Wine Filtration Basics

By: Alyssa L. Ochs  

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

The Purpose of Filtration

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

Types and Methods of Filtration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filtration Strategies and Steps

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

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

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

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

Filtration Maintenance, Replacement and Cleaning

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

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

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

Common Filtration Mistakes

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

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

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

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

Choosing a Filtration System

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

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

Pumps for Filtration

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

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

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

Current Filtration Trends

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

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

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

Filtration Tips and Advice

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for a Successful Harvest

By Dana Hinders

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

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

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

Choosing a Harvest Method

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Harvest Essentials

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

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

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

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

Harvest Time at Adelaida

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

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

Harvest Time at Laurita Winery

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

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

Harvest Time at Garvin Heights Vineyards

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

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

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

The Unexpected is Growing in Niagara

By: Alyssa Andres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Carl Giavanti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•    Wine Direct – scheduling, engaging and selling wine direct to consumer:

•    Amber LeBeau, SpitBucket Blog – discusses the importance of authenticity. Offers recommendations and creative ideas for winery pandemic responses:

•    Rob McMillan, Silicon Valley Bank – eCommerce is your pivot from tasting room sales, and Rob offers fun ideas to engage, sell and ship wines to consumers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping it Social: How to Approach Your Online Connections Post-COVID

By: Tracey L. Kelley

Aspects of target marketing are quite fluid right now and are projected to be for some time. As the world continues a slow but seemingly progressive recovery from COVID-19, and as the United States, in particular, addresses other key issues affecting its citizens, how you approach a purposeful social media presence for your brand has a significant impact on your turnaround.

In an article for Scientific American, tech expert David Pogue said, “No longer are you on top of the mountain, blasting your marketing message down to the masses through your megaphone. All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another.” These are the conversations and actions you need to engage in on your social platforms to reposition your wines, tasting room, community engagement and other advances of your business.

Community and Locality Matter Now More than Ever

You may have experienced extra support from existing and new customers during the pandemic. This momentum, said Meaghan Webster, is essential to maintain through online channels. “People are sourcing inspiration from social media for how to support local businesses and their employees. There’s been a huge push from consumers to support local restaurants and beverage producers they know are struggling, and wineries should acknowledge this sentiment on social media, emphasizing the local nature of their products.”

Webster is the founder of Meaghan W. Marketing and current marketing manager for First Batch Hospitality, the group behind urban winemaking and events at Brooklyn Winery in New York, District Winery in Washington, D.C., and RiNo Point Winery in Denver. She told The Grapevine Magazine that how you use social media to enhance alliances in the community—both with your charitable partnerships and to celebrate the efforts of employees and customers—matters now. So steep your posts with gratitude. “For example, if a winery is donating a percentage of its sales to recovery for their laid-off employees or a special industry fund, then social posts referencing these efforts should thank followers and customers for contributing to the stated cause,” she said. “People love when you show them the impact that their purchase has made. Therefore, follow up and post about how much ended up being contributed to the cause.”

Chad Richards is vice president of Firebelly, a “social media marketing agency on a mission since 2007” based in Indianapolis. Firebelly has worked with JUSTIN Winery and Landmark Vineyards, as well as breweries and restaurants. Richards also recommended taking a less self-serving approach. “Whatever you do, make sure the hero is the charity or community you’re supporting. Nothing elicits eye rolls faster than ‘Look at us—we’re so charitable!’”

If you shredded your social media plan already, don’t worry. There’s still strong potential for authentic communication. “Humans like stories, and we’re storytellers by nature. It’s how we connect to one another, and right now, people are seeking connection more than ever,” Richards said. “And don’t worry about trying to be creative or clever—just be honest.”

We all appreciate uplifting stories right now, according to the media team at Happy Medium, a full-service digital creative agency in Des Moines, Iowa. Keeping this intent in mind helps you craft social media content that showcases community involvement as a result of the energy of your brand and, by close relation, all your customers.

“Overall, audiences tend to react well to community involvement because it’s inspirational and aspirational. If your team is volunteering, share a photo of employees at the volunteer event. If you made a charitable donation, ask the recipient to share digital assets that align with the cause you’re helping them support,” the Happy Medium media team said. “This demonstrates how your brand builds and supports communities in a way that’s relatable and impactful. Write a brief caption about why the cause you’re supporting is relevant to the brand. Always tag the organization!”

Creating Evocative Content

The critical nuts and bolts of pandemic communication are still necessary. On your website and across all social media channels, points about safety, sanitary practices, operational hours and tasting room traffic allowances, among others, must be continuously updated and with proper sensitivity. But, Webster added, you can also use this time to create a haven of comfort.

“Offering a bit of escape from reality is received very well, according to social media analytics for the wineries I work for,” she said. “People are longing for normal times of the past, which means they enjoy seeing photos of what wineries were like before everything shut down. All businesses should be especially cognizant of the tone they use, and always acknowledge the current state of the world in their captions in some way. But providing the nostalgia and temporary escape that followers are looking for right now is a good way to keep people engaged.”

Webster suggested showing the human side of the business through Instagram stories and static posts to “connect people of the business with people who want to support the business.” What’s going on in the vineyards right now? Who’s putting wine shipments together while the winery is closed? What’s the origin story of the winery and vineyard, how did it evolve pre-COVID and how is it navigating this difficult time?

“While the entire story may be long and not fit into one social media post, a winery should know its full narrative, so when it writes a shorter Instagram caption or creates a few slides of an Instagram story about their business, they can distill the most important parts down into a digestible format, and weave it into posts whenever they can,” Webster said.

Happy Medium advised using interactive content whenever possible, to build confidence and trust. “Customers are more likely to engage with content that entertains, educates and tells an authentic story. Engaging customers with your content makes your brand more memorable and creates a deeper connection,” the media team said. “Try incorporating polls, question and answer stickers, or feature the people who make your brand what it is in Instagram stories or by hosting a live stream. Both of these are growing social trends that bolster higher engagement and should be a staple to any social media strategy.”

Don’t feel you have to do all the heavy lifting of brand awareness and connection alone. Once again, Richards said, think about potential alliances. “Get your bottles into the hands of influencers—allowing people to learn about your product via someone they already trust or admire. And think outside the box. These don’t have to be wine or foodie influencers. A travel, fashion or beauty influencer could easily weave your brand and bottle into their story.”

And if the budget allows, boost your social media ad views. “I realize they may be a luxury in times like these, but ads really are the fastest way to get the right message to the right people in the right places,” he said. “Many brands have cut their ad spends, so the marketplace is less competitive right now. You’ll get more for your money if you’re able to participate.”

As reopening continues, your messaging to various demographics might change slightly. Take time to evaluate your core audiences and cater to how they might be feeling. For example:

• Promote your best practices for safety and cleanliness to reassure and comfort people who want to visit your winery but express concern about contagions.
• Consider how other individuals, including those new to the wine tasting experience, might want to know about both your in-person and virtual interactive opportunities.

• Finally, there are additional people, especially those in younger demographics, who are eager to get out and make new memories. Show them through social media why your establishment is the perfect choice for safe-but-fun gatherings.

Remember the message of online interaction: simply ask your followers what they might be interested in, and listen carefully. Their suggestions might be different than what you’ve tried before, but now is the time to take advantage of fresh ideas.

Social Media Tips for the Next 12-18 Months

“Flexible consistency” is the action plan for your social media efforts now—and the foreseeable future. Maybe your marketing manager is temporarily furloughed. Perhaps your state allowed gradual reopening, but as you approach early harvests, you don’t feel you’ll have time to maintain your online presence like you did last year.

The media team at Happy Medium suggested three areas of focus:

• Post consistently. While so much consumer activity has slowed during this period, it’s especially important for brands to stay top-of-mind with their consumers. Even if operations are currently paused, still send at least a couple of posts per week.

• Stay positive. Audiences have been overloaded with COVID-19 messaging over the past few months and are starting to become jaded to overused marketing verbiage. Send positive messages while still being respectful to the current situation.

• Don’t post content exclusively directed at sales: share photos and stories about your team, industry news or fun facts about your winery and operations.

A 2017 study from the American Express Customer Service Barometer reported that Americans are “more likely to post about good experiences (53%) than poor experiences (35%).” So, in addition to staying realistic and flexible about your content and posting efforts, reaffirming customer service is one of the strongest messages Webster offered.

“For small wineries without dedicated marketing or social media staff, that means digital customer service often gets put on the back burner.” She suggested navigating it this way:

• Respond to comments from followers on your posts—or “like” them at the very least.

• Acknowledge when an excited customer shares a photo of your wine on their Instagram story by at least “liking” it. More preferably, respond to it with thanks, and re-share it to your winery’s story.

• Not only “liking” a photo that a loyal fan tagged your wine in, but also commenting on their post and thanking them for their support.

“This kind of gratitude and engagement is always important for building brand loyalty on social media, but it’s especially crucial during this pandemic when financial difficulty is rampant, and fans are giving your winery free, unprompted promotion,” Webster said.

Also, pay close attention to direct messages and respond promptly, and help customers find links to website pages. “This is an important aspect of social media management that many wineries and small businesses could improve on.”

Finally, be realistic, Richards told The Grapevine Magazine. He provided these tips:

• Be flexible. These are unique times, and we’re not sure what will happen next. That’s okay. Nobody does. Be prepared to update your plan and approach as needed.

• Think short term. Take it month-by-month or maybe even week-by-week. Any really long-term campaign planning will likely be disrupted.

• Show vulnerability. If you’re struggling, say so. It makes you relatable, and people will want to support you and come to your rescue.

“Know that it’s okay to ‘not know,’” said Richards. “Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when it comes to business and finances—but we’re all in the same boat right now. A ‘best guess’ is sometimes the best you can do.”

The Media Team at Happy Medium
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:

Chad Richards, Vice President, Firebelly
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:
Chad Richards: @chadrichards
Firebelly Marketing: @wearefirebelly

Meaghan Webster, founder, Meaghan W. Marketing
Social Media Handle on Instagram:

Carbon Farming for Successful Vineyard Systems

By: Becky Garrison

At the Oregon Wine Symposium held in Portland, Oregon from February 11-12, 2020, Dr. David Montgomery, MacArthur Fellow and University of Washington professor of geomorphology, presented his work researching and writing about farming methods that use less fossil fuel, fertilizer and pesticides than traditional farming. In his books, “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations” and “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” Dr. Montgomery digs into the history of traditional farming methods and how these practices negatively impact the health of vineyard workers, the vigor of the soil and profitability.

  Dr. Montgomery advocates that, if we want to feed people in the next century, we need to change agriculture in this century. He cited the United Nation’s 2015 State of the Soil Assessment, which presented a global review of the world’s soils. According to this assessment, each year, the world loses 0.3% of net agricultural production capaci-ty to ongoing soil loss and separation.

  “If we play this out for the next hundred years, we are slated to lose about a third of our agricultural production capacity at a global scale. Our population is slated to rise by about a third,” Montgomery said. Furthermore, about a third of the world’s cropland has been degraded to the point where it’s no longer in production. 

The History of Soil Erosion

  While working on several continents, Dr. Montgomery noticed the connection between the degraded state of soils and the impoverished state of people living in different landscapes. He observed how soil erosion contributed to undermining civilizations around the world, starting with the earliest agricultural civilizations such as Neolithic Europe, Classical Greece, the southern United States Neolithic and more.

  In a review of over 1,500 scientific studies, soil erodes at the rate of one inch every twenty years. At this rate, the soil of a large civilization outside major river flood plains depletes in roughly 500 to 1,000 years. Dr. Montgomery described how flood plains like the Tigris and Euphrates bring sediment and silt, tires, school buses and whatever is coming down the river. “These places can maintain balance, as what the plow takes away on average is replenished by flooding. Nature is fixing the damaged of the plow.”

  His findings debunk the traditional theory of soil erosion found in environment history textbooks, that deforestation led to erosion, which undermined civilizations. “I found out it was the plow that followed that did it. The villain of this tale is tillage.”

  He described soil as akin to a bank account, whereby it is the natural capital that fi-nances civilizations, as it’s used to grow food, wine and everything else people grow from the ground.

  According to Dr. Montgomery, the plow leads to soil degradation because, by design, it inverts soil. “It provides incredibly good weed control, which is why it’s often used in organic systems. A plow takes those nasty weeds upside down and makes fertilizer out of them.”

  In addition, tillage accelerates the breakdown of the organic matter in the soil by stimu-lating microbial activity. In effect, this draws down the batteries of the soil by degrading its organic matter. Also, tillage leaves the soil vulnerable to erosion until the next crop. If this process goes on for long enough, the soil’s organic matter can deteriorate to the point of impacting the fertility of the land, negatively affecting the health of the crop.

Is Soil Restoration Possible?

  “The problem with long-term soil degradation is not that we farm. The problem is the way we’ve been farming. Tillage has been a major destructive element in human histo-ry,” said Dr. Montgomery.

  While traditional farming methods account for the loss of a millimeter to a millimeter and a half of soil each year, no-till farming only erodes less than a tenth of a millimeter of soil during the same period.

  When Anne Biklé, Dr. Montgomery’s biologist wife, turned their degraded yard into a garden, she added organic matter consisting of compost and mulch. After a decade, their yard went from 1% organic matter to 12% in some places. In their book, “The Hidden Half of Nature,” they attributed this shift to the work done by trillions of micro-organisms that were feeding underground. This zone, called the rhizosphere, is one of the most life dense areas on the planet. Dr. Montgomery described the rhizosphere as “a biological bazaar where microbes and plants trade nutrients, metabolites and exu-dates.” Like any living organism that consumes something, the plants metabolize the organic matter and produce waste products like growth hormones.

  Understanding the symbiotic relationships between soil microbiota and plants presents farmers with two very different diets for feeding their plants. The first is the fertilizer diet, where if you give a plant enough fertilizer, even bad soil can produce big yields. How-ever, as Dr. Montgomery assessed, once the plants get all the significant elements they need for growth, they stop investing in their root system. “This means they’re not get-ting as many micronutrients, like zinc and copper, that they need for health, which those microbial partners provide.”

  In comparison, growing plants in healthy, fertile soils that have more organic matter to feed those microbes will produce comparable growth. In addition, farmers get the ben-efits of mineral micronutrients and microbial metabolites. Simply put, organic matter produces higher carbon in the soil.

Principles of Conservation Agriculture

  To assess if these theories could be implemented on a large scale, Dr. Montgomery visited farms in Equatorial Africa, Central America and all across North America. What he found was a common recipe for rebuilding soils.

  First, he said, ditch the plow. Minimal tilling can produce better results, but more car-bon generates when not using a tiller. Second, cover up the soil by maintaining perma-nent ground cover using cover crops and retaining crop residues. Finally, grow diversi-ty. Rotating three to four crops will break up pathogen carryover. In a vineyard, one can achieve this by rotating what’s growing between the vines.

  According to Dr. Montgomery, these principles could be scaled up or down, depending on the farm, within two decades. Restoring agricultural soils in this manner can help increase farm profitability, feed the world, help with climate change and prevent envi-ronmental degradation through non-chemical practices.

How Microbes Relate to the Wine World

  Discussions about terroir focus on climate and soil; however, Dr. Montgomery sug-gests rethinking terroir in terms of the microbes, which are related to climate, soil and geology. “As we examine the relationship between the soil, the vines and the wines people enjoy, we should think about how the microbial ecology is a big part of that foundation.”

  Recent journal articles have begun to cover the landscape of microclimates, including those of a particular vineyard. Microclimates affect the microbes that live in the rhizo-sphere around the roots of grapevines and can carry through to the winemaking pro-cess.

  “Microbial abundance and diversity come into play on leaves, roots and fruit, and then carries on into the fermentation process. How you operate your vineyard will determine what you will have in terms of the fungal community,” said Dr. Montgomery. “Hence, understanding the role of microbial ecology is important for rebuilding soil organically, but also in understanding every step of the wine production process.”

  Addressing the practicalities of soil management in the vineyard, Dan Rinke, proprietor of Roshambo ArtFarm and Director of Vineyard Operations at Johan Vineyards, said, “If you are continuously tilling and depleting organic matter from the soil, those resultant soils are going to be more prone to compaction. But you can have more resilient soil through no-till systems.”

  In Rinke’s estimation, the best way to rotate cover crops is to use a no-till seed drill, which can be rented from some soil and water conservation districts. However, he added that he’d like to see research done in this area to see more comprehensive re-sults using conventional, reduced and no-till means specifically for vineyards.

  More research is needed to confirm Dr. Montgomery’s findings and develop and under-stand the implications for vineyards. For biodynamic farmers like Barbara Steele of Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, carbon farming is not unique. “Carbon cycling in the soil is the basis of successful dirt farming,” she said.

  Biodynamic practices include building a fresh compost pile every year and growing plants whose sole purpose is to create carbon. “By increasing organic matter in the soil, we slowly increase the cation exchange capacity or CEC (the measure of the soil’s ability to hold positively charged ions), and thus the carbon cycling in the soil,” said Steele.

  For more information about soil health, check out the resources available from the USDA National Resource Conservation Service at… and

Liability Coverage for Chemical Drift

Protecting your vineyard from damaging pests and grapevine diseases with pesticides may be an essential part of your vineyard management.  Keeping these chemicals on your property can be challenging even if you have followed all the required procedures.  Nationwide, the EPA estimates up to 70 million pounds of pesticides valued up to $640 million are lost to drift each year .  Drift is the movement of chemicals off your vineyard, through the air away from the intended target, and can be in the form of liquid droplets, vapors, and particles.  You have reason to want to limit drift simply because of the economic consequences, and these chemicals are too expensive to just blow in the wind.  Furthermore, drift that damages a neighbor’s property may lead to litigation. In certain instances, liability insurance specifically designed for chemical spray drift may allow you to mitigate this risk. 

  You have seen examples of herbicide and pesticide drift from agricultural application in the news recently.  Stories abound of alleged damage to neighboring crops, communities, and even bird habitats. If you are growing the same crop as your neighbor is on their vineyard, you may have limited or no impact. However, in certain instances there can be a more substantial impact when your neighbors are raising other crops or livestock, operating an organic farm, or you are adjacent to other susceptible properties like a golf course, an apiary, or a residential community.  Damage has occurred miles away from a farm, so even if one is not next door, one may be nearby.

Why Does Spray Drift Occur?

  Spray drift often occurs when wind or application equipment blows the chemicals off your property.  You may think that drift will only occur when applications are done improperly.  However, even if properly applied, drift may ultimately be unavoidable. Drift can happen days after application when chemicals volatize into gas naturally or due to higher temperatures.  You can minimize drift by using the correct chemicals, properly maintaining equipment, always following manufacturer labels, factoring in the weather, and training employees.

  Despite your best efforts, what happens if your pesticides do drift and damages your neighbor’s crop?  As the growing season approaches, consider ways to properly protect your business from this exposure.

  This article will not address the legal theories surrounding the liability of vineyard operators applying or hiring an applicator.  Courts have differed on finding liability so we will leave the intricacies of the law to others.  Elements of liability aside, if you are alleged to be negligent, you will need a defense.  If found liable, you will want indemnification.  Let’s discuss where to find that coverage with liability insurance.


  Every insurance policy is different, so it is important that you read the terms of your policy and discuss them with a professional insurance advisor.  Winery and vineyard policies may include multiple coverage parts including a Commercial General Liability (CGL) part and a Basic Farm Premises Liability (FL) part.

  Standard commercial general liability coverage forms  may contain an exclusion for pollution coverage for ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’ related to the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release, or escape of pollutants or some similar pollution-related exclusion.  Such exclusions could apply to spray drift claims. Accordingly, consider obtaining an endorsement that provides coverage specifically for chemicals drifting off of your property resulting in damage to someone else’s property, such as their crops or livestock. The specific language in these endorsements vary so it is important that you read the endorsement terms carefully and discuss them with a professional insurance advisor.

  Certain farm premises liability coverages include a limited amount of coverage for damage from chemical drift, which may include drifts that naturally occur during normal farm operations.  However, the coverage may not include drift from aircraft, loss of market, or loss of use of soil and crops. Some farm premises liability coverage forms also exclude discharge from aircraft, which may be a concern if you contract for crop dusting services. Other coverage limitations to the farm premises liability coverages may also apply.

  Commercial general liability and the farm premises liability coverages can be amended to include certain pollution-related coverages.  However, this pollution coverage may require the release of chemicals to be “sudden and accidental” and take place while in “storage or being transported”. Such language may affect the application of the coverage to a drift claim.  Accordingly, you may consider an endorsement specifically designed for chemical spray drift.

Chemical Drift Liability

 A chemical drift liability endorsement may provide coverage for damage to other’s crops and livestock, but an endorsement may also contain policy conditions, limitations, and exclusions.  For example, a chemical drift liability endorsement may not provide coverage for the following:

•    Damage to your own property, crops, or animals.

•    Damage you expected or intended to occur

•    Bodily injury to people

•    Government mandated testing or clean-up of pollutants

  Other limitations and exclusions may also apply. It is important to read the policy and any potential endorsements carefully.

  To obtain chemical drift coverage and to increase the liability limits, your insurance company may require additional information, such as:

•    Demonstrating you have a strong risk management program in place to include proper documentation, employee training, and record retention for at least five years. 

•    A list of chemicals used to determine if any are restricted. 

•    If you are hiring an applicator, they may ask for a list contractors, the total annual cost for those services, and will want to confirm that each is properly licensed. 

•    A review of high risk surrounding exposures (organic farms, public parks, golf courses, schools, churches, apiaries (bees), or other public facilities) neighboring any of the farm locations where chemicals are applied.

  If you are operating a tasting room or holding events at your vineyard, you may be asked to confirm that you are limiting access to the vineyard after an application, and that you are observing re-entry time intervals.

  As with any other winery process, documenting your operations is a good management practice. In the event of a negligence claim, do you know:

•    What brand or product name was used?  Consider keeping a copy of the label. 

•    How much was applied and using what equipment? 

•    Where on the vineyard were chemicals were applied?

•    What crops received the pesticide?

•    The time the application started and stopped?  A best practice would be to document the temperature, humidity, and rainfall too.

  You may also want to review the level of worker training and supervision and ask:

•    Are supervisors experienced with pesticide application?

•    Be sure to document what specific employee training was completed.  Have you kept records to show that you have trained them on the directions for applying each type of chemical used? 

•    Do they know how to use the equipment properly? 

•    Are you doing this each season with each new cohort of workers?

  Spray drift of chemicals is a potential risk for vineyard operators.  Liability insurance specifically designed for chemical spray drift may allow you to mitigate certain types of risk.  For additional questions on chemical drift liability contact your professional insurance advisor.

  This document is intended for general information purposes only, and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This document can’t be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedures or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. 

  Markel does not guarantee that this information is or can be relied on for compliance with any law or regulation, assurance against preventable losses, or freedom from legal liability.  This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional advice.  Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser.  Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are no longer accurate or complete.   Furthermore, Markel does not assume any liability to any person or organization for loss of damage caused by or resulting from any reliance placed on that content.

Protein Fining Trials Step by Step

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Fining trials on white, blushes and some rose wines can be critical to determine the least amount of bentonite needed to achieve heat stability or protein stability.  Other fruit wines may need fining also.

  The most difficult part of fining trials is to have an understanding of working with such small volumes of wines in the lab and how to apply the trial calculations to the larger tanks.  Once one has a clear understanding and methodology the tasks become easier.  It may take several fining trials under ones belt before it becomes second nature and the task becomes “a piece of cake.”  It is recommended an outside lab be used to mirror your winery lab until such point the internal winery lab technician feels comfortable doing the test on his or her own.

Why Fine?

  It is important to do bentonite fining trials on even perfectly clear wine.  These perhaps perfectly clear wines may contain proteins that, when becoming warm or hot, may denature and form a haze, cloudiness or even sediment in your bottled wine. Although your winery is generally very cool you must anticipate “outside abuse” of your product and protect it because anything wrong in a bottle with your label on it – reflects poorly on your winery.

  Below is a list of equipment and instructions to perform your own trials in your winery lab.

Equipment Needed:

  Most winery labs have the basics and one should be able to acquire these additional items with little financial outlay.  Here is a list of basics.

1.   Bentonite from your cellar bulk fining agents.

2.   375 milliliter screw cap wine bottles (splits) – may reuse these.

3.   500 ml  beakers

4.   500 ml Erlenmeyer flasks

5.   Millipore filter apparatus plus ample 0.45 micron filters.

6.   545 DE as a filter aid, if needed

7.   Vacuum source for filter

8.   20 x 150 mm test tubes with screw caps

9.   Test tube rack holder or coffee cup

10. Stir plate with magnetic stir bars

11. Good scales to weight fining agent / bentonite

12. Good eyesight or a Nephelometer (optional)

13. Distilled water or tap water (non-chlorinated) for mixing bentonite.

14. Graduated cylinder ( 100 milliliter )

15. Pipettes 1ml, 2ml, 3 ml, 4ml, 5ml.  Or serological (preferred).

16. Crock pot cooker or similar

17. Wine glasses – don’t forget the wine glass!

  Agents should be made fresh each time a fining trial is to be performed or kept less than a month at room temperature.  Always remix the bentonite slurry before using in a trial.  Use bentonite directly from the cellar to make sure the trial will match/reflect the desired reaction in the wine tank.  If different batches of bentonite are used in the lab and cellar – the results may vary.


1.  Select and prepare a 5% bentonite slurry solution by carefully dissolving 5 grams of bentonite in about 80 milliliters of 80 degree F water.  After properly mixed bring to volume with water to exactly 100 mils to make the 5% solution.  This step may be done in the 100 milliliter graduated cylinder listed above.

2.  Collect the proper volume of wine from the wine tank desired to perform the fining trial on.  Make sure the sample is representative of the complete wine tank otherwise results will not be reflected properly after the fining has been completed in the wine tank.   If planning to do 5 different levels of additions in a trial you may need 3 liters or more of wine.  Break down the volume of wine into 6 – 500 ml Erlenmeyer Flasks and have them remain as close to the cellar tank fining temperature as possible.

3.  Label the Erlenmeyer flasks at the rates desired to be tested in the lab trial.  Typically each wine will have two controls, a one pound per thousand, two pound per thousand gallons and so on up to 5 pounds per 1000 gallons trials.  Some varietals may require more bentonite but those will start to identify themselves in your winery and each year you will “know or anticipate” they may require more.

4.  Now we know the above mixed solution is a strength that 0.24 mils of a 5.0% solution per hundred milliliters of wine sample will equal a one pound per 1000 gallons addition rate.

      Extrapolating that out for example:  If one prefers to make a 400 milliliter trial and to settle in a 375 milliliter screw cap bottle one would add 0.96 milliliters of a 5% solution to a 400 milliliter sample to represent 1 pound per thousand gallons; mix and transfer into the 375 milliliter bottle. Further – add 1.92 milliliters of a 5% solution to 400 milliliters of sample to equal 2 pounds per thousands and so on.

      Metric:  For those that prefer metric the addition can be viewed this way.  One pound per thousand gallons equals 454 grams per 3785 liters or 0.048 grams in 400 milliliters.  This is the same as the above calculation using 0.96 milliliters of a 5% solution in 400 milliliters.

5.  When adding the bentonite slurry to the wine – make sure to be mixing the sample well yet do not use shearing force mixers such as a blender.  Use the amount of agitation one can expect to have in the wine tank while adding the fining agents while mixing in the cellar.  Always try and mimic the actual cellar experience as closely as possible in the lab.  If your lab has a magnetic stir bar assembly these work very well.

6.  Continue to mix the samples thoroughly after the addition of the agent or agents.  Perhaps a minute or so on a magnetic stir bar mixer.

7.  Discontinue mixing and transfer the wine into a labeled 375-ml wine bottle and place the screw cap on top.  The label should reflect the addition rate of that sample such a 0, 1,2,3,4,5.

8.  Place, in a dark area, in the cellar or lab at or near the exact wine tank temperature if possible.

9.  Allow to settle overnight or several days.

10.      Decant into a labeled beaker at least 250 mils of the 400-ml samples from each fining trial.  One portion, approximately 50 milliliters per person, may be transferred into pre-determined labeled clean wine glass for visual, sensory and palate evaluation.   The other portion should move forward for further lab testing for the protein stability examination.

11.      The above analysis will allow one to taste different fining agent levels to help understand the rate of bentonite added and the expected sensory changes, if any, found at different levels.  Remember to incorporate an unfined sample in your tastings and lab work as a reference point to determine if a fining should be performed, at all, on a certain wine.

12.      If the wines are not settled enough for visual examination one can employ the 0.45 micron filter listed above to filter out suspended particles.  If sensory is to be done after filtrations make sure to treat the filter pads prior to use with a light citric acid solution.  This will remove any filter pad flavor.  This same filtered wine can then be moved forward to the protein testing below.  Use a new filter pad for each sample to eliminate sloughing of the proteins from one sample to the next.

Simple Protein Test

  Using the clean, dry 20×150 mm screw cap test tubes above fill each one about half full with the varying filtered fining trial levels created above.  Label each test tube respective to its “pounds per thousands” contents.  For each wine have a control sample that will go through the heat treatment described and one that will remain with no heating.

  Collect each sample after filtering in the lab in its respective test tube labeled 0,1,2…5.

  Heat the test tubes in a crock pot with water to roughly 70 degrees C ( near 160 degrees F) for 8 hours.  (See photo bellow)  This is a great place to use the test tube holder or coffee cup.

  Remove the test tubes from the heat source and allow to cool to room temperature.  Visually inspect, under a bright light source, for any sediment or haze that may have formed in the test tubes of wine.  Compare to the control sample as well.  Re-examine the following day to see if other changes have taken place with a flocculate formation or haze.  Most winemakers may use eyesight while others trust the Nephelometer listed above.  (I have always just used eyesight)

  Determine what fining level gives the wine the desired protein/heat stability.

  Once you have determined what amount of bentonite is necessary to make the wine protein/heat stable then perform the fining in the tank at that same rate.  For example if you find two pounds per 1000 gallons remained clear in the testing after heating then you have determined that rate should be used in the cellar after proper rehydration of the bentonite.  Once the wine is racked off the fining agent and collected in a clean tank you should perform another heat test, without the trials as a pass / fail test only, to determine if the wine performed in the tank as the trial predicted.  Always double check the results after performing the fining in the tank. 

Other Helpful Tips:

  Make sure the wines or juices are low in Carbon Dioxide gas since the bubbles may attach to the bentonite preventing it from settling in the tank or lab beaker.

  PH affects the rate of settling – lower pH wines generally settle faster in almost all cases.

  The bentonite protein reaction is a positive negative charge reaction – and then settling allows separation from the reacted bentonite.

  Most winemakers leave the bentonite in the wine tank to settle roughly 20 days.  Anything past 30 days may result in the proteins sloughing off the bentonite since the positive /negative charge may weaken.

  The ultimate goal of a fining trial is to use the least amount of fining agent possible to achieve the stability desired for the wine.

  Use pipettes to accurately measure the fining agents.  Serological pipettes offer nice results with incremental additions. Think of how you can perform fining trials in your lab and set aside future time to work with your plan.  You will be amazed at how much refining can be done to wine and how easy it really is.  Make this a part of your work improvement schedule for the year to come!

  Summary: Recall this is only one task to perform on white / rose wines wines generally prior to bottling.  Often three months from bottling is a time to look at the blends to perform finings and other stabilities before bottling.  Bentonite finings in the cellar should settle 20 days, roughly, to avoid heavy racking losses.  Don’t forget aroma trials also before adding bentonite.  Copper additions before adding bentonite may help remove any excess copper after reaction.  Cold/tartrate stability actions are typically taken after achieving protein stability.  Those wineries still going “unfined and unfiltered” may look at their products with the above tests just to make sure they are comfortable with the possible results.

Grapevine Plant Quarantine and Certification Programs

Apparently healthy grapevines growing at the nursery.

By: Judit Monis, Ph. D.

As I write this article, the world is experiencing the SARS-COV-2 pandemic responsible for causing COVID-19 disease.  Generally, I find it difficult to explain quarantine measures.  Today, I am sure that all of my readers might had practiced some sort of “sheltering in place” or “social distancing”.  Therefore, the concept of quarantine will feel closer to home at this time. I am revisiting the quarantine and certification topic as this time; it is expected that my audience will be more receptive to the concepts.

Years ago, when I worked at the United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services- Plant Protection and Quarantine (USDA APHIS PPQ), my group learned about the interception of citrus cuttings (intended for planting) that were packed pretending a box of chocolates was in the shipment.  I am sure that you have heard before about “suitcase clones”.  These are grapevine clones that people have brought from abroad before or after quarantine measures were developed  It is my hope, that what we learned about the introduction and spread of SARS-COV-2 world-wide will provide a lesson to people to think twice before breaking the law by introducing plant material without import permits or respecting quarantines. 

  Plant quarantine programs have been developed worldwide to reduce the risk of introducing plant pests and/or pathogens that do not occur in a country or region.  My expertise is plant pathology and throughout my career I have specialized in the study of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that affect the vineyard and fruit orchards.  In spite of the current existence of plant quarantine programs, all grapevine pathogens with rare exceptions occur in all grape growing areas worldwide.  The reason for this is that in most cases, quarantine programs were implemented after the introduction of the infected plant material.  In addition, modern techniques for the detection of these pathogens were developed after the plant material was introduced. In other words, the majority of grapevine pests and pathogens were moved unknowingly. 

  The advancement of science and the use of sophisticated detection methods for grapevine pathogens has helped keep certain viruses outside of Australia.  For example, Grapevine fanleaf (GFLV) and Grapevine red blotch viruses (GRBV) have not been reported in Australia as of yet. But even now with the use of advanced methodologies, pathogens continue to be discovered. As science progresses with the development of more refined technology (e.g., next generation sequencing also known as high throughput sequencing), it is expected that new (or unknown and established) pathogens will be discovered. In practice, most grapevine pathogens have originated at the centers of origin of the Vitis (a plant genus that includes both table, wine, and rootstock grapevine varieties) species and moved to many grapevine growing regions in the word when plant material was introduced. 

  In the United States, the USDA APHIS PPQ regulates the introduction of plant material for planting from foreign countries.  However, the USDA does not have a centralized government plant quarantine system.  Instead, APHIS issues permits to specific clean plant centers with proper containment facilities and approved protocols to manage the quarantine of specific crops. For grapevines, two import centers are available for introducing quarantined planting material: The Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at the University of California at Davis and the Clean Plant Center at Cornel University in Geneva, New York.  

  Since pathogens are present in most grapevine growing areas, certification programs are needed to produce tested plant material that is free of known important pathogen.  These plants are be distributed to nurseries that further propagate and sell them to growers.   In the United States, certification programs are voluntary and are managed by individual states.  I am most familiar with the certification program in California, and many US grapevine growing regions purchase planting material from California nurseries. 

  The Grapevine California Registration and Certification (R&C) Program was first written into law in the 1980’s.   The Grapevine R&C Program is administered by the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) and provides for the testing of source vines for grapevine viruses that cause important diseases. Registered sources and certified nursery stock are periodically inspected by the CDFA staff and are maintained by the participant nurseries.   Starting in 1996, I participated and provided input at the industry meetings that lead to the revision of the California Grapevine R&C program many years later.   In 2010 the Grapevine R&C program was revised to include testing of foundation mother vines for the presence of a comprehensive list of viruses. With funding from the National Clean Plant Network, a new of foundation block “Russel Ranch” was started at the University of California at Davis in 2009.  

  The planting material (both scion and rootstock varieties) included in the new foundation block had to pass a rigorous testing program and have been propagated using the “apical micro-shoot tip culture” technique.   The apical micro-shoot tip culture process is a plant tissue culture technique that is used to eliminate pathogens from vegetative propagated plant material.  The testing program is known as Protocol 2010.  The maintenance and testing of the scion and rootstock mother blocks are performed by UC Davis FPS personnel.  Shortly after the update of the California Grapevine R&C Program, GRBV, a virus of significant importance for the vineyard industry, was discovered.  Consequently, the California Grapevine R&C Program was revised again to include the testing of foundation and nursery increase blocks for the presence of GRBV.  

  The California Grapevine R&C Program rules can be found in CDFA’s website:

  The testing of the foundation mother plants includes a list of well characterized viruses, Xylella fastidiosa, and phytoplasmas using biological, serological, and molecular testing techniques (  The nursery increase blocks are inspected and tested by CDFA personnel.  The nursery increase blocks are only tested for GFLV, Tomato ring spot (ToRSV), and Grapevine leafroll (GLRaV)-1and -3 using the Enzyme linked Immuno assay (ELISA). The updated Grapevine R&C added the testing for the detection of GRBV using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to vines in the foundation and nursery increase blocks. 

  Unfortunately, other insect vectored viruses such as GLRaV-4, Grapevine virus A (GVA), GVB are not being tested at the nursery.  Related to nursery certified plants, the rules are vague and state that these plants may be tested (particularly if after inspection suspected symptoms are observed). 

  According to CDFA, the goal is to test a statistical sample with a 95% confidence level assuming a 1 % disease incidence.  It is disappointing that in spite of the importance of the decline and canker diseases caused by fungal pathogens (and how easily the pathogens can be transmitted by activities carried out at the nursery), the regulations do not include inspection or testing for fungal pathogens in mother or increase blocks.  

  In the past few years, the Russell Ranch foundation block became progressively infected with GRBV.  The infection status is so high that last year FPS suspended the sale of plant material to nurseries.  I will not elaborate on this issue as I have recently written about this topic.

  Obviously, in spite of the limitations of the R&C program mentioned above, the use of certified material is expected to be less risky than planting field selections of unknown infection status.  However, it is always prudent to consult with me to assure that the planting material meets the expected cleanliness standards.

  An important piece of advice when working on the procurement of clean planting stock is to plan in advance.  Most nurseries in California collect cuttings for bud wood as soon as the vines are dormant.  However, grafting activities are performed during the spring of the following year.  Planning with time will allow for inspection of the increase blocks early in the fall before a freeze.   Being familiar with the nursery’s operations and their staff is important.  Good communication will help with scheduling inspections and testing of the increase blocks from which bud wood and rootstock cuttings will be collected. 

  Diseases, pathogens, and/or their vectors do not know or respect the borders between vineyard blocks (at the nursery, foundation block, or your vineyard).  Even if the planting material came from a reputable certification program, paying attention to the surrounding vineyards as well as having knowledge of the potential presence of disease prior to planting is important. 

  The planning of a new vineyard is not trivial and requires specialized knowledge.  I am available to help look for suspicious symptoms (inspect scion and rootstock source blocks), evaluate the planting site, develop a testing plan based on science and statistics, and review nursery and vineyard disease testing history.  

  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.

Grapevines and Water Stress, a Key to Quality

By: Dr. Richard Smart,,

Where is the best place to grow wine grapes,” I am often asked. The answer I give surprises many people. I say, “A cool desert, that is where! Deserts are typically sunny, but should be cool, and with sustainable supplies of irrigation water.” A desert is preferred because rainfall can be a problem for quality wine production.

  There are two significant problems associated with rainfall, both relating to how difficult it is to control, in terms of timing and quantity. Firstly, rainfall induces many fungal diseases on leaves, shoots and fruit, which may have direct or indirect effects on fruit ripening and wine quality. Secondly, and often less appreciated, is that water supply is a principal means of regulating vine growth and physiology to maximize fruit ripening and potential wine quality.

  In brief, we prefer to have slight moisture stress during the period of active shoot growth after flowering to inhibit lateral shoot growth and to limit leaf expansion and size. In association with an appropriate training system, this will help maintain a light, porous canopy—essential for wine quality. Secondly, and critically, we can use moisture stress to stop shoot tip growth in the period just before veraison. This is essential to avoid carbohydrate competition between the active growing shoot tip and the ripening berries.

  If grapes are grown in a desert, of course, we need to irrigate. This gives us a chance to manipulate vine water stress at our will, in the absence of rainfall. The rest of this article discusses how to manage the desired level of water stress.

Irrigated Vineyards

  Irrigation research was one of my first projects when I started a viticulture career in the mid-1960s in Australia. Then, drip irrigation was very new, and I published one of the first studies on the method with wine grapes, comparing drip to flood irrigation.

  This was also a time of new technology for measuring plant and soil moisture. Gypsum block and tensiometers were common then, and soon soil capacitance meters were to be introduced to measure soil moisture.

Evaluating the Pressure Bomb

  In the late 1960s, pressure bombs used to measure leaf and stem water potential were introduced. The pressure bomb was a powerful tool to directly measure plant water stress, and help understand how grapevines respond to soil moisture conditions and the daily pattern of weather conditions.

  After sunset, grapevines recover gradually from the water stress of the day before. Then, at sunrise, the plants begin to experience mild water stress. As air temperature increases, and as humidity decreases, so water stress experienced by the plant increases, being at a maximum in early afternoon. As sunlight levels decrease towards late afternoon, the water stress experienced by the grapevine recovers somewhat, again declining substantially after sunset.

  Our published studies determined a major impact of current weather conditions on grapevine water stress. Grapevines experience the most water stress with bright sunlight, high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speed. These are all conditions that cause the most rapid water loss from the vines.

  As soils dry out, the level of plant water stress is higher during the morning and in the afternoon. However, one must be careful to distinguish the effects of soil moisture from those of higher sunlight, temperature, wind speed and lower humidity. It is challenging to take spot measurements with the pressure bomb during the day to predict soil moisture conditions. Direct measurement of soil moisture profiles is preferred, which are much less variable over the day.

Use of Plant Appearance

  I had almost side-by-side vines with different soil moisture conditions in an irrigation trial I conducted, and I soon learned how the appearance of vines change as they develop water stress. One of the most obvious symptoms is that shoot tips stop rapid growth, and eventually, they stop growth altogether. This symptom relates to moisture stress over several week’s duration.

  Another of the visual effects of water stress is on leaf inclination. Initially, the petioles droop a little, and as stress continues and becomes worse, the leaves first hang vertically and then begin to cup by folding inwards along the main vein.  When very stressed, you will see the backs of several leaves if you look along the row. I was working with the Shiraz (Syrah) variety, and the leaf backs are hairier than the front, so they are easy to distinguish. These symptoms may take several days or a week to develop.

Leaf Temperature Assessment

  This assessment relates to present vine water stress. When vines are water-stressed, stomata (leaf pores controlling water loss on the leaf underside) partially or fully close, and so the loss of water from the leaf ceases. Transpiration (like evaporation) acts to cool leaves. So a sunlit leaf will have a temperature not so different from that of the air, perhaps a little warmer or cooler. However, when the vine is water-stressed, sun-exposed leaves are noticeably hotter than air temperature because the stomata close, and shade leaves are around air temperature.

  I proposed a leaf temperature-based water stress index, which is in Table 1 (Below).  Measurement is suggested in the early afternoon, or when it is sunny and air temperature reaches its maximum. Mid-shoot leaves well exposed to the sun are tested. I suggest pressing the leaf blade between fingertips and palm and quickly sensing leaf temperature on the palm. One must take an instantaneous impression of leaf temperature, as holding a leaf will quickly bring its temperature to that of your hand!

  The reader might be thinking, “Why not use an infrared thermometer to measure air temperature as we have seen used recently to indicate forehead temperature with Covid-19 virus detection?” Indeed, such devices are now quite cheap, portable and accurate, but be careful always to measure leaves with the same angle to the sun.


  Leaf temperature will give an instantaneous measure of vine water stress. In contrast, leaf inclination and shoot tip growth assessment will indicate water stress over the previous two weeks or longer. Therefore, leaf temperature can give a better indication of water stress, and so, irrigation needs, while shoot growth will advise how effective the irrigation has been.

  The clever vine irrigator might believe these visual guides more than those of randomly taken pressure bomb tests to manage vineyards to optimize wine quality. Modern irrigation monitoring is developing systems based on thermal images, either close up or remote, related to my simple system of using one’s hand!