Why Should I Buy Crop Insurance?  

By: Trevor Troyer, VP, Agricultural Risk Management

That is a question I hear a lot. For some it makes sense to purchase crop insurance, depending on the growing risks they are dealing with.  For others it might not be as good a fit for them. Often times large growing operations may “self-insure” as they have reserves set aside for the upcoming season.  For some this is not an option as a large portion of the previous year’s income is being re-invested into the new crop.  If they don’t make a crop and sell it this year, they might not have enough money for next year. 

  How does this apply to a vineyard?  Perennials are very different from traditional row crops or vegetable crops.  But a lot of the risks are very much the same.  Drought, freeze, wildlife damage, fire/smoke and the list goes on. From what I see the risks can actually be more with perennials.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an apple orchard, avocado grove or vineyard, your investment is subject to the elements all year round.  Things may happen after you harvest that might affect the following year’s crop production. 

  Risks are different depending on growing regions throughout the US.  You might have grower in Chautauqua or Erie County in New York worried about frost/freeze and then a grower in Sonoma County in California worried about smoke taint.  Regional issues play a large part in decisions on whether or not crop insurance is right for you.  And then how much coverage is needed for the risks involved in making a good profitable crop.

  With rising production costs this makes decisions on crop insurance even more tricky.  Chemical prices are rising, fertilizer is at an all-time high shipping and labor costs are also up.  Can you afford to purchase crop insurance? Or can you afford not to have it with how much you have invested now? These are questions that have to be asked.  I have had growers ask about reducing their coverage as these other costs go up.  You then have to ask how much of a loss can you sustain and not have it affect your ability to keep growing.  Can you lose 20% of your tonnage?  What about 40%?  That is something, you as a grower, have to think about.

  Crop insurance is designed to help a grower have enough money to be able to produce a crop the following year.  It is not set up to replace profits lost from an insurable cause.  I have had winery owners complain to me that it doesn’t cover the cost of how much their wine is worth.  While I can totally understand this, it is the growing costs that are being insured against loss. Crop insurance does not cover the production costs of making wine or juice etc.  Only Causes of Loss that are nature related are being insured against.  It doesn’t cover the inability of a grower to sell his grapes or broken contracts with wineries or processors. 

  Here are the Causes of Loss for Grapes out of a National Fact Sheet from the USDA:

Causes of Loss

You are protected against the following:

•   Adverse weather conditions, including natural perils such as hail, frost, freeze, wind, drought, and excess precipitation.

•   Earthquake

•   Failure of the irrigation water supply, if caused by an insured peril during the insurance period.

•   Fire

•   Insects and plant disease, except for insufficient or improper application of pest or disease control measures.

•   Wildlife

•   Volcanic eruption.

Additionally, we will not insure against:

•   Phylloxera, regardless of cause.

•   Inability to market the grapes for any reason other than actual physical damage for an insurable cause of loss.

  Crop insurance is partially subsidized through the USDA. Premiums are subsidized from 100% at Catastrophic Coverage (there is an administrative fee though) to 38% depending on coverage level chosen.  A lot of growers “buy-up” coverage from 65% to 80% and their premium subsidy is around 50% to 60%. In my opinion it has to be subsidized, as crop insurance is more likely to pay out a claim than any other type of insurance. Premiums are more expensive than many other types of insurance. You do not hear too often of people that have had an auto accident 3 years out of 5 with a claim paid each of those years.  But that being said, I have seen vineyards have payable losses 3 out of 5 years.   No one wants to have a loss but they do unfortunately happen.

  Hopefully you don’t have a lot situations where you have a loss.  But as a grower you need to assess your risks.  These risks/concerns are more than just the causes of loss mentioned above.  Though these have to be taken into consideration for the growing region your vineyard is located in. Here are some other questions to ask yourself. What are your break-even costs?  Do you know your cost of

production with projected inflation? Have you evaluated the risk of a severe crop loss? What varieties are planted in your vineyard?  Some types of Vitis vinifera are more susceptible to weather issues than others. Are you able to repay current operating loans without crop insurance in the event of a loss?

  Grape crop insurance is available in the following states; Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.  Crop insurance may not be available in all counties in these states. 

  Our job as a crop insurance agent or crop insurance agency is not to convince you that you need crop insurance.  It is to help you make an educated decision, based on your risks, to whether or not you need crop insurance.  And then, if it is a good fit to mitigate your risks, to determine how much coverage is needed. 

How is Your Crop Insurance?  

By: Trevor Troyer, VP, Agricultural Risk Management

How does your crop insurance policy work? What type of policy is Grape Crop Insurance? How much do you need to know? I mentioned a little about grape crop insurance in the last article in the Grape Vine. I am going to go into the policy information and how it is set up in this one.

  Grape crop insurance is an Actual Production History (APH) policy. This means it uses a vineyard’s historical production to determine how much is covered. Basically, you are covering an average of your tons per variety. Since crop insurance is subsidized the insurable varieties, prices per ton, premiums are set by the USDA. This also means that there is no difference from one insurance company to the next. If anyone represents that they can get you a lower premium for the same coverage, it is false.

  Your agent will work with you to set up individual databases for each variety. If you have vineyards in different locations, you can often times set them up separately. This can be good when you have a claim. You might have a loss in one location but not the other. You don’t want your production co-mingled, as you may not have a payable loss at that point.

  The databases can go back up to 10 years, if you have the production. Minimally 4 years is needed to set up an APH database. If the vines have just become insurable then a Transitional Yield (T-Yield), based on the county and variety, can be used to fill in up to three years. If you purchase a vineyard that has been producing you can transfer that production history. You must have records or some way to prove that history though. The database can only be set up as far as you have production records to prove the yields. Production records are not required at the time you sign up for crop insurance or at production or acreage reporting times. But it can come up during a claim or a review.

  Here’s what the 2022 Crop Insurance Handbook says about grape production records:

“Settlement sheets, sales receipts, machine harvest records, certified scale records, pick records and final or year-end statements from a winery, cannery or processor must indicate net paid tons of Grapes delivered by variety. Converting gallons of wine to tons of grapes does not qualify as acceptable records.”

  It is especially important to keep good records if the grower is “vertically integrated.” “A producer is vertically integrated when all stages of production of a crop, from acquisition of materials to the retailing or use of the final product, are controlled by one person, or by different persons that are related.”– CIH If the entity that owns the vineyard is a winery, then they would be vertically integrated. Even if they sell some of the grapes to other wineries. If you own a vineyard and are partners in a winery and you sell the grapes to that winery you could be vertically integrated as well.

  Let’s move on to insurability of the grapes. Vines need to be in their 4th growing season for the grapes to be insurable. A minimum of 4 years is needed to do the average, if the grapes have just become insurable then a T-Yield, as mentioned before, is used in place of any missing years.

  Usually, the third growing season after being grafted is considered insurable. The vines must have produced an average of at least two tons per acre in at least one of the three preceding crop years. There can be exceptions to this rule. Sometimes there are other requirements located in the “Special Provisions” for that particular county. In California the USDA Davis Regional Office (DRO) puts out Informational Memorandums that lay out specific requirements for the state of California. These differ from other growing regions in the US. You are able to make higher yield requests that can be approved by the DRO.

  Grape crop insurance is available in the following states; Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Crop insurance is not available for grapes in all counties in each state though. For a list of insurable counties, you can look at the RMA’s website at rma.usda.gov or contact your agent. Even though there may be differences between AVAs in a given county, the insurability, prices, premiums are set by county not AVA.

  Insurable varieties are also different between states and counties. The varieties are usually set by what has been being grown in that county or what a particular climate in a state/county allows for. Even if a particular variety is not listed it can be insured. There are Types/Practices for each county that list out specific varieties and also make allowance for others. For example, it may list Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and so on. If a particular variety is not listed it can be most often insured under “Other Varieties”, “Other White Varieties” or “Other Red/Pink Varieties.”

  Having a lot of varieties that are not specifically listed causes these different varieties to be lumped together in the database. This can cause problems if you have varieties that yield differently. But this is still better than not having any coverage at all. Any coverage is better than no coverage as can be attested by many growers in California a couple years ago during the wildfires.

  It may happen that your production is low in particular year. You might have had a claim paid or not, but what about your database and average going down? This isn’t good. You may elect an optional endorsement when you sign up called Yield Adjustment. “For APH yield calculation purposes, insureds may elect to substitute 60 percent of the applicable T-Yield for actual yields (does not apply to assigned and temporary yields) that are less than 60 percent of the applicable T-Yield to mitigate the effect of catastrophic year(s). Insureds may elect the APH YA and substitute 60 percent of the applicable T-Yield for low actual yields caused by drought, flood, or other natural disasters.” – 2022 Crop Insurance Handbook. This can make a big difference; you want your yields to stay up so that your average does. This makes it more likely to have a claim paid at the time of a loss.

  You cannot cover 100% of your average production. You can choose coverage levels from 50% to 85%. There is a built-in production deductible. Coverage levels are in 5% increments. Coverage levels are relative to premium, the lower the coverage the lower the premium, the more coverage you buy the higher the premium. What the correct coverage for your needs is something your crop insurance agent can help you with.

  If you would like more information on crop insurance, please feel free to contact me. We also offer free second opinions on grower’s existing policies. Sometimes we find mistakes or the policy is structured in a way, to cause claims to not be paid or reduced.

  Crop insurance is subsidized through the Federal Government. The USDA Risk Management Agency oversees crop insurance. The RMA’s website is www.rma.usda.gov.

For more information please contact…Trevor Troyer: VP Operations, Agricultural Risk Management, LLC. Call: (239) 810-0138

Luxury Brands Up Their Marketing Game

By: Susan DeMatei, Founder of WineGlass Marketing

Coco Chanel once said, “The best things in life are free. The second best are very expensive.” The mistress of iconic fashion couldn’t have stated it more succinctly. Luxury today, as it was in Coco’s time, is not essential but continues to be highly desirable and prestigious because of the quality, price, and prestige it confers on its consumers.

  However, when it comes to marketing, luxury brands are like any other brand. They market themselves to those who can afford to buy them and those who aspire to own something, anything, created by them. Like all brands, they battle for share of mind and wallet.

93% of Consumer Engagement with Luxury Brands Occurs on Instagram (Source: Digimind)

  COVID accelerated a trend already in the making – the economy saw a massive shift to eCommerce, and marketing shifted accordingly to digital platforms. Not surprisingly, luxury fashion, jewelry, cars, and retail brands were the first to commit to social media. They immediately recognized that absent the ability to go to a store, the stories and images shared in the new virtual market will make up the building blocks of a brand’s image and equity. And these touchpoints, albeit digital, make for real and tangible engagement, interest, loyalty, and connections with their audience online, particularly on Instagram.

The Face of Affluence Is Changing

  Affluent consumers are no longer just Baby Boomers and Generation X. Wealth is now multi-generational as large numbers of Millennials and Gen Z are prosperous and buy luxury goods. By 2025, Millennials and Gen Z will make up 50% of the total luxury market. Their spending habits will define and redefine what luxury goods and experiences will be in demand.

What We Do Know Is:

•   Quality, prestige, brand reputation, plus a brand’s social values will drive luxury purchase decisions.

•   They will look to social media, influencers, and reviews for confirmation of their brand choice.

•   They will expect to be able to find the luxury brand they choose online and on Instagram.

  As with any consumer audience, identifying demographics is only the first step. In their recent book “Luxury Wine Marketing: The Art and Science of Luxury Wine Branding,” Peter Yeung’s and Dr. Liz Thach’s research identifies four categories of luxury wine buyers: The aspirational buyer, the luxury buyer, the wine collector, and the wine geek. Each persona has its price points, brand loyalty, and trusted referral sources. A wine collector will listen to critics and other wine collectors, while celebrities and influencers might influence an aspirational buyer. Understanding your target and the segment(s) your wine resonates with is the key to success in this evolving landscape.

New School Marketing Tools for Old School Brands

  A recent Social Media Industry Report on Luxury Brands by NetBase Quid digests and synthesizes the kind of social interactions driving authentic engagement and brand passion and how luxury brands are capitalizing (or not) on these experiences to drive consumers to do business with them. The report is a deep dive into the detail of several luxury brand’s social presences. While not everything in the report applies to wine, what is apparent from the research is that digital advertising, social media engagement, search engine optimization, and influencer marketing are now a staple for what could be called “old school luxury brands” like Hermes, Chanel, Burberry, LV, Ferrari, Jaguar, Gucci, Chopard, Cartier, Neiman Marcus, and Harry Winston.

  So the next time you think that you’re too “unobtainable” to be on social media, luxury wines should take heed. The marketing tool kit has forever expanded to include digital channels, not by luxury brands themselves, but by today’s affluent consumers. The consumer desire to have access to everything right now and the desire to buy into luxury brands are successfully forcing luxury marketers to straddle the fine line of relevance and exclusivity.

  Susan DeMatei is the founder of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.  For more information please visit…www.wineglassmarketing.com   

Vineyard Crop Insurance

By: Trevor TroyerVice, President of Operations for Agricultural Risk Management

Risk Management is always something that is subjective to a grower. How much risk do you feel comfortable with? Or maybe how much risk are you willing to take, even if you aren’t that comfortable? Farmers are naturally risk takers, otherwise they would not be farming. Mother nature is unpredictable, just when you think everything is going to turn out right it doesn’t. Obviously, it turns out ok more often than not. But what about those years when it doesn’t? Sometimes you can have several bad years in a row. Crop Insurance is a good tool for that.

  The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) was created in 1938. Originally coverage was limited to major crops. It was basically an experiment at that time, until the passage of the Federal Crop Insurance Act in 1980. The 1980 Act expanded the number of crops insured and areas in the US. In 1996 the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) was created. RMA’s purpose was to administer the Federal Crop insurance programs and other risk management related programs.

  Grape Crop Insurance goes back to 1998, the current policy was written in 2010. Crop insurance is a partnership with Insurance companies and the FCIC. Crop insurance is partially subsidized through the USDA. Currently there are 13 Approved Insurance Providers authorized to write crop insurance policies with the USDA. Prices and premiums are set by the USDA per crop, state and county. There is no price/premium competition from one company to the next because of this. Independent insurance agents sell for these 13 different insurance providers. They may specialize in crop insurance or other lines of insurance. It is always best to work with an experienced agent that has crop insurance as their main focus.

  Grape crop insurance is available in the following states; Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Crop insurance is not available for grapes in all counties though. Insurable varieties are also different between states and counties. As I mentioned before prices are different between states and counties as well. The USDA price for a ton of Pinot Noir in Oregon is different than a ton of Pinot Noir in New York.

  Grapes are insured under an Actual Production History (APH) plan of insurance. An average of the vineyard’s production per variety is used. Grapes need to be in their 4th growing season to be insurable. A minimum of 4 years is needed to do the average, if the grapes have just become insurable then a Transitional Yield (based on the county and variety) is used in place of any missing years. A maximum of 10 years can be used to determine the average if a vineyard has been in production for that amount time. Basically, you are insuring an average of your tons per acre per variety.

  With crop insurance you cannot cover 100% of your average production. You can choose coverage levels from 50% to 85%. There is a built-in production deductible. Coverage levels are in 5% increments. Coverage levels are relative to premium, the lower the coverage the lower the premium, the more coverage you buy the higher the premium. It comes back to how much risk you feel safe with. You can also For example, if you have Cabernet Sauvignon in California and your average is 5 tons per acre. At the 75% coverage level you would be covered for 3.75 tons per acre. You would have a 25% deductible (1.25 tons per acre). To have a payable loss you would have to lose more than 25% of your average production.

  The Causes of Loss per the policy are; 1. Adverse weather conditions; 2. Fire; 3, Insects; 4. Plant disease; 5, Wildlife; 6. Earthquake; 7. Volcanic eruption; and 8. Failure of irrigation water supply. There are more details to the causes of loss, you can’t have a loss due to plant disease if you are not applying sufficient and proper applications of control measures. Adverse weather conditions can be excess moisture, drought, extreme heat, frost, freeze etc. Fire can cause “smoke taint” and that is covered. Inability to market the grapes for any reason other than physical damage from an insurable cause is not covered. Damage due to phylloxera is also not covered.

  There are sign up deadlines with all crop insurance policies. This is the same for Grape crop insurance as well. The deadline for all states other than California is November 20th. For California the deadline to sign up is January 31st. Premiums are not due at the time of sign-up; premium billing is done in August.

  Agricultural Risk Management is a national crop insurance agency with offices in Florida, California and Pennsylvania. 2022 will be our 20th year of selling crop insurance.

 For more information, please email info@agriskmgmt.com or call (239) 789-4742, Trevor Troyer: Vice President of Operations for Agricultural Risk Management

Wine Competitions: Are They for You?

By: Nan McCreary

Every year, hundreds of wine competitions are staged throughout the world. As the wine industry becomes more crowded, winning a medal—especially a gold or a Double Gold—can attract consumers and build brand recognition. But the option may not be for everyone. It’s up to the winery to decide whether entering these events should be part of your marketing strategy.

  Wine competitions run the gamut from enormous international shows to small local events that only feature wines from a specific region or appellation. Typically, wineries submit entries to various classes. The wines are judged by a diverse group of wine experts, who sit in panels of three to five people to taste and consider each wine. Judging is all blind, with the panel only knowing grape variety and class. Wines are evaluated on their own merits—color, clarity, aroma, taste, finish and overall quality—rather than as part of a ranking and, based on voting by the judges, are awarded a gold, silver or bronze medal, or perhaps no medal.

  The Decanter World Wine Awards, the world’s largest and most influential wine competition, defines a gold medal as “an outstanding and memorable wine within its category,” a silver as “a high-quality wine of excitement and personality within its category,” and a bronze as “a well-made and satisfying wine within its category.” Many competitions offer a Double Gold medal, where all members of the panel unanimously award the wine a gold rating. In most competitions, wines advance through a series of rounds: the initial medal round, semi-finals, and the super panel or “sweepstakes” round, where the overall winners are selected.

  Beyond these basics, each wine show varies in size, entry requirements and benefits. Here are three wine competitions that offer a broad range of what to expect when considering entering your wines.

The Decanter World Wine Awards

The Decanter World Wine Awards, founded in 2004, is the world’s biggest and most prestigious wine show. Organized by Decanter—the world’s leading wine media brand—the London-based competition is recognized by wine lovers globally for its world-class judging panels and a rigorous judging process. In the 2021 event held in June, entries set an all-time record of 18,094 wines from 56 countries. Wines were judged over the course of two weeks by more than 160 wine experts, including 44 Masters of Wine and 11 Master Sommeliers, evaluated in flights by country, region, color, grape, vintage and price point. Categorizing wines by price ensures wines are judged against their peers.

  As in all wine competitions, judging is blind, with the panel knowing nothing about the producers. Entry fees are $230 per entry plus a $21 surcharge per order, plus shipping fees. Wineries must provide four samples of each entry. According to DWWA, winning a medal is a “trusted mark of approval for buyers globally and has been proven to increase wine sales, secure distribution in new markets and improve brand awareness.”

Medal winners may purchase DWWA bottle stickers and receive promotion from Decanter through its global digital network, wine tastings, presence at major wine trade shows and exposure to leading retailers throughout the world. For more information, visit www.decanter.com

The San Francisco International Wine Competition

  The San Francisco International Wine Competition is America’s largest international wine competition. Founded in 1980, the three-day event is one of the oldest international competitions in the world. In 2019, there were 4,500 entries judged by 60 experienced and internationally recognized wine experts. Winners are awarded a gold, silver or bronze medal or a Double Gold. The cost per entry is $110, along with the submission of three 750 ml bottles of each entry. Winners receive a marketing toolkit that offers tips for building brand recognition, boosting customer acquisition and retention, and generating publicity and trade attention. Winners also have access to pre-printed bottle stickers; medallion artwork to use in print, internet and social media promotions; discounted point-of-sale promotional materials; and participation in tasting events that provide exposure to target markets. For more information, visit www.sfwinecomp.com

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition

  Now in its nineteenth year, Rodeo Uncorked! highlights wine production in agriculture. The event sets itself apart for two reasons: Judging is based on a double-blind procedure, and it is audited onsite by PricewaterhouseCoopers, ensuring the highest integrity. This year’s competition featured 2,862 entries from 17 countries, including 480 wineries from Texas and several hundred entries from this year’s featured region, Washington State.

  Judges for the three-day event include local, national and international representatives from the supplier, wholesale, retail and restaurant branches of the wine trade, as well as members of the press and a select group of knowledgeable local consumers. Winners of the top 13 awards receive custom, hand-tooled leather trophy saddles. Class and Reserve Class Champions are awarded custom belt buckles. All winners have access to high-resolution formats for point of sale materials, including digital medals for online and print marketing and printed bottle stickers.

  The cost to enter the competition is $60 per bottle for early bird entry, along with five bottles of wine per entry. After the show, winners of the top award have an opportunity to participate in three wine-related fundraising events for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. They include Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup & Best Bites Competition, where 400-500 award-winning wines are served with gourmet foods from top Houston restaurants to over 5,000 attendees; the Champion Wine Auction & Dinner, rated by Wine Spectator Magazine as one of the top five wine auctions in the country; and Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Garden, which offers winning wines for sale during the annual Rodeo in March. Every year, these events generate approximately $6 million charitable dollars to support Rodeo’s mission. For more information on the competition, visit www.rodeohouston.com/wine

What competitions should you enter?

  If brand building is key to your marketing strategy, look at each competition and consider the exposure you will receive as a participant or winner in the event. Also, look at the reliability of judging as a benchmark against your peers, access to digital marketing materials to promote your brand, options for participation in consumer events and cost of entries and bottles versus benefits offered by your entry.

  “The purpose of wine competitions is to advance the brand,” said Paul V. Bonarrigo, co-founder of Messina Hof Wine Cellars, Inc. in Bryan, Texas, and winner of thousands of medals in local, national and international competitions. “Many established wineries that sell out each year do not enter competitions.”

  While some wine competitions may promote an increase in wine sales for winners, that may not be true for all events. “Years ago, wine competitions were tied to retail promotion,” Bonarrigo told The Grapevine Magazine. “When Messina Hof Angel late harvest riesling won a gold medal at the Dallas Morning News, the next week we sold 700 cases to retail in Dallas. Due to the sheer number of competitions, there is very little impact on retail sales today.”

  Bonarrigo, who has entered six competitions per year for the past five years, claims his success comes from building brand recognition. “Today, medals help to reinforce your fan base and can help promote new varieties and new wines. The People’s Choice Competition in Grapevine is an outstanding consumer participation competition. We have consistently won best of class in 75 to 100% of our entries. It has helped us secure a very loyal fan base in Dallas/Ft. Worth and especially in Grapevine.”

  Bonarrigo said he enters some shows simply because he supports and believes in the cause. “A great example,” he said, “is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Merrill (Bonariggo’s wife and co-founder) and I helped launch the competition.

  “We have won seven saddles—six for Best Texas Winery and one for Top Overall Winery. The Rodeo does a great job promoting the winners with a Grand Tasting and a Wine Auction. Messina Hof holds the record for the highest price paid for a Texas wine at the auction. Our Tawny Port fetched $105,000.”


For the sponsors of wine competitions, the goal is to market their event to wineries. Jennifer Lindsay, director of the Rodeo Houston Wine Show, said, “We work with local distributors through our winery relations committee to reach out to their suppliers and encourage them to enter. We also offer incentives, such as exposure through the Roundup & Best Bites Competition, the Champion Wine Auction & Dinner and the Champion Wine Garden, ‘the biggest bar in Texas.’”

  Rodeo Uncorked! awards also generate interest in the event. “Our top awards are very unique,” Lindsay told The Grapevine Magazine. “When people see the saddles and buckles in tasting rooms around the world, the word gets around and helps grow our competition internationally.”

  In the world of wine competitions, there is something for everyone. Besides national, international, regional and local shows, wineries can enter competitions that feature women winemakers or specific typologies or varieties. There’s even a competition that judges wines alongside other wines in their particular terroir—the Grand Harvest Awards in California. New classes are continually added: canned and flavored wines, saké and even CBT-infused wines are making their way into wine shows. Whatever your interest, there may be a competition for you.

Preparing for the Exit: Why Winery Owners Need to Develop a Harvest Strategy

By: Edward Webb, Partner, BPM & Kemp Moyer, Partner, BPM

Successfully running a business means overcoming numerous challenges. Owners need to scale the business, find competent employees, deal with regulatory issues like taxes and licenses, and create processes and systems — all while developing a robust customer base and go-to market strategy. For agribusinesses, owners have all these challenges plus whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at them. For California’s wine industry, this includes increasingly unpredictable variables such as drought, flooding, landslide, excessive heat, cold snaps, pests, and the growing risk of wildfires and damage from smoke taint.

  Despite these challenges, several successful business models predominate in California’s wine sector. There are fully integrated vintners that grow their own grapes, ferment them into wine, bottle them, and sell and market the finished product. Some winemakers do not own vineyards and, instead, purchase grapes from various growers before bottling and going to market. Finally, there are virtual wineries that buy completed wine and sell it under a brand name. Each models bring its own unique challenges and opportunities.

  While a few large producers dominate the state’s wine sector, most businesses are family-owned and operated. This can lead to a new and significant challenge: What happens when the owner wants to retire and either hand over or sell the business? When you include a force like a once-in-a-century pandemic, you can understand why many baby boomers — about 10,000 of whom turn 65 every single day — might be looking at an exit strategy right now. But, as you might imagine, exits can be more complicated than just a simple sale when a family is involved.

Planning is Essential

  First and foremost, an owner should start planning a “harvest strategy” well before they are ready to pull the trigger. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. A harvest strategy is a much more detailed plan than a “kitchen table” document.  It goes into great detail on the owner’s goals when they will exit the businesses. It tells the financial and operating story that the next owners need to know. It does not hurt that after more than a decade of quantitative easing, historically low-interest rates and a multi-trillion dollar government spending plan, there is plenty of cash in the system fueling record M&A activity.

  There are various factors that need to be considered in a well-constructed harvest strategy, and it is essential that these succession plans are communicated to all stakeholders, both in the family and with the company’s vital employees or managers. Talking things through will illuminate potential pitfalls, such as the owner’s children not wanting to continue with the business or being unprepared to take on potentially substantial operational challenges. Key employees might want to purchase the operation or refuse to continue working with a new owner. Understanding these dynamics will help when it is time to put the plan in motion and limit any unpleasant surprises. Planning ahead may also allow time to employ tax mitigation strategies.

  The harvest strategy provides detailed instructions on how the business is managed, including all the different procedures and systems used in the business. This document becomes increasingly vital as owners age because of life’s unpredictable nature. An owner could become incapacitated or worse, and the company might not survive without their critical knowledge. Owners should revisit the harvest strategy frequently for updates. Plans made today could be vastly different in five or ten years.

Understanding Value

  Regardless of what an owner chooses — either handing over the business to their children or selling it to someone else — any transaction requires the company to have a fair market valuation. Federal and state tax authorities will demand it, so selling the business to family for a dollar will not work. This valuation will look at all aspects of the company to determine its worth, including its financial performance, assets, inventory, real estate holdings and even the brand’s value. Qualified appraisers are the professionals that will undertake this task and will use different techniques and methods for the equity and/or underlying assets. Sellers should note that having a valuation supported by a third party can help minimize pitfalls during deals, like overvaluing an asset, which can cause potential buyers to walk away or not engage in negotiations.

  Appraisers can use a few different methods to calculate the value of the company’s real estate holdings. However, putting a price on a business is more nuanced than selling a single-family home. A typical technique would be to look at comparable sales of similar properties in that area and base the valuation on the transaction price. This method would take things like the size of the property into account, but not necessarily the cash flow potential of operations, including the production of grapevines.

  The value of the land and the grapevines depend on several factors, ranging from the variety of the plant, age of the vineyard, plant density, production per acre, and the presence of pests like vine mealybugs (VMB) and Virginia Creeper Leafhoppers or diseases like Grapevine Leaf Roll. Other improvements to the land will affect its price, including trellis systems, irrigation and frost protection systems. An appraiser might estimate the fair market value for this asset by calculating how much revenue the land generates based on projected demand, grape price trends, and the yield the land produces. A discounted cash-flow analysis could also be used to factor in variables like projected cash flows, industry cycles and general economic trends. Of course, an appraiser could use a combination of all these methods to determine the asset’s value.

Brand Awareness

  One asset that could be harder to put a value on is the company’s brand. It is an intangible that could be worth more than all of the physical property and inventory of the company. There are three methods to determine a brand’s value, and they are sometimes used together.

•    The first is to calculate the replacement cost of the brand. Basically, this involves formulating how much time and money it would take to re-create the brand from scratch, which are divided into three subsections:

      Brand Identity: Covers all items used to create and develop the brand’s identity, including the name, designing the logo, novel bottle designs, trademark and legal fees, websites and choosing a color palette.

      Brand Awareness: The cost of advertising, promotion and publicity campaigns for the brand to achieve its current level of market awareness.

      Market Position: This is the cost of retaining the business’s current clientele and includes advertising, discounting with distributors, and building relationships with retailers.

•    The second is comparable pricing. This method requires researching the sale of similar brands and using that as the foundation for a valuation. This can be a challenge if there are little or no sales of similar assets.

•    The third and final method is an income-based approach, also known as an “in-use” approach. This involves calculating the future earnings that can be directly tied to the brand to determine its value. The formula looks at everything from income to cash flow to cost savings generated from the brand.

Sell High

  If a winery owner’s family is not interested in maintaining the business, selling is the other option. The sale could be to an industry peer, a current employee, a high-net-worth individual or even a private equity fund. However, certain factors go into the sale and the final price beyond the valuation process discussed earlier.

  Any potential buyer is looking for the ability to generate future cash flow. Operating a winery takes leadership with specialized education and experience. This knowledge includes how to grow and harvest grapes, the manufacturing process, as well as storage of the wine. If the sale is to anyone but an industry peer or employee, this can hobble a deal or result in a lower sales price. As mentioned earlier, having a detailed manual on how to operate the business can help reduce transition issues that may impact price, but locking down an expert to assist with a sale can be essential to getting the maximum return in a sale.

Distressed Resolutions

  All the information above is based on the orderly sale or transfer of the business at a fair market value. That means there is a willing seller and a willing buyer. However, the price could be much lower in a scenario where the owner is forced to sell or liquidate, either through bankruptcy, the sudden death of key people, or litigation. In these situations, engaging an experienced restructuring professional is essential.  Navigating a distressed situation is difficult, doubly so when the business is yours.

  There are multiple variables for owners to consider and plan for as they create their harvest strategy. Being prepared for this transition will help them avoid costly mistakes or address issues early enough in the process to make them non-factors. This planning is essential to maximizing the value of their business. Owners contemplating making this transition would be wise to start the process and create their harvest strategy today.

Edward Webb has over 35 years of experience in consulting and financial management, including specific experience in business restructuring and leadership advisory services. Edward has a Doctorate in Business Administration and currently leads the Corporate Finance Consulting group at BPM, one of the 50 largest public accounting and advisory firms in the country, where he sits on the firm’s Management Committee.

With more than 15 years of experience in complex financial advisory, and a primary focus on valuation services, Kemp Moyer has led hundreds of business and asset valuations in his career with substantial industry experience in technology, life science, professional services, food and beverage, digital assets, manufacturing, and consumer business, among others. A partner in BPM’s Advisory practice and head of the firm’s Valuation team, Kemp’s valuation experience includes M&A and IPO preparation and support, fairness and solvency opinions, and litigation support and dispute resolution, among other high impact analyses.

Why Your Winery’s Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail

By: Quinton Jay

When it comes to creating a roadmap for your winery’s success, it can feel daunting to generate one that is both flexible and remains in line with your winery’s goals as a business. If it’s too flexible, then it will be difficult to keep your planning strategy aligned to your internal initiatives; if not flexible enough, your plan can break apart the first time you encounter an unexpected hurdle.

  The landscape of wineries, and wine as a business, is far different than that of five or ten years ago. Because virtually every piece of the value chain has changed — from distributors and retailers/restaurateurs to consumers and capital providers — new strategies, partnerships, and resources are necessary to ensure your winery’s continued success.

  Each piece of this chain has a unique impact on your winery’s business and its future as a brand. In order to not only survive but thrive amidst these changes and others affecting the wine industry, it is paramount that each winery formulates and implements a multi-faceted plan of success to help carry its business forward into the future. As founding father Benjamin Franklin once said, “a failure to plan is planning to fail.” However, like most aspects of operating a business, creating and enacting a successful roadmap is far easier said than done.

Image Credit: Harvard Business Review

For the past 20 years, I have managed, consulted for, and invested in dozens of wineries and other businesses in the wine industry. Each one of those businesses, regardless of size, location, or consumer market all share one commonality: the most successful ones were those that possessed the foresight to plan for both the best and worst-case scenarios. In order to help you create a solid plan for your winery or wine business, I want to help offer some key steps to get you started.

Step #1: Gather the Facts

  Whatever your business plan will look like, you need to have a clear picture of what your aspirations and goals are for it. The obvious caveat here is that, to do this successfully, you will need to envision what you want your business to look like in the future. Do you simply want to be your own boss or create an environment that is a fun and enjoyable place to work? Do you want to grow your winery into one boasting 1,000,000 cases with wine sold throughout retail chains, or do you want to grow it into one with 5,000 cases with a focus on direct-to-consumer sales?

  Whatever your specific case may be, the first thing you need to do when forming your business’s plan is to gather the facts. This starts by analyzing your business’s segmentation, targeting, and positioning in the marketplace. Segmentation, or the process of grouping customers within a market according to similar needs, characteristics, or behaviors, will provide four key benefits to your business:

●   Opportunities for building and strengthening long-term relationships with key customers and partners;

●   Improved marketing efficiency and effectiveness;

●   A better understanding of the competitive landscape, and;

●   Faster responses to the changing needs of your customers

  Once you have the facts of these segments gathered, the next set of facts you need to acquire are those acquired through consumer market research. By gathering information and trends on your wine business’s target market — including who they are, their likes and dislikes, and whether those markets are growing, declining, or remaining steady — you can better understand their wine consumption statistics, trends by price points, as well as the various demographic and geographic trends of that market.

  After these facts have been answered and gathered, you will have a far clearer picture of your winery’s competitive niche, be it through a specific product (or set of products) or as a brand. From there, begin researching competitors with similar niche offerings. Who are they? What are their price points and pricing strategies? Is their business growing, declining, or remaining steady? What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how will your business compare to theirs?

  Lastly, you will need to gather facts about your market’s current conditions. For example, take a look at your distribution channels to see which ones are consolidating or undergoing management changes. Another example of this is to find out whether your target consumer market is purchasing more wine at restaurants, retail stores, or online. Along with external conditions such as changes in shipping laws or current economic fluctuations, each of these fact sets will play a heavy role in determining what your winery’s business plan will look like.

Step #2: Analyze, Synthesize, and Develop Strategic Initiatives

  After you have accumulated the different sets of factual data affecting your winery or wine business, the next step in formulating your business plan is to synthesize these facts with the strategic initiatives you develop that will affect your business’s marketing, sales, and finances as an operating brand.

Marketing Plan

  As a brand, your winery can be defined as the relationship between your business and its consumers. It is a promise to the consumer to deliver a particular experience each and every time. This is what makes the key element of successfully marketing your business dependent on understanding your customers, including their likes, dislikes, and expectations.

  By defining and analyzing your target market(s), you will be better poised to integrate your gathered facts into your marketing plan. You will also need a clear understanding of what your business’s goals are as an organization, which is where your consumer market research — as well as your competitive data set — comes back into play.

Sales Plan

  Once you know what your business’s market is and who it consists of, you can then begin constructing a sales plan to forecast future sales, revenues, and prices. This plan will also let you identify gaps in your supply chain such as those in your distribution network, forecast additional human resources necessary to make the sales you’ve forecasted, and evaluate opportunities for direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales, and the costs of goods sold (COGS).

Production/Winemaking Plan

  Though it may seem obvious, one integral part of a winery’s plan that often gets overshadowed is its production sales inventory (PSI) model. The PSI model allows you to forecast production and the tons of grapes needed to produce each case of wine made, as well as highlight vintage overages or shortages in sales and changes in release dates. Your PSI should also include a plan for sourcing grapes or bulk wine, as you will need to forecast the number of needed (and excess) tons of grapes both by vintage and product, and will help your business determine strategies in dealing with needs or excess of product.

  Overall, your production plan’s purpose will act as a precursor to your financial plan, as it will grant you the ability to analyze internal capacity and forecast the following factors:

●    Crush, production, and dry goods expenses;

●    Barrel needs;

●    Bottling costs, and;

●    Capital expenditures

  In order to create the clearest picture of these possible, you will need to gather historical data and information on your business. This historical data will likewise play a key role in forming your business’s financial plan.

Financial Plan

  When gathering and analyzing your business’s historical data, you will want to consider factors such as your historical crush and production expenses which include your COGS. Keep in mind that salaries, benefits, supplies, repairs/maintenance, utilities and rent, as well as depreciation all play a part in calculating your COGS. Along with this, your business’s packaging, bottling, and warehousing costs will also factor into your COGS value.

  Now that you have a clearer picture of your business’s COGS, as well as its sales and marketing plan, you can get started on formulating your financial plan. This will help you summarize your gross revenue, price support, EBITDA (operating profit), and net income, as well as craft stronger balance sheets and cash flow statements to better understand your business’s profitability by its products sold.

  Along with these factors, your financial plan will also need to include an income statement to show your business’s operational performance over time, a breakeven statement to show the volume of revenue from sales to balance the sum of its expenses, and a product profitability statement to compare your revenues COGS, and gross profit per case to ultimately determine which products are generating the most profit for your business.

  Each one of these individual plans is meant to help form concise and easily understood strategic initiatives for your winery or wine business. Together, they act as the foundation for creating and implementing those initiatives, as well as helping to determine which initiatives are meant for short-term or long-term business growth.

Image Credit: Bacchus Consulting Group

Step #3: Aggregate Into the Business Plan

  Still with me here? Great — now that we’ve covered each crucial element to your winery’s plan, the next step is to outline that plan in a way that is easily digestible for you, your core team, your partners, and/or investors. As an example, a general outline for your business plan will appear as follows:

I.      Executive Summary

II.    Business Description

III.   Marketing Plan

IV.   Sales Plan

V.     Winemaking/Vineyard Operations Plan

VI.   Management and Organization

VII.  Finances

VIII. Appendixes

  Incorporating all functional plans of your winery or wine business into one unified document is where the results of each prior phase gets pulled together. This business plan will serve as the guiding document for your business’s entire organization, as it coordinates each sub-plan together to prepare them for execution.

  When aggregating each sub-plan into your unified business plan, remember to collectively review your business’s strategic initiatives and incorporate them into the business plan according to each initiative’s specific function to ensure that your business’s structure — including its capital structure and financing — are geared for long-term growth and success.

Step #4: Develop Tactics and the Operating Plan

  The last key step in forming a solid plan for your winery or wine business is to develop tactics and its operating plan. Though similar to a business plan, your operating plan is less an outline for your business as you envision it in the future and more a roadmap for how you will get it there.

  As a rule of thumb, the tactics you create for your business must include (and clearly answer) the following criteria:

●   What will be done?

●   When will it be done?

●   Who will get it done?

●   How do these tactics define our success and how that success will be measured?

  This is the point in planning where your key performance indicators (KPIs), otherwise known as the metrics used to measure your business’s success internally, become a vital element of your business’s future success or failure. If you haven’t already created KPIs use the SMART method:

●   S: Specific

●   M: Measurable

●   A: Actionable

●   R: Realistic

●   T: Time-bound

  Each metric used to measure your business’s success should contain a logical sequence of tasks, goals, and milestones, and should take into account your possession of the right resources and relationships to carry your organization forward through periods of growth.

  With these final elements outlined, you can now incorporate all of your strategic initiatives and tactics into one final plan: your operating plan. This plan will serve as your business’s roadmap and a working document for each strategic initiative, and must also contain each actionable tactic listed as a supporting factor to those initiatives which will help you achieve your goals.

Concluding Thoughts

  There is no single business or operating plan that universally supports each winery or wine business operating today. In order to create the clearest and strongest plans possible, it is your responsibility as a business founder or owner to understand your business inside and out. Once you do, you will be better positioned to formulate and integrate a plan that serves your unique business and its goals for continued success and future growth.

The Ins & Outs of Barrel Care, Inspection, and Tracking

By: Gerald Dlubala

A lot of love, time, and work goes into a winemaker’s final product. But there’s also a lot of money and equity tied up in the barrels that hold, age, and nurture that wine. Barrel inspections help protect your product and livelihood by revealing potential leakage areas in the barrel along with any cracks, gaps, or over-toasting, which can directly or indirectly contribute to spoilage, foul aromas, or an undesirable taste in your wine. The stave and head joints should be narrow and tight, with solidly fastened hoops and a tapered bunghole. Bung holes are a common source of spoilage and contamination, and those with cracks emanating from them can be an unwanted source of excessive oxidation.

Storage and Use:


  New, empty barrels can be stored indefinitely when regularly maintained and kept in cool, humid conditions to lessen the possibility of shrinkage, preferably in the 55°F (13°C) range with 65-75% humidity. Prepping for storage includes a thorough, clean water rinse and complete drainage before performing a Sulfur purge and bung insertion. In addition, routine checks on Sulfur levels must occur to make sure the levels remain consistent.

  Before filling with wine, the stored barrels must be swelled to seal any minor cracks that could cause leaks leading to oxidation and potential mold growth. If Sulfur purging was used in the storage process, release the gas and give the barrel an additional warm water rinse before swelling. Fill the barrel within 20% of its total volume using clean, hot water. Insert the bung and flip and rotate the barrel looking for signs of leakage or agitate the barrel for accelerated swelling until there are no more signs of any leakage. Thoroughly drain the barrel and let it dry and cool down before use. But if leaks are still evident, an overnight swell may be needed, which entails filling the barrel and soaking it overnight. Any leaks should swell shut and stop leaking after a few hours or at the most after a couple of days. Never let a long soak go more than 36 hours without changing the water inside due to the potential for mold growth. When the leaking stops, drain water with the bung side down, and after complete drainage, it is ready for use. If an overnight swelling process doesn’t work, the barrel is likely unfit for use.

Used Barrels Need Different Care

  Increasingly, used barrels are only water rinsed before being used for wine storage because the previous contents can be a desired addition to the flavor profile of the wine. Used barrels can also be rinsed several times and stored empty after being purged with Sulfur. Sulfur levels must be checked monthly on the stored barrels and replenished as needed. The stored barrels will shrink over time and need to be swelled again before filling. An alternative to the traditional swelling practices includes filing the barrels with a Sulfur-citric holding solution that promotes sterility and helps promote swelling and shrinkage control. The downside to using a Sulfur citric solution is that it strips the natural wood extract flavor and the desirable oak flavor properties. So it is not recommended for use on new barrels or those less than a year old. The Sulfur citric solution strips natural wood extract flavor. The use of holding solutions requires thorough rinsing procedures before a winemaker can reuse the barrel.

Spoiler Alert

  When wood comes in contact with liquids, especially wine, it becomes a natural breeding ground for bacteria and spoilage mechanisms. If your wines have pH levels above 3.7pH combined with low sulfite levels or residual sugar, lactic acid bacteria can cause spoilage and produce a sour milk taste.

  Acetobacter (Acetic Acid Bacteria) causes the alcohol in your wine to convert to acetic acid. When combined with the deposits left due to poor rinsing of barrels or lack of or improper Sulfur purging, Acetic acid forms ethyl acetate, the ingredient used in nail polish remover. It frequently happens with wines that oxidize and have headspace, producing the familiar vinegar aroma.

  Brettanomyces Yeasts in your barrels mean spoilage. They metabolize very low sugar levels in wine or the cellulose sugars in the wood due to insufficient Sulfur purging of stored barrels or the inadequate presence of sulfites in the barrel. Brettanomyces Yeasts produce an aroma reminiscent of a well-stocked medicine cabinet.

  Penicillium mold is one of the most common concerns for winemakers, usually originating through stave or head joints or around the bunghole. Hard to eradicate once it gains a foothold, penicillium mold causes foul aromas when in contact with the wine.

Keep Track and Maintain Consistent Barrel Information

  When maintaining and storing your barrels, a system for keeping track and maintenance schedules can be quite helpful, and a winemaker should choose a system based on their specific needs and budget limitations. Limited budgets can make practical use of barcode-based barrel tracking systems that provide inventory and location data for their in-house barrels. If you need more information, like maintenance schedules, barrel history, or tracking information, you may need the benefits of Quick Response (QR) or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) code technology. Economic factors can lead you to use QR codes for increased data storage with easy read capabilities. However, RFID is a great choice when considering pure efficiency, with passive RFID providing more data storage, faster scanning, and additional location and temperature tracking capabilities over their QR counterparts. With the additional cost of active RFIDs, you can have real-time location data, temperature readings and humidity levels.

  Barcode tracking systems are an option that is associated with most if not all things around us. The familiar series of one-dimensional lines constructed of variable thicknesses encode numbers and characters that provide the object’s unique identification number that links back to a database providing all pertinent inventory, maintenance, and barrel information needed for your winery. Barcode labels are economical and easy to read with handheld devices or available smartphone apps. However, the location of the barcode label is critical to correct readability because the barcode label must be within the sight and allowable parameters of the reader.

  Quick Response (QR) Codes are the pixelated squares scanned from a smartphone camera to send you to another location or web link. They can be combined with GPS functionality for barrel tracking and store up to a hundred times more information than the basic barcode. If needed, once a barrel is assigned to the database, the winemaker can add more specific barrel information. Unfortunately, paper-printed QR codes are susceptible to humid conditions and durability issues. More durable options increase cost, and if Wi-Fi is needed, that can be an issue in wine cellars.

  InnoVint Inc, founded in 2013, is a bud break-to-bottle wine production software company made up of winemakers. Their wine production software optimizes QR codes for wine barrels that are easily scanned on a phone or tablet and allow details on contents, activity, barrel history, and more to be entered. Their QR codes scan well in dirty, wet, or humid conditions and stay with the same vessel for its lifespan while in your cellar, making historical information accessible and easy to retrieve. This information can include things like fill dates or Brix readings for your fermentation tanks. Using InnoVint’s software, the QR codes can be printed or reprinted on demand.

  Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses radio waves to track objects and their unique data. You won’t need a direct line of sight for this type of tracking, and it scans faster than pointing at a barcode or label. Using Active RFID brings the ability to read from up to 100 feet away with more memory. The RFID tags transmit a continuous signal with real-time statistics. More size and memory bring additional tracking and information functionality, including temperature, humidity levels, and real-time location statistics. But, because they are battery-powered, they are bulky and more costly.

  Passive RFID codes, on the other hand, are smaller, more compact, and not reliant on an enclosed battery, making them more economical and longer-lasting than active RFID tags. Passive RFID tags can be inlaid into sticker form or attached like tags, making them more durable and a good fit for wine cellars or barrel storage areas. They are stable under diverse conditions while having the ability to record both interior and exterior temperatures. Passive RFID has more limited data storage capacity but is compatible with real-time location systems for immediate tracking capability. Additionally, available location and temperature data allow variation tracking in temperature versus barrel volume fluctuations and free SO2.

BarrelWise: Enhanced Technology For Wine Production And Analysis

  Barrel management is time-consuming and manually labor-intensive, especially for craft wineries. BarrelWise is a project initially conceived and targeted for another industry by a group of University of British Columbia (UBC) students, including Jason Sparrow, now CEO, and Artem Bocharovaz, Director of Sales. By listening to and addressing winemakers’ concerns, they’ve taken their idea and created a system for winemakers that incorporates specialized bungs and a unique hose cart for each wine barrel that allows winemakers to take measurements and top off the barrel with a straightforward action. After successful trials with several wineries fully outfitted with BarrelWise bungs, BarrelWise is building and adding sensing operations to their units.

  Smaller wineries can more easily test all of their barrels for free SO2 levels, but Sparrow said that higher producing wineries test as few as five to ten percent simply due to time constraints. In addition, wine barrels routinely have an evaporative loss that may require topping off. With the BarrelWise system, the barrels can stay in place and provide data through their head sensors, allowing winemakers to top off, test, and correct and SO2 levels simultaneously, saving labor and time. By testing every barrel, a winemaker reduces the inherent risk in producing larger batches of wine. Critical decisions are made based on accurate data from each barrel, giving the winemaker more control, confidence, and efficiency in their decision-making. Individual barrels can produce significant variations, and BarrelWise helps the winemaker get each barrel right through easy measurements, accurate data and consistent tracking

Software for Wineries: High-Tech Launches Wineries to New Heights in Productivity

By: Cheryl Gray

Wineries worldwide use technology to their advantage when it comes to saving one of their most important assets––time. The right software applications simplify collecting, sorting and maximizing data. The type of software to use often comes down to the winery’s size, its specific needs and finding the best return on investment.


  Wineries with small budgets but big plans can turn to VinNow of Mesa, Arizona. The company was founded in 1999 by software engineer Ted Starr. VinNOW is designed to operate in either a single, stand-alone computer environment or a network of multi-POS operations and multiple locations.

  “VinNOW runs securely on your computer, not in the cloud. This ensures that if you lose your internet, you still have access to all your data and can still make sales. Having the program and your data on your local network also allows for better data security and gives you the peace of mind that you can do your business no matter what,” said Starr. 

“VinNOW is one program, using one database, that stays in your local system’s control. This is the advantage of having been created by winery owners: Knowing the winery environment and challenges.”

  With 40 years of industry experience, Starr and his team have poured their expertise into developing a versatile software program to suit wineries of any size. Starr added that customer support comes from a team knowledgeable in both software engineering and what wineries need to maximize production. 

  “VinNOW is comprised of professionals with many years of experience in both computer technology and the wine industry. Our expert team is intimately familiar with a winery’s needs and has the technical knowledge to offer and support our specialized integrated system for winery management. VinNOW was created by winery owners who are also software developers and have decades of hands-on winery experience. VinNOW offers a personalized and specialized approach that is dedicated to, and in touch with, the business needs of a winery,” Starr told The Grapevine Magazine.

  “VinNOW is dedicated to providing a quality, comprehensive software application specifically engineered to meet the needs of the wine industry. We provide personalized live customer service and support and pride ourselves in remaining a hands-on, efficient company. This means that when you contact us, you will be dealing with someone who understands your needs and can directly and personally handle any question.

  “With VinNOW, you don’t just receive a software package. You enter a relationship with a software company that has been in the wine business for over 22 years and is directly interested in the health and prosperity of wineries. Should you need us, our support team is available seven days a week to assist you with VinNOW. Our VinNOW support team is always eager to answer your questions and assist you with what you want to accomplish.”

  VinNOW, Starr said, is a fully integrated software system that is ideal for managing inventory, customer data, purchase records, tasting room and internet sales. The software program also manages email marketing and wine clubs with automatic credit card processing. For shipping needs, VinNOW generates UPS, FedEx and GLS shipping labels. VinNOW also allows wineries to track those shipments. It integrates with other software programs such as QuickBooks, Vertical Response, Constant Contact, VinoShipper and ShipCompliant. It also can export information to other email systems.   

  Another innovation from VinNow is VinTracker, a bulk wine tracking module. Starr says that VinTracker allows wineries to track products, everything from what wine is in which containers to what work has been performed on-site.

  Starr said that VinNow allows its winery clients to provide customers with targeted messaging rather than generic correspondence, which is vital to keeping and expanding a winery’s client roster. COVID-19 made this function a critically important tool. 

  “One of the challenges wineries have in a COVID-19 environment is keeping in touch with their customers in order to maintain and keep interest in that business relationship. VinNOW excels at data reporting and allowing a winery to target market instead of having to send the same generic message to everyone,” said Starr. “With VinNOW, wineries can create lists for an almost unlimited set of data points. For instance, you have the ability to create a list of people who have purchased above a certain dollar level, a specific varietal, has purchased futures in the past or are just on an interest list or in a specific range of zip codes. 

  “You can then refine your search to target market customers such as those associated or never associated with a wine club, or even inactive wine club members. Any data element that VinNOW captures can be used to create a specific marketing list to meet your needs.”

Dimensional Insight

  Helping wineries keep in touch with their customers is also a focus of Dimensional Insight, in business since 1989. Headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts, Dimensional Insight is an analytics and data management firm specializing in integrating data from different sources and displaying the information wineries need in whatever way they need to see it. The company’s trademark Diver Gateway product allows access to data on any device. Its applications are specific to the wine industry for both wineries and distributors. Nancy Berkowitz serves as Industry Vice President.

  “Users of our software have the flexibility to do self-service reporting and analytics while ‘diving to the lowest detail’ from dynamic dashboards and scorecards. As a result, they are able to get unprecedented insight into the state of their business, and can make better, more informed decisions that help drive increased sales, bottom lines and customer satisfaction,” said Berkowitz.

  With COVID-19 mandates changing the wine industry, not to mention overall industry-driven shifts, wineries have to focus and pivot quickly. Berkowitz told The Grapevine Magazine that Dimensional Insight can help them do just that for data management and analysis.

  “In this economic climate, where there are fundamental shifts in how people are buying products and what they’re buying, it’s most important for wineries to look at not only the bottom line but also any associated numbers. What is changing? Are these short-term changes or long-term changes? To best assess this, wineries need to look at their outlier data to see what the causes for these changes are and determine how to handle them,” Berkowitz said.

  “It can be hard to pinpoint some of this data when you have huge data sets that pull together many diverse sources. That’s why we have an assisted analytics tool that uses AI to proactively look for these outliers or different data points and helps bring these issues forward for analysts. Wineries should make sure they look at not only sales and pricing data but also all data affecting the changes––operations, marketing, finance, economics and more. Then they can focus on short-term and long-term bottom-line goals based on what they discover.”

  Dimensional Insights also offers its winery and distributor clients other unique options and partnerships to expand their businesses.  

  “We also collect daily invoice level data from distributors for wineries through our BeverageLink division. Dimensional Insight has partnerships with the NielsenIQ as part of the Nielsen Connected Partners program and the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association for data relating to sales, pricing and more.” 

  Berkowitz said that Dimensional Insight looks to the future of winery software to increase its use of artificial intelligence and cloud services because of the large amount of data to be handled. 

  “Artificial intelligence is a focus for software and technology. This must be taken for what it is and must truly be understood by the wineries. Not just the results, but why those are the results of the AI software. Otherwise, the results can’t be trusted. Wineries are moving to the cloud for better service and lower costs. We offer the Dimensional Insight cloud for this purpose. All in all, we see technology continuing to move toward better data integration so wineries can capitalize on the data available such as eCommerce and more.” 


  Napa Valley’s InnoVint, founded by Ashley Leonard in 2013, combines the expertise of winemakers and Silicon Valley software engineers with a focus on providing winery clients with mobile, flexible and intuitive winery management software designed to save time and streamline the production process. InnoVint is 100% cloud-based, which means that wineries can access the software wherever they are on any device. The company touts ease of use, saying that small wineries can use the applications in less than an hour. InnoVint offers training and an online support center.

  Experts agree that winery software will continue to be a critical tool for successfully expanding a winery business by keeping a connection with the most crucial element of that success—customers.

Is Your Wine Club Keeping Up With Modern Subscription Models?

By: Gaynor Strachan Chun

If COVID taught us nothing, it is that re-occurring sales are key to survival, and that customers are surprisingly resilient and creative with changes in channel or delivery methods. The post-COVID conversations around alcohol distribution include the so-called “fourth tier” of instantaneous delivery (Instacart), and online options like buy online now and pick up in store later (BOPUIS).

  At the same time as these channels evolve, the elasticity of the traditional Wine Club is stretched as well. It is now estimated that the average person is a member of two re-occurring subscriptions and 35% belong to three or more. 

  Why are we moving so swiftly into a subscription economy? For wine, it’s a perfect storm of three factors.

1. Our culture of consumerism is changing. The mindless and haphazard consumerism of old is giving way to thoughtful and curated purchases where the brand and its products add value to our lives. This significant change in consumer thinking and behavior has fueled, among other things, the rocketing growth of subscription models. Subscriptions meet the needs of concerns such as waste reduction and finding quality time with family. And, wine clubs need to catch up to remain relevant, resonant and competitive.

2. We’re curious. The primary consumers for subscriptions are young urbanites, 25-44 years old. What they have in common is a sense of discovery. They want to try new things and like being presented with options. Most subscriptions offer monthly mystery boxes, surprises, or trial sizes, giving customers a new product to try. This brings an additional level of excitement to the unboxing experience and gets consumers to expand their product knowledge and preferences.

3. We don’t value “saving” like our parents did.Our parents wanted the lowest price so they could show off the best quality brand they could afford. The new consumer is interested in saving time. The financial incentive is there, but you can’t just give a small discount to this group and expect to call it a day on your benefits alone.

  Only a few years ago, the model was simple. You joined a club to gain exclusive access to products and VIP perks. These membership clubs were found in categories such as luxury apparel, food and wine.

  However, with the onslaught of COVID, the dramatic increase in E-commerce, digitally native brands, and the growing influence of the Millennial mind-set and their expectations as consumers, the world of “clubs” has evolved. The consumer has moved on. Have you?

3 Subscription Models Have Emerged

  A McKinsey Report lays out the current state of subscription models very clearly. What jumps out is that the traditional model of Subscribe for Access has been usurped by the newer models of Subscribe for Replenishment and Subscribe for Curation. And, while Subscribe for Replenishment accounts for a healthy one third of subscriptions, it is not a relevant category for wine clubs given its focus on essential household, wellness and grooming products. Which leaves the wine industry needing to evolve the traditional wine club model, beyond offering a choice here or there, to compete within Subscribe for Curation.

  What does this mean? Successful Subscribe for Curation offerings have the following imperatives as the foundation of the subscription offered:

•   Move from a focus on transactions to long-term relationships.

•   Shift from acquisition focus to retention.

•   Shift from selling products to selling experiences

•   High levels of personalization, flexibility and surprises.

•   A highly anticipated unboxing experience.

•   Impeccable customer service.

  In other words, focusing on delivering a great experience that puts the consumer in charge of what they order and keeps them coming back for more by including gifts, exclusive content, and other surprises.

Attracting New Subscribers and Keeping Them

  Wineries traditionally relied on converting their tasting room visitors to club members. However, attracting members who will never visit your tasting room is an increasingly important consideration in any conversation around future revenue growth. We all know a subscription model is good for business – it delivers increased and predictable revenue, contributes to savings in customer acquisition spending, increases loyalty and lifetime value, and can reduce operational costs due to predictable demand. Therefore, understanding the triggers that cause a potential subscriber to sign-up and those that cause them to cancel is a critical component when evolving your current club model to a subscribe for curation model.

  The initiation triggers point to consumers’ desire to discover new things and especially, new things someone else recommends. A strong social media presence and refer a friend incentives are key to this discovery process. Cancellation triggers hinge on the experience – either the overall experience or the perceived value for money vis-à-vis the experience. Given the need to elongate subscription lifetime values, every step of the experience offered needs to be executed at the highest level. Consumers not only expect it, but they also know what a great experience feels like. After all, the average consumer now has somewhere between 3 and 10 subscriptions (excluding media and entertainment.

Less is More

  There is a reason most companies only offer 3 levels of subscription. Our brains think in threes. More choices are not better. They can cause confusion, delay the decision, or result in the potential member walking away.

  Rather than thinking about the subscription levels from your product line-up perspective, structure the levels from the consumer’s perspective – I want you to curate this for me, I want the option to add from a defined list, I want to make all the choices for myself. This will help reduce the number of levels and increase conversion.

Looking Ahead

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”

-Albert Einstein

  There’s never been a greater time than now to be open to evolving our business models.  Changes in demographics and consumer trends have been coming for years and wineries who aren’t willing to look at adapting their Wine Club programs leave themselves open to becoming less relevant with consumers as the attitudes and behaviors continue to evolve.   Gaynor Strachan Chun is the Director of Strategy at WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.www.wineglassmarketing.com.