting along.Communication is the key.  If your fruit is being delayed from the 10:00am delivery slot originally planned – place the quick call to the proper winemaking team person and let them know calmly. 

Chances are something else has shifted that day already and the team easily navigates this new slot.  It always works out well beyond any planning but if the team is veteran – they have seen it all and will refocus their energy to a more immediate task that may have been slated for later that day.  This same approach goes for all during the year.  Plan and communicate.


  The above has certainly addressed the issue of flexibility.  This is farming at crush.  Harvesters break down, picking crews get out of sequence, lug deliveries may have been delayed or any other host of things could happen.  Many situations are out of your control so plan for the worst and accept a good day.  They happen more frequently than this article might suggest.

Good….Great Relationships

  Keep a great relationship, even at your own expense, while having wine made in another’s facility.  That doesn’t mean you need to role over and accept poor treatment of your fruit and wines but rather go the extra mile to have the winemaking crew want to help you.  Help them when possible on a task they are working on if the winery environment allows it.  If you can help them clear a path to work with your fruit – they will respect that.

Doing Work Yourself

  Will you be able to do work yourself on their premise and in their facility?  This can be key from crushing fruit to racking tanks and barrels or filtering wine.  If things are being slow to get done ask if you can come in and do the work yourself provided you have the knowledge and skills.  Some wineries will allow this and in some cases it is the best solution for on site quality control.  Will the custom crush winery assign their top personnel on your lots or will they focus on theirs?  Human nature comes into play here and you need to protect your investment.  If late Friday work orders delivered to a non veteran winemaking staff should become the norm for what needs to be done to your wines – this should sound alarm bells to you.

Lab Testing

  Will the custom crush winery supply lab numbers to you?  Do you trust their lab numbers, expertise and how will you know if the numbers are trust worthy?  The difference in a pH reading of 3.88 and 3.76 could have a huge influence on how you may want to handle that wine.  Make sure to use outside labs to help validate the internal numbers being supplied to you.  It is great insurance for your wines and you soon know how reliable the internal winery numbers are and how often you need to seek outside numbers.

Record Keeping

  How much access will you have in the record keeping?  Will the custom crush winery hold those records close to their chest or is it an open book?  Do they keep as detailed records as you hope to see?  Address this before becoming a client of theirs.  Is it up to them to keep track of blends or yourself?  Perhaps it is best to run the records parallel so you can confirm your confidence in what you receive.  It will help in any case especially in the event of a computer crash or other catastrophic events.


  When courting a winery, as a potential custom crush facility, make sure you are happy with what you see in terms of sanitation.  Don’t expect that the overall sanitation regime will change once you “get married”.  Look at the process and procedures that each winery might have in place to understand how they clean certain segments of the winery.  If you plan to move the wines in bulk to your facility be careful not to contaminate your brand new winery with spoilage microbes that could affect your wine styles for years if not forever.


  Make sure to look out for number one when looking to do custom crush.  Many honorable facilities exist but be on your toes to make sure you know when things are not headed in the proper direction for your wines.  Make sure you are getting your monies worth and that the wines you intend to craft are indeed shaping up in the proper fashion.

•    Know what your goals are and express them.

•    Explore the winery that will best fit the goals.

•    Make business arrangements to achieve the goals.

•    Communicate throughout all the winemaking process.

•    Have a commanding presence while remaining flexible.

  A big thanks to Rombauer, Laird, Braman, Prince Michel and numerous other wineries for allowing me custom crush access and experience.

Storms on the Way?  Hail No!

vineyard with hail damage

Image 1: Vineyard with hail damage

By: Kirk Williams, Lecturer-Texas Tech University

For many grape growers that are East of the Rocky Mountains, hailstorms can occur throughout the growing season from late Spring through the Fall.  Hailstorms can reduce shoot growth, reduce yield and occasionally damage the woody parts of the grapevine.   The severity of these hail events can be mild to severe.  Multiple hailstorms are possible in some years at hail prone vineyard sites.  An example of an extremely severe early season hail event is seen in Image 1.  Late season hail events can cause fruit damage, increase disease issues and cause leaf area loss which can impact fruit ripening.    Leaf area loss can decrease carbohydrate production and storage which can reduce bud hardiness in the dormant season as well as reduce growth and yield the following growing season.   An example of a late season hail event can be seen in Image 2:

Image 2 late season hail event

 Image 2: Late Season Hail Event

  A strategy that is being adopted for reducing the impact of hailstorms on grapevines is the use of hail netting.   Hail Netting is a high-density polyethylene woven fabric that is installed on both sides of the grapevine canopy.  The hail netting is flexible and can absorb energy from falling hailstones to prevent damage to the canopy and fruit.  The mesh spacing on hail netting is much tighter than on bird netting and is around 4mm by 6 mm (0.16 inches X 0.24 inches).   A common width of the hail netting is around 40 inches although other widths are available.  Most hail netting has reinforced edges on the top and bottom of the netting. 

  The hail netting is usually attached to the top catch wire using clips and then the netting is attached below the canopy, sometimes to the drip line or sometimes to an additional wire that is added for that purpose.   Hail netting use is limited to vertically shoot positioned trellis systems with catch wires high enough to spread the hail netting vertically.  Varieties that have a mostly upright growth habit are preferred but a wide range of varieties are being grown under hail netting.  Hail netting does promote upright shoot growth as the shoots are held in place vertically and compressed by the hail nets.   See Image 3 for an example of hail netting and its installation.  Hail netting is installed as a permanent part of the trellis system and is usually lowered soon after final pruning is completed to prevent damage from early season hailstorms.   Hail netting is usually installed after a vineyard has started producing fruit but when installed soon after planting, hail netting can prevent hail damage to the developing woody portions of the grapevine which can prolong the productive life of the grapevine.  

Image 3 showing hail netting and its installation in vineyard

Image 3: Hail Netting Installed 

While hail netting does prevent damage from hailstorms it does require extra steps to complete work in the vineyard.  To do work in the canopy, the hail netting must be raised up prior to the work and then lowered after the task is complete.   Having dedicated lower wires that the hail netting is attached to and are loose enough to move up to the cross arms can speed up raising and lowering of the nets.  Hailstorms can quickly develop especially in the late Spring and early Summer when canopy management practices are taking place so care should be exercised to raise the hail netting on just a few rows at a time.   At harvest time, the hail netting must be raised and rolled up to be out of the way of harvesting activities whether harvesting is done mechanically or by hand.  The hail netting will usually stay raised and rolled up until final pruning is completed.  

  Installing hail netting requires a substantial investment in vineyard infrastructure.  The hail netting and clips will cost around $1,600 to $2,000 per acre depending on the density of the vineyard.    Installation of the hail netting is estimated to take eight to ten hours of labor per acre.  While the cost of the hail netting and installation is expensive, the saving of a crop from a severe hailstorm or reducing crop loss from several small hailstorms will recover the cost of the hail netting.  The hail netting has an estimated life of eight to ten years when properly cared for. 

  In addition to prevention of damage from hail, hail netting can reduce bird damage.  If bird pressure is high, birds can still get into the hail netted grapevine canopy from either the bottom or top where there are narrow openings.  Tying the bottoms of the two panels of hail netting together can prevent most of the birds from getting into the grapevine canopy.   Under heavy bird pressure, the tops of the panels of hail netting may also need to be tied together. 

  Hail netting reduces hail damage but can the closely woven fabric impact the grapevine canopy?  In a study that took place on the Texas High Plains, two varieties of grapevines were studied with and without hail netting and it was found that there were differences.  Grapevines grown using hail netting had a change in the vine canopy’s microclimate. The hail netting was found to make the canopy cooler, reduced air and leaf temperatures and altered the moisture level in the canopy.  This change was likely due to reduced canopy airflow in the netted vines.  These canopy microclimate changes could cause increased disease pressure for grapevines grown under hail netting. 

  The change in temperature and light due to the netting affects the vine’s leaf gas exchange, a key process for the plant’s health and growth. Differences were also noticed between grape varieties in the study (Malbec and Pinot Gris). For instance, the rate at which the fruit matured was influenced both by the netting and the type of grape. 

  The study showed vines without netting had more clusters. The ‘Malbec’ variety, in particular, showed lower yields under netting. Additionally, netted vines, especially ‘Pinot Gris’, showed less vegetative growth. 

  Installing hail netting can prevent crop loss, preserve grape quality and improve grapevine longevity in areas that receive hailstorms during the growing season.  While hail-netting is beneficial for protection against hail, it is essential to understand its broader effects on grape growth, disease pressure and yield and adjust your vineyard practices accordingly. 

  References: Ruland KT, Montague T, Helwi P (2023) Impact of hail-netting on Vitis vinifera L. canopy microclimate, leaf gas exchange, fruit quality, and yield in a semi-arid environment. Viticulture Data Journal 555: e108805.

  Kirk Williams is a lecturer in Viticulture at Texas Tech University and teaches the Texas Tech Viticulture Certificate program.  He is also a commercial grape grower on the Texas High Plains.  He can be contacted at

The Essentials of Grape Crop Insurance

By: Trevor Troyer – Vice President at Agricultural Risk Management, LLC

Grape cultivation is an art that dates back thousands of years, producing some of the finest wines and fruits enjoyed worldwide. However, vineyard owners face a range of challenges, from unpredictable weather patterns to diseases that can decimate their crops. That’s where grape crop insurance comes in. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of grape crop insurance, its benefits, and how it can safeguard the livelihood of vineyard owners.

The Importance of Grape Crop Insurance

  Grape crop insurance is a specialized form of crop insurance tailored to the unique risks associated with grape production. Grape crop insurance is an Actual Production History policy.  You are using an average of your historical production to determine the expected crop tonnage and value. It serves several critical purposes:

Protection Against Natural Disasters

  Vineyards are vulnerable to various natural disasters, including hailstorms, frost, excessive rainfall, and wildfires. A sudden and severe weather event can devastate a grape harvest, leading to significant financial losses. Grape crop insurance helps vineyard owners recover from these unexpected setbacks.  You are also covered for wildlife damage which could include birds, bears, deer etc.

Financial Stability

  Grape crop insurance promotes financial stability for vineyard owners. It provides a safety net that allows them to continue their operations even in the face of adversity. This stability is crucial, as the grape cultivation process is a long-term endeavor, with vines taking years to reach full production potential.  Grape Crop insurance is there to keep you growing.

Support for the Wine Industry

  The grape industry is a cornerstone of the global wine sector. Grape crop insurance not only benefits vineyard owners but also contributes to the overall success and sustainability of the wine industry. It ensures a consistent supply of high-quality grapes, which is essential for winemakers and consumers alike.

Types of Grape Crop Insurance

  There are several types of grape crop insurance policies available to vineyard owners:

Yield Protection

  Yield protection policies provide coverage based on the actual grape yield. If the yield falls below a certain threshold due to covered perils, the policyholder is compensated for the loss.  You can choose coverage levels from 50% all the way to 85% of your historical average.

Whole Farm Revenue Protection

  This type of insurance covers all the crops on the farm, including grapes, making it suitable for vineyards with diversified agricultural operations.  You can have yield coverage and have Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) in addition as an extra layer of security.

Government Assistance

  The USDA provide support to grape crop insurance programs. Subsidies and incentives make these policies more affordable for vineyard owners, encouraging wider adoption and helping ensure the sustainability of the grape industry.  Your premium is partially subsidized through the USDA, the amount of subsidy changes with coverage levels.


  Grape crop insurance is available in the following states; Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.   Crop insurance may not be available in all counties in these states.  But in a lot of cases, if you have a mature producing vineyard, you may be able to get coverage through a special request to the USDA.


  Grape crop insurance is an essential tool for vineyard owners, protecting their investments and ensuring the longevity of their vineyards. It safeguards against the unpredictable challenges of nature and diseases while promoting financial stability and supporting the larger wine industry.

Preservation of the Genetic Diversity of Wine Grape Varieties

The Old Vine Conference

Old Vine From Angelica Vineyard - Ph Credit Catena Zapata

Old Vine From Angelica Vineyard – Photo Credit Catena Zapata

By: Judit Monis, Ph.D. – Vineyard and Plant Health Consultant

Recently, I did some research on “old vine” heritage  grapevines after seeing a post on LinkedIn that showed a vineyard with characteristic “red leaf” symptoms likely due to viral infection. There are “old vine” projects throughout important winegrowing regions in the word.  The definition of an old vine ranges from 35-50 years, but if you ever heard me give presentations at meetings, my motto is: “vineyards should live to be over 100 years”.  My search brought me to the Old Vine conference held last October. 

  A non-profit company registered in the United Kingdom with a mission to safeguard and preserve old grapevines through research and education.  The non-profit organizes yearly conferences.  In 2023, the old vine hero award was given to Dr. Laura Catena, the managing director of Catena Zapata winery.  Many of you know that I am originally from Argentina.  Hearing about an award given to a compatriot in my field inspired me to write about her presentation.  

Malbec, Argentina’s Signature Variety

 Dr. Catena’s presentation: “How an agricultural philosophy is using science to preserve the past” focused on the history of Argentine viticulture as it relates to old germplasm.  Especially, how her family’s winery put Argentine’s malbec wine into the world’s map.   The malbec variety is originally from France and was brough to Argentina in the mid-19th century by a French viticulturist named Miguel Pouget. Dr. Catena referred to her father, Nicolas, as responsible for starting to use malbec in a single variety wine in the mid-1990s. 

  After the vineyards  grown in France were affected by phylloxera in the 1800’s,  many malbec plantings (among other varieties of grapes)  were decimated by the pest.  However, in the absence of phylloxera, the plants brought to Argentina survived and became an important reservoir of malbec’s genetic material. The family business celebrated last year the 100th birthday of their Angelica vineyard planted in 1922. Presently, collaborative work with INTA (the equivalent to our USDA) is helping Catena and other vineyards characterize the present germplasm.

Dormant Old Vines in a California Vineyard

Dormant Old Vines in a California Vineyard

Sélection Massale, the Renewed use of an Old Practice

  In the past, and due to  economic restrictions, importations were not allowed into Argentina.  Therefore, it was unusual for grape growers to plant clones of specific varieties.  Instead,  cuttings of the original plants introduced from France in the mid-1800’s were propagated to make new plants.  These were generally planted on their own roots (i.e., not grafted).  The vineyards are most often planted with cuttings that have been selected in the vineyard based on visual observation or the quality of wine produced from its grapes. Generally, a number of “good looking” or well performing vines are marked in a vineyard and used to collect budwood that will be propagated or grafted to produce new vines. This process of field selection is known as sélection massale. Since the selection is done based on visual aspects and vines are generally not grafted, viral symptoms are generally masked, therefore vines infected with virus are often selected.

  The advantage of using field selections versus a clone of a given variety is the genetic diversity that can be found in the vineyard.  Of course, not always this is an advantage, as a vineyard with genetic diversity might be more difficult to manage because some vines may be taller or more vigorous than others, may need more or less water, nutrients, etc. As it relates to wine production, some of the fruit from some vines may mature earlier than others creating difficulty during the harvest of the fruit.  However, an interesting study from the Catena Wine Institute showed that the variation among the vines was so wide that some vines could produce only one bottle of wine, while others could produce up to seven bottles.  On the other hand, the genetic variation in the vineyard allowed more resilience as the vineyard overall was more resistant to inclement weather such as freeze, hail, or wind.

Viral Disease Introduction to Argentina Occurred with Imported Vines

  At some point in history Argentina’s nurseries and vineyards started their own clonal selection.  In addition, the Argentine market eventually opened its business to import plant material from nurseries in Europe and recently from California’s Foundation Plant Services (FPS).  According to Dr. Catena, this is when the majority of viral and fungal diseases were introduced into Argentine vineyards. Vineyards planted with older field selections at Catena Zapata appear to be healthier than the newer introductions planted.  This information matches research by Jimena Balic performed by Santa Carolina Winery  in Chile.  Dr. Balic reported at the 19th International Congress of ICVG the detection of more virus infected vines in nursery propagated clones compared to Santa Carolina’s own heritage field selections.  Interestingly, a study in California by  Kari Arnold determined that the older vines were infected with more viruses than the newer plantings

  We know that important viral diseases (fanleaf, leafroll, rugose wood, and red blotch) are present in Argentina.  Further, .  Many of the original field selections have now become infected with fanleaf (transmitted in the soil by nematodes) or leafroll (transmitted from vine to vine by mealybugs).    As a trained medical doctor, Dr. Catena mentions that the winery is serious about keeping viruses out of the vineyard.  However, the imported plants that brough the viral diseases have spread along different vineyards not only affecting a broad area since introduced.  Since virus testing is expensive and ranges between $150-$250/sample compared to the cost of $4 per plant, not every plant can be tested.  Catena Zapata’s strategy is to test their grafted clones but the field selections that are not grafted are rarely tested

Argentina Grapevine Certification Program is Different from California’s

  In Argentina each nursery is responsible for maintaining and testing their own mother and increase blocks.  In other words, there is not a central foundation block such as what is maintained by FPS. 

  Besides a few commercial nurseries, many wineries have nurseries that provide the cuttings or grafted plants grown in their own vineyards.  Just like in California, there is a list of viruses that the certified vines must be free of.  Similarly, the certification of grapevine plants in Argentina is optional.  In reality, very few vineyards are planted with certified vines and most vineyards are planted with non-grafted vines as phylloxera in not yet ubiquitous. 

Disease Testing and Elimination

  During my long career as a plant pathologist working in diagnostics and pathogen elimination, I was fortunate to have been able to apply tissue culture techniques to preserve heritage clones in California.  I am also fortunate to have visited vineyards planted with these clones. Feedback from clients has always been that the vines perform similar to the original selection or clones but have the advantage of being healthy and more productive, even 30 years after being planted.  I have covered diagnostic testing and tissue culture disease elimination in other articles. 

  I will mention here briefly, the meristem tissue culture technique.  The method relies in growing the apical meristematic dome of a vine cutting to create a new plant.  The smaller the meristem size is, the higher probability of eliminating viruses, especially those that are phloem limited.  In her presentation, Dr. Catena mentioned that she expects that the meristem culture method may improve over time.  In my opinion the method works very well.  It requires manual labor and experience but it is the best method available for disease eradication.   Perhaps one day, we could replace technicians with sophisticated robots with the capacity of dissecting minute portions of the meristem under the microscope! However, in my experience technicians I have worked with have been able to perform the repetitive tasks over and over with fine and quick precision (almost like robots!).   The meristem tissue culture is a true and tried method that promises to improve the health of new grapevine plantings.


  I have learned through Dr. Catena’s presentation and the Old Vine Conference  that there is a huge amount of generic diversity that needs to be preserved in grapevines.  The health status of different vineyards varies and depends a lot on their care and isolation.  The use of meristem culture for disease eradication offers an advantage in heritage selection preservation. One usually thinks that the method is used solely for virus elimination but an added bonus is the elimination of bacterial and fungal pathogens.  Tissue culture methods of grapevine heritage selections and  clones are performed in a laboratory in vitro under sterile conditions. Another tissue culture application is the preservation of plant material in small vessels creating a germplasm repository bank.  The preserved plant material would be readily available for propagation and planting to replace affected vines in the case of viral infection (or other issue) in a vineyard.

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

Our Five Top Marketing Priorities for 2024

By: Susan DeMatei, Founder of WineGlass Marketing

If you’re like most of us, the holiday marketing campaigns are well underway, and you’re now focusing on next year’s budgets and plans. Choosing your marketing priorities for 2024 is a bit like assembling IKEA furniture—you’re looking for simple, clean lines and straightforward instructions. But you soon realize you are missing some tools to assemble the Järvfjället and wonder if you should have gone with the Ödmjuk instead. So, grab your metaphorical Allen wrench, and let’s build a marketing strategy that’s as sturdy as it is stylish, with just the right amount of snarky commentary along the way.

1. Know Thy Customer:  Your customers aren’t generic – they are unique and won’t be won over by vague, generic messages. If you write copy like everyone else and post the same boring stock bottle shots like everyone else, it’s like you’re trying to impress your date with poetry you found on the internet—it might sound good, but it won’t resonate unless you know what makes their heart skip a beat.


  Learning about your customer is simple and doesn’t require a degree in statistics or even that much time – you start with following their behavior. What posts do they comment on, and which ones fall on deaf ears? What emails have the best click rates, and what pages on your website do they go to? You should be constantly looking at behavioral data for your marketing. Ignoring these analytics is like throwing a surprise party and not checking if anyone RSVPed— you might be celebrating alone with a cake shaped like disappointment.


  Once you see their likes and dislikes, refine your messaging. If customers respond well when discussing food, is it recipes or dining out? Is it ethnic elaborate food or simple comfort food? Understanding these preferences is called a persona and will help you brainstorm content that resonates with your customers to position your product within their lifestyle.


  It is improbable that you have a single, homogeneous customer persona. You will find several groups, which you can start to parce using behavioral data (like buyers vs. nonbuyers), customer segments (like club members versus nonclub members.), or even demographic data (like Millennials and Baby Boomers). When you’re ready to take your marketing to the next level, start segmenting email lists, targeting social media content, and presenting dynamic website content to your different audiences.

2. Pay Attention to the Care and Feeding of Your Website:  I know what you’re thinking: “Whatever, I can skip this section. I already have a website. I got that to a good place two years ago.” But, your website, much like a garden, requires continual attention. Regular updates with fresh content and imagery and adjustments based on evolving consumer trends and product offerings are essential. You can’t just plant it and forget it; neglecting certain areas may result in withering while others become overgrown. Keep your online landscape flourishing by tending to it regularly.


For many of you, the interweb is a confusing black hole full of acronyms and technology. But even if you don’t know your DNS from your IP Address or your WordPress from your WooCommerce, this is no excuse to bury your head in the silicon sand. I don’t know exactly what my mechanic does either, but I still take my car to get it tuned and the oil changed. Technology is constantly evolving, so websites are continually decaying. If you don’t know how to update plugins, check for broken links, or monitor your hosting server’s performance, hire someone who does. Or risk hackers, frustrated customers, and lost sales.

  Maintenance Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive. See our Packages>>


  If the extent of your website deliberation up to this point has been limited to confirming you like the pictures, you’re not alone. But your website is a highly visible and effective tool for every step of the customer lifecycle, from acquisition to loyalty. Evaluate what you need your website to do (and there will be multiple objectives, so try to put it in a hierarchy of importance). If your number one marketing objective is to drive traffic to the tasting room, does everything on your website home page make visitors want to come to your winery? Too many times, we throw everything we’ve got to say to a visitor on the home page, and it overwhelms them, which causes them to leave. Your business priorities change frequently, certainly seasonally, so consider your website part of your overall marketing communication and update that home page regularly.


  Not only does your business change and technology advance, but our own behavior evolves. For instance, as of 2022, 59.16% of all website traffic comes from people using mobile devices, compared to 47.19% at the end of 2019 (Worldwide; StatCounter). So, in those short three years, mobile viewing became more critical. What do your own Google Analytics say about your site visitors? Knowing that we “read” on a full PC screen but “skim” headlines and subheads on the phone, what have you done to change your content to be bite-sized? Are silhouette bottle shots the best way to showcase your wines on the phone? Or should tight label shots be considered for a store refresh?

  Websites used to be like brochures; they were designed and used until you needed a new one, and then you threw out the old one and replaced it with a new one. Now, smart marketers believe websites should be alive and continually evolving. Unless you’re going through an entire rebrand, you should be able to keep the bones of the site for years and focus on updating new content weekly or monthly. While working on your website is not as glamorous as the latest social media craze or as flashy as a viral meme, it will be seen by more people than any other channel, digital or IRL, so focusing on this area should be a high priority for any marketer.

3. Appearance Matters:  The intersection of technology like smartphones, the popularity of apps and social media tools like filters and editing, and our ever-increasing pace of processing information have created the perfect storm for visual storytelling. From icons to emojis to Instagram, to say we are a society that relies on visuals is an understatement. And flawless photos are every teenage girl’s selfy norm, so you better have a game plan for decent marketing photography.


  We sell a product that is glass, curved, and sometimes has foil or screen-printed text. It is not as simple as snapping a selfie of you and your bacon bloody mary for Instagram #SwineAndShine. Luckily, we all have excellent cameras on our phones, hundreds of photo editing apps for pennies, and thousands of free YouTube videos with tips on how to use them. There is literally no excuse for bad images except laziness and complacency. So make 2024 the year you say no to bright reflections, lip marks or spots on wine glasses, and fuzzy label text.


  Just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean you should. I can cook at home, but I’m not going to spend all day on a 20-ingredient Mole sauce when I can enjoy a professional chef’s version via DoorDash in 38 minutes. Your time has value, and if you’re doing other important things like making wine, selling wine, or managing the business, it’s time to call in a professional. You can save money/time on the frequency you post on social media or how complex your next club party is but don’t skimp on your marketing visuals. They are the one tool you have in your arsenal that helps you acquire, connect with, sell to, remind, and retain customers in every single channel.

Picture showing wine bottles in first box, 1 wine bottle in second box, and a wine bottle being held behind a women's back saying Visual strategies include props, models, colors, lighting, backgrounds, angles, symbols, composition, and contrast to make your images look different than other brands.


  You develop a visual strategy by combining your visuals with your customer data and personas above. This is next-level thinking about composition, contrast, lighting, angles, or props that tell your story. The goal is to present a style that is all your own and continues your brand’s story.

4. Invest in Marketing:  I was teaching a class on social media content last spring, and we were talking about boosting strategies. A gentleman who had been quiet for most of the class finally spoke up with disdain in his voice and said, “It’ sounds like you have to pay these suckers to do anything. Nothing is free anymore.”

  I don’t know why he thought marketing was ever free, but it isn’t. (If that hasn’t occurred to you, let me be the one to burst that bubble.) It doesn’t matter if you make one hundred cases of wine or one million; it is unrealistic to assume that people will magically buy your wine because you made it. You must have a marketing budget and a plan to sell your product.


  Start with the items that will get you the most impact (assuming you already have a workable website and reasonably good imagery because those are priority #1.) You will need two things to survive as a business – customers coming in and orders going out. Social media and email are the typical utensils chosen for these deceivingly simple accomplishments.

  You’ll want to pay your social media channel of choice to help consumers see your content – a minimum of $100 to $200 monthly. If you do not do this, expect only about 7% of your followers to see you. For emails, you’ll want a professional email platform like Mailchimp with a template to create HTML emails. That will run you anywhere from $13 up to a month.


  The Small Business Association recommends spending 6-8% of your gross sales on marketing. Meta and Google are two of the most efficient places to do that. Both channels are mailable for multiple objectives, such as driving visitors to your tasting room, adding people to your mailing list, or selling wine.

  If Boosting is training wheels, crafting a killer News Feed Ad opens up a world of creative possibilities, lets you target your audience with surgical precision, and can deliver superior results. It’s like upgrading from a tricycle to a turbocharged motorcycle without breaking the bank.

There are numerous targeting, message, and graphic concerns, so if you can partner with a professional, you may find that money well spent. If you are set on DIY, plenty of training videos are online. It is best to start slow, learn, and iterate. Expect to spend $500-$2,000 a month.


When your business needs more customers, you have more wine to sell, or you just want a double shot of caffeine, marketing is an effective level to toggle. There are multiple print magazines and online outlets to partner with for visibility and sales. You can also lump in sales support channels like Instacart ads in this area. A professional media planner or trained marketing professional should be consulted if you’re entering this carnival because the rides are expensive, and the media planners work on commission. Like the ringmaster, their goal is to separate you from your money and sell you a shiny story that is primarily a sales spiel.

5. Relax Your Grip:  Our final bit of advice for 2024 is to be open to new ideas. Our customers are changing, carrying new consumption patterns, attitudes, and travel preferences. I couldn’t disagree more with the Wine-Searcher article last week saying that wineries exhibit ageism if they don’t double down on Baby Boomers as a target audience because they drink wine now. Boomers are, and have been, fabulous customers and should be provided with all the best marketing and customer service deserved by their years of support. But to assume that Millennials, who are forty and relatively wealthy, by the way, will be interested in the same products, price points, and experiences is a mistake. 2024 is an excellent year to start testing out additional bifurcated strategies.

  Let’s take it out of generational context. Name one other tourist or luxury industry that has serviced customers the same way for almost 50 years without evolution (assuming wine tourism took off in the 1970s.) Cinemas now have iMax and streaming, museums have concerts and children’s exhibits, hotels have changed, spas have changed, shopping habits have changed. To offer the same essential tasting experience and product marketing that you have for decades will only be successful for a few more years before it’s phased out.

  Listen and be observant of your customers and be open to new ideas. Be a willow, not an oak, and don’t be afraid to try new things. You’ll be rewarded with new customers for years to come.

B Cellars Embraces AI to Understand the Emotional Connection Between Brand and Consumers

Photo of B Cellars front entrance to their building

In the ever-evolving landscape of the wine industry, innovation is not just about viticulture and winemaking techniques; the new frontier is understanding the emotional bond between brand and customers. B Cellars, a trailblazer in the Napa Valley wine scene, took an early leap into the future by integrating artificial intelligence into its marketing and sales strategies. The results have allowed the company to carve out an enviable niche in the direct-to-consumer channel, which is the focus of their business model.

  In 2018, B Cellars distinguished itself as a pioneer in the winery-meets-AI space by employing Metis, a cutting-edge, AI-powered behavioral research program developed by a San Francisco-based company, Richey International. This move marked

B Cellars as among the first in the wine industry to seek consumer feedback through AI, with a focus on emotional connection to the brand.

  Metis, named for the Greek goddess of wisdom, was designed to delve deeper than traditional market research methods. It analyzes vast amounts of data, including social media and online review sites like TripAdvisor and Google Reviews, to provide insights into the emotional resonance a brand has with its customers and find best practices within specific industry segments. The AI searched for what consumers were saying about their experiences at B Cellars in comparison to a subset of other well-respected Napa Valley wine brands. It went a step further by also analyzing data from select non-winery businesses such as restaurants, hotels, and even retail stores; surprisingly, some of the most valuable insights for B Cellars came from analyzing the customer experience at Filson, the 130+-year-old Seattle-based outdoor clothing company.

  The next step was to invite past B Cellars guests to answer questions in writing. The instructions were clear and were meant to solicit thoughtful responses by noting respondents should “take as much time as you need to develop your response…we are listening carefully.” Participation in the survey was well above industry research norms.

  What Metis’ process revealed to B Cellars unlocked the essence of the relationships between B Cellars and their customers. Why did customers like the winery (apart from good wine)? What drove them to maintain a multi-year relationship? How could such a relationship endure when the customer was thousands of miles away?

  The answers became clear as Metis honed in on the core differentiators that consumers perceived about B Cellars: the “soul” of the brand was rooted in craftsmanship, terroir, and the idea of a lifestyle grounded in authenticity (as opposed glamour or floridity), plus appreciation of great quality wine, food, and entertaining in a manner that was elevated yet approachable. Metis found that while these elements were amply apparent to visitors to the B Cellars estate in Oakville, these factors were not highlighted effectively on the company’s website and online user experience. Simplifying and streamlining the website made it more inviting and accessible to potential customers and aligned better with the superior elements of the B Cellars brand. Once executed, the website simplification translated into a refined pre-visit experience between guests and the winery’s concierge team, which gave way to a unique arrival experience for guests.

  The insights B Cellars gained from the AI analysis of its in-person experience were also eye-opening. From Metis’ data analysis, the winery learned that their wine tastings were undervalued. So, they increased prices by an unprecedented 30%; this adjustment aligned the perceived value of their offerings with the high quality of their wines and curated food pairing experiences. The price increase also heighted the perceived luxury of the experience, which led to increased bookings to visit the estate.

  Furthermore, Metis’ insights led to a reimagining of B Society, an offering that encourages ongoing purchases of its wines. Before Metis, B Society wines were predetermined for its subscribers based on previous purchases; however, AI recommended a totally customizable wine purchase approach that allowed consumers more control over choosing selections for each shipment. Metis also challenged the B Cellars approach to Society gatherings. Today, gatherings are designed to encourage deeper connections between the B Cellars team and their clients by having more intimate gatherings and allocating visiting hours exclusively for returning guests. These changes have not only improved customer relationships but also reduced attrition rates, which now sit well below industry norms.

  The results of incorporating AI into the winery’s strategy have been remarkable. B Cellars enjoyed a 7% increase in annual winery visits with in the first year of implementing the Metis findings, plus a notable improvement in customer engagement, loyalty, and referrals. These changes underscore the potential of AI in transforming not just marketing strategies but the very fabric of the customer relationship. The key was deeply analyzing a comparable set of businesses and listening carefully to its customers, just as B Cellars had promised to do. In the final analysis, Metis showed that B Cellars customers wanted to believe in the winery’s ethos of integrity and authenticity. While most wineries market themselves based on what’s in the bottle, their scores, or a continuous stream of marketing campaigns,

B Cellars sought substance, which has translated into a durable emotional connection with its customers.

  The success of the B Cellars story provides a roadmap for other wineries to follow as AI inevitably becomes more integrated into all of our lives. The implications of the winery’s pioneering use of AI extend beyond their own success; it opens up a realm of possibilities for other wineries and vineyards. The wine industry, traditionally reliant on conventional marketing and customer relationship techniques, is already starting to think of AI as a viable tool for enhancing business models, especially in the DTC segment, which has grown significantly during and since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020.

  Moreover, the adaptability of AI tools like Metis means they can be tailored to different business needs, whether it’s refining product offerings, enhancing customer experiences, or developing more effective marketing strategies.

  The innovative approach of Be Cellars incorporating AI into their marketing and customer relationship strategies sets a new benchmark in the wine industry. As the industry continues to evolve, AI will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the future of winery and vineyard operations, not only in the sales and marketing spaces, but also in optimizing elements of the wine business like farming practices, supply chain, and even winemaking techniques. The experience of B Cellars using novel AI tools demonstrates that the fusion of technology and tradition can lead to unparalleled success in the wine world.

Exploring Accommodation Options at Wineries

Picture of front of a winery building entrance connected to 3 metal silos

By: Becky Garrison  

Wineries looking to provide their guests with elevated wine-tasting experiences might want to explore the option of offering accommodations at their winery or vineyard. Kristen Baxter, operations manager for Abbey Road Farm in Carlton, Oregon, said, “Our lodging is integral to our business model, as it allows winery guests and event guests to stay overnight while they are here enjoying wine or celebrating with us.”

  Carrie Bonney, general manager for Youngberg Hill (McMinnville, Oregon), concurs, adding, “Lodging contributes to our reputation for exceptional hospitality and helping to sustain and grow our overall operation.” In addition, their lodging serves as a revenue stream that supports their broader mission and allows them to invest in the enhancement and maintenance of their property.

  In Bonney’s estimations, this is just one piece of the experience they aim to provide our guests, and it complements their primary focus, wine. “By offering a range of comfortable and thoughtfully designed accommodations, we aim to create a welcoming environment where guests can relax, unwind and fully immerse themselves in a unique experience. This, in turn, enhances their overall visit and encourages return visits and positive word-of-mouth referrals,” Bonney adds.

Lodging Options Available at Wineries

  As noted by the following examples, the types of accommodations available at a given winery vary from a rustic cabin cozy for two to a luxury country-style mansion replete with five-star amenities.

  Lumos Wines’ (Philomath, Oregon) vineyard is situated on what was the H Bar H Dude Ranch back in the 1940s and 1950s. The one-bedroom cabin with indoor plumbing was one of the original guest cabins built in 1938 and can accommodate up to two people. They maintain this little cabin to keep the historical feel of the place. In another historical touch, their tasting room is in the old dude ranch’s dance hall barn.

  Colter’s Creek Winery & Vineyards (Moscow, Idaho) began offering lodging at their tasting room because they had an open space that needed remodeling, and they saw a hole in the Moscow lodging market to fulfill. They have four boutique rooms above their tasting room in Moscow available via self-check-in, with bookings that can be made through their website.  Different packages are offered, each room comes with a complimentary wine tasting and with enough planning, guests can visit the vineyard and production facility 45 minutes away in Juliaetta.

  Abbey Road Farm’s (Carlton, Oregon) Silo Suites B&B is housed in three-grain silos. Two of the silos were built in 2003 when the property was a grass seed farm. The third was added to complete the project the winery opened in 2019. The silos boast a grand entry and sitting area with a wet bar. Their five suites feature foam-topped beds, Jacuzzi tubs, luxurious bedding and ambient floor heating. Stays include a bounteous Oregon breakfast prepared by on-site chef/innkeeper Will Preisch.

  Youngberg Hill had already been functioning as an inn since 1989, when they planted their oldest blocks, the Natasha and Jordan blocks. They chose to maintain this inn as a nine-room bed and breakfast offering comfortable rooms and suites, an open-air deck, spectacular views for sunsets and stargazing, and a fireplace beside which to relax with a glass of wine. A two-course breakfast keeps guests fueled up for a day sightseeing around the Willamette Valley.

  In a similar vein, Hummingbird Estate (Central Point, Oregon) converted a historic private home and former orchard into a vineyard and tasting room, event space and inn. Renovating the home’s bedrooms into suites made the most sense for the space. Here, guests can enjoy a glass of chardonnay, syrah or pinot noir while taking in the view of grapevines from their windows. In addition, they have a vineyard cottage available for rent.

  Also, when Grosgrain Vineyards (Walla Walla, Washington) acquired their winery/vineyard property via a bankruptcy auction in 2017, the only structure on the property at the time was a house where the previous owner had made his wine in the garage.  They needed a significantly larger winery space, so they built their current winery and tasting room in an adjacent area. They considered moving into the house themselves but decided that it was better suited to use as a short-term rental, which would be a great way for them to provide a more immersive experience. The house has four bedrooms and four baths, all of which are en-suite, with the house rented as a single unit on a nightly basis.

  So far, the house has been a great way to host new customers who experience their winery for the first time, as well as their wine club members who can book further in advance and at a discounted rate. Also, this house provides a great way for them to host their national distributors and further educate them about their winery. While the revenue it generates has been significant, more importantly, staying at this home helps guests build a deeper connection with the winery.

  The Joy on the Anahata (which translates to the heart chakra in Sanskrit) Vineyard (Salem, Oregon) is a luxury wine country retreat and 6,500-square-foot home with seven bedrooms (four suites, two queen rooms and one twin room in the basement for a nanny or younger children.) This house sits on top of the vineyard at 550 feet with views in every direction, and the gated 30-acre property is fenced in for deer. Other amenities include a chef’s kitchen, living room, dining/family room and outdoor heated swimming pool and hot tub, as well as a basement with a wine cellar and ping pong and pool tables. This property is rented as a “hospitality home” designed for family retreats, work retreats, YPO retreats and, in some cases, smaller than 100-person weddings. As they don’t have a tasting room built yet with their wines poured at Carlton Winemakers Studio, this house provides an opportunity for guests to taste their products as they collect their information.

  Bianchi Vineyards (East Wenatchee, Washington) chose to rent the two-bedroom house on their property as a short-term Airbnb experience. In addition, they have two RV spots with power and water. Some guests visit the tasting room for their complimentary tasting. Others enjoy hiking, skiing and concerts at the Gorge Amphitheater.

Recommendations for Designing Lodging at a Winery 

  Bonney stresses that offering lodging is not for the faint of heart. “This can be a significant undertaking, but it is also an excellent enhancement to your guest experience and can put your winery on the map as a unique destination. While it can eventually enhance your overall revenue streams, a great deal of investment is involved.”

  Meghann Walk, general manager for Hummingbird Estate, reminds those looking to invest in lodging that while lodging is an extension of their long-standing tradition of hospitality, it is not passive income. She reflects, “The inn is our most stable but also, in many ways, the most constantly demanding aspect of our business. There is no such thing as only answering phone calls during open hours. Make sure you are prepared for this.”

  Before launching a lodging program, Bonney recommends conducting market research for your area, determining lodging demands and assessing the type of accommodations guests will want. Along those lines, familiarize yourself with zoning and permitting regulations for your area before you start any work.

  Also, Baxter notes that conducting market research into other lodging options in your area can enable you to curate a unique experience from competitors to help you stand out. “Consider putting together packages unique to your property and potential discounts for loyal wine club members for additional benefits,” she says.

  In designing the lodging, Bonney recommends ensuring that the overall design provides a comfortable and memorable experience for your guests. Think about room options and various views, private patios and accommodating children or pets, as well as sustainable practices, such as energy-efficient appliances, water conservation, composting and eco-friendly amenities. In addition, consider if you want to offer wine tasting and breakfast as part of the lodging experience or if those will be separate options for purchase.

  Don’t neglect security and safety. Consider outdoor lighting, security cameras and post-emergency exit procedures for guests to see.

  Also, Bonney stresses that wineries need to ensure they have the appropriate trained staff. In addition to scheduling and maintaining guest reservations, they must know local restaurants, tour operators, spa services and other area happenings. “Anyone from the front desk staff to the housekeepers who will be interacting with guests must excel in customer relations,” she said. Baxter offers this cautionary reminder, “Your housekeeper will be your most valuable and least replaceable employee.”

  A CRM (customer relationship management) staff member will be needed to help maintain contact with guests, book rooms and provide an online booking option. Along those lines, online travel agencies like Expedia and Tripadvisor can help expand exposure.

  Finally, Bonney recommends that those seeking to add lodging as a service, embrace it fully. She proclaims, “You and your staff can create a holistic and integrated experience, develop new ambassadors for your brand and most importantly, sell more wine!”

BlueJacket Crossing Winery & Vineyard  

Award-Winning Wines With Memorable Views in a Family Atmosphere

Picture of front of BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery building with people sitting and standing outside

By: Gerald Dlubala 

Follow the Oregon Trail through Kansas, and you’ll run right through the aptly named BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery in Eudora, about halfway between Kansas City and Lawrence. “There’s a historic landmark,” said Kandaya “Pep” Selvan, owner, vintner and viticulturist. “On the far side of the Wakarusa River, there was what they called a hotel, but really, it’s just a shelter that the Native Americans had established. That area was originally owned by the Bluejacket family, and where the ferry ran across the river became known as BlueJacket Crossing. So here we are. The watering hole and ruts are there for those interested and spend time researching those things.”

  BlueJacket Vineyard and Winery is part of a family farm. Selvan was originally from Kansas, leaving in the ’70s and working the construction trade in California. His construction experiences included building wineries in St Helena. Thirty-five years later, he returned to Kansas to help his elderly parents run their farm. But to his parents’ surprise, Selvan began planting grapevines instead of soybeans and corn in 2001.

  “From that time on, it was a learning curve,” said Selvan. “Kansas didn’t have any mature wineries at the time. Additionally, the wineries that were here were required to source at least 60 percent of their fruit from the state of Kansas. So, there were maybe seven or eight active wineries in our state. A handful were making a good product, but they were virtually unknown. We took the opportunity to spend five or six years working for these wineries to gain some experience.”

  Selvan planted 4,000 vines, and in 2008, when they matured, BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery was born. He began with an initial planting of Nortons. In subsequent years, Selvan expanded his Norton line and added St. Vincent, Seyval, Chambourcin, Fredonia, Vignoles and Traminette vines.

  “We methodically built the winery ourselves,” said Selvan. “There was a small tasting room in the winery building. We were comfortable and felt somewhat successful. After my time on the West Coast, my goal was to produce wines with good character and a local identity. In 2012, we expanded the tasting room and doubled our annual capacity, producing 6,000 to 7,000 gallons. That was and continues to be a comfortable level for us, and since then, we’ve been able to produce a modest yet successful product.”

  Selvan mixes the best Midwest winemaking practices with inspiration from his favorite wines from California, Missouri and Italy. BlueJacket Crossing wines include dry, off-dry, semi-sweet and sweet white varietals. Reds include sweet red, blush, dry rose and dry options, with an excellent selection of dessert wines. Many of Selvan’s wines have won awards across the U.S.

  “The labels are also significant to our area,” said Selvan. “I’ve always envisioned a wolf design on our label, but I didn’t want the usual type of image. It was by chance that we met a Native American impressionist painter named Brent Learned at our annual arts and crafts fair. His art reveals the life and culture of the Plains Indians. An original wolf print of his immediately attracted us and was exactly the type of image that I was looking for. We asked his permission to use his design on our labels and are grateful he agreed. We were lucky to run across him at the time. Today, he is  internationally known.”

Bring the Family and Dog to Relax, Unwind and Connect with Nature

  “Our goal from the beginning was for our guests to join us in a comfortable setting with a pleasant connection to nature,” said Selvan. “We aren’t your typical winery with a big venue. We’re about a mile off any main four-lane highways between Kansas City and Lawrence, with a rural setting and memorable landscape vistas. We have both patio and indoor seating to enjoy our remarkable farm vistas. We have included as many windows as possible to keep that connection with nature and the outdoors. Because of our location, we also have air conditioning and fireplaces to counteract the Midwest weather swings. We encourage families and well-behaved dogs to come and enjoy our setting and have good times and fun as a family. We feel that is important. We also occasionally feature live music and food trucks and do all we can to make our vineyard and winery a welcoming space for comfort and family fun.”

  Additionally, Selvan’s original tasting area is now an Airbnb. The original tasting room had an upstairs space that accommodated up to 20 guests and was used for small gatherings or as a business space. After constructing a new 2,000-square-foot tasting room, the old tasting room, now an Airbnb, features a living space and mini kitchen on the lower level with a large master bedroom and outside deck overlooking the farm.

  BlueJacket Vineyard and Winery can accommodate up to 200 people when hosting one of their many fundraisers for Alzheimer’s research, Habitat For Humanity, dog shelters and more. With these types of events, the upper level of the Airbnb, if not being used, can be transformed into VIP seating overlooking the activities. But the typical capacity of BlueJacket Vineyard and Winery is around 100, which Selvan says is a good amount for the solid group of people that come here to escape the exaggerated life we all now live.

Continuous Learning Helps Refine Winemaking Process

  Selvan comes from a non-winery background, having a construction and architectural engineering career. He began with 11 grape varietals. Over the past several years, Selvan has seen what his customers want and what works within his vineyard. He is now refining his wines to reflect those results.

  “What amazes me is that for some reason, Midwest wineries feel the need to have 25 to 30 wines available, whereas other locations seem to focus on consistently producing their best four or five,” said Selvan. “We’re refining our choices and narrowing from 25 wines to hopefully about a dozen. Doing this will help us maintain consistency and quality while remaining true to the qualities and characteristics of the chosen varietals. Our customers can also count on it, knowing that they will always get the same great quality with our wine.”

  Selvan’s barrel room can hold about 50 barrels at any given time. While working with sommeliers, he told The Grapevine Magazine that they found that when they allow the barrels to age for three to five years, they can deliver a noticeably better product while maintaining their production goals.

Additionally, Selvan has added a traditionally produced sparkling wine to his lineup and a unique and difficult-to-find cabernet franc to their French hybrids.

Today’s Winemakers Need Mentors and Mechanization

  “We had our family farm, but we had to learn the farming element of vineyards, determining which varietals are vigorous and which are, shall we say, moody,” said Selvan. “We eliminated three varietals just because they were fussy, and the amount of work needed for them wasn’t equal to the outcome. It would also be best to consider your geographical location and what those consumers want. We are in the rural Midwest. Here, sweetness sells, and we have developed a reputation for quality red wines in and around Kansas City and Lawrence, with a clientele that appreciates our dedication and commitment.”

  Selvan said that it’s essential for those who want to be in the business to spend time with experienced, successful winemakers to learn the process, amount and type of planning needed.

  “You’ll definitely have a more enjoyable time if your space and production areas are correctly laid out, but you need someone who has gone through it to guide you,” said Selvan. “Through the Missouri Winemakers Association, we met and became friends with the folks at Adam Puchta Winery in Hermann, Missouri. They use the same varietals as we do and have been a terrific resource for us. Having a winery and being a winemaker will be much more pleasing if your planning is good and the building is designed right with optimal access and thoroughly thought-out sanitation systems. We even took all the classes through VESTA, the Viticulture, Enology, Science and Technology Alliance. Still, we weren’t prepared to see how inefficient our awkward equipment and poorly accessible building would be. It wasn’t until we got together with Adam Puchta Winery 10 years into this process that we saw how his experience, organization and analytical skills enhanced and improved every aspect of the business.”

  “It’s all a big learning curve, but I certainly still enjoy it,” said Selvan. “Our education comes from many different areas that we didn’t anticipate. I have a master’s in architectural engineering, but I sure wish I had studied refrigeration, too. It’s easy to throw away tens of thousands of dollars on the wrong cooling systems. You need a real passion for the industry and what you’re doing.”

  Selvan says that the industry has changed over the last 10 years and that mechanization is a must for vineyard owners.

  “We need the equipment to be efficient and to balance continued shortages in the labor market as well as to help replace the people leaving,” said Selvan. “I’ve been lucky to have family involved along with people of our rural community with the passion and determination to work with us. Our daughter manages the tasting room, events and activities, but as a general rule, once kids get a higher education, they seldom want to come back to the farm. They do still support us but in other ways. Mechanization is the only way to keep up with or increase production when labor falls off. Immigration isn’t happening, and those that do immigrate tend to move on quickly to other positions that are more lucrative when possible.”

  Selvan says they are running a 20-acre farm with eight acres improved. He still has another 120 acres that are conventionally farmed and wrap around the winery, providing memorable views and breathtaking vistas.

  BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery is located four miles east of Lawrence, just south of K10.

To learn more, schedule a visit or book a stay:

BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard & Winery

1969 North 1250th Road

Eudora, KS 66025


Finding Balance Between Wildlife Control and Natural Habitats

By:  Alyssa L. Ochs

As many vineyards take a sustainable and eco-friendly approach to grape growing, habitat destruction has become a topic worth learning more about. Delicate ecosystems depend upon agricultural biodiversity to help the land and native species thrive, yet at the same time, vineyards must safeguard their crops to stay in business and turn a profit.

From experts in the field of wildlife control, here are some ideas about how to maintain a healthy vineyard without unnecessarily impacting the environment and the animals that live nearby.

The Importance of Agricultural Biodiversity

  Stephen McCracken, the marketing operator at Trident Enterprises, told The Grapevine Magazine that winemakers are increasingly turning to biodiversity to mitigate the effects of climate change on their vineyards. Based in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Trident is a leading fence supply distributor that serves customers throughout North America.

  “Biodiverse vineyards can help improve soil health, reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers and provide natural pest control,” McCracken said. “Additionally, a diverse ecosystem can help to regulate temperature and moisture levels, making the vineyard more resilient to extreme weather events. By promoting biodiversity in their vineyards, winemakers can improve the quality of their wine and contribute to the planet’s health.”

  McCracken described how biodiversity could protect against diseases and drastic climate fluctuations.

  “For example, incorporating a variety of cover crops amidst the vine rows attracts a diverse insect population to the vineyard,” McCracken said. “This practice replenishes soil nutrients and maintains cooler ground-level temperatures during daylight hours. Additionally, the preservation of surrounding forests serves as a reservoir of cool air. This process aids in preserving acidity and aromatic compounds in maturing grapes. Moreover, the vineyard benefits from the genetic diversity among the individual vines. Instead of planting identical genetic clones in consecutive rows, growers can safeguard against extensive losses caused by pests and severe weather conditions through Massal Selection.”

  However, McCracken said that biodiversity also presents challenges for vineyards, such as increased labor expenses and unwelcome visitors like birds and deer. But by actively promoting a net positive approach to biodiversity, McCracken said that vineyard owners can cultivate resilience in their vines and ensure the long-term success of their businesses.

  Kevin Adams from the Sisters, Oregon-based company Bird Gard, told The Grapevine that as the world moves toward preferring more natural practices in producing their food, biodiversity has become an important consideration for many growers. Bird Gard has been the world leader in electronic bird control for over 30 years.

  “For them, the balance lies in producing a reliable yield while utilizing affordable natural and organic systems,” Adams said. “The goal is to work with nature to enhance the ecosystem in which the vineyard is raised. We used to think of the vineyard as a standalone plot, with attributes distinct from its nearby neighbors. For many attributes of the vineyard, that is still true. However, birds, in particular, flow from vineyard to vineyard, and growing vines amidst their various homes requires a perspective that reaches beyond a single vineyard.”

Sustainable Wildlife Control Methods

  Fortunately, there are conservation-friendly approaches to vineyard wildlife control that have minimal environmental impacts and do not promote habitat destruction. One example is a deer fence to deter these herbivorous animals from eating grape leaves and fruits.

  “Installing a DeerBusters deer fence is an effective deterrent, preventing deer from accessing the vineyard and causing destruction,” said McCracken from Trident. “The fence is a barrier that blocks deer entry, safeguarding the vineyard and ensuring the vines’ undisturbed growth and development. At DeerBusters, our best fence for large areas is the Fixed Knot Deer Fence. It is the strongest metal deer fence type for deer exclusion on today’s market.”

  “A deer fence should typically be at least eight feet tall, as deer are skilled jumpers and can effortlessly clear shorter barriers,” said McCracken. “Additionally, the material used for the fence must be sturdy and resistant to damage for long-term functionality. Professional installation is often recommended to ensure the fence is properly anchored and secure.”

  Allen Hurlburt from H&M Gopher Control in Tulelake, California told The Grapevine about some of the concerns vineyard growers approach his company regarding burrowing rodents.

  “Our equipment, the PERC (Pressurized Exhaust Rodent Control), collects the exhaust produced by a gas motor that drives a compressor and routes that exhaust gas through a set of cooling coils into the intake ports of a compressor,” Hurlburt explained. “The gas is pressurized in a pressure tank and injected into rodent burrows. While the exhaust gas is 2.5 percent carbon monoxide, initially the purging of the air out of the burrow, replacing it with exhaust gas causes asphyxiation and then death via CO poisoning.”

  Customers often ask Hurlburt if the PERC effectively eliminates gophers and squirrels, and the answer is yes. Dr. Roger Baldwin from the University of California, Davis conducted a study on two acres of almond orchard with a heavy infestation of ground squirrels and reported a 100 percent kill rate after one treatment.

  Yet potential H&M Gopher customers are also concerned about the eco-friendly aspects of PERC units and whether non-targeted wildlife are at risk when treating rodent burrows.

  “While analyzing what is actually going on in the burrow during the injection of exhaust gas is difficult, we have not had one report of a non-targeted animal negatively affected by treatment,” Hurlburt said.

  Jon Stone from Avian Enterprises, LLC in Sylvan Lake, Michigan shared, “Avian Control® Bird Repellent provides the vigneron with a bird control technology that repels feathered pests, that is easy to apply and economical, is not phytotoxic and has no impact on the fine wines produced from the treated grapes. Due to M.A.’s simple chemical structure, its rapid biodegradability and the extremely low level of dosing, Avian Control® does not interfere with or alter the natural progress of the fermentation process.” 

  Stone said that all of the ingredients in Avian Control® are found in food products designed for human consumption. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified all ingredients in the Avian Control® formula as “Generally Regarded As Safe.” Also, the U.S. EPA has determined that the active ingredient of Avian Control®, methyl anthranilate (M.A.), is free from any residual tolerance requirements. M.A. is entirely biodegradable, occurs naturally and is found in bergamot, black locust, gardenia, jasmine, lemon, mandarin oranges and strawberries.

  He also said that several vintners’ side-by-side tests of Avian Control® treated and untreated grapes from the same field showed no difference in taste, aroma, bouquet, complexity or color.

  “The first reason is that the active and inert ingredients in Avian Control® do not penetrate the skin of the fruit,” Stone said. “Avian Control® will not translocate into the treated crop. Translocation is the tendency of a compound to move through the tissues of a plant. This effect is particularly troubling when repellents translocate from the outer skin of a fruit through the skin and into the fruit body. When this occurs, a distinct change in taste can be noticed. Due to its unique formulation, Avian Control® remains on the surface of the plant and its fruit where it is available to repel birds and does not translocate into the plant or its fruit, preserving the natural taste of the crop. This is an important difference between Avian Control® and other bird repellent products currently available.”

  “The second is the very low rate of application of Avian Control and its positive biodegradability profile,” said Stone. “When applied to your grapes at the highest recommended rate of 32 ounce per acre, based upon a yield of three tons of grapes per acre, the level of active ingredient is only 0.6 parts per million. For a yield of 6,000 pounds of grapes per acre, only 6.4 ounces of M.A. is applied. Given the biodegradability of M.A., after several days the amount is even lower. When MA biodegrades, it breaks down into the simple elements of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, all found naturally in grapes. Other bird repellants with M.A. require application rates of six to 10 times higher than Avian Control®.

  Adams from Bird Gard shared that his company’s systems create a natural fear and flee response in birds through bioacoustics.

  “The systems do not harm the birds or impact their health in any way,” he said. “We don’t just speak their language telling birds to leave. We mimic the frequency ranges of each species to deliver a high quality and realistic sound – something that matters to birds. These distress calls also bring in predator birds looking for a perceived easy meal. This results in a natural falconry occurring in a grower’s field. Unlike lasers, or other devices, our calls target only the birds most likely to be damaging the crop. Other beneficial birds remain active.”

Wildlife Control Innovations

  In vineyard wildlife control, there are some exciting innovations on the horizon. McCracken from Trident told us about the newest deer fence on the market, a seven-foot, graduated welded wire fence that can stop deer and other animals away from grapes.

  “Featuring a tighter mesh on the lower three feet, it keeps smaller unwanted animals out with 2″x1″ wire spacing,” McCracken said. “The upper section consists of a 2″x2″ mesh. This new fence product is an excellent choice for restricting small or large wildlife around the vineyard.”

  Adams from Bird Gard said that through constant innovation, Bird Gard has come a long way from the old squawk box.

  “Today’s Bird Gard utilizes software systems to specifically target the bird’s natural ability to habituate to stimuli that is repetitive,” he said. “With our newest innovation, IntelliGard OS, we have specifically addressed habituation through a substantially increased call library, differing time-off intervals and a more realistic playback experience. The scope of calls allows for greater randomization, causing the targeted species to struggle to detect a pattern in the stimuli. Bird Gard is the only company that utilizes a realistic bioacoustic that can constantly change to address specific species habituation.”

Wildlife Control Methods to Reconsider

  However, there are specific wildlife control methods that vineyards may choose to limit or avoid to protect and preserve native animals, such as lethal traps and poisoning.

  “These methods harm targeted wildlife and can have unintended consequences by harming non-targeted animals and disrupting the ecological balance,” McCracken from Trident said. “Instead, vineyards should consider implementing alternative control methods, such as habitat modification, which involves creating favorable conditions for desired wildlife species and encouraging them to stay away from areas where they might cause damage.”

  “Pesticides pose a significant risk to wildlife health, contaminate water sources and negatively impact the surrounding environment,” McCracken added. “Alternative methods are available, such as integrated pest management, which utilizes a combination of cultural, biological and chemical controls to minimize pesticide use. This comprehensive approach allows vineyards to control pests effectively while safeguarding the well-being of wildlife species and maintaining the ecological balance necessary for a healthy ecosystem.”

  Adams from Bird Gard said, “When it comes to bird deterrents, pesticides, poisons and shooting of birds should be avoided at all costs. There are plenty of other deterrents that won’t harm animals, the grapes or the soil. While we do not discourage the use of other deterrents in conjunction with Bird Gard’s bioacoustics systems, ours is the only one that targets individual species and can be randomized to reduce habituation. Although no bird deterrent can guarantee to get rid of 100 percent of your birds, unless you are growing indoors, we will guarantee a customer’s satisfaction. If a customer isn’t happy with the results, we will buy back our systems at full price at any point within a year. No other bird deterrent company can tell you that!”

Final Thoughts on Controlling Wildlife

  With deer overpopulation becoming a pressing issue in many regions, many vineyards face degraded habitats, crop damage and an increased risk of vehicle collisions. Yet McCracken from Trident maintains that integrating a strong deer fence is a surefire way to ensure the prosperity of vineyard harvest for years to come and help wildlife coexist harmoniously with human settlements. 

  “In vineyards, it is essential to be mindful of the various wildlife control methods used,” McCracken said. “Avoiding or limiting those that could harm wild animals or disrupt the delicate ecological balance should be considered. By choosing alternative methods, such as deer fencing, vineyards can effectively manage wildlife while protecting biodiversity and ensuring the long-term sustainability of their operations.”

  Regarding burrowing rodents, Hurlburt said the fundamental questions that need answers are these pests’ positive and negative aspects in a vineyard.

  “There is opinion that gophers help loosen and aerate the soil,” Hurlburt said. “I doubt that there are any vineyard operators that subscribe to this philosophy. Gophers love young grapevine roots. They can devastate a new vineyard. Drip irrigation lines can be damaged by gophers, and the mounds made by gophers, as well as the open burrows made by ground squirrels, are very detrimental in vineyard operations. However, the injection of exhaust gas does not have any negative effect on the crop and its root structure.”

  “Much like taking vitamins during flu season, humane bird control needs to start before the birds show up,” said Adams from Bird Gard. “Bird pressure in a vineyard can vary from year to year, and you must always be ready for the flock of 10,000 starlings to show up on your doorstep. Utilizing bird deterrent to reduce bird pressure should be part of your growing protocol and considered as a best practice when dealing with a hungry wild animal.”