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

Neal D. Hulkower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go ‘way and let me nap.

Lees Filter Press Operation: Save Money While Reducing Juice Racking Losses

By: Tom Payette, Winemaking Consultant

During harvest, the winemaking staff will often cold settle the juices for white wine making and potentially for cold pressed reds to be made into a blush/Rose style wine.  Many smaller wineries may collect the sludgy bottoms of the tank and try to ferment them unsuccessfully.  Others will simply allow the bottoms to go down the drain.  Both approaches result in an immediate financial loss to the winery either through quality or juice volume loss.

  Another approach through the use of a lees filter press unit will allow for the recapturing of these “bottoms” off their rackings and allow these juices to be fermented into a very desirable wine.  The lees filter press units have often been said to pay for themselves in the first two to three years if used properly.  This may happen sooner depending on the size of the winery and the ratio of red to white wine production for a particular winery.

Financial Impact Example

  If a winery presses 40 tons of white grapes per year one could expect the following depending on the variety of white grapes and their average yields.  Forty tons may result in approximately 6900 gallons of juice.  After cold settling for approximately 24 hours, the winemaker may rack off 6600 gallons with a potential loss of nearly 300 gallons.  The 300 gallons left over may actually result in 250 gallons of clean juice after filtering through the lees filter press.  This may, after normal winemaking losses, result in a 1200 bottle recapturing of wine from potential waste and that, represented in dollars at an average $10.00/bottle return, is $12,000.00.  Soon this non-glamorous and down right dirty operation becomes of interest!  Not to mention the wines usually ferment out very nicely – sometimes better than the clear racked juice !  The above calculations are financially conservative and an average.  Results may vary depending on many juice components such as pectin, pH, temperature and solids content from the crush pad equipment.  The individual winery tank sizes and configurations may also affect these numbers.

Setting up the Filter

  It is always recommended to follow the directions that come with the unit when possible.  Please refer to these first as your primary source of information.  If directions are unavailable, use the guideline below to get started.

1.   Back off the screw portion on the lees filter press to open the gap for access to the filter plates.

2.   Carefully examine the filter plate cloths (canvases) and look for abnormalities such as rips, tears or creases.  Do all the cloths look the same?

3.   Examine the filter plates and make sure an understanding is established on the unit’s juice flow inside the filter.  Make sure all the plates line up properly and that the end plates are positioned properly at the ends.  Does the plate configuration align with the fixed plates on the filter ends?

4.   Determine where the juice goes into the filter and how it exits.

5.   Close the unit and pressurize to the normal or recommended pressure making sure all the plates are firmly held into place.  Check that the canvases are not pinched or creased possibly creating a leak when filtration begins.

Process

  This process is very easy once one gets the hang of it.  At first the winemaking staff may look at the process in disbelief that another operation will take place during crush.  After time, it is a fun rewarding process and many can master ways to reduce the mess greatly.  Using this step by step operation will become a template for helping this process along toward success.

  Set up the lees filter properly and according to the instructions if they were provided.  If not – study the piece of equipment to understand how it works (see above).  The overall process summary is that the sludge juice is mixed with DE (diatomaceous earth) and under large pressure forced through canvas filter covers.  The canvas will hold back the DE and dirty juice mix sludge and will ultimately become the filter matrix.

1.   Perform a clean racking on a white wine juice after cold settling with enzymes and SO2 only.  One may use other fining agents potentially at this step.  The main agent not to use is bentonite.  Bentonite will scertainly throw off the lees filter process and lead toward major frustrations and filtration failure.

2.   Collect the racking bottoms in another tank or leave them in the same tank if one can perform the rest of the procedure properly in the tank in which the juice was initially collected.

3.   Measure and record this volume of juice settling bottoms for internal and TTB recording purposes.

4.   Be able to continuously mix these juice bottoms with a guth style mixer or with a food grade plastic shovel.  (For time reasons the author recommends a guth style mixer in the racking valve of the tank)

5.   Add 50 pounds of 545 DE per 1000 liters (264 gallons) of juice bottoms and continue to mix.  (Please investigate DE and its potential hazardous conditions before using this product and remember to wear all safety equipment necessary.  This product may be hazardous to your health.  Consult your onsite Materials Safety Data Sheets)

6.   While mixing continuously attach a hose to the lees filter press inlet from the bottom valve of the “sludge tank”. 

7.   Open the valve and allow the juice DE mix to flow to the unit inlet.

8.   Start the operation of the unit with the plates well sealed together at the proper recommended hydraulic pressures.

9.   Have a piece of hose lead into another tank or bucket to catch the first amount of filtrate that comes through.  This is often very dirty at the beginning of the operation.  The winemaker may return this juice to the sludge tank to eventually be filtered again.  (This amount is often less than 10-15 gallons depending on the unit, juice and the operator)

10. Once the filtrate is “clean” start to capture that juice in another tank. Record volumes as needed.

11. Continue to monitor the process by checking on the unit from time to time.  Listen to the unit as a rhythm will be established and one can watch the unit out of the corner of his or her eye.

12. The pressure build-up will progress over time and the unit pump will engage with larger time intervals in-between.  This is a sign the unit filtration is clogging and the unit may need to be re-established removing the cakes formed.  The flow rate will slow and become an unproductive process.

  Important note:  Keep an eye on the operation and the mixer.  As the juice/DE mix nears the racking valve (typical mixer location), turn the unit off to avoid mixing to a “froth”.  At this point substitute with mixing by hand using a food grade shovel or similar action.

Stopping the Unit

1.   When to stop the unit is a judgment call.  This can be in-between pressloads from the crush pad or other operations of the normal winery day.

2.   Turn off the machine.

3.   Unplug the unit (optional but recommended).

4.   Immediately shut the valve at the receiving tank.

5.   Immediately shut off the valve at the sludge bottoms tank.

6.   Drain off any clear juice and place in the filtered juice tank.

7.   Depressurize the unit if drawing off any clear juice did not perform this operation already.

8.   Release the hydraulic pressure cylinder and back the filter plates off one by one.

9.   While moving the plates backward, try to remove the solid “cakes” of DE and solids from in-between the canvases.  These may remove easily if the process went well and the ratio of DE to juice mix was formulated properly.  If a slimy cake developes – change the DE to juice mix ratio.

10. Once all of the cakes have been removed rinse the unit, the canvases, all interior and exterior portions and reassemble the press to start again.

11. Plug the unit back in, open valves as necessary to restart the unit and restart the unit. Remember to catch the first filtrate since this may not be as clear as desired and return to the unfiltered tank sludge bottoms.

Collecting Juices

  Multiple lots:  During harvest the winemaker may find the tank space crunch and the speed of the fruit coming in the winery door may necessitate blending of pre-fermented juices.  This can been done with success: however, strict records need to be kept to be able to track certain lots, with chemical data, so adjustments can be made to each juice and its contribution to the blend.  Juices have been stored with success, as well, during the early stages of harvest for a couple of days.  If the winemaker presses 4 tons on one day and more fruit is expected in the next two days, the winemaker may chill the juice bottoms collected, potentially add additional sulfur dioxide, and store the juices until a large enough run has been gathered to justify starting the lees filter press operation.  Collect all volume data before and after operation to be able to report all blending activity.

Reducing the Mess

  Every winery layout and lees filter will vary significantly.  Try, however, to locate your lees filter press close to an electrical outlet that will run the unit and close to your raw materials such as DE, sludge bottoms (or a permanently designated “sludge bottoms” tank) and crush pad.  The lees filter press should be located in an area near a drain and water source so hosing down the unit will be convenient and reduce the mess.  Place the filter where the blow-by rinse water will not land on electrical plugs or other areas and equipment that may be difficult to clean afterwards.  Use warm or hot water since this will help greatly to neutralize and dissolve the sugars of the juice from the equipment and canvases.  If possible try to capture the “cakes” of DE as they fall off the filter plates after disassembling the lees filter.  This can be done with a bin or tub.  Otherwise shoveling may be needed.

  One does not need to clean the unit immaculately in between cycles or setups in one particular day.  More of a gross cleaning will suffice to set the unit back up and get rolling again.

Some of the Downfalls of a Lees Filter Press

  If a great understanding of how the unit works is not established the unit can become a great source of bad cross-contamination.  The units are easy to clean but one must make sure to flush out areas such as the piston pumps, surge tanks, inlet centers, sample valves, canvas sheets etc.  Flush all parts with copious amounts of water. Make certain to store the canvas cloth plates so air may pass between them after cleaning, otherwise a mold/mildew may form.

  Store the unit inside when not in use.  Do not leave the unit outside for extended periods of time after its use.  Sunlight will break down the canvases and they will need to be replaced sooner than normally expected.  This goes beyond the normal problems associated with storing any electrical equipment outside.

  Space: These units are usually large size in order for them to do their job properly.  They take up large amounts of space when not in operation.

Conclusion:

  The lees filter press is a very rewarding operation to the winemaker and the financial bottom line of the winery.  Once the cellar team integrates this extra operation into their harvest routine it becomes a “piece of cake”.  It looks difficult and laborious but it can become extremely easy.  Investigate your operation to see if it makes financial sense to add this piece of equipment to your cellar.

  Once you add this piece of equipment reward your cellar crew in some form or fashion to recognize them and say:  Thanks for helping our business succeed!

Messina Hof Winery: Tapping Into Keg Wine

Photo Courtesy of Messina Hof

By: Nan McCreary

One of the hottest trends in the wine industry today is wines on tap. Far from its inauspicious beginnings in the 1970s when haphazard equipment and practices marked the keg wine debut, drinking wine on tap is now a totally different story. Dramatic improvement in equipment and a better understanding of operations have led to a boom in the market. Many bars, restaurants, and wineries now offer premium tapped wines by the glass and even the growler.

  One enthusiastic advocate of wine-on-tap is Paul M. Bonarrigo, CEO and winemaker at Messina Hof Winery, a pioneer in Texas wine and one of the oldest and the most awarded wineries in the state.

  “We’ve always kept our finger on the pulse of what’s happening nationally, and we saw that the trend of wine-on-tap was coming back,” Bonarrigo told The Grapevine Magazine. “In 2013, we decided to build a prototype at our Estate Winery in Bryan, which allowed us to learn the system and do small-batch kegging and get feedback from customers.” 

  The introduction was extraordinarily successful, Bonarrigo said, so Messina Hof started branching off into bars and restaurants. Today, the winery has wine on tap at all of its four winery locations: Nine in Bryan, four in the Hill Country, 18 in Grapevine and 24 at its newest location, Harvest Green Winery & Kitchen in Richmond, near Houston.

  For Bonarrigo and a host of wineries, bars and restaurants, wine-on-tap is the future. In a wine-on-tap system, wine is pushed out of stainless steel kegs and into plastic tap lines with inert gas, either argon or nitrogen or a blend of nitrogen and C02. Using stainless steel containers and inert gas prevents oxygen from getting into the system, maintaining the wine’s freshness. Tap wine is typically stored in 20-liter kegs, which yield 26.6 bottles of wine or 120 glasses. The wine will stay fresh for months — the last tap will be just as clean and bright as the first.

  “For the bar or restaurant, it’s a huge savings,” Bonarrigo said. “No matter how efficient you are, you will always have product go down the drain with bottles, whether it’s from oxidation or just a spoiled wine.”

  The retailer also saves costs related to bottles, corks and packaging that is no longer needed. Keg wine prices range from $150 to $250, which makes them cost-effective. Some experts say that keg wine saves about 50 cents a bottle or $6 a case. Keg wine is eco-friendly too. Kegs are reusable, reduce waste generated by commercial packaging, save trash from landfills and reduce an establishment’s overall carbon footprint. Over its lifespan, a keg will replace one ton of bottles.

  For the consumer, wine-on-tap offers guaranteed freshness in the product, plus more options to try a variety of wines. “We are now seeing more premium wines on tap,” Bonarrigo told The Grapevine Magazine. “When we first started, many wineries were selling house wines from the keg. Now we’re seeing wines at $12 to $15 a glass on tap.”

  Consumers also see more options in serving sizes, from small taste-size pours to liter-sized carafe servings. According to Bonarrigo, the most popular option at Messina Hof is wines by the growler, which customers can fill and bring back over and over again. “We sell a ton of growlers,” he said. “The growler concept drives the train on what kind of wines we keep on tap, which are wines that are very approachable and easy to drink, wines that people can enjoy with an everyday dinner.”

  Typically, kegs are for wines meant to be enjoyed young, which is 75% of the wines sold in America. Both red and white wines are available, although red wines may be barrel-aged before transferred to a keg. At their Harvest Green location, which features a restaurant, Messina Hof serves 12 products from 24 taps, including dry to sweet white and red wines and even a Port.

  “Harvest Green is a fun environment,” Bonarrigo said, “and people are just coming out to have a good time, so we sell more tap wines there than at our other locations.”

  Occasionally, Bonarrigo changes out wines, depending on what the vintage yields and how the wines are moving. If it’s a “hot mover,” he will keep it on tap. He also offers “niche” wines occasionally. For example, he’s now adding a Rosé wine, which will be on tap during the spring and summer season.

  The biggest challenge to keg wine, according to Bonarrigo, is ensuring the kegs are clean before refilling. “Optimally, we deplete and refill kegs every six months,” he said. “Anytime you keep wine for an extended amount of time, you could get spoilage without even realizing it. You could also get some oxygen seepage. I especially worry about my white wines, and I tap them often to make sure they’re still fresh.”

  While these keg systems are not difficult to clean — the operator uses the gases and pressure to run hot water and a chemical solution through the system — it’s important to be vigilant. If the tap lines are not cleaned properly, it can cause off-flavors and a diminished experience for the guest.

  Messina Hof’s tap systems vary by location, and with the recent opening of Harvest Green, the winery was able to take advantage of the newest advances in this rapidly developing technology. In this system, lines go through cold plates to cool the wines as it goes to the tap, offering more convenience than set-ups that require pre-chilling of the wine. In other words, the wine goes in warm and comes out cold. 

  “This system is easier to set up and manage,” Bonarrigo said. “When the keg is empty, we just put another keg on the line rather than have to wait to chill a new keg. This way, you always know what you’ve got, and it’s easy to switch kegs in mid-service.” 

  Bonarrigo also installed a nitrogen generator at the Harvest Green location. “It’s more expensive,” he said, “but we don’t have to manage nitrogen tanks. Plus, nitrogen does just as good a job as argon.”

  Occasionally, Bonarrigo will use a Guinness Blend — 75% nitrogen and 25% CO2.  “This is fun to do with wines like Moscato. It gives them a spritz of effervescence without carbonating it.”

  He has yet to try sparkling wine on tap since they require a dedicated system that uses 100% CO2 to preserve the kegs in the fizz.

  With the increasing popularity of wine-on-tap, many bars and restaurants are adding more wine taps to their handles. Some are even retrofitting existing beer taps into wine taps. Wine taps require a higher grade of stainless steel and special tubing—and use different gasses — but they are still a viable option that can reflect an establishment’s business goals.“

  It’s a very smart strategy for bars and restaurants, especially if they already have a tap for beer, to convert one or two of their handles to wine,” Bonarrigo said. “In the long term, this is going to be something that sticks. As logistics get better and keg wine gets easier to manage, wine-on-tap will continue to be a big trend.”

  Clearly, wine-on-tap is here to stay. Sure, you won’t be seeing a Grand Cru Burgundy wine or a First Growth Bordeaux on tap. And you may lament the ritual where a sommelier opens a bottle at your table and invites you to sniff the cork. But as wine-on-tap becomes more fashionable, the choices in your glass will follow. For the oenophile with an open mind, it’s an exciting time to be exploring the world of wine.

How Does Your Safety Program “PAIR” With Your Workers?

By: Michael Harding, Senior Risk Solution Specialist, Markel Specialty

With the intensity of the wine season gearing up and peak times just around the corner, how prepared are you to protect the health and safety of your workers? Protecting your employees is crucial to attaining your orchard and vineyard goals and having a successful operation. Having a solid and functioning safety plan in force results in better productivity, enables your workers to thrive and contribute to the performance of your business.  A good safety program is a win –win for everyone!

  Regardless of the size of your operation, it is your responsibility as an employer, to have a safety program in place.  Depending on the size of your operation, your safety program may be informal or it may need to be more formal in nature – every winery is different. You’ll obviously want to abide by any government safety regulations that apply but there are also several safety management practices that will help you better demonstrate your commitment to safety, provide a safer working environment for your workers and yield you more efficiencies within your business. 

  It is not uncommon for a winery to produce a safety manual from an online template, issue it to their workers, briefly review it during a new employee training session and in turn, believe they have an effective safety program. Even though doing this is important, there are additional ways to visibly support your safety program to the point where it actually becomes “operationalized” into your day-to-day activities.  Outlined below you will find some of the ways we have found to be very effective to visibly demonstrate your support of your safety program.

Effective Ways to Promote a Safety Program at a Winery Safety Policy and Program

1.  Draft a safety policy statement and sign it, better yet, have all of your supervisors sign it too.

2.  Make sure that your workers receive this policy statement either through an employee handbook, an employee bulletin board posting or through new employee orientations and meetings.

3.  Safety responsibilities should be formally assigned to a single individual to coordinate safety compliance efforts, accident investigation, and emergency procedures.

4.  Verify that appropriate safety responsibilities are also defined for everyone else.

5.  Work with either your insurance carrier or your insurance broker to establish an internal claims cost containment or return to work policy to reduce post-accident injury expenses.

6.  Hold supervisors accountable in annual performance reviews in part for safety objectives and/or the accident results of their workers.

Safety Rules and Standards

1.  Workers need to know how to safely do their job by having general work procedures and safety rules developed for your winery operation. High risk procedures like confined space entry, lockout / tagout, any work at heights, etc., need to be in writing.

2.  Safety rules are as important as any other part of your business. Write them so they are simple and easy to understand. Distribute them to all workers and have them sign an acknowledgment of understanding. Also post them in a common area as a reminder to everyone.

3.  Have a disciplinary system in place to deal with any safety rule violations.

4.  Develop a plan for winery emergencies like natural disasters and fires to make sure your workers know how to effectively respond in emergency situations.

Safety Training

1.  Make sure you have a safety orientation plan in place. Complete the orientation before workers begin a new job. Workers need hands on job training.

2.  Train your supervisory personnel so they can conduct safety inspections related to workplace safety hazards or applicable regulations in their area on a regular basis.

3.  Review your winery operations to determine the safety training needs for all work areas. This would include areas such as: emergency response to fire or injury, confined space, electrical safety, handling of chemicals, fall prevention and wearing of personal protective equipment, just to mention a few.

4.  Supervisory safety training sessions should be held regularly, addressing the following: accident investigation, conducting safety talks, understanding workers compensation, complying with government safety regulations, completing safety inspections, and controlling employee accident costs, as needed.

Safety Inspections

1.  Formal safety inspections should be conducted regularly by supervisors or other management staff. Document the results of these inspections.

2.  On a daily basis, supervisors should routinely conduct informal safety inspections with any negative findings documented and corrected.

3.  Consider developing customized safety inspection checklists for each area to ensure your inspections are thorough and consistent.

4.  Have a follow-up system in place to make sure that systematic corrective action is being taken on the deficiencies noted during safety inspections.

5.  Regularly update your safety inspection procedures and checklists by utilizing information generated in accident investigation reports so you can prevent recurring incidents.

Accident Investigation

1.  Have a supervisor (of the employee) investigate all injuries requiring medical treatment along with any “near misses” to make sure they don’t happen again.

2.  Maintain accident statistics about injuries that occur in your winery operation and review them regularly in management staff meetings. An accident occurring within your facility should be considered a significant winery operational deficiency and you should appropriately take corrective measures for each one.

3.  Focus on fact finding, not fault finding to avoid attributing accident causes to employee carelessness or possible fraud on accident investigation reports. Identify the underlying root cause(s) for each accident.

4.  Have a first aid treatment procedure in place to help effectively reduce the severity of work-related injuries. You should include:

a)  A properly stocked first aid kit. The American Red Cross recommends: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/anatomy-of-a-first-aid-kit.html

b)  Eye wash station(s). Grainger has an article describing where eye wash stations should be placed: https://www.grainger.com/content/qt-emergency-shower-eye-wash-stn-req-120

c) Employees trained / certified in first aid. First aid training is often available through local organizations such as the Red Cross, local fire departments, EMS, etc. Check your local area listings.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

1.  Conduct a hazard assessment of your winery operations to determine any personal protective needs and requirements for your workers. Make sure appropriate PPE is readily available to all workers, they are trained in its use and they follow all established requirements.

2.  Hold your supervisory personnel responsible for enforcing the use of PPE devices. This would include such items as safety glasses, proper footwear, gloves, and hearing protection, etc.

3.  On a periodic basis, review accident and inspection reports to evaluate the use or need for any additional personal protective equipment devices.

Motivation

1.  Demonstrate safety is a priority at your winery by holding regular meetings with your workers and supervisors to talk about any safety concerns. Keep minutes of each of these meetings with what was talked about and who attended.

2.  Have an “alternative duty” transitional work program in place to encourage injured workers to remain on the job in restricted capacity.

3.  Consider having a constructive policy in place to address workers who have had two more injuries or property damage accidents during any twelve-month period of time.

4.  Establish ideas and plans to motivate all workers to follow existing safety policies/procedures in an effort to achieve specific safety goals through such methods as personal recognition, bonuses, awards, etc.

Mechanical Safeguards

1.  Survey any high accident areas, materials, processes or buildings annually if you are having occurrences to specifically evaluate the adequacy of your equipment safeguards and/or OSHA machinery guarding compliance.

2.  Identify and provide appropriate signage where guarding is required. Develop procedures when guards are required to be removed for service or maintenance.

3.  If protected by interlocks or safety switch, inspect these systems regularly to verify that they have not been disabled or bypassed.

General Operating Conditions

1.   Maintain good housekeeping practices in all of your working areas so as to reduce slip, trip and fall hazards.

2.   Prohibit the climbing on racks in any storage or warehousing operations. Provide and encourage the use of sound, sturdy ladders.

3.   If forklifts are used, provide required training to all operators. Order pickers, if used, must work from an approved platform and wear appropriate fall protection.

4.   Tractors, mowers and other power equipment should be provided with appropriate rollover protective devices (ROPS).

Vehicle Safety

1.   Motor vehicle records should be routinely obtained for all new drivers and updated annually.

2.   Motor vehicle records should be evaluated using a defined point system for all drivers on an annual basis.

3.   A record of training should be maintained on file for all personnel who have access to and operate vehicles, farm equipment, vans or other powered equipment during the course of their employment.

4.   Accident reporting kits should be kept in all vehicle glove compartments.

5.   Drivers should conduct vehicle inspections daily.

Conclusion

  At the end of the day, safety doesn’t need to be complicated. You can keep your program simple so that it meets the needs of your winery. Remember that:

•    Safety doesn’t happen without the person in charge and everyone else standing up and taking responsibility.

•    No one single person can be responsible for safety – more people making safety a priority correlated to fewer people being injured.

•    Stay with it – safety isn’t about written rules and handbooks, it’s about thinking about the potential dangers and what needs to be done to keep everyone safe.

By “pairing” these safety program components with what you and your workers do, you’ll be better prepared to meet the busy times ahead with safer and fewer injured employees. You, your employees and your business will all benefit!

  The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments.  Please contact us or your insurance professional if you have any questions. Products and services are offered through Markel Specialty, a business division of Markel Service Incorporated (national producer number 27585).  Policies are written by one or more Markel insurance companies. Terms and conditions for rate and coverage may vary.

For More Information Please Call Us At: 800-814-6773 Or Visit Our Website: markelinsurance.com/winery

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

By: Rod Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

EAST COAST SOLUTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEST COAST SOLUTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONGOING SOLUTIONS

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

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

REINVENTION

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

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

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

A COLLECTIVE VOICE

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

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

MAINTAINING THE PULSE

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

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

BECOMING PUBLISHERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal Slope Designated as Washington State’s Newest American Viticultural Area

By: Becky Garrison

In September 12, 2020, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau published the final rul-ing for Royal Slope American Viticultural Area, making it Washington State’s 15th AVA, de-fined by variation in elevation, slopes and aspect. A month after the publication of the ruling, wineries within this new AVA were eligible to submit a Certificate of Label Approval request to the TTB using the Royal Slope AVA as an appellation of origin.

  Royal Slope AVA, contained wholly within the Columbia Valley AVA, consists of 156,389 acres, with the majority of the area’s soils formed of windblown silts, or loess, from the Ice Age Missoula Floods. The AVA includes Frenchman Hills, a 30-mile long east-west trending ridge with a gentle to medium steep southfacing slope. Situated between Wenatchee and Tri Cities and about two and half hours from Seattle, Royal Slope AVA has the potential to become a tour-ist destination within the growing agritourism industry.

  About 90% of Royal Slope’s area consists of gently to somewhat steeply south-facing slopes. These southern slopes represent the best aspect for wine grapes in the Pacific Northwest due to the northerly latitude. According to lore, this gentle south aspect led to the origin of the name. Apparently, a pair of Scotsmen climbed the Saddle Mountains in the 1880s and drank in the view to the north of the south-canted topography and exclaimed, “Now that’s a Royal Slope!’

  Along those lines, the name “Royal Slope” has been printed on USGS topographic maps of vari-ous scales as far back as the 1950s to indicate the general area. The term has been in common usage for more than 50 years to describe this rich agricultural district of tree fruit orchards, row and field crops, and, increasingly since the 1980s, wine grapes.

  Dr. Alan Busacca, Ph.D., Vinetas Consulting, LLC and a certified soil scientist, co-wrote the royal Slope AVA petition with Richard Rupp, Ph.D., on behalf of the Royal Slope Wine Grower’s Association. The petition was delivered to the TTB on February 23, 2017. This approximately four-year delay from filing to approval was attributed to a TTB backlog exacerbated by COVID-19.

  In a press release issued by the Washington State Wine Commission, Busacca described the Royal Slope AVA as something of an island geographically, surrounded on all sides by very different lands.

  “North of the AVA are generally flat lands of the Quincy Valley with soils on shifting dune sands. To the east and south of the AVA, the landscape falls away into the harsh, basalt bedrock-dominated cliffs of Crab Creek Coulee gouged out by Missoula Floods, and on the west, the bedrock cliffs fall away steeply to the Columbia River.”

  Overall, this AVA has an average elevation of 1,300 feet, compared to the Wahluke Slope AVA, about 15 miles to the south, which has an elevation of about 600 feet. In the Royal Slope AVA, the 10-year average heat units, or growing degree days, is 2,900, whereas the average heat units of the three hottest AVAs in eastern Washington is over 3,300.

  The difference in elevation allows for slightly cooler growing conditions, which, in turn, produces wines somewhat more refined than those grown in the hottest areas of the state.

  The first grapes were not planted in Royal Oak until 1983 when federal irrigation water first be-came available to farm these soils. From the first 40 acre vineyard in 1998, the AVA has grown to more than 1,900 acres of wine grapes in 2020.

Producing Award Winning Wines Within the Royal Slope AVA

  Within the Royal Slope AVA, one can find more than 20 varieties of wine, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir grapes have been planted more recently and ap-pear to have potential in certain locations. Some of the AVA’s vineyards, such as Stillwater Creek, Stoneridge and Lawrence, have become nationally and internationally known.

  Despite the hyper-fast growth of vineyard acreage, the Royal Slope area is not growing anonymous grapes for bulk wines. In fact, the opposite is true: References to wines from Royal Slope grapes are commonly associated with scores as high as 100 points by national and international wine publications such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker and Vinous.

Josh Lawrence, owner of Lawrence Vineyards, points to the value in designating some of his vineyards as part of the Royal Slope AVA. “We’re one of the northernmost red producers in the state, as well as being known as a great food and wine pairing location.”

  The higher elevations lead to the production of more structured and pronounced reds and rosés. Also, white wine production has been on the rise within the AVA, with the high elevations re-sulting in a more angular feel to their white wine grapes.

Establishing the Candy Mountain AVA

  On September 25, 2020, the TTB also published the final rule for the Candy Mountain American Viticultural Area, thus making this 815 acre AVA the Washington State’s 16th AVA and the smallest AVA in the state. This AVA, southeast of Red Mountain, lies within the Yakima Valley AVA and the larger Columbia Valley AVA. To fully encompass the Candy Mountain AVA, the TTB expanded the existing Yakima Valley AVA boundary by 72 acres.

  Kevin Pogue, Ph.D., Professor of Geology at Whitman College, who wrote the AVA petition for Candy Mountain, offers a summary of the AVA. “Candy Mountain is distinct from the surrounding lowlands that are also within the Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley AVAs. It has a longer growing season due to very good cold air drainage, and its south-facing slopes allow the soils to warm more quickly and to higher temperatures. It also has higher average wind speeds and shal-lower soils, particularly on the upper slopes, than the surrounding lowlands. The soils, especially on the upper slopes, are composed of wind deposited silt and sand that overlies silt, sand and gravel deposited by ice age floods on the lower slopes of the mountain, and basalt bedrock on the upper slope. These factors, many of which are shared with the nearby Red Mountain AVA, can contribute to grapes that are riper and more stressed, which can produce lower yields of smaller berries with thicker skins, producing full-bodied, robust wines.”

  Currently, 110 acres of vineyards grow in Candy Mountain, almost all red varieties. Seth Kitzke of Kitzke Family Vineyards points to the unique attributes of this AVA. “Candy Mountain is distinctive, having a lot of deposited old granite in the soils and then your fractured basalt in places. It is one of the warmer AVAs that brings a big fruit profile to the wines that we love.”

  While winemakers Lawrence and Kitzke feel the Columbia AVA is known for producing quality wine, both believe that diversification within the Columbia Valley AVA is needed to show why their respective AVAs shine. In Kitzke’s estimation, having both Royal Slope and Candy Moun-tain designated as separate AVAs provides an opportunity to educate consumers about why their wines taste the way they do.

  “As a connoisseur or professional in the business, you want to be able to associate distinctive wine profiles with a place. Without AVAs in place, it makes this tough,” he said.

  Lawrence concurs, “A consumer can’t just buy a Columbia Valley AVA wine and expect this bottle to have similar characteristics to other vines from the region because of the massive area of the Columbia Valley. Hence, having smaller AVAs is very valuable for both the consumer and us.”

End-of-Line Packaging Solutions

Photo Courtesy of A-B-C Packaging

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Much of the winemaking process focuses on growing and harvesting grapes and turning raw materials into the amazing beverage that is loved worldwide. But once those bottles, cans, pouches or boxes get filled, some essential work is still to be done.

  End-of-line packaging is an integral part of getting wine into the hands of consumers and establishing a brand image. Therefore, it’s good to know all the details that go into the packaging process to make it as efficient, safe and cost-effective as possible.

Machinery and Materials for End-of-Line Packaging

  Various machinery exists for end-of-line packaging solutions, including depalletizers, decasers, case erectors, packers, partitioners and case sealers. Some wineries use an automatic process, while others rely on old-fashioned manual labor to package their wine.

  Automation is typically implemented when a winery’s line speeds get to at least 120 bpm as a way of reducing labor, producing more product or adding diversity to packaging sizes and configurations. While automation requires a significant up-front investment, it can help keep winery employees safe and take production to the next level.

  Pallets, cartons, shrink wrap, Styrofoam and Tetra Paks are commonly used to ship wine. Ensuring that wine is protected from damage is the top priority during shipping, but the aesthetic appeal of the packaging is also a consideration for wineries to keep in mind.

End-of-Line Recommendations from Industry Experts

  The best way to learn about end-of-line packaging solutions is to talk to companies specializing in this part of the winemaking process.

  Bryan Sinicrope, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation in Tarpon Springs, Florida, told The Grapevine Magazine that his company offers several options for packing, including robotic and pick-and-place machines for bottled wines. He said that these robotic and pick-and-place machines have features to protect both the closure and label during packing to preserve package integrity. For pouch-packaged and cartoned wine, robot packers provide maximum flexibility to pack into cases or trays with servo-powered product feed, gentle robotic packing and quick changeover at the operator station.

  “We also offer a semi-automatic carton packer for smaller operations that package wine in cartons with speeds up to 10 cases per minute,” Sinicrope said. “This packer uses one attendant to supply cases to the packing section, while the packer automatically orients and stacks the cartons. The packed cases feed to a case sealer.”

  A-B-C Packaging has been providing packaging solutions since 1940 and serves a variety of industries, including beverage, automotive, electronics, chemical, pharmaceutical and more. The company offers machines that close and seal the top case flaps with adhesive or tape and square the case as it is sealed for maximum stability on the pallet.

  They also sell low-level, robot and semi-automatic palletizers to accommodate wineries’ budgets, space, flexibility requirements, speed and personal preference. Sinicrope said that the low-level machines are easy to install and help keep operating costs low due to the floor-level control and simple maintenance.

  “These palletizers convey cases into layers with complete flexibility for pallet patterns,” Sinicrope said. “The patterns are programmed into the HMI, and new pallet configurations can be set on the plant floor. Also available are empty pallet feed, slip sheet insertion and full pallet discharge. These palletizers are a good solution for most wineries.”

  Meanwhile, A-B-C Packaging’s robot palletizers can handle multiple product types with minimal hardware because these machines stack cases on pallets in preset configurations with the option to easily program new patterns. A-B-C Packaging’s semi-automatic palletizers can be converted to full automation for small wineries looking to upgrade their equipment.

  “They require one full-time operator who creates the pallet patterns by orienting cases from the line,” Sinicrope said. “The palletizer lifts and stacks the pallet layers. Completed pallets are removed by a forklift driver who also positions the next empty pallet.”

  ABE Beverage Equipment, a company based in Lincoln, Nebraska, also serves the winery market and has expanded its equipment solutions to address rapid growth in canning and ready-to-drink packaging options. In fact, the company changed its name from American Beer Equipment to ABE Beverage Equipment in 2020 to better reflect its all-encompassing lineup of equipment solutions for nearly every beverage market. Amanda Podwinski handles sales and marketing for ABE Beverage Equipment. She told The Grapevine Magazine that in addition to canning lines for carbonated and still beverages, ABE offers the AutoPak Can Carrier Applicator, an end-of-line automatic carrier applicator for six- or four-packs of cans.

  “This labor-saving system offers a minimal footprint and is adjustable to accommodate a variety of cans and configurations,” Podwinski said. “Carrier applicators are an excellent choice for marketing multi-packs of wine in cans. As competition heats up in the canned wine marketplace, ABE also offers a 12- and 24-pack case wrapping system, perfect for wineries looking for ways to minimize their canned wine packaging costs. The ABE ShrinkPak is designed to shrink-wrap cases of cans when selling bulk, rather than by way carrier packs. Case costs can be reduced by as much as 60% when compared to corrugated packaging.”

Mistakes Wineries Often Make with End-of-Line Packaging

  Every winery has its own preferences and processes for packaging wine, but some common mistakes seem to repeat themselves throughout the industry. One example?  Assuming all packaging options are equal. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for packaging wine.

  “Everyone’s space, budget and resources differ,” Podwinski said. “In the highly competitive beverage industry, there are plenty of suppliers offering one-off parts or equipment. To ensure you receive the most reliable solution, ABE Beverage Equipment provides a comprehensive approach to your beverage equipment line. At ABE, we design and engineer your equipment from the ground up, ensuring you receive the highest quality product. And we don’t stop there: Our world-class team of engineers, manufacturers, customer service techs and support staff are by your side to help you plan, launch, build and maintain your beverage business. We promise our dedicated partnership will extend beyond just providing your equipment.”

  Not considering future flexibility is another common mistake that wineries make with their packaging.

  “While a winery may be packaging only 12-packed cases of 750 ml bottles right now, they may find opportunities in alternate bottle sizes, container styles or pallet configurations as time goes by,” Sinicrope said. “With flexible equipment, they can take advantage of these opportunities without a large capital investment or line downtime.”

Trends and Innovations in End-of-Line Packaging

  Because of advances in modern technology and lessons learned from challenges with end-of-line packaging, companies that work in this niche industry continue to develop promising solutions. For example, A-B-C Packaging has introduced a compact palletizer with a small modular footprint to accommodate tight line layouts. This advancement emerged in response to wineries having limited space for equipment in the packaging area of their production facilities.

  “It occupies from 10 to 30% less floor space than conventional low-level machines, with an open profile and full machine guarding,” Sinicrope said.

Concerning trends and innovations, Podwinski said ABE Equipment products could be used across various industries looking to package, label and produce different types of products.

  “ABE’s innovative equipment solutions span several markets, product types and industries,” Podwinski said. “The equipment we have built for nearly 30 years continues to evolve to meet the needs of today’s entrepreneurs. This includes solutions for a variety of container sizes, shapes and materials.”

Choosing the Right End-of-Line Packaging for Your Winery

  Since there are several options available today for end-of-line packaging solutions, wineries should start researching machines and materials before they are truly needed.

  Sinicrope said wineries should talk to their potential suppliers about the best ways to ship their wine. “Discuss your goals, ask questions and listen to their recommendations, and they can help you find the best solution for your winery packaging line,” he said.

  Ultimately, trends in wine consumption are changing how wineries approach end-of-line packaging and equipment choices. Podwinski said that canned wine is making a substantial impact on how wine is sold.

  “Multiple cans packaged together make a sturdy package that in many cases is less likely to be damaged and [more likely to] arrive safely and allow consumers to take their favored beverage into numerous environments,” she said. “Cans may be new to many wineries, but with the versatility and environmentally friendly impact that cans offer, wineries would benefit from investigating this opportunity further.”

Aluminum Wine Closures vs: Cork

When packaging their product, winemakers look to preserve aroma, color and flavor at a reasonable cost while avoiding the chances of debilitating contamination or premature oxidation. Additionally, wine closures may be chosen depending on the wine’s qualities, expected consumption date or the market in general. The combination of these factors can make choosing the most suitable closure a complex and sometimes confusing task. Closure producers have a lot to offer, whether natural, plastic or technical corks, screw or crown caps. There also exist more unique closures that allow a product to stand out on crowded shelves. The closure industry has become very competitive, driving innovation regarding the best closure choices for any situation. However, it’s still all about managing oxygen ingress and transfer ratios. Because each wine has its own unique factors, it is ultimately up to the winemaker to decide which closure is the best choice for their wine.

Aluminum Closures Make a Push in the Marketplace: Herti US, Inc.

  Herti US, Inc. offers more than 40 different sizes of aluminum closures for wine, spirits, olive oil and mineral waters. Their products have diameters ranging from 17 to 43 mm and heights of 12 to 60 mm, used for sealing bottles with capacities of 50 ml up to a U.S. gallon (4.54 l). With various sizes, shapes, and printing capabilities, manufacturers can help winemakers create an overall attractive package with consistent branding and product recognition. In addition, customers can choose from different design options, including up to five color offset printing with matte, semi-matte and glossy finishes. They also offer hot foil printing, embossing and top relief with a wide range of decorative capabilities and liner choices. Herti continually invests in innovative products to satisfy the evolving requirements of wine producers. Vinstar is the trademark under which Herti sells its aluminum closures designed for wine bottle packaging. The most popular standard closures offered for the wine industry are the 22×15, 22×30, 25×17, 25×43, 28×44 and 30×60 sizes.

  Zahari Zahariev, CEO of Herti, told The Grapevine Magazine that aluminum closures now represent a reasonably priced, modern way of closing bottles, which plays a significant role in preserving a wine’s quality, branding and impact, and also the winemaker’s environmental footprint.

  “Aluminum screw cap closures are simply cost-effective compared to other closure choices and suitable for both glass and PET bottles,” said Zahariev. “Aluminum closures offer endless creative possibilities for bottle design, and screw closures are now widely accepted and embraced as a suitable closure for all types of wines. With that acceptance comes an excellent base for the customization that becomes an important aspect of the winemaker’s brand building. An aluminum closure can be a piece of art by itself, but many design options are available to make it stand out as your own.”

  Zahariev said COVID-19 affected the industry because some sectors had to stop working and shut down while the retail, wine-to-go and online markets saw a boom. The standard closure business mainly stayed steady while the demand for luxury closures diminished. The screw closure business for the small bottles used in the aircraft and hotel industry vanished.

  “We look for the trend to get back to normal as restrictions fall or get lifted,” said Zahariev. “The COVID-19 pandemic led to a renewed industry focus on environmental commitment, meaning sustainability along with increased sensitivity about industry effects on our environment. This type of renewed commitment always drives innovation, and it did the same to the closure industry. Increased use and demand for aluminum screw cap closures are just one example of how the desired convenience factor also happened to be environmentally friendly. Aluminum screw caps are fully recyclable, with any production waste reused within the process. In addition to the screw caps, the glass bottle that the cap gets installed on is recyclable, so that’s a real eco-friendly situation.”

  Zahariev said that winemakers should look to, invest in and partner with companies that focus on the winemaker’s needs. Herti continuously invests in the latest production technologies and organizational improvements to guarantee its clients the best service and the highest quality products in an optimal timeframe. While providing the most popular, standard sizes of wine closures, they also offer the more petite sizes routinely used for ready-to-drink, single-serve, and mini bottles supplied by airlines and hotels. They come in 16 standard stock colors with numerous possibilities for decoration and design, making it easy for a winemaker to make the right closure choice for their wines.

  “At this point, winemakers generally know the pros and cons of different closures,” said Zahariev. “What’s important is to be able to get what fits your needs at a reasonable price. Aluminum screw closures offer that over other options and are fully recyclable, and offer numerous sizes and liners with a wide range of possibilities for decorations to enhance and promote unique and consistent branding across the board. In addition, aluminum screw closures offer the consumer the ability to open a bottle without any special devices easily and then have the option to reseal the bottle for later consumption without worrying about spillage. Storage and transportation are easier and don’t require the bottle to remain upright. We build mutual partnerships and maintain continuous contact with every client, and always keep our promises. We believe that your brand tomorrow is our business today.”

Cork is Abundant, Sustainable & Yes, Still Very Useful:

Dr. Dinah Bird, Baker-Bird Winery & Distillery

  Cork and composition cork are the traditional choices for wine closures, and contrary to what some have said, they are not on their way out. Even with the push towards aluminum, the percentage of corked wines has remained consistent over the past several years. But with more closure choices comes the opportunity to fine-tune your needs and choose the closure that best fits your wine, your reputation and your brand. And when you happen to own Baker-Bird Winery & Distillery, you stick with what has allowed you to remain in business since the late 1700s, including using corks in your spirits and wines.

  “Baker-Bird Winery is the oldest, largest wine cellar in America and naturally possesses a great deal of history surrounding our winery,” said owner Dr. Dinah Bird. “Being as historically significant as we are, we want and need our guests to experience the historical and traditional setting of our winery, our town and, of course, our selection of wines too.

  “We know that some wines can be better with the use of the aluminum screw closures, but some can also be better with corks because of the aging and oxidation process they provide and allow, like a Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc is just one wine that benefits from aging and oxidation. It’s part of the wine’s overall process, and you won’t get that process with an aluminum screw cap. As a winemaker, you have to be aware of your product and how it ages and reacts. For example, our estate wines bring a little higher alcohol content, so they naturally oxidize a little faster than those with lesser alcohol content.”

  Bird told The Grapevine Magazine that if her winery ever decided to use different or synthetic closures, it would likely be on their bourbon-aged wines simply because of their higher alcohol content. Higher alcohol content makes the wine’s aroma and taste more time-sensitive due to higher oxidization rates.

  “We believe and maintain that the act of drinking wine should appeal to all of our senses to create a fulfilling and memorable experience,” said Bird. “What’s better than hearing that familiar pop of a cork pulled from a bottle of wine or champagne, releasing the wonderful aromas to all who are around? And it’s always been customary for some to inspect that cork after opening. Much nicer and somehow more elegant and satisfying than unscrewing a cap and simply placing it on the table beside you.”

  “Closure choice is just one part of the overall packaging of wine,” said Bird. “And the wine’s packaging is like the clothing that a person chooses to wear. Some clothes are naturally more casual and others considerably more formal. To me, aluminum screw caps resemble casual wear, and corks are formal wear. A winemaker should choose the package, or clothes, based on the product, the environment, and the circumstances of consumption.”

  Bird said there has been a move towards a broader population of consumers drinking wine, much of that taking place in more casual settings due to the pandemic. As a result, more wine is consumed in informal situations, leading to a broader acceptance of screwcap closures for wines and a wider acceptance of canned wines.

  “The aluminum screw closures have worked well in that they are great for ready-to-drink wines that can be easily resealed and do not need or benefit from aging,” said Bird. “But cork trees are not endangered, and the supply is equally sustainable. As for recycling, natural corks are indeed only a one-use item when it comes to closing wines, but you can be creative and recycle them in other ways. Baker-Bird Winery is proud to provide a total customer experience for our visitors. In doing so, we allow the customers to have a hands-on experience in corking bottles by hand, using our recycled corks and bottles. By recycling our corks and bottles in a creative and fun way, our visitors get a hands-on experience that they don’t get anywhere else. It is a rewarding experience for all involved.”

Cross-Contamination and the Winery Cellar

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Cross-contamination is something we have all been made aware because of the food industry.  We have learned that using the same plate to take food to the grill as well as to serve food from the grill, prior to proper cleaning, may result in a salmonella outbreak causing discomfort to many.  Using a cutting board to prepare a meat or fish and then to cut a vegetable for a salad may result in similar reactions due to a bacterial contamination from an uncooked meat source to a product eaten raw.  Once one focuses on these same principals and perhaps has training in microbiology one keenly becomes aware of the principals of cross-contamination.

  An everyday less seen example outside the food industry is easy to illustrate.  After using the rest room we wash our hands diligently only to turn around and place our hand on the door handle to exit the rest room.  At that instant we have contaminated our hand with microorganisms from other individuals that have placed their hands on the same door handle prior to us.  Perhaps we have all seen the individual that continues to use the paper towel to maneuver the door handle and then throwing away the paper towel.  This is a microorganism conscientious individual that understands the above principal.  COVID 19 also has us all more aware these days to microbes in general.

  Looking at our own cellars, we may find many areas that need work to prevent microbiological cross-contamination.  This article will explore some areas that are culprits in the spread of microorganisms.  Every winemaker needs to have great hygiene and sanitation in the cellar to have the control a winemaker needs to make sound wines.  After reading this article, the cellar will become a different place as other sources of contamination become evident to the cellar team.

  SAMPLING: Most wineries, with sound wines, may taste from vessel to vessel while returning the leftover portion back to the vessel sampled with no worries.  This is one of the major areas that may need tightening up if the winery is experiencing problems.  Winemakers sample from one vessel to another perhaps expressing discontent in one form or another.  Often the discontent is directly linked to a spoilage bacteria or yeast that is growing “unchecked”.  The novice winemaker may rapidly move through the cellar’s containers in hopes of quickly reaching a vessel that has not progressed negatively.  What some winemakers don’t catch on to is that they are indeed the culprits to the spread of the very element with which they are not happy.  When sampling a container, look inside the vessel for a potential surface film. This may indicate a spoilage position for that wine.  Know the sulfur dioxide and ph of the wine.  When experiencing spoilage yeast or bacteria, be sure to sanitize/sterilize the sampling instrument and wine glass between samples.  Do not return the leftover portion to the vessel and be careful to discard the leftover in an area to be cleaned.  Do not dump it in the drain or on the floor for reasons to be explained later. (In clean cellars where sound wines are made it is not usually a problem to sample and pour back wines – only in unsound conditions should one avoid this habit.)

  TRANSFERS: If working with wines that are known to have some risk of infection – always move them last in the day of the transfers. Clean the hoses, pumps and other areas of wine contact between movements.  An example: If 40 barrels need to be racked and one barrel may be suspect to have some spoilage, rack the 39 barrels first then rack the last barrel separate to another tank – do not mix it into the blend.  If the wine is to be returned to barrel give serious consideration to returning the suspect wine to the same barrel from which it was removed to “contain” the spoilage and create a quarantine type situation.  Once the movements of any suspect wines have been made, thoroughly clean the pumps and hoses before resuming to the next transfer.  Be sure to clean the racking wand or any other devices that have had contact with the suspect wine.  Mark the exterior of these suspect vessels so others will be aware of the problem and cross-contamination will be minimized during sampling.

  TOPPING: Another area of great concern for cross contamination is topping.  Make sure to top wines with only clean sound wines of the same type or variety.  Often the topping wine of choice may be a recently sterile filtered dry wine that the winemaker has prepared for bottling.  This wine should have a greatly reduced yeast and bacterial load.  Always use clean wines for topping because the risk of spreading organisms is great here.

  BLENDING: If potential spoilage wines have been caught early, quarantined, and arrested they may still be used in a final blend in small quantities.  If the wines have been cared for and kept “in check” they may add to the complexity of the wine.  This should always be determined by a lab blending trial first.  The trick with blending is to wait to the last possible moment to make the blend to achieve protein, color and tartrate stability of the wine prior to bottling.  This should be done in stainless steel because it is easier to clean and sanitize after removing the wine from the vessel.  After blending, the wine should be filtered as soon as possible to eliminate the bacterial load.

  HANDS & CLOTHING: As with many processing and preparation cellars, always wash your hands frequently especially after handling wines that are suspect.  Be certain not to wipe your hands on your clothing, prior to washing them, after handling suspect wines.  This is the main reason that early in this article it is recommended to move suspect wines last in the day.  Always wear clean clothing from day to day.  Think in terms of what to do when.  If starting a yeast culture for sparkling wine production and bottling a sweet wine all in the same day, use common sense to work with the bottling first and then to work with the yeast starter culture.  Otherwise a major cross-contamination could occur resulting in a re-fermentation of the bottled wines.

  INSECTS & CREATURES: Insects and other mobile creatures are a large source of contamination that is more difficult to control.  For this reason a strong sanitation program is always recommended.  Fruit flies and other flying insects are always a difficult battle during crush and throughout the year.  Incorporate the elimination of these creatures, as best as possible, as a major part the sanitation program.  These insects fly from the drains to open vessels and handling tools such as: hoses, fittings, buckets, racking wands, pumps, filler spouts and many other areas.  Every surface they land on will have a cross-contamination residue left on it from their previous landings!  This was the reason under “sampling” it is recommended best not to pour samples known to contain spoilage yeast or bacteria on the floor.  These areas may become a food source for the insect or simply may be an area of contact for an insect or other creature.

  CHEMICALS & DRY GOODS: Chemicals and other dry goods are often an overlooked source of potential problems.  Using scoops for one material and then using them for another before cleansing will result in a cross contamination.  Soiled scoops will always transfer one material to the other as they are used.  Open containers of chemicals such as acids, bentonite and sugar bags must be avoided.  Cross-contamination is not always microbiological!  A classic example of this is one who uses a soiled scoop from citric acid and then places that same scoop into a container of metabi-sulfite.  This will result in a huge and persistent sulfur dioxide aroma cloud near the incident.  Seal all bags / containers after using them because contamination from insects and other potential rodents may result in problems.  If not already a standard procedure, reseal all open cork bags and other dry goods materials immediately after opening and partial use. 

  AIRLOCKS & BUNGS: Airlocks and bungs need to be thoroughly cleaned after each use.  Airlocks are exposed to moisture and liquids.  This moisture will support bacterial and yeast growth, which must be eliminated before placing them on another vessel.  Since containers may pull a vacuum during a cool down in the cellar after fermentation and draw some of the water into the container.  Clean them thoroughly before storage and before use.  When storing airlocks be sure to blow out any water and allow them to air dry.  Bungs are similar.  When working with barrels remove the bungs and clean them with a cleaning solution.  Rinse them in a low ph water solution to rinse and neutralize the cleaning solution and then replace them on the vessel.  If possible it is best to have a large number of extra clean bungs available to use with the current day’s barrel work.  If so – one can collect the bungs off the barrels for that day’s work and soak them in the cleaning solution.  Clean and rinse them at your leisure after the day’s work.  Allow them to dry and they will be ready for the next day of barrel work.

  POMACE: Remove all pomace from the winery as soon as possible.  It is a food source for yeast and spoilage bacteria.  Try to take the pomace as far from the winery as possible and consider treating it with copious amounts of hydrated lime to elevate the ph and to keep odors in check.  This elevation in ph will prevent lower ph bacteria from growing and result in safer pomace as far as cross-contamination is concerned.  Birds, insects and animals may visit this pomace pile before traveling to other areas, perhaps near or in your winery, carrying spoilage microbes with them. 

  FILTER PADS & DE: Removing filter pads from a filter and placing them in an indoor trash receptacle that is emptied only once a week has never made microbiological sense.  Instead remove them as rapidly as possible from the cellar and get them to a trash receptacle outside and off the property to avoid spoilage yeast from growing and being transferred to other areas in or near your winery.  Not only are they growing unwanted microbes – but also left long enough they will become very pungent!  Diatomaceous earth should be treated the same way or disposed of properly for bacteria growth reasons.

  TANKS: Clean the wine tanks just after emptying.  Once emptied the vessel will be open for insects to fly and move about freely inside the vessel so it should be cleaned.  If residuals of wine are left in the tank they will spoil and become cross-contamination sources.

  SUMMARY: The above examples are just some areas to consider.  Each winery cellar is different and each cellar has unique areas that need attention with regards to the above practices.  Take some time to walk around the cellar and out on the crush pad to explore possible areas to tighten up the sanitation regime to minimize and eliminate cross-contamination sources from the cellar.

  It should be the desire of every winemaker to have and keep a spoilage bacteria-free cellar.  Wines are easy to make and to keep in a healthy condition.  If the wines are kept free of spoilage conditions the workload is less.  Once spoilage conditions exist, the winemaker’s efforts are complicated and more time and effort is needed to focus on extreme sanitation measures.  Every winemaker should employ good winemaking practices to avoid such situations, which are easily avoided with proper cellar management.

  Cross contamination is the number one reason for wine spoilage, as the microbe has to come into your winery from one source or another to begin to grow.

  You will find your winery a different place after you review your cellar and identify sources of cross-contamination.  The wines will improve as a result of your diligence to remove cross-contamination sources, once identified.

Bon Chance!

Simplified Risk Management for Your Winery

By: Michael Harding, Senior Risk Solution Specialist, Markel Specialty

Take a look around. You must be so proud of where your winery is today! You’ve worked very hard to develop, finesse, and grow your winery to what you see in front of you. Countless hours and limited staffing have created a place of pride!

  You took a lot of risks to get your winery to where you are today. In fact, your winery probably wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t taken some of those risks. But now that it is more established, the risks are more significant – there is just so much more to lose! A serious calamity could be detrimental to all that you’ve built. And, unfortunately in today’s “mid-COVID” economic environment, limited staffing may present many challenges to your winery and it may be difficult to allot sufficient time to think about the many ways your winery might be impacted by previously unthought-of risks. Risks can be managed, however. Whether your winery is small or large, you have the responsibility to your employees, your clients, and yourself to invest in risk management planning.

  A lot of winery businesses only think about buying insurance when they think about risk management. However, many wineries don’t give much thought to other ways that they can protect their winery from the numerous risks that they face. Some risks are random and unpredictable (like weather and acts of nature). Others are more predictable and can be planned for – such as costs of supplies, overhead, new hires, and equipment replacement. There are also the other kinds of events that can – and do – happen almost anytime; they can disrupt your operations, take a chunk out of your reserves, kill your bank account, and cripple or destroy your winery.

  Trying to get your arms around all potential risks and attempting to completely eliminate them is unrealistic. On the other hand, not paying enough attention to relevant risk management issue can leave you unprotected. To that end, it makes sense to be cautious. The biggest challenge in risk management is to find the proper balance between peace of mind and running your winery.       

  Simply stated, risk management is a discipline for dealing with uncertainty. It provides you with an approach to recognize and confront the threats you face. Risk can be very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Every winery can start with a simple, easy-to-follow plan that can manage and lessen risk. If needed, you can expand from there.

Getting Started

  Risk management goes beyond just identifying risk; it is about learning to weigh your risks and making decisions about which risks deserve immediate attention.

  There are many ways to undertake risk identification; the key is using a system that allows you to identify major risks facing your winery. It is important to make a list and examine every risk, no matter how small; they could develop into something more serious over time. To begin, a risk assessment might  start by examining some of the different aspects of running your winery. You could look at your:

1.  Management practices

2.  Hiring and volunteer policies

3.  Training

4.  Staff, guest, and visitor safety

5.  Growing, harvesting, and production methods

6.  Insurance coverage

7.  Property and facilities

8.  Warehousing

9.  Workers compensation

10. Crisis and emergency planning

11. Auto and mobile equipment exposures

12. Social media

  Although this might, at first glance, appear to be complicated and involved, a simple way to start your own self-assessment that may be useful is to gather a few members of your staff representing various functions of your winery, and conduct a brainstorming session by asking a few questions:

1. What can go wrong?

2. What are you concerned about?

3. What will we do to prevent harm from occurring?

4. What will you do to lessen the worry?

5. How will you finance?

  Your answers to each will provide you with a direction for necessary action.

  From this session, you’ll undoubtedly have a sizable list with many concerns. And, just making a list of all possible risks is not enough. It is easy to quickly become overwhelmed, so you’ll need a way to take the risks you’re facing and put them into perspective. Not all risks are created equal. Risk management is not just about identifying risk; it is about learning to weigh various risks and making decisions about which risks deserve immediate attention. In doing this you will often find that your winery’s vulnerability to a risk is often a function of financial impact. What are the odds that a particular risk will materialize, and  how much is it likely to cost? How much does your winery stand to lose as a result? This helps quantify which risks are worth worrying about and which are not.

Using a Risk Matrix in Your Risk Assessment

  A risk matrix is a valuable tool you can use to help determine both the likelihood and the consequences of any particular risk. It helps you focus your attention on those issues that have higher consequences. In such a matrix, the likelihood is rated from probable to improbable and the consequences are rated from acceptable to intolerable. A risk that is almost certain to occur but has few serious consequences needs little attention. This enables you to identify and mitigate risks that may be less certain but have greater consequences.

Prioritize Your List

  Once you’ve assessed your risks, you can begin to take steps to control them – giving priority to those with the greatest likelihood of occurrence and/or biggest potential impact.

  Select appropriate risk management strategies and implement your plan. Here are four basic risk management techniques that can be used individually or in combination to address virtually most every risk you face:

1.    Avoid it: Whenever you can’t do something with a high degree of safety, you should choose avoidance as a risk management technique. Don’t engage in an activity or provide a service that pose too great a risk. In some cases, avoidance is the best technique because many wineries don’t have the financial resources required to fund the training, supervision, or other safety measures. Always ask, “Is there something we could do to provide this safely?” If the answer is “yes”, risk modification (#2 – next) may be more practical.

2.    Change it or modification: Modification is simply changing an activity or service to make it safer. Policies and procedures are examples of risk modification. For example, if a winery is concerned about the risk of using unsafe drivers make deliveries, they might add Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) record checks to its screening process.

3.    Take it on yourself/retention: A winery may decide that other available techniques above aren’t suitable and it will retain the risk of harm or loss. For example, when a winery purchases liability insurance and elects a $1,000 deductible, it’s retaining risk. Where organizations get into trouble is when risk is retained unintentionally, such as within the exclusions of their insurance policy.

4.    Share it: Risk sharing involves sharing risk with another through a contract. (Insurance is an example that shares the financial impact of risks.)

  Monitor and update the risk management program. Your winery is a dynamic one that constantly faces new challenges and opportunities. Risk management techniques and plans should be reviewed periodically to make certain that they remain the most appropriate strategy for your needs and circumstances.

Conclusion

  The ultimate goal for your winery regarding risk is to create a culture where risk is routinely examined and managed, simply as part of your organization’s overall business process. Risk management starts with the management of a winery. By operating in a transparent and ethical manner, a lot of risks are mitigated by promoting a sense of accountability.

We can’t know what lies ahead, but we do want to be prepared to respond to future events effectively and gracefully. Make a conscious effort to identify and manage your exposures. Ask:

•    Can you avoid or eliminate the risk?

•    If not, can you control or mitigate the risk?

•    Can you transfer the responsibility of finance?

  Reckless leaders take reckless risks; prudent leaders take calculated risks. Risk management is the “calculator”.  Kayode Omosebi

YOUR RISK MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

  The next step is to involve others in your efforts. Remember that an effective risk management program can never be the responsibility of one individual. If you’ve already engaged a group, task force, or committee in identifying risks and strategies, you’re well on your way to implementing a risk management program.

  Keep in mind that many effective strategies for managing risk in a winery may not require any additional expenses. Time, attention, and resolve may be all that’s needed to increase the safety of vital assets. Give your team a deadline—a  date by which you plan to have made significant progress in achieving your risk management goals. Review your progress frequently and set new goals as you achieve the existing ones.

  As we have discussed, risk management need not be a complex and bewildering array of technical terms, actuarial tables, or probability statistics. On the contrary, risk management is, in large part, the application of healthy doses of common sense and sound planning.

  Remember that the simpler the risk management strategy is, the more likely it is that it will be applied. Yes, there may be items that are not considered in the first iteration of the plan, but at the outset, it is more important that your program be comprehensible rather than comprehensive. As you continue to develop and refine your plan, what now seems new and strange will become second nature.

  As time passes, your plan should become more inclusive as you address more risks in order of their priority. As stated at the beginning of this article, risk management is a process not a task, therefore it is important to constantly review what you are doing, celebrate your triumphs, and analyze the reasons behind any setbacks.