Ashley Trout: Blazing the Trail for Women Winemakers

Ashley Trout, Flying Trout Wines

By: Nan McCreary

If anyone can rightfully boast about their place on Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2018 “Top 40 under 40,” it’s Walla Walla, Washington winemaker and social justice advocate, Ashley Trout. As an integral part of the Washington wine industry since 1999, she has started three wineries, including a non-profit winery for better access to health care for vineyard and cellar workers. With expertise that comes from working eight harvests in Argentina, she is putting her stamp on wines created by a new generation of women winemakers.

  Trout’s journey on the wine trail began when, at age 18, she chose to use college as an opportunity to do something different, so she gave up big-city living (Washington D.C. and Los Angeles) and landed at Whitman College in the small town of Walla Walla. “I’ve always been a ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ kind of person,” Trout told The Grapevine Magazine, “so I took a part-time job at Reininger Winery. It was right at the inception of the Washington wine industry, and there were lots of us in our 20s who would do any and every job. We’d show up at midnight, or on Saturdays, we’d pack boxes, and if we didn’t know how to drive a forklift, we’d figure it out. It was a quintessential example of being at the right place at the right time.”

  She worked at Reininger Winery for eight years, and in her fifth year, had an “aha moment” that ignited her passion, and led her to where she is today. “I was in a rock-climbing accident and broke everything,” she recalled. “When I missed harvest, I realized how inappropriate it felt that other people were doing harvest, and I wasn’t harvesting with them. That’s when I really doubled down.”

  Trout began working the harvest regularly in Mendoza, Argentina, following her love of the Malbec grape. In 2006—at only 24—she opened Flying Trout Wines, named for her surname and the fact that she was flying between Argentina and Washington state.

  “I’d been in the wine industry for five or six years, and I loved everything about the job and wanted more control over the wines I was making,” she said.  “I also wanted the freedom to go to Argentina and participate in harvest and make wines there as well as here in Washington, so I just did it.”

  At Flying Trout, Trout focused on Malbec, because, she said, “It’s a wonderful grape to work with, and gives you everything you need on a silver platter—acid, color and tannins—which are the bones of what you really need for an amazing wine.” Trout sourced her grapes from top Walla Walla vineyards, which, except for altitude, have a nearly identical terroir as Mendoza.

  Trout sold Flying Trout in 2010 but stayed on as winemaker until 2013. In 2016, after a brief hiatus, she launched Brook & Bull Cellars. “I was at a point in life where I wanted to have creative control of the wine and the winemaking process and creative control over the business parts as well,” Trout told The Grapevine Magazine. “I’d had it before at Flying Trout and wanted it back.”

  At Brook & Bull, located in the rolling hills of the Walla Walla Valley, Trout produces Malbec, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and blends. She also makes a Provence-style Rosé from Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Counoise grapes. Rather than start a vineyard, Trout prefers to source grapes from top vineyards in the area. “Maintaining and managing a vineyard and maintaining and managing a winery are two different skill sets,” she said. “In a vineyard, you’re dealing with mold and mildew and insects and pest and irrigation issues, and you’re dealing with biology and geology and meteorology. Within a winery, …it’s more like cooking, blending and tasting. It’s organic chemistry more than anything.”

  While she was launching Brook & Bull, Trout also started Vital Winery, which supports free, bilingual healthcare for workers. “Vital had been stuck in my head for a long time,” Trout said. “I grew up in a bilingual, bicultural home, and I did a lot of translating for grandparents who needed help with information, especially when it was medical jargon, so I understand the need.”

  Vital Winery is fully supported by donations, from grapes to bottles to corks, and all profits go into the mission, “Taking Care of Each Other.” Besides providing health care, Vital Winery raises funds for a project called “A Day at Home,” so vineyard employees potentially exposed to COVID-19 can stay home for testing without concern for the loss of daily wages. The non-profit winery has earned Trout accolades throughout the country, not just for her wines but for her services. And it is has benefited tremendously from wineries eager to donate—Trout said she turns down 30 to 100 tons of donated fruit every year, much of it from top wineries in Washington state. 

  While Brook & Bull and Vital Winery are two different types of projects, both are wineries and require the same winemaking knowledge and skills. At Vital, Trout’s wines fluctuate between which grapes and vineyards are used, changing every year. On the other hand, at Brook & Bull, Trout can count on consistency—other than what Mother Nature delivers—by using the same vineyards, the same varieties, the same rows and the same clones every year. 

  “I know what’s coming, and I can wrap my head around that and can get into an artistic zone because all those variables are taken care of,” she said. At both wineries, Trout strives for “varietally driven, nuanced and intricately balanced wines.”

In summing up her winemaking philosophy, Trout said, “I set myself up so I could say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ If you set yourself up to fight (nature, for example), you’re going to lose, and it will be a slow, painful battle.”

  In applying this philosophy, Trout sources from vineyards and varietals that excite her. To attain balance, she picks on the early side. “By picking early,” she said, “I get grapes with more acid, which have antibacterial properties, and produce wines that are more food-friendly and more balanced. Balance is a big issue for me.”

  Trout is not a big fan of oak, as she prefers to “showcase” the grapes. “Most high-end wines are slammed with oak,” she said, “but I have $40, $50 and $60 wines with almost no oak. I’ve made it my little personal mission to teach people what an amazing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Malbec tastes like without the oak band-aid covering things up.”

  While Trout has indeed received plenty of recognition as a winemaker—and a rising star among women winemakers—she continues to be committed to her craft, and to set an example to other women in the field.

  “Today, 70% of wines are purchased by women, but only 8% of winemakers are women,” she said. “And 47% of male winemakers own their own winery, while only 4% of women do. That’s a huge disconnect. I think it’s really important for women in the wine industry to stand tall and proud because there aren’t many of us. If we want the next generation to join us, we need to show that there are other women doing it, having a good time and being successful.”

  Many women are reluctant to enter the industry, Trout believes, because the work is so physically demanding. Women may also stay away, she said, because there are so few women winemakers that they assume there’s a reason and don’t consider it. While Trout said she’s never experienced sexism, she has run into age-old prejudices where people expect her to be the winemaker’s daughter or wife.

“When I’m behind the bar in the tasting room, no one ever imagines that I’m the winemaker,” she said. “They always think I’m a family member. But finally, when they get it, everyone is really excited.”

  As Trout looks back on her journey, her only regret is that she didn’t bet on herself in a bigger way. “I can see that I didn’t look hard enough for investment dollars, I didn’t hire experts and I didn’t grow. I didn’t take myself seriously as an owner of a major winery. But as a minority in the industry, and a 20-year-old, it wasn’t surprising, even if it was a mistake.”

  As for the future, Trout seems content to stay where she is. “It’s an exciting time to be in Washington now,” she said. “We still have a young and dramatic and passionate industry. We’re still filled with 20-somethings who are showing up at midnight doing whatever needs to be done, and that’s exciting. But now we have the efficacy we didn’t have when I was getting started, as the industry has been here for 15 or 20 years. It’s really the best of both worlds.”

For more information on Ashley Trout and her wines, visit… www.brookandbull.com and www.vitalwinery.com

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

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

Putting Your Plan Together

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

Steps to Take Before a Wildland Fire Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlling Wildland Fire Exposures

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

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

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

What are the Primary Threats to Property During a Wildfire?

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

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

What is the Structure Ignition Zone?

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

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

Immediate Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•    Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – wooden pallets, mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.

Intermediate Zone

  5-30’ from the furthest exterior point of the structure.  Landscaping/hardscaping – employing careful landscaping or creating breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior

•    Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.

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

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

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

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

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

•    Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.

Extended Zone

  30-100’, out to 200’. Landscaping – the goal here is not to eliminate fire but to interrupt fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground.

•    Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.

•    Remove dead plant and tree material.

•    Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.

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

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

•    Trees 60 to 100’ from the structure should have at least 6’ between the canopy tops.

If an Evacuation Becomes evident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•    Warn firefighters of underground fuel storage or LP gas tanks before you leave.

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

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

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

•    Remove brush and dry vegetation near buildings.

Fire Evacuation – What You Need to Know

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

Filing Claims

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

Ref:

•    NFPA 1144 – Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fires, 2018 Edition. National Fire Protection Association. Quincy, MA 02169, 2018

•    Fire Adaptive Communities. Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. www.fireadaptednetwork.org

•    Wildfire Safety. www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/wildfire.html. © 2019 The American National Red Cross

  This document is intended for general information purposes only, and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This document can’t be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedures or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances.  Markel does not guarantee that this information is or can be relied on for compliance with any law or regulation, assurance against preventable losses, or freedom from legal liability.  This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional advice.  Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser.  Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are 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.

Understanding the Domino Effect of the European Wine Tariffs

By: Tracey L. Kelley

At press time, the Office of the United States Trade Representative is deciding the revised outcome of a controversial decision from 2019: an increase in import tariffs for European wines by 25%. This action is part of a World Trade Organization judgment against the European Union to end subsidies granted to aerospace giant Airbus. The USTR issued the tariff hike in response to what it believed to be an unfair disadvantage to U.S.-based competitor Boeing.

  In February 2020, the USTR announced it wouldn’t raise European wine tariffs to 100%, but for the upcoming review, it’s unclear if last year’s decision will be upheld, or if those WTO tariffs will shift to other European products. 

  To provide a more tailored scope of the issue, The Grapevine Magazine talked with Benjamin Aneff, president of the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance and managing partner of Tribeca Wine Merchants in New York City; and Eric Faber, chief operating officer of Cutting Edge Solutions in Cincinnati, a wine import and distribution business.

Why the Tariffs Create Conflict

  The Grapevine Magazine (GV): Let’s break down the issue for the layperson: what does U.S. and European wine have to do with Airbus and Boeing?

  Benjamin Aneff (BA): Great question. Nothing. Unfortunately, the USTR has decided to put large tariffs on most wines from the EU because of the dispute involving Airbus and Boeing. It’s incredibly unfortunate, given that these tariffs do roughly four times the economic damage to U.S. businesses than they do their targets overseas. They’re back-firing and hurting mostly small, family-owned businesses in the U.S.

  Eric Faber (EF): I’ve heard the arguments that these tariffs protect American jobs, that people can just buy domestic wines instead of European. In some cases, this may be true, but to believe this about the wine industry shows a complete lack of understanding into how our industry uniquely works and how it’s connected. These connections exist based on an industry that is among the most regulated in the U.S. Companies shouldn’t be asked to change their business model because of an international trade dispute of an unrelated industry.

  The truth is that these tariffs may cause job losses and business closures in Europe, but they will cause job losses for the American small businesses who rely on these wines for their livelihood. Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, the USTR, can try to tell us it will simply lead to new American jobs, but that only shows his lack of knowledge about our industry.

  It’s an industry that—unlike Boeing and Airbus—has always paid its fair share of taxes. In fact, the regulation of alcohol means we pay more than most businesses. We don’t get the tax breaks that massive companies like Boeing, Amazon, Apple and others enjoy. Taxes on the alcohol industry help provide billions of dollars to state and local governments. And we’re more than happy to do so, but we shouldn’t be burdened as a result of the poor practices of two of the largest companies on the planet.

  Airbus has recently offered a solution to this entire dispute, and it’s equivalent to the changes made in regard to Boeing. If the goal is to punish Airbus for its misgivings, then punish that industry. But leave the lives of millions of hard-working Americans who aren’t affiliated out of it.

  GV: What would be the direct impact of the 25% tariff increase on small- to medium-sized producers/vintners, and what tangible change happens for them if it’s defeated?

  (BA): Well, ending these tariffs would certainly help small- to medium-sized producers in the U.S., particularly producers looking for distributors that rely on this access to market. These are the companies that actually make sure those small producers in, say, Oregon or California, can make it to the shelf of a wine store or get poured in a restaurant in Chicago, Dallas or New York.

  When distributors are having trouble financially—which they are now due to the tariffs—it’s much harder for them to take the risk of bringing on a new U.S. producer, which generally are unknown and require time and capital investments from distributors. It’s less clear how it helps producers in, say, France.

  There’s pre-pandemic data from the Global Trade Atlas that showed, despite a huge drop in wine exports from France to the U.S. after the enactment of the tariffs, the overall wine exports from France actually grew. In a nutshell, they sold their wine elsewhere. This is just one of the reasons why these tariffs are such a bad idea. They do significantly more damage to the U.S., and they’re incredibly unlikely to influence the EU to change behavior.

  (EF): Should the tariff be justifiably rolled back, things will mostly go back to normal. I say “mostly” because the pandemic has its own role to play in our industry, which adds to the need for the tariffs to be lifted.

  The European wineries we work with love the American wine market and experiencing the amazing wine and restaurant culture so many Americans have worked hard to create. Right now, they’re facing difficult choices about where to sell their products and how to maintain their businesses in the face of tariffs. I think it’s important for Americans to know that the effect on European wineries isn’t money lost from paying the tariffs—because American businesses pay them. It’s from lost sales due to price increases and importers downsizing or going out of business.

  From a larger view, you don’t have to look farther back into our history than the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 to see the negative effects tariffs can have on our own economy and the global economy we’re part of. It turned a difficult recession into the Great Depression. It set people back 20 years and created a “lost generation” across the world. These tariffs will harm people across the globe, so by lifting them, we give small businesses—specifically here at home—the opportunity to be successful, experience growth and create jobs.  

The Domino Effect

  GV: As an example, how does an import/distribution company balance its portfolio to include both international and U.S. wine products?

  (EF): We strive to have a portfolio that represents top producers from around the world, specifically boutique producers that fit our model in terms of quality and price point. Domestic wines are the backbone of our portfolio. 

  Like most small distributors, it’s important to have a good mix of products from around the world so we can provide our accounts with a wide variety of options. Domestic wines are certainly a large part of this, and the balance is largely driven by the demands of our customers and the wine-buying public. For us to be successful, we work with producers that we believe in and that our customers have a desire to purchase. While we have very strict standards for the producers we add to our portfolio, we’re ultimately driven by the market.

  The other part of this is profitability. We typically work on lower margins on domestic wines than we do on imported wines, specifically the wines we import ourselves. The slightly-higher margins we make on European wines allow us to keep our prices on our domestic portfolio lower. This is commonplace for most companies in our industry.

  GV: What type of trickle-down effect does the tariff issue have?

  EF: The tariff has an enormous impact on importers and distributors. Many people who argue the tariffs are a penalty on the producers, or the countries on which they have been levied, are simply wrong. We pay the tariffs—not the producers and not the EU.

  A 25% tariff means prices on those products have to go up for importers and distributors to maintain their ability to function. In a state like Ohio, for example, we’re legally required to have a certain margin to our accounts to maintain state tax revenue. We legally can’t make less on the wines, so we have to charge more. This means our retailers and restaurants must raise their prices to the consumer.

  While this may not be the case in every state, no industry could suddenly take a loss of 25% or even 15% of its margin and still be successful. How do people pay employees if they don’t make any money on the products they sell?

  In terms of how this affects domestic producers, the biggest issue outside of distribution is money. Our industry works on “terms”—meaning, we pay for our products typically 30 days after receiving them. This model has been set for decades. But with tariffs, they’re paid as the product clears customs. This creates a significant problem in terms of cash flow.

  So if we’re typically paying a few thousand dollars to clear product into the country, and suddenly have to pay upwards of $25,000, that depletes our bank account in a way our long-standing model wasn’t prepared for and makes it more difficult to pay our domestic suppliers on time.

  We also have to pay our employees, our bills and our taxes. If it takes longer for our domestic partners to get paid, this cash flow problem moves on to them, then to their vendors.

  GV: If certain import relationships fail, do fewer distributors mean fewer channels of retail and restaurant opportunities for U.S. products? Why?

  EF: That’s an excellent question and raises one of the most important points of this debate. If our company relies on a mix of producers from the U.S., Europe and other countries to be successful, then eliminating sales from one of these avenues would force us to close. If companies like Cutting Edge go out of business or contract significantly less, who will sell domestic wines to restaurants or independent retailers that the wineries rely on as the largest part of their sales network? For most domestic wineries, they can’t sustain their business through direct-to-consumer sales alone.

  This leaves wineries without a home. It’s not as simple as just finding another distributor if you’re a domestic winery. Boutique American wineries need to be in a portfolio that gives their products appropriate attention to attract sales and create valuable placements in restaurants and independent retail. They have to find someone who cares about their wines and their stories, someone who can pay for the products, and who can actively promote their products to accounts and consumers.

  Larger, multi-state distributors typically don’t work with smaller domestic producers because it isn’t a part of their business model. They have obligations to their own, typically larger and more corporate, partners. This means that smaller wineries have no focus in their portfolio.

  To sum it up from the point of view of our domestic producers: if 20 Oregon producers suddenly lose their distribution in a state like Ohio, maybe 10 will eventually find a new home and those that do will likely lose significant sales because the new distributor has to essentially re-build the brand in its own portfolio. This is especially daunting when you look at the current climate in our industry as a result of COVID-19. If a producer loses representation in just a small number of states, especially now, it would likely lead to bankruptcy.

  GV: Please explain why a zero-tariff policy on wine imports benefits U.S. producers/vintners in our wine industry.

  BA: Wine from the EU is a keystone species for the health of the U.S. wine market. It represents critical profit margins for tens of thousands of U.S. wine businesses–the same businesses that sell wines from the United States. If those businesses are weak, it’s going to be harder for them to adequately support particularly small- and medium-sized U.S. producers.

  Those wines are often handsels from distributors, retailers and restaurants. That means you need more staff, more time for training, more samples. Further, there may come a point where U.S. distributors are so weakened by tariffs that they’re forced to ask for lower prices from everyone. That’s what happens when companies industry-wide are faced with such hardship. U.S. domestic producers could be one of the first impacted by this need.

  Bottom line, the entire wine industry, from producers to distributors, to restaurants and retailers, are significantly better off when there aren’t tariffs on wine.

Make Connections in Congress

  GV: At press time, the U.S. will have experienced more than 5 million COVID cases, and many wineries continue to be shuttered or downsized in production and tourism. How do you encourage them to take an active stance on this issue when so many other factors have them at a disadvantage? What immediate results will they see from their activism?

  EF: We’ve worked with dozens of domestic wineries to raise awareness of the tariff situation and how it will negatively affect them. I’ve spoken to many of them personally to get them involved, as have countless other distributors. No independent domestic winery thinks the tariffs will benefit them in the short- or long-term.

  We’ve helped provide information on how to contact their elected officials and make their case to members of Congress, the administration, and the USTR. Many have spoken out publicly to condemn the tariffs. People like Jason Lett of Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon have led the charge to raise awareness amongst their peers. They need a strong economy here at home to promote their brands and continue to operate their businesses, and strong partnerships with successful distributors to weather the current storm.

  It’s tough to say what results any of us will see from our activism on this issue because we don’t get to make the final decision. As a community, we have been able to gain support from elected officials from both sides of the aisle and raise public awareness of the negative effects the tariffs will have. Hopefully, awareness will lead to a better understanding of why it’s so important to remove the tariffs currently in place.

  Truly, if there’s anything positive from the battle against tariffs, it’s been the coming together of so many in our industry from all facets: importers, distributors, domestic producers, European producers, restaurants and retailers. I’ve even had wineries we work with in Australia and Chile ask how they can help. All see the incredibly negative outcome of these tariffs on the American wine industry and are united in standing against them. Hopefully, this will help to sway the decision-makers.

  BA: There are so many hardships right now, in every corner of our country. I would say the voices of U.S. wineries can be incredibly impactful with their representatives. We are so interconnected; I think many see how clearly that we rise and fall together. 

  We don’t begrudge the job of the U.S. government to protect our trade interests abroad, but there are better, less damaging ways to do so. We’re all trying to get back up off the mat right now. It’s the wrong time to try to pull the rug out from underneath us.

  Though the public can no longer submit comments to USTR, Congress can! Tell your elected officials, both in the House and Senate, to reach out to the USTR and voice their opposition to these tariffs. There are better ways to influence the EU than a tariff policy that does disproportionate damage to mom and pop businesses in the U.S.—particularly during a pandemic that just saw the U.S. economy contract by 33%. [Editor’s note: The carousel date for the expected USTR announcement regarding its decision, was August 12. Look for an update on thegrapevinemagazine.net]

  When the wine industry is healthy, everyone benefits. When we’re suffering, we all see the impact. Bottom line, we’re in this together.

UPDATE: August 31, 2020; Update from the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance: “The USTR published their decision regarding the August 2020 carousel for the WTO / Airbus award. The tariffs on wine remain the same, with no changes to either tariff percent or category.” Read the full statement here

Post Fermentation Management Choices for Red Wines

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

“The winemaker is a warrior.  He has to fight the vagaries of nature, storms, insects, disease, rot, hail and bad luck.  This is why every bottle is worthy of respect and every glass must be drunk with the honor it deserves.  That soil, that man, that fight, are embodied in your glass” Anonymous but supplied to me by Kathrine Brink of Grapevine, Texas.

  It has been said that a winemaker makes at least 2000 decisions, during the winemaking process, before a wine goes into the bottle.  This statement was produced, 20 years ago, before items such as tannin additions, fining agents in the gelatin family that have specific target sites and micro-oxidation were added to our tool box.  This article will make the assumption that the red wine has been fermented to complete dryness during the maceration regime of the winemaker’s choice and that it was a clean fermentation.  One must keep in mind as we change a process in our wine making other parameters may need adjustment to accomplish a desired effect from the process.  One must know, as a winemaker, what is desired as a wine style and implement that knowledge and the processes to achieve the desired wine style.  This article will address a few questions to help the winemaker along the winemaker warrior’s path to victory.  It is not intended to address every possible path a winemaker may take as that would involve writing a book and not an article.

Have Knowledge of What can be Done

  Know what wine to make and have the style determined ahead of time.  This will help with fruit selection, growing and the harvest of the fruit.  What was the growing season like?  Was the vineyard canopy managed for that style of wine?  Was the condition of the vines monitored during the growing season?  What was the fruit like and how was its development?  What was the soil like and does this terrior support the style of wine desired?  Does the trellis and training system support this style?  These are some of the questions one will need to address before trying to make a wine in a certain style.  If the foundation of the fruit is not underneath to support the style and desired wine goals it will be difficult to move the juice, must and wine into a particular direction.  An example of this may be producing a full bodied red wine.  If the vines are not properly managed to achieve a full bodied red wine one may be best off picking early and pressing the grapes to make a blush wine or white wine style.

Know the Limits

  What has developed during the fermentation?  In the prior example know the limits.  If after fermentation of the red grapes the color, mouth feel, aromas and tannin profile are not supporting the precursors of what is to be achieved in the long run – know when to back off.  To try and “overly manipulate” the wine and “beat it” or “force it” into a certain profile will not work in most cases.  Make sure after fermentation that everything is present in the wine to work with.  It is necessary that the fruit and fermentation give the winemaker this solid foundation.  Wine is made in the vineyard!

Do We Want to Enhance any Characteristics?

  After fermentation the winemaker should have a good idea between what is in the glass and the numbers from the lab if the resulting wine style is on track.  Now the choice becomes how to enhance the positives one sees in a certain wine or to enhance certain qualities in several separate lots of wine – knowing they will be reviewed at the blending table.  Will air bring forward a certain quality?  Should free run be separated from press juice?  What type of malo-lactic should be performed?  Will it be best to have a malo-lactic fermentation?  What culture should I choose?  Should new oak barrels be used?  Should older more neutral oak barrels be employed?  What size of barrels should be used?  One can alter the wood to wine ratio simply by changing the size of the cooperage.  Should wood chips, slabs or staves be entered into the mix?  Should the wine remain in stainless to settle longer?  Should the wine be chilled to remove the tartrates early?  Should the wine be warmed to drive off the carbon dioxide early?

Do We Want to Suppress any Characteristics?

  Sometimes one can suppress a characteristic while bringing out another to be enhanced all at the same time.  This is often the case with a reduced wine that may have some hydrogen sulfide [ H2S ] issues.  While suppressing the H2S another element is brought to the forefront and perceived to be enhanced.  Always review this situation with a quick aroma   screen in the lab after fermentation.  Aeration can often solve this issue and if not one can use copper sulfate or a number of legal chemical addition regimes.  What other characteristics may need suppressing?  Try a lab trial to see if the task to be performed will suppress what it should.  Does that action bring forward another desired component in that wine?  Is a fining needed early on?  Is the wine balanced?  Are the tannins supporting the wine?  Are they refined or rough and aggressive?

Do we Want to Eliminate any Characteristics?

  This can often be a real battleground.  Trying to eliminate a characteristic from a wine is usually most difficult after the wine has been made.  If a green character has formed in the red wine due to under ripe fruit selection, usually attributed to Methoxy-pyrazines, the battle can difficult and up hill.  Oak chips in the fermenter are often a good choice and this decision needs to be made early on before the post fermentation decision. Micro-oxidation has shown some beneficial results.  Finesse must be used with both of these potential solutions.

Sur Lie Ageing

  Ageing red wines in the barrel or tank with suspended yeast cells can produced excellent results adding to the mouth feel of the wine through manoprotiens and yeast autolysis.  The mouth feel is often lengthened in the finish and it fills out the mid-palate.  The aroma will often be enhanced with a yeast autolysis toasty aroma.  Is this something that will add to the wine style desired?  If so – this may be a solid choice.  Make sure the lees are “clean” however to minimize the risk in this potential risky step for higher pH reds.  These yeast lees often contain higher loads of spoilage microbes to be wary and informed about.

How are the Tannins?

  As soon after fermentation as you can – try and assess the tannin profile in the red wine.  This can often be a challenge as the tannins are evolving and will continue to evolve during the ageing process.  One must develop the skills to taste underlying tannins and become a confident predictor as to how they will evolve.  A wine that may seem very supple early on may develop a more aggressive tannin profile later in its life, generally in the cellar during ageing.  Become confident in tasting a wine and “reaching” deep into the wine to find those tannins.  Are they good supple tannins or bad harsh tannins?  What has that block or lot of fruit delivered in past vintages?  Are they harsh seed tannins?  Should seed deportation have been considered with delestage? [Make this decision prior to this moment but for this article we are looking at post fermentation]  The sooner the winemaker can predict and react to the tannin profile the better the tannin management may be handled.  Generally reacting sooner than later is best, as with most wine making intrusions.

Extended Maceration

  This is a great tool when the fruit will allow it.  The fruit must be very ripe and clean.  Extended maceration is the process of the leaving the wine in contact with the must and skins after fermentation for approximately 30 days to be determined by the winemaker.  The results can give more refined and pronounced good tannins with a lengthy supple fruit finish provided the fruit is very ripe, supple and clean.  Color may be reduced somewhat but the color will be more stable in most cases.  This may be a great tool for many winemakers and the results are more than gratifying.  Risks are and can be high, so, if trying this for the first time – stay on your toes!

Summary

  The above data is often reviewed by most winemakers every season during their battle in the vineyard and the cellar to make the best wine possible.  Each year gives different situations making the challenge different from year to year.  Take every opportunity to get to know your vineyard, soils, trellis, fruit clones, rootstocks, climate and growing seasons to adapt each year with the wealth of knowledge gained in previous years to bring forward the fruit to craft the wine desired.

  As can be seen in this article many features of post-fermentation choices are directly linked to the fruit and what it yielded in terms of quality.  It is not just a post-fermentation decision!

  Taste the wines every several weeks to determine their progress.  Think, during the tasting: What was the fruit like?  How did the wine progress last year?  Is the wine developing into the style desired?  Are corrections needed?  Will correction trials be performed in the lab?  What are the choices from here?  The winemaker is in the driver seat.  If the wine is not developing into the desired wine or the desired component to a wine blend, it needs to be addressed.  Always taste a wine thinking what was the past like and where is this wine going?  With this type of tasting and professional critical thinking one will be able to step in at the needed times to enhance the product during the Post Fermentation Management Choices.  This is what a winemaker does.

Highlighting the Women of Washington State Wine

By: Becky Garrison

A media luncheon of Washington winemakers hosted by the Washington State Wine Commis-sion during Feast Portland 2019 featured presentations by Rachael Horn of AniChe Cellars, Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars and Kent Waliser from Sagemoor Vineyards. This luncheon afford-ed a glimpse into the bounty of Washington State’s vineyards and highlighted the contributions of the state’s women winemakers.

  According to the Washington State Wine Commission, women constitute about 8% of total winemakers operating in Washington state. Given that women account for 57% of wine volume consumed in the U.S. (Nielsen Spectra 2015), why does this industry remain male-dominated? In an attempt to shed light on this question, Horn and Womack, along with a few other Washington state-based women winemakers, offered their perspectives regarding making inroads in the in-dustry.

Mari Womack, Damsel Cellars (Woodinville, WA.)

  When Mari Womack transitioned from the restaurant to the wine industry, she saw herself as a blank slate. “I didn’t feel there were any barriers for me coming into the wine industry, other than my lack of experience and knowledge about the subject.”

  After a stint working as assistant winemaker to Darby English at Woodinville, Washington’s Darby Winery, as well as managing its tasting room, Womack set off in 2012 to make her own wine. She chose to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. “As there isn’t a predominant varie-tal in Washington State, there’s ample room for people to experiment and implement their own style of winemaking,” Womack said.

  In Woodinville, she’s encountered a number of male allies looking for diverse perspectives, with a push towards supporting women and minority-owned businesses. Along those lines, more women appear to be designing tours specifically geared towards helping women winemakers. With more women’s voices impacting and telling the story of wine from different and original perspectives, she sees the industry becoming more diverse.

  To bring about long-lasting transformative change, Womack stresses promoting diversity in her hiring practices. “You have to see it to be it.”

  She believes female winemakers must do what they can to promote the visibility of their busi-nesses and make sure their own hiring practices are inclusive and expansive. “We just don’t see enough of it. I recommend searching for qualified candidates via different avenues and programs, as well as mentoring other women,” she said.

  Even though hers is a boutique winery, though events like Taste Washington, Womack can con-nect on a large scale with vendors and consumers beyond her immediate vicinity. Also, by par-ticipating in Feast Portland, a food festival that highlights the bounty of the Pacific Northwest food and beverage culture, she became aware of the expansive nature of the Portland food scene and was able to get her wine introduced to several restauranteurs. 

  When tasting rooms shut down due to Covid-19, Womack observed how women winemakers could utilize digital media to partner with women’s groups and produce virtual wine tastings with a women-centric focus. “I don’t think we considered that customers don’t have to come to our tasting room and physically meet us in order to have a very meaningful experience. They can order our wine in advance, taste it in a virtual setting, and then become a really loyal follower at that point,” Womack said in an interview with The Grapevine Magazine

Rachael Horn, AniChe Cellars (Underwood, Washington)

  When Rachel Horn tried her hand at fermentation in 2008, her focus was on making wines that would pair well with the foods grown in the Columbia Gorge and surrounding environs. The re-sults were reflective of her favorite European wines–blended wines with a regional focus.

  Hence, she entered this industry with no concept of any gender bias. She attributes this attitude to her upbringing and the competent, intelligent women in her social group capable of making their dreams happen. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make wine because that’s what I want to do.’”

  As the only winemaker in the Columbia Gorge at this time, Horn found she lacked access to mentors and support from the all-male winemakers in the region. Also, many growers, all men, had no interest in selling fruit to her. In her estimation, they treated her as though she was engaging in a cute little hobby. “After I was called ‘sweetie’ a few times, that lit a quickfire under my ass. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll show you.’”

  Eventually, she found a vineyard that would sell her fruit. This vineyard was owned by an Amer-ican who had worked for two decades in France and was more accustomed to working with women in the wine industry. However, she still faced difficulties in purchasing equipment. Even though Horn visited vendor booths at trade shows with fellow women winemakers with the in-tention of spending $100,000 on equipment, they were ignored as the vendors focused on the males entering their booths.

  Furthermore, she found that her wines received a lower rating whenever she presented them for a tasting under her name. If she entered her wines in a blind tasting, her scores would go up by about seven points. This discrepancy proved her point that wine is gender-neutral. “Wine doesn’t care if you’re a female or male making it.”

  This lack of support also drove Horn to mentor other women looking to enter the industry. She found herself to be a person who asks questions such as, “So, we formed this new committee. How many women, people of color and queer people who represent our industry are on this committee?” In this quest, she does not seek preferential treatment for her wines because she is a female winemaker, but to have a fair shot selling her wines at the same price point as male winemakers producing similar wines.

  For those looking for more diversity at their wineries, Horn recommends identifying their demo-graphic and designing marketing materials to attract these consumers. “It’s kind of the Field of Dreams thing that ‘if you build it, they will come.’”

  Also, Horn said events like Taste Washington enabled her to truly understand consumers’ inter-ests. “When I went to Taste and stared creating relationships with people, these barriers didn’t melt away, but they were certainly lowered.”

Making Connections Regionally and Nationally

  Kerry Shiels, winemaker, Côte Bonneville in Sunnyside, Washington, felt fortunate to grow up with a mother who decided to start her winery along with many of the pioneering people in the Yakima Valley, such as Sara Spayd, Kay Simon and Marie Eve Gilla. “When my mom decided to start our winery, quality, consistency and continuous improvement were important attributes, and remain so to this day.” These women winemakers and viticulturists motivated her to get her graduate degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California Davis and work around the world before returning home.

  Jody Elsom, winemaker and owner of Elsom Cellars in Seattle, benefited from making connec-tions with local women winemakers. In particular, her interests lie in the rise of women getting their hands dirty by hanging out in the vineyard and the cellar. She recalled that when she started in the industry, she would show up to vineyards in her minivan to purchase fruit with a newborn baby and pregnant with another one. The vineyard manager would come up to her van and knock on her window, suggesting that perhaps she took a wrong turn. “It was an interesting experience for me being in that situation. I was a single mom and had to take my kids with me,” Elsom said.

  She found support with the Sisters of the Vinifera Revolution, a group of women based in western Washington who serve as a resource for female winemakers trying to break into what she describes as the “good ole boys club.” “The camaraderie has really grown, and it’s like we’ve cre-ated our own little support network–bouncing these stupid questions off of one another without feeling stupid.” 

  Elsom also benefited from bringing together female business owners from other industries and exposing them to SOVR’s wine and what they’re doing. “We all can see we have similar chal-lenges regardless of our particular industry.”

  Like Elsom, Anna Schafer, winemaker at àMaurice Vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington, found it challenging to make wine while young and pregnant, and then after having a newborn. Since her father and other male growers supported her, Schafer did not perceive her role as a winemak-er as unique. She credits her fellow winemakers in the Walla Walla Wine Alliance as wanting her to succeed, being supportive and willing to help. “If you’re there to listen, people are there to help you,” Schafer said.

  Holly Turner, winemaker at Three Rivers Winery, also found support among her fellow winemakers in the Walla Walla AVA. She, too, acknowledged the challenges still inherent in the in-dustry. “I’m pretty sure most women in the wine industry have a bit of feisty grit that has gotten them to where they are today.”

Resources for Women Winemakers

Bâtonnage Community

Winewomen.net

Womenofthevine.com

Reliability, Performance & Versatility Determine Winery Pump Choices

Photo Courtesy of Gorman-Rupp Pumps

 By: Gerald Dlubala  

When it comes to pumps used in the winery, there’s a pump to match every size and budget, and usually, those two variables are the deciding factors,” said Ross Battersby, sales and equipment design professional for Carlsen and Associates, an industry leader in winemaking equipment and systems. 

  “But speed can also play a part,” he said. “Large scale wineries are usually more interested in that aspect, but for the smaller volume wineries, it’s best to use something that gives the user the ability to move it around the facility for different applications. Air operated diaphragm pumps like our Yamada series are popular for wine transfer applications because they are less complicated to operate, gentle on your juice and easy to maintain and service. Positive displacement pumps like our Waukesha 130 are winery workhorses. They are popular choices and loved throughout the wine industry because of their portability and versatility. By simply using a different diameter of hose, you can easily use the same pump for many different applications throughout the winery, including must, moving 30 to 320 GPM.”

  Battersby told The Grapevine Magazine that Carlsen Waukesha’s positive displacement pumps are the best solution for all of a winery’s needs, including bottling, juice transfer, pump-overs, barrel work and must pumping. Positive displacement pumps consist of winged rotors, similar to interlocking ice cream scoops that turn and lock your fruit in and then push it out without causing any structural damage to the grapes. Pump speed is directly related to your desired GPM flow rate. Positive displacement pumps allow the operator to reverse the flow and pump wine back into the tank if and when needed. Battersby said this would be even more beneficial if your lines are configured in short runs.

  “Carlsen Waukesha pumps are operator friendly, reversible, reliable and truly last forever with minimal maintenance,” he said. “Performing annual oiling and occasional O-ring replacement, maybe three or four times a year depending on the amount of use, you’ve got a reliable, multi-use, workhorse pump.

  “But the important thing for operators to know for whatever type or brand of pump they choose to use, is that your enemy is cavitation,” said Battersby. “Cavitation occurs when the pump head can’t quite keep up with the pump speed, causing the pump to start extracting the dissolved gases in your product. It tends to happen whenever the winemaker’s only consideration in the pumping process is speed. It’s very noticeable when the hoses or lines at the end of the pump start flopping around like a fish while making a loud thrashing sound. This will eventually pit the stainless head or crack diaphragms on your pumps. It’s critical to match the orifices on your pump to the diameter of the lines that you use.”

  Battersby said that when looking to buy a pump for your winery, two main features are critical—the number of gallons per minute, or flow rate, and the head pressure, or pounds per square inch. Flow rate is self-explanatory, but your winery layout should always be considered when looking into the head pressure and pounds per square inch capabilities of a pump system.

  “We like to say that short suction provides the best delivery, so it’s best if you’re able to have everything close together for shorter lines and maximum pump efficiency,” said Battersby. “The longer your run, the more friction you have building up with your flow, making the pump work harder to move the wine. Add in the valves and bends in your lines, and it starts to take a bite out of the ability and efficiency of the pumps, especially must pumps. You have to take into consideration the highest head pressure your pumps will experience on your facility’s longest run. If you’re pumping up a high arc into a tank, there’s a lot of head pressure building up.

  “Air operated diaphragm pumps can shut off against this scenario while still holding pressure. If those same lines shut down while using a positive displacement pump and you’re not there to shut it down, the pump will keep rolling and, in short notice, will blow a line. There are pump options to help with this, like a float switch that will shut things off based on the float level. You can also set cycle timers that will switch off and on based on what you set as an adequate cycle to pump the amount of liquid over you want to move.

  “Because of these scenarios, we see a lot of tanks with their own dedicated and fixed base pump, usually a centrifugal pump, for pump-overs. They’ll have a screen over the pump and [be] programmed to do pump-overs unmanned, which is a godsend for wineries experiencing labor shortages. This worked wonders during all the recent wildfires, helping winemakers monitor and control their pumping functions from their iPhones. Winemaking protocols have changed a bit, so this type of slower, shorter bursts of pump-overs has become more common instead of one long pumping session.” 

  Like positive displacement pumps, centrifugal pumps are a reliable, long-lasting pump option for winery applications, complete with minimal maintenance needs and mechanical seals.

  “Centrifugal pumps have gotten a bad rap in the industry,” said Battersby. “In the old days, they were only set up to run at top speed, somewhere around 750 rpm. The only way to change the speed was to use methods to baffle the flow, but then the pump would keep running and shear your liquid apart. Now we have variable speed controls to tune the centrifugal pump to the speed that’s appropriate for the process. Our Waukesha 200 Series Centrifugal Pumps have been very successful, mainly used in wineries for the pump-over process and juice transfers. These pumps can empty a tanker truck in about a half-hour. The centrifugal transfer pumps allow solid particles to pass through without harming or changing their structure that would cause product breakdown. Centrifugal pumps do have to remain below the liquid level because they don’t have the self-priming capabilities of other pumps.”

Gorman-Rupp Pumps Provide Performance And Serviceability

  “We’re probably best known for our self-priming waste and trash pumps, used after the initial winemaking process is completed,” said Jeff Hannan, Product Manager-Centrifugal Pumps for Gorman-Rupp Pumps, a leading producer of waste and sewer handling applications in many industries, including wineries.

  “Our pumps can pass three-inch spherical solids when needed, and they won’t clog or bog down during the process. When we came out with our modified T Series Pumps a few years ago, it changed the way wineries go about their cleanup and waste removal. Our Super T Series, equipped with our Eradicator Solids Management System, can pass two and a half inch solids using three-inch lines, and our four-inch lines will easily move three-inch spherical solid masses. Our Eradicator Solids Management system design is an excellent choice for an easy-to-operate,  no-clog, self-cleaning pumping system.”

  Gorman-Rupp’s Eradicator system incorporates an aggressive self-cleaning wear plate containing several notches and grooves, plus a lacerating tooth to break up solids and pass them through the pump as smaller particles, ultimately reducing clog-related downtime. The Eradicator system’s additional benefits include easy access to impellers, improved efficiency, fewer maintenance costs and lower life-cycle costs. Pumps equipped with the Eradicator system do not use consumable chopper blades and are available in cast iron or hard iron configurations. The Eradicator system can also be retrofitted into all sizes of current Gorman-Rupp Super T Series pumps that are already operating in the field.

  “Our pumps are designed with removable inspection covers, wear plates and material covers,” said Hannan. “We’ve always included back cover plates for manual clog cleaning access, but those plates can get heavy, upwards of 100 pounds, so they weren’t very convenient to move and maneuver. Now we have a separate inspection plate, only weighing about 15 pounds for performing the same task, so you get the quick, pointed access needed without having to remove the entire backplate of the pump. Quicker cleaning means quicker resolution and more uptime, and that’s always the goal. This type of design was initially used to help municipal waste lines deal with those so-called flushable wipes that were not, and still are not, flushable in any way. Anything stringy like that can ball up and get hung up in the eye of an impeller, causing notches and grooving in the teeth and interior parts. The Eradicator system minimizes those issues. Then, with every rotation, the eye of the impeller is wiped clean so that there is no buildup on the impeller, and the waste can continue to pass through the system and lines.”

  “No matter what type or size of pumps you choose to use, you need to look ease of maintenance, reliability and longevity statistics of the pump, and of course the reputation of the pump manufacturer,” said Hannan. “The maintenance and service needs of Gorman-Rupp pumps are minimal and easy. Clearances between the impellers and the backplate are easily adjusted externally through the use of adjustable and locking collars to get the pump’s settings back to original factory clearance. This is important because as the gap between those parts widens with use, pump efficiency goes down. Being able to check and adjust those gaps from an external vantage point is a big advantage in retaining pump efficiency and uptime.”

  Gorman-Rupp offers full five-year warranties on their pumps, with many local distributors always willing to help and solve problems.

  “Our pumps are pretty simple to work on and maintain, with it being common to now get 25 to 30 years of service out of them,” said Hannan. “Gorman-Rupp pumps are manufactured so that the important and normal wear parts can be replaced on their own without having to replace the whole pump. And our pumps can handle all situations, including caustic cleanup activities.”

Crush Season Opens with New Methods and Challenges

By: Cheryl Gray

Annual harvests of wine grapes are already underway, and that means two words are now in motion: crush season.

  Whether in-house winery processing or custom crush and wine production services, crush season 2020 is like no other. While the challenges in each wine region are different, industry experts say that there are universal standards. The checklist includes planning, preparation, equipment maintenance, PPE for workers, supplies, lab testing for grapes, and, this year, health and safety measures that protect against the coronavirus pandemic. Not only is COVID-19 impacting crush season, but unusual weather in some parts of the United States is also affecting grape harvests.  

  For these reasons and more, this year’s crush season demands a new approach. Such is the case in Texas, where Texas Custom Wine Works, located just outside Lubbock, services vineyards across the Lone Star State. Cary Franklin is Vice President. 

  “One thing to note about this year is that we have seen widespread damage across the High Plains of Texas from an early freeze [last] October. Most growers are down 50 to 80% of their average crop. Many plants are completely wiped out and have been cut down and re-planted,” says Franklin. “The Texas wine industry has been forced to become very creative to sell wine during COVID-19 related closures. The loss of sales, combined with a major shortage of wine grapes, is creating a very interesting situation for this harvest and possible effects the industry could see over the next few years.”

  Fruit that survived arrived early this year, says Franklin, some of it as soon as mid-June. The company’s advanced planning and preparation, starting as early as February, is all the more important this crush season. As the fruit ripens, an in-house lab gives growers across Texas an opportunity to test field samples for Brix, pH, TA and seed color. Michael Hellman is Texas Custom Wine Works executive winemaker. 

  “High heat and drought-like conditions this year are causing some very high Brix and early development,” says Hellman. “We are seeing most varieties ripen at the same time. Even some of the reds will be coming in before whites.”

  In addition to standard-issue PPE supplies, such as goggles, raincoats, rubber boots and gloves, Texas Custom Wine Works has incorporated industry-wide COVID-19 protections in its health and safety protocols. Hellman says that other worker protections for entering tanks and press cleaning are standard procedure. 

  “Removing grape skins from a large tank requires tank entry and can release large amounts of CO2 as the skins are removed,” he says. “Our procedures require anyone entering a tank to have proper PPE and an O2 sensor on them with a fan pushing fresh air in the tank before entering.”

  In California’s Sonoma County, the award-winning Rack and Riddle Custom Wine Services begin harvesting the first week of August. The full-service wine production operation is famous for creating sparkling wines using the traditional French process known as Méthode Champenoise. Penelope Gadd-Coster, Executive Director of Winemaking, and a well-respected master of the Méthode Champenoise process, says that planning for crush season happens virtually year-round. 

  “Planning really never ends, as we are evaluating the wines for the blends, evaluating what has worked and what didn’t, upgrading equipment—all working towards the next harvest,” she says.

  Not one to rest on its gold medal wins in international and regional competitions, Gadd-Coster says that Rack and Riddle continually works on ways to make good wine better. Its winemaking team provides a thorough assessment of key fundamentals, such as training and workflow. Consideration of new processes and equipment plays a role in determining what will work towards improving the end product.

  “By May, we are looking at vineyards closely and working with growers,” says Gadd-Coster. “Projects are being evaluated to make sure they will be ready for harvest. About a month before harvest, the meetings become weekly to fine-tune protocols, train teams and check equipment. Then, harvest begins!”

  Key to that harvest is equipment—looking for innovation and keeping existing machinery in shape. Gadd-Coster says both earn equal attention.

  “There seems to always be something we see to make processing more efficient,” she says. “We have a new lees filter and some flotation pumps for this year. Maintenance always wants to check all of your equipment: pumps, crusher, presses, filters, temperature gauges, heating and cooling systems, punch down devices, lab equipment, scale, forklifts, pomace truck—anything mechanical—two to four months ahead of harvest.”   

  No matter the size of the operation, those in the wine industry know to expect the unexpected. Among the largest in the business is Napa Valley’s Trinchero Family Estates, which introduced the world to the first White Zinfandel. Since its founding in 1948, the company has amassed a globally recognized brand portfolio of some fifty wines and spirits. Its harvest begins in early August. Glenn Andrade is Senior Vice President of Winemaking. 

  “We know that preparation for the upcoming harvest starts after the finish of the previous harvest,” Andrade says. “Learning from every step and building onto our knowledge with each passing year is so important. We do extensive recap meetings to determine what our successes were and identify areas where we can make improvements. Hiring staff for harvest is also critical—which we start in January and do through July before harvest. Getting those folks and our regular employees trained on safety is a priority for us. Then, of course, reviewing grapes, barrels and all other harvest ingredients before the fruit starts to come in.”

  Andrade says Trinchero Family Estates has an intensive, year-round equipment maintenance protocol to accommodate its massive operational needs. Its COVID-19 protocols include on-site test kits and a company-instituted emergency response plan. 

  “This year, we’ve added a complete backup team called the Winemaking Response Team, which are individuals within our organization who can be activated if our labor force should be depleted due to COVID-19. This team is being safety trained and trained to jump in with a day’s notice to support harvest activities at any site.”

  In Washington state’s Yakima Valley, Two Mountain Winery begins fruit picking around mid-August, transferring grapes to the winery’s production facility at the beginning of September. Patrick Rawn, General Manager and head of vineyard operations, says that crush season increases the winery and farm labor team by about 30 workers. Equipment maintenance is also a priority.

  “Our primary preparation is ensuring all equipment, both farm and winery, is fully serviced and prepared to operate safely and efficiently. Additionally, any new equipment is installed and operational by [August 1], so any kinks can be worked out, and the team properly trained. We also try to predict what the timing will be so we can be sure our hand labor teams are large enough.  Along with this is training of any additional team members.”

  On the same grape-growing 45th parallel is Black Star Farms. The family-owned winemaking enterprise, located on the Leelanau Peninsula of Northern Michigan, typically begins harvest during the last week of September. Lee Lutes, winemaker and managing member, says that this year’s timetable for the winery could be different. 

  “Harvest typically begins the last week of September with early hybrid white varieties (Cayuga, Frontenac Gris) and fruit for traditional method sparkling wines,” says Lutes. “In a year like this, as we are advanced at this stage, that could move up one week or so. September is the telltale month for our industry, and much will depend on how the weather is during that month. We will be crushing approximately 650 tons of fruit between the two facilities. We farm approximately 175 acres of that, and the balance is purchased from a couple of long-time local growers.”

  Aurora Cellars is also located on Leelanau Peninsula. This full production boutique winery usually begins crush season in late September. Winemaker Drew Perry says that in late August, he spends time with the winery’s vineyard manager, testing fruit in every block twice weekly, charting a trajectory for harvest. As to fundamentals, Perry champions good and constant communication.

  “I begin by looking at what we ideally want to produce and create a master list of all the ingredients I will need to achieve that scenario.”

  Perry says that equipment maintenance occurs a week before the region’s cherry harvest, serving as “spring training” for the grape harvest.

  “Harvest is the most equipment intensive time of year. Much of the equipment we use during harvest is only used for that three-month period,” he says. “The presses, destemmer, crusher, and fruit elevator are our lifeblood this time of year.”

  Crush season 2020 is like no other in recent memory. The combination of a pandemic and adverse weather has affected nearly every facet of the wine industry—from the vineyard to labor to inventory still on hand. The path to recovery, some experts say, includes creative thinking and time-tested perseverance.

Wine Filtration Basics

By: Alyssa L. Ochs  

Filtration is a technique that winemakers use to clarify wine and remove sediment and haze. Through one of several processes, filtration prevents wine from appearing cloudy and re-fermenting in the bottle. It’s typically done using membranes or pads, but there are various methods that wineries can use to achieve their desired flavor and appearance. Therefore, it’s essential to learn about the basics of wine filtration, including methods of filtration commonly used, maintenance and cleaning considerations and tips for choosing a filtration system that works best for your winery.

The Purpose of Filtration

  One primary reason winemakers filter their wine is to make it look and taste more polished. Filtration also improves the microbial stability of wine, which prevents premature spoilage that makes a wine undrinkable. Typically, white wines are filtered to give them clarity. Some red wines are not filtered because they are better at absorbing off-aromas and flavors. This leads many winemakers to only filter reds when necessary and no more than truly needed.

Types and Methods of Filtration

  Filtration methods vary among wineries based on facility size, budget and wine quality. The most common methods of filtration used today are gravity-feed and pressurized systems. Gravity-feed filter systems offer coarse filtration, are affordable and ideal for small quantities of wine. However, these systems cannot effectively do very fine filtrations. Enter pressurized filter systems, which offer faster processing times and finer filtrations, making them more favorable among larger wineries. Unfortunately, pressurized systems also come with a higher price tag.

  Peter Wojnarowicz, President of Filter Process & Supply in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, told The Grapevine Magazine that the method of filtration depends on a couple of factors. He said that the size of the winery is the most important factor, followed by the winemaker’s preferred method of processing. Filter Process & Supply started working in the craft beverage market over 10 years ago, giving them the insight and experience to explain each system’s pros and cons and find the right one for your winery.

  “Larger scale wineries use more crossflow systems, followed by the filter press, then lenticular (stacked disc). Rounding out the last method, small mom-and-pop wineries may use a cartridge-based system,” Wojnarowicz said. “Filter Process & Supply can provide all four types of filtration. There are advantages and some disadvantages of the four methods.”

  Filter Process & Supply works with established wineries and start-ups and has a consultative approach that helps people understand that filtration does not have to be a headache, even though it can be at times. 

  “After the set-up and training, our customers become more comfortable in filtering,” said Wojnarowicz. “Our goal is to process the entire batch without replacing filters, as that not only wastes wine but also time.”

  The type of filter pad used during filtration is also something to consider. Filter pads are rated by microns, and each type—coarse, medium and fine—has a useful purpose in winemaking. Coarse pads help polish a wine without making it lose its color or body. Medium-micron pads are a standard, all-purpose pad that will only take a limited amount of body and color out of a wine. Fine pads can remove 80% or more of leftover yeast and sediment and are best used after filtering through a medium pad.

  Depth filtration is a process in which wine moves in a perpendicular flow towards the filter, allowing clean wine to pass through after particles get captured within. These particles build-up, causing pressure in the filter to increase and flow rate to decrease. Once the filter reaches a termination point, the winemaker must clean the system before continuing to use it. There are a few different forms of depth filters used for making wine, including pressure leaf, plate and frame, cartridge and lenticular.

Filtration Strategies and Steps

  There are different times in which a particular filtration type makes more sense than others. The smallest particles in wine are colloidal or precipitated proteins, which are about 0.2 to five microns, compared to yeast and bacteria that are in the 0.65 to three microns range. Grape solids and fining agents can be hundreds of microns in size.

  The first step in this process is pre-filtration, which involves removing the larger particles in suspension. Often this method includes filter pads with diatomaceous earth. These same products can be used to polish wine after this initial phase.

  The next stage moves wine through a sheet or module filtration process to reduce yeasts and bacteria. Finally, sterile filtration with a 0.45-membrane cartridge is performed after the wine is made as clear and bright as desired.

  Crossflow filtration is a technique that was first developed for the food industry in the 1940s and has become popular in winemaking in more recent decades. Developers have created a new membrane that works better for wine, increases flow rates and makes systems more automated and easier to clean. For wine filtration, the common types of membranes are hollow fiber, spiral wound and ceramic.

Filtration Maintenance, Replacement and Cleaning

  Not only is it important to learn about the different methods and processes of filtration, but also the best practices for cleaning those systems and keeping them working. One tip to remember is to store unused filter cartridges in a clean and dry environment. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper rinsing and cleaning a filtration system after use. Organic matter can stick to the surface of the membrane and clog the filter in an undesirable way if it’s not cleaned and sanitized well. 

  The filter equipment cleaning process involves pumping with an adjustable flow that can be back-pressured and withstand temperatures of around 125 degrees. PBW cleaner, a non-caustic cleaning product made with alkaline, is often used along with SaniClean or StarSan products in large buckets. Set the filter up to soak, purge the filter, rinse with hot water and acid rinse with SaniClean for the best results. Since each filtration system is a bit different, it’s best to check with the company where you purchased the equipment to inquire about the availability and cost of replacement parts.

  “We take the approach that all contact surfaces with wine should be kept clean and sanitized,” said Wojnarowicz. “Sanitizing before use is highly recommended. I have seen customers using the same barbed tri-clamp hose for years and kind of cringe knowing that the hose was clear braid, and now it is discolored beyond recognition, and you cannot adequately clean into the barbs. Fitted hoses are better; however, the lifecycle of hoses should be monitored.”

Common Filtration Mistakes

  Wojnarowicz told The Grapevine Magazine there are a few common challenges for wineries, especially when there are too little filter media with too much flow. 

  “For filtration in general, we size for a two psi or less clean pressure drop,” he said. “Flow rates and pressure differential will vary depending on how coarse or fine the porosity of the media is. With cellulose media, the clean pressure drop is typically higher, between five and 10 psi after wetting out. Generally, the higher the initial pressure, the shorter the life of the filter.”

  Another common mistake that Wojnarowicz has noticed is the inadequate conditioning of the filter media sheet or pad.

  “I have seen wineries use the pads and stacked disc right of the box with no rinsing or conditioning,” he said. “Conditioning with citric acid recirculation helps remove the initial wet cardboard taste associated with cellulose. After a 20-minute recirculation, flush with an adequate amount of fresh water, and the taste should be neutral.”  

Choosing a Filtration System

  Every experienced winemaker has a preferred way to filter wine, which is one of the many reasons why winemaking is more of an art than a science. Before purchasing a pump-based system for filtration, vintners might want to see if the product is available to rent. Wojnarowicz said they will typically pilot-trial equipment on a rental basis so the customer understands what is involved.

  Determine the capacity needed for filtration and talk to filtration companies about what types of systems can best accommodate that volume. Since each filtration pad rating is useful for different levels of clarification, wineries may benefit from keeping multiple pad types on hand.

Pumps for Filtration

  Pumps are an essential part of the filtration process, and winemakers should work with companies that can guide them towards the best pumps to use for this purpose.

  “If a customer has an existing pump, we incorporate the pump into the process as long as it makes sense,” Wojnarowicz said. “We have the ability to provide equipment for both large and small wineries. While the pump can matter, rubber impeller pumps are the most popular. Positive displacement pumps work well, as the flow tends not to decay as pressure builds. I do not care for diaphragm pumps due to the pulsing, which interferes with a stable gauge reading. Pulsation also disrupts the particle build up on the filter and can force irregularly shaped particles through the media.” 

  Filter Process & Supply recently became an East Coast distributor for Francesca Pumps after meeting with their North American representative at an Iowa trade show. Functions of this pump include pulling a vacuum from 8.5 meters, running dry for 90 seconds without damage, having a pump panel programmed for spraying the cap as many times as necessary, and not de-gassing wine due to excessive suction. This pump also has an optional function for filling barrels without fear of overflowing and pumping whole grapes from the de-stemmer into the fermenter.

Current Filtration Trends

  As with many aspects of winemaking, some filtering methods and processes are currently trending with winemakers. Fining is sometimes used as an alternative to filtration because it is a more affordable way to get control over tannin profiles while also achieving heat stability. Crossflow technology and new lees recovery developments are trending because of the energy efficiency potential. For example, crossflow filtration methods now have lower water consumption and waste production, are more resistant to heat and chemicals and have lower polysaccharide and polyphenol absorption.

Wojnarowicz said that the primary trend his company has seen is the use of backwashable media. However, while he agrees that backwashable media is cost-effective for use in the beer market, wine is another matter.

  “I would hate to recommend a backwashable media to a winery and find they stored the lenticular media for three months, then found it had odors and mold growth throughout pore structure,” Wojnarowicz said. “Even if stored based on the factory instructions, cellulose media is an organic, and organics can decay and pick up minute flavor notes. Pall Filters is a big promotor of backwash media for wine, but from what we have seen and discussed with knowledgeable industry personnel, why risk using a previously used depth filter on a flagship wine? I am not saying it cannot be done, but not everyone will re-condition media correctly.”

Filtration Tips and Advice

  Among the many best practices for wine filtration are to rinse the filter with clean water before the first use and always sterilize the filter materials with hot water. Make sure to follow the product specifications for the specific filtration system you choose and keep up with regular maintenance. Also, understand that filtration has its limitations when it comes to wine because merely using a filter won’t make a cloudy wine clear or drastically change the flavor profile to something it wasn’t meant to be.

  Wojnarowicz said that when reviewing a start-up or existing winery’s filtration goals, the gentle impaction of wine on the filter media will yield a larger throughput compared to pumping as fast as possible to get through the process. He also said the correct sizing of the pump and the filter media are crucial.

  “As a general rule, we recommend about one-half to one GPM per square foot of filter media,” he said. “You can certainly go two to three GPM per square foot or more, but the higher flow will compact the solids and pore structure, shortening the media life. Most 40-plate filter presses have one-inch ID on the piping, so flowing 15 to 20 GPM is about the maximum we recommend. The surface area and micron rating typically dictate flow recommendation.”   

  Wojnarowicz also said that the type of pump can also affect the wine. 

  “The suction side of the pump can de-gas wine, which degrades the wine,” he said. “There are sensors available to alert the operator of too much suction. If you are using a clear hose, the bubble formation in the hose can be the telltale sign.”

The Unexpected is Growing in Niagara

By: Alyssa Andres

As a cool climate wine region, the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, Canada, is traditionally known for planting specific grape varietals that thrive in a colder climate. The region is known for its delicate Riesling and Cabernet Franc with a distinct note of green pepper. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are planted widely across the Peninsula and flourish. This is unsurprising since Niagara is situated at the same 43-degree latitude as Burgundy, France. However, that is not all that is being planted in Niagara. Within the region, winemakers and grape growers are experimenting with the unexpected, taking on grape varietals that have never before been grown in Canada.

  It’s true; Niagara is technically a cool climate wine region, but the weather varies dramatically from year-to-year,  just as in Bordeaux. In certain years, temperatures start rising as early as April or May, and early bud bursts allow for an extremely long ripening season. Other years the region can be devastated by frost shortly after temperatures start to rise, and winemakers are at risk of losing entire crops. Summers are warm and even Mediterranean, with days reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Long, sunny periods leading into the winter let even late-ripening grapes become quite juicy in the warmest of vintages and allow winemakers to create single-varietal expressions of grapes typically known to be hot climate varietals.

  J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux of Stratus Vineyards is one winemaker that began experimenting with warm climate varietals as soon as he started his vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2006. Known for his mastery of the Old World Art of assemblage, when Groux planted his first vines, he included half an acre each of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Tannat and Mourvedre. He wanted to experiment with what was possible in Ontario, and use this unique combination of grapes to create his Stratus Red blend, an annual release that Groux deems the perfect combination of aromatics, mouthfeel, length and complexity.

  Of the four unexpected varietals, the only one that did not survive the Canadian climate was Mourvedre. Even after being left on the vine until December 21st, the berries were still not ripe enough. However, the other three grapes were successful, including Tannat, which is known to be extremely late-ripening. Traditionally grown in the South of France and now the national grape of Uruguay, Tannat requires excessive heat and sun to avoid being overly acidic and astringent. This means that in Ontario, a lot of maintenance is needed in the vineyard to achieve success with Tannat, and, as a result, it is an expensive varietal to produce.

  All of the leaf removal, pruning, crop thinning and picking of the Tannat is done by hand with the goal of creating the best expression of the grape as possible. Unlike in hot climate wine regions, there is no risk of sunburn for the grapes in Ontario. Pruning must be done early; most of the leaves are removed from the vines in the spring to allow grape clusters complete exposure to the sun. After leaf removal, the crops must undergo a complete adjustment, with the majority of the fruit getting dropped to the ground, reducing yields from approximately six tons an acre down to just two. Yield reduction encourages more quality grapes that are at less risk of being underripe. Frost eliminates most of the leaves by late October or November, but the winter can still see lots of sunshine during the daytime and can lengthen the harvest substantially. The grapes are left on the vine to ripen for as long as possible; most years, Tannat will not be harvested until the second week of November.

  Groux typically uses the Tannat in his Stratus Red Blend to add acidity, tannin and alcohol. If the Tannat is needed for the blend, 100% of harvested grapes will go into it. In some years, however, Groux has been able to produce a single varietal expression of the grape. In 2017, an early budburst and a late harvest meant an amazing yield for Tannat, and Stratus was able to release a 2017 single varietal expression. 2018 brought heavy rainfall during harvest, and, as a result, was a bad vintage for Tannat. However, Stratus managed to produce a 2018 single varietal Petit Verdot that was just bottled this past July. It won’t be until May 2021 that Stratus winemakers decide if the 2019 Tannat grapes will be used in a blend or on their own. This year looks promising for the hot climate grape, with lots of heat and sunshine sweeping across the Niagara-on-the-Lake region so far this summer.

  This year’s weather is also helpful at Ridgepoint Wines in Vineland on the Niagara Escarpment, where winemaker Mauro Scarsellone has been growing Nebbiolo since 1999. The warm weather is a relief for Scarsellone after experiencing harsh winters in Ontario the past couple of years. Cold weather is the biggest issue for Nebbiolo grapes, which need to spend more time on the vine to ripen fully. While the vines can survive the cold, it is challenging to produce a reliable Nebbiolo every year in the Niagara region. To achieve a quality product requires a lot of thought in the vineyard. The yield of the vines will have a significant impact on the wine, so Scarsellone will thin clusters to as few as one or two per shoot. During veraison, if he sees clusters that have not significantly started to ripen, he will drop the fruit to the ground, reducing the yield to as little as one and a half tons per acre. 

  In the hottest years, Ridgepoint can produce single-varietal Nebbiolo that is reminiscent of a Barolo. In cooler vintages, the Nebbiolo starts to resemble a Barbaresco, a softer expression with more elegant, floral notes. The winery is currently offering its 2010 Nebbiolo in the tasting room, a big and bold wine with smooth tannins and a lengthy finish. However, this is not their only unexpected offering.

   Ridgepoint is also offering a sparkling wine made from what could be the only Glera growing in North America. Glera is a Northern Italian grape that is the dominant grape used in Prosecco. By definition, Prosecco must be made using 85% or more Glera and made in the Charmat method. Scarsellone wanted to make his own version of Prosecco from Ontario but could not find Glera vines growing anywhere within the region. He started asking around in British Columbia and even California to no avail. After an intense search, he discovered a grape grower in Stoney Creek, Ontario, whose father was born in Friuli, Italy, and had brought Glera vines over to Canada 20 years prior. Scarsellone bought all the grapes the farmer produced in 2019 to use in his version of Prosecco. The resulting sparkling wine is bright and fruity with notes of mandarin orange, ripe peach and even tropical notes of guava and passionfruit. While technically the wine cannot be bottled under the classification of Prosecco because of labeling laws surrounding the term, it’s an exciting first for the Niagara Peninsula and Ridgepoint Wines. Equally as exciting, 2020 is the first year the winery will grow Glera on-site.

  Scarsellone plans to continue experimenting with classic Italian grapes in his vineyard. He is growing Rondinella and Corvina for use in an authentic style Appassimento, but he says he has to be careful. He currently uses approximately 25% of the vineyard for “sensitive” varieties that run the risk of not making it through to harvest. It’s a balance between an art and a business for him, and each year brings new challenges. This year, he says, he almost put up a “for sale” sign after temperatures dropped and snow hit in mid-May, forcing him to use wind machines to keep frost off the newly budding vines. However, he managed to pull through and is cautiously optimistic about the 2020 vintage. With lots of sunshine, heat and a lack of moisture so far this summer, the berries should be ripe and concentrated as long as there isn’t too much rain throughout harvest. September and October can be tumultuous months for the wine region and can make or break a vintage. 

  Grape growers and winemakers in the Niagara Peninsula can only hold their breath and wait to see what kind of weather the rest of 2020 will bring. Temperatures might rise or fall, and winemakers will have to react accordingly to ensure the quality of their crops. By planting a diverse variety of grapes that thrive well under different circumstances, winemakers can ensure they have a successful harvest each year. From Tannat and Nebbiolo to Corvina, Malbec, Aglianico and Old Vine Foch, it is all growing in Ontario. As this New World wine region continues to grow and blossom, it is becoming more apparent that Niagara is capable of more than just ice wine—it is becoming a world-class wine region for the unexpected.

Keeping it Social: How to Approach Your Online Connections Post-COVID

By: Tracey L. Kelley

Aspects of target marketing are quite fluid right now and are projected to be for some time. As the world continues a slow but seemingly progressive recovery from COVID-19, and as the United States, in particular, addresses other key issues affecting its citizens, how you approach a purposeful social media presence for your brand has a significant impact on your turnaround.

In an article for Scientific American, tech expert David Pogue said, “No longer are you on top of the mountain, blasting your marketing message down to the masses through your megaphone. All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another.” These are the conversations and actions you need to engage in on your social platforms to reposition your wines, tasting room, community engagement and other advances of your business.

Community and Locality Matter Now More than Ever

You may have experienced extra support from existing and new customers during the pandemic. This momentum, said Meaghan Webster, is essential to maintain through online channels. “People are sourcing inspiration from social media for how to support local businesses and their employees. There’s been a huge push from consumers to support local restaurants and beverage producers they know are struggling, and wineries should acknowledge this sentiment on social media, emphasizing the local nature of their products.”

Webster is the founder of Meaghan W. Marketing and current marketing manager for First Batch Hospitality, the group behind urban winemaking and events at Brooklyn Winery in New York, District Winery in Washington, D.C., and RiNo Point Winery in Denver. She told The Grapevine Magazine that how you use social media to enhance alliances in the community—both with your charitable partnerships and to celebrate the efforts of employees and customers—matters now. So steep your posts with gratitude. “For example, if a winery is donating a percentage of its sales to recovery for their laid-off employees or a special industry fund, then social posts referencing these efforts should thank followers and customers for contributing to the stated cause,” she said. “People love when you show them the impact that their purchase has made. Therefore, follow up and post about how much ended up being contributed to the cause.”

Chad Richards is vice president of Firebelly, a “social media marketing agency on a mission since 2007” based in Indianapolis. Firebelly has worked with JUSTIN Winery and Landmark Vineyards, as well as breweries and restaurants. Richards also recommended taking a less self-serving approach. “Whatever you do, make sure the hero is the charity or community you’re supporting. Nothing elicits eye rolls faster than ‘Look at us—we’re so charitable!’”

If you shredded your social media plan already, don’t worry. There’s still strong potential for authentic communication. “Humans like stories, and we’re storytellers by nature. It’s how we connect to one another, and right now, people are seeking connection more than ever,” Richards said. “And don’t worry about trying to be creative or clever—just be honest.”

We all appreciate uplifting stories right now, according to the media team at Happy Medium, a full-service digital creative agency in Des Moines, Iowa. Keeping this intent in mind helps you craft social media content that showcases community involvement as a result of the energy of your brand and, by close relation, all your customers.

“Overall, audiences tend to react well to community involvement because it’s inspirational and aspirational. If your team is volunteering, share a photo of employees at the volunteer event. If you made a charitable donation, ask the recipient to share digital assets that align with the cause you’re helping them support,” the Happy Medium media team said. “This demonstrates how your brand builds and supports communities in a way that’s relatable and impactful. Write a brief caption about why the cause you’re supporting is relevant to the brand. Always tag the organization!”

Creating Evocative Content

The critical nuts and bolts of pandemic communication are still necessary. On your website and across all social media channels, points about safety, sanitary practices, operational hours and tasting room traffic allowances, among others, must be continuously updated and with proper sensitivity. But, Webster added, you can also use this time to create a haven of comfort.

“Offering a bit of escape from reality is received very well, according to social media analytics for the wineries I work for,” she said. “People are longing for normal times of the past, which means they enjoy seeing photos of what wineries were like before everything shut down. All businesses should be especially cognizant of the tone they use, and always acknowledge the current state of the world in their captions in some way. But providing the nostalgia and temporary escape that followers are looking for right now is a good way to keep people engaged.”

Webster suggested showing the human side of the business through Instagram stories and static posts to “connect people of the business with people who want to support the business.” What’s going on in the vineyards right now? Who’s putting wine shipments together while the winery is closed? What’s the origin story of the winery and vineyard, how did it evolve pre-COVID and how is it navigating this difficult time?

“While the entire story may be long and not fit into one social media post, a winery should know its full narrative, so when it writes a shorter Instagram caption or creates a few slides of an Instagram story about their business, they can distill the most important parts down into a digestible format, and weave it into posts whenever they can,” Webster said.

Happy Medium advised using interactive content whenever possible, to build confidence and trust. “Customers are more likely to engage with content that entertains, educates and tells an authentic story. Engaging customers with your content makes your brand more memorable and creates a deeper connection,” the media team said. “Try incorporating polls, question and answer stickers, or feature the people who make your brand what it is in Instagram stories or by hosting a live stream. Both of these are growing social trends that bolster higher engagement and should be a staple to any social media strategy.”

Don’t feel you have to do all the heavy lifting of brand awareness and connection alone. Once again, Richards said, think about potential alliances. “Get your bottles into the hands of influencers—allowing people to learn about your product via someone they already trust or admire. And think outside the box. These don’t have to be wine or foodie influencers. A travel, fashion or beauty influencer could easily weave your brand and bottle into their story.”

And if the budget allows, boost your social media ad views. “I realize they may be a luxury in times like these, but ads really are the fastest way to get the right message to the right people in the right places,” he said. “Many brands have cut their ad spends, so the marketplace is less competitive right now. You’ll get more for your money if you’re able to participate.”

As reopening continues, your messaging to various demographics might change slightly. Take time to evaluate your core audiences and cater to how they might be feeling. For example:

• Promote your best practices for safety and cleanliness to reassure and comfort people who want to visit your winery but express concern about contagions.
• Consider how other individuals, including those new to the wine tasting experience, might want to know about both your in-person and virtual interactive opportunities.

• Finally, there are additional people, especially those in younger demographics, who are eager to get out and make new memories. Show them through social media why your establishment is the perfect choice for safe-but-fun gatherings.

Remember the message of online interaction: simply ask your followers what they might be interested in, and listen carefully. Their suggestions might be different than what you’ve tried before, but now is the time to take advantage of fresh ideas.

Social Media Tips for the Next 12-18 Months

“Flexible consistency” is the action plan for your social media efforts now—and the foreseeable future. Maybe your marketing manager is temporarily furloughed. Perhaps your state allowed gradual reopening, but as you approach early harvests, you don’t feel you’ll have time to maintain your online presence like you did last year.

The media team at Happy Medium suggested three areas of focus:

• Post consistently. While so much consumer activity has slowed during this period, it’s especially important for brands to stay top-of-mind with their consumers. Even if operations are currently paused, still send at least a couple of posts per week.

• Stay positive. Audiences have been overloaded with COVID-19 messaging over the past few months and are starting to become jaded to overused marketing verbiage. Send positive messages while still being respectful to the current situation.

• Don’t post content exclusively directed at sales: share photos and stories about your team, industry news or fun facts about your winery and operations.

A 2017 study from the American Express Customer Service Barometer reported that Americans are “more likely to post about good experiences (53%) than poor experiences (35%).” So, in addition to staying realistic and flexible about your content and posting efforts, reaffirming customer service is one of the strongest messages Webster offered.

“For small wineries without dedicated marketing or social media staff, that means digital customer service often gets put on the back burner.” She suggested navigating it this way:

• Respond to comments from followers on your posts—or “like” them at the very least.

• Acknowledge when an excited customer shares a photo of your wine on their Instagram story by at least “liking” it. More preferably, respond to it with thanks, and re-share it to your winery’s story.

• Not only “liking” a photo that a loyal fan tagged your wine in, but also commenting on their post and thanking them for their support.

“This kind of gratitude and engagement is always important for building brand loyalty on social media, but it’s especially crucial during this pandemic when financial difficulty is rampant, and fans are giving your winery free, unprompted promotion,” Webster said.

Also, pay close attention to direct messages and respond promptly, and help customers find links to website pages. “This is an important aspect of social media management that many wineries and small businesses could improve on.”

Finally, be realistic, Richards told The Grapevine Magazine. He provided these tips:

• Be flexible. These are unique times, and we’re not sure what will happen next. That’s okay. Nobody does. Be prepared to update your plan and approach as needed.

• Think short term. Take it month-by-month or maybe even week-by-week. Any really long-term campaign planning will likely be disrupted.

• Show vulnerability. If you’re struggling, say so. It makes you relatable, and people will want to support you and come to your rescue.

“Know that it’s okay to ‘not know,’” said Richards. “Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when it comes to business and finances—but we’re all in the same boat right now. A ‘best guess’ is sometimes the best you can do.”

The Media Team at Happy Medium
https://itsahappymedium.com/
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:
@itsahappymedium

Chad Richards, Vice President, Firebelly
https://www.firebellymarketing.com/
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:
Chad Richards: @chadrichards
Firebelly Marketing: @wearefirebelly

Meaghan Webster, founder, Meaghan W. Marketing
meaghanwebster.com
Social Media Handle on Instagram:
@meaghanwmarketing