The Importance of Review Sites

By: Susan DeMatei 

We all have a love/hate relationship with online reviews. We get angry when someone points out our flaws on Yelp, but we look for multiple reviews when considering something on Amazon. 

Four Reasons You Should Care About Online Reviews 

  Let’s start with your consumer. Chances are, if you’re a winery and you’re selling mid-priced wine, your consumers fall into the Baby Boomer and Generation X demographics. (The 2021 Silicon Valley Bank reported that Boomers and Gen Xers account for 71% of wine consumption.) 

  However, this won’t be the case for long. If you consider the SIZE of each generation, Baby Boomers are aging out, and GenXers aren’t that big of a group of individuals. The oldest Millennials turn 40 this year. So very soon – as in the next five years – our targets will be Millennials. 

  The shift is significant because of the vast difference in values between Boomers and Millennials. Boomers are the responsible generation and did what they could to justify purchases with tangible data like scores. They also liked outward recognition and status to validate that they made the right decisions. Millennials, on the other hand, tend to look for a purpose or meaning behind their products. Ideally, they search for companies and products with detailed backstories that offer intrinsic value to make them feel good about themselves and the purchase. And they care about what their cohorts think.  

  So, over the next 5-10 years, we will witness a massive shift in marketing, and one of the major transformations will be in the area of influence.  While today’s wine consumers are widely influenced by the established press or reviews, the consumers of tomorrow care about what peers say – even if they’re anonymous peers. 

  The second compelling reason is the sheer number of review sites and our reliance on them for purchase validation. It’s already evident that we’re groomed to look for ratings and reviews before we buy. Here is a brand-new ranking of the top 10 review sites based on searches. You can see here that these sites get millions of views a month.  

  A third reason to care about online reviews is Google. Reviews appear in, and help, Google search ranking. And incidentally, they also appear in search results by Alexa in voice-search. The number and quality of your reviews directly contribute to, or inhibit, people’s ability to find you and your products.   

  The best strategy here is to harvest Google reviews. Google supports Google. Google wants you to use its tools. So, it makes sense that Google cares if you have your Google My Business Page set up and that you’re collecting reviews. In addition to nepotism, it’s good business because Google will see that you’re a valid business and will have more credibility returning your company and product in search results. 

  The fourth reason you should care about review sites is because your customers care about review sites. 92% to 97% of customers look for or read a review before doing business with a company. 80% of us trust reviews by strangers just as highly as a reference from our friends. 72% of us look for only positive reviews, and 86% will not do business with those with negative reviews. ( 

  And it is surprising how quickly comfort levels fall when you go from five to one-star ratings. 94% of us will use a business with a four-star rating, but only 14% will consider a two-star rated business. 

  My advice is to be familiar with what people say about you. Search your brand. Know where you and your wine show up and what feedback you’re receiving. 

Tools to Help 

  Ok, but how can you efficiently monitor all those online review channels. Especially when you already have your hands full trying to run your business’s day-to-day without scouring Yelp and Google for new posts. Fortunately, there are some reputation management tools you can use to help out. 

  The easiest tool for tracking any mention of your company or product online is Google Alerts. This is a free search that lets you create daily alerts for any mentions of your brand online. Enter the name of your brand or product in the search bar to see who is talking about you. Then you can create a constant alert to get results emailed to you. The downside is it can be tough to filter the information out in an intelligent way. For instance, when I worked with Opus One, I was reminded daily how many products and companies contained “Opus.” That said, it’s a free, easy tool. If you’re a small winery on a time crunch with a limited budget, Google Alerts is worth your time. 

  ReviewPush is an excellent tool if you do have a small budget and want to take it one step further. With this service, for $89 a month you can create alerts for over 20 different review sites and have them sent to your inbox. Even more timesaving is a feature that allows you to respond direct to reviews from within those email alerts. This alone might be worth the cost. You can also involve an extended team with distributed reports and access to dashboards. So if you have multiple players in your tasting room or wine club, this might be an efficient way to have the entire team monitor and response quickly.  

  There are many other tools in this space that also fall into reputation management. So in addition to looking at reviews, they can monitor what anyone is saying about you on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These are pricier options and typically involved working out your needs with a sales rep. 

  So hopefully this gave you some incentive to include reputation management as part of your marketing strategy, and some tools to help. In the next article we’ll talk about how to work with your tasting rooms to request reviews – it’s not as scary as it sounds. But until then, start to pay attention to where your customers are trying to communicate about you. Start thanking and replying to them if you aren’t already and take the view that feedback as gift to help you improve and delight future customers. 

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

Demetria Estate Winery: All-Natural Wines from Grape to Glass

By: Nan McCreary 

When John and Sandra Zahoudanis founded Demetria Estate near Los Olivos, California, in 2006, their goal was to honor John’s Greek heritage and family tradition of farming and careful stewardship of the land. To achieve that objective, they committed to farm sustainably and biodynamically, using phases of the planets and the moon to govern farming practices.  These practices, and a natural approach to winemaking, have led to highly-rated wines and a reference to Demetria Estate as “one of the hidden jewels in California.” 

  While biodynamic farming principles are not new—the Old Farmer’s Almanac has been recommending “planting by the moon” since 1792—Demetria Estate was one of the first in Santa Barbara County to embrace the concept. “Biodynamic winemaking is our passion,” the Zahoudanis’ son, Alexis, who now runs the winery, told The Grapevine Magazine.  “We are trying to put back in the earth what we’ve taken out, and we’re doing it in the most natural way possible while incorporating the lunar calendar.”   

  Demetria, named for John and Sandra Zahoudanis’ daughter, sits on 213 picturesque acres above Foxen Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley. The altitude of the property ranges from 1,100 to 1,450 feet, making it one of the highest in the appellation. When the Zahoudanises purchased the hillside vineyard from the well-respected Andrew Murray Family, it was planted exclusively with Rhône varieties. Today, the family farms 43 hillside acres of Rhône grapes, including Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Cinsault, Counoise, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, plus small plantings of Tempranillo and the Greek Assyrtiko. Demetria also produces Burgundy-style wines, sourcing organic Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris grapes from select cooler-climate vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley. 

  From the beginning, the Zahoudanis family has farmed sustainably and biodynamically. Their first winemaker, Michael Roth, now of Lo-Fi Wines in nearby Los Alamos, was a big proponent of natural wines, as is current winemaker Ryan Roark.  Philippe Armenier, the renowned biodynamic expert from the Rhône Valley, guides Demetria’s farming practices. They treat the vineyard as a living organism, with soil, plants and animals working together to promote health and vitality. Farming is entirely organic, meaning no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. For example, sheep on the property eat weeds and fertilize the soil during late winter and early spring when the vines are dormant. Demetria also plants cover crops, including nitrogen-rich legumes and daikon radishes, to protect the topsoil and nourish the vines. The major pest, according to Zahoudanis, is leafhoppers, which are controlled using natural predators such as ladybugs and organic, biologically-approved pesticides, including sprays containing fermented and herbal teas. 

  From pruning to planting to harvest, vineyard tasks are determined by a biodynamic calendar, which categorizes days into four groups—flower, fruit, leaf and root—based on lunar cycles and astrological signs. Each day also coincides with one of the four elements of nature—earth, water, fire and air. Root days, for example, are when the moon travels through any of the Earth signs (Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo) and are best for planting, replanting and pruning. Fruit days are associated with the Fire constellations (Aries, Sagittarius, Leo) and are ideal for harvesting crops. For some, planting according to lunar cycles is somewhat of a mystery, but proponents consider this an attempt to harmonize with nature to maximize yields and keep the vineyard sustainable.   

  “Our consultant, [Armenier], works with our vineyard manager and vineyard foreman to care for the vines,” Zahoudanis said, “and I let the wines speak for themselves. The fruit is really gorgeous and expresses itself beautifully as a more natural product.” 

  Demetria applies the principles of biodynamics and sustainability in the cellar as well as in the vineyard. “We know our vineyard well, and we know when to pick so we don’t have to manipulate the fruit,” Zahoudanis said. “We use minimal sulfur, and we don’t add acid or tannins. We don’t want a chemical experiment going on in our winery.”   

  Demetria relies on native yeasts to start fermentation and does not inoculate for malolactic fermentation. Zahoudanis said they filter their wine simply by racking and will only apply fining if the tannins are too harsh, and then they will use bentonite, a natural product. Ultimately, he explained, the goal is to “produce wines that are complex, while being food-friendly and approachable, not just for the connoisseur, but for the everyday wine lover that lives in all of us.” 

  Demetria has achieved that goal. Its wines—and its beautiful Mediterranean-style winery with panoramic views of the vine-covered hills—have received enthusiastic reviews from critics and everyday consumers alike. Recent awards include 2016 Rosé – “Year’s Best Rosé! Wine & Spirits Magazine; 2014 “Cuvee Sandra” Pinot Noir – 94 points, Wine Enthusiast and 93 points, Wine Spectator; 2014 “North Slope” Syrah, 91 points, Wine Enthusiast; 2013 Estate Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County) – 93 points, Vinous; and 2013 “Cuvee Matia” Grenache – 91 points, Wine Advocate. 

  Even with a barrel full of awards, Demetria is not resting on its laurels. Since establishing the Demetria Estate, the family has been changing the composition of the vineyard, uprooting much of the once-predominant Syrah, and planting grapes such as Mourvèdre to produce more interesting blends. A favorite is Cuvee Constantine, a red blend styled after the famous Chateauneuf du Pape reds made from Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Syrah. Another favorite is Cuvee Papou, which includes Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne. The name “Papou” is Greek for grandpa and honors Demetria’s founder John Zahoudanis, a grandfather who passed away in 2020. Demetria also releases a sparkling version of the Cuvee, produced at Rack & Riddle in Healdsburg, California. “We really like the sparkling wine,” Zahoudanis said, “but it’s not our forte.  It’s too time-consuming.  We might as well give our grapes to folks who know how to make it.”  

  Demetria has recently begun producing a wine from the Rhône grape Picpoul, which is gaining traction among wine aficionados all over the world. Beton Blanc (beton means “concrete white” in French) is 95% Picpoul Blanc and 5% Assyrtiko and is aged and fermented in concrete eggs. “Concrete is a neutral vessel, so you don’t get flavors like you do from oak barrels,” Zahoudanis said. “But because it’s semi-porous, you do get oxygenation, which enhances the minerality that already exists in a lot of varietals.”   

  According to Zahoudanis, wine can be made quickly in concrete eggs: the Beton Blanc is ready five months after harvest and can be bottled by February. 

  Currently, Demetria makes 6,000 to 9,000 cases of wine annually. “We can’t plant more because we’re limited by geographical constraints,” Zahoudanis said. “We sell some of our fruit, so we could scale that back and produce 10,000 cases, but generally, we’re good where we’re at(sic).”    

Zahoudanis does envision planting more.  

  Tempranillo, a grape that’s doing exceptionally well on his property. Whatever he endeavors to do, if the past is prologue, the future looks very bright for Demetria Estate. “We’re just glorified farmers,” he said. “We’re beholden to Mother Nature, and yes, winemaking requires knowledge and art, but it’s not rocket science.  If you don’t over-manipulate it, you can make very good wine.” 

To learn more about Demetria Estate, visit… 

Frost Protection in the Vineyard: Environment, Geography and Science

By: Gerald Dlubala 

The grapevines that a grower depends on for their livelihood are vulnerable to temperature changes that can damage the buds, fruit and even the vine. One of the most unfavorable temperature conditions is frost. Most frost conditions are radiation frosts, characterized by dry, cold air masses that settle into an area with the dangerous combination of no noticeable wind or cloud cover with a low dew point. Temperatures can be relatively warm throughout the day, with the ground retaining heat. As the sun sets, the ground warmth radiates to the upper atmosphere, allowing colder air to fall and settle into the pockets of space now available at lower elevations. Proper frost protection measures can help avoid damage and make the difference between a profitable or unprofitable year. 

Shooting The Breeze And Fighting Vineyard Frost 

  “Wind machines play a major role in protecting your vineyard from the elements of frost,” said Dean Hauff, Marketing Manager for H.F. Hauff Company Inc. “It only takes about 20 minutes before frost starts to damage to your vines, and it’s absolutely critical to protect the primordia bloom. It’s the difference between successful and unsuccessful yields. The primary bloom produces the highest quality fruit, and wind machines help protect the high-quality grapes needed to make premium wine.” 

  Hauff told The Grapevine Magazine that his Chinook wind machines work independently without any other means of auxiliary heat about 90% of the time. The only time a wind machine, or any protection strategy, struggles to be effective is in the rare occurrence of an advective freeze condition. An advective freeze happens when large, arctic air masses replace the warm air and are associated with moderate to strong winds, no temperature inversion and low humidity.  

  “Warm air rises, and cold air sinks,” said Hauff. “We all know that, but at some point, the warm air stratifies in the atmosphere, creating an inversion layer that holds in the warmer air. Wind machines work by pulling the warmer, more buoyant air from that inversion layer and mixing it with the colder, denser air on the ground floor. The fan shaft of the Chinook’s top gear head is built with a six-degree angle of attack, enabling the fan to pull the warmer air from higher altitudes, estimated to be approximately 350 feet up into the atmosphere. The movement of air combined with the mixing of the warmer and cooler air raises the temperature three to five degrees Fahrenheit on average, a notable difference.” 

  H.F. Hauff’s Chinook wind machines are useful year-round in vineyards. They help protect the fruit buds in the spring, the leaf structure in fall, allowing for the continuation of Brix development in the grape berry, and they help protect the vine from excessive cold in winter. The first commercial wind machines were sold in 1937. Since then, research and development have continued to improve coverage, serviceability, performance and ease of operation.  

  “They really are a lifetime investment,” said Hauff. “Wind machines are long-lasting, require only minimal service, yet they retain a high resale value if needed. They’ve allowed vineyards to expand their crop production by transforming frost-prone areas of their farms into fully useable crop-producing areas. Using wind machines in the vineyard lessens the burden, anxiety and stress that goes along with the risky business of growing crops. And with tighter profit margins, it’s always important to produce a marketable crop every growing season.” 

  Today, wind machines are more economical and easier to maintain and service than ever before. They’re considered one of the best tools in protection against radiant frost, lessening and sometimes eliminating the need for extra heaters, smudge pots and water. Wind machines work to bring up the overall vineyard temperatures on average three to five degrees Fahrenheit above the critical temperature point, even in winter temperatures of -15 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Critical temperatures vary depending on the varietal and the stage of development of the vine. The more advanced the stage of development, the less the plant tissue will handle below the 32 degrees Fahrenheit mark. 

  “Our Chinook wind machines use propane, diesel, natural gas or electric,” said Hauff. “The propane units burn about 13 gallons of fuel per hour, and the diesel units use about five and a half gallons per hour. One Chinook wind machine effectively covers 15 acres of fruit and trees and up to 18 acres of vines or vine plantings. They can start and stop automatically and can even be controlled and monitored remotely through telemetry via your cell phone, computer or tablet, no matter your location.” 

Wind Where You Need It 

  “As to placement, we map out and locate each of our wind machines individually, either on paper or in person,” said Hauff. “Our goal is to maximize fan coverage in the vineyard without going outside of the specified boundaries. We protect the lowest ground first, as the coldest air will naturally settle there. Then, we account for natural drift and locate our wind machines 40 to 60 feet into the direction of that natural drift. We also feature special models for uniquely contoured or sloping grounds. Our Chinook fan propeller extends coverage an additional 100 to 150-foot radius beyond competing products, and the unique and exclusive trailing edge wedge of our Chinook fan propellers increases the velocity of the air and widens the sector angle of coverage from 47 to 49 degrees out to 80 degrees.” 

  Hauff said that ice nucleation begins to form after four minutes of no air movement under normal radiation frost conditions. Chinook fans start protecting the fruit bud and plant after three and a half minutes. In addition, Chinook’s more comprehensive sector angle coverage mixes air in the horizontal and vertical plane, providing additional plant tissue protection from the ground up in even, uneven or up to four degree sloped areas with no special add-on equipment needed.  

  Hauff also offers a model that raises and lowers to the ground via hydraulic cylinders to eliminate the need for climbing and allow more accessible and safer servicing and maintenance. Annual recommended preventative maintenance consists of changing oil, checking the gearboxes, and greasing the tower and fan. Hauff said that this is usually accomplished in under an hour and requires no specific skill or unique expertise.  

Grapevines In The Mist: Battling Frost With Misting Machines 

  Another method to thwart the harmful effects of frost is through a technique involving misters and targeted directional spray. Resource West, Inc. offers humidification systems to optimize and maximize operations and serve multiple purposes within many industries, including vineyards and wineries. Their thermodynamic humidification systems protect vineyards from adverse weather conditions ranging from extreme heat through frost and freezing temperatures. The units add humidity into the air when needed or provide cooling for crops during extreme heat situations. These humidification systems give vineyard managers better crop control while providing winemakers better aging control over their products. The system can be successfully used indoors in barrel and aging houses and outdoors throughout the vineyard.  

  “Our humidification systems work by 3x convective dilution (thermophoresis), velocity control for droplet trajectory and droplet size control,” said Robert Ballantyne Jr., Senior Vice President, Principal Engineer, and Atomic and Molecular Spectroscopist for Resource West Inc. “Our larger, outdoor systems offer surface tension control for proper wetting of soil or foliage to fit the current environmental conditions and offer protection from frost, damaging cold or extreme heat.” 

  Ballantyne Jr said RWI’s humidification systems get positioned in a vineyard’s higher elevations, allowing the cooling process to cascade down the slopes. “We cover large acreage, but for the best use, a civil engineering plan should be worked out to discover the best placement of the units to realize the greatest effectiveness of the systems. We determine the optimum number of units to locate within your vineyard through thorough questionnaires and detailed weather analysis.” 

  A misting humidification system allows water droplets to freeze and coat any new or green exposed plant tissue, providing a protective coat for that new tissue against frost conditions. Experts recommend providing a steady or continuous stream of droplets for maximum protection when conditions remain below freezing. 

  “In addition to frost protection, our units provide a nice cooling effect from the evaporation that naturally takes place,” said Ballantyne Jr. “Heat relief from our systems protects crops in temperatures ranging up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. And since the cooling process is physics-based, the success rate is 100%. The decision to do it at that point is usually a cost-benefit decision, based on cost and the amount of acreage covered by the units.” 

Easy To Own, Easy To Use, And Easy To Maintain  

  Ballantyne Jr. said that many clients prefer a rent-to-own option when choosing a humidification unit. RWI always performs the analysis and engineering tasks needed before purchase, but the systems are fully functional and generate benefits on a year-round basis. The number of benefits gained by year-round use varies based on the client’s geographic location.  

  “Maintenance and training are non-factors in choosing our systems for your vineyard,” said Ballantyne Jr. “We recommend that our units get an annual power washing, and the training involves understanding your vineyard’s elevation changes and how cooled air will flow and sink with varying increases in density. With RWI’s systems, you gain a partner in crop protection and enhanced product quality. If you are a client, we work with you to continuously improve performance and maximize your return on investment. We are proud to offer the most efficient systems on the market, and our engineering staff is always available to help ensure the highest return for our clients.” 

  Inside the winery, where humidity is also critical, RWI’s humidification systems aid in controlling the barrel aging process, giving winemakers better control of the quality of their final product. Benefits of increased control are more effective management of angel share losses, improved barrel loss conditions, and enhanced quality and consistency of wine, ultimately leading to better financial performance. 

Like a Warm Hug: Wrapping Vines as Protection from Cold  

  Can something as simple as wrapping your vines in a cover protect them from frost? Two estates in the Anjou-Saumur region of France have participated in frost protection trials, using a common backyard tactic for protecting tender vegetation. Monitored by the National Institute for origin and quality, grapevines were wrapped in a P30 type winter cover to determine if it protected the vines in frost conditions. Complete frost protection was reported in the 2020 growing season. In 2021, Mother Nature provided even more opportunities to test the process as recorded temperatures dropped below freezing several times over four weeks. Again, the results were very positive, as the wraps reduced frost damage significantly. Unprotected vines suffered nearly a 90% loss, whereas protected vines experienced only a 10% loss. Another grower used a double layer of fleece as their wrap of choice and again showed success, recording up to a four-degree difference in the covered vs. uncovered areas.  

  However, the Institute warns that although it looks promising, more research is needed to understand the full scope of how wrapping affects the grapevines, not only externally but also within the vines’ structure, before they issue a recommendation on the future viability for this type of protection on a widespread basis. 

Ways to Help Promote Your Venue

It is important now more than ever to promote your winery to both potential clients and other industry professionals.  Promoting your winery in your community can increase your exposure and bring in more business.  We’ve put together a list of a few ways to reach out to potential clients and partners in your community.   

5 promotional ideas 

  1. Join business organizations and networking groups.   

By joining local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Visitor Bureau and other business groups in your area, you can attend events and meet other business owners. This gives you the opportunity to start developing important networking relationships that can lead to more business. You can host an after-hours event at your venue for members of these organizations to showcase your space and offerings.  

  1. Invite executives to visit. 

Invite leaders at corporations and small businesses to visit your venue. On the invitation, highlight your venue has ample space and is equipped for luncheons, company parties, team building, and meetings. Host a networking luncheon for these executives, so they can learn more about your venue while also meeting other leaders in the community.  

  1. Be part of organizations where you can share your expertise. 

Seek out organizations such as Events in America and join conversations. You can self-publish an article regarding relevant industry information for venues. You can then share it on your website, in your email newsletter and on social media. This increases your credibility and positions you as an expert in the venue arena.   

  1. Partner with convention centers and exhibit halls.  

If there are convention centers, exhibit halls, museums or other venues that hold large trade shows and other events in your area, develop a relationship with key leadership at those places. Find ways you can host an off-site luncheon, dinner or after-hours event at your venue for attendees of events held elsewhere. You can even suggest catering for the event.  

  1. Hold an evening for event planners.  

Establishing relationships with event planners can propel your business forward. Event planners can be your key to booking more events. Invite the top event planners in your area to experience a night in your space. At the event, give tours of your venue, present live cooking demonstrations, offer wine and specialty drinks, serve dinner and provide a delectable dessert bar.  This evening just may be a catalyst to future conversations with event planners and possibly lead to you becoming a preferred venue for many of them. 

We hope these tips help you attract more clients to your venue who should also think about event insurance.  

Markel® offers event liability insurance to hosts and honorees, providing coverage such as property damage to the venue or injury to a guest. Up to $2 million in event liability insurance can be purchased by your client from Markel any time at least 1 day before the event. Policies start as low as $75.   

By offering Markel Event Insurance, it will not only help protect your clients, but it can also help protect you by potentially decreasing your own business liability risk for accidents due to negligence of the event host or honoree. Markel Event Insurance is an easy and affordable solution for your clients – a free quote takes only a few minutes online or on the phone – turning you into a one-stop-shop for your clients.  

To learn more, please visit or call 1-855-480-9757.  

This document is intended for general information purposes only. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. Markel does not assume any obligation to update any information herein, or remove any information that is no longer accurate or complete. Furthermore, Markel does not assume any liability to any person or organization for loss of damage caused by or resulting from any reliance placed on that content. 

Coverage is underwritten by Markel American Insurance Company and policyholder services are provided by the underwriting manager, Markel Service, Incorporated, national producer license # 27585, in California d/b/a Markel Insurance Services, license # 0645481.  Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply.  Insurance and coverage are subject to availability and qualifications and may not be available in all states.    

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The Need for Proper Refrigeration and Cold Storage in the Winery

By: Gerald Dlubala 

Temperature control and consistency are magic words to a winemaker. From planting through harvest, packaging and storage, the winemaking process is vulnerable to temperature instability or fluctuation. With each growing season bringing the potential for unique challenges regarding those temperature fluctuations, the winemaker must be prepared to react to situations as they occur and protect their product under all conditions.  

  Providing stable and consistent temperatures and humidity levels brings that protection and allows the wine to retain freshness, flavor and predictability. For bottled wines, humidity fluctuations can cause problems, including shrinking corks, mold and contamination.  

  The ideal temperature for storing grapevines to inhibit active growth yet keep the stock viable until conditions are suitable for planting is between 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit (1-2 C). After harvest, when bringing the grapes in for processing, it’s unknown what the current weather and ambient temperatures will be until they are upon you. If too warm, best practices advise a cool-down period before pressing, after pressing, or both, depending on the variety and type of fermentation used. If that’s not possible, it may be advisable to store grapes in a temperature-controlled facility until ready for processing. 

Refrigeration Capabilities are Necessary for Quality Wine Production 

  Carolyn A. Warnebold is the majority owner of OakGlenn Winery, located in historic Hermann, Missouri. OakGlenn Winery produces about 400 gallons of their popular Norton variety from an original vine stock planted in 1859. Other wines offered onsite are grown and processed at separate locations. 

  “There is no doubt that without a good refrigeration system, you’re not going to achieve good wine,” said Warnebold. “Our grapes go through crush immediately after harvesting and are then placed in fermentation tanks for 24 hours before adding the fermentation ingredients. During fermentation, the must has to remain at 70 F. Our chilling equipment runs a glycol and water solution at 65 F through jacketed tanks to control the cold fermentation of the must.  

  After a 10-to-14-day fermentation, we press, tank and hold the juice and grapes at 65 F until the fermentation and settling process is complete. The juice/wine is then racked after two months, placed in another tank where the wine rests at 32 F. Two weeks before bottling our wines, we drop the temperature to 22 F to drop any further tartrates. Our wine is then filtered immediately before the bottling process and is usually ready after six months.  

  We process our white wines and blends similarly, except for the fermentation, which is done with juice only. We do not perform any further barrel aging of our wines. We hold our bottled wines in our tasting and sales rooms at a consistent 45 F.” 

  All of the tanks at OakGlenn Winery use the same glycol and water chilling system to control temperatures and guarantee consistency, including their cased wine warehouse. According to Warnebold, glycol chillers are much more cost-effective than other types of systems on the market. 

Cold Storage Essential to the  Flow of Quality Winemaking  

  Chris Graves is the winemaker at Naumes Family Vineyards, operating Naumes Crush and Fermentation LLC as an outsourcing option for wineries. He told The Grapevine Magazine that cold storage capability is an essential tool for the winemaker, not only for proper fermentation but also for allowing a winemaker to buy time and provide improved processing and cold soaks.  

  Additionally, if a winery uses large tanks, chillers are essential in controlling overheating and any corresponding sticking issues in the tank. When fermenting rosés or lighter wines, longer fermentation times are needed to develop the aromatics, so temperature control is even more critical. 

  “While grapes are still on the vine, they are naturally protected from microbes like bacteria and yeast,” said Graves. “But once harvested, that natural protection is compromised, and exposure begins. 

  When the vineyard is at its busiest time of year, meaning harvest, getting those freshly picked grapes delivered to the winery for processing and into the fermentation vessel within an acceptable temperature range can be tricky.  Additionally, grape varieties’ sugar levels and freezing points differ after harvest, so it’s important to control and maintain proper temperatures as conditions change. If that’s not possible, then offsite cold storage options become a winemaker’s best friend.  

  Grapes handle the sorting and destemming process better when cold and dense, especially in quality reds that demand more fruitiness and less tannin extraction. Most often in red winemaking, the winemaker will want to keep the must in fermentation vat cold for a cold soak before fermentation.” 

  That’s where facilities like Naumes Crush and Fermentation can help the vineyards produce quality wine, offering cold storage options and space for wineries to store their grapes at the preferred 33 F directly after harvest.  

  “It can be anything that causes a need for cold storage that some smaller craft wineries just don’t have,” said Graves. “It might be a weather event that causes a mass fruit pick from the vines, something unplanned that changes a vineyard’s scheduled harvest plans or even complications with vineyard equipment that causes harvest issues and throws off schedules and deadlines. Wineries can buy time if they need to pick grapes but aren’t ready to process just yet. Plus, with the time to plan the process, information flows better, making the process more accurate and consistent with higher quality and better results. It’s just easier to have and stay on schedule. Utilizing offsite cold storage like ours assures a winemaker that their product is held and processed correctly, if needed,  by knowledgeable and experienced staff and winemakers. It ultimately results in higher quality wines and better, more efficient logistical flow.” 

  Most wineries use standard glycol chillers because of the benefits that come with them. First, they put less stress on pumping equipment because the glycol mixture has built-in lubricating properties.  

  Second, glycol chillers have a lower freezing point, allowing lower operating temperatures without concern over system freezing and damaging the unit.  

  Finally, since glycol chillers allow better holding temperatures, they help minimize heat pickup on delivery and return. Heat pickup tends to be more of an issue in higher volume production facilities that use more piping in their production. 

  Smaller operations can use mobile heating and cooling units. They offer the convenience of portability to use when and where needed, but that convenience generally means limited capability compared to a more extensive plumbed system.  

  Graves recommends a plumbed system when a winery reaches the one to two thousand cases produced rate, if nothing else, because of the benefits of a more extensive, built-in system. For example, a plumbed system allows a wider variety of wine to be produced onsite because of the availability of the unit to provide heating and cooling, essential in remaining consistent in critical times of fermentation and wine storage.  

  “The best recommendation I can give someone looking at refrigeration and cold storage is to use a plumbed and closed glycol system, and make sure to buy one that is oversized for your current production needs,” said Graves. “I see a lot of wineries that purchase and install a system to fit their immediate needs, and then when they start to increase production or grape/wine variety or have a great production year, that system is already undersized for their needs.”  

  One of the biggest issues we see in wineries just starting out or in the small established craft wineries. If you have any thoughts or desires to increase production, move into new varietals or even do something different in the future, purchase and install a refrigeration or cold storage system that is oversized in the beginning so that you can grow into it seamlessly as a winemaker.  

  Get a quality plumbed system that also uses quality pipes and fittings to handle extreme temperatures and varying pressures that occur in winemaking.” 

  Graves also recommends that winemakers use quality temperature controllers, like TankNet, and match them with reliable software systems that connect with a cloud-based network, allowing the controllers to be accessed and used with smartphones or other remote-control devices to instantly address any problems or concerns and help maintain process consistency and integrity.  

  “You know, consistency is everything, and consistent temperature control is the key to producing a bottle of quality wine. Wines don’t tolerate fluctuating temperatures, so if you can do it yourself, do it, but if for any reason you can’t, it’s worth it to have an offsite company handle your storage, crush and fermentation needs. Naumes offers the full spectrum of post-harvest services, from grape to bottle, including lab work, analysis and more.  

Recommended Temperature Guidelines 

  Temperature fluctuations can have a detrimental effect on bottled wines, which react to heat by aging faster. In addition, direct sunlight or artificial light can react with phenolic compounds in the wine and cause spoilage. Lighter-colored wines are more susceptible and therefore more apt to be packaged in tinted bottles. 

  Wines undergoing malolactic fermentation are generally held at 68 to 75 F (20-24 C). Barrel storage rooms require constant temps around 55 to 60 F (13-16 C). Clarification processes like fining, centrifuging and filtering needs temperatures in the range of 32 to 77 F (0-25 C).  Hold sparkling wine at temperatures below 54 F (12 C) to promote the required carbonation, and when bottling wine, temperature recommendations are typically around 60 F (15 C) to discourage or limit dissolved oxygen during the filling process. 

  Optimal wine storage has traditionally been listed at 55 F (13 C), but according to winemakers, red varietals can safely be stored between 53 to 66 F (12-19 C). You can go a little cooler with champagnes because of their needs–50 to 59 F (10-15 C). Wine should never be frozen or stored for a length of time above 68 F (20 C). 

Crush Season: When Timing is Everything, Experience Matters

By: Cheryl Gray   

Inside every grape is the flavor upon which crush season depends. Capturing that flavor is a skill that every vineyard around the world strives to master. 

  From traditional methods to the latest technology, wineries have a singular goal in mind: extracting the very best from a grape crop nurtured during the past year. 

  The Pellenc Group is a global manufacturer of equipment and tools used in viticulture. Its subsidiary in the United States, Pellenc America, is headquartered in Santa Rosa, California. The company’s technologically advanced products make it a leader in the industry and help wineries get the most from their grape crops. 

  One of Pellenc’s innovations is Smart Glass, a connected sensor used to transfer wine, automatically shutting off when complete. The Smart Glass receives information either from a remote control or Pellenc’s pump pilot module and alerts the operator whenever there is a change in the liquid. Applications include not only liquid transfer but also blending, cold settling and gas detection. Smart Glass touts cost-effectiveness in that it improves productivity by facilitating automated transfers, freeing up workers to do other tasks. It also promotes reduced water consumption and wine loss. The product’s year-round multiple applications, including water flushing and flotations, also help save time and money. 

  Another time-saving product from Pellenc is Smart Oak, is an automated tool with a user-friendly interface. Instead of the weeks it normally takes to complete oaking, Smart Oak is designed to reduce that to just a few days. The system includes a soaking vat, pump and built-in sensors, the latter of which manages the speed, control and successful repetition of the entire oaking process. Smart Oak allows wineries to use wood chips, staves and blocks to achieve the finished wine product. It also eliminates the need to purchase and store barrels. 

  Pellenc’s Flash Détente is a two-step thermodynamic process that reduces fermentation time from two weeks to three days and increases yield by 3 to 4%. The first step heats grapes, juice, wine or lees to 170 F, allowing wineries to eliminate pyrazine and any green pepper taste while achieving enhanced color extraction. The grapes are then pushed into a vacuum chamber, where the water inside the fruit quickly turns to steam, instantly blasting the skin, which releases tannins and anthocyanins.  

  Finally, the Pellenc Smoke Taint Mitigation protocol is a combination of Flash Détente operations and enzymatic macerations. Combining the two gives wineries the ability to treat tainted berries before fermentation without stripping the finished wines of their character and flavors. 

Facing Challenges 

  While new technology is helping wineries reduce costs and maximize crop yields for crush season, the deadly coronavirus and lingering drought continue to be tough challenges even for the most experienced winemakers. 

  Just ask Penelope Gadd-Coster, the award-winning winemaking consultant for Rack and Riddle Custom Wine Services in Sonoma County, California. She said that many of the safety steps Rack and Riddle put in place last year to protect against COVID-19 remain. 

  “Well, just when we thought we might be over masks, they are back! Many things will be similar to last year: masks indoors, visitors will need to be masked, still need an appointment for meetings, Zoom will still reign as the communication tool.” 

  These are just a few of the strategies that Rack & Riddle has deployed to operate safely during the pandemic. With the tonnage of grapes it processes each year, the company has incorporated technology to accommodate some of its workloads.  

  “Rack & Riddle has invested in some automation that is allowing us to keep steady staffing. For example, tirage bins are filled by robots. This was a task that was done by seasonal workers in the past,” said Gadd-Coster. 

  As for the drought plaguing California and elsewhere, Gadd-Coster told The Grapevine Magazine that growers are being forced to take drastic measures to conserve water for this year’s crush season. 

  “The drought is a bigger change as Healdsburg is having to drop [usage] by 40%. Businesses are having to come up with ways to make this happen as well. For the vineyards, [it’s] either recycled water or no water for vines unless the growers filled reservoirs before the restrictions. Many thought that harvest would be early due to the drought, but it is actually coming later than average in many areas.” 

  Other grape-growing regions, including the Pacific Northwest, have also suffered from extreme heat. Richard Hoff, Director of Viticulture for the renowned Mercer Ranches in Washington State’s Yakima Valley, said that the high temperatures have impacted their crush season schedule.  

  “As far as harvest impacts, due to the 110 F, 115 F  heatwave we had, grapes are ripening quickly, and we expect a somewhat early harvest.” 

  Gadd-Coster added that supplies and equipment are harder to come by as the businesses that provide them are tackling some of the same obstacles as their vineyard and winery clients. 

  “Equipment and supplies are taking longer. That still hasn’t changed much yet. And some things are just not available–long wait times. This was the case with some of our winemaking additives, some packaging items.” 

  John Derrick is Vice President of Vineyards for Mercer Ranches. He says there has been significant lag time for other pieces that are critical to a successful crush season. 

  “The supply chain for parts is just as bad for grape equipment and supplies. Finding and hiring new employees is definitely a big struggle this year. We are lucky in that we utilize H2A and do not foresee any people issues at this time.” 

  The H2A program allows American companies that meet strict regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Many crush seasons depend upon these workers. However, some wineries are increasingly looking to technology to replace manual labor for specific tasks. 

  Sorting fruit is one of those jobs where technology can step in to help maximize results. John Felice, Vineyard & Winery Equipment & Product Specialist for Pellenc, points to the manufacturer’s Vision Optical Sorter as a solution.  

  “The Vision-2 features the best optical eye in the industry combined with the best software to produce the highest level of quality consistently throughout the harvest. The cleated belt holds the fruit from moving around and allows the Vision-2’s optical system to determine what it keeps and what it rejects. You can set the Vision-2 to keep or remove raisins and remove fruit that does not meet a certain size or color level. With today’s labor shortage, the Vision-2 will control up to six other machines on the receiving and sorting line. This level of automation allows you to run the optical line with one to two people.”  

Developing a Crush Pad 

  Equipment and supplies for crush pads are critical components for a successful crush season.  Experts say that coordinating with knowledgeable companies makes a big difference for wineries developing a crush pad. 

  The Vinter’s Vault helps wineries of all sizes solve the dilemma of exactly how to execute a crush pad. With two locations in Paso Robles and Temecula, California, and a third in Texas, the company’s reach is global, including clients located throughout the U.S. and in Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, China, Nova Scotia and Indonesia. The Vinter’s Vault works with several manufacturers to provide wineries with equipment such as destemmers, presses, tanks, lift conveyors, sorting and vibrating tables. Ryan Horn is the company’s President. 

  “We do full crush pad set-ups and often help clients with their designs. We commonly do full design layouts for new and expanding wineries where we can design and plot the flow of work for their view and to fit their needs, desires and location,” said Horn. “For crush pad equipment, we are most known for the Athena Presses, which are very state-of-the-art central membrane presses that are faster, more gentle and more efficient than any press on the market. Our IMMA crush pad equipment is also well known.” 

  Pellenc also deploys a design and sales team to work with wineries worldwide to develop crush pads, including wineries in California, Texas, the eastern United States, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and South Africa. Felice said that Pellenc is there from beginning to end.  

  “Pellenc design engineers and salespeople will work with the winery team to gather the necessary information and put a proposal together with CAD drawings to meet the demands      of the winery with throughput and efficiency in mind.” 

  Companies that provide equipment and supplies for crush season agree that there is no cookie-cutter approach to servicing their vineyard and winery clients. Among other things, 24/7 service and technical support are high on the list of reputable firms. Experts say those are the companies that understand that fruit won’t wait. 

A Closer Look at Winery Filtration Methods & Filtration Solutions

By: Alyssa L. Ochs 

During winemaking, filtration occurs right before bottling to remove any unwanted particles that the winemaker doesn’t want in the finished product. The goal is to create a clear and stable wine that consumers will love, but there are multiple ways to achieve this result.  

  Choosing the appropriate filtration products and equipment can make a huge difference in how a wine turns out and how closely it adheres to the desired style of the winemaker. It is beneficial to learn about different filtration processes to choose the best methods for various wines.  

Overview of Wine Filtration  

  Wine filtration works by passing the wine through tiny holes–similar to using a coffee filter. The smallest particles and liquid pass through the filter, separating everything else from the wine. The process creates a more stable wine, particularly as filter size is reduced and fewer microbes make it into the finished product.  

  Not every winemaker chooses to filter wine, and not every wine needs to be filtered. However, there are many reasons to use a filter. Filtering gently polishes wine and gives it a softer finish. It helps a wine be more microbially stable and preserves the integrity of the product. Although it is not a health or safety requirement, most modern and commercial wines are filtered in some way.  

Options for Wine Filtration  

  It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of wine filtering options, especially when new to winemaking or making a style of wine for the first time. For example, there’s pad filtration, membrane filtration, earth filtration and reverse osmosis. Other methods include ultrafiltration, crossflow filtration, ceramic membrane crossflow, racking and cold stabilization.  

  The first step in removing suspended solids is typically using a coarse depth filter. Depth filters catch particles but aren’t effective in removing microorganisms from wine. Next, tighter pad depth filters are used. As a final step, winemakers can use membrane filters to catch microorganisms. 

  Pad filtration involves running wine across a pad, typically made of cotton, polyethylene or cellulose. Pads typically require a setup with a plate and frame and a pump to move the wine. Filter pads work by having wine flow into the rough side of the pad and then out from the smooth side. Different pads are used for red and white wine, but choosing the right filter pads depends on the total filtering surface area. Although pads are inexpensive, they are designed only for one-time use. There can be high leakage rates and long setup times with pads, too.   

  Cartridges offer an alternative to pads. They use housings, leak less than pads and are cleaner to work with; however, they are also costlier and require more maintenance. It’s important to store them properly so they last a long time and make the investment worthwhile. 

  Membrane filtration uses a cartridge made up of nylon, glass fibers, polypropylene or cellulose to facilitate screening techniques. This method is often used for microbial stabilization purposes and is the final step before wine is bottled.  

  Some winemakers use earth filtration using diatomaceous earth, a soft rock ground into a white powder. DE serves as a coating on filter pads or screens before filtering. This method involves covering a stainless-steel or nylon screen with DE and pouring wine and DE through the screen for filtration. It’s a meticulous process that may require supportive plates, a pump, a rotating drum and a rotary vacuum filter. Respiratory and eye protection are required during use due to health and safety concerns about handling DE. Crossflow and centrifuge filtration offer safer alternatives. 

  For crossflow filtration, the wine moves with significant force and pressure across a porous membrane. Wine is pumped through a partially enclosed pathway and produces juice with very concentrated particles. There is a high initial investment associated with crossflow filters, including replacement membrane costs, which is why many small and mid-sized wineries don’t use them.  

  Ultrafiltration is a crossflow method using a membrane with a nominal relative weight cutoff of 10,000 per molecule. Winemakers use this method to enhance the flavor of wine and make it more stable because ultra-filtration gets rid of all sizable particles and proteins.  

  Ceramic membrane crossflow is an advanced technique that incorporates pressing mechanisms. This technique ensures high levels of clarity and reduces product loss, especially crucial for high-value wines. Durable ceramic membranes can deliver automatic production cycles and keep a winery’s environmental impact low.  

  Racking is a non-obtrusive way to filter wine and involves moving wine between barrels. This method is only somewhat effective, as some wine remains behind in the bottom of the barrel with the sediment during the manual transfer.  

  Aside from filtering, cold stabilization is a method used to clarify wine. This method requires the winemaker to deeply chill the wine to remove tartaric acid crystals from the product.  

Heyes Filters’ Xflow System 

  Among the various options available for wine filtration, Heyes Filters’ Xflow System stands out. They manufacture their products in the U.S., simplifying the search for spare parts and support while potentially limiting downtime if service is required. Based in Torrance, California, Heyes Filters specializes in filtration and purification to serve the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and biotech industries.  

  Mike Laffey, the technical sales engineer for Heyes, told The Grapevine Magazine about two crossflow platforms–fully-automated and semi-automated systems–that the company offers.  

  “Our fully automated systems are PLC-controlled with pneumatic valves and Auto CIP,” Laffey said. “The fully automated systems can be configured sans CIP depending on the customer’s request. Our crossflow systems can be customized to meet the customer’s needs.  

  “The Heyes Filters semi-automated systems are designed for lower cost and have manual valving and manual CIP. The semi-auto unit does have an autonomous feature. The operator can set the unit up for filtering and enable the autonomous feature, and the system will monitor itself and shut down either when the tank being filtered is emptied or if the flow rate, due to fouling, drops below a predetermined set point. The crossflow unit will shut down and sit idle with the internal check valves, keeping the filtered wine in the receiving tank from back-flowing through the system.” 

  However, when operating the Xflow system, avoid sending wine that is not yet ready for this type of technology. “Settling, racking and fining are all typical processes in the winemaking journey, but prepping wine for crossflow filtration does take some additional steps to maximize the efficiency of the filtration process,” Laffey said.  

  Winemakers should keep their current plate, frame filter and any other filtering equipment even after buying the crossflow unit because these can be useful as pre-filters or to remove TCA from wine.  

  When Heyes Filters trains winemakers on the initial setup of the Xflow system, the focus is on proper cleaning and maintenance to maximize the filtration process.  

  “We do this by monitoring the transmembrane pressure, inlet pressure value plus retentate pressure value/permeate pressure value,” Laffey said. “To us, this is the ‘voice’ of the membrane telling you how well it is permeating either during filtration as it rises or during the CIP cycle as it is beginning to lower through the chemical cleaning process. The goal is to keep the system ready for the next filtration run.” 

  Other troubleshooting tips include monitoring the fouling rate and not running the system too quickly in the beginning. The transmembrane rate should be kept low for as long as possible to allow the membranes to flow and not plug up too fast. Heyes Filters regularly helps customers develop strategies for using fining agents before initiating the crossflow system. 

Aftek Filtration Options  

  Rochester, New York’s Aftek Filtration Options has over 35 years of filtration expertise. It offers flotation, pad filtration, cartridge filtration, membrane and crossflow options for wineries.  

  Jim Russell, who handles regional sales for Aftek, said he has seen many wineries that produce less than 25,000 to 40,000 cases using pads during post-fermentation. He highly recommends using membranes for pre-bottling filtration to ensure sterile filtration into packaging.  

  “The membrane is integrity testable and allows for us to challenge the filter media before and after bottling to ensure stable shelf life. Some of our customers are shifting to crossflow for wine to replace pads, and this is a discussion we have for sizing and timing to make the best use of capital for growth and packaging,” Russell said. “The filtration products we work with our customers on are minimizing any oxygen pick-up and degradation of the flavor profile while maximizing shelf-life stability. We work with our customers and their processes to enable good practices, better quality and lowered filtration costs.” 

Trends in Wine Filtration  

  Concerning industry trends, Laffey said that ceramic and polymeric have been popular in the crossflow realm. Heyes Filters offers these types, as well as titanium membranes if they are the best solutions for the application. 

  He has also noticed advances in adjuncts, such as bentonite, a settling agent easy to filter through crossflow. He said that when using adjuncts, not to incapacitate the system by plugging the tube and hollow fibers with a heavy load of particles moving too quickly under pressure. This can result in a costly error in which membranes need to be replaced.  

  Russell has seen an uptick in the use of Della Toffola, a crossflow supported by Aftek. “It allows for reduction of manpower and the ability to remotely monitor and control the unit,” he said. 

Choosing a Filtration Method for Your Winery 

  When in the market for a new crossflow system, winemakers should work alongside a company with extensive system experience, service backup and available parts and is responsive to customer needs.  

  “Choose a company that not only can provide you products but can help with the setup and usage,” said Russell of Aftek. “Saving $50 on a membrane only to get a shortened life or use five times the number of cartridges when one might be used all season isn’t a better value. Make sure they understand the process and have good service and assistance.”  

  Researching filtering techniques helps the winemaker know what to expect before they’ve even made the call to the manufacturer and may make the process–both buying the system and filtering wine–go easier. 

  “I have often told prospective Heyes Filters’ clients to do their due diligence and research the different crossflow technologies that would best suit their needs, knowing that the systems do not really care what you send them,” Laffey said. “The crossflow system will do its best to process the wine being filtered through it. Quite often, the expectation of the winemaker can be challenging to overcome or satisfy depending on their knowledge of the technology and the ‘prep work’ done on the front end on any given wine style.” 

VQA Ontario: The Evolution of a Canadian Provincial Wine Law

By: Tod Stewart 

It’s more than a little ironic to learn that the first known “wine law” was distinctly anti-wine. In an effort to increase the food supply, Roman emperor Domitian (c. 92) issued a decree banning the planting of any more vines in Italy. The hope was that available growing land would be given to planting cereal grains as opposed to grapes. Guess how that all worked out. Though largely ignored throughout the country, it nonetheless stayed in effect for close to 200 years before being repealed by emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (and much celebration ensued). 

  Wine laws enacted across Europe – starting with those conceived by the Reichstag in 1498 – were generally done for nobler purposes – typically to prevent wine fraud. Fakery became especially problematic in mid-19th century France as the phylloxera blight decimated vineyards and all but dried up the flow of wine. These laws evolved into the familiar (at least to wine buffs) Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. Similar laws proliferated in wine growing regions around the world. They aimed at establishing geographical origin, permitted grape varieties and yields, and production methods, among other things. 

Generally speaking, wine laws are a good thing for consumers. After all, if you’re spending big bucks on an Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon with the term “To Kalon” on the label (or considerably bigger bucks for a Pinot Noir identified as “La Tâche”), you’ll want some pretty solid guarantee that you are actually getting what you’re paying for. 

  For winemakers, some wine laws can present compliance challenges. I’ve talked to more than one European winemaker who almost envies the amount of freedom given to their American counterparts. Want to plant (more) Albariño in Lodi? No problem. Want to plant Albariño in Chianti Classico or Burgundy? Not so fast….One winemaker here in Ontario actually gave up his winery in Tuscany because he couldn’t deal with Italian bureaucracy. This is pretty stunning testimony given the bureaucracy level in Ontario. 

  Though still considered a “young” wine producing country, Canada today has a thriving wine industry situated largely in Ontario and British Columbia. Wine has been produced in this country for over 200 years, with the first commercial winery established in Ontario in 1866. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s, with the expanded planting of Vitis vinifera varieties and improved winemaking techniques that the emergence of a wine industry focused on high quality began to emerge.  

  The Vintners Quality Alliance Act,1999 designated VQA Ontario as Ontario’s wine authority on June 29, 2000. Broadly speaking, the mandate of VQA Ontario is to enforce the province’s appellation of origin system, control the use of specific terms, descriptions and designations, and set out mandatory winemaking practices pursuant to each specific VQA region and sub-region. Winemakers have some flexibility when it comes to grape varieties – so long as they are either Vitis vinifera or an approved hybrid (eg., Vidal), and there is no restriction as to what variety needs to be planted where. 

  There are the other usual checks and balances around things like brix levels at harvest for specific types of wines and the pedigree of fruit for particular regional designations (the requirements for a wine labeled as VQA Ontario will be more relaxed than for a wine identified as an Estate Grown Chardonnay with the designation VQA Beamsville Bench – a geographical sub-appellation). Labelling terminology is also regulated. 

  As with most wine laws – particularly those governing younger regions – evolution is largely unavoidable. When I contacted VQA Ontario headquarters to get a status update – and to ask how the pandemic had affected operations – I was somewhat surprised by the response. 

  “VQA Ontario has changed its operating name to the Ontario Wine Appellation Authority,” says Laurie Macdonald, the organization’s Executive Director. “When the pandemic began in March 2020, LCBO suspended all VQA tasting panels. The sensory evaluation has been conducted by the Appellation Authority using its own panelists since then and this will continue on a permanent basis.”   

  To backtrack a bit for perspective: for a wine to become VQA certified, it not only has to comply with labelling and packaging standards, and demonstrate geographic origin, it also has to pass laboratory and organoleptic testing. Up until the change Macdonald refers to, both of these functions were carried out by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the province’s government-controlled beverage alcohol monopoly. This wan’t a bad thing. The LCBO lab is sophisticated and its technicians are, for the most part, top-notch. (Lab analysis is still carried out by LCBO.) The sensory evaluation panel consisted largely of LCBO product consultants – essentially LCBO retail store employees with superior product knowledge and, in the case of those on the tasting panel, proven knowledge of wine defects and various wine characteristics. 

  With the new changes, the panel roster is made up of qualified wine professionals, including sommeliers, winemakers, wine educators, WSET diploma and MW holders. Another change is that wines are no longer given scores (out of a possible 20 points, with 13 required for a passing grade). In the early days VQA actually had a two-tired scoring system. If memory serves me correctly, a score of over 13 counted as a pass and the wine could carry the VQA medallion on the bottle. Those scoring over 15 points could carry a gold VQA medallion. Whether or not I’m completely accurate on this point is more or less moot, as it was eliminated early on in the history of VQA. 

The move away from any type of numerical scoring apparatus is likely a good thing, at least in the eyes of winemakers. In fact, some have grumbled (in varying levels of volume) that the tasting panel itself should be scrapped. The argument for this stance centres around the possible “subjectiveness” of the panel and the awarding higher scores to wines that are personally preferred as opposed to those which are technically sound. It also, perhaps in an indirect way, points to an issue with section (c) of the Act’s sensory guidelines that reads: 

(c) To the extent that an applicant identifies a varietal designation in the application, such wine should exhibit the predominant character of a wine produced from the designated grape variety or varieties 

  Simply put, if you submit a Riesling to the panel for evaluation it should smell and taste like Riesling (and, of course, be defect-free – we’ll get back to that). Some winemakers will claim that this forces them to conform to some arbitrary “standard” that determines what the “predominant character” of a specific grape variety actually is. The “T word” – typicity – is often bandied about, along with the notion that striving for typicity limits innovation. 

  In fact, Niagara’s Pearl Morissette winery’s website contains this statement: 

  “We’ve all been blackballed. Some more than others. But whether it was not getting selected on the school soccer pitch or having the VQA repeatedly pass over your Niagara Riesling on the basis that it “lacked typicity”, getting blackballed has not always been a positive experience.” 

  The winery chose to celebrate this uniqueness with its Black Ball Wine Society, but you still can’t help but suspect there are some hard feelings behind the repeated rejection of its Riesling. Requests I made to have those at Pearl Morissette tell their side of the story were ignored. (To be fair, this isn’t the only winery that refused to answer my VQA-related questions, even with the promise of anonymity. In fact, not one of the over half-dozen wineries I approached chose to answer any of the question I asked.) 

  “It is important to note that ‘typicity’ is not mentioned anywhere in the VQA regulations or procedural documents,” Macdonald points out. “We do not prescribe any typical presentations of varietals for Ontario and aim to recruit tasters with global exposure to a wide range of styles. Innovation is welcome as it should be for a relatively young region. For example, we have seen oak-aged Rieslings which are certainly not typical but have been approved based on soundness. We do however confirm certain category requirements during the sensory testing, for example, sparkling wines must be carbonated, Icewines must be sweet. In my opinion this discussion is really about what is or is not perceived as an unacceptable flaw. Problems typically arise when the “style” is characterized by unacceptable levels of H2S, volatile acidity, brett, etc.” 

  To play devil’s advocate, I could counter that what is “unacceptable” to one taster may not be to another. One of my favourite wines, Lebanon’s Château Musar, wouldn’t be what it is without levels of VA and brettanomyces that may seem off the charts to some. In any case, the real question might be: “If VQA is all about geographic origin, why is there a tasting panel at all? Surely we’re not yet at the point where an Ontario wine’s origin can actually be confirmed by tasting it.” Well, the short answer is because, at this stage, an expert tasting panel is still necessary. 

  In my experience with (and I’ll come clean and say I’ve had some), the VQA/OWAA tasting panel offers winemakers something rather unique and, ultimately, helpful: the opportunity to have wines pre-screened by an objective panel (I should note that all wines are tasted blind – the tasters know the vintage, the varietal(s) if applicable, and style the wine is claiming to be…and that’s mostly it) before they get to the consumer. If there is a problem, the winemaker is informed and has the opportunity to correct it (assuming it can be) and resubmit the wine for re-evaluation. 

  While the VQA designation is not an indication to consumers that a wine is somehow superior to one without, it does pretty much guarantee its geographic lineage and that it’s defect-free. But shouldn’t winemakers be able to determine that their wines are of sound quality (like most places in the world) without some paternal body pointing out when the kid hasn’t lived up to expectations? 

  Macdonald reports that since 2000, failures have declined by10 per cent to a range of about two per cent over the past five years. She also notes that some failures are not the fault (or the sole fault) of the winemaker. Still, technical and microbiological issues make up the bulk of the reasons for failures.  

  “We facilitate ‘Winemakers Forums’ to encourage winemakers to share their experiences, challenges and best practices – suspended for COVID of course,” she informs. “This is intended to support ‘making the best wine possible’ given any set of parameters – vineyard, varietal, vintage conditions, price point, style, etc., and it necessarily includes preventing and managing faults.” 

  Given, ongoing training for winemakers at all levels is no doubt part of the key to producing high-quality, defect-free wines, the other major component is regular, ongoing tasting – and not only of a winemaker’s own wines. I was surprised many years ago as I toured Niagara wineries to hear how few of the local winemakers actually tasted wines of their competition – both international ones and those made by the winery across the street. Some winemakers, at times, seemed to have gotten so familiar with their own “style” that they failed to realize that this “style” included some obvious technical defects. In any case, regular and varied tasting is probably the most enjoyable “homework” most could think of engaging in.  

  As Ontario’s (and Canada’s) vinous landscape continues to broaden, the Vintners Quality Alliance Act,1999 will no doubt continue to be modified to reflect changes within the industry. Macdonald points out that since 2000, there have been a total of 35 changes to the regulations, adding grape varieties, raising minimum brix, allowing new closures, and so on. The last change, made in 2017, was the addition of the “skin-fermented white” category. This sort of flexibility ensures that innovation and creativity can thrive, with the Act lending a degree of guidance to winemakers, while ensuring geographical authenticity and, ultimately, consumer confidence and international respect. 

The South African Winelands: A Story of Endurance

By: Hanifa Sekandi 

South Africa, a place where, if the Winelands could speak, they would tell a story that would leave you spellbound and wanting more, down to the last sip of Pinotage. Every grape has a story: how it began and the many trials and tribulations it endured to take form into a palate pleasing accompaniment for one to enjoy. As simple as it may seem, even with a favorable Mediterranean climate and rich South African soil, the journey to the bottle is what makes this wine an intriguing and highly coveted selection.  

  In 1652, more than 350 years ago, Jan Van Riebeeck led the Dutch East India Company’s settlement in the Cape. The first known record of wine in this region is February 2, 1659. During this time, the medicinal properties found in wine were used to treat scurvy. This made the South African port an ondemand place to voyage to by sailors seeking treatment. Two decades later, in 1679, Stellenbosch, what is now South Africa’s most famous wine-producing region and second oldest settlement, solidified a long-standing legacy in viticulture. Located in the western Cape’s coastal region, vinotourists eagerly explore South Africa’s acclaimed wine estates to experience firsthand the birthplace of this country’s Cabernet Sauvignon — the most abundantly planted grape varietal in this wine region.  

  When Simon van der Stel, namesake of Stellenbosch, established Cape Town’s oldest wine estate, Constantia, it laid the bedrock of winemaking. Political turmoil and unrest have rocked this soulfully rhythmic nation, but preserving the land and all that grows from its soil continues to live and not be forgotten. Establishing this settlement opened doors for robust wine cultivation by the French Huguenots to dig roots into the Cape’s wine industry in the 1690s. Their arrival in the 17th century in the Franschhoek Valley began winemaking as a formidable industry in South Africa. 

Endurance of the African Vine 

  Although suitable microclimates and the terrain permit a diverse repertoire of wines and the high clay content along with water retention aids with steady irrigation, South African winemakers have faced many roadblocks on their way to becoming part of the par excellence standard. Insufficient storage for the aging of wines required the unconventional use of containers used to brine meat in replacement of oak barrels. Wine connoisseurs turned their noses up at this break in practice and cultivation. The South African wine regions also almost met their demise with the grapevine disease Phylloxera.  

  Earlier shortcomings in the 18th century did not demotivate winemakers to forage on. Constantia, a region considered the mother of South African wines, is the home to the dessert wine made from Muscat Blanc, Vin de Constance. It provided a gateway into the exclusive European wine market. One could say that without it, the industry as we know it today would not hold center stage. This country’s acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc grapes, flourishing and gently ripening with the refreshing cool breeze as it brushes across the vineyards of the Constantiaberg Mountain, may not have been birthed had it not been for the perseverance of winemakers who saw sweeter horizons in the future.  

  South African wines are more than just a palate-pleasing libation. They hold conflict and triumph, a journey that continues to reveal itself with presentday winemakers who value tradition paired with modern innovation and sustainability.  

  Stellenbosch University’s department of viticulture is at the forefront of avantgarde and experimental ways of producing wine. The World Wide Fund for Nature movement exemplifies an agreed-upon con-servation ideal among South African wine farmers. The aim is to maintain and nurture the Cape Wineland’s natural habitat. Along with an accommodating climate that favors a vast array of grapes which benefit greatly from the proximity of the Indian and Atlantic oceans cool winds, sustainability and affordable wine prices allow a firm place in the market. South Africa ranks eighth in the world as a wine producer with over 560 Western Cape wineries and over 200,000 acres of grapes planted.  

Wards that Lead the Way 

  Each wine region, also known as wards, has unique characteristics. Stellenbosch is where wine revelers can find South Africa’s most recognized and prestigious wine estates. One fifth of the country’s vines are planted here. This is where a perfect blend of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir comes together to produce the be-loved Pinotage. The exclusive Black Label Pinotage, made from a plot planted in the early 1950s, has a graceful aging period of 30 years. Other wines produced in the illustrious wineries in this region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chemin Blanc, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Semillon and Chardonnay.  

 The South African wine route may lead you to Paarl, situated on the low lying slopes of Paarl Rock. Since it is more inland from Cape Town, the temperatures here are warmer. The terroir of this region provides for more opportunities in wine cultivation. One would not think that some of the prestigious wines in this country flourish in vineyards high up on the mountains. The beginning of wine in this region is at-tributed to the French Huguenots who settled and planted grapevines and orchards in the late 17th century. Full bodied, decadent fruit reds and tropical notes in white wines can be found here due to the robust grape varieties.  

  Once a wheat producing region, Swartland is located in the Western Cape and just north of Cape Town. The vineyards here appear predominately on the northern side of the Paardeberg mountain. The hot and dry climate is ideal for producing fruitier wines. Scorching temperatures also decrease the negative impact of fungal disease. Bush vines can withstand dry conditions and survive due to their ability to pull water from deep layers of soil. Since they are drought resistant, they are planted in the hottest and driest area of the ward. Chemin Blanc and Shiraz are key grape varietals harvested in the “black land” Swartland. Black Land is a name to denote the rhinoceros bush, which turns black after a rainfall.  

  Another Western Cape region where the vines grow on fertile soils with granite deposits and immense clay volumes is Constantia—recognized as an early immigration settlement in 1685 of the Dutch. The highly esteemed sweet wine touted by European nobility and celebrated by esteemed authors Charles Dickens and Jane Austen isn’t the only premium wine produced in this region today. Bordeaux Blends, a combination of deep rich reds ranging from Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon as a base coupled with another grape variety, has become an adored South African wine selection. Since this region is surrounded by two oceans and experiences considerable shade from the mountains, cooler temperatures are the norm. The result of these cooling winds is the retention of acidity in the grapes. This region is also known for its sublime Sauvignon Blanc.  


Klein Constantia “Vin de Constance” Constantia (2017) 

  A prestigious dessert wine that almost met its end continues to dazzle the palate of the wine world-at-large thanks to its resurrection in the late 20th century. The Jooste family acquired Klein Constantia, who embarked on this revival with Professor Chris Orffer, a viticulturist. To achieve their aim of unearthing this golden, unfortified sweet wine of the past in its most authentic form, they used the expertise of renowned winemaker Ross Gower. Vin De Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, is a di-vine sunkissed hued wine with a beautiful burst of citrus zest, a creamy stone fruit finish, and pleasing notes of litchi, rosewater and almonds. You cannot miss the smooth floral aroma that engulfs the senses. It is a wine that ages with grace and can stand the test of time.  

Donkiesbaai “Steen”  

Chenin Blanc 

  Steen is still one of South Africa’s most popular white wines made from grapes in the Witzenberg and Piekenierskloof vineyards. Jean Engelbrecht, owner of the infamous Rust en Vrede winery and Don-kiesbaai winery, is the ingenious winemaker at the helm of the masterful creation of this robust, smooth tropical wine. Lively aromas of pineapple, peach, apricot and lime provide the right balance for seafood dishes or rich pasta entrees.  

Beyerskloof Diesel  

Pinotage 2017 

  This full bodied, deep, dry red wine with deep vanilla, oak, chocolate, plum and black cherry aromas has rave reviews from vino connoisseurs who have been lucky enough to get their hands on the Beyerskloof winery cultivation. It is considered a premium Pinotage, and limited bottles are available for purchase. You may have to join the list to get your hands on a bottle of it. This wine pairs well with spicy dishes or a perfectly seared flank steak. If you are an animal lover, you may be happy to know that the name Diesel is a tribute to the winemaker’s dog. 

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

Neal D. Hulkower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go ‘way and let me nap.