Post-Harvest Vineyard Maintenance: Tips to Finish the Year Off Right

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Although the busy time of harvesting grapes is winding down or has ended for many vineyards, there’s not much time to sit back and relax before more critical work must be done. Many post-harvest vineyard tasks should be on every vineyard’s to-do lists to prepare for next year’s crop and sustain the longevity of the vineyard’s operations.

The Basics of Post-Harvest Vineyard Management

  After the growing season ends and the grapes have been picked, grapevines go dormant and signal that it’s time to start preparing for next year. Some of the vital maintenance tasks to do after harvesting are removing bird netting, analyzing the soil with samples, repairing or replacing trellising and equipment, and planting a cover crop to reduce soil nutrient loss and control erosion. It is also the time of year to be proactive about pest control, consider irrigation strategy, stock up on new vines and put some thought into overall vineyard management strategy.

  As vineyards wrap up harvest operations and prepare for winter, some specialists may be helpful for advice, products and services.

•    Vineyard management companies

•    Pest control companies

•    Irrigation consultants

•    Nurseries

•    Trellising companies

•    Soil companies

Check and Repair Trellising

  Trellising is a big part of post-harvest maintenance, because, in most climates, grapevines need supports to secure the wood and summer shoots within the training system, and ensure proper ventilation and exposure.

  “Furthermore, the trellis helps to improve the implementation of viticulture work and facilitate mechanized procedures, like machine harvesting,” said Oliver Asberger, Vice President of PA Trellising Systems in Charlottesville, Virginia. “If a trellis is not designed right or maintenance is not kept up, it will lead to deficiencies in vineyard performance and higher costs in labor and parts.”

  Asberger told The Grapevine Magazine that two primary signs of a good trellis are tight wires and stable posts. “Each growing season, the trellis experiences pressure on its systems, and that leads to loosening of parts or even breakage,” he said. “To optimize the performance and keep costs down, the trellis is best fixed when the pressure is off and the vine is dormant.”

  PA Trellising Systems is a distribution company, rather than a vineyard management company, but it can offer advice on how to modify and repair existing materials if a vineyard notices a problem with its trellising system.

  “When it comes to new establishments, we guide the buyer to what options are available and optimal for post models, forms of galvanization, size and length, inside or outside hooks, set depth and use of accessories, like cross-arms or wire extenders,” Asberger said. “Also, we are able to customize our posts to offer the best solutions for a unique growing situation.”

  Another company that provides trellising products is Gripple, which offers the Gripple Plus for simple push-fit splicing, locking and tensioning system that is up to five times faster to install than traditional methods for broken trellis wires. Gripple joiners and tensioners have patented ceramic rollers that deliver a better grip and non-corrosive hold on the high tensile wires that are used in vineyards today. They can be used in conjunction with the Gripple Torq Tool or Gripple Contractor Tool to return tension to slacked or broken trellis wires quickly.

  “The Gripple Plus range is perfect for ongoing maintenance and allows for re-tensioning year after year,” said Erik Shortenhaus, Gripple’s Business Development Manager. “Gripple also provides pre-made cable bracing kits designed for the quick and easy repair of end post assemblies. Within our end post cable bracing kits, we offer a range of clips and end-fittings that are designed to quickly and securely attach to any end post material on the market, such as wood, drill pipe and channel steel. Additionally, Gripple offers a range of below-ground, percussion-style anchors that can be instantly load-locked and serve as a dead man anchor point or additional reinforcement for existing anchors. Gripple products make vineyard installation, maintenance and repairs simple and secure.”

  Shortenhaus pointed out that the growing season, crop load, weather, farming practices and harvest activities all contribute to possible wear on a vineyard’s trellis system. He said that the rigors of harvest, especially machine harvest, take a strenuous toll on a vineyard’s trellis structure, making this a prime time to check trellising.

  “Taking account of any damage that has occurred during harvest or over the year, and addressing it prior to next year’s crop, is essential to providing a solid, consistent and hassle-free foundation for your vines,” said Shortenhaus.

Check and Improve Irrigation

  Vineyard managers should remember to check their irrigation systems after harvest since machine harvesting can be rough on the vines and system. Look for physical damage, such as fallen hoses or emitters.

  Brett Curtis and James Bengtson of California’s Bennett Water Systems recommend using the post-harvest time as an “alarm clock” to handle yearly maintenance and “do an eyes-on evaluation with a full system flush and a line treatment to clean the emitters.”

  At the filter station, they recommend inspecting the sand for the sand media filter, working condition of the backwash valves and screen of the screen filter. Other recommendations are to check the pressure gauges to assess the accuracy of the pressure differential and to look for gasket leaks and other visible signs of failure.

  “Post-harvest irrigation is what lets you double-check that all of your fixes were successful before you put the system to sleep for the year,” said Curtis and Bengtson.

  Bennett Water Systems has knowledgeable key-account managers, salesmen and project managers who can perform evaluations, get to the root of the problem, and perform any fix that is required.

  “We have crews with years of experience both in installing drip systems for vineyards and performing repairs and regular maintenance,” said Curtis and Bengtson. “Whether it’s an issue with a pump, filter station or anything downstream of the filter, like pipe, tubing or emitter issues, we have a way to fix it or a solution to prevent it from causing issues in the future.”

Soil Enhancement and Maintenance

  One of the essential tasks to do post-harvest is evaluating the soil for determining nutrient and organic matter needs.

  “The vines utilize nutrients during the growing season, but not all nutrients are absorbed at the same rate,” said Coult Dennis of Superior Soil Supplements in Hanford, California. “The pH level of the soil makes a big difference in the availability of nutrients to the vines. Some nutrients are more readily available at lower pH; others are more available at higher pH. It’s important to look at the pH levels of both the soil and the irrigation water sources in order the make the best possible decisions regarding soil amendments.”

  Founded in 1983, Superior Soil Supplements dedicates themselves to building healthy soil and being California’s largest distributor of bulk agricultural soil amendments and landscape materials. It has facilities in Ivanhoe, El Nido, McFarland, Hanford and Coalinga and believes that balanced soil builds a strong foundation for crops, saving the farmer money on fertilizers and other crop inputs in the future.

  “Making sure your vines are set up for optimal growth in the spring is vital to having flourishing canes and ultimately, a strong and profitable yield,” Dennis said.

Order New Vine Stock if Needed

  After harvest is the ideal time to determine whether the vineyard will need new vine stock for the next growing season.

  “If you are looking to order vines for the spring of 2020, the best time to order vines is from August to December 2019 to ensure that varieties you want are still available,” said Ray Winter of Winterhaven Vineyard and Nursery in Janesville, Minnesota.

  Established in 2001, a year after starting a vineyard of over 14 acres and 6,000 vines, Winterhaven nursery specializes in cold-hardy wine grapes and sells many bare-root grapevines for red, white and table grape varieties. Winter said that the most important things for a vineyard to consider when ordering vines from a nursery should be whether the varietal is hardy to the growing location and if there is a market for them if the vineyard does not plan to use them in their wine.

Final Words of Advice

  In addition to these post-harvest maintenance tasks, vineyards will also want to spend time identifying and removing diseased vines, perhaps with the guidance of a local pest control company that specializes in vineyard pests. It’s also time to check vineyard equipment for routine maintenance or repair needs, as well as to identify which pieces of equipment to replace.

  Take time to reflect on the season and discuss with staff what went well and how to make improvements for the year ahead.

In closing, here are a few final words of advice from our industry experts to guide vineyards across the country through the post-harvest time of year and ensure a successful 2020 season.

For trellis maintenance, Oliver Asberger of PA Trellising Systems advises vineyards to establish a trellis that will last for the lifetime of the vineyard—approximately 25 years— and is mostly maintenance-free.

  “Too often, at the time of establishment, growers choose materials at lower costs or cut corners within the stability performance but later end up with extremely high maintenance and replacement costs,” Asberger said. “Also, in this era of less labor and more mechanization, a grower should consider if the system is set up to use technology in the future, even if the vineyard doesn’t currently own it. A later modification will be costly or not applicable at all.”

  Asberger also said that a trellis is best maintained during the dormant time because, with no canopy present, it’s easy to see loose or missing parts and replace them more cost-effectively.

“Doing this work when the canopy is present will hinder the effectiveness and most definitely will lead to damaging the shoots,” he said.

  Shortenhaus of Gripple also advises vineyards to take a visual inventory of their trellis systems and make any needed repairs or adjustments to give the vineyard a strong foundation for the next growing season.

  “Using Gripple for your trellising repair and maintenance needs couldn’t be simpler or more reliable, and it will effectively reduce your work time,” he said.

  Bennett Water Systems’ most significant piece of advice for irrigation is to remember that the system installed impacts yield directly.

  “The efficiencies of the system all play into it, such as pump efficiency, pressure losses, if supplements are going where you expect and need them and if your water is being evenly distributed throughout the whole field,” said Curtis and Bengtson. “For Bennett Water Systems, it is our goal to design and install a system with the highest distribution uniformity as possible that provides our customers with the tools that they need to produce maximum yields most sustainably.”

  Dennis of Superior Soil Supplements said that the thing his company sees most in California is a lack of organic matter in the soil. He said that organic matter should make up about 5% of soil composition and while this is difficult to achieve, adding any amount of organic matter will help. Organic matter helps retain moisture and nutrients in the soil, promotes beneficial soil flora growth to chelate nutrients, and breaks them down into a structure that can be used by the plant.

  “Compost is the least expensive and easiest way to build up organic matter,” Dennis said. “Compost can be derived from municipal green waste sources, as well as from manure and even processed sewage. Green waste is the most popular choice for vineyard applications. Like any other crop input, organic matter is depleted in the soil through the growing season and needs to be replenished.”

  Dennis recommends compost application as part of a grower’s yearly soil fertility program. “To maximize spreading efficiency, we often blend fertilizers, sulfur, limestone or dolomite with the compost, so the year’s soil needs are addressed with one pass of the spreader,” he said.

  Concerning ordering vines, Winter of Winterhaven Vineyard and Nursery said vines coming from a cold climate nursery tend to grow better than those purchased from warm climate nurseries, even though the genetics are the same.

  “We have had many customers tell us this,” Winter said. “After the fruit comes off our grapevines, we always try to do a fertilizer spray on the leaves to feed the vine and get them ready for the winter.”

Enforcing Your Trademarks: How Far Should You Go?

Legal Protection word cloud concept

By: Brian D. Kaider, Esq.

You’ve secured federal registration for your trademarks and you’ve been building your brand recognition.  Per your trademark attorney’s recommendation, you’ve had quarterly searches conducted to find similar marks.  Lo and behold, a new entry to the market is using your trademark.  Now what?  Stop and take a breath; let the initial surprise or anger settle. There is a lot to consider before taking any action.

Take Stock of the Situation

  First, take a look at your own trademark.  Is it the name of your winery or of one of your products?  Is it a national brand or one that is distributed in a small geographic area?  In what classes of goods and services is it registered (e.g., class 033 for wine, class 040 for “custom production of wine for others,” etc.)?

  Then look at the competitor’s mark.  Is the mark identical to yours or similar?  How similar?  Is it broadly distributed?  Is it used for the same goods and services as your mark?  If not, how similar are the goods and services?  Are your products marketed through the same trade channels?  Are consumers likely to encounter both your products and theirs?  Have they attempted to register their trademark and, if so, where are they in that process?

  No one question will be determinative in any given case, but on balance, they will help develop a sense of how much effort should be expended to enforce your rights.  As discussed below, there are numerous paths, each with its own set of risks and potential rewards.  An international brand that is known throughout the industry, like E. & J. Gallo, must be far more protective of its Gallo® mark than a small winery in Oregon that has a registered trademark for a rosé product only distributed in the Pacific Northwest.

First Contact

  As the owner of a registered trademark, it is your duty to “police” your mark; that is, to monitor unauthorized use of your mark by others and to enforce your right to exclusivity of that mark.  When large corporations learn of potential infringement, their immediate response is generally to have their attorneys send a cease and desist (C&D) letter.  For smaller companies, a personal attempt to contact the owner of the infringing business is often effective.  Sometimes the other party simply did not know about your mark.  If you found their use of the mark before they spent considerable time and money developing it as a brand, they may be willing to simply let it go.

  When making these calls, it is important to maintain a demeanor that is both friendly and firm.  There is no need to accuse the other side of wrong-doing or of violating your trademark knowingly.  However, you should simply let them know that you do have a registration for the mark and that their use is likely to cause confusion in the market as to the source of your respective goods.  If you give them a reasonable amount of time to work through any inventory bearing the infringing mark and to rebrand, this can often be the end of the matter.

Cease and Desist Letter

  If the friendly approach doesn’t work, the next step is generally a cease and desist letter.  This is most effective if drafted and sent by an attorney.  The tone of these letters tends to be more matter-of-fact.  They identify your trademark(s); explain that you have spent a considerable amount of time, effort, and money to build your brand around the mark; identify the other party’s infringing use; state that the use is unauthorized and likely to cause economic harm and loss of goodwill in your brand; and demand that they stop using the mark within a given time frame.

  While these letters can sometimes be effective, especially against smaller companies, they have become so commonplace that often they are simply ignored by more savvy companies who may wait to see if further steps are taken before deciding whether to rebrand.  Accordingly, you should carefully weigh all of your options and decide in advance whether you will escalate the matter if your C&D letter is ignored.

Trademark Opposition

  If the other side has attempted to register their mark, there is a narrow window of opportunity for you to challenge their application before it registers.  If, after conducting a search of other marks, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) determines that the mark is registerable, it will publish the mark in the Official Gazette.  This publication opens a 30-day window for anyone who believes they will be harmed by registration of the mark to file an opposition to the application.  

  This process should not be entered into lightly.  In some cases, simply filing the opposition will be enough to get the other side to give up its mark.  But, if they choose to fight the opposition, you will find yourself in a litigious process that takes time, effort, and money to complete.  As in civil litigation, the parties to an opposition file motions and briefs, request documents from the other side, take depositions, serve interrogatories that must be answered, and present their evidence to the Trademark Trials and Appeals Board for its consideration. 

  If the opposition goes all the way to the trial stage, it will generally take at least 18 months from when the notice is filed to when the last brief is due and will cost each side in the tens of thousands of dollars.  As with civil litigation, most oppositions do not reach the trial stage, because the parties are able to come to terms and settle the dispute on their own.  But, this often does not occur until sometime in the discovery phase, after both sides have spent a considerable amount on legal fees.

  It is important to note that the object of an opposition proceeding is to prevent registration of the other side’s trademark and, if you are successful, that is your sole remedy.  There are no monetary damages awarded, nor can you recover your legal fees from the other side.  Moreover, while they will lose their ability to register their trademark, it does not necessarily mean the other side will stop using the mark on their goods or services.  In that case, you would have to file a trademark infringement litigation (see below) to get them to stop using the mark, entirely.  In practical terms, succeeding in an opposition will often be enough to get the other side to abandon their mark, because if you were to follow through with a civil litigation, they could be on the hook for treble damages for willful infringement.

Trademark Cancellation

  If you discover the other side’s trademark application after the 30-day opposition window has expired, your only option to challenge the mark at the USPTO is to wait until the trademark actually registers and then to file a trademark cancellation proceeding.  Though there are some differences between cancellation and opposition proceedings, particularly if the challenged mark has been registered for more than five years, they are similar in most procedural respects. 

Trademark Infringement Litigation

  As one might expect, filing a trademark infringement case in federal court is the nuclear option.  Depending upon the jurisdiction, the time frame for completing a litigation may be faster or slower than an opposition or cancellation proceeding at the USPTO.  But, whereas those procedures will likely cost the parties tens of thousands of dollars, a civil litigation will likely reach six figures, or more. 

  The reason for this higher cost is that there are more issues to consider in these cases.  If  your are successful in a civil litigation, you may not only obtain injunctive relief, foreclosing the defendant from all future use of the mark, but also may obtain monetary damages associated with the defendant’s past use of the mark, as well as attorney’s fees expended in the proceeding.  Moreover, if the defendant is found to have willfully infringed your trademark, they may be required to pay treble damages. 

  These issues, which are not even addressed in an opposition/cancellation, add breadth to the scope of discovery taken, which increases the cost.  Further, whereas most opposition/cancellation proceedings are decided without an oral hearing, a civil litigation generally requires live testimony and argument in front of a judge or jury.  These proceedings require a great deal of attorney preparation, dramatically increasing legal fees.

Conclusion

  As the owner of a valid trademark registration, you are obligated to police your mark and failure to do so can result in a dramatic diminishment of your rights or even outright abandonment of your registration.  But, that does not mean you have to file a civil litigation against every minor infringement.  Determining the appropriate path in any given situation requires a careful evaluation of all the circumstances and balancing the risks of action versus inaction.  It is critical to engage a knowledgeable trademark attorney, who will properly assess these risks, your likelihood of success, and the most effective course of action in your case.  

  Brian Kaider is a principal of KaiderLaw, an intellectual property law firm with extensive experience in the craft beverage industry.  He has represented clients from the smallest of start-up breweries to Fortune 500 corporations in the navigation of regulatory requirements, drafting and negotiating contracts, prosecuting trademark and patent applications, and complex commercial litigation. 

bkaider@kaiderlaw.com or call (240) 308-8032

Dealing With Contracts

Winery and Vineyard operations are a happy mix of old world charm with agricultural roots, where a neighbors word was as ‘good as gold’ and a handshake was an iron clad agreement, mingled into the modern world with exposures  that are more diversified and with specialized job duties, broader national reach and the increasing litigious environment.

  Contracts can be quite intimidating, confusing and even deceptive at times.

Contract ATips

  Before we get started, as with all editorial information, this should in no way be considered legal advice.  Please contact your attorney for all legal advice specific to your needs or situation.

For simplicity, we will look at two main views; contracts that you create and have others sign and the contracts that you sign as a winery/vineyard operation.

Contracts You Create

  Some of the most common agreements or contracts that a winery and vineyard operation creates can include worker contracts, processing contracts and vendors.

  Depending on the circumstance, contracts for workers need to be clear on employment relationships as an employee, subcontractor or increasingly, a co-employee through a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). 

  The winery industry has a wide breath of operations with the larger accounts that need H-2A seasonal workers contracts to the sole proprietorship where the labor is all family.  A contract should be specific on the conditions and expectations for both parties.

  In processing, there are custom crush operations that handle the complete cycle of wine production from crush to storage, down to a single task process, like using a mobile bottler.  Contracts can relate to a transportation exposures where a hired contractor is used to move the stock between locations or a storage warehouse exposure that needs to address the conditions and the insurance responsibility for the wine value.

  Consider the time element and any penalties associated if an operation under contract fails to meet expectations.

Contracts You Sign

  If you have a contract with a bottle manufacturer, cork maker, label printer, bottle filler and transportation company, do they line up with the timing and expectations to make sure your production is a success? 

  If you are responsible for the production operations, are there service contracts in place for the equipment if a part or service is needed at a crucial time in production? 

  Another common contract to the business is the Lease Agreement.  The basics are familiar to most, with renting a location to run an operation, having a monthly fee and a term agreement are very generic.  The contract can also have specifics as to the type of operations and alterations allowed.  It may be OK to make wine but not allow pressure vessels or brewery operations.  You can have the tenant improvements and betterments with installing a tasting bar, but no authority to add a kitchen space. 

  Contractors and vendors can also require a winery or vineyard to sign a contract.  Examples include a band playing on the stage, craft vendors at the harvest festival or food services.  In the best interest of the winery, the contract should address the insurance aspects of the agreement.  Each of the details in the contract should be viewed through the lens of the risk manager.  A contract should be clear and valid but remember, it is not an insurance solution.  The contract should address the specific insurance requirements needed.

  Insurance policies can also be considered a contract. Verify the language on your insurance policy protects and defends the winery.  The language should be clear to both the scope and the limit of insurance required.  In most cases, providing proof of insurance with the adequate limits is enough justification for the insurance clause.  Taking it one step further, the contract may require the signer to add the winery as an Additional Insured for events that are hosted on the insured property.

  In many cases, having a contract in force can be one of the triggers on many insurance policies that allow for an additional insured status to apply. 

  After the contract is properly executed and additional insured status is secured, the insured should verify that the limits of insurance available are at least equal to the limits under their commercial general liability policy.

  Time to ‘punch down’ and get a little more flavor.  When we switch gears and look at contracts the winery/vineyard operation is being requested to sign, paying close attention to details is paramount.  Signing a contract without understanding the consequence can have huge implications on your business.

  The nature of operations in the industry has many vendor exposures, whether as a festival booth or as a supplier to a restaurant or grocery chain.  Many of these contracts will have a requirement for limits as well as an indemnification clause that requires an additional insured status under the winery/vineyard insurance protection.  The contracts can get detailed with requesting high limits, giving up rights to subrogation of a loss or to ignore negligent acts. 

  One important point in reviewing a contract is to understand from an insurance standpoint, if you agree to a condition in a contract, is it something your insurance policy will cover?  If you sign a contract that is not supported by your insurance policy, you could be responsible for payments in the agreement that are not payable by the insurance carrier.  Failure to satisfy a contract may not be related to a covered cause of loss under the insurance language.

  As a vineyard, do you have a contract to be a supplier to a winery, in which the contract states if you fail to provide a certain volume you would owe a penalty?

  As a custom crush operation, are you under contract agreement to produce a product in a certain timeframe?  Are you contractually obligated to insure the wine stock of others at a certain settlement price?

  As a vendor in a national chain store, are you required to carry higher limits of insurance or coverage lines such as auto and worker compensation?

It may be difficult to do business today without contracts in one aspect of your operation or another.  Having the right contract in place can be a form of risk management, but can also be a source of liability on your operations.

  Not every business is the same and in fact one of the hallmarks of the industry is to celebrate the differences in both product and experience.  This creates a unique situation that should have an equally unique contract for the specific needs.  It is best practice to have professional legal counsel in drawing up any contract in lieu of the generic options.

  Ideally contracts will be written with clear and simple language that will address the relationship and expectations for the situation.

  The subject matter of contracts is complicated and often creates confusion. It is important for operations to begin considering some of the issues BEFORE a loss or conflict occurs.

  The best contract you can enter in, is a high quality insurance policy.  The insurance policy is a contract agreement that is signed by both parties.  Although it can be somewhat complex in the language, the details of the contract indicate the expectations of both parties and what is to happen if certain criteria is met, what coverages are included, what responsibilities are required for the insured and what promises of settlement are made by the carrier.  Insurance can play a major role in working with the various business contracts.

  As contract partners, it is recommended you work with your insurance agent or carrier to review any contract agreement to determine how it will affect your liabilities and to confirm if additional risk management tools may be needed.

Top 3 Tips for Contracts

  • 1. Get it in writing.
  • 2. Keep it simple in language and form.
  • 3. Seek professional advice from your insurance advisor and legal counsel.

For more information, please, contact us Markel Personal Lines or 262-548-9180.

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; rick@adasitecompliance.com

or find us at… https://AccessibleAlcoholindustry

Vineyard Fungal Trunk Diseases: Prevention and Control

By: Judit Monis, Ph.D., Plant Health Consultant

Grapevine trunk diseases occur worldwide and may be caused by bacterial or fungal pathogens, or both. This article will focus on trunk disease caused by fungal pathogens.  It is important to note that the same fungal pathogens that affect grapevine are capable of infecting other fruit crops and landscape trees. It is my intention to provide information on the different species involved in the different diseases and learn how to prevent new infections in the vineyard.

  If you read other articles I wrote or heard me speak, you already know that the only way to avoid diseases in the vineyard is to prevent the introduction of pathogens in the first place.  Once established in the vineyard, there is no cure for graft-transmissible diseases and new infections are difficult to control.     This means that care must be used when selecting planting material prior to developing a new vineyard block. 

  Below I describe the most common grapevine trunk diseases caused by fungi.  As with viruses and bacteria, fungal pathogens can be found in mixed infections with other fungi, as well as with bacteria and viruses.

Petri Disease, Young Vine Decline, Esca

  The disease is caused by Phaeoacremonium and Phaeomoniella species in young vines.  In older vines (defined as older than 10 years), the disease is known as Esca.  Esca disease can be chronic when vines are infected for a long period of time showing gradual decline symptoms or acute when the vines decline and die within a few days (apoplectic stage). It is not uncommon during the apoplectic stage to see dried up canes carrying grape bunches with raisins.

Bot Canker, Eutypa and Phomopsis Die Back, Other Cankers

  Various pathogens can cause canker disease in the vineyard. Bot-canker is caused by different species in the Botryosphaeriaceae family.   Eutypa dieback is caused by different species in the Diatrypaceae family.  The best characterized and known species is Eutypa lata species.  In my lab we characterized Seimatosporium as a canker species, but within the same group others have reported Pestalotipsis and Truncatella to cause cankers in grapevines.  Other canker pathogens include Diaporthe (also known as Phomopsis).  The canker symptoms observed when sectioning the trunk or cordon of a vine can look similar even when caused by unrelated fungal species, however, the life cycles and mode of infection may be different.

Black Foot Disease

  Species of Dactylonectria and Ilyonectria (previously known as Cylindrocarpon spp.) are the causal agents of this complex disease.   These fungi are soil born and most active on compact soils with poor drainage.  Symptoms above ground are indistinguishable from Petri disease and the often the decline symptoms can be confused with Pierce’s disease. 

Other Diseases

  Species of Armillaria mellea (Oak root fungus), Verticillium, Phytophthora, and Fusarium are soil born fungal species capable of causing decline and rots in the vineyard.

  Disease Prevention and Control (Management)

  As mentioned earlier, the best disease control measure is to prevent infection.  Unfortunately, our certification programs do not test or exclude the infection of fungal pathogens in propagation material. The implementation of appropriate sanitation measures at the nursery is needed to produce high quality planting grapevine material.  You probably heard me say that one infected vine can produce at least 100 -200 vines each year, potentially producing a significant number of infected grafted plants. Because fungal pathogens cannot be eliminated in the vineyard once introduced, it is important to inspect nursery material prior to planting.  Since the effect of grapevine fungal pathogens generally will increase with the age of the vineyard growers must adopt management and control measurements as soon as the vines are planted in order to prevent the propagation and the dispersal of pathogens.

  When planting a new vineyard, it is important to inspect the quality of the planting material (graft union integrity, lack of streaking or pitting) and plant in well prepared and drained soil, at the correct season.  It is important to apply best practices in the vineyard (i.e., enough water, nutrients, etc.) as many of the fungal pathogens are endophytic (can live in the vine without causing damage) but can become pathogenic during stress situations.

  Management at the vineyard should include trained personnel for pruning.  In California where the rainy season coincides with the pruning season it is recommended to prune as late as possible.  If the vineyards are large, double pruning is recommended.  In all cases, after pruning, the fresh wound produced should be protected using fungicides or SafeCoat VitiSeal.  The recommendation of pruning as late in the season as possible is related to wound healing (the vine is more active in the spring and will heal faster) as well as most fungal trunk disease pathogens release spores during the rainy season and in the spring time the proportion of spores would have reduced to a minimum.  However, wound protection is still required because fresh wounds are more susceptible to infection and can remain susceptible for long periods of time.   Things to avoid during pruning are: producing large wounds, cutting near the trunk, pruning after long periods of rain, and leaving vine residues in the vineyard floor.

  A more drastic disease management practice includes vine re-training (training a new shoot from the base of the trunk to replace the old decayed vine trunk or cordons).  The technique can help gain some years of production but will not cure the vines from the disease. 

  Economic studies performed by Kendra Baumgartner and colleagues (USDA in UC Davis, California) has shown that preventative methods (late pruning, double pruning, and pruning wound protectants) are sustainable only if applied before symptoms appear in the vineyard.  Adopting these methods in vines that are 10 years old or older will not recover the cost of investment.

  Other methods that have been reported for the management of fungal diseases include mustard greens cover crops and biological control agents such as Trichoderma and Mycorrhizal fungi.

  New and more sensitive pathogen detection methods that apply next generation sequencing are now available for the detection at the species level of microorganisms in plants and soil.  It is my hope that in the near future, these methods will help reduce the infection levels of planting material and consequently will translate into healthier vineyards.

  Judit Monis, Ph.D. is a California-based plant health consultant, provides specialized services to help growers, vineyard managers, and nursery personnel avoid the propagation and transmission of disease caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their vineyard blocks.   Judit is fluent in Spanish and is available to consult in other important wine grape growing regions of the word. 

  Please visit juditmonis.com for information or contact juditmonis@yahoo.com to request a consulting session at your vineyard.

Fruitful Partnerships: Family-Run Vineyards and Wineries

Mercer Family Estate, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington

By: Cheryl Gray

From grapes to glass, teamwork is at the top of the list of requirements for any successful vineyard  or winery.  And what of the extras that come into play if that team happens to be family? 

  Just ask Brenda Mercer of Mercer Family Vineyards, whose family settled in the Prosser, Washington area in 1886, before Washington became a state.  Three Mercer brothers, Don, Bud and Rick, founded  the fifth-generation enterprise right in the heart of what is now the world-renowned, grape-growing Yakima Valley. 

  “They moved out to the Horse Heaven Hills after World War II to run a cattle and sheep operation, initially.  As things progressed and irrigation water became available, the Mercer (Ranches) began growing row crops such as sugar beets and potatoes.  Under the recommendation of Dr. Walter Clore, Don and Linda Mercer planted the very first wine grapes in the HHH in 1972 on what is now known today as Champoux Vineyard.” 

  Mercer adds that the family has incorporated education and technology into the variety of wine grapes they produce, spread across at least a half-dozen vineyards totaling nearly 1,000 acres.  ”There is a great deal of education and training happening in our neck of the woods in the field of agriculture and viticulture.  We are blessed to have the WSU (Washington State University) Wine Science Center in our back yard.  But even with education and outside training, a lot of knowledge is still gained by hands on experience. “

  John Derrick, Vineyard Manager for Mercer Ranches, has been with the family for three generations.  Derrick points out that the success of this family-run business has always included collaborating with educational partners who are in the region. “We are lucky enough to work with WSU, WSU Tri-Cities, Yakima Valley Community College, Walla Walla Community College and LAEP (Latino Agricultural Education Program).  We also work directly with educators and extension in the vineyard doing experiments and collaborating on new ideas and products. Working with the programs above, we have built up a great team here at Mercer Ranches. “

  Derrick adds that Mercer Ranches has recently placed emphasis on expanding its vineyard operations, providing, he says, the perfect opportunity to try new methods and ideas.  “I have always appreciated     the family’s willingness to try something new and I have seen that first hand with three generations now.  Mercer Ranches was well positioned to mechanize the vineyards because of the vision and drive  provided by Rob (Mercer).”

  Brothers Rob and Will Mercer, both of whom attended Washington State University, have been running the family business since 2010.  Rob is in charge of the farming and viticulture operations.  Will serves as General Manager at Mercer Estates.  In fact, many of the Mercer family offspring either currently work or have worked the farm and vineyards    Liz Mercer-Elliott, another WSU graduate who also trained in winemaking at Hogue Cellars, runs the company’s Carma Wine Club out of its Prosser Tasting Room.  Calvin Mercer, another WSU graduate, runs Austin Sharp Vineyard.  Still other family members have worked in many different facets of the company.

  According to Andrew Martinez, Head Winemaker of Martinez Vineyard & Winery, the Mercer family helped to bring to life his own family’s dream of operating a vineyard and winery in Yakima Valley.  Martinez says his immigrant father, Sergio, and mother, Kristy, a Washington native, bought and planted clones from Don and Linda Mercer back in 1981, planting three acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on property the Martinez family bought on Phinny Hill in the Horse Heaven Hills in 1978.  Martinez was born a year and a half after his father planted the family’s first vineyard. 

  “Helping to lay irrigation, plant grapes, sucker, prune, hoe weeds, shoot thin, and harvest are all things that were fairly normal chores in my upbringing. All the hard work that is spent in the vineyard is the reason for realizing the need to go to college for a better life.”  Martinez graduated from Yakima Valley Community College with a degree in Science and attended as many wine-making seminars and other educational outreach programs as he could.  He honed his wine-making skills four days out of the week while working as a dental hygienist part-time.  In the meantime, Martinez says that his wife, Monica,   who also grew up on a farm and whose grandfather, he says, was among the first winemakers in Prosser making wine from Washington grapes, earned her MBA.  The couple’s return on investment in education, Martinez says, has greatly benefitted the family business.  “Needless to say, wine and grape growing runs thick in our blood.  Monica’s MBA and my Science degrees have helped the vineyard and winery be elevated with tools they needed to be more successful.”

  Martinez says the family made the leap from grape growers to wine makers in 2005.   “… I talked my dad into making two barrels of wine for our first 50 cases. For years, we had sold the grapes but now, it was time to start utilizing them ourselves. It was time to show all the hard work and dedication in the vineyard to everyone!  Barrel-aging wines for 24 months, we had time to stockpile vintages and slowly increased amounts until 2007, where we started selling in a corner of a shared room at Winemakers Loft.  In 2009, the facility was sold and new owners wanted to fill actual tasting rooms. So, we were up with a hard decision. Was it time to have an actual tasting room of our own?  Being a microscopic winery, it was either sink or swim and we decided to go for it.  Thirty-eight years after the vineyard was planted, 14 years after our first two barrels of wine made, and 10 years after having the tasting room opened, we are making over 2,000 cases of wine and selling 95% of that through that same door each year.”

  Martinez says the business tasks are now split among the family members.  While he serves as Head Winemaker, Sergio Martinez is Grape Grower, Kristy Martinez is in charge of Tasting Room/Hospitality and Monica Martinez is Business Manager.

  Two Mountain Winery is a fourth generation enterprise headed by brothers Matthew and Patrick Rawn.  Located in Yakima Valley near Zillah, the Rawn brothers oversee 228 acres of wine grapes on seven vineyard sites used not only for their own wine production but also for their winery grape clients.

  Patrick Rawn, who is General Manager and Head of Vineyard Operations, says that once the brothers returned to their family’s land, they focused their interest, passion and skillset(s) on producing grapes for making wine, transforming what was once a family-owned tree fruit farm into a successful vineyard and winery.  They planted the first vineyard in 2000.  “Our production facility and a couple of our vineyards are located on the farm our grandparents started in 1950, near where our grandfather grew up farming… it is very important to us we honor our history and their legacy. “

Maragas Winery: Old World Greece Meets New World Oregon

By: Nan McCreary

Deep in the heart of Central Oregon, strategically located between the beautiful rock formations of Smith Rock State park and the majestic peaks of the Cascades, is a gem of a winery that traces its history to the 13th century in Greece.  It’s Maragas Winery, owned and operated by Doug Maragas and his wife, Gina, and, while it sits in a New-World location, it’s wine-making traditions date back to those used by the founders’ family hundreds of years ago.

  The Maragas story began in Crete, when the island was a province of the Roman Empire, and the family started a vineyard to support the growing wine culture.   From this beginning, they farmed grapes, olives and figs for centuries, surviving the invasion of the Ottoman Empire and the occupation of Crete by the Germans in World War II.  The family still owns the vineyard today.

  The family narrative spreads to the U.S. when, in 1941, Doug’s grandparents, George and Anna Maragas, began commercially brokering grapes and making wine out of Lodi, California.  It was Anna and her stories of family history, said Maragas, that led him to winemaking. “My history inspired me, particularly my grandmother, who I was very close to at a young age,” he recalled.  “She was a head of a business, which was unusual in the early 40s.” Maragas remembers spending a lot of time with her, learning about winemaking and the business of owning a vineyard. Essentially, his grandmother was more than a loving family member: she was a mentor.

  With encouragement from Anna, Maragas left his law practice in Ohio and, after searching the country for a viable and affordable place to grow grapes, he settled on Central Oregon.  Not only did the beauty of the area appeal to Maragas, it also reminded him of Crete, with identical soil (volcanic and sandy loam) and a similar Mediterranean climate (warm dry summers and wet winters).  In 1999, he and his wife established Maragas Winery as the founding winery and vineyard of Central Oregon.

  The Maragas vineyard is located near Culver, 25 miles north of Bend.  Conditions are optimum: well-draining soil, a south-facing slope located at 2800 feet and a large diurnal range that promotes seed and berry growth and complex flavors.  After more than a decade of experimenting (with over 48 varietals), and defying naysayers who said it was too cold to grow grapes in the area, Maragas Winery is producing award-winning wines and bringing recognition to Central Oregon as an official wine region.

  Maragas’ grapes are all grown organically, just as they were centuries ago in ancient Greece. This means selecting the right grape variety for the specific region, and excluding the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Rather, Maragas relies on hand labor to control weeds, and chickens to eat the bugs.  He also has large dogs to keep the deer out, as well as small dogs and feral cats to control the rodents.

  Honoring his Greek heritage and extending his “all natural” philosophy to winemaking, Maragas uses proven Old World techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation. “I don’t put any ‘junk’ in my wine,” Maragas told the Grapevine Magazine.  “I only use four ingredients: bacteria, yeast, grapes and sulfur. There’s a movement to make wine according to the American palate, and to use chemistry if the vintage is not quite right.  I don’t think those chemicals are good for you.”  What makes Maragas’ wines particularly unique is extensive use of barrel aging.  Maragas barrel-ages his red wines anywhere from two to eight years, longer than any known winery in the U.S.  These red wines are all natural, with no filtration or fining.  The result is wines with exceptional Old World flavor and complexity.

  Currently, Maragas is growing 24 grape varieties in his vineyard and at a contract property in Warm Springs, Oregon.  Wines for sale include five barrel-aged red wines:  Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and a Bordeaux Blend; and three white wines: a Pinot Gris, a barrel-fermented and barrel-aged Chardonnay, and a barrel-fermented and barrel-aged dry white blend, Blanco, that includes Muscat Ottonel, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris,  Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Prices range from $20 to $52.  Because Maragas is a boutique winery with limited production, these wines are only available at nearby limited retail outlets or by ordering direct from the winery.

  Maragas Winery in Oregon, like the winery in Crete, is still a family, hands-on operation. The winery produces 2,000 cases annually, with no more than 400 cases of any varietal.  “This gives me more control, and I love what I do,” Maragas said. All work, from crushing grapes to bottling wines, is completed onsite in the 4,000 square-foot winery. “I manage the vineyard, make the wine, and do maintenance. Our office is in the house and my wife does the books. We do it all.” Maragas employees four additional people who help with everything from pulling weeds to operating the crush pad. “I received a strong work ethic from my Greek heritage,” he added, “and we all work very hard and help with whatever needs to be done.”

  While Maragas takes his winemaking seriously, he has added a little fun to his enterprise with his comic wine bottle labels, which feature artwork from his late mother, Joanne Lattavo. The drawings are caricatures of family members and friends created during the beatnik area of the late 50s and early 60s,’ “I’m trying to be a great winemaker,” Maragas told The Grapevine Magazine, “but I don’t want people to see me as stuffy.  I think the drawings are funny, and if I can make people laugh, they won’t see me as hoity-toity.” As a further tribute to his mother, Maragas is displaying paintings from her former art gallery in Ohio in his Barrel Room at the winery.  The winery’s website notes that this may be the first art gallery in a Barrel Room in the country. 

  As Maragas looks to the future, he is experimenting with many different grapes, including Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, as well as Alsatian varieties such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. He is also growing Nebbiolo, an Italian red wine grape known world-wide for making outstanding Barolo and Barbaresco wines.

  Maragas, in his enthusiasm for Central Oregon, is also working to promote the area as a great grape-growing region. His Estate Vineyard, he notes, sits on the same parameters of famous grape growing from the Burgundy and Alsace regions of France, while the Contract Vineyard is on par with similar growing degree days and average growing temperatures as the Loire Valley. “Just because an area hasn’t been tapped doesn’t mean you can’t make great wines there,” he stated. “After years of experimenting, we now know that Central Oregon, in particular Jefferson County, is a fantastic place to grow traditional wine grapes.”  With global warming, he adds, the prospects are even brighter for the area.  “We have lots of people looking,” he said.  “I’m hoping we can attract winemakers who want to make great wines rather than grow grapes as a hobby or as an asset to increase grounds beauty for resorts.  There is great potential here.”

  In an area dominated by craft breweries, a growing number of wine destinations are already popping up, and, along with Maragas Winery, are part of the new Oregon Wine Trail.  And most recently, the Oregon Wine Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to promoting wines in Oregon and southern Washington, established a Central Oregon chapter, with Doug Maragas as one its supporting members.

  While growth in the area is inevitable, Maragas has no plans to expand his operations.  “We were growing,” he said, “but it took so much time that we decided to wait until our teenage daughter grows up and leaves home.” In the meantime, Maragas is content to focus on making distinctive, hand-crafted wines. He is also committed to sustainability. For example, the “corks” he uses are the first zero carbon footprint “corks” and are actually made of sugar cane.  The company also has a solar array that powers a substantial part of the operation. And finally, he doesn’t use foil around the bottle neck because it has no beneficial effect on the wine and isn’t recyclable.

  Doug Maragas, with his passion for his heritage, has created a taste of ancient Greece in Central Oregon. His tasting room, scenic and family-friendly, is a popular destination for weddings and special events.  One of his premiere events, the annual “Love of the Grape”  Grape Stomp, has become a Central Oregon tradition, a full day festival of food and wine where hundreds of visitors climb into ½ barrels and stomp the grapes with their bare feet, just like they did at the Maragas family vineyard in the 13th century. The crowds at Maragas Winery may be New World, but the traditions are clearly Old World.  And you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to enjoy them.

For more information on Maragas Winery, visit their website at www.maragaswinery.com

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.”

Falconry at Featherstone

By: Michael Strickland

For Louise Engel and Dave Johnson, the decision to fly a raptor over their 23-acre vineyard and winery was a no brainer.

  Like so many other fruit growers across North America, the owners of Featherstone Estate Wineries in Ontario’s Niagara Region had waged a frustrating war against starlings. A flock of 5,000 can consume a ton of fruit in just 10 days, though they cause even greater damage by pecking more berries than they eat. The weeping fruit attracts fruit flies, which encourages rot.

  Grapes are often the last crop to be harvested, long after cherries, strawberries and tender fruit have left the field. With less soft fruit to binge on, bugs start to disappear. By October, grapes are one of the last food sources—a juicy-fruity one no less—visible from the sky.

  “When you look at that vineyard, and you’ve looked after and babied these vines along, and it’s now October 10th, and the fruit is loaded and healthy, and you see a flock of starlings—of five, six or ten-thousand—just descend on you, we run out and we’ve got all kinds of cannons and bangers, it is breathtakingly annoying,” says Johnson.  So, when Engel said she thought she had a solution, Johnson says, “it was a no brainer.”

  Engel attended a bird of prey demonstration in October 2003, four years after the couple opened Featherstone. She returned determined to take up falconry, undertook the 15-month certification required in Ontario and purchased a Harris Hawk named Amadeus.

  Today she is president of the 200-member Ontario Falconry Club. While falconry is a common bird abatement technique in the U.S., she’s not aware of anyone else really adopting the practice in Canada.

  “We’re certainly the only winery that has a resident bird of prey, or that does it on a regular basis,” she says.

  While Featherstone continues to use noisemakers and netting against starlings, few things work quite like Amadeus. “The one thing they never get used to is hawk silhouettes,” says Engel. “When you put a bird of prey in the air, everyone leaves, and it becomes very quiet.”

  Only for a little while, however. Like nets and noisemakers, falconry has its limits. Starlings will find holes in the nets, and they’ll return when the noise dies down, or Amadeus leaves the sky.

  “So it’s effective while I fly him, but then I put him away and go do other things, and it ceases to be effective,” says Engel. “So it’s best not to get on too much of a routine, to fly him as periodically as I can.”

A Working Relationship

  After spending one long night looking for Amadeus, Engel no longer flies him without a tracker. He is a bird of prey, she stresses, with no emotional attachments. He can and will leave if and when he wants. She relies on a trust relationship—a rather mercenary one—to bring him back at the end of each flight.

  Amadeus views Engel as a source of hunting opportunities. She regularly provides him with the chance to hunt starlings and, if he catches something, he gets to it eat it. Since he frightens away far more prey than he finds, Engel is also a ready source of food. When he returns empty-handed, she greets him with bits of quail.

  “So there’s a bond there that is predicated on positive reinforcement and hunting.”

  For growers interested in using birds as a pest control method but hoping for a little more control, Harris Hawks are a popular choice for beginners. They are one of the few avian predator species that hunt in castes, a family unit akin to a wolf pack, working collectively in the wild.

  “When I, as a falconer, am in the field with them, that kind of fits in with their paradigm quite naturally,” says Engel. “They’re a little less independent and a little more predisposed to want to work with you to find hunting situations.”

Natural and Eco-friendly

  Adding Amadeus to the mix of pest abatement strategies fits with Engel and Johnson’s eco-friendly approach to viticulture. They live on their 23-acre property, farming 20 acres of it, and have a vested interest in being responsible stewards.

  Featherstone has been insecticide-free since day one and has adopted a range of natural practices to deal with pests that threaten the vines. Methods include using diatomaceous earth (which is abrasive and irritating to insects), bringing in beneficial predatory insects like the ladybug, and using pheromones to disrupt mating cycles. In 2008, they purchased a recycle sprayer to capture and reuse any spray that does not stick to the vines.

  Johnson is mainly focused on natural ways of keeping his soil as healthy as possible. He plants cover crops (25% legumes, 25% daikon radish and 50% ryegrass) between rows of grapes. He’s also determined to fight soil compaction by reducing tractor passes, aiming to reduce the total by one pass each year.

  “The big issue for us, and the thing we’re working on all the time is compaction of the vineyard floor,” says Johnson. “We’re trying to get tractor trips reduced. I think that’s more important than organics, biodynamics or anything else. We need to get the equipment out of there.”

  To that end, Featherstone has adopted “lamb labor” to help keep the vineyards “sheep shape.”

  Johnson first learned of the practice in 2007, when he spent time in New Zealand as a guest Pinot Noir specialist at the Sileni Estates Winery and Cellar Door. He’d noticed that the leaf pulling was flawless—the low fruit zone was cleared, allowing sunlight and air to reach the grapes, while the upper canopy looked unmolested—and wondered how that was accomplished.

  At the time, Featherstone was paying migrant workers $200 to clear each acre. Sileni were letting sheep do it for free.

  “They can’t afford to irrigate a pasture for sheep,” says Johnson, “and the vineyards are all fenced to keep the sheep out. Then, at a certain time of year, they open the gates, and they allow the lambs to flood into the vineyards. They strip out the grass, then pick their heads up and start eating those lowest leaves.”

  Featherstone has been using lamb labor ever since. Each February, they purchase 25 or more baby sheep and begin confining them to one-hectare areas as soon as the first varietals, the Pinot and Chardonnay grapes, need leaf clearing. That seems the perfect number to entirely clear a hectare in roughly 10 days, after which he moves the flock to the next area. By the fall, they’re clearing the Cabernet Franc.

  Sheep are perfect because they eat only leaves. Goats, Johnson points out, would eat everything and likely destroy the vineyards. Lambs, it turns out, are also the perfect size.

  “What we worked out here is that they need to be no more than 22 inches high at the shoulder. Otherwise,” he says, “they reach too high and are stripping too many leaves. So we have set the vineyard and pruned it particularly so that the fruit zone is sitting at 22 to 32 inches above the ground. That is the reaching height of a lamb.”

  For Engel and Johnson, these eco-friendly practices are about living a more natural life, a life where all aspects are as fully integrated with nature as possible.

  “We’re interested in complete integration, in being integrated with all aspects of the property, and capitalizing on natural relationships where possible,” Engel says. “Whether its natural predator-prey relationships, or it’s help that just naturally grazes in the vineyards and then helps you with leaf removal, those kinds of integrations appeal to us on a number of levels.”

  The approach seems to be producing one key result: great wines. Featherstone turns 20 this year and was just named Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards. The judges recognized Featherstone’s consistent quality across the portfolio, successes in wine awards and overall contributions to the industry.

  Engel and Johnson realize that their approach is not for everyone. For one thing, it reflects their personal beliefs. They also acknowledge economics and other factors would make all of these practices more challenging if Featherstone were larger, or more commercial than craft.

  “We’re still classified as a small winery, at the larger end of small, but a nice size for us, given our tank capacity, the size of our press and all that,” says Engel. “Were we to get bigger, we’d need to get a lot bigger, and we’re pretty happy at this size. It lets us keep our fingerprints all over everything, and stay craft or artisanal.”

Needs of the Animals

  There’s also the added responsibility of owning livestock, which includes letting it out to pasture each morning, rounding it up each night, and maintaining fences. Ontario has problems with coyotes and other predators. Lambs are extremely sensitive to copper, so Johnson can’t use elemental copper, an inexpensive organic spray used to protect grapes from mildew, until after the lambs have cleared an area.

  “It’s an animal, so now you’ve introduced animal husbandry to what is normally horticulture,” says Johnson. “Once you have animals on-site, they add another layer of complication. They need to be handled. They need to be protected and looked after.”

  When you own a bird of prey, the demands are especially high.

  There’s a 15-month apprenticeship program to become a licensed falconer in Ontario. There are stringent rules around housing and care, though the requirements differ from those in the U.S. With only 200 licensed falconers in the province, says Engel, it’s easy to support one another and ensure all members are practicing falconry at the highest level.

  “It’s kind of like owning a horse. There’s a real commitment there,” says Engel. “These birds need to be worked and hunted and flown. They’re not just meant to be put on your glove and shown to your friends. You do them a real disservice is you’re not getting them in the air and hunting them on a regular basis.”

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.

Security

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.

SEO

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. www.wineglassmarketing.com