Protein Fining Trials Step by Step

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Fining trials on white, blushes and some rose wines can be critical to determine the least amount of bentonite needed to achieve heat stability or protein stability.  Other fruit wines may need fining also.

  The most difficult part of fining trials is to have an understanding of working with such small volumes of wines in the lab and how to apply the trial calculations to the larger tanks.  Once one has a clear understanding and methodology the tasks become easier.  It may take several fining trials under ones belt before it becomes second nature and the task becomes “a piece of cake.”  It is recommended an outside lab be used to mirror your winery lab until such point the internal winery lab technician feels comfortable doing the test on his or her own.

Why Fine?

  It is important to do bentonite fining trials on even perfectly clear wine.  These perhaps perfectly clear wines may contain proteins that, when becoming warm or hot, may denature and form a haze, cloudiness or even sediment in your bottled wine. Although your winery is generally very cool you must anticipate “outside abuse” of your product and protect it because anything wrong in a bottle with your label on it – reflects poorly on your winery.

  Below is a list of equipment and instructions to perform your own trials in your winery lab.

Equipment Needed:

  Most winery labs have the basics and one should be able to acquire these additional items with little financial outlay.  Here is a list of basics.

1.   Bentonite from your cellar bulk fining agents.

2.   375 milliliter screw cap wine bottles (splits) – may reuse these.

3.   500 ml  beakers

4.   500 ml Erlenmeyer flasks

5.   Millipore filter apparatus plus ample 0.45 micron filters.

6.   545 DE as a filter aid, if needed

7.   Vacuum source for filter

8.   20 x 150 mm test tubes with screw caps

9.   Test tube rack holder or coffee cup

10. Stir plate with magnetic stir bars

11. Good scales to weight fining agent / bentonite

12. Good eyesight or a Nephelometer (optional)

13. Distilled water or tap water (non-chlorinated) for mixing bentonite.

14. Graduated cylinder ( 100 milliliter )

15. Pipettes 1ml, 2ml, 3 ml, 4ml, 5ml.  Or serological (preferred).

16. Crock pot cooker or similar

17. Wine glasses – don’t forget the wine glass!

  Agents should be made fresh each time a fining trial is to be performed or kept less than a month at room temperature.  Always remix the bentonite slurry before using in a trial.  Use bentonite directly from the cellar to make sure the trial will match/reflect the desired reaction in the wine tank.  If different batches of bentonite are used in the lab and cellar – the results may vary.

Instructions

1.  Select and prepare a 5% bentonite slurry solution by carefully dissolving 5 grams of bentonite in about 80 milliliters of 80 degree F water.  After properly mixed bring to volume with water to exactly 100 mils to make the 5% solution.  This step may be done in the 100 milliliter graduated cylinder listed above.

2.  Collect the proper volume of wine from the wine tank desired to perform the fining trial on.  Make sure the sample is representative of the complete wine tank otherwise results will not be reflected properly after the fining has been completed in the wine tank.   If planning to do 5 different levels of additions in a trial you may need 3 liters or more of wine.  Break down the volume of wine into 6 – 500 ml Erlenmeyer Flasks and have them remain as close to the cellar tank fining temperature as possible.

3.  Label the Erlenmeyer flasks at the rates desired to be tested in the lab trial.  Typically each wine will have two controls, a one pound per thousand, two pound per thousand gallons and so on up to 5 pounds per 1000 gallons trials.  Some varietals may require more bentonite but those will start to identify themselves in your winery and each year you will “know or anticipate” they may require more.

4.  Now we know the above mixed solution is a strength that 0.24 mils of a 5.0% solution per hundred milliliters of wine sample will equal a one pound per 1000 gallons addition rate.

      Extrapolating that out for example:  If one prefers to make a 400 milliliter trial and to settle in a 375 milliliter screw cap bottle one would add 0.96 milliliters of a 5% solution to a 400 milliliter sample to represent 1 pound per thousand gallons; mix and transfer into the 375 milliliter bottle. Further – add 1.92 milliliters of a 5% solution to 400 milliliters of sample to equal 2 pounds per thousands and so on.

      Metric:  For those that prefer metric the addition can be viewed this way.  One pound per thousand gallons equals 454 grams per 3785 liters or 0.048 grams in 400 milliliters.  This is the same as the above calculation using 0.96 milliliters of a 5% solution in 400 milliliters.

5.  When adding the bentonite slurry to the wine – make sure to be mixing the sample well yet do not use shearing force mixers such as a blender.  Use the amount of agitation one can expect to have in the wine tank while adding the fining agents while mixing in the cellar.  Always try and mimic the actual cellar experience as closely as possible in the lab.  If your lab has a magnetic stir bar assembly these work very well.

6.  Continue to mix the samples thoroughly after the addition of the agent or agents.  Perhaps a minute or so on a magnetic stir bar mixer.

7.  Discontinue mixing and transfer the wine into a labeled 375-ml wine bottle and place the screw cap on top.  The label should reflect the addition rate of that sample such a 0, 1,2,3,4,5.

8.  Place, in a dark area, in the cellar or lab at or near the exact wine tank temperature if possible.

9.  Allow to settle overnight or several days.

10.      Decant into a labeled beaker at least 250 mils of the 400-ml samples from each fining trial.  One portion, approximately 50 milliliters per person, may be transferred into pre-determined labeled clean wine glass for visual, sensory and palate evaluation.   The other portion should move forward for further lab testing for the protein stability examination.

11.      The above analysis will allow one to taste different fining agent levels to help understand the rate of bentonite added and the expected sensory changes, if any, found at different levels.  Remember to incorporate an unfined sample in your tastings and lab work as a reference point to determine if a fining should be performed, at all, on a certain wine.

12.      If the wines are not settled enough for visual examination one can employ the 0.45 micron filter listed above to filter out suspended particles.  If sensory is to be done after filtrations make sure to treat the filter pads prior to use with a light citric acid solution.  This will remove any filter pad flavor.  This same filtered wine can then be moved forward to the protein testing below.  Use a new filter pad for each sample to eliminate sloughing of the proteins from one sample to the next.

Simple Protein Test

  Using the clean, dry 20×150 mm screw cap test tubes above fill each one about half full with the varying filtered fining trial levels created above.  Label each test tube respective to its “pounds per thousands” contents.  For each wine have a control sample that will go through the heat treatment described and one that will remain with no heating.

  Collect each sample after filtering in the lab in its respective test tube labeled 0,1,2…5.

  Heat the test tubes in a crock pot with water to roughly 70 degrees C ( near 160 degrees F) for 8 hours.  (See photo bellow)  This is a great place to use the test tube holder or coffee cup.

  Remove the test tubes from the heat source and allow to cool to room temperature.  Visually inspect, under a bright light source, for any sediment or haze that may have formed in the test tubes of wine.  Compare to the control sample as well.  Re-examine the following day to see if other changes have taken place with a flocculate formation or haze.  Most winemakers may use eyesight while others trust the Nephelometer listed above.  (I have always just used eyesight)

  Determine what fining level gives the wine the desired protein/heat stability.

  Once you have determined what amount of bentonite is necessary to make the wine protein/heat stable then perform the fining in the tank at that same rate.  For example if you find two pounds per 1000 gallons remained clear in the testing after heating then you have determined that rate should be used in the cellar after proper rehydration of the bentonite.  Once the wine is racked off the fining agent and collected in a clean tank you should perform another heat test, without the trials as a pass / fail test only, to determine if the wine performed in the tank as the trial predicted.  Always double check the results after performing the fining in the tank. 

Other Helpful Tips:

  Make sure the wines or juices are low in Carbon Dioxide gas since the bubbles may attach to the bentonite preventing it from settling in the tank or lab beaker.

  PH affects the rate of settling – lower pH wines generally settle faster in almost all cases.

  The bentonite protein reaction is a positive negative charge reaction – and then settling allows separation from the reacted bentonite.

  Most winemakers leave the bentonite in the wine tank to settle roughly 20 days.  Anything past 30 days may result in the proteins sloughing off the bentonite since the positive /negative charge may weaken.

  The ultimate goal of a fining trial is to use the least amount of fining agent possible to achieve the stability desired for the wine.

  Use pipettes to accurately measure the fining agents.  Serological pipettes offer nice results with incremental additions. Think of how you can perform fining trials in your lab and set aside future time to work with your plan.  You will be amazed at how much refining can be done to wine and how easy it really is.  Make this a part of your work improvement schedule for the year to come!

  Summary: Recall this is only one task to perform on white / rose wines wines generally prior to bottling.  Often three months from bottling is a time to look at the blends to perform finings and other stabilities before bottling.  Bentonite finings in the cellar should settle 20 days, roughly, to avoid heavy racking losses.  Don’t forget aroma trials also before adding bentonite.  Copper additions before adding bentonite may help remove any excess copper after reaction.  Cold/tartrate stability actions are typically taken after achieving protein stability.  Those wineries still going “unfined and unfiltered” may look at their products with the above tests just to make sure they are comfortable with the possible results.

Palmaz Vineyards: The Winery of the Future

The barrel room in the cave. Christian Palmaz is designing an artificial intelligence system that will monitor wines as they age in barrels.

By: Nan McCreary

If you want to envision the winery of the future—a winery that leverages cutting-edge technology with the ancient art of winemaking—look no further than Palmaz Vineyards, hidden within the forested ridges of Napa Valley’s Mount George. Here, the Palmaz family is applying innovative, if not futuristic, tools to enhance the artistic elements of wine.

  Winery founder, Julio Palmaz, a physician and inventor of the Palmaz Coronary Stent, a device that revolutionized medicine, is clearly a man ahead of his time. From the beginning, he and his wife, Amalia, set out to create a winery that made harmonious use of tradition and technology to craft great vintages. That vision led them, along with their children Florencia and Christian Gastón (and Christian’s wife, Jessica Louise), to an abandoned property in Napa Valley, the former Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery, founded in 1881 by German immigrant and wine pioneer Henry Hagen. Hagen’s early success, the cool climate and stony soils—as well as the mountain’s potential for housing a multilevel gravity winery—inspired the Palmaz family to purchased the property in 1997, and spend the next three years restoring the house and developing the new winery and vineyard.

   “The 640-acre property was one of Napa’s few contiguous vineyards to retain its acreage after prohibition,” Christian Palmaz told The Grapevine Magazine. “Henry Hagen had planted grapes at three different altitudes, and we wanted to retain that philosophy. With so many different soils and microclimates, the place was begging to be planted by terroir.”

  Before planting, the Palmaz family analyzed 4,900 core samples from around the property to reveal the vineyard’s geology.  This data, along with analysis of climate and irrigation needs, led to the designation of 15 unique terroirs subdivided into 46 blocks, or parcels, throughout the property. Planting began in March 1998, and ultimately included eight different rootstocks based on geological considerations, plus some vines grafted onto various clones. Grapes were planted on 64 acres at three elevations—400, 1,200 and 1,400 feet above sea level—to take advantage of the varied terroirs and microclimates at each altitude.

  While the vineyards matured, the Palmaz family began construction of The Cave, a remarkable feat of engineering bored 18 stories into the bedrock of Mount George.  The cave was specifically designed to accommodate true gravity-flow winemaking, which treats the grapes and resulting wines as gently as possible on their journey from the sorting table, to the fermenters, to the filters, to the barrels and, ultimately, to the bottle. 

  “When gravity-flow wineries became prevalent, we realized that all had elevators, but the process compromised the wines at the end—when the wine was most delicate—by using pumps to move the wine through filtration,” Palmaz said. “We believed that this agitation could potentially degrade the wine’s delicate tannin polymers, so we engineered the winery to solve that problem. That’s why the structure is so tall.”

  The cave-building odyssey lasted nine years and now stands as a technological wonder in Napa Valley. At 100,000 square feet, it is the largest wine cave in Napa, as well as the largest soft-rock excavation in a single space in the area. In a testament to the Palmaz family’s commitment to sustainability, the cave houses its own water treatment plant, capturing and treating 1.5 million gallons of water per year, water which would ordinarily be drawn from the water table.

  At the heart of the winery is the fermentation dome, lined with 24 fermentation tanks that can accommodate grapes from individual vineyards across the estate. The tanks sit atop a carousel that rotates to receive grapes from the optical sorter located directly above them, exposing the grapes to as little handling as possible. Because each tank has many variables depending on the characteristics of the specific vineyard, Palmaz developed an intelligent winemaking assistant, FILCS (Fermentation Intelligent Logic Control System), nicknamed Felix. Felix measures events in the fermentation process, then adjusts the temperature and rate of fermentation as needed. Essentially, Felix utilizes the latest technologies in machine learning algorithms to project real-time conditions within the tanks onto the ceiling of the dome, giving the dome the appearance of a space-age command center. As winemakers digitally monitor what is happening at the moment in the tank, they are free from tasks that normally require manual testing and can concentrate on tasting and other creative aspects of producing great wine.

  “Winemaking is a biologically controlled reaction, plus things we can’t put numbers to,” Palmaz said. “These things are what you can see, smell, taste and feel. It’s the art. I designed Felix to free winemakers from distractions so they could add that human touch and enhance their artistic influence. If the winemaker wants a more extracted aroma, or a more extracted color, for example, they can tell Felix how to manage it. If they catch the moment when a beautiful aromatic shows up, they can put Felix on hold and preserve that moment. It’s all about time and efficiency and a little bit of quality control.”

  Felix is only one component of the Palmaz family’s merger of tradition and technology to make great wine. Christian Palmaz, with his strong background in computer science, also designed VIGOR (Vineyard Infrared Growth Optical Recognition) to monitor and adjust conditions in the vineyard. Twice a week, aircraft fly over the vineyards and take infrared images that illustrate vine health by measuring chlorophyll in the plants. That data, along with ground data collected manually, helps determine how much irrigation each plant requires.

  “The objective,” Palmaz said, “is to make adjustments so that all of the vines are ripening evenly. I had a college professor who said, ‘Low tech farming is farming the group so that all the vines behave like an individual. High tech farming is farming the individual to behave as a group.’ That’s what we’re doing. It’s the future of farming.”  For Palmaz Vineyards, VIGOR has paid off: in its first year, Palmaz experienced a nearly 20% reduction in water usage per acre.

  In addition to Felix and VIGOR, Palmaz has incorporated Veeam Backup Essentials software into the system as tools for data backup and recovery. With data-driven decision making, Palmaz generates multi-petabytes (one petabyte equals one million gigabytes) of information.  “Data was burying us,” he told The Grapevine Magazine.  “Data was getting produced faster than I could find a place to store it.” 

  Before Veeam, Palmaz was storing all of its information on the cloud. The cost was high, and the data was unorganized and difficult to access. With Veeam, data is arranged in a chronological format.  Some data— the more important data that needs to be readily accessible—is stored on site. The rest resides in the cloud.

  Today, while founders Julio and Amalia play a lesser role in the winery’s day-to-day operations, Christian and his sister, Florencia, steer the ship, following their parents’ vision of bringing innovation and invention to the art of winemaking. Christian is in charge of all winery and vineyard operations, and Florencia is CEO at Palmaz Vineyards and president of the family’s other primary business, GoodHeart Brand Specialty Foods Company. Christian’s wife, Jessica, is president of Palmaz Vineyards and responsible for the day-to-day management and customer experience. In total, the winery employs 50 people. The vineyards grow five Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec), three white (Chardonnay, Muscat and Riesling), as well as Grenache for a Provençal-style Rosé.  According to Christian Palmaz, case production floats between 7,500 and 10,000 cases per year. “Our wines have a lot of personality,” he said. “Each wine has an unspoken characteristic that gives it a sense of place. We are extremely fortunate; we have a great following.”

  As Palmaz Vineyards looks to the future, technology will inevitably play a leading role. Later this year, Palmaz will roll out STAVES, which stands for Sensory Transambiental Variance Experiment, to monitor wines as they age in the barrel. According to Palmaz, STAVES is a suite of sensors that attach to the barrel, measuring a host of variables. “Each barrel is handmade, and each barrel breathes a little differently,” he said. “We think that’s important, and we need to study it to help us determine when to rack, for instance, or when to the pull the wine.  It’s like Felix but for barrels.”

  Clearly, technology is in the blood of the Palmaz family as the second generation follows the footsteps of Julio and Amalia. Being bullish on innovation, Christian Palmaz is sharing his data with universities, such as the University of California, Davis, so oenology students see, for the first time, the fermentation process thermographically.

  “I hope that Palmaz gets remembered not for just developing tools for winemaking, but for setting a tone on how innovation can coexist with the oldest man-made food product,” Palmaz told The Grapevine Magazine. “The most important ingredient in wine is the people, and we will always respect that. Even with innovation, wine is as handcrafted as a painting; it’s way past quality control. It’s waving a wand; it’s magic. That’s what makes the process so special.”

Mobile Bottling Provides Experience, Expertise and Cost Control

Photo Credit: Signature Mobile Bottlers

By: Gerald Dlubala

The proper bottling of your wine is important. Timing, experience, state of the art equipment and expert knowledge are critical to the wine’s integrity, taste and shelf life. However, many wineries don’t have the budget for all the intricate machinery needed to bottle wine properly, or the expertise and availability of dedicated technicians to keep bottling equipment running at peak performance.

  Mobile bottling has filled that void, and for good reason. The average production winery may only need a week to 10 days for product bottling a year, making it hard to justify the number of resources it takes to purchase, run and maintain an in-house bottling line. Some wineries have chosen to let go of their in-house bottling machines, citing the amount of maintenance, upgrades and training that goes into keeping up a system that remains idle most of the year. Others have used mobile bottling since their inception. The benefits of using mobile bottling include utilizing the resulting space for more useful purposes, saving money once used on necessary machinery and technology upgrades, and the use of industry experts rather than needing to train employees on the ins and outs of the bottle machine each year. 

Quality Bottling with Experienced Professionals

  Dave Scholz, President of Signature Mobile Bottlers, knows the importance of bottling in maintaining the integrity of a winemaker’s product. He operates his mobile bottling company as if the wine he’s bottling is his own. Reflecting this, Signature Mobile Bottlers offers the same quality and convenience of having a permanently installed bottling system, but in a customized trailer that comes to you when you need it and out of the way when you don’t. The winery need only provide power, employees to assist, and the consumables, meaning bottles, labels and closures. The price for bottling with them starts at about 20 cents per bottle.

“After your wine has gone through all the necessary stages of filtration and is in a storage or holding tank, we’re ready to bottle,” said Scholz. “Our trucks back up to your dock, and the wine is pumped to our trailer to begin the bottling process.”

  That process starts with the empty wine bottles being fed onto an unscrambling table where Signature uses inverted bottle cleaning and nitrogen to expel any debris while simultaneously removing oxygen from the bottle. Since nitrogen is heavier than air, the bottles are turned upright and conveyed to the filler while remaining nitrogen filled. A gravity-fed rotary filler dispenses the wine into the oxygen-free environment, pushing the nitrogen up and into the bottle’s headspace. Auto leveling devices ensure exact fill levels before quality sealing by corking or screw cap. Corks are compressed and driven into the bottle under vacuum, and screw caps are installed using 400 pounds of downforce.

A final nitrogen dose using Chart Industries dosing machines form and create the seal between cap and bottle. Mechanical arms with rollers adjusted with precise tolerances form the threads and safety seal for perfect capping. Signature Mobile Bottlers use multi-head capsule spinners to apply Tin, Polylam or Aluminum capsules to provide that complete, finished bottle look. Labels are applied using Impresstik Vacuum belt labelers, so the winery must have the labels prepared to the correct specifications. Once the wine is bottled, sealed and labeled, the bottles make a U-turn and are conveyed back alongside the trailer wall to be packed and sent out ready to ship.

  “We bottle everything at roughly 60 bottles per minute, which gives us 1,800–2,000 cases per day,” said Scholz. “We’ve found that’s a good rate, both for bottling and the human side of the process. Additionally, changeovers between varietals can take place more quickly at this speed, averaging about 15 to 20 minutes per changeover versus an hour on higher speed lines. We do have a high-speed truck available if someone needs faster speeds, but the 60 bpm rate is a reasonable daily output and seems to work best for our customers.”

  Scholz told The Grapevine Magazine that with 15 mobile bottling trucks on the road, Signature Mobile Bottlers have the largest fleet in the business. “We use our bottling trucks nearly every day. Every harvest, our trucks are torn down to replace normal wear parts and be put through a comprehensive maintenance program that keeps our machinery tolerances at original factory specifications. Our trucks and systems are continually updated and serviced, virtually eliminating the chance of breakdowns during the critical timeframe of bottling. On top of that, our technicians are on the job every day, bottling wine under every type of condition and specification, rather than being a general employee that is expected to also run a bottling system for a few days out of the year. They’ve seen most issues and know how to react on the spot.” 

  “We’ve been doing this for 31 years, so I’d like to think we’ve learned some things,” said Scholz.

Mobile Bottlers Become Partners in the Winemaking Process

  Brandon Dixon is the general manager and executive winemaker for Noboleis Vineyards in Augusta, Missouri. Noboleis Vineyards has successfully used mobile bottling services since 2011. 

  “We’ve been with Old Woolam Custom Bottling since the company’s inception,” said Dixon. “The mobile bottling service that Old Woolam provides fixes all of the problems that we had when we bottled our wine on a manual line. The manual line consisted of a rinser, sparger, six-spout gravity filler, corker, capsule spinner and labeler and took six people to run efficiently. Even then, it was still a very slow process compared to an automatic bottling line, and our wine was still being exposed to a fair amount of oxygen. On top of that, it was a constant headache to keep the bottling line in proper working order for when we needed it. Conversely, there is very little oxygen pick up using an automatic line, and our maintenance responsibility is zero, so it became an easy decision for us to switch to a mobile bottling service when one became available.”

  Dixon told The Grapevine Magazine that by using a mobile bottler, he can bottle considerably more wine in a day while using only four people, and can do it using only three if needed. Noboleis typically bottles between 2,000 and 2,500 gallons per day, a significant increase over the 300 to 400 gallons using their manual line.

  “Brent Baker, the founder of Old Woolam Custom Bottling, is always there on bottling day,” said Dixon. “He sets the line up to our specifications, steam sterilizes it, and is responsible for keeping it running efficiently during bottling. The only hurdle we had to overcome to be able to use a mobile bottler was to install a dedicated electrical circuit and a specific type of outlet so the bottling line could be plugged into our power.”

  “We start to schedule and prepare for bottling about four to six weeks in advance. Once we have a date scheduled with Old Woolam, we order all of our bottling supplies,” Dixon said. “Prior to the day of bottling, all of the wines we’re bottling are filtered to 0.45 microns and finished however would be appropriate for that particular wine’s style. On the day of bottling, we set up the filter again because we will run the wine through the filter just before it goes into the bottling line. We use 0.45-micron pads and a 0.45-micron absolute membrane filter. This ensures that our wine is sterile as it goes into the bottling line. This step is just a precautionary step that helps us winemakers sleep at night! As we are setting up the filters, the bottling lines are being steam sterilized. The set up takes about 60-90 minutes, and then once everyone is ready to go, bottling starts.”

  “Old Woolam offers the option of corks or screwcaps for closures,” said Dixon. “The only real limitation with using an automatic bottling line is the size and shape of the bottle that we can use. There are several parts on the line that need to be changed out when changing the size and shape of the bottle. Old Woolam has the change parts for all of the standard sizes and shapes, as well as a few non-standard sizes. Old Woolam is typically able to meet all of our bottling needs except for a few exceptions. We have a few small volume specialty wines that we use irregular-shaped bottles for, and we do continue to bottle those wines on our manual line.” 

  Notably, many mobile bottlers use gravity fillers, making them unable to bottle carbonated or under-pressure wines. Dixon told The Grapevine Magazine that it isn’t a big deal for Noboleis because they don’t currently have a need or the equipment necessary to carbonate their wines.

  “When looking for a mobile bottler, it’s important for wineries to look for a great working partnership like the one I have with Old Woolam,” said Dixon. “The prices are fair, he’s reliable, hardworking, and goes out of his way to make sure our expectations are met. At the end of the day, I would never want to go back to bottling all of our wines on a manual bottling line. It wouldn’t be feasible given the volume that we have grown into. We would spend all of our time bottling!”

End-of-Line Packaging:

Protecting Your Product, Productivity and Profit

By: Cheryl Gray

For any winery, end-of-line packaging is the protector of hours expended by both man and machine to get the finished product safely from vineyard to glass.

  Such a huge responsibility is shouldered by companies whose integrity is measured solely by how carefully they help winery clients select the right end-of-line packaging to accommodate their needs.

A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation

  A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation, a privately held, family-owned business founded in 1940, counts itself in that number, selling packaging machinery to a wide range of companies manufacturing consumer packages goods. Since the 1960s, the end-of-line packaging company has been an equipment supplier to some of the wine industry’s biggest names, providing a complete line of machinery for winery packaging focused on the dry end of the packing line. Brian Sinicrope is Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

  “The dry end of the packaging line starts with the bottles being delivered to the winery. These are either delivered in reshipper cases or bulk pallet loads. If reshippers, the bottles must be unloaded from the cases to feed the line, using a decaser. Then, the cases are transported to the packer for repacking. When receiving bottles in bulk, the winery will use a depalletizer to unload and single file the containers from the bulk pallets to feed the line. At the other end of the line, filled and finished bottles are packed into either reshipper cases or new cases (if the bottles were purchased in bulk), then on to case sealing, and finally, palletizing for shipment or warehousing.”

  Sinicrope told The Grapevine Magazine that case sealers are another must-have component of a winery’s automated end-of-line packaging operation.

  “Case sealers are always used at wineries that use reshipper case packaging, as they are needed to seal the top flaps of the cases after the bottles are packed. A-B-C manufactures several models for various speeds and that seal with either hot-melt adhesive or pressure-sensitive tape. A-B-C case sealers have exclusive features to manage the flaps of the reshipper cases to ensure smooth folding and sealing of the inner and outer flaps, without the need for a separate flap positioner,” he said.

  “Case sealers are also used on lines that receive their bottles in bulk. In this scenario, a case erector will set up and seal the bottom flaps of corrugated cases. Then, the cases travel to a partition inserter that erects and inserts either a corrugated or chipboard grid into the case. After the bottles are packed, the case goes to a top case sealer that closes and seals the top flaps.  Finally, [the case goes] on to the palletizer.”

  A typical A-B-C winery client runs anywhere from 15 to more than 20 cases per minute. Sinicrope added that while there are trends, the purchase of end-of-line packaging machinery depends upon a robust assessment of a winery client’s need. 

  “A winery transitioning from reshippers to bulk may need a depalletizer, case erector, and partition inserter, and use their existing packer, top case sealer and palletizer. Or, a winery may decide to automate their palletizing, and we supply only a palletizer,” Sinicrope said. “Many companies are evaluating robotic equipment, and we offer robotic packers and palletizers as well. So, I would say, although there are trends, the equipment purchased depends on the application.”

  For small wineries packing fewer than ten cases per minute, the cost to fully mechanize every aspect of end-of-line packaging might be prohibitive. Therefore, many opt to perform end-of-line packing functions manually. However, Sinicrope said that A-B-C offers a semi-automatic palletizer that can improve productivity for small wineries looking to automate this specific element of end-of-line packaging.

  “Fully packed wine cases are heavy, and palletizing can be labor-intensive, even at low speeds. In addition, there is a potential for liability because of the repetitive motion of the task. Our semi-automatic palletizer lets one operator slide cases into the pallet pattern at the conveyor level. Then the layer is lifted and placed into pallet formation. The machine eliminates the repetitive lifting and potential strain of manual palletizing at an economical cost.”

  Sinicrope told The Grapevine Magazine that A-B-C typically works with customers packaging their products in corrugated cases with partitions, and those cases are palletized for shipping and warehousing. The packaging materials used and equipment deployed has proven to be a successful combination for its clients.

  “A corrugated box with partitions is highly effective at protecting products during shipment and final delivery. However, it is important to make sure the packaging equipment performs secure case sealing and that the packed cases are not subjected to enough moisture that could cause corrugated failure.” This, he said, is rare. “Corrugated boxes have been a standard for packaging for many years because they are durable, provide good product protection and superior stacking strength. Today, companies are looking for sustainable packaging solutions, and corrugated boxes are a cost-effective, renewable solution.”

Wine Country Shipping, Inc.

  Wine Country Shipping, Inc., does precisely what its name implies. In business for more than 25 years, the company services approximately 150 wineries, retail outlets and hotels throughout Sonoma County, California. Its sister company, Wine Country Cellars, LLC, provides more than 10,000 square feet of temperature-controlled storage space for winery products. Janice Laskoski is President and Managing Owner of Wine Country Shipping and sole owner of Wine Country Cellars. Using rigid quality control standards in packaging and shipping, Laskoski told The Grapevine Magazine that the priority for both of her companies is to protect what she describes as her winery clients’ “liquid assets.”

  “If time has taught us one thing, it is that every customer wants their wine shipped quickly, safely and easily. That is the premise upon which we have built our reputation,” she said.

  Wine Country Shipping uses cartons, pallets or shrink-wrap pallets for end-of-line packaging materials. Quality control includes careful inspection of all items before, during and after packaging to ensure nothing goes amiss during shipping. Laskoski said that using the right packaging makes a tremendous difference in protecting winery products during both shipping and final delivery.

  “The right packaging is very important. Styrofoam has proven with our partners, UPS and FedEx, to be the most reliable, but pulp is being requested more and more due to the environment,” said Laskoski.

Tetra Pak

  Tetra Pak cartons are the end-of-line packaging choice for wineries doing business with California Natural Products. The company, located in the San Joaquin Valley in northern California, has been in business for 40 years with customers across the U.S. and Canada. The attributes of a Tetra Pak are attractive to many consumers. Among them is sustainability, since the product is made from at least 75% recyclable paper derived from responsibly managed forests. It is portable, flexible and unbreakable packaging, designed with a “grab and go” concept popular with consumers. The Tetra Pak also has the convenience of a resealable cap, giving the option of either consuming now or storing for later use.

  Tom Jansen is Vice President, Business Development for CNP.  He said that using a Tetra Pak format for end-of-line packaging benefits wineries in other tangible ways. “Tetra Pak protects the product by eliminating oxygen entry and light from exposure to the product, which is ideal for wine. Tetra Pak is lighter than glass or cans and allows for more efficient delivery as a result.”

  Tetra Pak is one of three companies under the umbrella of the Tetra Laval Group, a trio of firms headquartered in Switzerland. Tetra Laval Group provides end-of-line packaging equipment for the wine and spirits industries, covering critical needs such as packaging, secondary packaging, conveying and palletizing.

  Bandit Wines is one brand that prefers Tetra Pak cartons because of its own mission to utilize eco-friendly end-of-line packaging. Take, for example, fuel efficiency. The California-based wine producer said its shipping costs are lower before and after filling because of the lightweight and space-saving features of Tetra Pak cartons. Bandit Wines also said that for consumers, not only do they buy a wine product that is convenient and environmentally safe but also packaged in a container that holds 50% more wine than a comparably sized wine bottle.

  Boris Munster, Vice President of Contract Manufacturing, Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada, told The Grapevine Magazine that as a global innovator for end-of-line packaging, Tetra Pak is in a position to help wine producers and their products stand out.

  “Wine is traditionally bottled in glass, but several wine producers have discovered the advantages of using Tetra Pak’s packages,” Munster said. “Carton packages are available in a wide range of sizes and are printable on all sides, opening big opportunities for design and branding.”

  From machinery to shipping to branding and more, there is virtually no end-of-line packaging need that is not essential to getting wine to the marketplace and into consumer’s hands.

The Best Wine Labels Capture Attention and Reflect Brand

Photo Credit: Sara Nelson Design (saranelsondesign.com)

By: Gerald Dlubala

A wine bottle is more than just a vessel that gets wine into the hands of consumers. The wine inside that bottle reflects the winemaker, providing a story of their life and their passion. It creates an identity and image for the wine that becomes the brand. Creating a label that is reflective of these components is important for both the winemaker and the consumer. There are many options out there, whether purchasing the labels from a printer, going paperless, printing them in-house or a combination, each with advantages and uses. One thing stays consistent when considering a label—it needs to reflect the brand and image the winemaker believes in while also attracting the shelf-surfing eye of the consumer.

Professionally Printed Designs are Limitless

  “A label designed to grab attention on the shelf is the name of the game, and that’s what we do best,” said Katie Harrington, Marketing Manager of Blue Label Packaging Company in Lancaster, Ohio. “The sky is the limit regarding wine labeling, and that presents an incredible opportunity for wine producers. We know that the labels are what grabs the consumer’s attention and encourages them to pick the bottle up. There are so many ways to do that now, that it’s only up to the imagination as to what comes through our door.”

  “With the flexibility in budgets that we see from wineries, there are endless options, even for small runs,” said Harrington. “Self-adhesive and pressure sensitive labels are the most common in the wine industry, and we can always help the winemaker with sizing needs based on what they want to do, how they want to do it and how they apply the labels.”

  After that, the choices are endless, starting with a choice between standard traditional paper labels through increasingly sturdier estate paper selections. Paper labels are still the most widely used in the industry, and because there are multiple types and combinations of paper to choose from, winemakers have a bit of an advantage when not having to keep their wines refrigerated.

  “Paper textures with a linen or cobblestone feel are examples of great bases for eye-catching designs,” said Harrington. “The interesting thing is we’ve actually found that a label’s texture or combination of textures is at least equally as important as the design itself in establishing brand and product identity.”

  The bevy of options carries on through label design as well.

  “With new clients, we’re here to listen and then show you the possibilities regarding textures, color choices, design types and enhancements like die cuts, embossing, foil stamping, double-sided printing or a combination of any of these and more,” Harrington said. “It really is exciting as to what can be done, and then there are options for almost every step along the way as well. If you are interested in foil stamping but your budget doesn’t allow it, we can actually simulate that sheen and label pop by doing things a little different with a combination of color blocking and our translucent inks. Some winemakers choose to be unique with variable imaging, where every single label is different but themed or connected in some way. For example, we’ve had labels printed with each label featuring different sections of a map or different pictures that are all related and connect with their brand or image. And we’ve all seen the labels with printed codes so that the consumer can scan them and get information on the wine, winery, winemaker or whatever message the winemaker wants to pass along. Codes can also be added for tracking or origination purposes if needed. And if desired, finished labels can be coated with a UV varnish to protect the label from damage during shipping or to add texturized appearance like a gloss, satin or matte finish.”

  Harrington told The Grapevine Magazine that Blue Label Packaging uses HP Indigo printers and can attain the entire color spectrum using their four or seven color units, making color choices endless. Unlike many label designers and printers, Blue Label does everything in-house. There is no outsourcing because of labor-intensive or highly technical functions that need to be incorporated.  

  “Label designs have become a very important marketing tool for winemakers, and the trends have shown some interesting choices and patterns,” said Harrington. “There is a prevalence in adventuresome packaging, with winemakers choosing to either go very minimalistic—using just one base color or a foil to distinguish their brand and leave the wine to provide the experience—or to go all out with the most ornate and design loaded label possible. They’ll use several passes on the same label for layering, coming up with scenes using foil, embossing, special die-cut layers or a combination of options. The labeled bottles are almost too much like art to discard after emptying.”

  Harrington also said that recently, some wineries have begun to embrace labeling practices seen mostly in the brewing industry.

  “One other thing that is just starting is the increased use of the shrink sleeves that are popular in the beer industry. They have their own tamper seal and provide 360-degree coverage, which in the label aspect means 360-degree label printing and decorating availability. Right now, we see it mostly in the small travel packs or four-pack small bottles, but it’s another option.”

Screen Printed Wine Labels Offer Simplicity but take Planning

  Screen-printed labels are a natural transition from paper labels, allowing wineries to get rid of the need to purchase, set up, operate and maintain a labeling machine. Screen printing generally delivers a freshened-up look from original paper label artwork, transposed onto the wine bottle surface. After the bottles are loaded up with ink, they travel through a lehr-type oven, meaning a long kiln with an end-to-end temperature gradient, common in glassmaking production. As the bottle moves along the kiln’s path, the screen-printed label gradually cools, making it durable with no print or color errors or runs.

  The advantage of using screen printed labels is the potential for simplification and added durability. The wine bottle can be used as the background color rather than starting with a colored paper background. Although screen printing can generally handle up to 10 colors, including pricier precious inks like gold and silver, the average winery uses only two or three, and rarely more than six. Screen printed labels are less likely to be damaged by scuffing or rubbing during transportation and distribution, and refrigeration, humidity or moisture are not as much of a concern as they are with paper labels. Once bottling is underway, the setup and management of the filling process are streamlined by one step since there’s no need to apply labels.

  The disadvantage to screen printing is that it takes additional upfront planning and reliable logistical scheduling to make sure that enough bottles are printed and on location for bottling. Depending on the printer company and the number of bottles to be screen printed, the turnaround date on having bottles shipped out, printed and returned can range from one to three weeks.

Etching Provides Distinction & Elegance

  Bottle etching is a process that delivers a distinctive version of a label or brand image by carving into the bottle’s surface. It can be done on filled bottles because it is a cold process, blasting a very fine silicate, like aluminum oxide, through a series of nozzles to permanently, but gently, engrave the label onto the bottle. Once the label is etched onto the glass surface, paint can be applied to complete a true work-of-art label. The number of passes and color changes the bottle goes through is determined by the complexity of the image.

  Because etching is a labor-intensive and pricey option, it’s generally reserved for special occasions wines. Etched label bottles are great for fundraisers, gifts, wine club memberships, special releases or for display in tasting rooms. They can also be made to commemorate personal milestones like anniversaries, birthdays or wedding party gifts, or winery production milestones like bottles or barrels produced. Etched bottles are kept for their artwork as keepsakes, and, when coupled with matching etched glasses, can make an ordinary occasion elegant and memorable.

Self-Printed Labels for Flexibility and Convenience

  Printing labels in-house offers the ultimate in flexibility and is a quality option for wineries that have multiple small runs with different products or like to change their label design or type frequently. Smaller run wine producers that prefer an on-demand, do-it-yourself approach to creating labels can do that with the right equipment. Companies like Primera Technology, a leading manufacturer of specialty printers, offer equipment that specifically caters to wineries that want or need to print their labels in-house. The printers are operated and controlled from a PC or laptop and are compatible with both Windows and Mac environments.

  Machine costs run the spectrum based on what the winery wants to do and how fast it needs it done but generally start around $1,000. Production from a cartridge of color ink will always depend on the coverage needed for the label. So, as with a budget for a professionally printed label, it’s wise to consider the color choices and design complexity. Circular and nonstandard labels are accommodated by readjusting the print settings. 

  Printing labels in-house is an advantage for wineries that need label changes quickly or frequently produce specially bottled wines for private or public functions, seasonal specials, corporate gifts or any event requesting specialized labeling.

Southbrook Vineyards: Living a Sustainable Mantra

By: Alyssa Andres

Many wineries are starting to move toward more sustainable practices, not only because it’s ethical but also because it results in a superior product. The term sustainable could include the transition to organic winemaking and vineyard operations, the use of less water and energy, or the utilization of recycled materials in production. Southbrook Vineyards in Canada’s Niagara Peninsula has taken the concept of “sustainable” and designed their entire operation around it. From the vineyard to the winemaking to the design of their tasting room, Southbrook has made it their mission from day one to have as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible. They’ve even coined themselves Canada’s most thoughtful winery.

  Southbrook has pursued the goal of sustainability from the start. Owner, entrepreneur and wine connoisseur, Bill Redelmeier, always believed in the idea of a sustainable winery. Since establishing Southbrook in 2005, he set out to make it as low impact as possible. Redelmeier’s goal was to provide an example of what was possible in Ontario and back it up with certification. Starting as a 75-acre plot in Niagara-on-the-Lake, by 2008, Redelmeier had expanded his vineyard property to 150-acres. By 2010, Southbrook Vineyards became the first winery in Canada to be completely certified organic, biodynamic and sustainable in both its vineyard and winemaking practices. 

  Being organic and biodynamic, the winery does not use any synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizer, bioengineering or genetically modified organisms. Instead, they use an all-natural approach in the vineyard, emphasizing the relationship between the plants, soil and wildlife, and treating them as a single living entity. This low impact method of viticulture focuses on nourishing the soil and the surrounding environment.

For soil fertility, the winery relies on sheep fed with organically grown hay. They do not rely on irrigation at all. They use specially prepared composts, incorporate their own blend of herbal teas into the soil, and align their farming activities with lunar energy in an attempt to interfere with the natural environment as little as possible.

In 2008, the 75-acres of Southbrook Vineyards became certified by Demeter, the international body that oversees biodynamic agriculture, joining the elite ranks of other prestigious Demeter certified wineries, including Benziger Family Wineries in California and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace. The winery believes the result of these biodynamic practices is beautiful, vibrant wine that is a true expression of its terroir.

  Not only is Southbrook biodynamic and organic, their tasting room and winemaking facility are also designed to be as green as possible. Southbrook is certified sustainable “from soil to shelf” by Sustainable Winemaking Ontario, an organization that inspects every aspect of a winery’s operation from viticulture and water management to energy use. The facility is the first winery in the world to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Award for its design.

  It’s no wonder they were awarded this designation; Southbrook’s entire operation was designed with these standards in mind. The process started with sourcing as many materials as possible from local businesses and using as many recycled materials as possible in the design. The building is made from 15% recycled materials, with 20% of the construction material manufactured within 800 km of the site. The winery used all of the excavated soil during its build elsewhere on the vineyard. They even enacted an extensive program during construction to separate waste materials from construction waste, maximizing recycling and minimizing trips to the landfill.

  The building itself was built to be as efficient as possible. Designed by renowned architect Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects, the building utilizes features like large insulated glass windows to trap warm air and provide excellent natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting. The winery staff enjoys 95% natural light in their work areas as a result of these windows, shaded from the sun by a large overhang to minimize heat. The outdoor lights of the building shine downward to reduce light pollution and avoid the risk of affecting migratory patterns of birds in the area.  The reflective roof reduces heat radiation into and off the building, which, in turn, reduces dependency on electricity and minimize the impact on the environment.

  The winery also does not operate on the town’s sewage line. They treat wastewater onsite through a wetland filtration system and then disperse this purified water back into the ecosystem. They utilize low flow fixtures inside and outside of the facilities, and they added a bioswale, which uses native wetland plants to break down pollution in the rainwater that drains from the parking lot and driveway. By the time the water flows back into the town’s municipal system, it is entirely potable.

  Outside its property, Southbrook maintains 15-acres of untouched forestland surrounding the vineyard specifically for wildlife and uses “natural buffer zones” within the winery property to ensure that the local flora and fauna still have a space to thrive. The winery is certified bee-friendly and hosts beehives onsite to encourage the pollination of local orchards as well as the production of honey, which the winery sells on their website. They have planted native wildflowers on the property to encourage bees, butterflies and other crucial pollinators to visit. They have even made homes on the property for birds and small flying mammals, such as bats, to take up residence and naturally control pest problems in the vineyards.

  It doesn’t stop there. Southbrook applies the same principles to their production line, utilizing lightweight bottles made in Ontario from 85% recycled materials. The process costs a premium compared to going with a large scale international supplier. Still, Redelmeier believes, in order to live his sustainability mantra, he has to put his money where his mouth is and make decisions for the better of the planet and not his pocketbook.

  Even after becoming certified sustainable, achieving LEED Gold status and gaining an international reputation for its biodynamic practices, Redelmeier continues his mission to improve his winery’s impact on its surroundings.

In 2017, Redelmeier teamed with an Ontario-based engineering firm and Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro to figure out how to further drive down Southbrook’s overall energy consumption. He decided to install 432 solar panels on the winery property, and, as a result of this effort, has cut down the winery’s electrical use by 80% since opening. The winery uses the energy it needs from these solar panels and redistributes what it doesn’t use back into the grid in exchange for a credit that it can redeem in the colder winter months. It is Ontario’s first winery net metering project, and Redelmeier predicts the project will pay for itself by 2024, further proving what is possible for businesses in Ontario.

  Taking this notion one step further, Redelmeier has created his own registered Natural Health Product using the leftover organic red grape skins the winery would otherwise discard. The product, called Bioflavia because it is rich in bioflavonoids, is high in antioxidants and can be added to smoothies, yogurts and cereals. It is available for sale on the winery’s website along with their line of mustards, jellies and sparkling apple juice. The winery also partners with local Linc Farm to offer grass-fed lamb and beef, forest raised pork and free-range eggs to the public. They continue to form partnerships with like-minded local businesses, encouraging their community to grow in the right direction. 

  Redelmeier believes we all have a responsibility as individuals, consumers and business owners when we make decisions, and we should choose companies and products that align with our overall values. When we support these businesses, we make a statement and set an example for others. It is our responsibility to choose companies that have ethical values in order to help our environment and preserve it for future generations. Redelmeier has gone to every extent to keep this in mind and make impactful decisions while building Southbrook Vineyards. The result has been positive. Southbrook won the InterVin International Wine Awards “Winery of the Year” in 2012, and since then has continued to wow crowds with everything from their Bourdeaux-style blends to their wild fermented ciders and Chardonnays. The company continues to expand its portfolio, winning more awards and accolades each year for creating an outstanding product.

  Southbrook is an incredible example of what is possible in sustainability within the wine industry. They have taken no shortcut along the way to creating an entirely low-impact business model and have stood by their sustainable mantra from vineyard to barrel to bottle. By partnering with like-minded local businesses, they support, benefit and encourage positive growth within their community. They even encourage local wildlife to flourish within their property. Redelmeier continues to search for new, innovative ways to reduce his impact on the environment and lead the way in the world of sustainable business models. That is why Southbrook really is Canada’s most thoughtful winery.

Pricing Strategies to Maximize Profit in the B.C. Wine Market

By: Briana Tomkinson

Mass-market Canadian wine producers like Arterra and Constellation Brands have something most family-run boutique wineries don’t: teams who use insights from sales data to optimize their pricing strategies.

  Smaller wineries who don’t have the expertise, staff or time to do this tend to price based on intuition. According to British Columbia wine pricing consultant Lindsay Kaisaris, many bou-tique wineries are unknowingly leaving a lot of money on the table.

  “The hardest thing to do when you make something with your hands is to price accordingly,” Kaisaris said.

A few cents can make all the difference

  When the wine is flying off the shelf, it’s a good sign people love your wine. Yet selling out too fast can actually be bad for your brand. Smaller wineries in this situation can increase prices by a few dollars to strategically slow sales velocity, Kaisaris said, and sell out at the appropriate time—just before the next year’s release.

  On the other hand, when a wine isn’t selling well, many smaller wineries will offer a discount of a few dollars to try and clear out inventory. In some cases, adjusting the wholesale price by just a few cents can make a drastic difference in how well a wine sells.

  In British Columbia, most wine retailers like to work on a 30% margin. A wine that wholesales at $15, for example, would retail around $20—a “dead” price for a bottle of wine. Most con-sumers are either looking to buy a wine for less than $20, or looking to spend a few bucks more. Even though it is only a penny less, wine sales trends show that the majority of consum-ers prefer to buy a $19.99 bottle of wine or a $21.99 bottle of wine.

  “No one wants to buy a $20 wine,” Kaisaris said. “A couple of dollars makes a big difference on the shelf.”

  By reducing the wholesale price from $15 to $14.39, Kaisaris said, it gives the retailer more room to set the price at $18.99, which would make the wine stand out next to the $19.99 bot-tles on the shelf.

  Lowering the wholesale price by a few cents isn’t the only way to put your wine into a more favorable price category on the shelf. In one case, after analyzing sales numbers and the com-petition on the shelf, Kaisaris advised a client to increase the price instead. Sales of the wine had been stagnant at $44.99, but when the retail price increased to $49.99, the wine sold out.

  Kaisaris recommends doing a careful competitive audit of the other wines in your category, and price strategically so that your wine isn’t crowded out by too many similar ones at the same price.

Vary the Price of Your Wines

  Another common mistake smaller wineries make is to price all their wines close to the same value, Kaisaris said.

  If your winery has five or 10 different wines, try marketing at least one at a lower “entry-level” price point, and one at a more premium price. That allows customers to compare prices and select a wine that feels more or less expensive.

  If a winery has seven labels all priced between $20 to $28, the price point can alienate a new customer who is looking for something more economical, and yet won’t be expensive enough to attract a customer aiming for a “special” bottle. Kaisaris recommended decreasing the price of the cheapest bottle so it retails just under $20, and increasing the cost of the most expen-sive bottle to ensure there is at least one premium label above $30.

  Another pricing trick wineries can use to increase sales is to bundle wines, rather than discount them. For example, three $25 wines could be sold as a package for $65 instead of $75.

  “You’ve discounted, but it’s not quite as evident. You might have hit a price that is more com-petitive, but you haven’t shown everyone that you’ve taken $5 off the bottle, so you can con-tinue to offer in singles at the higher price,” said Kaisaris. 

Carefully Monitor Sales Volume in Different Channels

  It’s common in British Columbia that restaurant sales of white wine spike in summer and drop off towards the fall as the weather cools. At that point, it makes more sense for wineries to shift their sales efforts for white wine to retail stores. 

  “If you can do that in mid-September instead of waiting until November, you can beat your competition, who’s trying to do the same thing, without having to discount the price,” Kaisaris said. “Stop selling to restaurants then, and let them know your product will no longer be avail-able after that date. Then you can load it into stores for the Christmas season.”

  The biggest season for wine sales is fall, during October, November and December. That’s when savvy wineries try to get a lot of product in stores and offer incentives to sweeten the deal for restaurants to push wine for Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve bashes. Yet often, the big guys get there before the smaller wineries have a chance to start.

  “The small guys have already lost sales velocity in restaurants and then failed to capture the extra sales in retail over that two-month holiday period,” said Kaisaris. 

  Since the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Board establishes retail prices based on a fairly consistent markup, some boutique local and international wineries have made the strategic decision not to sell through provincially owned liquor stores. This allows wineries to set a price that is more profitable for restaurants and privately owned liquor stores and creates an incen-tive to feature that wine over others with slimmer profit margins. 

  Some larger wineries do both. Oliver-based Tinhorn Creek, for example, is a well-known label at provincially run liquor stores, but also offers some premium varieties at higher price points that are exclusively available at private retailers.

  “These are not things small wineries do, which puts them at a disadvantage,” Kaisaris said.

Tips for Pricing Wine in British Columbia

  According to Big Sage Strategies wine pricing consultant Lindsay Kaisaris, some wine price categories offer more opportunities than others.

  Wine priced in the $20 range sells better than wine priced above $30. If you can, set the wholesale price to make it possible for your $30 wine to be priced at $29.99 or less in-store.

  The mid-40s price point is a dead zone: “$44.99 is neither premium nor mid-range,” Kaisaris said. “At $49.99, it’s benchmarked against flagship wines and seen as a premium bottle.” Wines at this price point might even be placed in a different section of some stores, alongside premium brands.”

  If you’re selling a premium product, price it boldly. If your customer is likely to be shopping for an expensive bottle to give as a gift with a $100 budget in mind, they may actually be more likely to spend $89.99 than $74. “Price elasticity gets wider the higher up you go,” she said.

Marketing During a Crisis: Tips to Pivot Your Marketing Messages

By: Susan DeMatei

Recession Marketing Pro Tip: Understanding consumer psychology and the underlying emotions is critical when advertising during a recession.

  In the wine industry, we don’t typically analyze consumers’ psyches or emotions. We tend to think of our customers demographically – mid 40’s – 60’s, lives in New York, Texas, and Florida, HHI over $150k, and the like. But in times of stress, demographic segmentation may be less relevant than psychographic segmentations that take into consideration consumers’ behavioral reactions and the underlying emotions they are feeling at the time.

  The coronavirus sanctions have created an undercurrent of fear, worry, and stress. People are looking for stress relief and a temporary distraction. By understanding and appealing to their emotional needs you have a better chance of connecting with and engaging them. This is not a novel approach. Research shows that ad campaigns that focus on emotional engagement tend to have a higher ROI than ad campaigns focusing on rational messages (such as low prices or special offers) even when times are not tough.

  But how do you know what your consumers need to hear right now? To guide us, I found an insightful study in the Harvard Business Review that looked at marketing successes and failures of dozens of companies during recessions from the 1970s – 2010. HBR identified patterns in consumers’ behavior and resulting company strategies that either helped them succeed or ultimately fail during a recession. Additionally, they strongly encourage companies to understand the evolving consumption patterns and fine-tune their strategies accordingly.

  For example, did you know that baking yeast is flying off the shelves? An NPR article on March 27th listed the products consumers are buying beyond the necessary cleaning products and everyday groceries. Baking yeast is high on the list – people are baking bread because it is comforting to make, smell, and eat. Two other items on the list are boxed hair dye and dress tops, which speak to the psychology of “keeping up appearances.” With the increase in video conferencing, these make complete sense.

  So, how should we in the wine industry alter our strategies to fit the current climate? First, we need to understand the psychology of our customers. The HBR article suggests there are four key psychological segments and your strategic opportunities will strongly depend on which of the four segments your core customers belong to, and how they categorize your products.

1.  Slam-On-The-Brakes: These are the people who feel most vulnerable and/or are hardest hit, financially. This group cuts all their spending to the necessities. Although lower-income consumers typically fall into this segment, it also includes those anxious higher-income consumers who fear health or income changes.

2.  Pained-But-Patient: This group is the largest of the four segments and represents a broad income swath. While they are more resilient, pained-but-patient consumers are less confident about recovery, and their ability to maintain their current standard of living. So, they economize, but less aggressively. For these consumers, time is their enemy. As the current situation drags on many will migrate down to the slamming-on-the-brakes segment.

3.  Comfortably Well-Off: These are the consumers who feel secure about their ability to ride out the current and future changes in the economy. Their consumption patterns don’t change that much with one exception; they tend to be a little more selective (and less conspicuous) about the brands/companies purchased.

4.  Live-For-Today Segment: This segment carries on as usual. Typically, urban and younger, they are more likely to rent than own, and they spend on experiences rather than stuff (except for consumer electronics.) They’re unlikely to change their everyday consumption behavior unless they become unemployed.

  In addition to the customer segmentation, the HBR article gives us some guidance with emotional product prioritization:

1.  Essentials: Necessary for survival or perceived as central to well-being.

2.  Treats: Indulgences whose immediate purchase is considered justifiable.

3.  Postponables: Wanted or needed items whose purchase can be put off.

4.  Expendables: Perceived as unnecessary or unjustifiable.

  Wine is a luxury item no matter which way you slice it. But your price point and your target will fall into one of these four segments, and your product into one of these four prioritizations. Are you a high-priced allocation wine that mostly sells to the comfortably well-off that are comfortable spending money online? Or are you a strong on-premise brand for the pained-but-patients that would benefit from positioning yourself as an affordable treat in these uncertain times?

  Wine over $20 is best targeted at the Comfortably Well-Off (our traditional wine club target audience), and the Live-For-Today-Segment (our emerging target, and typically our tasting room traffic) and should be positioned squarely in the treat/affordable luxury category.

  So, how do we sort through all of this to create marketing and advertising campaigns and programs that recognize your customers’ psychological and emotional state? Here are my recommendations:

 #1 Support your brand by staying true to yourself:

       Look at your current plans through the lens of “would my winery do this if it wasn’t a crisis?” Tweak your messaging to dovetail with the psychological and emotional pressures your target market is feeling. When sales start to decline, the worst thing companies do is alter their brand’s fundamental proposition. If you have a high-priced and valuable wine, you may be tempted to decrease your price. This may confuse and alienate loyal customers. Drifting away from your established base may attract some new customers in the near term, but you will find yourself in a weaker brand position when the crisis is over. Your brand can acknowledge the new world but fundamentally should remain unwavering.

#2 Move budgets toward measurable channels that fit with customers’ digital lifestyles:

       The Harvard Business Review article reported during the recession of 2008, marketers spent +14% more on online ads than they did over the same time frame in the previous year. Even before most of us were asked to “shelter in place,” our purchasing behavior had shifted significantly to digital platforms, driven by technology advances, access, and convenience. For marketers, the shift allows us to surgically target, show results, and pivot quickly. Even without a recession environment, marketing departments are under pressure to do more with less and demonstrate high returns on investment. Digital advertising is targeted and relatively cheap, its performance is easily measured, and it is where our customers live.

#3 All businesses will increasingly compete on price:

       You may think that discounting is in opposition of #1 – but we didn’t say don’t offer discounts, we said don’t discount outside of what your brand would typically offer. Also, watch the frequency as you will likely feel pressured to increase the frequency of temporary price promotions. Three tips here:

a)   The article notes research shows discounts that require little effort from consumers and give cash back at the time of sale are more effective than delayed value, or “buy more” promotions. Look for the quick benefit, keep it easy, and keep the barriers low. Know your average order value. If your customers are used to buying 4 bottles an order, a case offer might be pushing it.

b)   Make sure you sign up for lots of mailing lists and carefully monitor consumers’ perceptions of “normal” price levels. As an industry, we need to watch over ourselves and not create “a new normal” that we can’t sustain. Excessive promotions lead consumers to revise their expectations about prices and this threatens profitability in the recovery period. People will resist the steep increases as prices return to “normal,” and extreme price deals only lead to costly price wars.

c)   Focus on giving extra value to consumers. As much as it may pain us, this is about them, not you. While it is tempting to ask for help from your most loyal customers, this is not of value to them in their current state of mind. In addition to offering temporary price promotions or list-price changes, improve perceived affordability by reducing the thresholds for volume-based, club member, or allocation discounts. Expand loyalty programs to reward not just big-time spenders, but also people who purchase small amounts frequently.

#4: Keep your messaging calm and trustworthy:

     Last, but not least, in stressful and uncertain times consumers in all segments see familiar, trusted brands and their products as safe and comforting. Reassuring messages that reinforce your brand’s humanity and creates an emotional connection demonstrate empathy, as evidenced in the popular hashtag #alonetogether. But, remember empathetic messages must be backed up by actions demonstrating the brand is on their customers’ side.

  The Harvard Business Review article concludes after 40 years of research, those brands that come out the other side of economic crisis will be stronger. First, the discipline around marketing strategy and research we develop during this time, and the ability to respond nimbly to changes in demand will continue to serve us when the economy recovers. And second, we should prepare now for a possible long-term shift in consumers’ values and attitudes, and a certain shift in where and how they shop.

   Susan DeMatei is president of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm operating within the wine industry in Napa, California. Referenced and reproduced by approval from the April 2009 Harvard Business review article “How to Market in a Downturn” by John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz. www.wineglassmarketing.com

Wine in the Time of COVID-19

By: Briana Tomkinson

Tasting rooms, restaurants and bars across Canada were abruptly shut down in March in an unprecedented move to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming health care services. Boutique wineries from coast-to-coast immediately pivoted to focus on online sales to try and soften the blow.

  For established brands, this meant re-jiggering the marketing plan and reallocating resources to push local delivery or contactless pickup orders instead of targeting wine country tourists. For two fledgling wineries on opposite ends of the country, wine in the time of COVID-19 meant embracing a crash-course in online marketing.

  At Priest Creek Winery (https://priestcreekwinery.com/) in Kelowna, British Columbia, founder Jane Sawin was all set to finally open the tasting room to the public on March 20. Instead, she got an ugly surprise when the province suddenly announced that bars, pubs and liquor-only tasting rooms had to suspend operations until health authorities determine the pandemic is under control.

  “The day we would have opened the tasting room was the day the Canadian health authorities shut everything down. The tasting room is ready, beautiful, clean and ready to go,” Sawin said. “It’s a little sad.”

Complicating matters, the winery’s website launch had been delayed when the webmaster fell ill with COVID-19. Sawin decided to improvise: she created a special social media promo, of-fering a 15% discount and free local delivery, and began taking orders via Facebook and In-stagram.

  Orders have been steady, Sawin said, and social media and word-of-mouth marketing has been working.

  By early April, the winery was processing between 10-to-15 orders per day, she said. Some local customers were ordering as few as two bottles at a time, but many others, especially those farther afield, bought Priest Creek wine by the case. Priest Creek produces six varieties of red and white wine, with list prices ranging between $19 and $46 CDN per bottle. The win-ery’s website is finally up and running too, now that the webmaster has recovered.

  For now, Sawin is just hoping to keep the momentum going while the winery tries to get its name out there. Unlike competitors in the wine trail area who have built up a base of loyal cus-tomers through tourism and event marketing, Priest Creek has no reputation to trade on.

  “The hardest part is that no one got to taste our wine before this happened,” Sawin said.

  On the opposite side of the country, the new owners of Ontario’s Vankleek Hill Vineyard found themselves in a similar predicament.

  Like Sawin at Priest Creek, Vankleek Hill owners, Teresa Bressan and Scott Lambert, had to scramble to find a makeshift solution to sell wine without an online store when health authori-ties closed down all the province’s tasting rooms in March.

  The vineyard’s tasting room opened in October, but Bressan and Lambert had prioritized cleaning up the property’s bedraggled vines before building an online store. They had been counting on events and tourist traffic to drive sales this year, but with group gatherings of all sizes banned and even driving between regions discouraged or restricted, they’ve had to re-think the business plan.

  “We kind of jumped in with two feet,” Bressan said. “Our website isn’t ready for it. We don’t have an online store.”

  Like Sawin, one of Bressan’s biggest challenges is just finding ways to get new customers to try her wines. In Bressan’s case, it’s not just that the wine brand is new to consumers—it’s that many locals didn’t much like the wine produced by the former owners of the vineyard.

  “We have a big stigma to remove,” Bressan said. “Their wines are not on our shelves. We couldn’t even come up with a good recipe to make sangria with it.”

  Bressan, a former realtor, found an upside to the additional legwork required to process orders without a proper online system in place: it created an opportunity to build a more personal connection with customers. For example, when she learned one customer was ordering a case of 12 wines to give away for Easter gifts, she included tissue paper and gift bags at no extra cost to spare the person having to make another trip to the store.

  “If you show your customers that you appreciate them, they will come back for sure. We really put a lot of emphasis on personalized attention,” Bressan said. 

  While Vankleek Hill Winery launched its wine delivery by offering a 15% discount on purchases, Bressan said when the promo ended, the orders kept on coming in.

  “We’re still so new, and we’re learning a lot. Vankleek Hill is just amazing. It truly is,” she said. “This unfortunate event has really brought the community together, truly. I’m finding a lot of goodness in a lot of people these days.”

Alcohol Sales Increase, Even with Delivery Hiccups

  Canadians across the country have taken shelter-in-place orders very seriously. An online sur-vey conducted between March 29 and April 3 by Statistics Canada found that 90% of re-spondents reported that they were following physical distancing guidelines, such as avoiding leaving the house, using social distancing when out in public, and avoiding crowds and large gatherings. Sixty-three percent had stocked up on essentials at the pharmacy and grocery store, so they didn’t need to go out as often.

  The same survey found that 20% of those aged 15 to 49 admitted to increasing their liquor consumption during lockdown, compared to just 7% of those over 50. Yet liquor store sales skyrocketed in March, suggesting that some consumers have begun stockpiling more than just toilet paper.

  According to the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch, sales of boxed wine jumped 144% in March. Sales of bigger 1.75-liter bottles of vodka, rum and whisky were up an impressive 153%, and 24-packs of beer were up 120%.

  Yet home delivery has also had its hiccups. On March 26, the National Post reported that the Liquor Control Branch of Ontario had to halt home delivery of wine, beer and spirits outside of Toronto because Canada Post had halted delivery of packages requiring proof of age at the doorstep to limit the COVID-19 risk to mail carriers.

  A prior partnership with the home food delivery app, Foodora, has allowed delivery to continue in Toronto. Ontarians living outside the Foodora delivery limits can still order online, but must now go pick up their delivery in person at a Canada post office.

  In Quebec, the Société des alcools du Québec announced a partnership with Purolator to en-sure direct-to-door delivery would continue. Delivery fees are $12, which will be donated to provincial food banks.

  Some boutique wineries, including both Priest Creek and Vankleek Hill Vineyard, are bypassing the post office or courier service, however, to personally offer free local delivery for larger or-ders. According to the B.C. Wine Institute, 86% of British Columbia wineries were offering free shipping on some orders in March.

  Even in provinces like Quebec and Ontario, which both announced a total ban on the operation of “non-essential” businesses for a month or more on March 23, the production and distribu-tion of wine, beer and spirits are allowed to continue. Yet it is far from business-as-usual.

  In addition to sales challenges, many wineries have also been impacted by supply chain dis-ruptions and unexpected labor issues.

  Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper reported that some British Columbia winemakers are behind schedule on bottling because they have not yet received shipments of bottles, labels or corks from international suppliers. Many wineries have had to lay off tasting room staff, yet are also faced with a shortage of field labor because foreign seasonal agricultural laborers are not yet allowed to cross the border. 

  Priest Creek was among the wineries affected by production delays. Sawin said she would have been able to open the tasting room as much as two weeks earlier had bottling not been delayed due to illness-related slowdowns at the factory that produced her labels.

  Across the country, provincial officials have urged Canadians to shop local and support small businesses as much as possible, including local wineries.

  In Quebec, the provincial government launched a website called “Le Panier Blue” (https://www.lepanierbleu.ca/) (a ‘blue basket,’ referencing the color of the provincial flag), to help Quebecers identify local businesses where they can order products for pickup or home delivery. At press time, over 228 Quebec wineries, breweries, distilleries, cideries and dépan-neurs (convenience stores specializing in wine and beer sales) had registered on the site.

  “Let us remember that every dollar invested counts and helps support our local products and our expertise, which further stimulates our economy,” said Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, in a news release about the program.

  In British Columbia, officials continued the tradition of officially decreeing April “wine month” with a social distancing twist: urging consumers to buy 100% British Columbia wine to enjoy at home.

  In a press release issued by the B.C. Wine Institute, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham called on consumers to choose locally made products to keep small wineries from folding.

  “Many B.C. winemakers depend on sales within our province to keep their businesses running, and our support for them and all B.C. farmers and businesses during this pandemic will help the resiliency and future of food and beverage production in British Columbia,” Popham said.

  Back at Vankleek Hill Vineyard, Bressan said she has noticed many of her friends, neighbors and customers are making a point of buying local. Moving forward, she thinks this trend will continue.

  The support from local customers has been a lifeline for the winery, and has inspired Bressan’s family to make a significant effort to buy from local producers as well—especially when it comes to wine.

  “We love wine, but now we only buy local wines from Ontario and Quebec. It’s also good prac-tice for us to learn and see what other people are doing, and develop our palate for wine from cold-climate grapes,” she said. 

Topping Gasses

By: Tom Payette, Winemaking Consultant

There is no substitute for a full tank and this article is not to suggest that using an inert gas is the right thing to do.  Avoid, when at all possible, keeping wine in less than a full fixed capacity tank with the minimal amount of surface area possible.  When one does find themselves in the compromised situation of storing wine in a tank that is not full – the following information will help minimize degradation of your product.

  When? Most winemakers typically only use protective inert gases after the wine has fermented and less natural Carbon Dioxide bubbles are being given off.  This is often after the first or second racking after fermentation.  In some cases, however, especially with varietals of a high terpene load, contributing to the floral aroma and palate, winemakers may explore use of gases while handling juice at pressing and forward.

  Where? Many winemakers use an inert gas in the headspace of an unfilled fixed capacity tank.  Typically after the transfer is made into the tank a winemaker will layer an amount of gas, usually by “gut feel”, into the headspace of the tank.  I recommend having the gas flow from the cylinder with the regulator set to mimic a soft whistle blow from ones mouth.  My estimate is it may be coming out of the tube at near 1 mile per hour or slower.   My regime is to lower the tube off the regulator down to the surface of the wine and then raise the tube to about one inch above the surface of the wine and allow the gas to flow out slowly at that level.

  How much? The amount of gas needed is dependent on the headspace one is trying to fill.  Smaller unfilled tanks will take less time and gas than larger tanks.  One thing is certain, outside of cost, it would be rare to add too much inert gas to the tank headspace.   Try to run some calculations based on cubic feet to determine what is best for your operation.

Frequency of Application

  Often I will top a tank with carbon dioxide (my gas of choice – see below) just after completing the transfer into a tank.  The next day I will top it again and then start that same tank of wine on a weekly topping schedule, Fridays, so that each tank gets additional gas every week.

  Why? The inert gas is to protect the wine from oxidation.  The goal is to fill the headspace of the tank with enough gas to dispel as much oxygen as possible and to protect the wine from oxidation and potentially more importantly, micro-aerophilic spoilage yeast and micro-organisms.  This process is a noted temporary protective step that should be corrected by filling the tanks as soon as possible.

  Which inert gas? My preference is to use Carbon Dioxide because the gas is very heavy, will lay nicely on the surface of the wine, and protect the wine.  Carbon dioxide is relatively inexpensive, easy to obtain and use.  Argon can be used with success but the costs are near more than triple from the gas company I polled.  Nitrogen, due to its buoyancy and physical properties is my last choice as a topping gas in tanks.  Nitrogen can be used at bottling with great success, however, so please do not confuse this statement.

Measurement

  Few winemakers actually measure the amount of the gas entering the tank outside of the crude measurement of the regulator and gut feel.  Others will sometime use a match or form of flame and insert it into the headspace of the tank of wine (between 8 and 14% alcohol) to see if the flame dies out.  An oxygen meter may be used also but most winemakers will use this tool briefly to understand the effects of what they are doing and then the meter measurement looses its appeal due to time etc. 

Preferred Method of Carbon Dioxide Use

  Dry ice bricks 7”L * 3”W * 2”D  ( about the size of a common household building brick) is without doubt the best method of carbon dioxide use I have ever used.  A special dry ice block maker can be purchased making these bricks that weight about one pound.  These bricks must be handled with extreme care and caution due to their temperature at -109 degrees F.  These bricks may be used in their entirety into tanks being transfer to, from or both.  When topping tanks weekly, with airlocks on them, winemakers may open the tank, drop in a brick or any portion of a brick deemed appropriate to fill the headspace and latch the lid.  Warning : Make sure the tank does have an operating airlock on the vessel.  Depending on the actual temperature of the wine, the brick may take several hours to dissolve while slowly topping the headspace with CO2.

Notes of Warning

  Do understand you are dealing with a gas that is/may be harmful to humans and/or animals.  Extreme caution and care needs to be exercised when using and handling this gas as well as the other gases mentioned in this article.

  Some may argue that the intense cold of dry ice contact with the wine may harm the wine if the ice comes into contact with the wine.  I am unaware of any winemaker that has found this contact of dry ice with the wine to be a detriment.

  Carbon Dioxide is known to dissolve into liquids readily.  It is always recommended to warm any wine, driving off the carbon dioxide, before bottling and to potentially check the amount of dissolved gas in the wine before bottling or other critical control points that having dissolved carbon dioxide in the wine may be a detriment.  This may include finings.

  Please adhere to any and all M.S.D.S. sheets or safety data related to these gases and their use.

Spicing it Up

  Some winemakers have successfully scaled back the amount of carbon dioxide used during harvest by attaching a small hose to a fermentation tank and topping down tanks with that naturally produced carbon dioxide. 

  Years ago research was being done to see if carbon dioxide from wine fermentations could be captured, compressed and used to top tanks or even used to slightly sprits up a wine such as a Muscat or Riesling giving more of an aromatic nuance from the aromatic fermentation gases captured.  Care must be taken to capture only clean fermentation gases.  I am unaware of anyone using this practice commercially to date.

Summary

  Use extreme cautions while handling these inert gases and always remember an inert gas, in the headspace of a tank, is very short of acceptable.  A full tank should always be a priority for any winemaker and these gassing techniques should only be used when absolutely necessary to hold wine in a “down tank”.  Many new winemakers to the wine industry have adapted this practice as a recognized common practice only to learn the wine spoiled with extended storage.  These gases are very effective as a short term solution only.

  Now – please go back and read the first two sentences of this article.

Short Course:

•    Topping gases are only for the short term.

•    Carbon dioxide is preferred and used the most.

•    Dry ice is an excellent form to use.

•    Handle these gases safely.

•    Full fixed capacity tanks are best.

References: 

  Verbal discussion with Mr. Jacques Boissenot, Mr. Jacques Recht, Mr Joachim Hollerith and Mr. Chris Johnson.