WINERIES and the HOLIDAYS: Inseparable Partners in Making the Season Merry

By: Cheryl Gray

With the holiday season comes infinite ways to celebrate the fruit of vineyards from coast-to-coast. Wineries and tasting rooms across the U.S. count the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to be amongst their busiest and, in some cases, amongst their most profitable. Moreover, ancillary businesses, including hotels, inns, restaurants and special events venues, benefit from creative partnerships with local wineries during the holidays.

Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center

  The Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center stays open year-round and features Washington wines in its tasting room and during special events. The space was named for the man whose years of scientific research established Washington state as the second-largest premium wine producer in the country. According to the Center, Washington’s wine industry contributes approximately $14.9 billion to the U.S. economy and supports an estimated 27,000 jobs. Those numbers underscore why the holidays are an important component of marketing the state’s wine producers and grape growers.

  The Clore Center showcases Washington’s wine industry, as well as the science of enology, through a combination of educational, experiential and entertainment activities. Its holiday events kick off just before Thanksgiving, featuring established and up-and-coming Yakima Valley wineries. On Saturdays throughout November and December, several Yakima Valley winemakers will be pouring at the Center’s “Meet the Makers” event with the pertinent theme, “Thanksgiving in Wine Country.” In December, the Center will feature sparkling wines from Washington’s Columbia Gorge. 

  The Center’s holiday events will also include classes every Saturday in November and the first two Saturdays in December, according to Deb Carter, the Clore Center’s Wine and Culinary Program Director. That might, for example, include a cooking class from a local master chef on how to pair local wines with farm-to-table meals using local produce.

  In addition to educational classes, the venue rents out space during the holidays for corporate gatherings, parties and other holiday-centered outings, many of which choose to feature local wines.

  Wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and others vested in promoting Yakima Valley wine during the holidays are, at the same time, raising money for a charitable cause—fighting hunger. “Thanksgiving in Wine Country,” will benefit Northwest Harvest and kicks off during Thanksgiving weekend. The event also allows visitors to take advantage of deals on wines and related products.

Milbrandt Vineyards

  Other Yakima Valley December events include Prosser, Washington-based Milbrandt Vineyards’ “Holiday Flights and Bites,” featuring holiday wines and food pairings with live entertainment.

  “The holidays are key for us because customers tend to purchase more of our higher tier wines like our Reserves, especially if they are buying wine as gifts,” says Milbrandt Vineyard’s Tasting Room Manager, Karen Ballew. “This holiday season is particularly special because we will be releasing our ‘Bottle Your Charity’ Sparkling Rosé with the winning charity’s mission featured on the back of the bottle. Direct donations from wine sales go to the charity.”

  One of Millbrandt’s holiday marketing strategies, says Ballew, is a play on words derived from a holiday favorite, Twelve Days of Christmas. “We will be bringing back our 12 Days of Deals, an online campaign we ran during the holidays that was incredibly successful the last couple of years. We will also be launching our Cyber Monday campaign where customers can get up to 40% off certain cases of wine.”

  As for partnering with local businesses, Ballew says Millbrandt favors specialty food shops, whose treats pair well with Milbrandt wines. “We partner with a few local business, most notably Jade’s British Girl Treats,” she says. “Jade’s is a local bakery/chocolate/sandwich shop in Prosser. They just opened a few months ago in downtown. They handle catering for our events and also cater our small plate menu that we offer in the tasting room daily.

  We also feature for sale a small selection of Chukar Cherries that are specifically paired with some of our wines. Another partnership is with Wine Country RV Park. We pour at their evening tastings about once a month during their peak season. They promote our events on their emails and on the TV in their retail shop.”

Tourism on the 45th Parallel

  Hotels and inns tied to wineries have a unique focus on the holidays. In Northern Michigan, wineries and tasting rooms dot the landscape along the same 45th parallel as Washington’s wine region. Among them is the internationally renowned Black Star Farms, a family-owned enterprise known for, among other products, its signature ‘Pear in a Bottle’ wine. 

  Black Star Farms provides a backdrop for holiday-inspired events, such as snowshoeing on its vast grounds and cooking classes that teach guests how to pair wines with various cuisines. Its most notable event, however, is the annual New Year’s Eve Wine Dinner, a formal occasion featuring a multi-course meal paired with wines produced by Black Star Farms. The event is popular enough that tickets go on sale beginning in early fall. Sherri Campbell Fenton, whose parents, Kerm and Sallie Campbell, established Black Star Farms in 1998, is managing proprietor. She told The Grapevine Magazine that the holidays are, indeed, big business. 

  “The holidays are a key time for Black Star Farms, for both holiday wine sales and the hospitality side of our business,” says Campbell Fenton. “Obviously, wine sales are strong for gifting and parties. We have a luxurious 10 room inn on our 160-acre property, which is a favorite for guests as a quiet, romantic escape, especially during the winter when blanketed in snow. We also host holiday corporate wine paired dinners as well as private or family gatherings. Holidays are a strong time for these. Many times, gift certificates are purchased for wine sales or inn stays during the holidays, as a gift of Black Star Farms is a very special one for anybody.”  

  At Washington’s end of the 45th parallel, there’s the Hotel Maison, a landmark in downtown Yakima, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel’s holiday offerings include a package featuring Yakima’s annual “Sip, Stroll & Stay.” This promotional event features a downtown stroll with food, entertainment, and, at the end of the evening, an opportunity to overnight at the historic Maison, built in 1911 by Yakima Freemasons. Guests receive their choice of a bottle of wine, cider or beer delivered to their room. In addition to hosting wine tastings with local sommeliers, Hotel Maison does its part to promote wineries during Yakima Valley’s ‘Thanksgiving in Wine Country.’ They feature an overnight package that includes a bottle of Yakima Valley wine and a gourmet cheese board delivered to guests.   

  A quieter holiday respite can be found at Washington’s Cozy Rose Inn, an acclaimed bed and breakfast owned by husband and wife Mark and Jennie Jackson in Yakima Valley’s Grandview area. The Jacksons have relied upon friendships with local wineries over the past 27 years, which keeps guest referrals coming in both directions. Having a great location, Mark Jackson says, goes a long way. “Guests come to the Valley for the sunshine and wine. We’re just in a prime location, being in the middle of Yakima Valley. They taste on their way down the Valley, stay here, eat dinner, and the next morning, they’re off to Red Mountain and Prosser Wineries.”

  In addition to its chef-inspired gourmet breakfast, during the holidays the Cozy Rose Inn offers guests staying at least two nights a candlelit dinner for two, which includes a bottle from one of the region’s wineries.

Holiday Food Pairing

  Foodies looking for a Southwestern flavor to pair with Washington wines during the holidays turn to Los Hernandez Tamales, another family-owned business in Yakima Valley. They tout an authentic family recipe, combining it with local, Washington state ingredients, including the state’s bountiful asparagus crop. Rachel Wilburn, whose father, Felipe Hernandez, started the business in 1990, says the holidays are tremendously hectic for the Hernandez clan.  

  “Tamales are traditionally a holiday season food. Christmas, in particular, is the busiest time for them. We open early, and everyone gets tamales with or without an order. We usually have 400 to 600 dozen in pre-orders, but we sell 1,000 dozens (12,000 single tamales) by the end of the day, all made by hand.” Wilburn says that Los Hernandez Tamales is also called upon all over Washington to participate in events that pair their famous tamales with regional wines.

  Gingerbread co-stars with wines at Desert Wind Winery, which supports a local charity through its annual “Gingerbread Build Off.” This holiday-themed event, held in November, draws professional bakers from throughout the Yakima Valley region.  Wine barrels serve as the background for gingerbread creations large and small in a winery whose Southwestern style architecture belies its Washington state location. 

  It’s not difficult to see how the holidays bring out the best in wineries and related industries across the United States. From charitable giving to savvy marketing, synergy builds between businesses that understand the value of partnerships during the holiday season.

HERBICIDE DRIFT: A Common Issue Affecting Vineyards Worldwide

By: Judit Monis, Ph.D. and Brian D. Kaider, Esq.

Last July, Judit was invited to speak to a group of growers in Pennsylvania. The presentation focused primarily on grapevine diseases caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses but at the group’s request pesticide drift was also covered.  Extension specialist colleagues: Mike White (recently retired from Iowa State University), Tim Martinson (Cornell University), and Bruce Bordelon (Purdue University) helped by providing photos of herbicide injury in vineyards.  However, according to the audience and what was seen the next day at the vineyards, other more drastic symptoms are observed in their vineyards, such as complete wilting of leaves in the vine and rapid defoliation (see photos taken by Judit). 

The Problem

  So many times, throughout our careers, plant pathologists are called to check out vineyards that have “interesting” symptoms that do not necessarily fit with the symptoms caused by the “usual suspects”.  It seems like more often than not, vineyards are affected by chemical products that were not intended to be applied to the vines.  The effects of these unwanted chemicals can cause long term and often times irreversible damage to grapevine (and other crop) plants.   This article will have a different focus and will cover pesticide drift, specifically the injury caused by herbicides in vineyards.

Pesticide Drift

  Pesticide drift is defined as the movement of a pesticide to unintended areas from the site of application.   Pesticide drift can be harmful to humans, animals, and plants.  Obviously, when a product is applied during a time of heavy winds, it is expected that the product will be transported to another field in the direction of prevailing winds.  However, many herbicides (especially the ester formulations of 2-4-D) are able to volatilize, forming clouds that may be transported and ultimately land miles away from the application site causing tremendous damage to the vineyard plants.

  Herbicides are chemical products that are used to control weeds in agriculture lands, lawns (e.g., golf courses or homes), highways, etc.  The herbicides most commonly used are plant growth regulators (PGRs).  While PGRs are used to kill weeds with broad leaves, these chemicals have detrimental effects on important commercial crops.  The most common situation is when herbicides applied in neighboring farms that grow row crops such as corn, sorghum, or soybeans, are transported to a vineyard.  The effect in the vineyard can go from distorted leaves, shortened internodes, complete defoliation, to vine death.  Depending on the time in which the injury occurs it can have severe effects on the quality of the grape fruit to complete loss of production.  The the effect of herbicides in the grape clusters can be seen in Fig 1.  Initially the herbicide damage may be observed in one or two of the berries in a cluster.  But later, the damaged fruit becomes susceptible to infection by secondary saprophytic organisms that ultimately deteriorate the whole cluster.

  The damage caused by PGRs can be long lasting and in some cases the only solution is to replace the affected vines with new plants.  Unfortunately, vineyards may suffer more than one drift incident during its lifespan resulting in an uneven vineyard consisting of vines of different ages and sizes.  The diverse size of vines creates a challenge to the grower as each plant must be managed differently due to their nutrition and water requirements, not to mention that younger vines are more susceptible to herbicide injury.

  When damage caused by an herbicide is noticed in the vineyard, growers must act quickly to determine the injury’s cause.  In all instances, damage must be documented with photos.  In addition, physical samples must be submitted to a lab to determine which pesticide is the culprit of the injury.  Since there are many different possible chemicals that can cause similar symptoms, the grower needs to have some knowledge as to what chemical is suspected as the laboratory needs to perform specific tests to confirm the presence.   A common problem is that chemicals can move a long distance, hence not always easy to determine where the drift originated.  However, if the grower, knows the origin of the herbicide (saw spraying activity in a nearby farm), s/he could attempt to ask the farmer to follow label directions to avoid drift or to use a less volatile product.  If the activity continues in spite of the request, the only viable solution may be to take legal action against the perpetrators.

  Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all pesticides to be registered, through the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FINRA), regulation of pesticide application is generally the responsibility of each individual state’s department of agriculture or environmental agency.  Naturally, each state’s approach has been tailored to the unique requirements and circumstances of its jurisdiction, resulting in a broad spectrum of regulatory frameworks.  Accordingly, the strategy for taking legal action in the event of pesticide drift will depend greatly upon the state in which the damage occurred.  However, the following are some of the most common legal theories under which these cases may be brought.

Negligence

  A legal claim for negligence occurs when four conditions are satisfied.  Someone owes a duty of care, that person breaches their duty of care, another person or their property is damaged, and the breach of duty is the cause of that damage.  It is generally accepted that someone applying pesticides owes a duty of care in their application methods.  Further, demonstrating that a neighboring crop or property was damaged is fairly easy.  The difficulty in these claims is proving that the applicator breached the duty of care and that the breach was the “proximate” cause of the damage. 

  Whether there is a breach of duty depends, in part, on the extent of the drift.  Nearly all pesticide applications involve some amount of drift.  The applicator is only negligent if the pesticide is used under conditions or in a way that exceeds normal drift. 

  There are many ways in which a pesticide applicator may breach their duty of care.  Commercial pesticides, such as 2,4-D, come with instructions specifically designed to minimize the risk of drift.  For example, 2,4-D instructions say not to apply the chemical when the wind is stronger than 15 miles per hour.  There are also instructions relating to concentration, droplet size, temperature, and suitable equipment.  Further, state and local jurisdictions often have regulatory requirements involving crop buffer zones or setbacks.  Failure to abide by these instructions and regulations would likely be considered a breach of the duty of care. 

  Other actions may not be as clear.  For example, in an aerial application of pesticide, the higher the altitude at the time of chemical release, the greater the risk of drift.  How high is too high in a given case will depend on many factors, including; the type of chemical, the form of the chemical, the equipment used, the wind speed, the topography of the land, etc. 

  To prevail on a negligence claim, you must prove not only the breach of duty, but that the breach caused the injuries to your land.  This may be especially difficult if there are multiple land-owners surrounding your property and each of them uses the same or similar pesticides.  How do you know which one caused your damage?  Some successful claims have included testimonial evidence that aerial application was made across property lines and that visual pesticide residue or odors were detected on the damaged property after observing application on the neighboring property. 

Res Ipsa Loquitor

  There are some circumstances in which the damage itself is sufficient evidence of negligence.  In these cases, there is a legal doctrine known as res ipsa loquitor (Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”) that applies.  Essentially, the argument is that some events do not ordinarily happen in the absence of negligence.  So, for example, if a crop duster suddenly drops its entire load of pesticide on a property 10 miles away from the intended target, that is sufficient proof that the pilot was negligent in operating and/or maintaining the equipment. 

Strict Liability

  Some products or activities are so inherently dangerous that even when exercising great care, injury is likely to occur.  The classic example is owning a tiger.  It doesn’t matter how strong a cage you use to hold the tiger, how much training you have in working with tigers, or what precautions you use to ensure your is restrained.  If your tiger escapes and bites someone, you will be liable, because tigers are inherently dangerous. 

  Many states have specifically found that pesticide application is NOT inherently dangerous, meaning that strict liability does not apply.  There is one 1961 case, however, where a court disagreed.  In Young v. Darter, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that application of 2,4-D was inherently dangerous and found the applicator strictly liable for damage to his neighbor’s cotton crop.  It is worth noting that both cotton and grape vines are highly susceptible to damage from 2,4-D.

Trespass

  Most people understand that if a person enters their land without permission, they are guilty of trespassing.  Some jurisdictions, however, have also held that releases of chemical substances that settle on the property of another can constitute a trespass.  For example, in 1959, the Oregon Supreme Court held in Martin v. Reynolds Metals, Co. that the defendant’s release of fluoride gas that settled on adjacent land, rendering it unfit for cattle grazing, was an actionable trespass.  Unlike a negligence claim, actual damage to the subject property is not a required element in a trespass claim, though lack of injury may dramatically restrict the amount of any monetary recovery.

Nuisance

  Whereas trespass law addresses physical intrusion of pesticide particles onto the property of another, nuisance law addresses the interference with the use and enjoyment of the land that results from such an intrusion.  So, for example, if a pesticide drifts onto vineyard property in detectable amounts, it may constitute a trespass, whether there was damage or not.  But, if the grapevines on the property were damaged, it would interfere with the owner’s use and enjoyment of the land, giving rise to a nuisance claim.  It is worth noting that at least one jurisdiction, Minnesota, has held that pesticide drift can ONLY constitute a nuisance and not a trespass, because the particles are not a “tangible” object that affects the owner’s exclusive possession of the land. 

Additional Issues

  Two other points are worth mentioning.  First, before bringing suit in a pesticide drift case, it is important to know who applied the pesticide.  If the owner of the neighboring property or one of his employees did it, then he is liable.  But, if it was applied by an independent contractor hired by the neighbor, it may only be the contractor who is liable.  In some cases, where the neighbor specifically directed the contractor to use certain chemicals, or to spray them in a particular manner, both the neighbor and the contractor may be liable.  Second, there have been cases in which pesticide drift has caused the damaged property to lose certification as an “organic” farm.  Some states, such as Maryland, have databases of sensitive crops.  Owners should be sure to list their organic fields in these databases to alert neighboring farms to exercise caution in pesticide application.

  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.

  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, (240) 308-8032

Wine Industry 2019 Email Benchmark Results

Presented by WineGlass Marketing

A clean, transactional website that conveys a story, a consistent and authentic social media presence, and thoughtful targeted emails are the digital super group in your marketing arsenal. Although it seems every year someone comes out and predicts the death of email, it is still the best direct marketing tactic available to you. In the U.S., email usage has grown every single year since 2012 and 91% of American internet users use email (statista.com).

  But, that thoughtful and targeted part ain’t easy. After you find your audience and convince them to subscribe, which is a challenge in itself, you then have to keep their attention. (It takes an average of six to eight touch points to generate a qualified sales lead. (Salesforce))

The WGM Client Email Project is Born

  When we are working with our client on their email-marketing efforts, many of our clients want to know what others are doing. The internet is full of benchmarks and studies about email marketing, but very little exists about wine-related content. Can we assume that we are most analogous to a “Retail” category? Agricultural? Food and beverage? We’re never sure.

  So we started a project in January 2018 that entailed recording every email we sent for our clients: 3,089,124 emails across 1,697 campaigns for 43 clients over 21 months, to be exact. We removed administrative and club emails and checked for statistical significance and can confirm this is a large enough sample to be confident about the findings. Our goal was to compare our clients’ results to the posted industry benchmarks to see if they were a good judge of success. What we uncovered was interesting.

We are not the same!

  Immediately, we saw that our emails performed differently than the posted benchmarks. We had always used Mailchimp’s “Retail” benchmarks for our marketing – but never knew if this was a good comparison. It turns out that its’s not.

I’d like to say that the emails we create for our clients are so creative and impactful that they perform 20% better than industry average, and there might be some small truth there. But, it’s more likely that the wine category, as a whole, gets better response than the average category.  “Retail” is a broad category for any email that is selling something from Amazon to Zappos. But our clients are selling wine, which, in most people’s world, is a good thing and a welcome distraction from their daily drivel. Our theory is that winery customers look forward to news about their wineries, their favorite wines or upcoming events because it is an enjoyable hobby they have chosen to learn about and follow, versus the Sunday white sale at Macy’s which, may or may not be, relevant this week.

Getting Their Attention: Thoughts on Open Rates

  The two best predictors of whether an email will be opened is the subject line, and when the email is sent. We wanted to isolate both of these variables. According to data from Marketo, 41 characters–or 7 words–is reported to be the sweet spot for email subject line length in 2019. We counted all the characters (including spaces) in our campaigns and came out with an average of 42…so, we were pretty confident about our test results.

  But when we got into the data we were surprised. We couldn’t find any general statistical significance between open rate and the length of the subject line. (For you nerds out there, in our analysis, R2 =.04894 indicating that there is no linear relationship.) Put another way, if you have more, or less, characters in your subject line, we couldn’t say if your email is more, or less, likely to be opened. Length didn’t matter when looking at the emails in aggregate.

  However, when we look at the type of email, we saw trending. We bucketed emails into groups of club emails, eCommerce or sales emails, event announcements and emails with just information or news. We then looked at the open rate of emails whose subject line were low (1-25), medium (26-50), high (51-75) and very high (over 75) character counts. What we found was club emails perform better with brief subject lines, whereas event and newsletters are more likely to be opened with a longer, more explanative subject line. The fact that eCommerce shows little difference between lengths of subject lines indicates that it is the message that matters – or, simply, what is the offer?

The frequently debated topic of which day to send emails was also on our radar. Old-school folklore says Tuesdays are the best, but we should know by now that mobile phones have changed the way we consume email. It is now a 24-7 activity done on the bus, in line at the lunch counter, during weekends and before bedtime. Also, most people use mail applications that merge personal and work email together on their phone or they switch back and forth. So, it’s no longer a world where we read our work emails at the office desk between 9-5 on weekdays, and our home emails at the weekend home computer. In fact, there is substantial research indicating that a hobby topic like reading about wine is most often enjoyed and acted upon during weekends. So, we had our doubts.

  Looking at our clients’ data, the majority of the emails were sent on Thursday, and this coincided with a peak in open rate and click through rate. We surmised that for each client we naturally started optimizing to the best send day, and it is definitively Thursday. (Since they are all averages, the increased number of email campaigns on Thursday shouldn’t necessarily mean that open and click through rates are better, so we feel confident that mid-week is still the best time to send for optimal performance.)

Keeping Their Attention: What About Frequency?

  Then there is the question of frequency. Frequency is a complex mix of your unique databases’ relationship with your winery, and the quality of content you deliver to them. Some wineries may have developed a relationship that their customers tolerate several emails a week. Some only email twice a year. The only true way to tell your particular ideal frequency is to test and look at unsubscribe, open and click through rates.

The client pool for our data collection was wide and diverse. It included large, distributed mass-market brands, as well as small, allocation-only wines. It should be noted, generally, that the larger the winery, the more frequently they emailed their database. But, when we looked across all 43 clients, more than half of them are sending emails once or twice a month. Only 10% are sending weekly, and 9% are sending every 6 weeks or every 3 months. The 13% of wineries sending every 6 months are all on allocations.

  But, the question becomes, what is the optimal frequency for performance? Well the answer there is more is not better, but there’s a catch. At first glance, the data suggests that every six months gets you the best open and click through rate, but take into consideration these communications are highly anticipated semi-annual release allocations. For those of us that don’t have a line waiting around the block for our wine, it appears somewhere around 4-5 weeks is the sweet spot. This is also supported by the data and knowledge that segmentation and smaller lists get better response. Remember – it’s not how often you send an email, but how often any one person on your list receives one. So, your best bet is to spread out your communication and don’t hit everyone all the time. Segment your lists by their preference, location, or buying habits, and your frequency will naturally drop.

Getting To The Sale

  Not all of our email campaigns were sales based (yours’ shouldn’t be either.) Some were event invitations or newsletters, but we did pull out the eCommerce emails for sales statistics. Klaviyo.com quoted the average conversion rate on 18,000 customers across 13 industries during the full 2018 calendar year at .09%. We felt pretty awesome at our. 48% average. But once again, take into account this is wine versus kitty litter or whatever other offer ends up in your inbox. Our consumers generally want to hear about our winery and order our wine because they choose to enjoy it.

  If you were to project out response, you can assume about $334 AOV and 7-8 orders on an average campaign.

Conclusion

  So, what does this all mean? Here are our take-aways:

1.  Wine is a cheerful addition to the inbox, so set your goals higher than posted averages. Below is what we’re using for our winery benchmark performance moving forward.

2.  Go ahead and use those long subject lines and test emojis and other attention grabbers. But on sales emails, keep the offer short and to the point.

3.  Don’t feel stressed about making a specific send day of the week. It is true that Thursdays are the best day for email drops. But if you miss that, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays are good, too.

4.  While most of us send emails every 2-4 weeks, it appears that spacing this out to every 4-6 weeks would be beneficial. Rather than cutting back on good content, try segmenting communications to who might best respond to the message.

5.  Smaller lists perform better. Always. Get out of the habit of sending every message to everyone on your list. Its more work to segment, but it’s worth it.

  We were pleased with the results of this inaugural benchmark, and will continue and broaden our study, and continue reporting annual results.

  We are curious – does this match with what you see in your own database? If you have comments, we’d love to hear them at service@wineglassmarketing.com.

  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

Don’t Get Caught Off Guard During Wildfire Season: Tips for Your Winery

By: Markel Corp.

Weather conditions and natural disasters occasionally take a toll on vineyards and other agricultural production systems. Due to climate change and prolonged drought, the frequency and severity of wildfires is expected to increase. These risks highlight the need for winegrowers and winery owners to be as prepared as possible to reduce risk.

Putting Your Plan Together

  Many wineries may have already revisited their evacuation plans and filed them with their respective state agencies. Staying current of wildfire season developments can help enhance your ongoing planning and preparedness. Technology can also support your wildland fire planning and response. Additional planning resources by the American Red Cross is available at: www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/wildfire.html

Steps to Take Before a Wildland Fire Event

•    Take a close look at your program’s communication protocol for evacuations. Everyone should have a clear understanding of alarms that signal when you need to evacuate. Assign specific accountabilities to staff so everyone works collectively to achieve a positive outcome of protecting lives and property.

•    Work with your regional Forest Service to better understand emergency evacuation procedures in your area.

•    Coordinate with the American Red Cross, FEMA, and other emergency agencies to give them the locations of your evacuation sites. Invite your local fire department out as part of a fire pre-incident plan. They should be provided a map of your property, highlighting planned evacuation routes. They can also offer technical assistance to support your plan.

•    Prepare and post route maps for each site, including alternate routes. With a large fire, you may need to use “Plan B.”

•    Consider forming a cooperative agreement with another site to share resources and serve as an evacuation site.

•    Identify key equipment to be evacuated, including computers and other vital records. As part of your business continuity planning, programs should already have information backed up and stored remotely. But, in case you don’t, practice removing this equipment as part of your practice response.

•    Stock an ample supply of water and easily-prepared foods until rescue arrives.

Controlling Wildland Fire Exposures

Wildland fires are one of the most catastrophic threats to wineries.  Protecting your structures from ignition and fire damage is an important program objective second only to an evacuation plan. Taking precautions ahead of time can help reduce the exposure of a wildfire intrusion. There are a number of proactive measures a winery can take to mitigate the property damage a wildland fire can cause.

  To support a fire adaptive community philosophy, the local fire department or authority having jurisdiction for your program should require you to develop a landscape plan for the property. It is wise to seek their advice and incorporate their recommendations as you develop a plan specific to your location. You can learn more about fire adaptive community planning at the Fire Adaptive Communities, www.fireadapted.org

  According to the NFPA 1144 – Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fires, fire protection plans should address four zones around a property.

What are the primary threats to property during a wildfire?

  Research around property destruction vs. property survival in wildfires point to embers and small flames as the main way that the majority of properties ignite in wildfires. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind, they can cause spot fires and ignite structures, debris and other objects.

  There are methods for property owners to prepare their structures to withstand ember attacks and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching the structure or any attachments. Experiments, models and post-fire studies have shown structures ignite due to the condition of the structure and everything around it, up to 200’ from the foundation. 

  This is called the Home Ignition Zone. (Or referred to in this document as the structure ignition zone.)

What is the Structure Ignition Zone?

  The concept of the structure ignition zone was developed by retired USDA Forest Service fire scientist Jack Cohen in the late 1990’s, following some breakthrough experimental research into how structures ignite due to the effects of radiant heat. 

The structure ignition zone is divided into three zones; immediate, intermediate and extended.

Immediate Zone

  The structure and the area 0-5’ from the furthest attached exterior point of the structure; defined as a non-combustible area. Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers.

  START WITH THE STRUCTURES then move into the landscaping section of the Immediate Zone.

•    Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.

•    Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.

•    Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8” metal mesh screening.

•    Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8” metal mesh screening to reduce embers.

•    Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows. Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.

•    Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches. Intermediate Zone 5-30’ from the furthest exterior point of the structure.  Landscaping/hardscaping – employing careful landscaping or creating breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior

•    Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.

•    Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.

•    Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of 4”.

•    Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns. Prune trees up to 6-10’ from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.

•    Space trees to have a minimum of 18’ between crowns with the distance increasing with the percentage of slope.

•    Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than 10’ to the edge of the structure.

•    Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape. Extended Zone 30-100’, out to 200’. Landscaping – the goal here is not to eliminate fire but to interrupt fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground.

•    Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.

•    Remove dead plant and tree material.

•    Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.

•    Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.

•    Trees 30 to 60’ from the structure should have at least 12’ between canopy tops.

•    Trees 60 to 100’ from the structure should have at least 6’ between the canopy tops. If an evacuation becomes evident

•    If possible, identify the location and direction of the fire event. Remain cognizant that this can quickly change direction and speed.

•    Clearly explain your evacuation procedures to all that may be involved.

•    Identify special medical needs and gather emergency equipment and necessities, including trauma supplies for ready access.

•    Designate enough vehicles to evacuate everyone safely. Reinforce safe driving practices with all drivers.

•    Equip staff with emergency communications equipment (cell phones, walkie-talkies, whistles, flares, colored smoke canisters, etc.). Ask your local jurisdiction authority for suggestions.

•    Load key equipment, vital records, food, and water.

•    Ask qualified associates to disconnect and move LP gas tanks to a safer location, such as a gravel lot, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions to empty the tanks.

•    Warn firefighters of underground fuel storage or LP gas tanks before you leave. Making your facility fire resistant can help reduce property loss. However, keep in mind that these steps should be done only by assigned staff in conjunction with an evacuation and never require or allow staff to remain behind. Close and secure all doors and windows once combustible materials have been moved away from these openings.

•    Wet down buildings and roofs. There are commercial grade fire retardant products available that can help support your efforts to protect your property. But do your research ahead of time; and don’t let the application of these products reduce the priority of evacuating.

•    Have qualified personnel cut down trees in the fire path, bulldoze a firebreak, and cut field grass as short as possible.

•    Remove brush and dry vegetation near buildings.

  Fire EvacuationWhat you need to know

During wildfire season, you may be forced to evacuate in a hurry. People are your first priority; to include guests, staff and firefighters. Most fire evacuations provide at least a three-hour notice; but due to the scope of your operation, you may need to do it sooner. Take proactive steps before and during an evacuation to reduce anxiety and avoid injuries. Plan, prepare and practice.

Filing claims

  In the event your area experiences a wildfire event, it is highly likely it will not only be monitored by your insurance agent, in addition to your insurance company. Pre-loss documentation, such as video recordings and pictures of buildings, business personal property inventories, should be up to date and included as part of your evacuation materials. Working with your agent is a great resource to understand what might be necessary to help with documentation, if you should need it.

Rethinking Trellis Viability in the Age of Mechanization

By: Tracey L. Kelley

Initially, when conceptualizing this article, we wanted to present the feasibility, maintenance and costs of the Lyre trellising system.

  However, research and interviews revealed that while it was once a viable choice, evolving production practices, reduced labor availability and other factors require growers to think more strategically. For cost-saving efficiency in the fruit zone, vine vigor and development of the finest product, growers need more modern trellis innovation.

  You know something interesting is about to happen when you contact a subject matter expert about a story angle and he or she says, “Um, that simply won’t work. Here’s why.”  Uh oh…

  What first piqued The Grapevine Magazine’s interest in the Lyre system was visiting American-based vineyards and hearing growers share their enthusiasm for it. Developed in the 1980s by Alain Corbonneau in the Bordeaux region of France, the Lyre trellis trains vines to grow up, allowing more wind and sun into the canopy for greater fruit yields and reduced mildew. It first entered into some mainstream vineyards because of a disaster.

  “The 1990s was a period of questioning canopy management and trellising. This was particularly evident in California, where (growers) were replanting after the AxR debacle,” said Richard Smart, author of Sunlight into Wine and world-renowned viticulturist specializing in canopy management, improving vineyard yield and nutrition management. The referenced debacle was AxR#1, or Aramon Rupestris Ganzin No. 1, a French-American cross rootstock devastated by the louse phylloxera.

  “There was a lot of the Lyre trellis installed in the Napa Valley and thereabouts at that time, probably more than anywhere else in the world that I am aware of,” Smart said. At the time, high-yielding growers in California, Oregon and Washington considered it a viable alternative—as did some in Texas and, to a limited extent, Missouri, New York and North Carolina. It’s a less-popular divided canopy choice where cold injury is common because of the extensive cordon development required. However, that’s not the only issue with it.

  “There may be 6–to–12 foliage wires and two fruiting wires. It’s, therefore, one of the more expensive trellis systems to install,” Smart said. “And its popularity soon waned because of problems with mechanization and subsequently, the effects of trunk disease—although this system is less prone than single curtain vertical shoot positioning (VSP). I hear mixed reports on the ease of mechanical harvesting, although it’s relatively easy to mechanically pre-prune.”

  So here’s one point where our story angle turned: how does a single choice of trellis impact all other aspects of production, labor and cost savings?

Labor+Mechanization=Different Trellis Choices

  “The top three trellis issues we’re asked to help with are labor savings, trellis systems that allow for more mechanization and stronger systems to hold the larger crop loads,” Jeff Miller told The Grapevine Magazine. Jeff Miller is COO of JSC Agricultural Supply, a division of Jim’s Supply based in Bakersfield, California. It manufactures trellising supplies, provides a full line of agricultural equipment and consults with growers about trellis systems and installation.

  A term frequently mentioned in the industry now is “no touch”: vineyards managed by mechanization and technology that reduce reliance on human labor. In France, where agricultural labor receives higher wages than in the United States, there’s an intense demand for advanced no-touch technology. Growers in Australia, Italy and Spain are adapting, too. At the 2017 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, numerous panel experts—including Mark Krstic of the Australian Wine Research Institute, Aaron Lange of Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards in California, and Nick Pehle of Stone Hill Winery in Missouri—detailed the hows and whys of no-touch operations for everything from pruning and shoot thinning to leaf removal and harvest.

  “This is the direction the industry is heading,” Miller said. “It has to. With a shrinking workforce, more competition for labor, changing overtime laws and increasing minimum wage, growers are seeking solutions to limit the amount of labor needed in the vineyards.”

  These essential points circled our story angle back to trellis choices. Craig Macmillian is an ag specialist with Gold Ridge Research Conservation District in Sebastopol, California, who works with landowners to conserve, preserve and improve their properties. A former grower and winemaker, he said it’s not easy or inexpensive to convert horizontally-divided systems to vertical systems to allow for greater mechanization.

  “When I have seen people make a change, they were redeveloping the vineyard,” he said. “While horizontal systems like the Lyre are still excellent choices for high-vigor sites, you can’t pre-prune, prune or harvest mechanically. Most machines are designed for vertical trellises.”

  He went on to say that because both sides of the vine established on a horizontal structure require more touches, it takes additional time to work a block. “So with whatever labor you have, it’s very slow to get through a block. Doubling the amount of labor just isn’t practical. Costs are going up, and growers are paying more per hour, but more importantly, there simply aren’t enough people.”

  Here’s where the angle of this particular story could have easily jumped from the Lyre system and trellising in general to necessary mechanization due to immigration and adverse effect wage issues. In the United States, most farm labor comes from Mexico, but fewer people, in general, want to be involved with such hands-on, backbreaking work. So, while that topic is definitely an important feature to present another time, what’s interesting and more on target in this story is how growers, educators and manufacturers are innovating to accommodate where the industry is now and how planning should evolve to address key challenges before they happen.

Consider All Options for Now…and the Future

  To ensure the most healthy and productive canopy, Smart encourages growers to consider their options down the line, taking into consideration the overall operations of the vineyard.

  “My general preference in today’s market of constrained labor availability and cost is to use the vertically-divided Scott Henry system for cane pruned vines, and the Smart-Dyson for spur pruned vines,” Smart said. “The latter can be mechanically pre-pruned, and both machine-harvest well.” Smart partnered with John Dyson, a California and New York grower, to develop a split canopy system to improve yield and wine quality. Industry experts rely on the system to provide better grape-foliage balance.

  Miller added that “as the grower works to reduce their costs in the field, they’re moving towards a single bi-lateral cordon system 60–66 inches high. The system allows for uniformity to help with mechanization.”

  To new vineyard owners, Macmillian recommends installing the most basic trellis system possible at first. “Then put in a line post that has the ability to have retrofits put on it, so you can put on catch wires, additional catch wires, a crossbar, if that’s how you decide to go. Build up to what your needs eventually will be.”

  For ease of mechanized harvest, he referenced a California grower who established a cross arm that was up to about 18” wide. “While not horizontally divided, it was a way to capture the canopy without having to move the wires, which is what a cross arm will enable someone to do. It allows the canopy to be more open than with catch wires, but not flopping completely.”

  Macmillian also suggests people think about mechanization right from the beginning. “I don’t see that there’s going to be more labor in the future. In order to survive, vineyards are going to have to become increasingly mechanized. This applies to small, medium and large producers.”

What about the sense of community pride when people are involved in pruning, harvest and crush? Many vineyard owners rely on this assistance not only to provide a connection to tradition and as great promotion but also to manage costs more effectively.

  “If someone has a small enough vineyard—we’re talking a couple of acres—and they have that kind of community of friends, neighbors and relatives, hand labor is viable,” Macmillian told The Grapevine Magazine. “However, what I’ve found is most folks are excited to work for a couple of hours, then it’s not fun anymore. So there’s not much acreage you can cover that way. Now, in Europe, for example, domains—such as those in Burgundy, which tend to be very small—have folks from the community who come every year who pick at the end of the day, and that’s it. But we don’t have the same kind of tradition as they do there. And even in Europe, [use of] immigrant vineyard labor is increasing.”

  He added that “if you have a high-vigor site, a divided canopy trellis might initially be the right choice, but economically and logistically, it may not be the right choice. Which means you’ll have to deal with that vigor issue another way, and that’s the problem.”

  Miller said JSC tries to develop products to allow for a slight hybridization in operations, recognizing that while complete trellis retrofitting might not be an option for existing growers—especially those of a certain size—adapting technologies might bridge the gap.

  “In early 2018, JSC partnered with ECO Trellis out of New Zealand to add the ECO/ KLIMA suite of products to our product line,” Miller said. “The KLIMA pruning machine is a cane pruning system that reduces costs during the pruning process. We developed a cross arm that can adapt any existing trellis system over to be compatible with the KLIMA pruning machine. In addition, working with a grower on the Central Coast, we developed an extension that can be added in the early years of a high-wire system to help with the spur positions in the initial development of the vineyard.”

  University of Missouri Extension Services offers a comprehensive article that provides great detail in preparing for mechanized viticulture or preparing an existing vineyard for mechanization. It advises producers to first “develop a working knowledge of the abilities, limitations and requirements of currently available equipment.” Also included in this analysis is the importance of site selection, vineyard design, cultivar selection and trellising.

  “At present, single curtain, cordon-trained systems are the most conducive to full vineyard mechanization. Examples include the high bilateral cordon, mid-wire cordon with VSP and the Smart-Dyson and Ballerina systems. Of these, the former two are often preferred for their simplicity in management, and selection of either should be based upon cultivar growth and bearing habit, anticipated vine size and revenues and other site or regionally-specific considerations.”

  Basic touchstones for existing vineyards include close examination of trunks and cordons, as well as the density of canes and spurs; investigating the cost of repairing or retrofitting the trellis; and reasons for sagging between posts, whether it’s due to falling end assemblies, excessive line post spacing or inadequate tension prior to cordon establishment. U of M Extension offers an extensive checklist for established growers considering more mechanized operations.

Exploring the Diverse: Wines Within the Columbia Gorge Wine Region

By: Becky Garrison

The Columbia Gorge Wine Region is defined by the Columbia River that cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range, as well as the Missoula Floods that scoured the region 15,000 years ago. Within this compact 40-mile region that includes Washington State and Oregon, lies the Columbia Gorge American Viticulture Area (AVA), as well as a portion of the Columbia Valley AVA.

  Lewis and Clark first made the Gorge famous during their 1805 passage to the Pacific Ocean, when they found this was the only sea-level passage through the Cascades. However, the first signs of this region’s winemaking potential did not occur until the 1880s when the Jewitt family, founders of the town of White Salmon in Washington State, first planted American vines.

  Soon other pioneer families followed suit with some of their original vines still standing. Case in point, during this time period, Italian stonemason Louis Comini planted Zinfandel wines in a vineyard located in The Dalles, Oregon. In 1982, Lonnie Wright, owner of the Pines 1852 Vineyard and Winery, rediscovered this now abandoned vineyard and nursed the vineyard back to health. He continues to grow grapes used for their Old Vine Zinfandel.

  In the 1970s, other contemporary pioneers began experimenting growing grapes on the south-facing slopes of the Underwood Mountain in Washington State. Over the ensuing two decades, well known wine makers began exploring the grapes of this region, and the Columbia Gorge AVA was established formally in 2004.

A founding member of the Columbia Gorge AVA and co-founder of Syncline Wine Cellars (Lyle, Washington), James Mantone made his first batch of wine in 1999 at Syncline using Pinot Noir grown at Celilo Vineyard, one of the oldest vineyards in Washington State. Early on, Mantone saw the potential of this area for winemaking. He describes his pull to this area. “We were attracted by the tortured topography, the jumbled soils, the varied aspects and elevations of the hills, the influence of the Cascades cooling the nights, the winds shaping vine photosynthesis, the marginal climate. Here was a place that could reward the winemaker with intimate sites that have the potential to produce grapes unique from neighboring sites.”

Rachael Horn, head wine maker and owner of AniChe Cellars in Underwood, Washington, describes the Columbia Gorge AVA as edgy, literally, and fringe in all kinds of ways. “We can grow a variety of fruit in the Gorge, due to a banana belt micro marine-climate while being surrounded by Continental climes.” She adds how these growing conditions produce a high degree of acid in fruit. “This keeps our wines fresh and less concentrated than nearby regions. Our diurnal difference is often 30 degrees or more, which facilitates the retention of native acids.”

  While the Pacific Northwest has become renowned for their juicy red wines, the diverse terroir of this region can produce grapes of almost every varietal. In fact, the Columbia Gorge AVA has the distinction of being one of the few wine growing areas in Washington State where white grape planting exceeds red grape planting with white grapes constituting about 64 percent of the total grape harvest.

  The more western vineyards possess a cool, marine influenced climate ideal for cool-weather loving white varietals such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay which are known for their crisp acidity. This area also produces bold reds such as Pinot Noir that grow well in this lush environment. Some of these western vineyards such as AniChe Cellars can be dry-farmed, as the soil receives upwards of 40 inches of precipitation annually, and does not require additional irrigation.

  Conversely, eastern vineyards with their continental high desert climate replete with abundant sunshine and just 10 inches of annual rainfall are perfect for growing hot-weather Rhône and Bordeaux along with Italian varietals such as Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Barbera.

             Steve Bickford, one of the owners of the family-owned Mt. Hood Winery situated just outside the town of Hood River, observes how the local weather informs the grapes they chose to grow at their vineyard versus those grapes they decide to purchase from other AVAs.

  ”The west end is cooler, wetter and with less overall heat units needed for ripening. So, we grow many white wine grapes on the west end in Hood River, and a few reds; mostly Pinot Noir. The east end of the AVA is drier and hotter, and conducive to the bigger reds, like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, So we buy some grapes from our eastern friends.”

  Even within a single vineyard, one can find a vast array of wines. For example, Nate Ready, Farmer/Winemaker, for Hiyu Wine Farm near Hood River, Oregon, opines how the different kind of microorganisms, plants, animals, and humans living in a symbiotic system allow him to grow 107 grape varietals. He creates 12 complex field blends through practices such as grafting multiple varieties on to one plant. Here Ready is inspired by natural mutations that happen over time with an eye toward history. He notes, “Each planting is a field blend based on a different moment in the European history of the grapevine.”

  Ready chose to situate his 30-acre family farm about 22 miles from the summit of Mt. Hood because he wanted to raise animals and garden in a way that resembles nature more than agriculture. “It works for all kinds of grapes because its a diverse and happy place to be a living, growing, being free of pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, and unnecessary human intervention.”

Graham Markel launched Buona Notte Wines, an Italian leaning winery, after working as an assistant winemaker for Hiyu. While the Gorge is not as diverse as the Italian peninsula, he finds places that grow different Italian varietals. Currently, Markel works with seven different vineyards for the seven different varietals that he makes. “Every vineyard is completely unique and seems to fit that varietal so well. I get Sauvignon Blanc form the cliffs of Underwood and Sangiovese from the rolling wheat fields just east of The Dalles. The two vineyards couldn’t be more different, and are only about 40 miles apart.”

  Luke Bradford, proprietor of Cor Cellars wanted to grow the kinds of grapes that would produce the wines he encountered during his trips to Europe such as the wines of Boudreaux and the Mosel, as well as the wines of central and southern Italy. “We wanted to be located in a cooler climate region while still having access to the warmer climate grapes.” Currently, their white wines are made using grapes grown in the Columbia Gorge while they get the grapes for their red wines from the neighboring Horse Heaven Hills AVA. 

  According to the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association, fifty wineries reside in this region with 95% of these boutique wineries producing 5,000 or fewer cases of wine each year. These wineries gatherer their grapes from over ninety vineyards (1,300+ vineyard acres planted) within this wine region, as well as surrounding AVAs with a focus on sustainable and organic farming practices.

  Given this boutique nature of the Columbia Gorge AVA, an event such as the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire had a very detrimental impact on that year’s harvest. In summer of 2019, neighboring Phelps Creek Vineyards,  Mt. Hood Winery and Stave & Stone Wine Estates, launched National Forest Week to help rebuild the hiking trails damaged in this fire. They released 8,376 bottles of three Pinot Noirs made with grapes from this fiery vintage. Each bottle sold generated $3 for the National Forest Foundation’s Eagle Creek Fire Restoration Fund.

  Moving forward, ventures such as the Columbia Gorge Express enable tourists without a car to travel from Portland, Oregon to Hood River to explore the town’s numerous tasting rooms, along with three breweries (Ferment Brewing, Double Mountain Brewery and Pfriem family breweries) and Hood River Distilling, home to brands such as Clear Creek Distilling and McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt.

  Also, the East Gorge Food Trail worked with the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance to develop agrotourism within the region by focusing on local businesses that source ingredients within 150 miles. They chose to focus on the Eastern part of the Gorge this area was not as well developed for tourism as areas such as the towns of Hood River and Cascade Locks and areas like Mt. Hood. They designed a self-guided tour covering Mosier (pop. 433) to The Dalles (pop. 13,631) or The Dalles to Durfur (pop. 638). These tours encompass ten historic orchards and farms, restaurants, and seven wineries (15 Mile Winery, Analemma Wines, Garnier Vineyards, Idiot’s Grace Wines, Moody Tollbridge Winery, Sunshine Mill Winery, and Tierra de Lobos Winery).

  As they are at the beginning stages of this project, they hope to continue knitting together the stories that can connect people to the terroir and tastes of the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Paradisos del Sol: An Organic Vineyard Paradise

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

When Paul Vandenberg was 10-years-old, he would wait eagerly for his mother’s copy of “Organic Gardening and Farming” to arrive so he could read it cover to cover. When he was 13, he made his first wine out of blackberries. It’s no surprise then that Vandenberg, after studying ecology in college, found his life’s work in an organic vineyard in Washington State.

  “I started working in the wine industry in 1983, just as the vineyard explosion was happening in the state,” Vandenberg told The Grapevine Magazine. “I had always been an organic gardener, but everyone thought I was ‘hippy dippy’ at the time.” Yet several years later, Vandenberg was at Badger Mountain Vineyard when the owner, Bill Powers, was having problems with herbicide drift from wheat fields that were 10 to 20 miles away. Out of frustration, Powers implemented organic farming techniques to help mitigate the problem. And that was Vandenberg’s entrée for his true passion: he was with Badger Mountain when it became Washington’s first certified organic vineyard, and later, was winemaker at Worden’s Winery when he produced the first organic wine in the state, which took Worden’s into the worldwide marketplace.

  Fast forward to 2004 and Vandenberg established his own playground, Paradisos del Sol Winery in Zillah, WA, in the Rattlesnake Hills sub-AVA of the Yakima Valley AVA. For the past 20 years, he has taken organic viticulture to new heights by growing grapes in a pesticide-free environment and producing wines that are pure expressions of the earth. In choosing land for his farm, Vandenberg went to great lengths to locate a property that would meet specific farming requirements. “I did not start growing grapes because I owned the land; I found land where I thought I could grow grapes with the least use of pesticides. It’s one of the sweetest spots on the planet. It has a fine, deep loam soil deposited by the great Missoula floods and is on a ridgetop where the leaves are bathed in high intensity sunlight.” It is this sunlight, Vandenberg said, that acts as a natural deterrent to powdery mildew, a potentially devastating grapevine disease.

  To assure ample sunlight in his vineyards, Vandenberg uses a Divided Canopy Quadrilateral Cordon System (Lyre) developed by UC-Davis research viticulturist Mark Kliewer. In this system, instead of using a single wire to support the cordon and maybe one or two wires to support some of the canopy, the grape grower uses a cross arm to create two cordons, separated horizontally by a meter. “The idea is to have two curtains rising from a cordon wire with an open space in between,” Vandenberg explained. “With more openness in the fruit zone, the fruit is well-exposed to light, which adds to color and flavor in the grapes, and deters powdery mildew.”

  Vandenberg describes his trellising system as a “low-vigor canopy,” defined by international viticulturist Richard Smart as a canopy with no more than 15 shoots per meter of cordon and a shoot length no greater than a meter. A low-vigor canopy on a single-wire system will yield a maximum of four tons per acre; by having a double trellis, the yield is double. “The key is balancing the sun and the shade,” Vandenberg said. “Pruning depends on the variety, and the size of its leaves and berries. But essentially all varieties have the same sort of canopy density, the same openness, and the same ability for light to come in for every leaf and every grape.”

  Vandenberg’s pest control strategies in his vineyard are not just in the canopy; they’re also on the vineyard floor. Here on the surface, cover crops grow year ‘round to support a lively complex of predatory insects in the dirt below. For example, dozens of blooming plants provide pollen and nectar for wasps, which prey on leafhoppers. Also, over 16 identified species of mushroom caps on the surface indicates mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) web below, which receives sugar from the grapevine roots and in exchange gives nutrients. The objective, said Vandenberg, is to create an environment of well-fed plants so they are able to use their own natural defenses to avoid predators like powdery mildew and leafhoppers. “Biodiversity creates stability and avoids the eruption of populations of pests,” Vandenberg told the Grapevine Magazine. “My soil is not just dirt; it’s a live complex of organisms. That’s what organic gardening is all about.

  The biggest pest problem at Paradisos del Sol, said Vandenberg, is pocket gophers. He is trying to manage this naturally, of course, by building boxes for barn owls, who are the number one predator for gophers. Vandenberg has installed an “owl cam,” so he can watch the owlets grow.

  Like his practices in the vineyard, Vandenberg employs as many natural processes as possible when making wines. “Great wine is grown, not made,” he said. “As a terroirist, I let the wine be what it is. I don’t adjust pH and acidity to some textbook standard.” Paradisos del Sol produces wines from 15 varieties of grapes. Reds include Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Malbec, Pinot Meunier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and two oddballs: Lemberger, a grape widely grown in Austria and Hungary, and Teroldego, a grape from northwest Italy. White wines include Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Orange Muscat, White Muscat, and yet another oddball, Xarel·lo, one of the three grapes used in Cava. Vandenberg is the only person in the U.S. to commercially plant Xarel·lo. “Somebody’s got to plant these things and try them out,” he said.

  While Vandenberg grows multiple varieties of grapes, he releases only two varietal wines: a Sangiovese and a barrel-fermented and barrel-aged Chenin Blanc. He uses his red grapes to produce three wines, including a barrel-fermented and barrel-aged Rosé. He also creates blends with his white wines. Vandenberg eschews the use of new barrels, as he wants no heavy oak influences in his wines. “I grow grapes, not oak trees,” he said. “I believe you can get oak flavors in a 12-year-old barrel; my barrels are over 20 years old.

  Vandenberg does use fining and filtering techniques but puts minimal additives in his wine. Typically, ingredients listed on the label of a white wine are: 100% hand-picked sustainably grown organic grapes, yeast, bentonite clay, minimum effective so2 (potassium metabisulfite). Ingredients listed on the label of a red wine are: 100% hand-picked sustainably grown organic grapes, yeast, malolactic culture, minimum effective so2 (potassium metabisulfite). Vandenberg describes his winemaking practices as “old methods.” The wine goes in the barrel as grape juice, with no racking until it is pulled out of the barrel. “I try to provide the vine a perfect environment so that it is healthy and happy and produces fabulous tasting fruit,” he explained. “I don’t mess with it: I just let it do its thing. A barrel in a cool, dark room is a wonderful place to make wine. That’s why it’s been done that way for 2000 years.”

  Vandenberg describes Paradisos del Sol as a “small family estate winery.” He produces less than 2000 cases per year, and all is sold direct-to-consumer. Wine prices range from $7 to $48. Vandenberg runs the operation with his wife, Barbara Sherman (who manages the office), and only hires part-time employees during harvest and shoot thinning and leaf pulling. The vineyard is Certified Organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

  Compared to other wineries, Paradisos del Sol is also an integrated farm, with chickens, turkeys, cattle, pigs, and sheep, who help mow the vineyard during the winter when grapevines are dormant. The tasting room, with views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier, is open daily, and offers visitors an opportunity to taste not just wine, but food paired with the specific wines. The destination is very popular with families, as children can feed chickens and play with the cats and dogs that live on premises. Paradisos del Sol provides picnic facilities and free overnight camping for tents and self-contained RVs. Horses are welcome, with water available for them.

  Indeed, Vandenberg has created an organic paradise in the heart of the Yakima Valley. There, in this garden in the desert, he offers tours and talks to visitors who want to understand more about how he grows his grapes and produces his wines. “People don’t understand what organic means,” he told The Grapevine Magazine. “Organic means a systemic, all-embracing approach to gardening and farming. It’s about manipulating the environment in a way that is favorable to something we want to do.” As an enologist with over 36 years of experience, Vandenberg’s knowledge is vast, but his mantra is simple: “We are a traditional small wine estate dedicated to growing grapes without the use of pesticides and trying to make the best pure and wholesome wines we can.” For more information on Paradisos del Sol visit their website: https://paradisosdelsol.com/Home.htm

How Vineyards Should Tackle the Task of Dormant Weed Control

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Like all plants that are grown commercially or even as backyard hobbies, grapevines are not immune to weeds and the damage they cause. Although your grapevines may not be growing at this time of the year, the weeds around them still are. In fact, the late fall season after harvest time is often considered to be the most important time for weed control. Here is some information about how vineyards can treat their soil for dormant weed control and tips for using herbicides after harvest.

The Importance of Dormant Weed Control

  Weeds can take a lot out of grapevines after harvest, which is why this type of vineyard maintenance is so important to learn about right now. This is an ideal time to get a handle on your vineyard’s weeds while the vines are dormant and have no leaves.

  Dormant weed control helps limit soil moisture loss and prevents more weed seeds from being deposited in the soil. Ultimately, it benefits next year’s crop yield by reducing the spread of disease and reducing competition between weeds and grapevines for both water and nutrients.

  Patrick Clark, the technical marketing manager and research coordinator for BioSafe Systems, LLC, and Taylor Vadon, BioSafe’s technical sales representative, told The Grapevine Magazine how the possibility of crop injury is considerably low during dormancy due to the lack of vegetation. Headquartered in East Hartford, Connecticut but serving customers throughout North and South America, BioSafe is a family-owned manufacturer of biodegradable disease-control products. The risk of crop injury due to herbicide exposure increases when leaves and buds form during the growing season. This is why vineyard managers of conventional, mature vineyards are advised to apply herbicides during the dormancy period.

  “The primary and most effective weed management options during this stage are pre-emergent herbicides used in conjunction with post-emergent systemic chemistries and burndown products,” said Clark and Vadon. “The use of systemic herbicides with a burndown product, such as AXXE, is ideal for removing the weeds from under the vines to ensure a bare soil area. By removing weeds from under the vines, a vineyard manager can maximize radiant heat from the sun to minimize possible frost injury leading up to and during budbreak. The reduction of weeds will also reduce nutrient and water competition when the vines transition from dormancy into the growing season.”

  “Furthermore, having bare soil under the vines is critical in maximizing the efficacy of any pre-emergent herbicides, as it will allow for full coverage of the area,” Clark and Vadon said. “After adequate rainfall or irrigation water moving the pre-emergent herbicide into the soil, the performance of these products will extend well into the spring and summer, which will reduce the competition of weeds during the growing season.”

Types of Weeds in Vineyards

  In many vineyards, you’ll find annual weeds that live less than a year and also perennial weeds that live more than two years. It is crucial that vineyard operators consider both types separately for dormant weed control strategies. Perennial weeds can include poison oak and Canada thistle. Meanwhile, some weeds should be controlled before the vineyard is established, such as bindweed and horse nettle. Weeds are also often classified as summer annuals and winter annuals. Weeds are very regionally specific, so take some time to learn about the weeds common to your area so you can devise a plan to kill them effectively.

  One common mistake that vineyards make with regard to dormant weed control is not applying burndown products and other post-emergent herbicides at the right target plant height. Clark and Vadon from BioSafe recommend treating target weeds at one to three inches maximum height to ensure complete coverage when using a burndown herbicide.

  “When weeds become too large or mature, obtaining adequate coverage by getting product contact throughout the target weeds becomes difficult, thus reducing efficacy,” they said.

  Weather is another persistent concern for vineyards looking to get weeds under control because rainfast timing varies with different herbicides. If you apply the herbicide too early, the product can get washed off the plant’s surface, thereby minimizing the effectiveness of the herbicide’s active ingredient.

  “It is important to note here that a vineyard manager or applicator should consult the product label to be sure of proper rates by plant height and best use recommendations,” said Clark and Vadon. “Understanding the products, proper timing and rates of application, tracking the weather conditions and good planning will ensure your chosen burndown product will be effective.”

Non-Chemical Weed Control Methods

  Weeds can be controlled by both chemical and non-chemical methods, and the choice of method depends on the severity of the weed problem and whether you plan to make organic wine with your grapes. One chemical-free weed control method involves applying a synthetic mulch made of a plastic or geotextile; however, this material can be difficult to keep in place and expensive. You can also apply organic mulch that is several inches deep to reduce weed growth. But be mindful of the fact that organic mulch can offset the nitrogen balance, introduce new seeds from the content of the mulch or create a habitat that rodents love.

  Black plastic and landscape fabrics work well for weed suppression if your vineyard can afford these materials and avoid damaging them during normal vineyard operations. Only the very tiniest vineyards can manage pulling weeds by hand, while machine weeders can assist larger vineyards if they are able to cut close enough to the roots or make multiple trips through the rows. Try planting a cover crop to out-compete weeds in your vineyard but ensure that your chosen cover crop doesn’t compete with the vines. Other organic weed control methods include soil solarization before planting and flaming with propane after planting. Animals, such as geese and sheep, can be used to control weeds without chemicals, as well as organic herbicides made with agricultural vinegar.

Weed Control with Chemical Aids

  If these methods aren’t effective or based upon a vineyard owner’s preference, chemical-based herbicides are commonly used to kill seedings in their earliest stages of formation. Some options are Prowl, Surflan and Diuron, while other herbicides are not used for vineyards because they will harm the vines. Alion is an herbicide that is used in vineyards with grapes that are at least five years old and with root systems that are at least 12 inches deep.

  Roundup PowerMaxx, Rely 280, Shark EW and AXXE are common systemic and burndown herbicides that control many plant species when rotated or tank-mixed. Clark and Vadon of BioSafe mentioned several pre-emergent herbicides for long residual management of tough-to-control weed species, including iChateau SW, Alion, Trellis and Matrix.

  For annual weeds, it is common to use a pre-emergent herbicide to interfere with the weeds’ germination. Glyphosate is often used in pre-plant situations, with multiple applications necessary for perennials that are well-established. Meanwhile, systemic herbicides are most common for perennial weeds, such as poison ivy, poison oak and Canada thistle.

  After harvest, you can apply a pre-emergent herbicide by itself or combined with another herbicide. This is usually done in both the spring and fall or done as a single winter treatment along with a post-emergent herbicide to address weeds that are currently growing in the vineyard. Coarse and sandy soil with little organic matter can use lower rates of herbicides, while silt and clay soil with high organic matter will need more of the product.

  To help vineyards control weeds after harvest, BioSafe offers AXXE, a broad-spectrum herbicide used for non-selective, weed control of grasses and broadleaf weeds for herbicidal burndown applications in established vineyards during dormancy. AXXE provides fast-acting results on many weeds, mosses, lichens and sedges.

  “This product is an herbicidal soap (40% ammonium nonanoate) comprised of a form of ammoniated pelargonic salts that provide rapid burndown of weeds and breaks down quickly leaving no harmful residue,” said Clark and Vadon. “These salts penetrate the cell walls of plants, disrupting the cellular functions of the targeted weeds and killing them within hours of application. AXXE is an American-made herbicide that is ideal as a tank-mix partner for systemic products to provide an innovative mode of action increasing efficacy and resistance management.”

Final Tips About Dormant Weed Control

  Just after Thanksgiving is an ideal time to apply herbicide in many parts of the country before a second application of residual annual grass herbicides in the late spring for late summer control. Regardless of what herbicide you use, always spray it at the weed foliage and soil rather than the vines’ leaves, shoots, or young wood. If weeds are sparse, it may be best to use a visual weed-seeking sprayer to reduce unnecessary spread of the herbicide. It also helps to place a grow tube around the vines to spray for weeds without injuring vines. In addition to deciding on chemical and non-chemical weed control methods, vineyards also need to plan ahead for the equipment required, such as sprayer technology that can fit onto the front of a tractor, a spinning disk under a dome to shield vines from herbicide contact, or a backyard-type sprayer for small vineyards.

  Clark and Vadon of BioSafe’s most important piece of advice about applying herbicide is that worker safety is always paramount. This means that vineyard managers, labor crews, and applicators must be aware of the rules and regulations of herbicide use and read product labels to understand handling and mixing procedures, personal protective equipment needed, and best use recommendations.

  “Regarding weed management in established vineyards during dormancy, we would recommend rotating and/or tank-mixing products from varying modes of action when developing a weed management plan,” said Clark and Vadon. “This will reduce the likelihood of resistant weeds from developing, thus ensuring the industry will have effective products for many seasons to come.”

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