Wine, Widgets & Website Accessibility

By: Rick Gagnon, ADA Site Compliance

Like most businesses today, wineries are grappling with making their websites accessible to users with disabilities. Plaintiffs and their attorneys continue to target the wine industry and have now filed dozens of lawsuits alleging that growers, distillers, distributors, and merchants are non-compliant under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If the current litigation wave follows that of other verticals recently hit – retail apparel, hospitality, restaurants, travel, among others – the trend will likely persist until every player in the space has either revamped its existing website, built an entirely new one, or closed its doors altogether.

  So how have wineries and vineyards fared so far in facing this new risk? While the final chapter in this story has yet to be written, defendants in such suits across similar retail-based industries have found that their outcomes largely depend on the strategy they choose to adopt. There are three basic approaches. One option is to do nothing at all and hope for the best.

  A second option is to take some incremental step or steps toward improving the website. Often, this involves fixing the easy-to-find compliance failures – issues like color contrast violations and missing alterative (“alt”) text on images. The advantages here are convenience and cost; many software tools can assist with this, and for not much money. The primary disadvantage is that the results are mixed, since no technology can catch every failure. In fact, most automated tools only detect about 20-30% of the non-compliant issues. As a result, while software offers a step toward ADA compliance, it will continue to leave website owners exposed and vulnerable. And given that “copycat” suits are now the norm, your odds of escaping further litigation are low.

  The third option is for wineries to make their websites ADA compliant. The only way to do this is through human expert auditing that involves actual people going through the site manually to check for all 78 “success criteria” under the current web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1). After that, wineries can use the audit reports to remediate their sites and achieve meaningful compliance. While this option costs more, it remains the only reliable way to stop successive suits. It is also the right thing to do.

Widgets: Savior or Snake Oil?

  Many businesses – not just wineries – turn to third-party accessibility “widgets” as an apparent cure-all. These software plugins or overlays go directly on a website and claim to provide disabled visitors with an expanded set of accessibility tools to help them better navigate the site. To the uninitiated, widgets seem to be the long- sought solution: an inexpensive and easy-to-use button that makes fonts bigger, contrasts sharper, and other enhancements. Their simple integration with any website accounts for their widespread adoption.

  Unfortunately, as lots of their former advocates have found, widgets fail to make any website. In fact, there is reason to believe they make sites less compliant than before and more susceptible to litigation. The reason: the features they offer are already available to users via their browsers, their operating systems, or their assistive devices such as electronic screen readers (JAWS and NVDA are the two most popular). Most users who would benefit from a widget’s functionality already have these options available and are using them when needed. So instead of providing new ways to access information, widgets only succeed in further confusing assistive devices, which now have yet another potential barrier on the website to try to “read” and “understand.”

  Some experts have been vocal in their opposition to widgets as a quick-fix tool. Jeanne Spellman, a 19-year veteran of web accessibility, represents the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the group that creates the WCAG guidelines. When asked about the rise of widgets, Ms. Spellman referred to them as “snake oil” and noted their likelihood of exacerbating a website’s accessibility hurdles. “Installing plugins that provide text-to- speech or screen magnification,” she writes, “does not help people who are blind or low-vision, because these inferior plugins interfere with real assistive technology the blind or low-vision person already owns and uses.”

  Fair enough. But what about the benefit of widgets as a risk-mitigation tool? Is there not some advantage that website owners derive from prominently displaying this software on their site? To this, Ms. Spellman offers a definitive no: “Plugins do not help you if you are sued. Additionally, installing a custom overlay over your code … requires changing the custom overlay every time you make a change to your site. In the end, you still have an inaccessible site.” In the end, the only use Ms. Spellman sees for widgets is as a temporary patch while business owners fix their sites.

Take Action Now

  In the short term, what should wineries do in order to minimize their risk of costly litigation? Here are some steps that make for a good start:

•   Hire a true expert in website accessibility. There are many new players in the digital accessibility world, many of whom come from other businesses like web design or marketing. They may be experts in their core business, but they’re not web accessibility specialists. Don’t let them learn on your dime.

•   Post an accessibility statement. This can be simple verbiage on your site that lets visitors know you are addressing the issues. It also lists your contact info so that users can reach you if they need help navigating the site. Nearly every lawsuit filed in his space cites the lack of such a statement on the site.

•   Perform human audits. Again, technology does have some benefit for those looking to gauge their general accessibility level. But it will not make your website compliant. If true accessibility is the goal, you must have human beings auditing your website for all instances of all WCAG errors.

•   Commit to ongoing auditing and maintenance. Post-remediation, you’ll need to periodically review your site to make sure it stays compliant. Your content may change, as do laws and regulations, and so a set-it-and-forget-it strategy can land you back in court. Accessibility is a journey, not a destination. 

  Lastly, remember that website accessibility is about more than merely avoiding lawsuits; it’s about doing what is lawful and making your website accessible to all, which ultimately benefits everyone, including your winery. 

  For more information about becoming ADA compliant, please contact Rick Gagnon at ADA Site Compliance at…

(561) 258-9875;

or find us at… https://AccessibleAlcoholindustry

Four Important Ways to Use Software in a Winery

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

For hundreds of years, wineries got by with keeping track of their operations with little more than pen and paper. But in today’s competitive wine industry, getting by isn’t good enough, which is why an increasing number of wineries are relying on high-tech solutions that make running a wine business more productive and profitable. Fortunately, there are some excellent software companies that specialize in wine business software to address the common challenges that wineries face.

  With a focus on inventory, fulfillment, compliance, and wine club memberships, here’s how an investment in software can assist modern wineries.

Inventory Software

  Inventory management is a tedious job at a winery, which is why this type of software is in such high demand. Inventory software helps winery owners keep track of how many bottles of wine are available, understand the production history of the bottles, and ensure that each wine batch is traceable. This is a good type of software to invest in because it can ensure fewer counting errors and reduce the amount of time your staff has to spend manually keeping track of wine bottles that are produced, sold, and shipped.

  Fulfillment Software

  Order fulfillment can also be a challenge for wineries because it is a time-consuming and error-prone task. Fulfillment software winery can help winery staff create new orders, search past orders, view inventory details, facilitate returns, and be alerted about inventory shortages. Other fulfillment software features include the ability to view invoices, run reports, and get order status updates.

  It’s important to choose fulfilment software that integrates easily with the current information you are working with and that can provide detailed reports about supply chain issues.

Compliance Software

  Wineries must comply with many rules and regulations, which can be hard to keep track of and put you out of business if guidelines aren’t met. This is why compliance software is a popular choice among wineries to reduce business risks and keep up with important deadlines. Software companies offer solutions that help wineries follow the legal requirements of operating an alcohol-based business in a more accurate and precise way. This is particularly important when your winery begins to sell bottles to new markets outside your home region.

  However, this type of software can be unnecessarily expensive if you have a very low production volume, and you’ll still need a staff member to manage the compliance software system in-house or on an outsource basis.

Wine Club Software

  Wine clubs are great ways to retain loyal customers and stay connected with the wine-loving community. Good wine club software informs consumers how much they will save over time by becoming a member, makes it easy to buy bottles, and simplifies the process of running a wine club. With this type of investment, a winery can create shipments, print shipping labels, report on member statistics, customize shipments, and stay in touch with members more regularly.

Recommended Wine Software Companies

  The wine industry is big business for software companies, but it is a smart idea to choose a company that has specific applications for wineries rather than more general applications that are broad enough for any type of company.

  One company that specializes in the business side of wine is Microworks Technologies in Napa, California. Microworks provides direct consumer sales management software for the wine industry though tasting room, wine club, wine marketing, and winery accounting solutions.

  Scott Meloney, the president and CEO of Microworks Technologies, told The Grapevine Magazine that one thing that sets his company apart from others in the industry is that when you call Microworks, you will reach a real human being.

  “If you need technical support, we encourage you call us by phone, where you will speak to a live person and your question(s) will be answered to closure on the first call 99% of the time,” Meloney said. “Our staff is made up of industry veterans who understand the wineries business and will relate to your questions.”

  Meanwhile, VinNOW LLC is a winery software company that provides customer, wine club, and sales and inventory management all under one roof. This Mesa, Arizona-based company also offers free training and support, extensive reporting real-time wine club management, point of sale, and QuickBooks integration.

  Ted Starr, the CEO of VinNOW LLC, said that what sets his company apart is VinNOW’s extremely reliable customer service.

  “This ranges from customer support when the wineries need it, seven days a week, to the ability to support wineries who can’t rely on their internet connection.”

  Another company that provides a comprehensive software package that integrates numerous aspects of winemaking is The Winemaker’s Database. This Los Gatos, California company has been in the industry since 1983 and assists wineries with everything from tank transactions to barrel tracking, analytical data, customizable reports, 702 generation, and more.

  The Winemaker’s Database’s Vice President, Emily Vahl, told us how her company was originally created by a winemaker and how it still offers winery solutions from a winemaker’s perspective, rather than that of a company or programming team with no winemaking experience.

  “Also, our entire support team consists of former winemakers or winery employees that have worked hands-on with crafting wine,” Vahl added. “When our customers call WMDB, they speak with people who understand their specific needs.”

Considerations and Important Software for Wineries

  There are many considerations to take into account before investing in a new winery software system, and you may want to talk to other wineries in your region about what they use and what works well for them before making any decisions. Compare costs for similar types of software and think about whether you only need a single-service type of software or would benefit more from a comprehensive software program that addresses multiple needs.

  Other considerations include how customizable software is for your winery’s specific needs, the data setup process, and how you will transition from your current system to a new one. You might also think about the ability to use software through a mobile app, how easy to navigate the web interfaces are, and how secure the site is for cloud computing technology and data center privacy. Customer technical support for software purchases and access to future software updates as technology improves are also important considerations.

When asked about the most crucial products that are must-haves for a modern winery, Meloney of Microworks Technologies said, “At the very least, a winery will need a good CRM package with POS, club, ecommerce, inventory, and accounting software so it can leverage sales efficiently with the right tools to promote, track, and measure business goals.”

  Starr of VinNOW pointed out that crucial software needs vary with each winery because some only sell wine online, while others sell through retail, clubs, have tasting rooms, or incorporate a combination of these sales channels.

  But overall, for software or hardware, POS, club, cart, compliance, accounting, communications, and other products, Starr said that wineries “need products that work the way the winery wants to run their business, which are affordable and supported with great service and have the ability to grow with the business as the business grows and changes.”

Vahl of The Winemaker’s Database said that the most important type of software for a winery to have is anything that can help it reduce paperwork and be efficient and organized.

  “Winemaking is an art form, but it is also a craft, meaning the end product needs to be consistent each time,” Vahl said. “Software is an excellent tool because you can click a few buttons and gather the data instantly to view the numerous components of a blend.  Plus, since nobody enjoys paperwork, so it’s pretty handy to let your computer do the leg-work when it comes to providing the required reports to the government.”

How to Avoid Common Software Mistakes

  Meloney from Microworks Technologies said that many businesses make the mistake of not taking the time to learn the full capabilities of their software. This means that you might be missing out on important efficiencies that the software has to offer. Another common mistake he noted was inadequate hardware.

  “Can you image pulling a boat up a hill using a bicycle?” Meloney asked. “Recognizing the impact of outdated computer equipment on the performance and reliability of software can be the difference between success and failure of a software system.”

  To avoid future regrets, Starr of VinNOW emphasized the need for wineries to call multiple references with similar business demands and review the hidden costs and expenses of possible solutions.

  “Ask references about the surprises and difficulties they uncovered during the installation and first six months of using the solutions,” Starr advises. “Also, ask references about any shortcomings and strengths of features and service.”

  Vahl of The Winemaker’s Database said that a common mistake is looking for an entire software package from just one provider. For example, her company has specialized in wine production software for over 35 years and that is its primary area of expertise.

  “Often, wineries approach us looking for a software package from a single company that can do everything from vineyard management to POS,” Vahl explained. The areas of vineyard management, wine production, warehousing, accounting, point of sales, and wine club are vastly different from one another, which is why I am a fan of software interfaces. When companies work together to create interfaces, then they can offer some pretty amazing options to clients because they are each doing what they do best.”

Software Advice for Wineries

  Modern wineries rely on software for accuracy, efficiency, and to be competitive, but a software decision could either help or hurt your business. Therefore, it is advisable to talk to a few software companies to get a sense of how their products can work with your current operations.

  Meloney from Microworks Technologies advises wineries to know their business needs, be thorough, and check with as many references as possible before implementing new software for their operations. 

  “You don’t want to favor one department in the decision when it may cripple another,” Meloney said. “Make sure you are provided an in-depth demo of the features in detail. Know that what you see on the surface does not represent the software’s capabilities. Ask references about the vendor, not just the software, because the quality of your vendor is just as important as the software itself.”

  Starr of VinNOW’s main pieces of advice are to review your winery’s goals, assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team and location, and know what questions you need to ask software companies. He also recommends making sure a company has the features you need and to remained focused.

  “It is so easy to get distracted with features like customer photos in your POS and club, but since most of us don’t have facial recognition features, we end up finding out that a customer is a club member when we speak with them,” Starr said. “And every customer should get excellent customer service, so the feature sounds great but is not highly used.”

  “Then have a hands-on test-drive of the software,” Starr recommended. “If you plan to keep the solution for three to five years, dedicate a few hours per solution to truly see the depth of the solution and avoid picking the wrong solutions. Try adding a sale, changing the order mid-stream, cancelling an order, processing a club release, and managing returned packages and cancelled orders. Take the time to access reports that you need. Some solutions are strong in reporting but need a rocket scientist to use them. Ask how they meet ADA and PCI compliance and how they deal with D2C compliance and all the new tax reporting requirement and permits that are required.”

Finally, Vahl of The Winemaker’s Database advises wineries to start small and not try to resolve all of your issues right away because this is a common way that wineries end up paying too much for way more software than they really need.

  “I always recommend starting with the simplest form of the program and then adding on components as they are required, when users become accustomed to how the software works,” Vahl said. “Modular-based solutions are excellent for keeping costs down and also for helping wineries create a tailored solution for their operations.”

Five Areas to Focus on When Maintaining Your Website

By: Susan DeMatei

Maintenance is an important and often overlooked part of having a website. Which is odd because you spend a great amount of effort on maintaining other aspects of your life and business. You go to the gym and the doctor to maintain your health; you repair and clean your house, your car, and your yard; at work, your tasting room, Wine Club, and your wine education or tasting senses are all given careful attention to make sure they are kept in shape. Why, then, do we expect to set up our website and then let it sit? Websites need to be maintained, too.

Your website is your front door to the entire world. Will customers or the trade find broken links, missing images, or an insecure page––or will they not even arrive at your website due to poorly tagged pages, making it impossible to find it on a search engine?

The bad news? The internet, software, hardware, and browsers are constantly changing. But the good news is there are lots of plugins and systems out there to keep your website up to date and healthy. Here are 5 areas you should focus on when maintaining your website.


This may seem like it goes without saying, but if your website doesn’t use the proper, up-to-date security measures, your website will suffer. First, search engines will likely put you near the bottom of a list of search results or not even display your site. Second, a scary warning can appear where your website should be strutting its stuff.

Security is especially important if you have a WordPress site. WordPress powers over a third of the internet today. Because of sheer volume and the number of WordPress websites online, it’s the most hacked content management system on the web.

You should set up a routine schedule for removing malware, scanning for viruses or hacks, removing spam blog or product comments as well as spam signups to your mailing list. And don’t forget to monitor your SSL certificate to let purchasers know that you are safe to enter credit cards. Nothing says “don’t buy wine here” like a big security warning.

Data Preservation

You may not realize this, but on many mainstream platforms, including WordPress, there isn’t an automatic backup feature that you can just revert to if your website gets hacked, corrupted, or damaged.

This happens more likely than you think. Sometimes plugin updates can cause irreparable damage to the design. Other times, there’s human error when that new marketing intern deletes all your trade assets by accident.

It is up to you to back up your files. Luckily, there are many tools on the market that can do this automatically.

Broken Links

Whether your website is five pages or 30 pages, it can be easy to miss a broken link buried on your website. If the broken link is to your ecommerce store, it’s like having a malfunctioning door to your tasting room. Even if nothing is broken, if you don’t have a proper “continue shopping” link in your cart or checkout, you could lose the customer with their frustration. Maybe the link is minor and doesn’t lead to the store, but a broken link says you’re not paying attention, so why should your customers?

Again, routine maintenance should look for achieved products, employee bios, vineyards, vintages, distributors, events, or anything on your site that may be out of date and driving to a dead link.


Google is the most widely used search engine and now processes over 70,000 search queries every second, on average; which translates to well over 5 billion searches per day and closer to 2 trillion searches per year, worldwide. By 9:30 am on any given day there have been 2.5 billion searches on Google, globally.  Your winery is in there, somewhere, you just have to help people find it.

Search Engine Optimization doesn’t have to be overly complex. It’s primarily made up of tagging pages and images with keywords so Google can read them, and submitting the site and the sitemap to Google to index. The maintenance of these items requires checking that new pages and images are described and indexed. There are a number of tools on the market that will help identify and flag if a new page is missing tags, or if something is out of date.

ADA Compliance

There has been a lot in the news lately about ADA compliance, mostly coming from several lawsuits being brought against some wineries on the East Coast. The goal of this exercise is to make sure that everyone has equal access to the content on your site, including those with visual or mobility impairments.

Being compliant for something like ADA can be tricky and until the law has even more clear guidelines, it may be hard to be 100% compliant. But there are a number of ways to be accommodating for web visitors with disabilities. Think of it as very rigorous SEO: The requirements for being ADA Compliant cover tagging a large portion of your content, images, and overall accessibility. I would not recommend you try and tackle this on your own. There are scans and specific tasks required, like scripting to close modal windows, and tested functionality with the site text increased up to 200%. It is something your designer should look into. But once done, it needs to be maintained with each new image or block of text. The good news is, not only does it benefit your customers with disabilities, but it benefits your website functionality overall.

Ongoing maintenance doesn’t have to be a brain-teaser. If you consider the investment you put into your website and the sales you get out of it, then finding an agency with a maintenance package or setting up a series of plugins to manage these areas seems like a no-brainer.

Susan DeMatei is the President of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Is Your Facility Ready to Host Events?

By: Markel Insurance

As the spring season brings new life to the vineyards and offers opportunities of growth, so too are winery owners looking for new growth in their operations with increased sales.  Having a great experience at a winery results in improved customer loyalty, increased publicity and more sales.

One way to maximize your public exposure is by hosting events.   The activities can be small and simple such as an acoustic guitar on the back patio or larger concert exposures.   Events can include wine club dinners, fund raisers, vendor shows or weddings.

In planning for the events that will best suit your operations and facility, several key elements should be reviewed to help minimize losses and protect your assets.  Understanding your target market and what activities are best for you are as unique as each blend of wine.  Current markets have several popular events, including yoga stretch and sip; Wine Paint and Pour; Races through the vineyard or even a vendors “farmers market” offering local crafts and products.

There are the tried and true, more traditional activities expected at a winery with Crush or Harvest festivals, pickin’ party, club dinners and weddings/shower events.

You should consider the space needed based on the anticipated number of participants and any specialty needs, including tables & chairs or tents, rental equipment, caterer or DJ/vendors.

Once you have an idea on the type of event that will appeal to your demographics, a quick checklist can be reviewed.

Facilities Checklist for Hosting Events:

  • Is the use/occupancy rating for the property acceptable for the type of event?
  • Will you be able to provide adequate staffing for supervision?
  • Is there clear signage for acceptable vs restricted access areas?
  • Are there any ADA compliant concerns at the facility?
  • Based on the attendance expectations, will there be enough bathrooms, trash cans, water stations, shade/covered areas?
  • Are the electrical demands up to code? Who manages the setup and takedown for stage and dance floor exposures?
  • Is there emergency personnel on site?

Slip, Trips and Falls

Liability losses related to the facility most commonly relate to the slip, trip or fall category.  Not to underestimate the severity of what seems to be a simple loss cause, the following claim shows a good illustration of what can happen.

  Real-life claim example: A small concert event on a patio that required additional electrical power and resulted in cords running along the open patio.  A trip and fall occurred resulting in a fractured hip.  A surgery turned into an infection, causing a second surgery and extended recovery time.  With lost wages alone, the price was rising, and when finally settled to include medical, the shared cost was nearly $1.7 million.


Parking can be an often overlooked, but it is an important influence on the experience of the customer because it can be the first and last impression for any event.

Parking Factors to Consider

  • Is there adequate parking based on the number of attendees and is it easily accessible?
  • Always consider the path for emergency vehicle access (fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances).
  • Should local authorities be notified of the event and to help route the traffic flow in and out of facility.
  • Make sure the parking lot is clear of debris and free of obstacles with clear walking areas outside of traffic pattern.
  • Verify all areas of the parking log are well-lit for evening use and not susceptible to rain or vehicle being stuck.
  • Have clearly marked flow patterns and parking lanes help eliminate confusion and frustration.
  • Determine if you will have attendees directing traffic, or will be offering valet parking or any shuttle/transportation.

  Real-life claim example: Parking mishaps may leave you exhausted, or exhaust-less.  A vineyard/winery cleared a small lot to have as overflow parking for their outdoor event.  A small tree stump remained and although not a concern for the tractor or owners pickup truck, was not concealed enough to avoid damaging the exhaust systems of several customers that parked in the field lot.


Depending on the size of the event, the responsibilities of the host grows with increased attendance.  When managing crowd control, do you rely on winery staff or opt for hired security.  Are there any weapons carried by other than law enforcement?  Do you hire off duty local law enforcement or an independent contractor.  Rules and procedure should  be clear relating to checking coolers and bags; not allowing any outside liquor; and restricted areas, especially where there is an attractive hazard, i.e. – open barns, fire pit, swimming pool/fountain/pond.  As an aside on fire, any open flame, fire pits, bon fires, outdoor grills, burgers and s’more’s cooker should be reviewed to make sure there are proper barriers, clear space and storage of combustibles.

Contracts and Certificates

Contracts and certificates should be in place for all vendors, caterers, artist, or instructors.  Each certificate of insurance should be from an  A rated or higher admitted carrier with limits equal to or greater than your limits, naming you as an additional insured, owner of premises.


People love their pets and pet lovers typically believe that everyone else should also be a pet lover, especially their pet.  From an insurance standpoint, it is not recommended to have pet friendly events.   If pets are allowed is there restrictions to be on leash or in designated areas.

Is the vineyard dog allowed to mingle in the crowd, “unsupervised?”

Know the difference between a professional service animal and a therapy pet and have clear rules so that you avoid an issue of selected acceptance or exclusion and can rely on your policy language.


Although minors may not be the norm for the tasting room, family friendly events can bring in a broad age range.   Have you crawled through your facility lately?  What may be obvious to an educated adult, may not be as clear to a child.  Locks and barriers are better than signs alone.  Have staff training to look for hazards and anticipate a lack of parental supervision.  Most wineries are not suitable as a daycare operation and should not have any childcare exposures.

Miscellaneous Exposures

  Evening Events: As a general rule of thumb, liability goes up when the sun goes down.  For many reasons, whether it be the time element of consuming more alcohol or just the visual difficulties to recognize hazards, losses are more likely as events run into the evening hours.   Having events that are shut down by 10:00pm would be considered a good practice and depending on your coverage carrier, may be a requirement.

  Cyber Security: Cyber / data breach coverage can include storing the credit card information for your club members, but can also apply to online purchases and any ticket sales for events.

  Private Events: When dealing with a special private event such as a Wedding or private party, clear contracts are the key.  The greatest frustrations come for unmet expectations.  Make sure all parties know what is being provided and what the expectations are for contracts, payment, timeframes or services.

  Real-life Claim Example: A facility that was not closed to the general public during a wedding event.  There was no clear detail on a separation of the wedding party areas vs the public access tasting room area.  In a clash of Party vs Public, tempers rose, words were cast and a white wedding dress is now a shade of cabernet.


This checklist is not all inclusive for all the unique elements to all event types.   The checklist should be a starting point for your facility.  Before hosting more events at your facility, review what type of events will be the best fit for your situation to provide a great experience for your guest.  Try to create events that will have a positive marketing buzz and will also increase your income while minimizing your exposures to loss.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments.

  Please contact us or your insurance professional if you have any questions. Products and services are offered through Markel Specialty, a business division of Markel Service Incorporated (national producer number 27585).  Policies are written by one or more Markel insurance companies. Terms and conditions for rate and coverage may vary.

For More Information Please Call Us At…800-814-6773, or Visit Our Website:

Email: The Biggest Tool in Your Digital Marketing Toolbox

By: Susan DeMatei, WineGlass Marketing

It is 2019. We shouldn’t be having the conversation about whether you should email or not. If you feel you are bothering your customers, then the problem is with your content, not the delivery vehicle. Email is not dead, in fact it’s as relevant as ever. The accompanying infographic to this article contains what we found to be the most diagnostic recent statistics, including the facts that over three quarters of us prefer emails and the sweet spot seems to be around an email every other week.

The conversation now should be about how our customers want to read emails, how they consume the content, and how emails should be integrated into our communication channel with our customers.

Typical questions we discuss with our clients are: What is the best design for an email? How much copy is too much? How many emails should you send, and how often? What day of the week and time of day is the most likely to reach your customers.

Unfortunately, the answer for most of these is, “it depends”, as you can look at your own database’s open and click through rates to determine what type of content they want, and when they want to receive it. But there are some overall guidelines for best practices to follow.


When we first started using email regularly in the workplace, it was before the PalmPilot, BlackBerry, or iPhone. We viewed emails on computers at our desks. Emails took the place of memos, which took the place of letters––so formal, long format text was the norm. With the increasingly fast pace of technology adoption, our lines between work and non-work on a computer have blurred considerably. We used to read work emails at work and personal emails at home. Now, even though you may have separate work and personal email addresses, they go to the same mail account and everything is mixed.

The speed and ease of glancing at email on mobile devices has revolutionized how we consume email, and we are reading more emails than ever. According to the 2018 Deloitte Mobile Consumer Usage Survey, the average consumer checks their phone 52 times per day.1  We use our personal phones at work and our work phones at home. We have access to email 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there are few times when we are unable to open an email.

With over half of our emails read on mobile devices, we have changed the way we interact with promotional emails, and with this, our expectations have changed. We expect to be able to see the content on our desktops, tablets, and phones. This is what “mobile optimization” means. On mobile devices we require buttons to show large enough to be able to click them, we need to see the picture tightly cropped and close up,  and we expect to read the copy without having to scroll sideways. Remember that email is a tool to drive traffic to your website to purchase. If the email cannot be read on a mobile device, 80% of us are more likely to delete it than to save it to be opened on another device later. With people looking at their phones 50 times a day or more, there are multiple opportunities to capture their attention.

Paying attention to design in such a small space is critical to click through rates. While people are looking at their phones and therefore email more than ever, our attention spans are reduced. An email must be clear and concise while effectively communicating the desired message. As the old saying goes, a picture tells 1000 words. We recommend telling the story with images and a clear call to action rather than large amounts of copy.

Because emails are opened on a variety of platforms and devices, a responsive design is critical. Images should adjust to the size of the screen and copy should be limited to the most essential. The call to action must be clear and easy to see, with call to action buttons being the most effective.

Images must load quickly and be appropriate to be viewed on a mobile phone. Many of our clients wish to use full bottle shots in emails, but these do not view well on mobile phones. It is much better to use a tight beauty shot where the label can be clearly seen and read. We find that an image that combines the product, offer, and call to action that is clickable to be effective in increasing click through rates.


For a long time, the belief was that the best time to send an email is at 10:00 AM on a Tuesday morning, and for the most part that still holds true. But, the overwhelming use of mobile phones to read email has us consuming content at different times and in different ways.

Data from MailChimp and Wordstream suggests that midweek – specifically Tuesday and Thursday are still the best days to send emails. Tuesdays get the most emails opened compared to any other day of the week, although Saturdays may also be a good day to send email for its high open rate, according to data from Experian and analyzed by

Why the conflicting data? While it is imperative that the email can be viewed on a mobile phone, we are still addicted to our computers. The behavior we are starting to exhibit to combine these two is interesting: If we like an email we open on a mobile device we may save it and open it again later. This makes sense if you think about how and when we use our phones. We’re in between meetings (or in a boring meeting) or on the bus or waiting in the sandwich line at lunch and we scan through emails, deleting ones we don’t want to read and saving ones we do. The business emails we deal with during the business day, but leave the personal emails for after work or on the weekend. This is why it makes sense that the largest open rates are reported during the weekday, but click throughs on the weekend.

The time of day is also affected by this complex pattern of consumption. MailChimp confirms with Campaign Monitor that sending emails later in the morning between 10 a.m.–noon will get you the most opens. It looks like the best time to send email is at 10 a.m. Campaign Monitor sums it up by saying that 53% of emails are opened during the workday between 9 a.m.–5 p.m. However, found that marketing email opens are highest from 8 p.m.–midnight, with a second peak between 4–8 p.m. suggests that while it’s a common practice to check email in the mornings, most people are just beginning their day and may likely avoid email marketing in favor of productivity.

This also supports why these second opens are so likely to result in conversion – because these are the emails we’ve saved. Whether they return to it on their phone or a desktop, they’re back to consider the offer and often click through to your website.


It should be noted that you can have the most perfectly mobile-friendly email sent at the perfect time, but if the messaging and target aren’t right, it won’t work. When used properly, emails should not tell the consumer everything they need to know, but entice them to your website where they find an appropriate landing page with the content and products from the email. For a consumer to purchase a product from an email they must first open the email, so the subject line is also very important. And some estimate targeting as 50% of the success of your campaign: sending too many emails across all segments can reduce open rates. We recommend using segmentation to reduce the amount of email one consumer receives and to drive engagement by matching the customer with the content they are most interested in.

So don’t be seduced by SMS and shiny digital channels: Email marketing is more important for driving ecommerce than ever. With the increased use of mobile devices, people are opening emails across multiple platforms and during all times of the day and night. With some consideration for mobile devices, you can keep your consumers informed and your email channel sales strong.

Susan DeMatei is the President of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Why Data Matters

By Susan DeMatei and Sara Redahan – Wine Glass Marketing

Imagine you are on the marketing team for a direct-to-consumer (DTC) winery, dutifully sending out emails to your newsletter lists and club members, updating posts across social media channels, maybe even sending print notices through the mail. And yet, there does not appear to be any increase in sales conversions or an uptick in club sign-ups. Perhaps there is even a sense of things going into decline. But no one can say why or understand what is contributing to the stagnation.

This confusion is often the case when a new client comes to us, and asks for help. Our response usually starts with, “What does your data show?” To which we often receive a slightly blank or confused stare. Unfortunately, data gets a bad rap as either a bunch of random numbers or as something scary or indecipherable. For the clients who do understand the value of their data, they are often unsure where or how to pull the data to guide their marketing strategies. This mindset requires a reframe – data is not just numbers and figures, it is quantified behavior. Each data point represents an action – a behavior – of the customer. Viewing data in this light allows us to understand how our clients act; then we can anticipate those actions and adjust our marketing strategies to match.
So what kind of data gives the most insight? Well, that depends on where you are looking.


The three essential statistics to consider in email campaigns are open rate, click-through rate, and bounce rate. Open rate and click-through rate will show how many people opened the email and clicked a link, and allow you to understand how your customers are engaging with your marketing. Bounce rate will tell you how many people on your list were unreachable, giving you a snapshot of the health of your database. All of these metrics are the most helpful when compared over time, or with industry standards from a company like Mail Chimp. By tracking a series of emails you can set goals, and experiment with your content to see how your audience reacts to different messages and set-ups.

For example, WineGlass Marketing had a client with clear branding and what they thought was a strategic plan for email releases, yet their open rates were low, and the click-through-rates were abysmal. They asked us to look at the emails and determine how to improve engagement rates. We examined the emails based on category (newsletter, club emails, special releases), and looked at the types of promotions offered. We also charted the open, click-through, and bounce rates for all emails from the previous two years to determine any patterns. What we found was significant disorganization in email schedules (no clear pattern regarding time of month or distribution across months), confusing subject lines, and obscured links (or no links at all.) Using this data, we were able to convince them to engage in a round of A/B Testing, where we systematically varied aspects of the emails. With each test, we isolated components of the emails that their audience responded well to, and were able to build an email campaign with over a 15 percent increase in open rate and a 10 percent growth in click-through rate.
This client eventually implemented a staggering of promotions, newsletters, and club emails intertwined with triggered emails. This strategy created a conversation between the winery and their customers that resulted in increased engagement and sales.

But how do we measure the success of an email campaign and attribute sales to a particular email?

As many DTC wineries know, much of the sales from campaigns do not directly link back to email clicks. Maybe the person came into the tasting room later that month and referenced the email, or maybe someone was more comfortable phoning in their order. Perhaps they clicked through the email links, abandoned the cart, and then came back to the website later and made a purchase. How do we track these types of conversions? For phone calls and tasting room sales, we help train staff to use order notes or source codes to indicate the email campaign. For website sales, we use Google Analytics, an incredibly powerful tool that is both easily setup and often under-utilized. Our favorite function allows us to tag links used in email campaigns and on social media posts. These tags feed information back to Google Analytics on the behaviors of those who click-through to the website using email links. We can directly track the success of these campaigns by the bounce rate, by the number of and what pages are viewed, if a conversion is completed, and if the individual returns to the site at a later date.


How do users find your website? Once on there, what pages do they view? Does your site encourage conversions and what is the conversion rate? Are you putting your marketing resources in the channels with the highest return?

If you have asked yourself any of these questions, then you should be using Google Analytics to help refine your marketing strategies. Surprisingly, many of our DTC clients are not using this tool, or if they are, it is at a very shallow level, barely accessing the data collected. We believe data is behavior, and the more we utilize data and data analytics, the more we can impact future actions.

One area of Google Analytics that we have consistently seen under-utilized is the setting of goals. Setting goals does not require the eCommerce functionality to be engaged and allows you to track conversions and utilize other tools, such as funnels and assisted conversions, that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Funnels can be extremely important when understanding site functionality and how that is impacting sales. For example, we had one client who was sending emails to their newsletter promoting the release of a limited wine. The email itself had a high open rate and a substantial click-through rate but generated few sales, and we noted a significant number of abandoned carts. Because we had a funnel set-up, we were able to see at which point during the purchase process individuals were dropping out – in this case, it was when the visitor clicked through to the shipping address page after the billing address. By editing the website, we were able to optimize their online sales funnel and improve conversion rate. Google Analytics also allows business to set goals and funnels for non-sales conversions, such as club membership or newsletter sign-ups, and these goals can help optimize those sessions as well.

Setting goals also allows tracking what Google Analytics refers to as “assisted conversions.” An assisted conversion is a marketing channel that assists with, but cannot be directly linked to, a conversion. What does this mean? Imagine you engage in paid promotions or boosted posts on social media and notice a high number of link clicks. However, you do not see any conversions linked to social media or referral sources. It may be that these channels are providing an assist – someone visits your site by one channel, explores a bit and leaves, then a few days later returns from a different channel (usually directly or by a search engine) and then makes a purchase or signs up for the newsletter. The original channel will be credited with an assisted conversion, but only if goals are set beforehand. Across our DTC clients with goals, we have found that approximately half the conversions occur on the first interaction with the site, with an additional 20 percent happening on the second interaction, and the remaining needing three or more interactions for conversion. Therefore, you want to be driving people to the site multiple times, and from various sources.

Using Google Analytics not only allows WineGlass Marketing to track the functionality of a website, but the impact marketing strategies have on a website visits as well. A good example of this is paying for ad space on third party sites. One of our clients who does off-site tastings was paying almost $6,000 a year for a listing on a trip-planning site. However, Google Analytics was showing less than 2 percent referral rate from this site per month. We were able to use that data to renegotiate with the listing site and improve our client’s visibility on their pages. Keeping track of your data allows you to know if you are spending your marketing budget in the right channels, and what type of return on investment those channels provide.

Social Media

Social media is a funny beast. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to Pinterest, and all the various sites between, social media offers a unique way to interact with your customer base and provide a way to promote your brand, narrative, and promotions in a cohesive way. Social media also allows your audience to engage with you, and responding to posts and comments is an easy way to increase a potential customer’s awareness of and positive associations with your brand. When looking at how successful a post is, you must look beyond the reach of the post. Reach and impressions refer to how often a post was seen on timeline feeds – it does not indicate engagement. What is better – a post that reaches 500 people or 1000? What if we said the post that reached 500 people had a 25 percent engagement rate and the post that reached 1000 people had 10 percent. You can argue the 25 percent is better (125 versus 100 interactions). Some platforms will provide insights or analytics with your engagement rate, whereas other platforms require a little more work on your end to calculate it. Overall, examining engagement is the best way to determine what types of posts your audience participates in and how well social media is being used to help your brand awareness.

One and Done?

Data is, in a sense, a living-breathing organism. It will change daily depending on how your customers behave. Looking at your data is not a one-time-fix-all for your marketing team. You should integrate data with every campaign, both as a post-mortem and as part of the planning for the next campaign. Your marketing strategies should change and adapt as your customers do, and what works for one segment of your database might not for another set. Perhaps what was once a successful marketing strategy is slowly decaying, and you need to refresh your message. Analyzing your data on a monthly basis will help you craft your marketing messages and allow your brand to shine.

Susan DeMatei is the owner, and Sara Redahan is the Analytics Supervisor of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

10 Tips for Making the Most out of Q4

By Susan DeMatei

As harvest wraps up, you should be ready to pounce on Q4. There are several reasons OND (October, November, December) is a crucial period for Direct to Consumer Sales. First, it in the high point between the summer slump, where it is often too hot to ship or consumers go for cold beers and cocktails over wine, and Q1 where New Years Resolutions have us grabbing electrolyte water and swearing to balance our budgets. Second, the reasons to remind our consumers about wine are too numerous to count. There are large family dinners in need of wine pairings, parties in need of hostess gifts, corporate and personal gifting in need of that classy yet universal item. And, thanks to Daylight Savings time, we leave work in the dark during the OND months—making us feel as though we’ve worked harder, longer, stretched our capabilities farther—and are deserving of a reward. So, just in general we tend to spend more money on luxury products during OND on ourselves. In strictly financial terms, Q4 often shows better ecommerce sales than the other three quarters combined, and it is your last chance to show your shareholders, board or boss that you can make the yearly sales goal.

The downside – everyone knows this. From car companies with gigantic ribbons to your local grocery store with a discount on cranberries, everyone has a sale on something and the competitive noise is deafening. As an individual winery, it may seem daunting to compete with Amazon and and jump into the ecommerce pool with the sharks, but there are ten things you can do to make the most out of your fourth quarter.

  1. Silver Bells, Silver Bells, its Shipping Time in the City.” Know and widely share your Holiday shipping deadlines.

The Amazon affect is never more keenly felt than in the shipping and delivery expectations of consumers. Amazon offers insanely fast delivery and even has the US Post service working for them on Sundays. This has set the expectation bar VERY high for consumers. How does Amazon do this? They self-fulfill, and according to GeekWire’s analysis released in February, Amazon lost $7.2 billion on shipping costs in 2017. While this is clearly great for consumers, it puts the rest of us in the untenable position to compete. And while, logically, consumers should know that a small family winery cannot take an order at 8pm on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and have the wine there the next day in time for celebration, that is what the public is being trained as the “new normal”.

You can avoid this confusion right off the bat by clearly posting your shipping deadlines. You don’t have the power to compete, but you do have the power to set your own customer expectation. Make sure they are posted on your site, in your emails and on your cart checkout pages. Also, make sure your staff knows all your “drop dead” dates. It will help alleviate disappointed customers, which is a sure fire way to lose Club Members, lower Yelp scores, and raise your boss’ blood pressure. You can turn this into an advantage, as well. You can use the cut-off dates to create urgency by sending out reminders or sweeten the deal right before your shipping cutoff.

  1. Grandma Got Run Over by a John Deere.” Visiting family is a great sales opportunity.

If you’re like most wineries, many of your Club Members live locally. The holidays bring the inevitable in-law invasion and it will not be long before they want to get out of the house and are looking for things to do. Holiday Club events at this time of year offer your Members a chance to relax as well as a welcome distraction for guests. For you, they are an effective way to capture a new audience.

Now is not the time for “Member +1” limitations. Come one and come all and keep the event simple and festive, like a drop by open house with mulled wine and “make your own cork tree ornament”. Invites can be simple, too. For Club Members and VIPs, you might want to use something more tangible and personal like a physical Holiday gift card or event invite. But for others, there are many inexpensive card services like Paperless Post and Evite offers online cards as part of their invite system. Don’t try to compete with corporate holiday parties in the evening, but grab a Sunday afternoon to provide that break from holiday shopping. And, encourage shopping. Be sure to provide wine gift boxes and bags, and since everyone is from out-of-town, an additional shipping incentive might be a good idea, too.

  1. Have a Holly Jolly Gift Box.” Provide packaging.

Speaking of gift boxes and bags, 2, 3 and 6 bottle gift boxes are hot items during the Holidays. These need not be expensive wood burned or custom labeled, but your local shipping store may have a simple black, red or cardboard box that will fit the bill. You can offer them as stand alone, or put gift packs together at a discount. But if you do pre-select, make sure to offer variety, include the best sellers and set them at a variety of price tiers – such as $25, $50 and $100. Remember to include the price of the box in the gift pack price before discounting, or as the discount. (A nice box will often trump a discount.)
Gift boxes are nice for consumers, but really great as corporate gifts. Be sure to get the word out early to business owners that might be looking for employee, vendor, or customer gifts. For most wineries, email is still the most effective direct line of communication of gift sets. Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and Vertical Response users can find holiday template ideas to spruce up their marketing. Emails are most effective as a delivery for these sales or events to your contact list. Be sure to include a call-to-action link and ALWAYS give them opportunity to purchase direct with a click to your ecommerce store from the email.

  1. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Tchotchkes.” Non wine items can add incentive.

‘Tis the season for ornaments, candles, and bottle sweaters. But, keep a couple guidelines in line. First, make sure it goes with your brand, and the concept of wine. A logo hat or that cute baby onesie probably doesn’t make people think about buying wine. Second, think about shipping. A decanter with your logo may seem like a logical gift, but just make sure you have a way to safely ship it. Thirdly, steer away from the corkscrew or bottle stopper. This year resist the temptation to offer the same ol’ Holiday swag and stand out. People generally shop in wineries for local, unique products that look like they came from a winery. Partner with local craftsman and designers who are trying to capitalize on the Holiday’s, too. Finally, offer these items individually, but also with wine as a discounted pack and gift packaging for the highest opportunity for sales.

  1. I’ll have a Blue Facebook Christmas.” Update your social media.

The rising use of e-commerce in Q4 increases opportunities for wine marketers, but it also increases the difficulty of truly standing out in the market. For wineries looking to effectively engage with online consumers, one of the most important components will be effectively integrating the brand’s social media platforms into the overall online experience. Consumers shopping online will also be referencing the brand in either positive or negative ways on social media. Brand owners can use social media to be part of those conversations to build their brands, or miss that opportunity. If your winery has Holiday spirit, then show it off. Now is a perfect time to update your profile photos and post your holiday sales deadlines and events. Pinterest and Instagram are obvious choices, but also temporarily update your Yelp, TripAdvisor, Twitter, and Facebook profiles.

  1. O Come, All Ye Fruitcakes.” Food pairing ideas give customers a reason to buy.

The Holidays are more about food then they are about wine. Play off this natural partnership with Holiday food pairing ideas. When you offer recipe pairings, or recipes that include your wine, it just gives your existing buyers a way to incorporate your wine in their life and a reason to buy more. Share them on your website, emails, in-the-box Club materials and Social Media. Don’t have any recipe ideas? Call for entries on Twitter or Facebook. It’s a great way to create engagement while showcasing your best Holiday wines.

  1. Do You Hear What’s Around Here?” Tie in with offsite events.

Don’t’ have the time, space or resources to hold your own event? Take advantage of Holiday opportunities in your area. Find events you can participate in and get the message out. Concerts, street fairs, tree lightings or craft fairs are all great opportunities to get your brand out to the public so you can bolster your mailing list and reach new potential customers.

  1. Santa’s Got a Bag of Swag.” Don’t forget your best customers.

Now is the time to thank those faithful evangelists that bring joy every year by buying copious amounts of your wine. A quick analysis of your database should reveal who your top 5 or 10 purchasers have been this past year. A signed bottle of their favorite wine or a gift package with a personalized card shows a personal touch that will be appreciated and go a long way to continuing your relationship. Gift cards are a popular way to say thank you and bring more sales, as well. Customers can choose to redeem or re-gift and sales almost always exceed the card value

  1. All I Want for Christmas is a Nebuchadnezzer.” Bring out the large formats.

They’re dusty, heavy, and take up space in the warehouse. No, we’re not talking about your cellar staff, we mean the large formats. While they seemed to be a good idea during bottling, they are usually forgotten for the rest of the year. However these big boys make impressive presents and are popular during the holidays. So, dust them off, find a gift box for them, display them, pour them, sell them…now is the time.

  1. Let it Show, Let it Show, Let it Show.” Charitable tie-ins tug at heartstrings during the holidays.

The Holidays are about giving, and if you want to get mercenary about it, this is also the last time for tax write-offs. There are many charities around this time of year looking for auction items. Donate some large formats or remaining cases that aren’t moving. Or show your support by offering a percentage of sales as a contribution to a local charity. You can also support an employee food or gift drive or volunteer day. All of these suggestions are good PR, good for morale, good for sales, good for social media content, and good for your community.

Whew! That’s a lot of bad jingle puns for what is a short amount of time in your marketing calendar. So many options, so little time. Let’s make a list and check it twice:

  • If you do a Holiday campaign, know its objective. Sell wine? Not necessarily. Often times, Holiday promotions are about retention and brand recognition. This is a festive time of year and marketing is all about “emotion”, as described in a recent Forbes article. Don’t just throw out a discount, but make a theme that’s reflected in everything you do this time of year.
  • Make a list of all the assets you can use to make sales in Q4. Do you have a great property that is already decorated? Do you have inventory you can afford to discounts, or large formats the trade isn’t using? Are you already partnering with other businesses or charities? Often if you look at what you have to work with, the ideas will flow from there.
  • Make a campaign theme. Now tie the objectives and assets into a coordinated theme. This can be a visual element, or a tagline or focus that makes sense for your winery brand. Then carry this through the website, all the emails, and social media.
  • Set a timeline. A campaign has a lot of moving parts: copywriting, design, event planning, etc. Timing is everything. Allow plenty of lead-time for design and be sure to accommodate any lead times required by your vendors. Send your emails out well before your shipping deadlines. Message your audience early and often, but be sure to keep it all in sync, and make sure to build in contingencies for mishaps and mayhem.
  • Communicate to the team. Is everyone clear on roles and timing? Does your staff know what to do when a gift card shows up at the register? The team needs to be fully informed of the promotion, the messaging and the timelines in order to successfully deliver on that customer expectation.
    Still too much? Don’t worry, you won’t get to all of these ideas. Just pick a few and do them well. The important thing is to not let the Holidays get by without some marketing effort.

Susan DeMatei is the owner of WineGlass Marketing, a full service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.


By Dr. Richard Smart, “the flying vine-doctor”

This article will continue with the theme of the last one, that is vine balance. Here the emphasis will be on management of vine balance. The last article included my suggestion of how to measure vine balance at winter pruning by recording pruning mass. I have always previously termed this metric pruning weight, as Prof Nelson Shaulis taught me. I now understand that pruning mass is the preferred term.

Better Balance for Better

Yield & Quality

At the one extreme of poor vine balance are over-vigorous vines typically with canopy shading. Such vines are characterised by large leaves, long shoots and many lateral shoots. Without remedial treatment such canopies have shaded fruit which affects berry competition and wine quality, and also reduces fruitfulness and yield. Some diseases such as Oidium and Botrytis are encouraged by dense canopies. This contribution will deal particularly with vines of high vigour, and present management strategies to avoid them.

Vineyards of low vigour are an important cause of low profitability. Growth inhibition can be due to many causes, too numerous to mention here. In recent years Grapevine Trunk Disease has been frequently implicated in poor vine health.

We will discuss the two most important methods of vine balance management, firstly by root competition and secondly by pruning level.

Tools of Grapevine

Balance Management

Using Root Competition

It is more difficult to manage root competition with rainfall-fed vines than for those which are irrigated. One can use volunteer weeds or select a cover crop species which will more efficiently compete with vines. Because vines are generally deep rooted, the most efficient, competing species are those which are also deep rooting. However even species with moderate or shallow root depth can be effective in competition when rainfall amounts are small.

Normally competing species are planted in the inter row space, where they can be mowed or even cultivated if the level of competition is excessive. Recent research from Europe has shown that planting competing species under the vines within the row is much more effective at competition. Such plantings can however be more difficult to manage.

How much stress is desirable? I suggest some simple guidelines here. Shoot growth rate or more exactly the extension activity of the shoot tip is the criterion I prefer to determine the degree of vine stress. Generally we like to see the shoots growing actively early in the season up through flowering and fruit set. Then say about four weeks or so before veraison the shoot tip growth should slow, and then be limited around the time of veraison. Ideally this mild stress should continue until harvest, avoiding severe stress so that leaf health and function are maintained. Such timing can be difficult to manage when rainfall is the water source.

Using Pruning Level

Our aim here is to determine the appropriate bud number for even and adequate shoot growth. My general preference is to have shoots that are 3 to 3 ½ feet long with tapering tips indicating modest water stress during fall. How many buds should we retain to achieve this ideal length?

We understand that if too many buds are retained at winter pruning then the vine reserves which support initial shoot growth become diluted and shoot growth can be  somewhat stunted. Conversely, if too few buds are retained then the growth of only a few shoots is very much encouraged. The shoots grow rapidly often with many laterals. Because of less crop on the vine they will continue to grow most of the season.

The correct shoot number per vine is obviously somewhere between these two extremes. There are several ways in which it can be determined. The one I favour was again taught to me by Nelson Shaulis, and relates the pruning mass to bud number retained at winter pruning. Again there are various forms of this formula ; the one I prefer is to retain 20- 30 buds per kilogram (9 to 14 buds per pound) of pruning mass. In cool climates, I suggest 20 buds per kilo (9 per lb) although in warmer climates I suggest 30 (14 per lb). And I judge if it is a warm or cool climate by summer temperatures, obviously not those of the winter.

There is a simple rationale for this approach. The pruning mass is related to the amount of leaf area of the previous growing season, which in turn is related to the vines capacity for growth in the new season. Another way to put it is that we are balancing the bud number retained at pruning to the amount of vine carbohydrate reserves available to promote new growth.

The careful reader will be concerned about the apparent need to measure pruning mass of so many vines prior to pruning. In fact, by recording pruning mass for a range of vine sizes teaches the pruner to estimate pruning mass sufficiently well to make the judgement. This can be reinforced for very experienced pruners by assessing last season’s shoot growth. If it appears balance as I describe here then pruning to about the same bud number as last winter is a good guess. Obviously one might make some allowance for the last growing season.

In practice many vineyards are pruned by unskilled labour and one can but hope that pruning level will be reasonable. I think it a good investment to spend time for experienced pruners to train those less experienced in some simple guidelines.

The Golden Rules of Viticulture

I like to think that some decisions in vineyard management can be reduced to simple concepts or rules. I have developed two which are as follows:

Golden Rule 1: Pruning to 20 to 30 buds per kilogram (9 -14 per lb) of pruning mass.

Golden Rule 2: Aim for 15 shoots per metre of canopy (4-5 shoots per foot).

We need some more definitions here. If the vines are trained to a simple system like vertical shoot positioning, then there is 1 ft of canopy per ft of row. If the canopy is divided, as for saying with the Scott Henry, then we have 2 ft of canopy per ft of row.

Golden rule two relates to the density of the canopy and aims to avoid excessive shade. Provided the shoots are of moderate vigour, a canopy with this shoot spacing should not be shaded. There will be sufficient gaps between the leaves to allow sufficient sunlight for adequate leaf and fruit exposure. There will be limited leaf overlapping, and shading.

Implications for Choice

of Training System

Vineyard vigour is also an at important reason for choice of the trellis system. In principle, the higher is the vigour, then the more buds needs to be retained to accommodate this vigour, and so there are more shoots per vine. There for higher vigour vines have more shoots and so need a larger trellis system to better display them without crowding.

Again there are some simple guidelines. Simple single canopy trellis systems like the popular vertical shoot positioning (VSP) are well suited to low vigour conditions. For example, these are vineyards with less than 0.5 kg of pruning mass per metre row length (1/3 pound pruning mass per foot of row). The most common vineyard balance problem I see is for too-high vigour vines trained to the simple VSP system. I wonder is this also the case in the Mid West.

Medium vigour vineyards are characterised by pruning mass ratios of 0.5 to 1.0 kg per metre, or1/3 to 2/3 lb per foot of row. This vigour classes is quite common for rain fed vineyards. We cane pruning is commonly used, I suggest the simple conversion to Scott Henry trellis. For those preferring spur pruning the smart Dyson can be used. Both of these trellis systems are vertically divided.

High vigour vineyards are characterised by pruning mass ratios of more than 1 kg per metre or more than 2/3 lb pruning mass per foot of canopy. The Geneva Double Curtain GDC is normally recommended here as the pendant shoot growth helps devigorate the vine. This training system is well suited to some hybrid varieties with less erect shoot growth. If the recent experience is hot and sunny summers than caution needs to be exercised regarding excessive fruit exposure. This can be readily overcome by training up one or two shoots along the cordon wire to provide some protection.


  After a while the concept of vine balance becomes quite intuitive, and one knows some tell-tale signs of problems at different times of the year. For example, it is very easy to look out for excessive shoot growth around veraison which we know will harm fruit ripening.

A second useful visual cue which I suggest growers learn is the appearance and weight of an ideal shoot. As I have previously indicated such a shoot normally has 15 to 20 nodes of moderate spacing and average shoot diameter. The length is normally around 3 to 4 feet and the most recent growth should be obviously tapering with internode length becoming shorter indicating growth with moderate water stress. When measured in winter such a cane will weigh around 40 to 50 g, or 0.1 lb. Learn to recognise such canes from the pickup in summer or winter and you will be well on the way to growing balanced vineyards.

A Winery Roadmap for Data Capture

By Susan DeMatei

If you’re trying to sell your wines through direct channels, your customer database is the most valuable tool in your marketing arsenal. Most wineries understand the importance of a database, but few have a documented list for which consumer data points should be collected, and why.

In any given business, different departments have different needs and will require certain customer data points. These needs can often be in conflict. It is common, for example, for senior management, marketing, accounting, and tasting room staffs to all prioritize different aspects of data collection. Without a list that is agreed upon by all departments of what customer data should be captured by whom and in what manner, consistent data capture simply won’t take place. A collection plan will ensure that everyone is on the same page, knows what data they are responsible for, how to collect it, and why collecting it is so important.

Primary Data Capture

Full contact information should be collected whenever possible. These touch points might be on the phone when making a reservation, online when placing an order, or in the tasting room as a walk-in visitor. Each touch-point channel will have different success rates for capturing data, and different responsibilities, needs, and technical limitations.

By “full” contact information, we mean:

• First and last name
• Billing address
• Email address
• Phone number
• Birth date (if a shipping or club customer)

Why capture this information?

This information is helpful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you can contact them again in the future, and have a choice for how to do so. If you only collect email addresses, then you won’t have the option to send out a special event invitation via snail mail should you choose. Or, you won’t be able to perform an outbound call campaign if phone numbers are not routinely captured. The more data you have, the more flexible your marketing strategies can become.

Another reason this information is helpful is you can start to look at database segmentation. Combine contact information with your marketing or sales results, and you can begin to see if those ad placements in Miami are bringing up any Florida visitors, or if it is worth getting that shipping license for Pennsylvania.

What do you do if you don’t
have this information?

One easy thing to do if you have a lot of partial records in your database is to perform what is called a “data append”. There are several subscription websites, like Spokeo, where you can search for missing phone numbers, addresses, or emails on a one-off basis. Or, if you have an extensive list with missing data, there are mail house and list companies that perform quick and inexpensive data appends based on the NCOA registry. The National Change of Address Registry is that little card you fill out with the post office when you move. Often it has phone and email and other information that can be appended for as little as $.30 a record.

Even if you don’t have a lot of incomplete addresses in your database, it is a good idea to scrub your bounces and undeliverable emails in this way at least semi-annually. Marketing Sherpa research shows that data decays at a rate of 2.1% per month – that is an annualized rate of 22.5%. So, even if you do have full contact data for the majority of your database, you can count on 1/5 of your database churning every year. That’s a lot of updates to keep on top of.


It is always easiest to collect data via the Internet during the checkout process on an eCommerce transaction. Customer data is mandatory when checking out of an online shopping cart for billing verification and shipping information, and most consumers are used to providing it in this scenario.

You may need to remind your staff that is it is also quite reasonable to ask for detailed contact information on the phone when someone is making a reservation. If someone is visiting your property, you have a legal right to know who you’ll be entertaining.

But, what about when a customer walks in and is simply tasting at a busy bar? This is where your team’s tenacity and creativity come into play.

It is imperative to work with your staff to find ways to insert data collection into the tasting room process. Capture their ideas and provide them with the tools they need. This could involve a sign-in sheet, or sign-up pads, filling out order forms or iPad check ins. There are many ways to capture data in a customer conversation that doesn’t feel like an interrogation or violation. The important thing is to make it top of mind with your team and encourage them to incorporate it into how they handle every customer. You won’t be 100% successful. But for every address you collect, that is another potential sale from your database in the future.

One tool that some of our clients have used is providing goals for their tasting room to meet. In the last DTC Survey published by Wine Business Monthly the average monthly visitor count across all regions of the US was just over 1,100 visitors a month. If you set a goal for your tasting room to capture even just 20%, you can expect approximately 220 new customers to your mailing list every month. Some have found success posting this goal in the back, and some wineries (about 7% according to that same article) give bonuses or pay outs per sign up.

Second Tier Information

After the basic data collection mentioned above, information that can help you segment your database is the next assignment for collection.

By segmentation data, we mean:

• Customer group
• Source
• Spending history per customer (linking sales to a customer record)

Why capture this information?

This information can include basic customer groups such as “trade”, “employees”, “wine club” or “locals” and will need to be set up in your database prior to collection. Spend some time looking at your database to determine what groups might be appropriate to your business. This information is helpful if you’re sending out different messages for a wine club event or a trade hospitality party. In a few clicks you can have your list pulled with some forethought and effort on the front line to put customers in their proper groups.

Other second tier data that is helpful to collect is source data. A source is defined as where you got the potential customer. Most databases have a source field where you can standardize input sources such as a neighboring bed and breakfast, other wineries, programs such as Lot 18 or, livery services, or a friend of a wine club member. You will find this data invaluable when planning out your next year’s activities and deciding what programs and relationships are worth your time and what efforts were not as fruitful. Without source data, how are you to know what worked?

Finally, and most importantly, is spending history. This involves making sure a customer record is recalled, or appended with a sale or club transaction. Only in this way can you tell this customer’s value. Marry this information with information like the source of the customer, and you start to see the full picture of what efforts are paying off and what are wastes of time.
What do you do if you don’t
have this information?

You can export your data and put them into groups at any time. Things like addresses and companies and purchase history will help you determine what labels might apply. Many systems allow you to re-upload information into these groups, keeping your edits in place within the database.

In the case of source data, you need to do some sleuthing to back-fill this. Sometimes the date of a large order will make it clear it was with an event, or a note or shipping address will provide clues. But, if all else fails, it is never too late to begin to collect this data on all future database members moving forward. Just start fresh and set up the procedures and process to collect it now.

If you haven’t captured spend data under your customers, you can’t really go back and re-create that. When working with our clients, it is our recommendation that not only should purchases be captured and attached to a customer record, but also the lack of a purchase. For instance, let’s say you agree to pour your wine at two events. You pay for your staff and write-off wine to pour for free and hand out 2-for-1 tasting coupons inviting attendees to visit your tasting room at both events. People show up with that 2-for-1 coupon. Some buy and join the wine club, and some take the tasting coupon and the discount and leave without purchasing a thing. If you don’t capture the name and source of the people who just walked in and walked out, you won’t be able to look back and determine if one event over another did poorly.

Tertiary Information

For those sophisticated in data collection, the third tier is behavioral data.

By behavioral data, we mean:

• Channel response
• Sign-up preference
• Notes

Why capture this information?

This data will provide you with insight into how the customer wants to receive marketing messages from you, and, more importantly, how they are likely to respond. For example, if you send out emails monthly, but this club member always responds to the offer in the printed newsletter, that is helpful in planning out and projecting your next program. Take things like timing, responses, mobile and frequency into account.

The reason for this is simple – we all have different preferences for communication. Some of us are more active on Twitter, some like the phone. Once you know your customer’s channel preference – for communication and sales – you can not only provide the best customer service, but boost your sales as well.

This level is the holy grail of direct marketing: combining 1) contact data, with 2) segmentation, with 3) behavioral preference.

In this manner, you can almost predict within a range of certainty how programs will perform and what the best option is for sales to your database. This is hard to achieve and even harder to mine, but with some set up and planning on your part, you will reap the rewards.

So, what level are you?

The trick is to know what stage your winery is working on and set goals and procedures to move forward from there. You, your management, and your staff should know why you’re collecting data, and what the process is to do it.

Data capture is an ongoing struggle and will change as new methods of communications are developed and customer habits change. But it reaps rewards with ongoing email sales and club shipments. The key is to keep at it and keep moving forward.

Susan DeMatei is the President of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Wine Label Branding: Stay True to Yourself

By Robin Dohrn-Simpson

Imagine you’re a customer in a wine store, searching for your next bottle of wine. What would attract you beyond the style? Does a label displaying Jesus on the cross or an elderly Frenchman with a bulbous nose and colorful beret intrigue you enough to buy? Often, the consumer is casually browsing for something that catches their eye. Maybe they just traveled to a particular region of the world, drawing them to wine from that area. Perhaps a wine label triggered a pleasant holiday memory. Possibly it’s the color of the label that attracts them. Regardless, it takes about four seconds to make that first impression.

Wine branding strategy has reached a point where marketing and merchandising play as important a role as the product itself. Wine labels are your brand and your billboard, influencing a consumer’s purchasing behavior. It is the first contact you have with your customer, and the more unique and appealing the label design, the higher the chance of it being purchased.

“Winemaking is an art; the label is a reflection of that art in the printed form,” said Maurice DiMarino, Certified Sommelier for the Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego. “The label is an expression of the wine. It has to connect with the consumer on some level. If that means only writing than let it be if it means images then that is it.”

Define Your Brand

Wine producers should research and understand their target demographic and design the label to appeal to that market, but not so much that it becomes off-brand.

“The real starting point is your brand. Not just your logo – the whole collection of elements that is ‘brand,’” said label and graphic designer Sara Nelson of Sara Nelson Designs in Kennewick, Washington. “Everything works together to build market presence, then market share. There is nothing more expensive than indecision. If you don’t know who you are – not wish you were, want to be or hope you are, but who you really are as a brand – then you aren’t ready to worry about a label. Solve that problem first.”

“Stay true to yourself,” agreed Teri Kerns, co-owner of Ramona Ranch Winery in Ramona California. “We wanted something that reflected our personality and brand as a sustainable ranch with horses and grapes. The two came together perfectly. Not too stuffy, but we hope still conveys that there is something special about our wine.”

Don’t let it get out of hand, though, said DiMarino. “Tell your story; however, the most important thing is just because you have a favorite animal, hobby or loved one it does not need to be on your label,” he said. “The label should be a reflection of the wine or the consumer you want to attract. Sure, you can include some elements that bring it back to you, but make it subtle.”

DiMarino suggests using your label to reflect what’s in the bottle, almost literally. “There is a study in synthesia, which is the perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Imagine if you could taste the label. What if the wine was colors and fonts, what would it look like?”

Label and Bottle Appearance

Beyond branding, when creating a label, winemakers should determine how and where their wines will be sold.

“After you have created your brand, not just your logo, but the whole collection of elements, then you must consider where your wine is mainly going to be sold,” said Nelson. “How is it going to be sold? At what price point? Hand-selling through a tasting room is very different from going off a supermarket shelf. If the wine will compete as one of many on a supermarket shelf, or even within a small wine shop, you get a tiny bit of space and a tiny slice of time from a potential customer scanning a display. In this case, the label needs to catch the eye from several feet away. It also needs enough contrast to be readable.”

Selling exclusively through a wine club is another option beyond tasting rooms and retail shelves. In each situation, how you express value is different. “We considered playing it safe, mirroring our label after a typical French label, but that’s not us,” said Kerns of their cowboy theme. “We’re not French. We’re not in France, and we’re more fun! We worried that our limited edition cowboy label might be too narrow of market appeal. However, we only sell that specific wine directly from the winery, so that has not been an issue. In fact, the wines with those labels sell out.”

As a sommelier, DiMarino wants to see specific bits of information on a label. “I want to know grapes, region, alcohol level, and – most importantly the back label – where it was produced and bottled,” he said. “The majority of wines in California are wines where the owner of the brand had very little to do with the production of the wine. The back label lets me know how much the owner of the brand was involved in the winemaking process. ‘Cellared and bottled by’ means that someone else made the wine and the brand owner bought the juice. ‘Made and bottled by’ means at least 10 percent was made by the brand owner. When new wineries come to show their wines, and the labels are not up to par, I will mention something to them.”

As a designer, Nelson said, she likes the label to be memorable, but also thinks it should reflect the price point. “I like enough differentiation between varietals and tiers that one easily recognizes just what they have their hands on. Good consistent branding doesn’t have to look and feel like cloning with just the name of the varietal changed out. The design and materials used should let you know where that bottle stands in the brand’s value chain and should represent that accurately. Putting an $8 bottle of wine in a heavy bottle and using a low contrast palette and gold foil doesn’t make it a $40 bottle. If you pretend that it does, it will bite you in the long run.” Nelson says one of her pet peeves is faux humility. She warns against brag sheets on the labels or writing in a voice that no human uses.

Color, font, and bottle type

Color themes differ from bottle to bottle and brand to brand, and opinions vary on what works best.

“It would be easy to throw out quick hits like, ‘bright colors are always better’ or ‘don’t use this or that font,’ but there are few absolutes,” said Nelson. “With solid design principles, you can usually accomplish what you need to in catching eyes and being readable with a wide range of colors and fonts. Don’t forget that words can be artwork, too. The wine industry is very traditional. A great deal of what is purchased and consumed has more to do with tradition than perceived superiority to every other beverage at any time.”

Ramona Ranch Winery has matched the color of the bottle to the color of the label to accentuate their labels. “We’ve even played with picking up accent colors from the wine in our label if we are using a flint bottle,” said Kerns.

DiMarino believes fonts should vary depending on how winemakers want their wines to be perceived. “The font and lettering need to match the brand that you are selling,” he said. “If the wine is a simple, easy drinking everyday wine, the font may be whimsical; it matches the wine. However, if it is a wine with structure, oak, high-quality grapes, whimsical fonts do not work. The wine is not taken seriously. The font needs to be more classic, more serious.”

Words of Wisdom

Nelson reminds winemakers not to assume anything about who is drinking their wine.

“There is no single archetypical wine drinker, and there is no monolithic United States ‘wine market.’ For some people, wine consumption is a nearly religious rite, carefully prepared for and rigorously performed,” she said. “Others open a wine bottle with a sheet metal screw, then pass around the Dixie cups; and there are thousands of others somewhere in between those two.”

Winemakers should, however, learn what attracts customers, no matter who they are or how they’re drinking the wine, and they will see even more success.

“There are two kinds of people making those decisions: those who think that doing what appeals to them personally is best, and those who realize that their target audience is the real boss,” said Nelson. “The former will sell some wine- to themselves and maybe to a few relatives. The latter will sell a lot more wine to a lot more people. Many smaller wineries tell you that they can’t afford to spend money on things like research – or professional design, for that matter – but the tighter your cash flow, the less you can afford to guess at these things.”