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

Neal D. Hulkower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go ‘way and let me nap.

Balancing Budgets As Tasting Rooms Re-Open

By: Susan DeMatei

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

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

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

How Much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But What About My Budget:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

•    Lead generation focus and follow up with personalized communication.

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

•    Use video to get attention.

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

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

Post-Pandemic: How Small Wineries & Vintners Can Get Back to Business, Better!

By: Rod Hughes

Wildfires, faulty tanks, flooding, a pandemic, lockdowns, water shortages, tornados, tropical storms – the past two years have been, in a word, biblical in terms of challenges faced by vintners and winemakers.

  However, like the rest of the U.S. economy, there are signs of positivity on the horizon. Pandemic restrictions are loosening, and Americans seem eager to travel and resume their former leisure activities. This includes touring wineries as well as resuming their search for those great bottles to share with friends.

  This reality presents both opportunities and challenges to those in the winemaking industry.

  The challenges are not inconsequential: Northern California wineries faced savage wildfires in 2017, 2019 and 2020, leaving many around the country with the impression California wineries were irreparably harmed. In parts of Maryland, some wineries are still trying to put the pieces back together after Tropical Storm Isaias last summer. And let’s not forget the pandemic shutdowns, limited capacity re-openings and economic pain felt universally across all wineries. 

  However, the opportunities for those that made it through may be just as powerful.


  One example is Old York Cellars Winery in Ringoes, New Jersey. Shutdown in March 2020 like much of the country due to COVID-19, owner David Wolin — a former attorney — gathered his staff and brainstormed.  (Photo: David is 3rd on the left)

  “We knew what we couldn’t do, and it was a lot,” Wolin explained. “The question was what could we do in this new environment?”

  Wolin and his team quickly turned to one of the major challenges for independent wineries: direct shipping to consumers.

  Winery direct-to-consumer shipping is legal in 47 U.S. states, each of which regulates its own system. Regulations, taxes and various packaging requirements can vary. However, Wolin and his team had time on their hands (they would reopen, albeit under strict New Jersey Department of Health restrictions, with limited capacity in June 2020). So Wolin put his legal training to work and secured approval to ship his Old York Cellar wines to 15 other states as well as Washington, D.C.

  In short order, he found a niche market and started shipping wine as far as California and Oregon. Much of the direct shipment was coupled with virtual wine tastings as customers reached out from all over the U.S. looking for creative ways to stay connected with friends and family through virtual activities. By the end of 2020, Old York Cellars experienced a 545 percent increase in online sales and swung from an early 2020 revenue loss of more than 70 percent to end the year up by 13 percent overall.

  For this New Jersey winery, its pandemic recovery began when it took on one of an independent winery’s biggest sales obstacles and found a way to turn it into a success.


  Another example of finding opportunity amid challenge is Healdsburg’s Longboard Vineyards in California’s famous Sonoma wine region. Like Wolin in New Jersey, Longboard’s Head of Hospitality Heidi Dittloff and Oded Shakked, the owner and winemaker, had to reinvent the business following the March 2020 shutdowns.

  “We were at a stand-still, like a lot of businesses at that point, trying to figure out how to stop hemorrhaging cash while also looking for new revenue sources,” explained Dittloff. Like many pre-pandemic wineries, Longboard’s online sales were only between 1 and 3 percent of its annual revenue.

  “Of course, looking back, ecommerce seems like the default route. Just take your sales online. Simple, right? Um, no,” said Dittloff.

  Like many small wineries, outdated software and robust websites tailored for ecommerce sales had not been a priority. Before COVID-19, it could take shoppers up to 10 clicks to purchase a bottle of wine on a typical small winery’s website. In the age of Amazon’s One-Click mindset, that’s nine clicks too many.

  Dittloff’s solution was to re-examine the sales funnels for Longboard.

  The majority (more than 70 percent) of sales for most wineries before the pandemic came from three areas: tasting rooms, wine clubs and wholesale. The shutdowns and later limited capacity requirements of 2020 effectively took in-person sales off the table, as wholesale transactions dipped temporarily. Pivoting to touchless curbside pick-up and leveraging their wine clubs helped, but the key to surviving was replacing the lost tasting room sales funnel. Longboard accomplished this through what Dittloff called “data hygiene.”

  This meant closely examining all consumer data available, understanding new buyers versus pre-COVID buyers, and designing offers that matched buyers’ needs. To do this well, Longboard also had to reinvent its website as well as completely overhaul its shopping cart to create a more user-friendly environment that limited clicks, provided buyers with their order history and created stunning visuals. This also meant updating the winery’s Point-of-Purchase system.

  “None of this was cheap,” Shakked noted. “But it was either invest or vanish because no one knew back then how long the pandemic shutdowns would last.”

  With improved customer reach and systems tied to aggressive outreach on social media to bloggers and area businesses, Longboard grew its online sales from 1 to 30 percent of its revenue, replacing nearly all of its lost tasting room sales. The key to growth in 2021 and beyond, said Dittloff, is to maintain those online sales as restrictions ease and the tasting room business returns.

  “There’s a lot of opportunity for wineries like ours to come out of this pandemic stronger than when it began,” said Shakked. “Pursuing those new sales funnels and making better, smarter use of data will be critical to that future growth.”


  For many independent wineries and vintners, undertaking the paperwork headaches, sales tax collection and reporting, as well as the logistics of shipping wine to dozens of other states, is too heavy of a lift. For some, so is a complete overhaul of its web, ecommerce and POS systems.

  This is where a solid communications strategy can play an integral role in helping independent wineries rebound from both the pandemic and all that came before it.


  One early and likely ongoing solution that will continue to be needed is the reinvention of outdoor spaces. Despite re-openings, some customers aren’t going to be completely comfortable going back indoors. This means, especially for the purposes of enticing wine club and other regional customers, developing seasonal or quarterly “makeovers” of outdoor spaces. While the upfront costs and sweat equity can be considerable, they can be recouped through a thoughtful email and social media campaign promoting the spaces. Done well, these reinvented spaces can present customers with something new or different to see several times per year while also purchasing your wines.

  Old York Cellars has done this successfully, creating a Winter Wine Village on its 28-acre property in late 2020 and early 2021, complete with decorative cabanas, high-end fire pits and posh outdoor furniture. A tented “Spring Wine Village” offers a similar vibe at Old York Cellars with a focus on new views, a dining menu and a return of outdoor entertainment, as well. Cana Vineyards & Winery in Middleburg, Virginia took a similar approach, creating 10 cozy fire pit areas on the lawn overlooking its 43-acre property and nearby mountains. Patio heaters on the winery’s outdoor decks and front porch created warm winter spaces along with ceiling heaters and an outdoor pavilion with stunning stone fireplace. S’more kits were also available for purchase.

  By mixing up the outdoor experience for customers, small wineries can offer something fresh and new for regional customers, road-trippers and wine club members to bring them back. These outdoor makeovers also present opportunities for email marketing and public relations to introduce customers to a remodeled venue as well as special offers.


  Additionally, small wineries should closely examine working with their local grower’s associations and/or chambers of commerce to come together with a single voice on their industry. Consumers are likely to remain unsure of what is and isn’t possible with travel and tourism businesses for some time. Using a collective voice to let travelers know that area wineries are open for business is key.

  Partnering with other business or marketing associations can also reveal additional opportunities for wineries to grow their way out of the pandemic and its economic challenges. A great example of this type of partnership is the collaboration of the Napa and Sonoma wineries working with LuxeSF, a B2B partner network comprised of sales and marketing professionals focused on luxury marketing in the Bay Area. As recently as April 2021, LuxeSF hosted a panel of small wine producers to talk about what happened in their industry in 2020 and offer tips and best marketing practices going forward for independent vintners.


  Surveys, of course, are an ideal way to stay connected to winery customers. They have the added value of not being seen as an overt sales tactic. Not only can these surveys help to keep small wineries top-of-mind, but they can also be great tools for gauging customer sentiment and crowdsourcing ideas as the country reopens. For instance, a survey about how customers might feel about a “garden party event” this summer or fall is a great way to gauge how to best address the potential use of masks as well as possible turn-out.

  Surveys about continued virtual tastings, satisfaction with prior wine shipments and ecommerce experiences can also provide vital insights into the continued strength and likelihood of these pandemic-induced sales channels.


  Finally, and this is a recommendation that should not be dismissed out of hand, wineries need to become content publishers.

  The world has changed, and we’re now in the experience economy. A consumer’s personal experience with a brand, service or winery can drive sales. And in a world where smartphones are ubiquitous and even grandparents are mostly on one form of social media or another, wineries need to feed consumers’ insatiable appetite for content.

  If wineries produce no other form of content (and they should produce a variety, just like their wines), it must be video. Video content should run the gamut, including tours of the vineyards, the first crush of the season, 3 to 5-minute video winemaker interviews on topics for aficionados, as well as casual tasting room tourists, 30-second event update videos and more. These videos should be shared across all the winery’s social platforms and promoted via email marketing and the website. Consumers are 37 times more likely to engage with a piece of video content than a newsletter, blog or long-form article.

  But that video needs to be brief and packed with good, non-sales information. They also need not be slickly produced. In fact, millennials and Gen Z consumers find simple smartphone videos to be “more authentic.”

  The pandemic is just the latest in a string of challenges to wineries, but it’s also likely to have one of the most profound and lasting effects on the industry. The good news is all wineries will have ample opportunities to rebound from this latest challenge, but it won’t be a return to normal or even a “new normal.” Rather, what comes next must be a new approach to how the business of wineries and vineyards are conducted and how they engage with their customers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Rod Hughes is vice president and principal with Kimball Hughes Public Relations. A former journalist and frequent public speaker, he can be reached via email at or by phone at (610) 559-758

Demystifying Wholesale Wine Distribution

By: Becky Garrison

  At the virtual Oregon Wine Symposium held February 16-19, 2020, Jeff Lewis, Director of Education & National Sales, Revana Portfolio, and Colin Eddy, National Sales Manager, NW Wine Company, presented a seminar titled “Demystifying Wine Distribution: A Winery Toolkit to Help Build and Navigate Wholesale Distribution Across the United States.” They designed the seminar for winemakers looking to enter the wholesale channel for the first time, and those with existing distribution looking to expand their markets.

  Lewis and Eddy opened their conversation with a brief history of the 21st Amendment ratified on December 5, 1933, which repealed the 18th Amendment that launched prohibition. The 21st Amendment left it up to the states to govern the production and sale of alcohol. While every state has its own specific regulations, most stuck to the 3-Tier System separating producer, distributor and retailer.

  According to Lewis and Eddy, this 3-Tier System has multiple benefits. From a regulatory and educational point of view, this system ensures the safe handling of alcohol so that the final prod-ucts are safe for consumers. From an economic angle, this creates billions of dollars of local, state and federal tax revenue. The commercial benefits prevent a given winery from dominating the marketplace.

  Eddy said a key advantage of expanding into wholesale distribution is a daily representation of your brand. “You’ve got salespeople out there telling the story of your brand and letting custom-ers sample your wares. No one can be everywhere.”

  Distribution also ensures the ability to deliver products to licensed accounts in designated territo-ries and collect payment in accordance with state and federal laws so that both the manufacturer and producer get paid on agreed-upon terms.

  Another development that began in 2020 was a rise of online wine sales, with consumers pur-chasing bottles directly from a winery, a website like or an online service such as Drizly. Large wholesalers rolled out online purchasing websites that allowed retail shops, bars and restaurants to purchase wines online without the presence of sales representatives. “The les-son here is that people are comfortable having wine delivered to their home, and online platforms are getting future customers easier and safer access. That is something that’s going to continue,” Eddy said.

Achieving Success in the Wholesale Distribution Market

  Winemakers interested in expanding their sales should first ask themselves why they are inter-ested in wholesale distribution. “It’s important to remember you’re creating a whole new sales channel, and with that comes a whole set of variables,” said Lewis.

  Among those variables include how existing sales channels will interact with this new wholesale channel and how a wholesale distribution channel will impact the sales of wine clubs or winery-only wines. Is there enough wine in production to execute this plan?

  Lewis and Eddy broke down their approach into a toolkit designed to help winemakers achieve success in the wholesale distribution market. Their first recommendation is to review the current distribution landscape. Currently, there are 1,126 unique wine distributors across the U.S. In breaking down these numbers, 37% of these distributors reside in four states, with 141 distribu-tors in California alone. Also, the list of distributors continues to shrink and consolidate market share. Presently, the top ten distributors as follows: 

Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits

• 45 States

• 119 offices

• 1100+ wineries represented

•225 Oregon Wineries Represented (total U.S. market share 32%)

Republic National Distributing (RNDC)

• 23 States

• 94 offices

• 1000+ wineries represented

• Major recent acquisitions in Young’s Market (2020) and Opici FL (2021) (total U.S. market share 19%)

Johnson Brothers

• 23 States

• 36 offices

• 430+ wineries represented California only

• 70+ Wineries represented (total U.S. market share 10%)

Breakthru Beverage Group

• 16 States

• 40 offices

• 660+ wineries represented

Empire Distributors, Inc.

• 4 States

• GA, NC, TN, CO 580+

• wineries represented


• 22 States

•. 600+ wineries represented

• National Wholesaler R. Importer

Heidelberg Distributing Company

• 2 states OH/KY, 90+ wineries represented

• Services 26,000 retailers

Wine Warehouse

• California ONLY

• 70+ wineries represented

Horizon Beverage

• 5 States

• Northeast Based

• 260+ wineries represented

Empire Merchants

• New York only

  At present, there are 11,000 wineries, with 80% producing less than 5,000 cases a year. Another 16% of wineries are classified as small, producing 5,000 to 49,999 cases, 2% are medium pro-ducing 50,000 to 4,999,999 cases, and 1% are large wineries that generate 500,000 cases or more.

  Next, they said to explore what markets to target. An analysis of the desired markets will help determine which distributors would work best for those particular products you’re looking to sell. Where are people consuming wines, and which wines are they drinking?

  Along those lines, look at regulations in these particular states to assess if this is a market where it makes sense to enter at this junction.

  Presently, 13 states are one-price states. In these states, there’s no different pricing for restaurants or retail outlets and no quantity discounts.

•    Kansas,

•    Missouri

•    Oklahoma

•    Oregon

•    Virginia

•    New Hampshire

•    Utah

•    Idaho

•    Montana

•    New Jersey

•    Mississippi

•    Pennsylvania

•    Ohio. Also,

  Channel pricing is prohibited in 16 states. In these states, you cannot separate on- and off-premise pricing.

•    Kansas

•    Oklahoma

•    Virginia

•    New Hampshire

•    Utah

•    New York

•    Arizona

•    Washington

•    Idaho

•    Oregon

•    Montana

•    New Jersey

•    Mississippi

•    North Carolina

•    Ohio

•    Pennsylvania

  In addition, quantity discounts are restricted in Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma.

  Next, Lewis and Eddy addressed state-controlled and franchise markets. Unless one has particu-larly strong relationships in an individual state, these markets do not represent an ideal place to start, and it can become difficult to change distributors should the need arise.

  The state-controlled markets are in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Utah, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Maryland (Montgomery County), where the wholesaler acts as a broker to the state, or you sell directly to the state as the manufacturer, creating another “tier” to sell through.

  The franchise market is loosely defined as a market or defined territory in which one has a con-tractually binding agreement of representation with a wholesaler. Generally speaking, franchise markets protect the wholesaler or distributor from losing revenue and brands they’ve worked to build over time. Before entering into one of these markets, research the franchise law agreements for that particular state and define the parameters around potential future releases. If possible, sign a contract with these parameters. Thirteen states are currently under a franchise market.

•   Connecticut

•   Georgia

•   Idaho

•   Maine

•   Massachusetts

•   Michigan

•   Montana

•   New Mexico

•   North Carolina

•   Ohio

•   Tennessee

•   Vermont

•   Virginia

  The final market type they addressed was price posting. In certain markets, the winery and dis-tributor must post their wholesale pricing in advance with the state. The five states that require monthly price postings are Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey and New York. Also, they touched briefly on special situations like SS packs, Cuvée cases, and other “work-around methods” in pricing wines for different premise-types.

Choosing a Wholesale Distributor

  Lewis and Eddy advocate asking your pre-existing relationships which distributors they would recommend. Also, define the distribution partner’s territory and assess if their market focus is in sync with those markets you’re looking to target. Then look at those distributors and determine where your positioning might be within their portfolio.

  Examine the number of their active accounts with a particular focus on those deemed their key accounts. Will a new brand get buried because they represent other similar varietals that will re-ceive greater attention from this distributor, or can they market a new brand effectively? Does the pricing for your wine fit in with this distributor’s portfolio? Where are their most active sales channels? For example, if a distributor primarily targets bars and restaurants for sales, they will not be the best fit for a winery looking to enter the retail market.

  Lewis added that another huge part of this equation is the sales team and territory. “You might end up splitting a state up because these mid-level and smaller distributors aren’t big enough to cover an entire state.”

  Be sure to explore the distributor’s overall operation. What is the size of their staff, and is this staff commissioned? Who are the key decision-makers, and what is their overall reputation with-in the wine industry? Is there an ownership change or other management issues? Are they look-ing to consolidate or expand? What is their timeline for paying their wineries, and do they pay them on time? Does their warehouse and inventory practices work for your particular needs?

  They recommend the SevenFifty website as a valuable source in identifying brand competitors and researching distributors, as well as price positioning and mar-ket positioning. The website also allows you to look at which producers wholesale distributors have in their book.

Launching a Wholesale Distribution Program

  Before releasing a particular wine, be sure your sales reps and brand managers have adequate resources so they can tell the story behind this vintage. Be clear where you want your wine sold, as well as the pricing for placements. Along those lines, register your labels when applicable, and allow for ample time for this registration process to be completed. Determine if you need addi-tional staff to manage both this new sales channel and inventory.

  When planning a market visit to a distributor, timing is everything. Many distributors hold their general sales meetings on Mondays and Fridays, with most of their sales staff in attendance. Hence, these meetings represent an opportunity to tell the brand’s story and have the staff taste these wines.

  When going on a distributor ride-along, be mindful that most ride-alongs occur Tuesday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The typical visit is six accounts, though it could be any-where from five to nine with a break for lunch. (You will be expected to pay for lunch). Ask to see a list of accounts you will be visiting in advance. In particular, you need to know if you are visiting on- or off-premise accounts, as that will impact your attire and the sales materials you need to bring. Know your pricing and be prepared with collateral. During these visits, be flexi-ble. The distributor arranged an entire day of appointments around your wines, so be mindful when they need to do tasks such as putting in an order. Also, expect the occasional cancellation.

  A few things Eddy suggested to keep in mind once you have a distributor in place include monthly tracking to check your inventory and update your distributor on progress versus goals. He said wineries should know when it’s time to change pricing and be aware of chain presenta-tion schedules. “You need to be clear with your distributor regarding where you want your wines sold.”

  Finally, nothing is more important than having a plan. “Have a plan going in. Check up on it, and follow up,” said Eddy.

Websites Are a Virtual “Garden”

By: Susan DeMatei

  I was reading an article about spring gardening tasks, and they were suggesting that spring was a great time for maintenance. The types of things recommended, such as cleaning and sharpening tools, checking bulbs and seeds for moisture or mold, mulching existing flower beds, and planning for new ones, all made sense and almost inspired me enough to get off the warm couch and go out to my shed to investigate. But, because I’m a nerd, my mind immediately followed the theme to a digital correlation.

  Websites are a virtual “garden.” Their goal is to appeal to customers, draw them in and create an inviting setting so they may stay awhile. We design new sections within them, like adding blogs or recipes, we plant new products and SKUs and prune old ones no longer available. Sometimes we get tired of the entire thing and change the color scheme and layout with new pictures or templates. Like a garden, we should tend to our websites because if we let them sit over time, their ability to function and attract customers dissipate. However, regular website maintenance is something that many don’t realize is necessary. So, for this week’s blog, here is a list of periodic maintenance tasks to help you keep your website in full bloom.

  ADA Compliance:  We didn’t just start with this because it fits alphabetically – but you can remember it that way. It’s crucial to ensure that your website abides by ADA Compliance guidelines because of possible hefty fines, potential lawsuits, and these accessibility enhancements open your website to more potential consumers.

  Things to ensure to check each month to remain ADA Compliant are:

  Image Alternative Text: Every image you add to your website should have good alternative text. Alternative, or “alt” text, is a description of the image in the code that Google and screen readers for the blind can read. This code should describe what your image portrays, such as “Customers enjoying a tasting in the tasting room.” The only exception is if an image is entirely decorative (such as a twirly graphic forming a text break or a background style). With each new image you add, you will want to add alternative text to remain ADA Compliant. This addition also benefits you from an SEO lens.

  In this example, even though the picture is called “mondavi-family-04.jpg”, the website developer has given the picture an alt name of “Cesare and Rosa stading picture” to go along with the text. Helpful, but check your spelling in tags, too!

  Text Contrast: Anytime your copy or text has been adjusted, it’s essential to make sure that the characters are easy to read and not impeded by background images that may become unclear or hard to see.

  Links: Any new links that you create or add also need to contain clear relevant text. A URL with a mess of unfriendly letters and code can make you non-compliant—for example,  as opposed to:

Always try your best to have a friendly marketing URL that denotes what page they are on.

  SEO Improvements: You might think that most website building systems handle this for you automatically, but the sad truth is they don’t. You should already have a Google Analytics tracking code on your site, and ideally, you should also have a Facebook Pixel set up to track activity. If you don’t, you’re just paddling around without a plan. From a monthly maintenance perspective, the critical things for this category are:

  Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions:  While most systems do give you Meta Titles by default, these are often very basic and don’t abide by best practices according to the leading SEO platforms out there, namely Google. The real problem on the other side of the coin is Meta Descriptions are usually empty by default or don’t follow the best course.

  A big part of this is knowing how to write proper Meta Descriptions so that your website traffic improves – these aren’t just keywords of standard search terms. There’s an actual strategy to doing this correctly. For example, you shouldn’t stuff keywords into your Meta Descriptions. One case study by SterlingSky shows that when they saw brands keyword stuffing their posts, 40% of the time, the listing was suspended or removed by Google and had to be added again. With any new page created or even any new product added to your website store, it’s surprisingly vital to make sure that you’ve added the appropriate Meta Descriptions.

  Keep your “Google My Business” page up to date:  Since Google is the most widely used search engine, this gives you a significant advantage in using the free Google My Business tools. However, having accurate operating hours is critical, especially since we’re in a current teeter-totter between open and closed. Considering this fact, you may wish to check on your business hours more frequently than once a month. You wouldn’t want someone making the trip to your tasting room when you’re mandated to have your doors shut.

  If you don’t have a Google My Business page, it could increase traffic. According to Forbes, a study done in 2019 stated, “Google My Business is a critical channel, with 96% of local businesses being viewed at least 25 times per month in Search results, and 86% receiving more than 25 [views per month] in Maps. And there’s plenty of space for high numbers, with 49% of businesses receiving more than 1,000 average Search views per month, and 33% receiving 1,000+ on Maps.” As of August of 2020, Forbes explains, “Google My Business has yet to catch on with large companies and those focused on B2B it seems, but manufacturers that sell through local independent retailers should refocus on GMB and how it can help their retailers succeed.”

  Broken Links:  As offers change and products go out of stock, it’s essential to make sure that your links don’t break. So, this upcoming month, if a product went out of stock, was it a featured link in an email? If a customer opens that email a few months later as they’re cleaning out their inbox and clicks on a link, will that connection break?

  Privacy Policy Compliant: In 2020 we saw the introduction of two privacy policies that impact each of us: CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), obviously for California residents, and LGPD (General Data Protection Law) for Brazil. (In 2018, the GDPR for the EU was put into effect for anyone who displays their website to anyone in the EU.) These laws are worth reviewing to ensure any new forms you’ve created on your site and your cookie policies follow them. There are plugins for WordPress that can handle the necessary popups and wording.

  Social Media Ads and Posts:   You should monitor and “prune” your social media posts as well. Technically these aren’t part of your website but play a vital role in bringing people to your website. When sensitive issues are coming up in the world scene (as we saw many examples of last year), many leave their ads in place without adapting them to show empathy for those suffering or to bring awareness appropriately. Meanwhile, some go entirely the other way and turn off their ads or halt their social media presence altogether, effectively shutting the door on potential sales by showing the outreach of an emotional connection with the consumer rather than plugging a promotion.

  For instance, leaving your ads as they stand – which usually contain a call-to-action, can seem tone-deaf. You’ve heard the term “read the room”; we need to “read the news” in this case. For example, adapt your posts showing an empathetic thought regarding the displacement of families who have lost homes in wildfires. Being relevant helps prospects and consumers appreciate the heart behind your brand, build a connection with your team members, and feel motivated to keep connected with your company.

By way of review:

•   Image Alternative Text

•   Text easily legible

•   Links are friendly and easy to read.

•   Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions follow best practices.

•   Google My Business Up to Date

•   Check for Broken Links

•   Check your forms that they are compliant with privacy policies.

•   Check your Social Media Ads and posts to make sure they are relevant.

  Now you have a spring maintenance list to ensure more significant traffic to your site, correct hours, better ADA compliance, and SEO practices. We hope that with these tips, your 2021 season will bloom with well-functioning websites attracting flocks of customers that enjoy your online garden.

What To Do After a Virtual Trade Show

By: Susan DeMatei and Nathan Chambers

Chances are you’ve attended a virtual conference by now. Perhaps it was your first, or maybe you’re a seasoned pro. In either case, thanks to the ongoing pandemic and the reoccurring “Stay at Home” directives, virtual events are likely going to be here for a while. And why not? reports that through video meetings, businesses can reduce travel costs by 30%. According to the Bizzabo Post Covid-19 Event Outlook Report, an overwhelming 93% of organizers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward.

  Unlike in-person conferences, you have to work a bit harder to get the most value out of this time when they’re online. Here are some tips for things you can do after the conference to maximize your efforts.

Contact People You Met

  68% of B2B marketers use in-person events for lead generation initiatives. This data point is especially noteworthy considering that AdStage reports 73% of marketers prioritized lead quality. Meaning, one of the vital elements of any conference is the chance to connect, make new friends, engage with old colleagues, and form new relationships that will help you both personally and professionally.

  Networking is more natural in person. And typically, when you go to a conference, you leave with a stack of business cards that sit on your desk as a reminder to follow up on these connections.

  But, this printed reminder doesn’t exist with a virtual conference. It is up to you to take notes and forward contact information to continue the conversation.

  Hopefully, you kept a list of people you spoke to or exchanged chat messages with during the conference. Maybe you wanted to ask the keynote speaker a question, but you didn’t have time, or your kid’s virtual education crashed your network the morning of the breakout session you wanted to attend!

  Either way, make a list of people with whom you would have connected and reach out to them.

  Whova, the popular event software, has some suggestions to stay in front of your expanded network while the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind. They suggest doing the following in the first three days after an event:

•    Email your event contacts with thank-yous or requests for further conversation.

•    Search social media platforms for mention of the event or hashtags; connect to individuals talking about the event.

•    Cross-reference your new connections on LinkedIn referencing the event.

•    Double (and triple) check your notes from the event to make sure you organize and attend any post-event meetings/calls you planned during the event.

  Send them a note and set up some time to connect, whether over the phone, a socially distanced coffee, or even with Facetime. If you wait and let ideas and memories fade, you’ll be cheating yourself out of a great opportunity.

Grow Your Database

  How often do you look up a business contact only to find out they’ve changed positions or are at a new company? As you reflect and review your day(s) at the conference, you undoubtedly made some new contacts and reconnected with past ones. Take a few minutes to update both your personal as well as professional mailing list.

  Make sure you’ve got updated phone numbers, email addresses, and current employers. When doing this, make sure to update contacts on your phone.

  If you add or update people to your company database, make sure to use a tagging system or segmentation note. This can be something as simple as “XYZ Trade Show Mar_21”. As we all know, segmentation is a huge asset when it comes to recontacting someone. Having information could be critical if you want to send a follow-up email to people you met during a breakout session or event organizers. Spending an hour detailing notes of conversations and contact information will pay dividends for you in the future.

Knowledge Sharing

  Maybe you went as a group or were the only one who had the privilege of attending the conference. Chances are, there are others in your organization that could benefit from what you heard.

  Make sure to review your notes and any PDF’s distributed as part of the conference. Set some time to meet with your team and your supervisor to go over the highlights. Discuss new ideas that you want to try, new strategies on an old problem, or the conference in general. Also, give your team the floor to ask questions and probe what you heard.  

In Case You Missed It

  Bizzabo reports that over half (54%) of virtual event registrants convert to virtual attendees. Even when we attend, we can’t be in three breakout rooms at the same time. So almost all conferences supply links to the videos of the sessions.

  Check the conference website to see if the sessions you missed are now available for viewing. Recordings of new portions of the conference originally live-streamed may have been added, giving you multiple opportunities to review what went on at the conference. Don’t forget to share the links with your team so they can view the information. 

Get Involved

  Now that you’ve attended the conference, updated your mailing list with new contacts and old friends, met with your team and shared your learnings, and watched the videos of sessions missed and discussions you wanted to remember, there’s just one more thing left to do. Offer feedback via social media or thank the organization, and look for opportunities with future conferences. 

  If the conference sent out a survey to attendees, take it and give honest feedback and suggestions. Virtual meetings are relatively new for everyone, so any insight or tips we’re sure would go a long way. Also, consider getting involved. If you or someone on your team wants to plan next year’s event, reach out to the organizers.

  As with most things, the more engaged and thoughtful you are before, during, and after the conference, the more rewards you will see.

  Susan DeMatei is the President and Nathan Chambers is an Account Director at WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.  

The Results Are In! The Annual Email Benchmark Report

By: Susan DeMatei

Each December, WineGlass Marketing releases email benchmarks for the wine industry. We do this because having a bar to evaluate email performance has always been a challenge within the wine ecosystem. Benchmarks are widely available for broad categories such as “Retail” or “Food and Grocery,” but finding something to compare a Wine Club email to is historically as accurate as predicting what would happen next in 2020.

  2020 will forever have an asterisk next to it, noting numerous external forces outside of our control which affected our marketing and response rates. When looking at the calendar, there are many force majeure events worth noticing that likely prevented our customers from responding typically:

•    We had an initial Shelter-in-Place order closing tasting rooms and restaurants in mid-March. The government asked us to work at home and limit our time outside, so eCommerce delivery options filled the void. Our media consumption changed as we searched for connections, and we became glued to CNN and obsessed with Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. Business suffered, and by the end of Spring, our unemployment rate was in the double digits.

•    Tensions rose with the temperatures as several racial injustices made headline news culminating in the death of George Floyd on May 25. This horrible tragedy unleashed weeks of riots and demonstrations throughout the summer months. Some states relaxed their grip on the Shelter-In-Place orders, albeit cautiously, which resulted in a flurry of changing rules. Forced to interpret the rules, wineries tried to convince customers to visit again.

•    And then came the fires. Not one but two waves in August and September devastated western states, including California. The fires destroyed a few wineries but caused extensive smoke taint damage to the 2020 vintage for a larger group. The media descended, and reporters were everywhere convincing consumers to stay away from a Northern California that was in flames, leaving wineries the practical duty of reporting the actual impact to their mailing lists.

•    The fire of different views on how to handle the virus and inequality in our country was fanned brighter in the fall with a very contentious national election. September and October saw media ads and email boxes jammed packed, so there was very little else on anyone’s mind.

•    Finally, in Q4, there was no letting up with another wave of Coronavirus underway with several states considering going back to strict stay-at-home guidelines. Some expect the most significant online holiday shopping season yet, but that will uncover itself in time.

  Throughout all of this year, our customers have endured. They have accepted their club shipments and opened our emails, and God bless them, they have ordered wine.

  A lot of wine, actually. Early in the year, Wine Intelligence reported initial growth in wine consumption frequency due to the shift to at-home occasions more than compensated for the loss of on-premise occasions. Thus, making our emails more critical than ever.

  However, did this trend continue? Hubspot says no. The marketing juggernaut released a report at the end of October this year asserting that after initial explosions of emails and subsequent consumer mass consumption, the responses to emails, and sales, are dwindling.

  With the outrageous context of 2020 in mind, we widened our scope for this year’s benchmarks and leaned into the data. We pulled statistics for the past year on 222 wineries with over 9,000 campaigns and just shy of 46 million emails, and what we found was interesting.


  We all increased our email campaigns. The average number of campaigns sent per winery in our 2018-2019 report was 1.88 per month, equating to a little less than 23 emails a year or a frequency of one email every 2-3 weeks for sales, events, or wine club communications.

  The average number of campaigns sent per winery in 2020 is double this at 3.63 per month, which means that on average, we sent one email a week to communicate with our customers this year. It seems that we followed suit with other industries who jumped on email as the logical replacement for in-person customer care, sales, and support. And why not? Email is relatively inexpensive, and it does not require staff to be present in the office or consumers to be in a particular location either. It is, actually, the perfect COVID marketing platform.

  However, did these emails work?

Open Rates Fell

  Initially, we look to open rates to gauge if customers are receptive to our messages. An open rate is how many people, expressed as a percentage, opened an email and is largely a factor of three things:

•    The sending address or who the email is from.

•    The subject line.

•    The teaser text that appears in browsers to

      provide a summary of the email.

  However, environmental factors that contend for attention can trump all of these rules. The data exposes that after an initial spike in March during the initial COVID Shelter-In-Place orders, there has been a steady decline in Open Rates in 2020. Moreover, although this study ended on 9/30 – we can also assume we will experience lower rates in November and December with the election and the standard holiday email burnout.

Bounce Rates Increased

  Bounces fall into two classes. A soft bounce is when the receiving server recognizes the email recipient, but the address is blocked at the moment: such as an out of the office response. A hard bounce means the address is no longer on the server.

  With office closures and unemployment hitting the double digits mid-year, we can confidently assume that many email addresses changed this year.

  This hypothesis played out in the data as we saw bounce rates jump by 20% from pre-COVID to post-COVID months.

Click-Through Rates Skyrocket

  The Click-Through Rate is how many people click on an email, expressed as a percentage, and mostly depends on how compelling the email is. What is considered compelling is mostly subjective but includes the offer itself, the copywriting, and the presentation, such as an image, text, or a button.

The exciting thing about the Click-Through Rate is its independence of other metrics – such as Open Rate or frequency. Click-Through Rates are an accurate indication of a customers’ interest in the message.

  The closure of thousands of wineries and restaurants forced customers to look to other channels for their essential wine needs. The most obvious of these channels is emails directing sales to eCommerce. Therefore, consumer attention and consumption of email messages swelled in March and Click-Through Rates stayed high through the summer. But then we see the exhaustion and distraction set in the fall and we fall below previous years. When we pull data next year, we hope to see the typical Q4 spike in 2020 with results in strong eCommerce sales for everyone.

Want To Hear More From the Report?

  Go to our website for the full report that dives into frequency, subject lines, and eCommerce conversions. Alternatively, use this QR Code.

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

Software for Wineries: Time-saving Technology Lifts Wineries to Higher Levels of Productivity

Credit: Vintrace

By: Cheryl Gray

Software applications are helping wineries worldwide manage day-to-day operations from vineyard to table, including that often elusive commodity: time. From tracking product inventory to monitoring grapes’ ripeness, time-saving winery software choices are available for virtually every business need. The question of what applications are on the market is immediately followed by where to find it.

  Process2Wine:  Leave it to the south of France to provide an answer by way of Process2Wine, a cloud-based SaaS vineyard and winery production management platform for desktop and mobile devices, developed by Ertus Group in Bordeaux, France. Created by a team of technicians, winemakers and oenologists, Process2Wine has been in use in wine regions of France, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Languedoc, since 2013. To expand into the United States, Ertus Group acquired Wine Management Systems in 2018. Clement Chivite, an experienced winemaker turned business manager in California, spearheaded the adaptation of Process2Wine to fit the U.S. and Canadian markets.

  “With Process2Wine, you can record all operations from vine to bottle. The software helps winemakers and growers manage record keeping and allows them to monitor their production by creating reporting at every stage of the winemaking process. Comparing procedures, inputs, analyses and costs year-over-year helps viticulturists and winemakers make the right decisions and find efficiencies based on accurate data. Plus, it saves so much time to be able to generate a 5140 report or a pesticide use report at the click of a button.

  “The software is continuously being updated. Our R&D aims to help the industry respond to new challenges, such as climate change, using the internet of things and precision agriculture.”

  Process2Wine customer assistance includes training sessions, online support and direct contact with client account managers.

  Vintrace:  Arriving from Australia to the U.S. in 2008, vintrace is a cloud-based global competitor, serving wineries of all sizes in North and South America, Europe, New Zealand and its native Australia.  Heather Crawford, general manager for the company’s North American division, told The Grapevine Magazine why the word “trace” is part of the company’s name.

  “Starting in the vineyard with assessments for harvest planning, creating bookings, writing work orders for grape processing, labs and all movements, ending with the final packaging and tracking of inventory, vintrace enables every part of the winery. With accurate, real-time information, time is saved at critical moments, like harvest, and fewer mistakes are made as all tanks, all vessels and all wines are tracked.”

  Crawford added that using vintrace’s application programming interface makes it possible for clients to expand the software’s productivity.

“Increasingly, we are seeing wineries extract production information from vintrace to put alongside other data, such as planning and forecasting, in tools like Microsoft Power BI, to better measure their operations. Using vintrace APIs makes this completely self-service.”

  Clients have access to either self-help or hands-on technical support from the vintrace team. Crawford said the application increases scanning capabilities and is available on Android and iOS for mobile connectivity.

  TeraVina:  Oztera, based in Pleasanton, California, partnered with Microsoft to offer TeraVina, a winery software application built on the Microsoft Dynamics Business Central (NAV) platform. Oztera provides both cloud-based and computer-installed winery software. Michael Stallman is the company’s director of business development.

  “We took the base functionality and underlying technology from Microsoft and extended that solution to provide winery specific functionality. We were fortunate to work with some very prestigious wineries and seasoned industry veterans to really focus on winery requirements and automating common tasks. We continue to grow our solution to meet the needs of all our clients and push the buck on technology. It is important to note that we can move more quickly with changing technology trends because we have Microsoft behind us. We can extend their technologies to keep up with the larger market and not bootstrap wineries to specific technologies.”

  Oztera can also apply its toolset to integrate with external systems, allowing wineries to keep existing functions they like and improve the output of others, even if that application is an Oztera competitor.

  “A good example is a recent integration with Winemaker’s Database. We encountered a scenario where the winemaking team really liked where they were at with their winemaking systems, but the rest of the business needed help. While on the surface, WMDB is a competitor of ours, we were willing to work with them and provide a solution that helped our client achieve their goals.  We delivered a system that provided them with the gains they needed on other fronts while building a bridge to WMDB, making that part of their business more streamlined. “

  VinNOW:  Another choice for wineries with small budgets looking for big package solutions is VinNOW, the brainchild of Ted Starr. A software engineer, Starr put his 40 years in the industry to work by creating a software system that he said can handle just about anything. 

  “VinNOW was created in 1999 as a custom program for wineries with a need: telesales, customer records, inventory tracking, order discounting and invoicing. It has been growing ever since to include point of sale, robust wine club processing, QuickBooks integration, compliance and shipping integrations with multiple vendors, comprehensive reporting and time cards, to name a few. “

  Starr and his wife, Deanna, an experienced winemaker, use VinNOW in their Milano Family Winery, based in Hopland, California. He explained to The Grapevine Magazine how the software helps to save time. 

  “We utilize our integration with ShipCompliant to collect and submit various states’ compliance reporting for sales tax and excise taxes, saving countless valuable hours of time. Our extensive reporting capabilities allow us to get the information needed to complete various reporting requirements such as sales tax, wine sales by alcohol level, and shipments, inside and outside of our state. 

  In addition, we use our VinTracker bulk wine and custom crush billing module to track the wine’s containers, volume and work performed, as well as generating work orders for current work to be completed.”

  Starr said that VinNOW offers an alternative to cloud-based software systems, which can be a problem for wineries with poor internet connections.

  “As many wineries are in areas which experience this, that is a major challenge.  On a busy day, if you can’t use the solution, you lose sales. Using software that is on your computer ensures you are in charge of your data – it is located at your site. With cloud-based systems, if your internet is down or slows, it will hinder your ability to sell your products.”

  Starr added that product installation and data maintenance are intuitive and VinNow also comes with free unlimited live support and training. New features and functions are added continuously, including some adaptations to accommodate the demands that COVID-19 restrictions have placed upon wineries.

  “We have redesigned our point of sale to facilitate the sales process. We are also able to process credit card transactions away from the winery or tasting room.”

  InnoVint:  Ashley Leonard started her career as a winemaker nearly a decade ago.  Frustrated by winery software that didn’t quite fit her needs, Leonard founded InnoVint, a cloud-based, mobile software solution managing all aspects of the winery. Backed by a team of experienced winemakers and modern software engineers, Leonard said her company is the first to bring mobile-driven software to the wine industry.

  “The software goes beyond activity tracking as a digital workflow productivity tool, uniting winery teams both within production and with other departments such as finance and compliance. Daily activity is recorded in real-time, whether in the vineyard, the lab, the cellar or on-the-go. Production integrates seamlessly with compliance and costing, so the winery has confidence that their entire operation is running smoothly.”

  Leonard said that InnoVint puts the winery back in charge of time management, taking the head-scratching out of technology use.

  “Winemakers are not software gurus. They shouldn’t have to waste their time figuring out clunky, legacy databases to fit their unique processes. They deserve purpose-built software that caters directly to their specific vineyard and winery activities. InnoVint is designed by a team of winemakers with 75 harvests under our belt, and it shows in how catered our solution is for them.

  Whether the winery is a small boutique producer, large custom crush operator or bulk wine supplier, we save them hours of time per week by reducing communication friction, bringing relevant winemaking data to the surface and uniting production with the other departments at the winery through a single pane of glass.”

“Marietta Cellars: Spinning Magic in Sonoma County”

Scott Bilbro and his late father, Chris

By: Nan McCreary, Sr. Staff Writer, The Grapevine Magazine

Marietta Cellars owner and winemaker Scot Bilbro remembers growing up and watching his late father, Chris, perform magic in his winery in Sonoma County.  Not magic with cards or sleight of hand, but magic in transforming cardboard wine boxes into suits of armor for his boys or grilling sweet but spicy ribs and blending a fruity Zinfandel and a hearty Petite Sirah to make a perfect wine pairing for dinner.

  It is that same magic — the magic of creativity and possibility — that inspires Scot, second generation winemaker at the small family winery founded by Chris Bilbro in 1978.  “I’m building off what my father started,” Bilbro told The Grapevine Magazine, “and keeping a lot of his creeds and thoughts in my head and heart while also making it my own thing.”

  The hallmark of the elder Bilbro’s winemaking was a certain freedom of expression, his son explained, which inspired him to create unique blends of wines atypical of Sonoma County, and all of California for that matter. “Dad was just a pleasurable, comfortable gentleman who did things that made sense to him,” Bilbro remembered. “It wasn’t that he threw the rulebook out; it was just that he hadn’t been classically trained so he did things in a way that made sense to him.”  One such blend was his now-iconic Old Vine Red, a combination of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Syrah and Carignan that Chris Bilbro created in the 1980s. The proprietary blend put Marietta Cellars on the map and earned a stable of dedicated followers that continues to this day. What makes this wine especially distinctive is that it’s a blend not just of varieties, but of vintages. “This is a delicious wine that has become a well-known table wine for people across the country,” Bilbro said.  “And yet it started as a little brainchild created by my father in a little cow barn in the hills above Dry Creek and Healdsburg.”

  Bilbro, with a winery as his childhood playground and a degree in Viticulture and Enology at U.C. Davis, has been continuing his father’s legacy since Chris retired in 2012.  While that legacy was well established — Chris’s success with OVR allowed Marietta to grow and purchase its own vineyards rather than continue to source fruit from friends and farmers — the younger Bilbro has access to Marietta’s 310 acres of estate-based vineyards in Alexander Valley in Sonoma and McDowell Valley and the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino.  Marietta still chooses to source a small amount of grapes from a few select growers with whom they have significant history. 

  Marietta’s vineyards offer an ideal climate for grape growing, with hot days for ripening and cool nights for developing acidity to balance the flavors. All grapes are farmed organically, with no synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers.  “This means lots of hand labor,” Bilbro told The Grapevine Magazine, “but most of our vineyard crew has been with us for years — some for decades —and they know what needs to be done and when.”  Bilbro and his crew tend the vineyards year round, and when harvest time comes, they pick the grapes with care and precision.  In some years, they may harvest multiple times per block, depending on the ripeness of grapes in that block.  “All of this is time-consuming,” Bilbro acknowledged, “but there are no shortcuts in the vineyard, or in the winery.  Everything is determined by information we’re getting at the time rather than by going on autopilot.”

  In the winery, Bilbro is now spinning wine with his own magic, just like his father before him.  “My winemaking philosophy is an amalgam of my father and my education at UC Davis,” Bilbro explained. “We ferment in stainless steel tanks and age in neutral oak, because we want the grapes to preserve the properties of their terroir.” In any given harvest, the volume of a grape variety may exceed the room in the fermentation tank, so Bilbro and his team separate those grapes into individual tanks for fermentation and aging.  Typically, Marietta has 80 fermentations with each harvest, sometimes with two fermentations from one block, separated by ripeness.  Once the separate fermentation lots have matured in barrel, maybe as long as a year, they bring individual lots of wine together to create the final wine. “It’s much better to make sure the wine is balanced before wrapping the fermentations together rather than finding out a year later that the wine is not as balanced or complete as we like and having to resort to additives,” he said. “We want to make sure that everything that goes together deserves to go together.”

  Marietta creates three series of wines: the OVR series, the Family Series and the Single Vineyard Series.  The OVR series includes wines made from old vines: the Old Vine Red; a Rose made from some of the oldest Grenache and Syrah in the state; and a Riesling sourced from the state’s second oldest Riesling vines. The Family Series features wines that Bilbro names after people in his life and business:  Román, a crisp, modern Zinfandel named after their cellarmaster of 34 years; Christo, his version of a Rhone-style red wine, honoring Chris Bilbro, or “Christo” as his beloved great aunt Marietta (for whom the winery is named) called him and a passionate lover of Syrah; and Armé, a Cabernet Sauvignon that balances New and Old World styles and is named for Marietta’s husband, Armé and Chris’ adventurous great uncle. The Single Vineyard Series highlights individual vineyards that deliver the purest expression of place: Angeli, a Zinfandel from Angeli Ranch in Alexander Valley, settled in 1886 and home to the Marietta Cellars winery; Game Trail, a cellar-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yorkville Highlands; and Gibson Block, a Syrah from the McDowell Valley, among the state’s oldest Syrah vines, dating back to the 1880s.

  While all of these wines are quality wines in their own right, it’s the historic OVR that’s the signature wine for Marietta Cellars.  The winery produces 50,000 cases of wine a year; 25,000 is OVR. While there’s no recipe for the wine, Bilbro said it’s always based on Zinfandel, with smaller components of Syrah, Petite Syrah and Carignan. “We have a massive barrel room, almost like a three-dimensional matrix with multiple varieties and multiple vintages,” he told The Grapevine Magazine.  “My dad and I would pick lots that we thought might be relevant to the next release, and we’d blindly taste through them and put them in different groupings, like groupings of wines with bright fruit, structure or wines with savory components.  Then we’d pick our favorites from each and blend them together to make the OVR.  We’d do all of this by feel, which is part of that freedom of expression.” The OVR is released in lots, two lots per year.  Marietta Cellars is now on lot #71.  “The blend is always different,” Bilbro noted. “I may add a half a percentage of Cabernet to bring up in some tannins, or a bit of Barbera to bring up the acidity. A percentage doesn’t seem like much, but it can make a difference.” Whatever the blend, the style of OVR is always the same: it’s an easy drinking, medium-bodied wine that’s full of flavor.

  As Marietta Cellars looks to the future, more exploration is in the cards.  Bilbro and his staff are especially excited about their vineyards in McDowell Valley in Mendocino, which is renowned for Rhone varieties and home to some of the oldest Syrah and Grenache Gris in California. “We want to play with historical varieties that are less articulated out there and rearticulate them,” Bilbro said.  “We also want to work these grapes into our existing blends to add some nuance.” These grapes, according to Bilbro, include Mourvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul and Viognier, all grapes from the Rhone Valley that are becoming more popular among U.S. growers.

  Business-wise, Marietta Cellars recently entered a partnership with VINTUS, a wines and spirits importer and marketing agent to expand its presence in the market.  The company has been named a Wine & Spirits Importer of the Year five times (2015-2016-2017-2018-2019-2020) and in 2017 was named Wine Enthusiast Importer of the Year.  VINTUS’ portfolio today includes Chateau Montelena, Gary Farrell Winery, Ponzi Vineyards, Champagne Bollinger, E. Guigal, Chateau Minuty, Ornellaia, Masseto, Pétrus, Château La Fleur-Pétrus, Château Margaux, Masciarelli, Tommasi, Sandrone, Le Macchiole, Quinta do Noval, Dog Point Vineyard, Errazuriz Finca Decero and others totaling more than 40 leading global estates.

  Clearly, Marietta Cellars, a small family winery, has been doing big things since it was founded over 40 years ago.  But the goals remain the same as they were in the beginning: to create something special and share that with the world. “Ultimately, sharing what we do with our lives — rather than our jobs — is important to us,” Bilbro told The Grapevine Magazine.  “Our wine is not a commodity:  It’s something we are pouring our time and hearts and souls into.  When people drink our wines, we hope they think about our family and how much care and focus we put into what we do so they can actually feel what it’s like to make these wines and walk these vineyards. We want people to experience our wine, not just taste it.”

For more information on Marietta Cellars, visit

How To Get The Most Out Of A Virtual Trade Show

By: Susan DeMatei

All indicators suggest we will continue our social distancing well in 2021, which means the late winter trade shows in North America will be chiefly virtual this year. The vast majority of us have never attended a virtual trade show, let alone hosted a booth in one. So, as we all venture into this new virtual age together, let’s discuss what to expect, how to prepare, and how to “walk through the virtual exhibition hall” to get the most out of this year’s upcoming events.


  Try The Software:  Your virtual conference will use an online tool you may not have downloaded or used before. Nothing is more frustrating than missing the first 10 minutes because you had to download and install an application. Don’t wait until the morning of the conference to download the software; check that it works on your computer and that you have sufficient bandwidth and a working camera and microphone.

  Ideally, during the weeks before the conference, take a quick tour of features and set up your profile name and company name so you can present your best self to the other attendees. If you already have the software on your computer, review the settings. This is not the time to be logged in as your spouse or child. If you have a profile section, fill it out, and upload a picture of yourself. Remember, this is your “face” to your industry colleagues.

  Plan Your Calendar:  Just because you’re not traveling physically, that doesn’t mean you mentally get to check out. People attend trade shows to participate in live sessions, make appointments, network, and look for new potential partners on the trade show floor. Make sure you block out time for each of these goals. Tell your co-workers and family that you are unavailable during these times.

  When you build your schedule, pay attention to live versus recorded sessions. If your day gets full, save the recorded segments for later times and dates.

  Virtual conferences aren’t just for learning – networking is possible even through a computer. Set up appointments before the event with colleagues. Attend happy hours or breakout sessions with other attendees. And don’t forget to give yourself some open time to browse content other attendees bring.

  Build-in Breaks:  One thing you would do naturally is sit down and have a cup of coffee or grab lunch when you’re attending a trade show. Don’t forget to build these in for your virtual tradeshow. These are your responsibility to include and are essential to allow you your brain to change pace to context shift from one activity to another. To keep yourself energized, try to vary activities – so schedule networking or “virtual coffee appointments” in between sessions where you’re listening for long periods.

  Consider attending with colleagues to boost your social engagement during the conference. You can accomplish this by communicating with each other between sessions or schedule a meeting afterward to share key takeaways and discuss how what you’ve learned might impact your work. You can also chat with people with Microsoft Teams or Slack during presentations. But be careful you don’t have too many channels going simultaneously, which will distract rather than focus your attention.


  Accessing Booths and Exhibits:  When you register, you’ll create an account with a secure username and password. At a later date, the conference should send you an invitation email containing a unique link to the virtual trade show. When the time comes for the event to begin, click the link and sign in.

  The conference should greet you with a welcome page, which may appear like you entered an actual lobby with people conversing and meeting. It should guide you into the exhibition hall, where you will find dozens of booths. Click on each booth to see what their services are, chat with an associate from that business, see a brief demo, and ask any kinds of questions you might have. You can also book a video chat appointment, or a booth might invite you to book a 1-1 time later that day. If you do schedule an appointment, the conference tool should track that and notify you via email. You can click on the various parts of the screen to access the exhibit hall, auditorium, or info desk.

  If you need help, there will be a technical help desk where you can speak with an event organizer directly or have questions answered about policies, terms, or the event in general.

  Attending Keynotes and Presentations:  Like any trade show, the conference will provide you with a booth map, a session schedule, and speaker bios. The difference here is this information will be accessible in the main navigation of the website versus on a printed program.

  If you have decided to attend speaker sessions, make sure you know the link/location for the talk and be there on time. Live notifications will appear on your screen with reminders about upcoming panels or keynote sessions so that you don’t miss them.

Overall Tips For Attendance:

1.  Participate: It may be tempting to remain an anonymous voyeur, but you’ll get so much more out of the session if you reach out to others:

•    Introduce yourself in session chats.

•    Contribute to discussions and ask questions.

•    There’s usually a networking lounge to connect with other attendees per session where you can talk through group or individual chats.

•    Participate with hashtags to continue the conversation on social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and Twitter.

2.  Pause: Zoom exhaustion is real when you are staring at a screen watching video presentations for too long without taking any breaks. You can get very tired, so a good recommendation is to periodically take a short break, stand up, walk around and get some food or something to drink. That way, you’ll get the most out of the event with those brief, regular breaks throughout the day.

3.  Focus: You’ll have to work a little harder than you would if you were physically there to be present.

•    Take written notes. The act of writing allows your brain another way of remembering than just auditory or visual cues. It also makes you take your fingers off the keyboard, which signals your brain to focus on the screen.

•    Take screengrabs of interesting charts or items to refer to later.

•    Watch in full screen, and turn off all alerts, so you don’t get pulled into an update on social media or an email.

4.  Stretch: Did we mention breaks? We will suggest it again. It is essential to get up and move every hour to give your brain a quick recharge.


  Most people plan on watching some of the on-demand sessions, but they rarely do. If you have recordings on your plan, schedule time to watch them within a week to keep the context and connections fresh. Also, reach out to your new contacts and review any downloaded videos or PDFs from vendors that first week after the conference.

  Above all, adjust your expectation that you’ll be passively watching other people online in your PJs at home. If you actively include yourself in virtual conferences and are committed to focused participation, you’ll be surprised by all the rewards you’ll find.

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