Crush Season: When Timing is Everything, Experience Matters

By: Cheryl Gray   

Inside every grape is the flavor upon which crush season depends. Capturing that flavor is a skill that every vineyard around the world strives to master. 

  From traditional methods to the latest technology, wineries have a singular goal in mind: extracting the very best from a grape crop nurtured during the past year. 

  The Pellenc Group is a global manufacturer of equipment and tools used in viticulture. Its subsidiary in the United States, Pellenc America, is headquartered in Santa Rosa, California. The company’s technologically advanced products make it a leader in the industry and help wineries get the most from their grape crops. 

  One of Pellenc’s innovations is Smart Glass, a connected sensor used to transfer wine, automatically shutting off when complete. The Smart Glass receives information either from a remote control or Pellenc’s pump pilot module and alerts the operator whenever there is a change in the liquid. Applications include not only liquid transfer but also blending, cold settling and gas detection. Smart Glass touts cost-effectiveness in that it improves productivity by facilitating automated transfers, freeing up workers to do other tasks. It also promotes reduced water consumption and wine loss. The product’s year-round multiple applications, including water flushing and flotations, also help save time and money. 

  Another time-saving product from Pellenc is Smart Oak, is an automated tool with a user-friendly interface. Instead of the weeks it normally takes to complete oaking, Smart Oak is designed to reduce that to just a few days. The system includes a soaking vat, pump and built-in sensors, the latter of which manages the speed, control and successful repetition of the entire oaking process. Smart Oak allows wineries to use wood chips, staves and blocks to achieve the finished wine product. It also eliminates the need to purchase and store barrels. 

  Pellenc’s Flash Détente is a two-step thermodynamic process that reduces fermentation time from two weeks to three days and increases yield by 3 to 4%. The first step heats grapes, juice, wine or lees to 170 F, allowing wineries to eliminate pyrazine and any green pepper taste while achieving enhanced color extraction. The grapes are then pushed into a vacuum chamber, where the water inside the fruit quickly turns to steam, instantly blasting the skin, which releases tannins and anthocyanins.  

  Finally, the Pellenc Smoke Taint Mitigation protocol is a combination of Flash Détente operations and enzymatic macerations. Combining the two gives wineries the ability to treat tainted berries before fermentation without stripping the finished wines of their character and flavors. 

Facing Challenges 

  While new technology is helping wineries reduce costs and maximize crop yields for crush season, the deadly coronavirus and lingering drought continue to be tough challenges even for the most experienced winemakers. 

  Just ask Penelope Gadd-Coster, the award-winning winemaking consultant for Rack and Riddle Custom Wine Services in Sonoma County, California. She said that many of the safety steps Rack and Riddle put in place last year to protect against COVID-19 remain. 

  “Well, just when we thought we might be over masks, they are back! Many things will be similar to last year: masks indoors, visitors will need to be masked, still need an appointment for meetings, Zoom will still reign as the communication tool.” 

  These are just a few of the strategies that Rack & Riddle has deployed to operate safely during the pandemic. With the tonnage of grapes it processes each year, the company has incorporated technology to accommodate some of its workloads.  

  “Rack & Riddle has invested in some automation that is allowing us to keep steady staffing. For example, tirage bins are filled by robots. This was a task that was done by seasonal workers in the past,” said Gadd-Coster. 

  As for the drought plaguing California and elsewhere, Gadd-Coster told The Grapevine Magazine that growers are being forced to take drastic measures to conserve water for this year’s crush season. 

  “The drought is a bigger change as Healdsburg is having to drop [usage] by 40%. Businesses are having to come up with ways to make this happen as well. For the vineyards, [it’s] either recycled water or no water for vines unless the growers filled reservoirs before the restrictions. Many thought that harvest would be early due to the drought, but it is actually coming later than average in many areas.” 

  Other grape-growing regions, including the Pacific Northwest, have also suffered from extreme heat. Richard Hoff, Director of Viticulture for the renowned Mercer Ranches in Washington State’s Yakima Valley, said that the high temperatures have impacted their crush season schedule.  

  “As far as harvest impacts, due to the 110 F, 115 F  heatwave we had, grapes are ripening quickly, and we expect a somewhat early harvest.” 

  Gadd-Coster added that supplies and equipment are harder to come by as the businesses that provide them are tackling some of the same obstacles as their vineyard and winery clients. 

  “Equipment and supplies are taking longer. That still hasn’t changed much yet. And some things are just not available–long wait times. This was the case with some of our winemaking additives, some packaging items.” 

  John Derrick is Vice President of Vineyards for Mercer Ranches. He says there has been significant lag time for other pieces that are critical to a successful crush season. 

  “The supply chain for parts is just as bad for grape equipment and supplies. Finding and hiring new employees is definitely a big struggle this year. We are lucky in that we utilize H2A and do not foresee any people issues at this time.” 

  The H2A program allows American companies that meet strict regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Many crush seasons depend upon these workers. However, some wineries are increasingly looking to technology to replace manual labor for specific tasks. 

  Sorting fruit is one of those jobs where technology can step in to help maximize results. John Felice, Vineyard & Winery Equipment & Product Specialist for Pellenc, points to the manufacturer’s Vision Optical Sorter as a solution.  

  “The Vision-2 features the best optical eye in the industry combined with the best software to produce the highest level of quality consistently throughout the harvest. The cleated belt holds the fruit from moving around and allows the Vision-2’s optical system to determine what it keeps and what it rejects. You can set the Vision-2 to keep or remove raisins and remove fruit that does not meet a certain size or color level. With today’s labor shortage, the Vision-2 will control up to six other machines on the receiving and sorting line. This level of automation allows you to run the optical line with one to two people.”  

Developing a Crush Pad 

  Equipment and supplies for crush pads are critical components for a successful crush season.  Experts say that coordinating with knowledgeable companies makes a big difference for wineries developing a crush pad. 

  The Vinter’s Vault helps wineries of all sizes solve the dilemma of exactly how to execute a crush pad. With two locations in Paso Robles and Temecula, California, and a third in Texas, the company’s reach is global, including clients located throughout the U.S. and in Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, China, Nova Scotia and Indonesia. The Vinter’s Vault works with several manufacturers to provide wineries with equipment such as destemmers, presses, tanks, lift conveyors, sorting and vibrating tables. Ryan Horn is the company’s President. 

  “We do full crush pad set-ups and often help clients with their designs. We commonly do full design layouts for new and expanding wineries where we can design and plot the flow of work for their view and to fit their needs, desires and location,” said Horn. “For crush pad equipment, we are most known for the Athena Presses, which are very state-of-the-art central membrane presses that are faster, more gentle and more efficient than any press on the market. Our IMMA crush pad equipment is also well known.” 

  Pellenc also deploys a design and sales team to work with wineries worldwide to develop crush pads, including wineries in California, Texas, the eastern United States, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and South Africa. Felice said that Pellenc is there from beginning to end.  

  “Pellenc design engineers and salespeople will work with the winery team to gather the necessary information and put a proposal together with CAD drawings to meet the demands      of the winery with throughput and efficiency in mind.” 

  Companies that provide equipment and supplies for crush season agree that there is no cookie-cutter approach to servicing their vineyard and winery clients. Among other things, 24/7 service and technical support are high on the list of reputable firms. Experts say those are the companies that understand that fruit won’t wait. 

A Closer Look at Winery Filtration Methods & Filtration Solutions

By: Alyssa L. Ochs 

During winemaking, filtration occurs right before bottling to remove any unwanted particles that the winemaker doesn’t want in the finished product. The goal is to create a clear and stable wine that consumers will love, but there are multiple ways to achieve this result.  

  Choosing the appropriate filtration products and equipment can make a huge difference in how a wine turns out and how closely it adheres to the desired style of the winemaker. It is beneficial to learn about different filtration processes to choose the best methods for various wines.  

Overview of Wine Filtration  

  Wine filtration works by passing the wine through tiny holes–similar to using a coffee filter. The smallest particles and liquid pass through the filter, separating everything else from the wine. The process creates a more stable wine, particularly as filter size is reduced and fewer microbes make it into the finished product.  

  Not every winemaker chooses to filter wine, and not every wine needs to be filtered. However, there are many reasons to use a filter. Filtering gently polishes wine and gives it a softer finish. It helps a wine be more microbially stable and preserves the integrity of the product. Although it is not a health or safety requirement, most modern and commercial wines are filtered in some way.  

Options for Wine Filtration  

  It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of wine filtering options, especially when new to winemaking or making a style of wine for the first time. For example, there’s pad filtration, membrane filtration, earth filtration and reverse osmosis. Other methods include ultrafiltration, crossflow filtration, ceramic membrane crossflow, racking and cold stabilization.  

  The first step in removing suspended solids is typically using a coarse depth filter. Depth filters catch particles but aren’t effective in removing microorganisms from wine. Next, tighter pad depth filters are used. As a final step, winemakers can use membrane filters to catch microorganisms. 

  Pad filtration involves running wine across a pad, typically made of cotton, polyethylene or cellulose. Pads typically require a setup with a plate and frame and a pump to move the wine. Filter pads work by having wine flow into the rough side of the pad and then out from the smooth side. Different pads are used for red and white wine, but choosing the right filter pads depends on the total filtering surface area. Although pads are inexpensive, they are designed only for one-time use. There can be high leakage rates and long setup times with pads, too.   

  Cartridges offer an alternative to pads. They use housings, leak less than pads and are cleaner to work with; however, they are also costlier and require more maintenance. It’s important to store them properly so they last a long time and make the investment worthwhile. 

  Membrane filtration uses a cartridge made up of nylon, glass fibers, polypropylene or cellulose to facilitate screening techniques. This method is often used for microbial stabilization purposes and is the final step before wine is bottled.  

  Some winemakers use earth filtration using diatomaceous earth, a soft rock ground into a white powder. DE serves as a coating on filter pads or screens before filtering. This method involves covering a stainless-steel or nylon screen with DE and pouring wine and DE through the screen for filtration. It’s a meticulous process that may require supportive plates, a pump, a rotating drum and a rotary vacuum filter. Respiratory and eye protection are required during use due to health and safety concerns about handling DE. Crossflow and centrifuge filtration offer safer alternatives. 

  For crossflow filtration, the wine moves with significant force and pressure across a porous membrane. Wine is pumped through a partially enclosed pathway and produces juice with very concentrated particles. There is a high initial investment associated with crossflow filters, including replacement membrane costs, which is why many small and mid-sized wineries don’t use them.  

  Ultrafiltration is a crossflow method using a membrane with a nominal relative weight cutoff of 10,000 per molecule. Winemakers use this method to enhance the flavor of wine and make it more stable because ultra-filtration gets rid of all sizable particles and proteins.  

  Ceramic membrane crossflow is an advanced technique that incorporates pressing mechanisms. This technique ensures high levels of clarity and reduces product loss, especially crucial for high-value wines. Durable ceramic membranes can deliver automatic production cycles and keep a winery’s environmental impact low.  

  Racking is a non-obtrusive way to filter wine and involves moving wine between barrels. This method is only somewhat effective, as some wine remains behind in the bottom of the barrel with the sediment during the manual transfer.  

  Aside from filtering, cold stabilization is a method used to clarify wine. This method requires the winemaker to deeply chill the wine to remove tartaric acid crystals from the product.  

Heyes Filters’ Xflow System 

  Among the various options available for wine filtration, Heyes Filters’ Xflow System stands out. They manufacture their products in the U.S., simplifying the search for spare parts and support while potentially limiting downtime if service is required. Based in Torrance, California, Heyes Filters specializes in filtration and purification to serve the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and biotech industries.  

  Mike Laffey, the technical sales engineer for Heyes, told The Grapevine Magazine about two crossflow platforms–fully-automated and semi-automated systems–that the company offers.  

  “Our fully automated systems are PLC-controlled with pneumatic valves and Auto CIP,” Laffey said. “The fully automated systems can be configured sans CIP depending on the customer’s request. Our crossflow systems can be customized to meet the customer’s needs.  

  “The Heyes Filters semi-automated systems are designed for lower cost and have manual valving and manual CIP. The semi-auto unit does have an autonomous feature. The operator can set the unit up for filtering and enable the autonomous feature, and the system will monitor itself and shut down either when the tank being filtered is emptied or if the flow rate, due to fouling, drops below a predetermined set point. The crossflow unit will shut down and sit idle with the internal check valves, keeping the filtered wine in the receiving tank from back-flowing through the system.” 

  However, when operating the Xflow system, avoid sending wine that is not yet ready for this type of technology. “Settling, racking and fining are all typical processes in the winemaking journey, but prepping wine for crossflow filtration does take some additional steps to maximize the efficiency of the filtration process,” Laffey said.  

  Winemakers should keep their current plate, frame filter and any other filtering equipment even after buying the crossflow unit because these can be useful as pre-filters or to remove TCA from wine.  

  When Heyes Filters trains winemakers on the initial setup of the Xflow system, the focus is on proper cleaning and maintenance to maximize the filtration process.  

  “We do this by monitoring the transmembrane pressure, inlet pressure value plus retentate pressure value/permeate pressure value,” Laffey said. “To us, this is the ‘voice’ of the membrane telling you how well it is permeating either during filtration as it rises or during the CIP cycle as it is beginning to lower through the chemical cleaning process. The goal is to keep the system ready for the next filtration run.” 

  Other troubleshooting tips include monitoring the fouling rate and not running the system too quickly in the beginning. The transmembrane rate should be kept low for as long as possible to allow the membranes to flow and not plug up too fast. Heyes Filters regularly helps customers develop strategies for using fining agents before initiating the crossflow system. 

Aftek Filtration Options  

  Rochester, New York’s Aftek Filtration Options has over 35 years of filtration expertise. It offers flotation, pad filtration, cartridge filtration, membrane and crossflow options for wineries.  

  Jim Russell, who handles regional sales for Aftek, said he has seen many wineries that produce less than 25,000 to 40,000 cases using pads during post-fermentation. He highly recommends using membranes for pre-bottling filtration to ensure sterile filtration into packaging.  

  “The membrane is integrity testable and allows for us to challenge the filter media before and after bottling to ensure stable shelf life. Some of our customers are shifting to crossflow for wine to replace pads, and this is a discussion we have for sizing and timing to make the best use of capital for growth and packaging,” Russell said. “The filtration products we work with our customers on are minimizing any oxygen pick-up and degradation of the flavor profile while maximizing shelf-life stability. We work with our customers and their processes to enable good practices, better quality and lowered filtration costs.” 

Trends in Wine Filtration  

  Concerning industry trends, Laffey said that ceramic and polymeric have been popular in the crossflow realm. Heyes Filters offers these types, as well as titanium membranes if they are the best solutions for the application. 

  He has also noticed advances in adjuncts, such as bentonite, a settling agent easy to filter through crossflow. He said that when using adjuncts, not to incapacitate the system by plugging the tube and hollow fibers with a heavy load of particles moving too quickly under pressure. This can result in a costly error in which membranes need to be replaced.  

  Russell has seen an uptick in the use of Della Toffola, a crossflow supported by Aftek. “It allows for reduction of manpower and the ability to remotely monitor and control the unit,” he said. 

Choosing a Filtration Method for Your Winery 

  When in the market for a new crossflow system, winemakers should work alongside a company with extensive system experience, service backup and available parts and is responsive to customer needs.  

  “Choose a company that not only can provide you products but can help with the setup and usage,” said Russell of Aftek. “Saving $50 on a membrane only to get a shortened life or use five times the number of cartridges when one might be used all season isn’t a better value. Make sure they understand the process and have good service and assistance.”  

  Researching filtering techniques helps the winemaker know what to expect before they’ve even made the call to the manufacturer and may make the process–both buying the system and filtering wine–go easier. 

  “I have often told prospective Heyes Filters’ clients to do their due diligence and research the different crossflow technologies that would best suit their needs, knowing that the systems do not really care what you send them,” Laffey said. “The crossflow system will do its best to process the wine being filtered through it. Quite often, the expectation of the winemaker can be challenging to overcome or satisfy depending on their knowledge of the technology and the ‘prep work’ done on the front end on any given wine style.” 

VQA Ontario: The Evolution of a Canadian Provincial Wine Law

By: Tod Stewart 

It’s more than a little ironic to learn that the first known “wine law” was distinctly anti-wine. In an effort to increase the food supply, Roman emperor Domitian (c. 92) issued a decree banning the planting of any more vines in Italy. The hope was that available growing land would be given to planting cereal grains as opposed to grapes. Guess how that all worked out. Though largely ignored throughout the country, it nonetheless stayed in effect for close to 200 years before being repealed by emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (and much celebration ensued). 

  Wine laws enacted across Europe – starting with those conceived by the Reichstag in 1498 – were generally done for nobler purposes – typically to prevent wine fraud. Fakery became especially problematic in mid-19th century France as the phylloxera blight decimated vineyards and all but dried up the flow of wine. These laws evolved into the familiar (at least to wine buffs) Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. Similar laws proliferated in wine growing regions around the world. They aimed at establishing geographical origin, permitted grape varieties and yields, and production methods, among other things. 

Generally speaking, wine laws are a good thing for consumers. After all, if you’re spending big bucks on an Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon with the term “To Kalon” on the label (or considerably bigger bucks for a Pinot Noir identified as “La Tâche”), you’ll want some pretty solid guarantee that you are actually getting what you’re paying for. 

  For winemakers, some wine laws can present compliance challenges. I’ve talked to more than one European winemaker who almost envies the amount of freedom given to their American counterparts. Want to plant (more) Albariño in Lodi? No problem. Want to plant Albariño in Chianti Classico or Burgundy? Not so fast….One winemaker here in Ontario actually gave up his winery in Tuscany because he couldn’t deal with Italian bureaucracy. This is pretty stunning testimony given the bureaucracy level in Ontario. 

  Though still considered a “young” wine producing country, Canada today has a thriving wine industry situated largely in Ontario and British Columbia. Wine has been produced in this country for over 200 years, with the first commercial winery established in Ontario in 1866. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s, with the expanded planting of Vitis vinifera varieties and improved winemaking techniques that the emergence of a wine industry focused on high quality began to emerge.  

  The Vintners Quality Alliance Act,1999 designated VQA Ontario as Ontario’s wine authority on June 29, 2000. Broadly speaking, the mandate of VQA Ontario is to enforce the province’s appellation of origin system, control the use of specific terms, descriptions and designations, and set out mandatory winemaking practices pursuant to each specific VQA region and sub-region. Winemakers have some flexibility when it comes to grape varieties – so long as they are either Vitis vinifera or an approved hybrid (eg., Vidal), and there is no restriction as to what variety needs to be planted where. 

  There are the other usual checks and balances around things like brix levels at harvest for specific types of wines and the pedigree of fruit for particular regional designations (the requirements for a wine labeled as VQA Ontario will be more relaxed than for a wine identified as an Estate Grown Chardonnay with the designation VQA Beamsville Bench – a geographical sub-appellation). Labelling terminology is also regulated. 

  As with most wine laws – particularly those governing younger regions – evolution is largely unavoidable. When I contacted VQA Ontario headquarters to get a status update – and to ask how the pandemic had affected operations – I was somewhat surprised by the response. 

  “VQA Ontario has changed its operating name to the Ontario Wine Appellation Authority,” says Laurie Macdonald, the organization’s Executive Director. “When the pandemic began in March 2020, LCBO suspended all VQA tasting panels. The sensory evaluation has been conducted by the Appellation Authority using its own panelists since then and this will continue on a permanent basis.”   

  To backtrack a bit for perspective: for a wine to become VQA certified, it not only has to comply with labelling and packaging standards, and demonstrate geographic origin, it also has to pass laboratory and organoleptic testing. Up until the change Macdonald refers to, both of these functions were carried out by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the province’s government-controlled beverage alcohol monopoly. This wan’t a bad thing. The LCBO lab is sophisticated and its technicians are, for the most part, top-notch. (Lab analysis is still carried out by LCBO.) The sensory evaluation panel consisted largely of LCBO product consultants – essentially LCBO retail store employees with superior product knowledge and, in the case of those on the tasting panel, proven knowledge of wine defects and various wine characteristics. 

  With the new changes, the panel roster is made up of qualified wine professionals, including sommeliers, winemakers, wine educators, WSET diploma and MW holders. Another change is that wines are no longer given scores (out of a possible 20 points, with 13 required for a passing grade). In the early days VQA actually had a two-tired scoring system. If memory serves me correctly, a score of over 13 counted as a pass and the wine could carry the VQA medallion on the bottle. Those scoring over 15 points could carry a gold VQA medallion. Whether or not I’m completely accurate on this point is more or less moot, as it was eliminated early on in the history of VQA. 

The move away from any type of numerical scoring apparatus is likely a good thing, at least in the eyes of winemakers. In fact, some have grumbled (in varying levels of volume) that the tasting panel itself should be scrapped. The argument for this stance centres around the possible “subjectiveness” of the panel and the awarding higher scores to wines that are personally preferred as opposed to those which are technically sound. It also, perhaps in an indirect way, points to an issue with section (c) of the Act’s sensory guidelines that reads: 

(c) To the extent that an applicant identifies a varietal designation in the application, such wine should exhibit the predominant character of a wine produced from the designated grape variety or varieties 

  Simply put, if you submit a Riesling to the panel for evaluation it should smell and taste like Riesling (and, of course, be defect-free – we’ll get back to that). Some winemakers will claim that this forces them to conform to some arbitrary “standard” that determines what the “predominant character” of a specific grape variety actually is. The “T word” – typicity – is often bandied about, along with the notion that striving for typicity limits innovation. 

  In fact, Niagara’s Pearl Morissette winery’s website contains this statement: 

  “We’ve all been blackballed. Some more than others. But whether it was not getting selected on the school soccer pitch or having the VQA repeatedly pass over your Niagara Riesling on the basis that it “lacked typicity”, getting blackballed has not always been a positive experience.” 

  The winery chose to celebrate this uniqueness with its Black Ball Wine Society, but you still can’t help but suspect there are some hard feelings behind the repeated rejection of its Riesling. Requests I made to have those at Pearl Morissette tell their side of the story were ignored. (To be fair, this isn’t the only winery that refused to answer my VQA-related questions, even with the promise of anonymity. In fact, not one of the over half-dozen wineries I approached chose to answer any of the question I asked.) 

  “It is important to note that ‘typicity’ is not mentioned anywhere in the VQA regulations or procedural documents,” Macdonald points out. “We do not prescribe any typical presentations of varietals for Ontario and aim to recruit tasters with global exposure to a wide range of styles. Innovation is welcome as it should be for a relatively young region. For example, we have seen oak-aged Rieslings which are certainly not typical but have been approved based on soundness. We do however confirm certain category requirements during the sensory testing, for example, sparkling wines must be carbonated, Icewines must be sweet. In my opinion this discussion is really about what is or is not perceived as an unacceptable flaw. Problems typically arise when the “style” is characterized by unacceptable levels of H2S, volatile acidity, brett, etc.” 

  To play devil’s advocate, I could counter that what is “unacceptable” to one taster may not be to another. One of my favourite wines, Lebanon’s Château Musar, wouldn’t be what it is without levels of VA and brettanomyces that may seem off the charts to some. In any case, the real question might be: “If VQA is all about geographic origin, why is there a tasting panel at all? Surely we’re not yet at the point where an Ontario wine’s origin can actually be confirmed by tasting it.” Well, the short answer is because, at this stage, an expert tasting panel is still necessary. 

  In my experience with (and I’ll come clean and say I’ve had some), the VQA/OWAA tasting panel offers winemakers something rather unique and, ultimately, helpful: the opportunity to have wines pre-screened by an objective panel (I should note that all wines are tasted blind – the tasters know the vintage, the varietal(s) if applicable, and style the wine is claiming to be…and that’s mostly it) before they get to the consumer. If there is a problem, the winemaker is informed and has the opportunity to correct it (assuming it can be) and resubmit the wine for re-evaluation. 

  While the VQA designation is not an indication to consumers that a wine is somehow superior to one without, it does pretty much guarantee its geographic lineage and that it’s defect-free. But shouldn’t winemakers be able to determine that their wines are of sound quality (like most places in the world) without some paternal body pointing out when the kid hasn’t lived up to expectations? 

  Macdonald reports that since 2000, failures have declined by10 per cent to a range of about two per cent over the past five years. She also notes that some failures are not the fault (or the sole fault) of the winemaker. Still, technical and microbiological issues make up the bulk of the reasons for failures.  

  “We facilitate ‘Winemakers Forums’ to encourage winemakers to share their experiences, challenges and best practices – suspended for COVID of course,” she informs. “This is intended to support ‘making the best wine possible’ given any set of parameters – vineyard, varietal, vintage conditions, price point, style, etc., and it necessarily includes preventing and managing faults.” 

  Given, ongoing training for winemakers at all levels is no doubt part of the key to producing high-quality, defect-free wines, the other major component is regular, ongoing tasting – and not only of a winemaker’s own wines. I was surprised many years ago as I toured Niagara wineries to hear how few of the local winemakers actually tasted wines of their competition – both international ones and those made by the winery across the street. Some winemakers, at times, seemed to have gotten so familiar with their own “style” that they failed to realize that this “style” included some obvious technical defects. In any case, regular and varied tasting is probably the most enjoyable “homework” most could think of engaging in.  

  As Ontario’s (and Canada’s) vinous landscape continues to broaden, the Vintners Quality Alliance Act,1999 will no doubt continue to be modified to reflect changes within the industry. Macdonald points out that since 2000, there have been a total of 35 changes to the regulations, adding grape varieties, raising minimum brix, allowing new closures, and so on. The last change, made in 2017, was the addition of the “skin-fermented white” category. This sort of flexibility ensures that innovation and creativity can thrive, with the Act lending a degree of guidance to winemakers, while ensuring geographical authenticity and, ultimately, consumer confidence and international respect. 

The South African Winelands: A Story of Endurance

By: Hanifa Sekandi 

South Africa, a place where, if the Winelands could speak, they would tell a story that would leave you spellbound and wanting more, down to the last sip of Pinotage. Every grape has a story: how it began and the many trials and tribulations it endured to take form into a palate pleasing accompaniment for one to enjoy. As simple as it may seem, even with a favorable Mediterranean climate and rich South African soil, the journey to the bottle is what makes this wine an intriguing and highly coveted selection.  

  In 1652, more than 350 years ago, Jan Van Riebeeck led the Dutch East India Company’s settlement in the Cape. The first known record of wine in this region is February 2, 1659. During this time, the medicinal properties found in wine were used to treat scurvy. This made the South African port an ondemand place to voyage to by sailors seeking treatment. Two decades later, in 1679, Stellenbosch, what is now South Africa’s most famous wine-producing region and second oldest settlement, solidified a long-standing legacy in viticulture. Located in the western Cape’s coastal region, vinotourists eagerly explore South Africa’s acclaimed wine estates to experience firsthand the birthplace of this country’s Cabernet Sauvignon — the most abundantly planted grape varietal in this wine region.  

  When Simon van der Stel, namesake of Stellenbosch, established Cape Town’s oldest wine estate, Constantia, it laid the bedrock of winemaking. Political turmoil and unrest have rocked this soulfully rhythmic nation, but preserving the land and all that grows from its soil continues to live and not be forgotten. Establishing this settlement opened doors for robust wine cultivation by the French Huguenots to dig roots into the Cape’s wine industry in the 1690s. Their arrival in the 17th century in the Franschhoek Valley began winemaking as a formidable industry in South Africa. 

Endurance of the African Vine 

  Although suitable microclimates and the terrain permit a diverse repertoire of wines and the high clay content along with water retention aids with steady irrigation, South African winemakers have faced many roadblocks on their way to becoming part of the par excellence standard. Insufficient storage for the aging of wines required the unconventional use of containers used to brine meat in replacement of oak barrels. Wine connoisseurs turned their noses up at this break in practice and cultivation. The South African wine regions also almost met their demise with the grapevine disease Phylloxera.  

  Earlier shortcomings in the 18th century did not demotivate winemakers to forage on. Constantia, a region considered the mother of South African wines, is the home to the dessert wine made from Muscat Blanc, Vin de Constance. It provided a gateway into the exclusive European wine market. One could say that without it, the industry as we know it today would not hold center stage. This country’s acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc grapes, flourishing and gently ripening with the refreshing cool breeze as it brushes across the vineyards of the Constantiaberg Mountain, may not have been birthed had it not been for the perseverance of winemakers who saw sweeter horizons in the future.  

  South African wines are more than just a palate-pleasing libation. They hold conflict and triumph, a journey that continues to reveal itself with presentday winemakers who value tradition paired with modern innovation and sustainability.  

  Stellenbosch University’s department of viticulture is at the forefront of avantgarde and experimental ways of producing wine. The World Wide Fund for Nature movement exemplifies an agreed-upon con-servation ideal among South African wine farmers. The aim is to maintain and nurture the Cape Wineland’s natural habitat. Along with an accommodating climate that favors a vast array of grapes which benefit greatly from the proximity of the Indian and Atlantic oceans cool winds, sustainability and affordable wine prices allow a firm place in the market. South Africa ranks eighth in the world as a wine producer with over 560 Western Cape wineries and over 200,000 acres of grapes planted.  

Wards that Lead the Way 

  Each wine region, also known as wards, has unique characteristics. Stellenbosch is where wine revelers can find South Africa’s most recognized and prestigious wine estates. One fifth of the country’s vines are planted here. This is where a perfect blend of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir comes together to produce the be-loved Pinotage. The exclusive Black Label Pinotage, made from a plot planted in the early 1950s, has a graceful aging period of 30 years. Other wines produced in the illustrious wineries in this region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chemin Blanc, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Semillon and Chardonnay.  

 The South African wine route may lead you to Paarl, situated on the low lying slopes of Paarl Rock. Since it is more inland from Cape Town, the temperatures here are warmer. The terroir of this region provides for more opportunities in wine cultivation. One would not think that some of the prestigious wines in this country flourish in vineyards high up on the mountains. The beginning of wine in this region is at-tributed to the French Huguenots who settled and planted grapevines and orchards in the late 17th century. Full bodied, decadent fruit reds and tropical notes in white wines can be found here due to the robust grape varieties.  

  Once a wheat producing region, Swartland is located in the Western Cape and just north of Cape Town. The vineyards here appear predominately on the northern side of the Paardeberg mountain. The hot and dry climate is ideal for producing fruitier wines. Scorching temperatures also decrease the negative impact of fungal disease. Bush vines can withstand dry conditions and survive due to their ability to pull water from deep layers of soil. Since they are drought resistant, they are planted in the hottest and driest area of the ward. Chemin Blanc and Shiraz are key grape varietals harvested in the “black land” Swartland. Black Land is a name to denote the rhinoceros bush, which turns black after a rainfall.  

  Another Western Cape region where the vines grow on fertile soils with granite deposits and immense clay volumes is Constantia—recognized as an early immigration settlement in 1685 of the Dutch. The highly esteemed sweet wine touted by European nobility and celebrated by esteemed authors Charles Dickens and Jane Austen isn’t the only premium wine produced in this region today. Bordeaux Blends, a combination of deep rich reds ranging from Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon as a base coupled with another grape variety, has become an adored South African wine selection. Since this region is surrounded by two oceans and experiences considerable shade from the mountains, cooler temperatures are the norm. The result of these cooling winds is the retention of acidity in the grapes. This region is also known for its sublime Sauvignon Blanc.  


Klein Constantia “Vin de Constance” Constantia (2017) 

  A prestigious dessert wine that almost met its end continues to dazzle the palate of the wine world-at-large thanks to its resurrection in the late 20th century. The Jooste family acquired Klein Constantia, who embarked on this revival with Professor Chris Orffer, a viticulturist. To achieve their aim of unearthing this golden, unfortified sweet wine of the past in its most authentic form, they used the expertise of renowned winemaker Ross Gower. Vin De Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, is a di-vine sunkissed hued wine with a beautiful burst of citrus zest, a creamy stone fruit finish, and pleasing notes of litchi, rosewater and almonds. You cannot miss the smooth floral aroma that engulfs the senses. It is a wine that ages with grace and can stand the test of time.  

Donkiesbaai “Steen”  

Chenin Blanc 

  Steen is still one of South Africa’s most popular white wines made from grapes in the Witzenberg and Piekenierskloof vineyards. Jean Engelbrecht, owner of the infamous Rust en Vrede winery and Don-kiesbaai winery, is the ingenious winemaker at the helm of the masterful creation of this robust, smooth tropical wine. Lively aromas of pineapple, peach, apricot and lime provide the right balance for seafood dishes or rich pasta entrees.  

Beyerskloof Diesel  

Pinotage 2017 

  This full bodied, deep, dry red wine with deep vanilla, oak, chocolate, plum and black cherry aromas has rave reviews from vino connoisseurs who have been lucky enough to get their hands on the Beyerskloof winery cultivation. It is considered a premium Pinotage, and limited bottles are available for purchase. You may have to join the list to get your hands on a bottle of it. This wine pairs well with spicy dishes or a perfectly seared flank steak. If you are an animal lover, you may be happy to know that the name Diesel is a tribute to the winemaker’s dog. 

In Defense of Describing Wines as Masculine, Feminine, and Sexy

Neal D. Hulkower

Except for my own personal use, as a favor to a friend or colleague, or to satisfy a requirement for a gig, I eschew writing wine tasting notes. Consequently, I dismissed Vicki Denig’s rant against alleged sexist terms on on 20 October 2020 ( as yet another misguided lunge by a hypersensitive. But when it became the subject of an entire session entitled “Term Exploder” on the first day of the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers (WWS21, held via Zoom from 10 to 12 May 2021), my reverie was disrupted, and I was rudely awakened. The cancel culture has seeped into the world of wine writing. In response, I took to the chat to offer a different perspective.  I offer this rebuttal based on the position I put forth in that chat.

At the start of the session, the panelists were asked to “Explode this Tasting Note”: “A wine of great breeding, the XXXX bursts from the glass with sweet smells of black currant, pain grille, and exotic spices. Masculine on the palate, with a sexy core of rich, dark fruit supported by a lingering acidity. Has the potential for medium to long-term cellaring and would pair well with almost any stewed meat dish. A serious wine for the collector set and a fine example of the varietal.” Almost every adjective and noun pushed someone’s buttons, with “masculine” and “sexy” singled out for extensive condemnation. Who knew the path from wines to lines could be so fraught?

This session elicited responses from two admittedly more notable wine writers. In her article, “The evolving language of wine” (, Jancis Robinson writes: “I guiltily did a quick search of the 200,000+ tasting notes published on since 2000 and – sure enough – found 192 masculines, 147 feminines and 37 sexys, although many of them were quotes from producers, or were preceded by the get-out ‘stereotypically’.”

Without an ounce of guilt, I decided to scan through my 450 notes on wines I sampled between 1969 and 1979.  I found three that contained “feminine” and none with “masculine” or “sexy.”  (More on how I’ve been making up for this omission lately below.) Here is part of my description of a 1962 Château Margaux that I tasted on 2 October 1977: “… Lovely medium deep elegant mature color. Flowery perfume – vegetable bouquet prominent at first – with air – nose becomes better balanced – flowery, fruit, herbal. Delicate flavor – flowers and fruit fade rapidly into a lovely long finish. Very feminine. Overpriced [at $27.50 less 10%, mind you], but interesting…” My reaction to a 1967 Corton “Hospices de Beaune” consumed on 12 January 1976 concludes with “A very pretty, feminine burgundy.”   And then there is a 1970 Gevrey Chambertin sampled on 7 November 1975: “…Light, elegant well balanced taste – very feminine taste.” Decades after they were written, these records of wines help me recall the experience of drinking some truly exceptional bottles.  Until recently, I would engage in a parlor game with my dinner guests and ask them to read a description I had written decades earlier to see if I could recall which wine it corresponded to.  Gender terms are among those useful in stimulating such memories.

W. Blake Gray blogged his reaction to WWS21 under the heading “Professional wine tasting notes are for the reader, not the writer” (  A long time hater of sessions on tasting notes, Gray offered a two-part rant focusing on the purpose of describing a wine in words. While I appreciate his complex and nuanced arguments, I take issue with the following: “Nobody should call a wine ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in 2021 because nobody knows what that means anymore; half the women in San Francisco can kick my ass, and the other half say, ‘What do you mean, only half?’”

I certainly have no trouble knowing what masculine and feminine mean in the biological sense and have an unambiguous notion of what I mean when describing wines with these terms.  Also, there are plenty of wine terms being used that have no universally recognized meaning. For example, consider the pervasive “minerality” which carries with it the additional absurdity that rocks have taste or smell. Instead, what we are doing here is using the terms as metaphors which can evoke memories of similar tasting experiences.  They are certainly not intended to be offensive or to be in any way exclusionary. The latter was the justification given by the panelists for retiring these terms without any evidence, anecdotal or statistical, that folks are traumatized by their use.  Certainly, men enjoy wines described as feminine just as women enjoy wines described as masculine. In an inane conflation, Denig advises: “Next time you’re tempted to use a gender-focused tasting descriptor, think about how you would react if someone characterized a wine as ‘white/Black’, ‘gay’, or ‘elderly’ on the palate. If you’d find any of these terms offensive, then imagine how some of us men and women feel.” I’m sorry, I simply don’t buy into this comparison and even find it offensive.  

I remain unchastened. In fact, I have since increased my use of these terms and even found a way to acknowledge those who have not made up their minds which sex they are.  At one of the tasting rooms in which I pour, there is a wine that naturally lends itself to being described in gender terms. It is a lovely pour that starts masculine, i.e., rustic and funky, then gets in touch with its feminine self, exuding floral and perfumed aromas, before returning to show its more macho side. This single vineyard Pinot noir is a shining example of a gender fluid fluid! Far from offending visitors, my characterization is appreciated, revelatory, and even endorsed.  No one has pushed back, and sales are good for this higher priced bottle.  Denig made this offer to those who might be offended:  “Next time a winemaker, tasting room employee, or sommelier uses a gender-focused descriptor, feel free to check them. Or send them my way.”  I look forward to her call.

“Sexy” also came under attack.  One of the WWS21 panelists termed it awkward. But once again, these PC word police have arrogated the responsibility to purge the language of descriptors that they deem inappropriate without offering any evidence of the need to do so beyond their feelings or the feelings of those they seem to want to represent. But since “sexy” is used to describe a particularly alluring or seductive bottle without any reference to the various facets of the act like who, how many, what, what kind, where, how often, and with which parts, the word should remain in the lexicon of terms.  One is free to ignore the term or use his or her imagination to personalize its meaning.  “Slutty” also came up and in the heat of battle, I agreed in the chat that this was an unacceptable term.  I hereby withdraw my objection.  I have in fact had wines that were overly generous and a little too eager to please.

Like Denig, the same panelist who had problems with “sexy” labeled “masculine” and “feminine” “lazy cliches,” and was joined by his fellow scolds. But like all imprecise descriptors, really the preponderance of those used for wine, they are merely suggestive and can elicit memories of similar wines. If you want to attack a term for being lazy, look no further than the afore mentioned “minerality,” the pandemic use of which has led Alex Maltman, a noted Welsh geologist and winegrower, to produce a stream of articles and a book to set straight the record.  It is also a term for which there is no consensus definition. Everyone seems to acknowledge, and science provides solid evidence that one’s perception of wine is subjective. Compound that with different cultural references and experiences and no one can expect anyone else’s tasting note to precisely reflect his or her perception. Furthermore, tasting a glass of fine wine over a period of time is like dipping your feet into a stream.  It is never the same moment to moment.  

And what about wine scores?  Despised by many but used, nonetheless.  Even WWS21 keynoter Jancis Robinson expressed her disgust with them yet still assigns them. As an applied mathematician, I regard scores as a most egregious form of number abuse ironically referenced with reverence by innumerates!  Should I start a movement based on my bruised sensibilities to ban their use? Better to simply ignore them.   

While free speech is a precious right, there is no inalienable right not to be offended, especially on behalf of unnamed others.  As such, I am not particularly interested if you find my terminology lazy, inappropriate, non-inclusive, or dated.  It works for me and likely others who use it or resonate with it. If you can’t stand the reference, take heart, many of us are boomers who are slowly leaving the wine scene. I hate tasting notes anyway. What these verbal prohibitionists are advocating is a one size fits all version that will certainly make them so diluted that they become even more useless.  Nevertheless, this free speech absolutist welcomes all voices in wine writing and believes that all should be heard…including mine.

Now go ‘way and let me nap.

Preparing for Harvest: Multiple Methods Maximize Vineyard Productivity

By: Cheryl Gray

From vine to wine, the preparation for harvesting grapes means that some vineyards will explore the latest equipment, some will remain loyal to the tried and true, and others may deploy the best of both. For all of these options, vineyards turn to equipment and tool suppliers.

There is a unique and virtually exclusive link between Idaho and Italy, wherein two family-owned businesses are working together to bring a well-known name in vineyard equipment from one side of the Atlantic to the other. That equipment pipeline is serviced by Allen International, the marketing arm for Rinieri North America. Rinieri, a globally recognized, family-owned brand from Forli, Italy, is among the largest manufacturers in the world for vineyard and orchard equipment, serving vineyards on multiple continents for nearly 100 years.  

  Allen International, headquartered in Idaho, is named after owners Grant and Teresa Allen. In 2014, Grant Allen leveraged his more than three decades in the agricultural industry by teaming up his company with Rinieri. From that point forward, Allen International has helped the manufacturing juggernaut expand its market in North America.  

  As Rinieri’s North American representative, Allen is always in direct contact with dealers. He assists them in understanding the machinery and how best to market Rinieri products to vineyard customers. Allen is the point man in the field for grape growers, ready to assist vineyards by answering questions either remotely or one-on-one, including arranging for on-site equipment demonstrations. For those who want a virtual look at what Rinieri equipment can do, Allen provides videos of the equipment in action on his company website.  Rinieri, he says, has something for everyone.  

  “Rinieri makes an impressive line of vineyard and orchard equipment! The main focus is on everything organic, so we do not sell chemical sprayers, but we sell everything to help reduce or eliminate chemicals. “

  As an example, the Rinieri Model Velox 8 is a dual-sided in-row cultivator, designed to reduce the need for chemicals in weed control. Its sensor levels protect the vine system while the machinery does its job to destroy weeds. Another ecologically designed piece of equipment used for weed control is the Rinieri TURBO, built either left or right-sided. The TURBO’s hoeing blade can avoid vineyard plants, including those planted very close, with a 90-degree rotation of the tool. It can work up to a speed of six miles per hour. The TURBO is also designed to be assembled on other types of equipment, such as cultivators and disc harrows. 

  “No one offers the variety of ground tools like Rinieri,” says Allen. “We also have shredders for shredding the vines and branches in the row. The shredder is also great for mowing the grass in between rows.”

  Rinieri touts its Twin Turbo Narrow as the best tool for cultivating vineyard rows close to the vine, performing the task on both sides of the row without causing any damage. There is also the newly launched Rinieri Bio-Dynamic for vineyards. This product line is designed for super-fast weeding in vineyards and orchards with an operating speed of up to seven miles per hour. There is also a Bio-Dynamic Duo version with weed cutters on either side.  

  Allen tells The Grapevine Magazine that, in addition to ground tools such as weeding machines, cultivating machines, mowing machines, disc machines and the like, Rinieri also offers tractor-mounted equipment for maintaining vines, including trimmers/hedgers and de-leafers, which he says are tools primarily used in the late spring and early summer. Rinieri also manufactures pre-pruners, which are generally used in the winter.

  Allen International covers a vast area of North American territory on behalf of Rinieri. Its distribution blankets all of the western United States, some central parts of the country and most of the East Coast. The company’s distribution also stretches into the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. Allen International does not inventory machines, which Allen says is cost-effective for both the company and its vineyard clients.  

  “Each of our importers buys directly from the factory and inventory machines and parts to support the Rinieri brand of products,” he says.  

  When preparing for harvest, Gamble Family Vineyards in Napa Valley places a high premium on sustainability and conservation. Third-generation farmer Tom Gamble runs the vineyard and winery, building upon the farming and ranching legacy that his family began in 1916. Gamble Family Vineyards stretches across 175 acres of premium estate vineyards in the coveted AVAs of Oakville, Yountville, Mt. Veeder and Rutherford. 

  The Gamble family was the driving force behind the 1969 Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, a legacy it carries on today. As loyal stewards of land it has farmed for more than a century, Gamble Family Vineyards plays an active role in the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley River Restoration Project. 

  Raymond Reyes is Director of Viticulture and Winery Relations for Gamble Family Vineyards. He details the company’s steps to make sure that the grape harvest produces a maximum yield. “Harvest preparation involves several key inputs: Knowing the quantity of grapes to be harvested, location of harvest, and the delivery and crushing capabilities of the receiving winery or facility determines the amount of required mechanical equipment, support and labor.”

  Reyes says they deploy mechanical tools such as a tractor and hedger to remove excess vegetation and clear the way for manual harvesting. Gamble Family Vineyards assembles 10-person manual harvesting crews. That includes a tractor driver, eight workers for picking and one worker in charge of removing MOG, an acronym Reyes says stands for “material other than grapes,” including leaves, canes and shoots. That designated worker also keeps an eye out for defective grape clusters.

  For efficiency and timely delivery, Reyes says the vineyard plans on two tractors per manual labor crew. The type of tractor, wheel versus track, depends on the terrain, whether flat or hillside. Due to the landscape at Gamble, which Reyes says stretches from the valley floor to its hillside Mt. Veeder property, the vineyard uses both tractor types.  

  Harvest trailers are required to hold the harvested fruit. There are two types most often used in the Napa Valley region, 4×4 half-ton plastic macro bins and two and half-ton steel valley bins. Reyes says that at Gamble, they harvest using 4×4 plastic macro bins.  

  Consideration must be given to the truck sizes needed to deliver the grapes. This varies, Reyes says, depending upon the capabilities of and access to the receiving winery or crushing facility. Due to the limited access at the Gamble Winery, grape delivery arrives on small flatbed trucks with a capacity of up to ten tons. Forklifts are required to load bins onto the delivery truck, and the size of the harvest bin determines the type of forklift used. Gamble uses portable field pallet scales to weigh individual harvest bins.

  OSHA rules govern certain equipment requirements for manual labor crews. Practical comfort elements, such as portable toilets, must be precisely stationed throughout the vineyards and no more than a ten-minute walk away from the worksite. To meet the deadline for early morning deliveries of grapes, portable lighting to facilitate overnight harvests is a must. 

  For Gamble Family Vineyards, the people who execute the manual labor play a critical role in preparing for harvest. The reason is all about timing, which directly affects the winemaking process.

  “The now preferred harvest protocol is to deliver fruit when cold for grape phenolic preservation and for early morning deliveries to facilitate timely facility crushing,” says Reyes. “Gamble prefers to determine the levels of grape manipulation or crushing to fit the intended or designated tier. For example, the Gamble Sauvignon Blanc has three intended uses requiring three different phenolic and sensory profiles. The Sauvignon Blanc is whole-cluster-pressed within a mechanical bladder press that can be programmed to determine the level of ‘pressing’ of the grapes. This is also referred to as the cuts. Each level can and will exhibit a different sensory profile. Mechanical harvesting does not allow for this level of precision winemaking.”

  For small equipment and tools, Reyes says that Gamble turns to Central Valley Hardware, with locations in Napa Valley and St. Helena. For larger equipment needs, the choice is Green Valley Tractor, located in Fairfield. Reyes says that the combination of outstanding service and a personal touch from these companies goes a long way.

  No matter the size of the vineyard operation, fundamental tools and equipment – and key people who operate them – make preparing for harvest run smoothly. The experts say that detailed planning makes an important difference in outcomes. Of course, the most important outcome, they say, is what pours out from the wine bottle — the perfect glass of wine.

Lees Filter Press Operation: Save Money While Reducing Juice Racking Losses

By: Tom Payette, Winemaking Consultant

During harvest, the winemaking staff will often cold settle the juices for white wine making and potentially for cold pressed reds to be made into a blush/Rose style wine.  Many smaller wineries may collect the sludgy bottoms of the tank and try to ferment them unsuccessfully.  Others will simply allow the bottoms to go down the drain.  Both approaches result in an immediate financial loss to the winery either through quality or juice volume loss.

  Another approach through the use of a lees filter press unit will allow for the recapturing of these “bottoms” off their rackings and allow these juices to be fermented into a very desirable wine.  The lees filter press units have often been said to pay for themselves in the first two to three years if used properly.  This may happen sooner depending on the size of the winery and the ratio of red to white wine production for a particular winery.

Financial Impact Example

  If a winery presses 40 tons of white grapes per year one could expect the following depending on the variety of white grapes and their average yields.  Forty tons may result in approximately 6900 gallons of juice.  After cold settling for approximately 24 hours, the winemaker may rack off 6600 gallons with a potential loss of nearly 300 gallons.  The 300 gallons left over may actually result in 250 gallons of clean juice after filtering through the lees filter press.  This may, after normal winemaking losses, result in a 1200 bottle recapturing of wine from potential waste and that, represented in dollars at an average $10.00/bottle return, is $12,000.00.  Soon this non-glamorous and down right dirty operation becomes of interest!  Not to mention the wines usually ferment out very nicely – sometimes better than the clear racked juice !  The above calculations are financially conservative and an average.  Results may vary depending on many juice components such as pectin, pH, temperature and solids content from the crush pad equipment.  The individual winery tank sizes and configurations may also affect these numbers.

Setting up the Filter

  It is always recommended to follow the directions that come with the unit when possible.  Please refer to these first as your primary source of information.  If directions are unavailable, use the guideline below to get started.

1.   Back off the screw portion on the lees filter press to open the gap for access to the filter plates.

2.   Carefully examine the filter plate cloths (canvases) and look for abnormalities such as rips, tears or creases.  Do all the cloths look the same?

3.   Examine the filter plates and make sure an understanding is established on the unit’s juice flow inside the filter.  Make sure all the plates line up properly and that the end plates are positioned properly at the ends.  Does the plate configuration align with the fixed plates on the filter ends?

4.   Determine where the juice goes into the filter and how it exits.

5.   Close the unit and pressurize to the normal or recommended pressure making sure all the plates are firmly held into place.  Check that the canvases are not pinched or creased possibly creating a leak when filtration begins.


  This process is very easy once one gets the hang of it.  At first the winemaking staff may look at the process in disbelief that another operation will take place during crush.  After time, it is a fun rewarding process and many can master ways to reduce the mess greatly.  Using this step by step operation will become a template for helping this process along toward success.

  Set up the lees filter properly and according to the instructions if they were provided.  If not – study the piece of equipment to understand how it works (see above).  The overall process summary is that the sludge juice is mixed with DE (diatomaceous earth) and under large pressure forced through canvas filter covers.  The canvas will hold back the DE and dirty juice mix sludge and will ultimately become the filter matrix.

1.   Perform a clean racking on a white wine juice after cold settling with enzymes and SO2 only.  One may use other fining agents potentially at this step.  The main agent not to use is bentonite.  Bentonite will scertainly throw off the lees filter process and lead toward major frustrations and filtration failure.

2.   Collect the racking bottoms in another tank or leave them in the same tank if one can perform the rest of the procedure properly in the tank in which the juice was initially collected.

3.   Measure and record this volume of juice settling bottoms for internal and TTB recording purposes.

4.   Be able to continuously mix these juice bottoms with a guth style mixer or with a food grade plastic shovel.  (For time reasons the author recommends a guth style mixer in the racking valve of the tank)

5.   Add 50 pounds of 545 DE per 1000 liters (264 gallons) of juice bottoms and continue to mix.  (Please investigate DE and its potential hazardous conditions before using this product and remember to wear all safety equipment necessary.  This product may be hazardous to your health.  Consult your onsite Materials Safety Data Sheets)

6.   While mixing continuously attach a hose to the lees filter press inlet from the bottom valve of the “sludge tank”. 

7.   Open the valve and allow the juice DE mix to flow to the unit inlet.

8.   Start the operation of the unit with the plates well sealed together at the proper recommended hydraulic pressures.

9.   Have a piece of hose lead into another tank or bucket to catch the first amount of filtrate that comes through.  This is often very dirty at the beginning of the operation.  The winemaker may return this juice to the sludge tank to eventually be filtered again.  (This amount is often less than 10-15 gallons depending on the unit, juice and the operator)

10. Once the filtrate is “clean” start to capture that juice in another tank. Record volumes as needed.

11. Continue to monitor the process by checking on the unit from time to time.  Listen to the unit as a rhythm will be established and one can watch the unit out of the corner of his or her eye.

12. The pressure build-up will progress over time and the unit pump will engage with larger time intervals in-between.  This is a sign the unit filtration is clogging and the unit may need to be re-established removing the cakes formed.  The flow rate will slow and become an unproductive process.

  Important note:  Keep an eye on the operation and the mixer.  As the juice/DE mix nears the racking valve (typical mixer location), turn the unit off to avoid mixing to a “froth”.  At this point substitute with mixing by hand using a food grade shovel or similar action.

Stopping the Unit

1.   When to stop the unit is a judgment call.  This can be in-between pressloads from the crush pad or other operations of the normal winery day.

2.   Turn off the machine.

3.   Unplug the unit (optional but recommended).

4.   Immediately shut the valve at the receiving tank.

5.   Immediately shut off the valve at the sludge bottoms tank.

6.   Drain off any clear juice and place in the filtered juice tank.

7.   Depressurize the unit if drawing off any clear juice did not perform this operation already.

8.   Release the hydraulic pressure cylinder and back the filter plates off one by one.

9.   While moving the plates backward, try to remove the solid “cakes” of DE and solids from in-between the canvases.  These may remove easily if the process went well and the ratio of DE to juice mix was formulated properly.  If a slimy cake developes – change the DE to juice mix ratio.

10. Once all of the cakes have been removed rinse the unit, the canvases, all interior and exterior portions and reassemble the press to start again.

11. Plug the unit back in, open valves as necessary to restart the unit and restart the unit. Remember to catch the first filtrate since this may not be as clear as desired and return to the unfiltered tank sludge bottoms.

Collecting Juices

  Multiple lots:  During harvest the winemaker may find the tank space crunch and the speed of the fruit coming in the winery door may necessitate blending of pre-fermented juices.  This can been done with success: however, strict records need to be kept to be able to track certain lots, with chemical data, so adjustments can be made to each juice and its contribution to the blend.  Juices have been stored with success, as well, during the early stages of harvest for a couple of days.  If the winemaker presses 4 tons on one day and more fruit is expected in the next two days, the winemaker may chill the juice bottoms collected, potentially add additional sulfur dioxide, and store the juices until a large enough run has been gathered to justify starting the lees filter press operation.  Collect all volume data before and after operation to be able to report all blending activity.

Reducing the Mess

  Every winery layout and lees filter will vary significantly.  Try, however, to locate your lees filter press close to an electrical outlet that will run the unit and close to your raw materials such as DE, sludge bottoms (or a permanently designated “sludge bottoms” tank) and crush pad.  The lees filter press should be located in an area near a drain and water source so hosing down the unit will be convenient and reduce the mess.  Place the filter where the blow-by rinse water will not land on electrical plugs or other areas and equipment that may be difficult to clean afterwards.  Use warm or hot water since this will help greatly to neutralize and dissolve the sugars of the juice from the equipment and canvases.  If possible try to capture the “cakes” of DE as they fall off the filter plates after disassembling the lees filter.  This can be done with a bin or tub.  Otherwise shoveling may be needed.

  One does not need to clean the unit immaculately in between cycles or setups in one particular day.  More of a gross cleaning will suffice to set the unit back up and get rolling again.

Some of the Downfalls of a Lees Filter Press

  If a great understanding of how the unit works is not established the unit can become a great source of bad cross-contamination.  The units are easy to clean but one must make sure to flush out areas such as the piston pumps, surge tanks, inlet centers, sample valves, canvas sheets etc.  Flush all parts with copious amounts of water. Make certain to store the canvas cloth plates so air may pass between them after cleaning, otherwise a mold/mildew may form.

  Store the unit inside when not in use.  Do not leave the unit outside for extended periods of time after its use.  Sunlight will break down the canvases and they will need to be replaced sooner than normally expected.  This goes beyond the normal problems associated with storing any electrical equipment outside.

  Space: These units are usually large size in order for them to do their job properly.  They take up large amounts of space when not in operation.


  The lees filter press is a very rewarding operation to the winemaker and the financial bottom line of the winery.  Once the cellar team integrates this extra operation into their harvest routine it becomes a “piece of cake”.  It looks difficult and laborious but it can become extremely easy.  Investigate your operation to see if it makes financial sense to add this piece of equipment to your cellar.

  Once you add this piece of equipment reward your cellar crew in some form or fashion to recognize them and say:  Thanks for helping our business succeed!

Update on Grapevine Leafroll and Red Blotch Viruses

By: Judit Monis, Ph.D.

As the fall season approaches, symptoms of virus infection become more pronounced in the vineyards.  Arguably, leafroll and red blotch are the most notorious and important viral diseases that manifest in late summer and the fall season.  Often, it is difficult to distinguish leafroll from red blotch disease symptoms in the vineyard.  This is especially true on red-fruited grapevine varieties.  In this article I will summarize and update information on the biology, symptoms, and transmission of the viruses responsible for these important diseases.  

The Viruses Responsible for Leafroll and Red Blotch Diseases

  There are four different virus species associated with grapevine leafroll disease.   The viruses belong to one taxonomic family (Closteroviridae) and are named Grapevine leafroll associated virus followed by a number (GLRaV-1 to -4).  Because it has not been possible – to date – to complete Koch’s postulates with GLRaVs, the word “associated” is added to the virus name.  With the exception of Grapevine fanleaf and red blotch, Koch’s postulates have not been completed with most of the disease-causing grapevine viruses.   The postulates state that a pathogen must be isolated in pure form from a diseased plant, later the pathogen (virus in this case) is introduced to a healthy plant, and the newly infected plant must show the same symptoms as the original infected one.  Clearly Koch’s postulates are important because they prove the cause and effect of a pathogen causing disease.  As I will describe below, researchers can tweak the definition of Koch’s postulates to prove that a virus causes a specific disease and drop the word “associated” from a particular virus name.   Within the Closteroviridae family, species of GLRaV are classified in three genera, Ampelovirus, Closterovirus, and Velarivirus. Grapevine leafroll associated virus -1, GLRaV-3, and GLRaV-4 belong to the Ampelovirus genus.  Grapevine leafroll associated virus -2 is a Closterovirus and GLRaV-7 is a member of the Velarivirus genus.  Some researchers claim that GLRaV-7 should not be considered a leafroll virus.   Recent research has shown that GLRaV-7 was isolated from a mixed leafroll infected vine and symptoms may have been due to the other leafroll virus present in the vine.  When found in single infections, GLRaV-7 does not appear to show typical leafroll symptoms.

  Grapevine red blotch virus (GRBV) is the second virus species discovered in grapevines that carries DNA instead of RNA as its genetic material.  Both its molecular and structural characterization has placed GRBV in a new genus, named Grablovirus, within the Geminiviridae family.   As stated above, it has been difficult to demonstrate Koch’s postulates, with grapevine-infecting viruses. There are many reasons for this.  Mainly, there are not many alternative hosts that are susceptible to most grapevine infecting viruses.  But most importantly, grapevine viruses cannot be mechanically transmitted onto grapevines.  These viruses need to be introduced to a vine via grafting (graft-transmission) and/or need a biological vector for successful transmission.   Dr. Marc Fuchs team at Cornell University was able to demonstrate that GRBV genetic material is responsible for red blotch foliar symptoms in red fruited grapevine varieties.  The work was done using sophisticated recombinant DNA technology to introduce the virus genetic material into tissue cultured grapevine plants.   Time will tell, after the plants grow, if the infected vines also display the detrimental effect of the virus in organoleptic qualities of the fruit (i.e., reduction of sugar).

A close up view of a vine infected with Grapevine Leafroll associated virus-3 and Grapevine red blotch virus

Leafroll and Red Blotch Symptoms are Similar

  Vines infected with leafroll viruses produce smaller grape clusters that ripen unevenly with lower sugar content. Foliar symptoms include downward rolling, reddening or yellowing of leaves depending on the grapevine variety. Other foliar colors associated with leafroll virus infection include pink, purple, and orange speckles. The leaf veins may remain green or take many other colors (yellow, purple, or red). Grapevine red blotch virus infection displays different leaf discoloration which usually appear spotty or blotchy.  However, these symptoms are indistinguishable from leafroll, especially when rolling of leaves are absent in GLRaV- infected vines.  In red fruited varieties, GRBV infected vines can display red veins, but red veins have also been observed in non-infected vines, and many red-blotch infected vines do not display red veins.   In my opinion, red vein symptoms cannot be used as a diagnostic tool.   In white-fruited varieties red blotch disease displays yellow blotchy discoloration in leaves. While the symptoms of leafroll and red blotch can be confused, these diseases are caused by different types of viruses that can often be found in mixed infections, complicating the visual diagnosis.  Although, the change in colors of the leaves in the fall is a tale-tell of virus infection, the most important negative effect of both GLRaV and GRBV infection is the reduction of sugar in fruit resulting in reduced Brix values and delayed fruit maturity.

Symptoms of Grapevine red blotch virus – NOTE the red veins in the leaves

  Some GLRaVs and their strains are more aggressive than others.  Researchers have described the Alfie (Australia and New Zealand), BD (Italy), and Red Globe (U.S.A) strains of GLRaV-2. These strains are molecularly similar and have been associated with graft incompatibility, vine decline and death.  Some researchers report that GLRaV-1 and -3 induce more severe symptoms than GLRaV-4.  However, symptoms vary depending on the grape variety, rootstock, and climatic conditions.  At the moment, two different clades of GRBV have been reported but no differences in their biology or effect on symptoms in the vineyards have been observed so far.  Just as seen with leafroll, the symptom expression of GRBV infected vines is affected by climatic conditions and the author has noted differences in the effect on sugar reduction in sunnier and warmer areas (i.e., California coastal areas with more fog and lower sunshine yield fruit with lower sugar concentration than the same grape clones grown inland with more sun exposure).

Transmission and Spread of the Viruses

  Ampeloviruses (GLRaV-1, -3 and -4) are transmitted by sap-sucking insects (mealybugs and soft scale insects) in a non-specific manner.  This means, different mealybug and soft scale insect species are able to transmit any leafroll virus in the Ampelovirus genus.  Research has shown that the citrus (Planococcus citri), grape (Pseudococcus maritimus), long-tailed (Pseudococcus longispinus), obscure (Pseudococcus viburni) and vine (Planococcus ficus) mealybugs as well as the soft scale insects Pulvinaria vitis and Ceroplastes rusci are able to transmit GLRaVs. Mealybugs and soft scale insects feed on the vine’s sap by inserting their sucking mouthparts into the plant’s vascular system (phloem). The honeydew excreted during the feeding process attracts ants that nurse and aid mealybugs to be transported to different positions of the vine or a different vine in the row.  Mealybugs may be difficult to observe as they can hide beneath the bark.  In these cases, ant activity and the presence of sooty mold (a fungus) are good indicators of the presence of mealybug vectors in the vineyard.  No insects able to transmit GLRaV-2 or GLRaV -7 have been reported to date and their propagation (just like all other GLRaVs) is performed by humans who produce, graft, and distribute cuttings from infected vines.  

Work by researchers at Cornell University and the University of California reported that the three-cornered alfalfa hopper (Spissistilus festinus) can transmit the GRBV in greenhouse and laboratory conditions.  Although, the three-cornered alfalfa hopper has been found in vineyard blocks where red blotch disease has spread, transmission experiments in the field have not been completed to date.   It is interesting that grapevine is not the preferred host for Spissistilus festinus that prefers to feed on legumes, grasses, and shrubs.  Furthermore, the insect is not able to complete its reproductive cycle in grapevines.  While research continues to determine if other vectors are capable of transmitting GRBV it is clear that the rapid expansion of this virus in vineyards was due to propagation and grafting of cuttings from infected vines.  This also explains the arrival of GRBV to many countries in Asia, Europe, and South America where GRBV had not been previously reported.   In summary, both, GLRaVs and GRBV are graft transmissible and predominantly propagated by producing cuttings of infected rootstock and scion material. 

Diagnosis and Status of Foundation Plant Material

  The distribution and concentration (titer) of leafroll and red blotch viruses is different in infected plant material.  While leafroll detection appears to be seasonal (best detected late in the growing season), detection of red blotch virus can be performed any time of the year.   Further, work performed in my lab showed that red blotch virus can be detected in high titers in any part of the vine.  The work showed that red blotch virus can be detected in any tissue tested, new or mature leaves, petioles, green or lignified canes, as well as cordons and trunks.  In contrast, leafroll viruses are generally found in low concentrations and are best detected in mature leaves, canes, cordon, and trunk.  If a vine has been infected through cuttings, the older the plant material is, the easier it is to detect GLRaVs.  

  Keeping both leafroll and red blotch viruses out of the productive vineyards relies on clean planting stock programs.  Sadly, a few years ago the University of California at Davis Foundation Plant Services (FPS) scientists announced the finding of a few vines infected with GRBV in the Russell Ranch foundation block. The block was planted with vines produced with a tissue culture technique that is capable of eliminating potential harmful viruses.  The block was tested using the “Protocol 2010” that includes a list of viruses that are harmful to grapevines.  Initially, four vines were found to be infected with GRBV in 2017, in 2018 the number increased to 24 vines.  In 2019 the positive results were over 300 vines, while the results from 2020 testing showed that 788 are infected with GRBV. Consequently, FPS suspended the sale of vines from the Russell Ranch block until further notice.  To learn more about GRBV epidemiology, the GRBV-infected Russell Ranch block will be used as a research block to study the transmission and spread of the virus.  


  This author has been involved in applied research with the goal to determine the ideal process to protect clean planting grapevine stock and newly planted vineyards from infection of viruses and fungal pathogens.  Presently, information on what is the distance needed at the foundation and nursery blocks to avoid infection from diseased blocks is lacking. The results of the research will develop the best strategy to isolate and monitor clean planting stock.  Until we have this information my recommendation is that nurseries and growers determine the health status of grapevine stock prior to planting to avoid the propagation and/or introduction diseased vines to the vineyard.  Yet, it is very important to isolate and monitor newly planted vineyards to avoid the introduction of disease via insect vectors.  It is important to remember that lack of symptoms does not always correlate with a healthy diagnostic result (rootstock varieties as well as non-grafted vines are usually asymptomatic), so it is best to test a statistical sample of the nursery propagated material to be sure of its health status.

Judit Monis, Ph.D. is the Global Plant Pathology Director at Ball Horticultural Company.

The Vineyard Stewards’ Stewards

By: Neal D. Hulkower

Two were born in Mexico and one in the US to parents from Oaxaca. Each had carved a path to success in Oregon’s wine industry and wanted to pay it forward by easing the way for those at the beginning of the winemaking process, the vineyard steward.  An association they created not that long ago has been fulfilling their vision.

The Trio of Founders 

  After obtaining a degree in Computer Systems Engineering in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 2002, Jesús Guillén came to the United States to learn English.  His father, Jesús senior, who then as now was managing the vineyards at White Rose Estate in Dayton, Oregon, put him to work. Blossoming under the guidance of mentors including White Rose’s owner Greg Sanders, consulting winemaker Mark Vlossak, who also owns St Innocent, and the late Gary Andrus, the younger Guillén quickly moved from the fields to the cellar. In 2008, he became the first Mexican head winemaker in Oregon. He also started his own brand, Guillén Family Wines.

  Mexico City native Sofía Torres McKay was working in the technology field when she met her husband, Ryan, in San Francisco in 2001.  After they married in 2005, they acquired 10-acres in the Dundee Hills American Viticultural Area and planted Cramoisi Vineyard. They bottle estate Pinot Noir, red and rosé, and Chardonnay under the Cramoisi label.

  Native Oregonian Miguel Lopez was born to immigrants from Oaxaca and raised in wine country. His resume includes positions at several wineries and a distributor.  He now dedicates his time to Red Dirt Vineyard Management and Winemaking, a venture he started with his sister, Eva Lopez, in 2018.

From Idea to Reality

  That same year, Guillén, Torres McKay, and Lopez went public with their plans to form an organization named the Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad or AHIVOY (, which is Spanish for “there I go”.   Tragically, Guillén died at age 38 on November 5, 2018, after a short battle with an aggressive form of cancer.  His widow, Yuliana Cisneros-Guillén, took his place with the other founders and also maintains the family’s label.  She promotes the importance of those the group is dedicated to supporting: “AHÍVOY vineyard stewards are tending the vineyards that capture our Oregon wine region in every wine that is being produced.”

  The association adopted an ambitious and sharply focused mission statement: “AHIVOY strengthens the Oregon wine community by empowering Vineyard Stewards through education.” It collaborated with Chemeketa Community College’s Wine Studies program at the Eola campus in Salem to develop the Wine Industry Professional Training Program tailored to the constraints of full-time vineyard workers.  AHIVOY held its first public event in November 2019 to raise funds for this project and to announce that it had begun selecting members of the first cohort. The Oregon wine industry and supporters quickly rallied to the nascent organization. A major boost came from The Erath Family Foundation which covered the expenses for all students in the inaugural class.

The First Cohorts

  On January 15, 2020, a small group of vineyard stewards gathered in a Chemeketa classroom for the first time to expand their view of the wine industry.  Over the two 10-week terms, topics covered the entire process from vineyard to glass, incorporating the details of grape growing and vinification as well as tasting and marketing the final product. Along with the rest of the world, the program came to a sudden halt on March 13, one week shy of the end of the first term.

  During the forced hiatus, the now tax-exempt association, with officers, a volunteer board, and committee structure in place, continued to raise funds for a second cohort and to recruit students.  They successfully accumulated enough to fund the second cohort which started on January 13, 2021, one day after the first cohort returned to class.

On a cloudless March 3, 2021, the dream of the three founders commenced dreams coming true for eight men, the first to complete the program. The second cohort comprised of four women and six men celebrated its graduation on April 27.

Reactions, Initial Impact, and Follow On

  Jessica Sandrock, a member of the AHIVOY education committee and coordinator of programs and grants, was instrumental in designing the English-language curriculum for the program. She collected and shared feedback from students in both cohorts and their employers. “Overall, the reaction to the program has been really positive,” said Sandrock.   She added that, not surprisingly, the students overwhelmingly liked gaining more advanced technical knowledge on vineyard management.

  One wrote: “Vineyard management classes are very good. [It was c]hallenging and I learned new things that I am using at work already.” But as they got into winemaking topics, they got interested in those. One student in the first cohort is pursuing winemaking and his own label. Another valued “learning more about all of the things that go into growing grapes and making wine. I will use all of this in my work.”  Most enjoyed visiting different vineyards and wineries, learning different ways to train the vines and the work of the winery.  Three members of the second cohort really appreciated the WSET Level 1 training and certification which was added this year and will pursue the higher levels. Several plan to continue their education by taking classes to deepen their knowledge of vineyard management, to study enology, to learn English, or to get a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. The respondents unanimously plan to recommend the program to other vineyard stewards.

  Employer reaction was also strongly positive. All agreed that “the vineyard steward [is] showing increased eagerness to learn” while 80% affirmed that “the vineyard steward [is] demonstrating more versatility.”

  Jesse Lange of Lange Winery wrote “We’ve been fortunate to have two, very valued and experienced, employees participate in the AHIVOY program for each of the two years the program has been available.

  “Continuing education has a holistic [effect] on any student- one that has the potential to positively permeate many aspects of job performance. We’ve seen that [to] be the case here at Lange Estate- from the viticulture, wine-production, and even sales and marketing. Both Benjamin and Enrique have shown higher levels of enthusiasm, deeper levels of questioning, and general happiness with the opportunity to expand a knowledge base and skill set. Also, the chance to learn amongst peers allows for interactions that can [be] cohesive and collaborative- especially coming out of the pandemic. All of this is healthy indeed!  “We would definitely recommend this program to other folks in the industry- no doubt!”

  Sam Stetser of Atlas Vineyard Management sent one of his employees to the second cohort: “The great thing about AHIVOY is both myself and Roman were on board with doing it, it wouldn’t work if that wasn’t the case.” He hopes to “to transition Roman into a management role with more responsibility.”

  Sandrock said that they will track graduates and are trying formal and informal ways to keep them connected to the association as ambassadors or board members. She also stated that AHIVOY is working with Oregon State University to support graduates interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree.  This can be an attractive option since the graduates accrued continuing education credits that can be used to place out of the 3 introductory courses at Chemeketa in its Wine Studies Program whose credits, in turn, readily transfer to OSU.  More immediate opportunities are with the OSU extension.  Discussions are underway with Prof. Patricia Skinkis, Viticulture Extension Specialist, about specific topics she can support such as pest management.

The Future

  Thus far, AHIVOY’s reach has only extended to the Willamette Valley, and mostly the north at that, but there has been outreach to Southern Oregon and The Rocks District.  But more involvement is needed to spread the word and do all of the other critical functions of the growing organization.

  Resources for the 2022 class have been secured and applications for membership in the third cohort are being accepted through November 15, 2021. Classes are scheduled from January 5 to April 27, 2022 on Wednesday from 9 am to 3 pm. In the meantime, fundraising continues to ensure classes can continue beyond next year and perhaps even expand to include larger numbers of students.

  In less than 3 years, the vision of the founding trio has taken hold, gathering widening support from an industry known for collaboration and concern for all of its members.  With momentum building, AHIVOY looks to be as successful as ¡Salud!, the organization that has been providing medical services to Oregon vineyard workers and their family for over 25 years.  While ¡Salud! maintains the health of the vineyard stewards, AHIVOY enriches their intellect and feeds their curiosity. As founder Torres McKay asserts: “The more we empower vineyard stewards through education, [the more] we will become the best wine growing community, making the best wines in the world.”

Balancing Budgets As Tasting Rooms Re-Open

By: Susan DeMatei

We’ve been waiting, and it’s finally here – tasting rooms can finally open for many of us. But 2021 began as 2020 ended, with much uncertainty as to when a significant revenue driver – tasting rooms — will open. And when they do open, how quickly will customers feel comfortable enough to visit in pre-COVID numbers?

  In the meantime, eCommerce and club sales are still growing exponentially. Please don’t walk away from this new channel but continue to invest in it.

  To take full advantage of all that you’ve achieved while your tasting rooms were closed, wineries should continue to use part of their tasting room marketing budgets to augment brand awareness, virtual experiences, and eCommerce marketing in the online space.

How Much?

  According to a survey done by last year, most companies budget between 6.5% and 10% of their revenue to marketing, making up about 12% of their total operating budget. In June of 2020, they revisited this survey to evaluate the impact of COVID. It showed that the 8.6% average marketing had jumped to 11.4%, reflecting the focus on maintaining brand awareness and retaining customers. (This figure fluctuates between B2C and B2B and by category, with consumer marketing in the service are being the highest. Wine would fall under consumer package goods at 9.1% in the survey.

  Ok, so if your revenue goal is $1,000,000, you should expect to spend roughly $91,000 on marketing. But this is the entire category, including headcount. Plus, companies are not consistent with what they consider marketing. So, how do we break this down?

  You can find research like this CMO survey online from firms like Gartner, Forrester Research, and eMarketer, which poll various titles and industries to find averages. In general:

•    Roughly 26% of budgets are allocated to technology (platforms, CRM, Mailchimp, etc.)

•    16% of budgets are spent not selling but improving customer’s experience, either virtually or in person. This is expected to increase to 20.6% in the next three years.

•    Depending on the study you look at, anywhere from 26-62% of marketing budgets are dedicated to online channels, with search engine marketing (Google ads) being the largest share of that followed by social media advertising (which has increased 17% in the last five years)

•    And it is noted that while it doesn’t cost a lot, email marketing is the winner of the ROI question in every study.

  This chart, also from, shows how companies are shifting to digital growth and away from traditional (print and broadcast) channels. Since 2012, investment in conventional media has dropped by single digits, while investment in digital channels has increased by double digits.

But What About My Budget:

  It takes some math to calculate how much you should spend on digital media.

1.    First, look broadly over your eCommerce data in Google Analytics. Look at acquisition data to understand what is working best to drive traffic to your website. If you know-how, set up a funnel to your shopping cart so you can look at what is driving sales.

2.    Additionally, look at platforms you might not be using, but can quickly get your boss the data to support their value online, i.e., Google Search or Display ads.

3.    Decide your geo-targeting and geolocation. Costs per platform vary dependent on the specificity of your targeting and geolocation – gender, age, interest, occupation, education, geography.

4.    Project your return on investment based on your average click-through rate, conversion rate, and order value.


For example, we are running “sign up for the mailing list” ads on Facebook for this client. Based on our averages, we know that if we spend $175 in a month, we’ll reach out to 2500 targets and see a 2.8% conversion rate to add 70 names to the list.

By tracking our signups, we also know that it takes about 2-4 emails and 90 days for them to buys something. We also know that our conversion rate is 5%, and our average order value is $200. We can project 14 orders by month four with a return of $2800 (and a spend of $700). Plus, over time, the list and sales should grow exponentially.


  Whether your tasting room is open or not, the future is digital, even for those wineries with an established local customer base.

  Some of the best practices of wineries successfully driving significant revenue online are:

•    Lead generation focus and follow up with personalized communication.

•    Analyze your data to map the customer journey for every new customer.

•    Use video to get attention.

•    Promote events and experiences (IRL or virtual) digitally to draw in new customers both locally and, more importantly, from broader geographic locations.

  So, put your tasting room budgets and efforts to good use this spring. But don’t forget about all you’ve achieved with your digital tests over the past year. Leverage the online investment and continue to nurture all channels, regardless of your tasting room opening.