How to Clean a Wine Tank

By: Tom Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Cleaning in the winery is one of the most important tasks the winemaker has the most control over in the cellar.  It is often said, and very nearly true, winemaking is 95% cleaning.  Data is shy when it comes to how to clean certain parts of the operation; yet, here is a step by step process of how to clean a stainless steel wine tank in the cellar.  Please keep in mind every cellar visited may have some conditions that may need to have this plan adjusted.

Chemistry

  There is some chemistry to cleaning a wine tank that will be addressed briefly to have an understanding of what one would like to achieve.  Simply put, one must have physical cleanliness first.  This is the removal of all solid particles from the tank’s interior surface(s).  Examples of these items may be seeds, skins, spent yeast, bentonite and so on.  This may not include tartrate removal because this can be assisted chemically if desired.  Once the solids are removed, the tank cleaning person will use a high pH cleaning material to remove the tartrates and to clean the surface of the stainless steel.  This high pH will not only remove tartrates but also kill and eliminate a broad range of wine spoilage microorganisms.  Once this high pH operation is completed, the operator will always come back with a light citric acid rinse to neutralize the high pH cleaner and to have some limited killing power due to this solution’s low pH value.

Items Needed

All safety material to include but not be limited to:

•    Safety goggles

•    Rubber gloves

•    Rubber boots

•    Hat and/or rain gear

•    Procedure

•    Eyewash station or portable eyewash

•    A light citric and water solution close by (roughly 2 tbsp per gallon)

Other items needed will include:

•    Pump that will handle hot water and the chemicals desired to be used.

•    Hoses that are food grade and will stand up to heat and all chemicals used.

•    pH meter (optional but the winery really should have one anyway)

•    High pH cleaner – such as Soda Ash

•    Low pH cleaner – such as Citric Acid

•    Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) – on all chemicals used.

•    Flashlight(s)

•    Cover for the tank such as a shower curtain, towel, bed sheet.

•    Distribution system such as a spray ball or tank cleaning “T”

Preparation

  If the winery’s tanks are equipped with automatic solenoids on the tanks, be sure to override the chilling system or to generally isolate the tank to be cleaned so the chilling system will not engage to cool the hot water that will be added to the tank.  Overriding the system may be done by moving the temperature dial setting all the way up so the solenoid will not engage, thus preventing cooling from circulating through the tanks jackets.  Shutting the tank cooling jacket system down may be achieved by simply shutting a valve on the supply side of the tank cooling system jacket, once again disrupting cooling from entering the jackets.

  Allow any ice to fall off the exterior/interior of the wine tank jacket so that it will not fall on the operator, other staff or persons or any equipment used to clean the tanks.

  Rinse the tank and physically remove all of the solids possible.

Procedure

  Once the tank is free of all solids, the chilling is turned off and the tank has deiced, if applicable, one may start the cleaning process.

1.     Apply all safety gear necessary to be safe while doing the tasks described.  This is an internal winery decision that the winery will need to address.

2.     Disassemble the tank of all valves, fittings and gaskets that may be easy to remove.  Rinse these parts with fresh water first then soak them in a high pH solution to help with the cleaning process.  Remove the doors unless these are needed to prevent splashing of the cleaning solutions outside of the tank.  In this case, close the doors loosely to allow the cleaning solution to cover all parts of the door.

3.     Take a brush and clean all of these orifices thoroughly.  Inspect them to make sure they are free of solid debris.  Be certain if any threads exist, a microbial hazard in itself, that these threads are cleaned using a brush or a toothbrush.  Be careful since many tanks have sharp threads that will lacerate one’s skin easily.  Use a brush to remove any other hardened dirty areas on the exterior of the tank.

4.     Inspect the tank visually to see if any solids remain in the tank and rinse them from the tank.

5.     Set up the pump with hoses in a strategic area that will not interfere with any part of the tank cleaning process.  This area could include away from the front of the tank should a ladder need to be placed in that workspace or away from an opening in the tank where water and chemicals could splash/slosh out onto this piece of electrical equipment.

6.     Fill the tank with enough water that one may be able to circulate the water from the bottom port/valve of the tank to the top of the tank with ample extra so that the water will not deplete itself.  This amount could be near 70 gallons for a 3000-gallon tank or less depending on the tank’s configuration.  If the tank has a conical bottom one may need to avoid a vortex.  To combat a vortex, one may place a 5 gallon food grade plastic or stainless steel bucket or two inside the tank.  These will break the development of the vortex.  Be careful they do not clog the outlet of the tank supplying the pump.  Hot water is recommended but not an absolute for tank cleaning.

7.     Attach the suction side of the circulation setup to the bottom valve with a hose.

8.     Attach another set of hose to go to the top of the tank.  This piece should be placed were it will strategically spray water back toward the top of the tank to give maximum distribution of the water and/or cleaning solution.

9.     Cover the top opening with a sheet or towel to prevent splashing of the cleaning water outside of the tank’s opening.

10.  Open the bottom valve and allow the water to circulate to prove to the operator that this action will work as desired.  Look for splashing hazards one may want to avoid if this solution were to contain a cleaning chemical.  Always play with water first!

11.  Once comfortable with the mechanical portion of this process and the operator feels comfortable, one may turn the pump off.

12.  Open the side door and make a cleaning solution to clean the tank.  This is very dependent upon the size of the tank and the amount of potential tartrates that may be present.  To make the cleaning solution, always dissolve the powdered cleaning solution in a bucket before placing into the tank.  (This is done to make sure no caking of the solution may happen.  The solution should be fully and carefully made into a liquid.)

13.  As soon as the cleaning solution is made in the bucket, be sure to add the solution to the wine tank, shut the side door and start the circulation.  Step back from the tank just in case the cleaning solution should want to splash; yet, be able to operate the pump to shut the operation down if needed.  Observe the operation from a distance and listen to make sure the process is working as designed.  Look for open valves to show signs of the cleaning solution and any other areas.

14.  Continue to monitor the process from a distance and always keep your ears on the operation.  The sound of a tank cleaning can be just as important as visually watching the operation.

15.  One can let this process go on for 20-30 minutes or more depending on other operations in the cellar.  The author likes to start the tank cleaning process while working on other projects as long as each process can be monitored properly.  The time is largely affected by the size of the tank and only experience will help the cellar crew in this estimation.

16.  Once the process has been allowed to work, one may turn off the pump and wait 4-5 minutes for the extra dripping of the cleaning solution to cease.

11.  One may carefully open the door. With safety goggles on and a flashlight in hand – one may inspect the tank to see if the process was effective.  Look for areas or patches of tartrates that may not have been dissolved or other areas visually not looking clean.  Take appropriate actions to correct any of these.

18.  Feel the cleaning solution or take a pH reading.  Is the pH still high and does it still feel slippery?

19.  Once one deems the tank to be clean, one can dispose of the spent cleaning solution in the proper manner.

20.  Rinse the tank and empty all hoses of the cleaning solution.  If a bucket was placed in the tank to prevent the vortex – remember to empty its contents.

21.  Add fresh water back to the tank to circulate one more time.

22.  To this water add enough citric acid to get the water at a low pH – perhaps 7 cups into 60 gallons. (Dissolve in water first, as always)

23.  Circulate this solution to contact all parts of the tank the high pH cleaner contacted.  This will neutralize any places back to a reasonable pH level.  This circulation may only take about 5 minutes versus the previous step.

24.  Once finished, open the tank door and feel the water.  It should not be slippery. Run a pH.  The pH should be below 5.5.  If not – ad more citric.

25.  Allow this spent water to drain from the tank and dispose of properly.

26.  Break down the circulation system or move it to another tank.

27.  Rinse the tank one more time with fresh water.

28.  Inspect the tank one more time after the cleaning and make sure to remove the bucket or other tools used in the vortex preventions.

29.  Take the fittings out of the soaking tub and give them a light citric rinse or do this when appropriate and on your timeline.

30.  Always inspect the tank again before filling with wine or juice.

31.  Always look at and smell all the fittings before reinstalling on the tank.  Fittings that smell bad more than likely have bad microbes in them.

32.  Remember to reengage the chilling to that tank so it is ready.

33.  Label the tank cleaned, the date and by whom so others will know what the last process with that tank was.

Summary

  Tank cleaning is extremely important.  It can be done easily just after the tank has been emptied.  The author reports better progress and success with tartrate removal especially if the tank is cleaned within two hours of emptying.  Set your tank cleaning system up to be as easy as possible and make sure the cellar staff is keenly aware of your expectations.  Tanks that are not cleaned properly should not be used and instructions to clean them again would be prudent.  Remember, wine is a product that you and others will drink.  Use tanks that are cleaned with the same amount of dignity that you want your beverages prepared in.

Helpful Hints

  It is not recommended to enter the tank to do any of these processes.  If tank entry is needed, that could require a completely different set up for safety reasons.

  Crack doors and valves to allow the cleaning solutions to coat all areas.  Try these areas first with water and then perform this action with the cleaning solution added.  Remove all gaskets, where appropriate, to allow cleaning them.

  Always check on the interior of the tanks temperature probes and inside manway doors to make sure all is clean, both above and below them.

  Try to have two people around at all times just in case.

  If a certain tank orifice has trouble getting clean try and place a brush or rag in the orifice to absorb the cleaning material so it will “wick” to the upper areas of the orifice.  Then clean the area again physically, rinse the brush or rag and replace for the low pH rinse portion of the cleaning.

  Have a bucket of a light citric solution close by to have access to neutralize any high pH cleaners.

Why Should I Buy Crop Insurance?  

By: Trevor Troyer, VP, Agricultural Risk Management

That is a question I hear a lot. For some it makes sense to purchase crop insurance, depending on the growing risks they are dealing with.  For others it might not be as good a fit for them. Often times large growing operations may “self-insure” as they have reserves set aside for the upcoming season.  For some this is not an option as a large portion of the previous year’s income is being re-invested into the new crop.  If they don’t make a crop and sell it this year, they might not have enough money for next year. 

  How does this apply to a vineyard?  Perennials are very different from traditional row crops or vegetable crops.  But a lot of the risks are very much the same.  Drought, freeze, wildlife damage, fire/smoke and the list goes on. From what I see the risks can actually be more with perennials.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an apple orchard, avocado grove or vineyard, your investment is subject to the elements all year round.  Things may happen after you harvest that might affect the following year’s crop production. 

  Risks are different depending on growing regions throughout the US.  You might have grower in Chautauqua or Erie County in New York worried about frost/freeze and then a grower in Sonoma County in California worried about smoke taint.  Regional issues play a large part in decisions on whether or not crop insurance is right for you.  And then how much coverage is needed for the risks involved in making a good profitable crop.

  With rising production costs this makes decisions on crop insurance even more tricky.  Chemical prices are rising, fertilizer is at an all-time high shipping and labor costs are also up.  Can you afford to purchase crop insurance? Or can you afford not to have it with how much you have invested now? These are questions that have to be asked.  I have had growers ask about reducing their coverage as these other costs go up.  You then have to ask how much of a loss can you sustain and not have it affect your ability to keep growing.  Can you lose 20% of your tonnage?  What about 40%?  That is something, you as a grower, have to think about.

  Crop insurance is designed to help a grower have enough money to be able to produce a crop the following year.  It is not set up to replace profits lost from an insurable cause.  I have had winery owners complain to me that it doesn’t cover the cost of how much their wine is worth.  While I can totally understand this, it is the growing costs that are being insured against loss. Crop insurance does not cover the production costs of making wine or juice etc.  Only Causes of Loss that are nature related are being insured against.  It doesn’t cover the inability of a grower to sell his grapes or broken contracts with wineries or processors. 

  Here are the Causes of Loss for Grapes out of a National Fact Sheet from the USDA:

Causes of Loss

You are protected against the following:

•   Adverse weather conditions, including natural perils such as hail, frost, freeze, wind, drought, and excess precipitation.

•   Earthquake

•   Failure of the irrigation water supply, if caused by an insured peril during the insurance period.

•   Fire

•   Insects and plant disease, except for insufficient or improper application of pest or disease control measures.

•   Wildlife

•   Volcanic eruption.

Additionally, we will not insure against:

•   Phylloxera, regardless of cause.

•   Inability to market the grapes for any reason other than actual physical damage for an insurable cause of loss.

  Crop insurance is partially subsidized through the USDA. Premiums are subsidized from 100% at Catastrophic Coverage (there is an administrative fee though) to 38% depending on coverage level chosen.  A lot of growers “buy-up” coverage from 65% to 80% and their premium subsidy is around 50% to 60%. In my opinion it has to be subsidized, as crop insurance is more likely to pay out a claim than any other type of insurance. Premiums are more expensive than many other types of insurance. You do not hear too often of people that have had an auto accident 3 years out of 5 with a claim paid each of those years.  But that being said, I have seen vineyards have payable losses 3 out of 5 years.   No one wants to have a loss but they do unfortunately happen.

  Hopefully you don’t have a lot situations where you have a loss.  But as a grower you need to assess your risks.  These risks/concerns are more than just the causes of loss mentioned above.  Though these have to be taken into consideration for the growing region your vineyard is located in. Here are some other questions to ask yourself. What are your break-even costs?  Do you know your cost of

production with projected inflation? Have you evaluated the risk of a severe crop loss? What varieties are planted in your vineyard?  Some types of Vitis vinifera are more susceptible to weather issues than others. Are you able to repay current operating loans without crop insurance in the event of a loss?

  Grape crop insurance is available in the following states; Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.  Crop insurance may not be available in all counties in these states. 

  Our job as a crop insurance agent or crop insurance agency is not to convince you that you need crop insurance.  It is to help you make an educated decision, based on your risks, to whether or not you need crop insurance.  And then, if it is a good fit to mitigate your risks, to determine how much coverage is needed. 

Spring Cleaning: Why you should care about data hygiene

By Susan DeMatei

What do you think of when you hear “data hygiene”?  Most people either have no idea what the term means or believe it involves tedious hours mired in excel. But like regular car tune-ups, it should translate to increased marketing program performance and sales.

  Why? Because just like that tune-up, our engine, or in this case our database, needs periodic maintenance to clear out the “gunk” and refresh the connections. Even if we’re growing our list and sending out great emails, our work isn’t done — we need to keep our database healthy.

  How do we keep a database healthy?

  If the reason to have a database is to drive sales, then the ultimate indicator of health should be strong sales, right?

  So, what are the predetermining steps for sales?

  Size: The size of your database directly correlates to the level of sales you can expect from that database.

  Size is not a function of data hygiene but instead your lead generation efforts. Whether lead generation efforts are done through a tasting room or event table, accumulating names or advertising on Facebook, a continual flow of new prospects is like oxygen to your database. Databases decay at a rate of about 2% a month – so every year, you can count on losing 25% of your database. Therefore, it is imperative for the health of your database and sales to target a growth rate of at least 2% a month to not slip backward.

  Best database collection practices say to review all signup forms for typos, fake names, or duplicates before uploading. If you routinely see false addresses like “noemail@gmail.com” talk to your tasting room staff to find out why they feel pressured to fabricate data. There is likely some process that needs revision or a technical barrier that requires an address to continue. A conversation can identify various data collection challenges while impressing the importance of a usable database to your company.

  Additionally, attaching a source to your new prospects as they sign up is invaluable not only for hygiene but also for future continually monitor them to judge their quality. Ask yourself how many leads you got from each activity, how many of them ended up buying, and how long it took them to buy. Next year, this will be invaluable information when planning activities and ensuring you move forward with the activities that yield the best quality leads.

  Validity: The individuals in your database need to receive your emails without flags or filtering.

  You can instantly see the validity of your database when you send a mass email by looking at the bounces and invalid addresses.

  Bounces are typically categorized into soft or hard bounces. A soft bounce is temporary and, in most cases, a setting. The most typical one is an “out of the office” message. The email address is valid; they’re just not getting this email delivered now. Most Email Service Providers (ESPs) will attempt to redeliver to an address marked as a soft bounce multiple times, over subsequent campaigns, before flagging it as a severe deliverability problem.

  A hard bounce is a server error and means the address is no longer on that domain. Servers do go down temporarily for reasons like scheduled maintenance, so most ESPs will still try a bounce two or three times before marking it permanently undeliverable.

  There is a third category. Let’s call these “Unmailables”. Unmailables are junk and so obnoxious the ESP doesn’t even try to send them. They are blank or data is in the wrong field (e.g., the phone number in the email space). They can be made-up domains that don’t exist (like noemail@noemail.com). However, sometimes there is an obvious typo you can fix, like yahoo or Gmail is spelled incorrectly. And sometimes, the email address is in the phone number field, so these are worth investigating.

  Trust: Upon seeing the email in their email box, the recipient must believe that the source is trustworthy and contains relevant enough content to open the email.

  You must know how your ESP defines an “open” email. There are differences in how mail apps track this data point. Most notably, Apple’s Privacy updates for iOS 15, that preload data, create a false “open” to make tracking less reliable. (And this isn’t minor. In 2021, Litmus reported Apple devices accounted for approximately 52 percent of all email opens.

  In addition, gain agreement from your management as to whether you are reporting on total or unique opens (because someone can open the same email several times). At WGM, we report on unique opens because they best indicate how many individuals responded, and the same goes for clicks.

  Interest: The content of the email must be compelling enough to provoke further action, like a click to a website.

  Clicks are also not as straightforward as one might think. For instance, some Email Service Providers count unsubscribes as clicks. Here is where coordination with Google Analytics is critical.  You must overlay the bounce rate of your email traffic to the landing page (because a qualified visitor will stay and read and purchase).

  Note: Conversion, or sales, is ultimately the role of the landing page. An email can deliver a target somewhere, but it can’t close the deal.

  A Simple Yet Critical Hygiene Exercise: Pull your entire database with open, click and bounce information from your last email campaign. Dedupe. And, do this based on name, address, and email address. Sort all the bounces and put them on a different sheet. Review these for typos or duplicates and clean up what you can.

  If you are lucky enough to have sales data, divide the group into purchasers and those who have never purchased. Pull out Wine Club members and multiple buyers and consider calling them on the phone for an updated address. You may also want to add an ongoing postcard program where you drop a card in the mail asking customers to update their email. For the others, if they have purchased, leave them be for a record of purchase history. But if they’ve never bought from you and bounced, you should delete them.

  Sort the un-deliverables and do the same as above:

•    Fix issues.

•    Divide into sales and no sales.

•    Reach out to valuable contacts and delete empty records.

  Do the same with unsubscribes as the first two above. The only difference here is you should pull viable email addresses, upload them to Facebook and target them in your next campaign. Just because they didn’t want an email doesn’t mean they never want to hear from you again.

  You should be left with only customer records with sales attached to them that you cannot email. You will want to keep them for a historical sales record, but you don’t want them muddying up your data. For this group, you can tag them as non-viable, so you don’t keep pulling them for each email.

  It’s good to do this clean-up periodically. But how often and how deep you go down the rabbit hole depends on the value of this potential customer and how much time you have on your hands.

  Most experts recommend some type of database clean up quarterly. If you work at a busy tasting room, you may want to perform them monthly. But with all the evidence that “cleanliness is next to responsiveness”, there is a compelling argument for making data hygiene part of your routine marketing schedule.

  Susan DeMatei is the founder of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.  Now in its 10th year, the agency offers domestic and international clients assistance with strategy as well as execution.

  For the past two consecutive years, Inc. Magazine recognized WineGlass Marketing as the only Napa company listed in the top 250 hyper-growth tier of the “5000 Series California’s Top Companies”. WineGlass Marketing has also been recognized by the community winning the North Bay Bohemian “Best Digital Creative Services” spot for both 2021 and 2022 as well as being honored by her clients in the North Bay Business Journal as Napa’s “Best Company to Do Business With.” In addition, the firm has taken top honors in the 2021 Web Awards for Best Beverage Website and 2021 Internet Advertising Competition for Best Integrated Ad Campaign in the Beverage Category and the 2022 Internet Advertising Competition for Best Wine Website. The agency is also a Webby Honoree in Website and Mobile Sites at the 2022 Webby Awards.

WineGlass Marketing is located in Napa, California at 707-927-3334 or wineglassmarketing.com

Should You Plant Your Next Vineyard Without North-South Rows?

By: Annie Klodd, University of Minnesota Extension Educator

Row orientation is one of the first decisions a grower makes when planting a new vineyard. But how much does this decision matter, and what should you consider when choosing row orientation?

  For generations, many have touted north-south (N-S) row orientation as a best practice because it exposes the canopy to the most direct sunlight. But modern research suggests that, like many things, it is more complicated than this.

  For some vineyards, north-south is the best choice. But a strict north-south stance could overlook other factors like field shape, variety, climate, convenience, and even aesthetics. The freedom to consider different row orientations can improve multiple aspects of vineyard management.

Benefits of North-South Orientation

  Simply speaking, N-S row orientation directs more uniform solar radiation to the full canopy, compared to East-West (E-W) orientation. The east side of the canopy is exposed to direct light in the morning and the west side in the afternoon. A 2008 study (Grifoni et al) found that N-S rows received increased and more uniform solar radiation, and as a result, photosynthesis.

  With E-W rows, the south side gets more direct sun than the north, possibly meaning that south-facing fruit ripens faster than north-facing fruit.

Why “It’s Complicated”

  In theory, north-south row direction could enhance ripening and fruit quality by increasing sunlight exposure. However, current research paints a less clear picture.

  Much of the research I have found was done in the southern hemisphere. Several of these studies took place in the same Shiraz vineyard in South Africa. Without much research in US climates, it is hard to draw too many conclusions about the region where I work, or the varieties we grow in the Midwest.

  Secondly, many factors play into a grower’s decisions about row orientation beyond just sunlight interception, which I delve into later.

  A 2015 study on mature vines in this South African vineyard found no significant difference in anthocyanins or grape mechanical composition between NS and EW rows. However, a later study from the same vineyard in a different year found that EW rows had lower soluble solid/titratable acidity ratios, lower anthocyanins, and lower phenolics. The other row orientations like N-S, NE-SW, and NW-SE ripened faster and produced better wine quality. Additionally, one study found that N-S rows had slightly higher yields than the other orientations.

  While light exposure is of course important, too much direct sunlight on fruit can be just as harmful as over-shading. It can cause sunscald, which degrades the fruit and leads to rotting. For this reason, a grower with a south-facing VSP vineyard in a hot, sunny region may consider planting on NE-SW or E-W orientation to limit excess exposure. If N-S orientation is selected, the grower can alter canopy management practices like leaf removal to control overexposure.

  Other factors to weigh against row orientation

Growers should weigh various other decisions against row orientation when planting a vineyard. Field shape, variety, trellis system, weather, and climate all influence the bottom line and could either outweigh or exaggerate the impact of row orientation.

  Like row orientation, trellis systems also affect sunlight exposure and ripening. In theory, planting N-S rows to Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP) could compound the effect of row orientation by further increasing sun exposure. Planting on Single High Wire (SHW) might reduce the sun exposure for vines in N-S rows, protecting them from sunscald in hot, sunny areas.

  Consider the field shape, row length and number of rows when deciding row orientation. If a field is long from east to west and narrow from north to south, the east-west row orientation would mean longer and fewer rows, less turning around, and fewer end posts to install.

  Varieties: In short-season regions like the upper Midwest and Northeast, varieties with longer ripening times should benefit more from NS orientation than shorter-season varieties. For example, Frontenac is a popular cold hardy hybrid that needs a long ripening period to lower acidity. I would hypothesize that NS orientation might benefit Frontenac by helping it ripen faster, avoiding the first frost. Shorter season hybrids like Itasca, Marquette, and LaCrescent that ripen well before the first frost may benefit less from NS row orientation. More research on the cold hardy hybrids is needed to support this hypothesis.

  Consider your climate as well. In hot, dry, sunny regions, grapes on the western side of N-S rows, and the southern side of E-W rows, are at a higher risk of sunscald. Sunscald risk would be further increased by using VSP trellising and late leaf removal. The sun hits the west side of the N-S canopy in the afternoon when temperatures are highest and sunlight is most intense. For this reason, growers may rotate the rows by 45 degrees, opting for a SW-NE orientation. As some regions become hotter and drier, practices to mitigate overexposure will be important (source).

  Lastly, an individual winery may have aesthetic reasons to choose one orientation over another, like creating the perfect wedding photo spot or a dramatic view down a hill.

  Row orientation is just one of the many factors determining the overall success of a vineyard. Hopefully this information helps growers plug it into the big picture when making key vineyard planting decisions.

AMPHORA: Bringing the Past Into the Present

By: Nan McCreary

Wine fermented, aged and stored in clay amphora, a practice that originated in Georgia 6,000-8,000 years ago, is experiencing a renaissance around the globe as winemakers realize that this ancient technique brings new opportunities to viniculture.

  An amphora is “an ancient Greek or Roman jar or vase with a large oval body, narrow cylindrical neck and two handles that rise almost to the level of the mouth.” In ancient times, amphorae were the principal means for transporting and storing grapes, olive oil, wine, oil, olives, grain, fish and other supplies. Georgia was the center of amphora winemaking, where the vessels were known as “qvevris.” The technique is still practiced throughout the country today. In fact, qvevri-winemaking is so integral to their culture that this winemaking technique has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

  Today, partially inspired by the popularity of Georgia’s qvevri-aged orange wine, winemakers in Old World countries that once used and abandoned the ancient practice are now using amphorae to bring their wines back to ancient roots. Others, including New World winemakers who have no history of using amphorae, such as Chile, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and the U.S., are also using the age-old method to make new and original wines. So far, the reviews have been positive. According to proponents, modern use of this technique allows for slow micro-oxygenation, naturally-controlled temperatures, pure expression of the fruit and softening of the acidity – or, if fired at a very high temperature, preservation of acidity.

  These benefits of fermenting and aging in amphora are due to the unique properties of the vessel, just as winemaking in oak barrels and stainless steel offer their own distinctive characteristics. Oak barrels are porous and allow exposure to oxygen but also contribute flavors from the wood’s tannins. Stainless steel tanks are hermetically sealed and provide an oxygen-free environment, resulting in fresh, crisp wines. Clay amphorae fall somewhere in the middle. Because clay is porous, the vessel allows oxygen exposure as wines age, which helps soften tannins and flavors. Also, since clay is a neutral material, the presence of oxygen enables wines to develop without imparting any additional flavors. In addition, clay is an excellent thermal conductor, which releases the heat from fermentation, so there is no need for temperature control, especially if the vessel is buried in the ground according to Georgian tradition. The wine evolves slowly, preserving the fresh and fruity aromas.

  In the early days of winemaking, amphora size was generally around 30 liters. Today, amphorae may range from 320 liters to 1600 liters. The winemaking process begins when the pressed must is placed into the amphora, which is then sealed. Fermentation is spontaneous due to the presence of indigenous yeast in the fruit. During fermentation, the curved nature of the pots creates a swirling motion that gently extracts flavors and some tannins from the grapes and forces solids to settle at the bottom, leaving a clear, bright wine. There is little or no need to filter. Natural tannins found in grape skins, pips and stalks provide a natural preservative, so adding sulfur is unnecessary.

  Amphorae are generally free-standing, but some winemakers bury their vessels according to Georgian customs. Fermentation and maturation times will vary depending on the winemaker’s goals. In Georgia, they leave the qvevri underground to ferment for at least five months before being decanted and bottled. According to some experts, fermentation in amphora can take longer, resulting in a higher extraction level. Wines aged in amphora tend to mature faster, too, because of the micro-oxygenation. Both red and white wines can be vinified in amphora, with whole grapes stemmed or destemmed.

  Amphora wines are especially popular among proponents of biodynamic winemaking, who prefer minimal intervention and a natural approach to viticulture and viniculture. Since these wines are unfiltered, the process appeals to fans of natural wine and winemaking. Also, the sustainability of the amphora, compared to wood or steel tanks, offers an environmentally and financially advantage: On average, wood barrels must be replaced every four to five years, but clay amphora can last decades, if not centuries.

  So how do these wines taste? Because the wines fermented and aged in amphora are exposed to more air, they have a deep, rich texture. The presence of oxygen also softens tannins and accelerates tertiary aromas of nuts, baked fruit and chocolate. Clay is a neutral container, so wines show less oxidation than their oak-aged counterparts. They also show less reduction than wines aged in stainless steel. Generally, tasters say wines have an elevated expression of fruit, open with a bright quality and close with a long and rich finish.

  While we are seeing a quiet revolution of fermenting and aging in amphora, there is no “one size fits all” to the containers because of regional and historical differences. The vessels come in a wide range of sizes and shapes. Most are made with clay, including terracotta. Others may be made with sandstone and concrete, but they are usually not referred to as “amphora.” Traditionally, amphorae were hand-made, and most still are today, either by the winemakers themselves or through specific amphorae producers.

  The unifying thread is that these wines prioritize extended skin contact, regardless of the composition. In Georgia and Armenia — where amphorae-based wine production has its origins — the vessels are called “qvevri” and “karas,” respectively. The amphorae are large, egg-shaped pots and, for hygienic reasons, are lined with beeswax. Ancient Romans used a large oval clay vessel called a “dolium,” which had a large opening at the top and a rounded body attached to a flat or rounded bottom. The dolia, often six feet in height with a 2500-liter capacity, were kept underground with a constant temperature all year. The Spanish used a massive clay vessel called a “tinaja,” which tapers at the top and the bottom like an egg. Tinaja are used by some contemporary winemakers in La Mancha, Valdepeñas and Montilla-Moriles. In Portugal’s Alentejo region, many winemakers are reviving the country’s tradition of fermenting in amphorae called a “talha.” The talhas are massive and can produce 1000 liters of wine. The region even has the world’s only appellation dedicated to wines made in amphora, Vinho de Talha. Italians use the terms “anfore,” “orci” or “giare” for amphorae. Tuscany has been the center of clay vessel production for generations.

  The revival of amphorae is leading innovative producers to experiment with improvements in the vessels, specifically in the areas of oxygen transfer rates, porosity, effects of different firing temperatures, testing of elements released by amphorae, durability and ease of cleaning/improved sanitation, among other areas. Many of today’s amphorae are far from those used 6,000 years ago, with producers offering hermetically-sealed ceramic lids that minimize temperature fluctuations and add-ons such as doors, drain holes, valves and sample taps to facilitate fermenting, aging and cleaning. Some have produced vessels with varying porosity, within limits, due to high-temperature firing techniques, amphorae that limit contact with yeast by their design, and larger-sized amphorae that can maintain original reliability performance. It’s also possible to use vineyard soil in the clay to form an amphora with a local footprint.

  Today’s amphorae are not inexpensive: Generally, prices begin at around $3,000. A stainless steel tank starts at $1,000, and an oak barrel can range in price from $900 to $2,000, depending on whether it’s American or French Oak. Concrete tanks, which offer benefits similar to amphorae, may cost as much as $14,000 for a 470-gallon capacity vessel. While amphora and concrete represent a significant investment, those who use them say the benefits are worth the expense. Not only do the vessels last for decades, but they also yield competitive wines of all varieties.

  With amphorae technology continuing to evolve, winemakers considering vinification with this method should research their options seriously. First of all, confirm that the amphorae selected are specifically made for wine and have been tested and certified to ensure there is no risk of contamination. Potential buyers should also consider how much oxygen the wine needs, ease of sanitation and cleaning, thermal insulation properties, the safety of materials and durability of the vessel.

  Amphorae are taking us back to the future. Winemakers, who by nature are continually looking for innovative ways to produce wines, are embracing this old technology with enthusiasm. For them, opportunities with amphorae abound.

SMS Marketing Performance in the U.S. Wine Industry – 2022

After 20 years of researching and reporting on the best practices of email wine marketing, it’s an honor to share VinterActive’s first VinQuest™ Wine Marketing Report on the benchmarks and best practices of SMS marketing in the wine industry. This preliminary analysis draws on five independent wine marketing data sets and confidential interviews with wine marketers using text messaging in 2021.

  Our inaugural report is based on the performance of 88 SMS wine marketing campaigns sent to over 25,000 opt-in consumers in 2021 and 2022. And for comparison, this analysis also incorporates the results of millions of wine marketing emails sent to consumers in 2020 and 2021. 

The results we found were astonishing:

SMS WINE MARKETING BENCHMARKS

  Compared to email benchmarks in the wine industry, SMS marketers averaged 32-times more customer engagement for each text message they sent.

  To put it another way, a list of 300 SMS contacts can outperform a list of 10,000 email addresses.

Compared to email, the text messages sent by wine marketers were 4.3-times more likely to be opened and 7.4-times more likely to be clicked.

  And SMS marketers who kept track of sales conversion reported 100-times more wine sales for each text message they sent.

SMS WINE MARKETING ANALYSIS

  These results compare favorably with industry-wide estimates that report a 20-to-1 advantage for text marketing compared to email. The results reported by wine marketers in this analysis may indicate consumers are more amenable to text messaging from their favorite wine brands.

Or, since the wine industry is new to SMS messaging, initial results could be tempered over time as more wineries adopt text messaging and the wine industry looks more like other retail segments.

But whether text messaging drives 20-times or 30-times more customer engagement than current industry practices, this analysis means that savvy wine businesses would be foolish to ignore this game-changing DTC marketing breakthrough.

BEST PRACTICES OF SMS WINE MARKETING IN 2022

  For the innovators using text messaging in the wine industry, best practices are beginning to emerge for the three pillars of SMS marketing success:

1)  Growing text marketing lists.

2)  Sending text marketing campaigns.

3)  Managing 2-way text conversations with

     consumers.

BEST PRACTICES FOR LIST GROWTH

  To grow their text marketing lists in 2021, the wine marketers we interviewed found success using:

•  Keywords that consumers can text wineries to join their SMS lists.

•  Web-Based Signup Forms that website visitors can complete to join a winery’s text marketing list.

•  Email Marketing that offered existing customers an opportunity to connect via text.

BEST PRACTICES FOR OUTBOUND CAMPAIGNS

  As wineries grew their text marketing lists in 2021, some of the most successful campaigns we measured were:

•   Transactional Texts triggered by customer behavior to send order and shipping confirmation messages.

•   Preference-Based Content Streams that use keywords to deliver weekly or bi-weekly content, like upcoming winery events.

•   Predictive Sales Offers that use purchase history and customer tags to target sales offers personalized for each consumer.

BEST PRACTICES FOR MANAGING 2-WAY TEXT CONVERSATIONS

  In addition to sending outbound marketing messages to many consumers at once, text marketers in the wine industry are also finding immense success in engaging their customers with 2-way text conversations.

  Entire hospitality teams are turning to text messaging to conveniently communicate with customers, answer questions in real-time, delight their visitors with personalized service, and sell more wine as a result.

  In 2021, the best practices we observed for managing 2-way text conversations were:

•   Assigning Trained Staff responsible for each customer conversation.

•   Automated Away Messages that instantly reply to customer requests.

•   Deploying Mobile Apps so winery staff can message their customers wherever they are.

REACHING BABY BOOMERS WITH TEXT MESSAGING

  The wine industry has a Baby Boomer problem, according to some observers.

  The thinking goes that since “older, more affluent consumers drive the U.S. wine market,” today’s vintners are helplessly watching their best customers die off slowly. Perhaps that’s true for some.

But for U.S. wineries currently engaging their customers with text messaging, older consumers – Baby Boomers and Gen X – are driving record DTC sales.

  Why? The latest research on generational marketing (SendGrid, 2021) shows that email, text messaging, and social media are the top-3 business marketing channels for adult consumers of all ages.

While it’s true that older consumers as a group engage in email marketing more often than text messaging, the older your customers are, the more likely they’ll engage your brand using text messaging.

  It might not seem that way when consumers are challenged by technology in the tasting room. But not all Boomers are the same. So, your opportunity lies in reaching older consumers who enjoy text messaging.

  If your goal is to engage older customers and you already use email, SMS marketing is the next best thing you can do. Even better than social media, according to the latest research.

  And remember, you don’t need to convert many customers to SMS marketing to profit.

  Even if you only persuade 3% of your consumers to join your SMS list, you’ll still succeed in creating a new digital sales channel that generates as much revenue as the other 97% combined.

A RARE GIFT FOR SMALLER WINERIES

  Most of the time, the odds are stacked against small wineries.

  But for a brief moment in time, the power of SMS wine marketing is now available to help even the smallest wineries achieve DTC sales results that would make larger wineries jealous.

  With text messaging generating 32-times more customer engagement than email, growing a list of just 300 SMS contacts can outperform a list of 10,000 email addresses – giving small wineries a rare chance to outcompete larger vintners.

Think about it for a minute.

  Do your customers use their phones when they taste your wine? How hard would it be to print a simple QR code inviting wine tasters to join your SMS list?

  And as in-person wine tasting regains momentum, do you think you might be able to build a small text marketing list that doesn’t require any awkward conversations or deciphering poor handwriting?

  Then, congratulations! You’re ready to leapfrog the competition using SMS marketing.

  Across wineries of all sizes, the average email list of 10,000 names generates about the same DTC wine sales as 300 SMS subscribers. And with 1000 SMS subscribers, you’re going to need a bigger warehouse.

  While big businesses expend more and more resources squeezing the last remaining revenue from their old email lists, savvy wine marketers focusing on text marketing now can outperform vastly larger competitors by the end of summer.

And wait until the holiday season arrives…

If you start building your SMS wine marketing list now, you’ll have one of the most effective marketing tools any winery can use to maximize holiday sales.

  According to wine industry expert Lewis Perdue, the DTC sales boost driven by marketing messages delivered to mobile devices is particularly apparent during the holiday season. The research he shared shows “mobile and desktop about evenly divided for e-purchases, but that changes big-time with the upcoming holidays,” when online sales driven through mobile devices dwarfs the sales generated through desktop or tablet computers.

THE FUTURE OF TEXT MARKETING IN THE WINE INDUSTRY

  In the future, as text marketing continues to mature in the wine industry, benchmarks and best practices will surely mature too.

  Forward-thinking wineries are already experimenting with QR codes in tasting rooms to grow their text marketing lists, leveraging social media for SMS content, and creating new ways to serve customers with personalized 2-way text messaging.

  In 2022, innovation in the use of SMS messaging will give wine marketers even more tools to grow their text marketing lists, manage conversational sales, automate personalized text messages, and harness SMS messaging for B2B sales and employee communication.

  Even though wine marketing is one of history’s oldest professions, it’s finally moving at such a rapid pace we can all look forward to what the future holds.

THE BOTTOM LINE ON SMS WINE MARKETING

  SMS wine marketing is much like email marketing 20 years ago, with innovative vintners reporting outrageous results that were hard to believe at first but finally fueled the wine industry’s first wave of digital marketing success.

  In a world where 90% of online consumers want text messages from their favorite brands, but only 9% of U.S. wineries text their customers, this epic mismatch between consumer preference and industry practice spells nothing but opportunity for wineries focused on growth.

And unless you think text messaging is going away soon, the only choice you have to make is whether you let your competition profit from text messaging before you.

  With consumers hungry for brands that engage them with text messaging — and wine marketers hungry for continued success – we hope the benchmarks and best practices we’ve shared in this report can help any winery profit from SMS messaging in 2022.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Founder & CEO of VinterActive, Bryan St. Amant, is a pioneer in developing preference-based direct marketing and its successful application in the wine industry. His advice has helped hundreds of wineries across the U.S. grow sales and customer satisfaction by leveraging the best practices of DTC wine marketing.

  St. Amant holds an MS from M.I.T. and a BS from U.C. Berkeley. His award-winning work has been featured in books, magazines, and seminars, including CFO Magazine, Inc., CNN Money, eMarketing Magazine, Integrated Direct Marketing, Direct Marketing Association, Wine Marketing Report, and the Wine Industry Network.

From the Vineyard to the Bottle: What to Consider When Choosing Filling Equipment

By: Cheryl Gray

When harvest ends, when fermentation and aging are over, it is time to bottle the wine. While it may seem like a simple thing, how those bottles get filled truly matters. When choosing the right filling equipment for a winery, key factors to consider include capacity, functionality and, of course, cost.  

  XpressFill, headquartered in San Luis Obispo, California, has neighbors that include wine regions near Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Edna Valley and Santa Maria Valley. The company, founded in 2007, provides a wide range of filling machines that fit virtually any need for wineries of any size.  

  One of the company’s specializations is the development of compact, affordable, easy-to-operate table-top fillers. Rod Silver is in charge of marketing and sales for the company.

  “XpressFill offers both a volumetric and a level fill machine,” he said. “Both fillers have self-priming pumps, do not require gravity or a reservoir, are made of food-grade [materials], and are capable of filling 450 bottles per hour. We also offer two-spout versions of each, capable of filling 240 bottles per hour.” 

  Silver told The Grapevine Magazine that XpressFill designs its machines for product protection and efficiency.

  “The fillers can be equipped with an inert gas – CO2 or Nitrogen – purge option to extend the shelf life of your product. Either configuration weighs less than 25 lbs, with a physical size similar to a case of wine,” he said. “By using an efficient flow path, there is very little waste due to priming for the initial fills or left-over wine in the system at completion.”  

  Ease of use is an essential feature in any new piece of equipment. XpressFill fillers provide a user-friendly experience.  

  “Operation is simple. Set up and cleaning require little time, allowing larger wineries to use our fillers to avoid large production setup costs or mobile canning minimum fees. The volumetric filler provides an adjustable shelf and offers the most flexibility when filling a broad range of bottle sizes. The variations in bottle fill volumes are within a consistent range in order to comply with the regulations set by the TTB,” said Silver. 

  “The level filler is designed with a sensor probe that shuts off the fill at the desired height. Simply adjust the shelf to the desired height, then place the bottle on the shelf to set the fill level wanted. The flow is triggered by resting a bottle on the snap switch. The fill will shut off when the sensor detects the liquid hitting the correct level in the bottle. [These machines are] perfect for use with hand-blown and other specialty bottles that have slight variations in bottle wall thicknesses, punt size, diameter of the bottle, and neck height, among other inconsistencies. They are most popular in industries requiring bottles to be filled to consistent levels even when volumes may vary.”

  Silver described how digital technology plays a vital role in product operations.  

  “Volumes are controlled by use of the digital timer. The user simply inputs the amount of time necessary to fill the bottle. For example, a two oz bottle might take four seconds to fill, a 275 ml bottle 13 seconds, and a 750 ml bottle 25 seconds (based on water). Times will vary according to the viscosity of the product. The digital timer is precise and adjustable down to .01 seconds, and the time is stored in the memory until changed by the user.” 

  Silver told The Grapevine Magazine that XpressFill provides wineries with affordable options.

  “Our fillers are extremely cost-effective, ranging from $2,395 to under $4,000 for a fully equipped filler capable of gas purge and 450 bottles filled in one hour…They are ideal for the small-to-medium production artisan craft person.   

  An investment in equipment now will inevitably lead to the question of when to upgrade later. Silver said wineries should consider several factors when moving into a faster, larger capacity bottle-filling product.  

  “For deciding when it is time to upgrade, the advice would be to perform a cost-benefit analysis based on the down-time, maintenance and hourly operating cost of the current system versus the replacement. Although a new system may have much greater production throughput, the time for setup, configuring for filling and cleaning after filling may be much more labor-intensive and result in a net reduction in cost-effectiveness.” 

  The Vintner’s Vault is another California-based company that sells bottle-filling products. With locations in Paso Robles and Temecula and a third in the Texas hill country, the company has a client base that stretches across the United States as well as in Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, China, Nova Scotia and Indonesia. It works with several manufacturers to provide wineries with a range of choices.  

  Andrew Berg, Vice President of The Vintner’s Vault,  said that innovation and introducing new products are priorities.  

  “Over the past years, we have provided the fastest-growing segment of the bottling industry due to our ability to produce affordable and extremely effective machines that are easy for clients to operate,” said Berg. “We offer fully automatic bottling lines and semi-automatic bottle fillers. Gravity fillers are used for still wines and isobaric fillers for sparkling wines. We also offer vacuum filling machines for olive oil and vinegar, as well as some craft breweries. 

  “For our automated systems, we run from 16,000 bottles per hour to as low as 1000 bottles per hour and for semi-automatic systems from 1000 to 200 bottles per hour. 

  “All systems we offer are very easy for the clients to use. Protecting the wines from oxygen pickup during bottling is the top priority, followed by consistent, accurate fill levels. Gravity fillers and the vacuum filling units, both automatic and semi-automatic, are much more economical compared to isobaric fillers, which are also offered in automatic or semi-automatic.” 

  Wineries can sometimes be limited in their equipment choices because of location and cost. The Vintner’s Vault works to help solve both problems.  

  “Many of these smaller and medium facilities are in rural areas where their options for bottling are more limited, so the investment must come as part of the equipment budget,” Berg said. “We are able to provide highly professional and easy-to-use systems that can fit that budget.  

  “For the larger facilities, we have combinations of Borelli and NewTec, along with a variety of other options for off-packing, automatic palletizing, carton erecting, carton sealing, case packing and much more. In all sizes, we work directly with the client to determine their exact needs. [We then] build a system accordingly with all drawings and needed details for the client to ensure that it not only fits their needs and budget but the space allocated for the system.” 

  Wineries have multiple factors to consider when choosing filling equipment. Careful planning is the first step.

  “Small producers usually start with a semi-automatic bottle filler due to their small productions and their budget. Medium and large-sized wineries go with automatic bottling lines because their larger production makes it more affordable to invest in an automatic bottling line and reduces the labor involved in bottling their wines,” said Berg.

  “It is also important for many producers to have the added luxury of bottling on their schedule as opposed to medium and larger wineries having to hire a mobile bottling truck service, which in turn locks them into dates which can create logistical timing issues for the winery,” he said. “Not all the wines may be ready for the bottling date, they may not have the tank capacity to bottle all their wines together, and it also can be a challenge if the bottling products like labels, corks or capsules, etcetera, are not on sight on time.

  “That being said, we also have produced several full bottling trucks and trailers for clients who provide bottling services to a number of producers. These are our mobile bottling trailers, and we can build the entire system from scratch to customer specification or install it in a client’s existing truck or trailer.” 

  Among the companies specializing in bottle filling machines for sparkling wine is Della Toffola Group, established in the 1960s and headquartered in Italy. The company has a global presence with branch offices on six continents, including Della Toffola USA in Santa Rosa, California.  

  The company has manufactured and installed winemaking equipment for more than half a century. In addition to isobaric bottle filling machines, the company also provides wineries with a varied selection of bottle filling equipment, including volumetric, electric and gravity filling machines.  

  Industry experts agree that time spent carefully researching options can save money in the long run. Partnering with a bottle-filling manufacturer that prioritizes the winery’s needs for immediate and future production is part of that sound research.

Wine Production Methods & Business Needs Drive Pump Choice


By: Gerald Dlubala

Pumps are an important and core piece in winemaking. A productive and successful cellar operation requires pumps to be tolerant of solids and sediment, easy to clean and maintain and efficient at keeping oxygen out of the wine. Additionally, the winemaker needs the support of a manufacturer that offers constructive advice, critical support and available replacement parts and training when required.

What That Pump Can And Can’t Do Are Both Important

  “When it comes to pumps for a winemaker to choose from, there are really only six basic types,” said Jon Johnson, Service and Sales Representative for Carlsen and Associates, an industry leader in providing the ultimate functional, quality winemaking equipment. “Each can be functional in a wine-producing environment, and each has distinct advantages, disadvantages, and corresponding price point.”

  Johnson explained the assortment of pumps Carlsen and Associates provides to customers.

•    Positive Displacement Pumps “These are the most versatile pumps for a winemaker to have in their facility,” said Johnson. “Positive displacement pumps are great for moving solids and must but are versatile enough for other cellar applications, including bottling, juice transfer, pump overs, and barrel work. They also operate with minimal destruction of solids. Although running the pumps equipped with rubber impellers dry is a recipe for quick pump damage, when equipped with stainless rotors, they can be run dry without that worry. Positive displacement pumps cannot be shut off because the pressure continues building and will potentially damage the weakest link involved, usually meaning a burst hose. The positive displacement pump’s versatility and reliability come with a price tag in the $17,000 range.”

•    Progressive Cavity Pumps “These pumps are gentler on the product and won’t squish or damage things as much as other pump varieties,” said Johnson. “They will sometimes break the grape seeds and, like other pumps, cannot be run dry without damaging the pump mechanics. Progressive cavity pumps can run the winemaker $10,000.”

•    Rubber Impeller/Rotor Pumps “These are the typical low-cost starter pump,” said Johnson. “They’re not usually the first choice because they cannot be run dry, can cause damage to the contents they are moving, and contain parts mostly made overseas, potentially affecting availability and ultimately causing extended downtime. On the low end of the price spectrum, a winemaker can expect to spend around $5,000 on a rubber impeller pump.”

•    Peristaltic or Hose Pumps “Considered an expensive, single-use piece of equipment that uses large rotors and rollers and takes up a large amount of space, peristaltic pumps simply do not offer the versatility of other pump choices,” said Johnson. “Additionally, they are the most expensive pump on this list with around a $30,000 price tag.”

•    Centrifugal Pumps “Centrifugal pumps are generally only good for juices or liquids,” said Johnson. “Any solids get macerated in use, so they are common for waste and end-of-line uses. Large-scale centrifugal pumps are best for large-scale events like tanker-truck loading and unloading or large-scale wine blending. However, they aren’t made to be run dry without causing damage, and a winemaker can expect to spend around $7,000 for the pump, necessary fittings and hardware.”

•    Air Diaphragm Pumps “This is the gentlest of the pump choices,” said Johnson. “They are low maintenance and low cost, in the $5,000 range. Air diaphragm pumps can provide a lot of pressure and can be run dry. An additional feature is the ability to shut off against the pump without damaging any components or equipment. The drawback of these pumps is that they can be tougher to clean.”

  Johnson told The Grapevine Magazine that there are applications where each type of pump can be successful. “The key to choosing the right pump for any cellar application is for the winemaker to make decisions and have a clear path about their winemaking methods before selecting a pump system.

  “It’s critical to know if they are pumping must, what type of fermentation they will be using, if they are planning to screen or not, etcetera. These answers will narrow down the options. Narrow them down more by knowing the distance you’ll want your pumps to move product, including any bends and inclines. For example, long traveling liquids aren’t suited to be pushed with a rubber impeller pump because there won’t be enough pressure to perform the required movement. They also will likely not produce enough pressure to be available for filtration applications. Know your methods, so you know what type of pump system will work and, just as importantly, won’t work. Once you know your methods, you’ll know your pump needs, and then you’ll want to find and work with a trusted, experienced manufacturer that offers parts and service availability to decrease downtime and keep the juices flowing.”

After The Loving: Reliable Pumps To Help With Waste

  After the detailed love and day-to-day dedication that a winemaker puts into their product, there is still waste removal. Gorman-Rupp has been manufacturing pumps and pumping systems since 1933, with many of their designs becoming industry standards. For the wine industry, Gorman-Rupp typically provides pumps for the waste side of the production process.

  “We manufacture solids handling, self-priming centrifugal pumps that are great for pumping stems, skins, seeds and all other types of waste,” said Jeff Hannan, Product Manager for centrifugal pumps with Gorman-Rupp. Additionally, Gorman-Rupp offers their exclusive Eradicator Solids Management System for moving and clearing waste. It includes a lightweight inspection cover featuring an innovative, accessibility-driven backplate that incorporates an obstruction-free flow path and an aggressive self-cleaning wear plate designed to constantly and effectively clear the eye of the impeller.

  “Equip our Super-T Series centrifugal pumps with the Eradicator Solids Management System, and you have the best and most popular choice for pumping clog-prone waste like seeds, stems, skins, and any other stringy type of solid waste,” Hannan said. “In addition, upgrade kits are available for existing Super T or Ultra V pumps already in service out in the field to reach that same level of self-cleaning technology.”

  Hannan told The Grapevine Magazine that his Super T Series pumps can pass up to three inches of spherical solids, so they’re designed to eliminate clogging and effectively increase uptime. The technology was introduced in 2015 by Gorman-Rupp and has proved to be highly reliable in handling all stringy, clog-prone material. With over 4,000 units in operation, it’s not uncommon to have Super T Series pumps with more than 25 years of in-field service. That reliability factor is one of the things that a winemaker should consider when choosing a pump manufacturer.

  “When selecting a pump for any waste application, consideration must be given to the manufacturer’s reliability, reputation and service, along with the total cost of ownership and overall uptime that the pump offers,” said Hannan. “It’s always best to select pumps that are easy to maintain and are specifically designed to prevent clogging. Externally adjustable clearances between the impeller and wear plate, in combination with the new lightweight inspection covers, are just a couple of the features that make routine maintenance of our pumps easier than ever and a favorite for maintenance personnel. Additionally, depending on what is being moved, construction materials can be a huge factor in the pump’s lifespan. Typically, cast iron and ductile iron components are most common in general waste pumping. But if the pumped product has a lot of sand, grit or other abrasives, hardened materials like Austempered Ductile Iron for the wearing surfaces would extend the pump life. If moving caustic products, various grades of stainless steel, such as 316 SST or CD4MCu, can be incorporated into the pump to extend the lifespan.”

  Gorman-Rupp also manufactures a full line of submersibles, rotary gear, and standard centrifugal pumps to handle waste, sump and fluid handling applications. Unlike submersibles installed in the sump, self-priming pumps are mounted high and dry above the waste sump making maintenance easier to perform and eliminating confined space dangers. In addition, Gorman-Rupp’s Super T Series pumps are simple to work on, with the maintenance usually performed by winery personnel.

  “Overall, winemakers should look for the same things that wine drinkers seek in their products, namely reliability, reputation and service,” said Hannan. “If something would happen to go wrong, and it invariably will, I would want to know that I can trust the pump supplier to work with me to resolve the situation. That’s specifically what Gorman-Rupp has been doing for almost 90 years.”

Fixed Base Pumps Help Counter Labor Woes

  There may not be a lot of new movement on existing pump technology,” said Eric Kiser, Equipment and Machinery Sales at Carlsen and Associates. “But the current use of that technology is shifting. There is wider use of fixed base automatic pumps for pump-overs throughout the industry, driven by the ongoing lack of available staff, increased process efficiency and the resulting overall savings for the winery.”

  Fixed base pumps are permanently attached to the tank and mainly used while the juices are breaking down to help maintain consistent color extraction and keep the cap of the tank containing tannins and tartrates moist.

  “The technology has been around for probably three to five years,” said Kiser. “But it was always considered a luxury that carried a price tag of around $7,000. Now, with the ongoing labor shortages and fewer wine cellar workers, it’s become a viable option that allows a winemaker to recover their investment in as little as a year and a half. Some winemakers like to do three pump-overs a day with 20 minutes for each one, and others do multiple pump-overs a day lasting just a few minutes. Either way, pump-overs quickly become a time and labor-consuming practice. A portable pump is brought in, set up, used for a short time, and then has to be broken down, sanitized and readied for the next pump-over session. That’s a lot of labor and time invested for a predictable, repetitive process. Fixed base systems, sealed in an all-in-one unit, eliminate the repetitive labor involved and free up that labor and time for other cellar tasks.”

  Located under the tank with a fixed base pump-over system, it draws in at times set by an automatic timer. Once activated, juices are drawn upwards to an irrigator and sprayed over the tank top, or cap, for moisture retention. All colors, tannins and tartrates are blended and treated as one instead of having the solids sink and the mixture separate. A sealed, automatic system eliminates the setup, break down, clean and sanitize cycle. Additionally, an automated system helps eliminate the human errors that can potentially occur from rushed or overworked employees, including cross-contamination or incorrect tank usage.   “It is an expensive luxury up front,” said Kiser. “A complete setup with pump, drain, controls, devices and fittings can require an initial investment of $7,000. But it becomes worth the upfront cost when you consider the quick return on investment and the ongoing labor issues. The labor shortage is real and likely isn’t going away. The marijuana harvest will only grow, and that’s important because it coincides with the wine harvest. The result is that the two agricultural industries will always be fighting for the same seasonal field workers.


Springtime Expert Advice for Vineyard Wildlife Control

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Discussions about pest control in the vineyard often revolve around small insects that eat away at plants, but there are much larger animals that cause damage among the rows as well. Instead of chemical deterrents commonly used for small pests, wildlife control in the vineyard is often best pursued through fencing, traps, nets and certain plants that naturally deter problematic animals.

  In this article, industry experts from companies specializing in vineyard wildlife control weigh in on the best ways to keep animals away from your precious grapevines this spring season.

Vineyard Wildlife Problems and Solutions

  Many animals can create problems for vineyard owners, including deer, gophers, rabbits and mice. Other animals that commonly find their way to grapevines are voles, foxes, woodchucks and raccoons. However, one of the most significant wildlife issues affecting vineyards today is birds.

  Sutton Agricultural Enterprises is a Salinas, California-based company and pioneer in pest bird control and precision seed planting. Sutton is also a source for transplanters, harvesters, mulchers and custom farm equipment.

  Bob Sutton, General Manager at Sutton Agricultural, told The Grapevine Magazine that one of the keys to an effective wildlife control program is variety.

  “Using a single style of bird control will help achieve a level of control,” Sutton said. “Using two, three or four different methods will help the vineyard manager get to higher and higher levels of control.”

  Avian Enterprises also specializes in bird control and serves numerous industries, including agriculture, dairy barns, commercial, residential and airports. Based in Sylvan Lake, Michigan, it offers three bird repellent products to protect crops from pest birds.

  “Birds can be incredibly destructive to grape growing. From pecking holes to eating the grapes outright, grape-growers are constantly in battle with the birds. If mitigation measures aren’t taken early enough, the grape-grower runs a real risk of losing a significant portion of the grapes,” Avian’s President, Jon Stone, told The Grapevine Magazine,

  Established as a livestock fencing installation company in 1984, Trident Enterprises has a warehouse in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, stocked with high-quality fence materials for various industries. Trident’s Chris Shriver said that his company’s two best products for wildlife control for vineyards are an eight-foot-tall, PVC-coated welded wire fence with two-inch by four-inch mesh openings and a metal eight-foot fixed knot fence.

  “These products provide protection from any animal that wants to get in and snack on grapes, leaves and other crops,” Shriver said. “They are nearly invisible from past 20 feet, so you can maintain the natural look of your vineyard.”

Effective Wildlife Control Strategies

  Depending on a vineyard’s location and the types of wildlife in the area, fencing, traps, netting and certain plants can be placed around the grapes. Sutton said that some of the most commonly used bird control products are visual, such as reflective tape, decoy birds of prey and eye spot balloons. Sonic products include Zon propane cannons and pyrotechnics, while exclusion products are netting and spikes.

  “Each of the available bird-scaring classes, visual, sonic and exclusion, can be used together and separately to achieve a different effect and can also be used in different ways throughout the vineyard,” Sutton said. “An example of this is an area where power lines cross a portion of the vineyard. Zon propane cannons can be positioned to reduce damage in that specific area. Likewise, a hillside with mammals and bird habitats can also be the focus of a specific control. Bird control products are only a part of a program. The way they are managed is the other.”

  However, there are pros and cons to the various wildlife control strategies used in vineyards today. Any bird and wildlife control situation depends on balancing the damage, or potential damage, with cost. A vineyard could experience a 5% to 40% loss of fruit if no controls are put into place.

  “Knowing the history of the vineyard, weather conditions, and the overall environment of the vineyard are all factors that contribute to the amount of loss that will be incurred,” Sutton said. “The lower the expected loss, the lower the input cost. Visual bird control, at the low-cost end, may be enough to minimize damage. If history shows damage can be very high for a particular vineyard, the other end of the cost scale is netting, which can run as high as $800 per acre.”

  “We like to tell our customers that when it comes to protecting against the birds, every tool in your toolbox is the way to go,” said Stone from Avian. “That said, there are some strategies that work temporarily and then don’t seem to affect the birds going forward. Avian Control Bird Repellent, fortunately, is a product that birds cannot get used to; they can’t acclimate to it. It’s a constant annoyance for them, and if used early enough, it can ‘convince’ the whole flock to stay away for the season. The key is to start spraying it early before the ‘scout’ birds arrive.”

  Shriver from Trident Enterprises said that, in general, the pros of his company’s fencing are that it keeps deer and other animals out without compromising the look of the field.

  “Our fences are also harmless to animals, unlike how trapping and netting can sometimes be,” Shriver said. “There is nowhere for the animals to get caught or trapped, so it makes it a perfect wildlife deterrent for vineyards.”

  In addition to these control strategies, some vineyards experiment with placing certain plants around grapes to deter pest mammals and birds. For example, planting marigolds at the ends of grapevine rows deters rabbits. As a general rule, plants with a strong scent help discourage wildlife, including herbs used for cooking like sage, rosemary and oregano. Meanwhile, remove plants that pest animals love, such as tulips, lilies and azaleas.

  Shriver said that there are a lot of different plants you can use to deter deer, in particular.

  “You can plant lamb’s ear, marigolds, rosemary, asparagus, mint, fountain grass, lavender, sage, basil, lily of the valley and even sunflowers,” Shriver said. “Anything with spikey or fuzzy leaves will discourage deer. All of these options will help keep deer out and add a splash of color to any space.”

Wildlife Tips for the Spring Season

  When it comes to wildlife control, spring is unique because it is nesting season and the most likely time for pest birds, rodents and other wildlife to take up residence in and around a vineyard.

  “Migratory birds come and go, but birds who live in a particular area will need to find food and water sources throughout the year,” said Sutton. “Discouraging them in the spring may reduce populations in the area when the grapes become a target for a food source. Owl boxes are also a good example of a way to help control the gopher population year-round.”

  Shriver told The Grapevine Magazine about the importance of fortifying protection in the spring.

  “Everything is starting to bloom, which means more things for animals to eat,” Shriver said. “The best tip is to get some wildlife fencing. This is the most surefire way to protect a vineyard from the very hungry animals that are more active once the weather starts getting warmer. If you already have some sort of wildlife protection, it is important to make sure it is still secure by checking for holes and weak points and reinforcing anything that needs it.”

  When it comes to spraying, Stone recommends waiting a little longer.

  “Because the birds only seem to want the grapes around just the time before verasion, we recommend only using Avian Control Bird Repellent at that time or just before,” said Stone. “It doesn’t make sense from a strategic standpoint to spray any earlier.”

  Using some of these helpful tips, vineyards around the country can better handle their wildlife pest problems and enjoy more thriving grapes this season. Every wine-growing region is unique when it comes to wildlife protection. Fortunately, there are products and strategies available today to address potential issues before substantial damage occurs.

The Okanagan: British Columbia’s Vine Valley

By: Tod Stewart

Man, did I need this,” was the thought that went through my mind as I opened the blinds and took in the morning view from my luxurious suite at Spirit Ridge Resort. Under an azure, late fall sky, vineyards stretched down to the sun-sparkled cobalt surface of southern Osoyoos Lake, whose waters stretched towards the hills in the distance. Though late in November, the Okanagan Valley in the British Columbia interior was experiencing a glorious, prolonged fall, with temperatures in the mid-50s. As I’d been in a COVID-induced semi-lockdown seemingly forever, a chance to escape my Toronto condo was just what the doctor ordered (along with face masks, vaccines, tests, social distancing, and an “abundance of caution”).

  This was my second visit to Spirit Ridge. The first time was back in 2005 on my first trip to Brit-ish Columbia. At that time, the resort had yet to be fully completed (doors officially opened in 2006), but the evidence of what was yet to come was apparent. Today, Spirit Ridge offers a range of stunning accommodations, activities, fine dining and the Indigenous-owned Nk’Mip (In-ka-meep) Cellars winery mere steps away. It also serves as the perfect base for exploring the numerous wineries that pepper the landscape, from the town of Osoyoos in the south to Salm-on Arm in the north.

  This time, what brought me to the Okanagan was an invitation to visit the stunning Phantom Creek Estates winery, tour the facility, taste some wines, and dine in its acclaimed restaurant. While there, I could also spend some of my own time checking out a few other establishments in the area.

  Nestled between the Cascade and Columbia mountain ranges and meandering on a roughly north to south tack for some 124 miles, the Okanagan Valley was forged by glacial activity about 10,000 years ago. The landscape is as rugged as it is beautiful. I’ve toured a few wine regions in my travels, and, as far as scenery goes, the Okanagan ranks up there with the best of them. Though undoubtedly appreciative of their daily view, Winemakers in the area face a few challenges – some familiar, some not so much.

  To begin with, there’s the climate. To call it extreme would be an understatement. For example, the summer of 2021 saw temperatures in south Okanagan hit upwards of 120 degrees Fahren-heit. In the midst of this was a twelve-day stretch where some vineyards experienced tempera-tures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 12 hours each day. Come January, the mer-cury plummeted to a bone-chilling -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

  The region is also very dry. The southern part of the valley – where I was stationed – is Cana-da’s only desert and the second driest climate in the country outside of the Arctic. Irrigation in the vineyards is a must. A bit of a pain, but not something to stop dedicated vineyard manag-ers. What could stop a dedicated vineyard manager is some of the local wildlife.

  If, as a winemaker, you think birds are a problem, tending vineyards in the Okanagan could prove to be somewhat unnerving. Bears, cougars, wolves, rattlesnakes and Black Widow spi-ders are all present to varying degrees and can be more than a tad annoying. With their insa-tiable appetite for ripe berries, the bears will gladly decimate row after row of vines (and are probably indifferent to the nuances of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). This can have some unfortunate economic consequences for a vineyard owner. Still, there’s not much that can be done outside of letting them have their fill, given that they can also decimate those interfering with their dinner. Encounters with the other beasties are rare but not unheard of. As an aside, I asked a local Bordeaux-trained winemaker if he faced similar challenges from wildlife while working in France. “Well, there were French people,” he said.

  If you can deal with these challenges, the south Okanagan is, by all accounts, a truly remarka-ble place to craft world-class wines.

  Vancouver-based businessman Richter Bai, whose background involved mining in China, thought so, too. He saw the south Okanagan as the perfect place to craft the Bordeaux-inspired blends that he personally favored. And so, armed with nothing more than a dream and about $100 million (Canadian, I’ll assume), Bai secured some prime wine-growing real estate and set to work.

  Fortunately, the land he bought came with a trifecta of highly-acclaimed vineyards: Phantom Creek Vineyard, planted in 1996; Becker Vineyard, planted in 1977; and the Kobau Vineyard, planted in 2005. The Evernden Springs vineyard – planted after Bai’s purchase – in the neigh-boring Similkameen Valley added a fourth vineyard to the estate’s holdings. The region’s dry climate ensured that utilizing organic and biodynamic vineyard practices was more than doa-ble. To alleviate any possible hiccups along the way to organic and biodynamic certification, the talents of Olivier Humbrecht were enlisted. Humbrecht, owner and winemaker at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, was brought on as Consulting Winemaker. France’s first Master of Wine, Humbrecht is known as a leading proponent of biodynamic winemaking.

  The 78,884 square foot winery Bai built has a 35,000 case capacity and is at once a showcase for art, architecture, gastronomy and, of course, wine. It sports a 500-seat amphitheater, a first-class restaurant, and numerous objets d’art, including a Dale Chihuly-designed chandelier hanging over the Founder’s Cellar tasting table.

  I was shown around the place by the very hospitable Andrew Young, Phantom Creek’s Hospi-tality Manager. He also took me through a thorough tasting of the winery’s vinous treasures. The Bordeaux blends and house cuvées (that often saw both Bordeaux and Rhone varieties in the mix) certainly displayed both power and elegance, as well as complexity, as did a very solid Syrah. The whites – including Riesling, Pinot Gris and Viognier – were immaculately balanced and varietally true to character. Even the Viognier, a grape that tends to veer off into blowsi-ness in the wrong hands, was elegant and restrained.

  An additional benefit when visiting Phantom Creek is partaking in some of the winery’s other assets, of which there are plenty.

  Over a superb, multi-course dinner at the winery’s on-site restaurant, creatively prepared by Chef Alessa Valdez, I was poured a number of additional Phantom Creek wines that married perfectly with the various dishes. Poached Lingcod with crispy grilled saffron polenta, grilled green cabbage, ‘nduja beurre blanc, and almond gremolata…O.M.G. And things were just get-ting started.

  It was a bit of a change of pace going from the opulent lavishness of Phantom Creek Estates to the elevated vineyards of Osoyoos Larose. I admired the view of the Okanagan Valley stretched out about 1,300 feet below me as I looked over the nearly 80 acres of vines. I was in the vineyard because it wasn’t possible to visit the winery, mainly because, at the time of visit-ing, Osoyoos Larose didn’t have a winery.

  Since its inception in 1998, the estate has availed itself of various “borrowed” facilities. This should be changing over the next couple of years as a permanent production home has finally been secured. Yet, despite what many might see as a definite setback, Osoyoos Larose has managed – vintage after vintage – to craft red wines based on the classic Bordeaux blend that have been hailed by connoisseurs and critics as among the best in Canada.

  Owned by France’s Groupe Taillan (owner of Chateau Gruaud-Larose in Saint-Julien, among others), Osoyoos Larose, like most Bordeaux estates, makes but two wines (both red); its Le Grand Vin flagship, and Pétales d’Osoyoos. However, the estate is in the process of planting white varietals for a Bordeaux-inspired white counterpart. About two and a half acres have been planted to date, with an additional 20 acres slated for planting next year. Until then, con-sumers will have to content themselves with the Osoyoos Larose reds. A vertical tasting of vin-tages 2009 through to 2018 went a long way in convincing me that there’s plenty with which to be content.

  It should be exciting times ahead for a winery that, without hype, without a huge advertising and promotional budget, and without even an actual winery, has managed to secure a top spot in the echelon of the world’s great wines.

  Before catching a morning flight back to Toronto, my final meal was at the whimsically named The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry restaurant at Spirit Ridge. The name derives from a story told by the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation describing the Four Food Chiefs, each representing above-ground animals, water-dwellers, underground edibles and above-ground plants. I settled on the Bring Me Hasenpfeffer, mostly because it sounded (and, in fact, was) delicious, and also because “hasenpfeffer” was a word etched into my brain since my Bugs Bunny cartoon days. It paired nicely with the ripe, densely-structured, slightly smoky Nk’Mip 2018 Syrah from the adjacent winery.

  For wine markers south of the border looking for stunning scenery, fantastic hospitality, and some pretty incredible wines, a visit to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley will prove to be en-tertaining, educational and eye-opening.