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Wine Industry Advisor
155 Foss Creek Circle
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-2557

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Wineries Share Their Point-of-Sale System Priorities and Experiences
30 August, 2019

by Barbara Barrielle

Jim MorrisJim Morris

Point-of-Sale systems in wineries seem to be a love-hate relationship…many times the hate overcoming the love as the frustrations of adapting to changing and challenging environments puts a strain on winery personnel and the electronic retail and data system that supports their efforts.

“I have worked with all of the major ones from VinNow, to E-Winery Solutions, to Vin65, to WineDirect, B-Loyal, AMS, Nexternal, and now E-Cellars. The needs of every business component of your winery must be considered,” says Jim Morris, vice president of hospitality and events at Charles Krug. “From the process of gathering and sorting data, simple to complex report generation, easy transactions including mobile and online ordering, checks and balances like ShipCompliant, and comprehensive tracking and order history functions. Stability of platform and a long list of satisfied customers and an active user community are plusses.”

With many wineries focusing on consumer experience in the winery and direct-to-consumer selling and marketing because profit margins are higher than the three-tier system, effective POS systems are crucial. And the needs of a winery vary depending on size, case production, complexity of the tasting room and tasting experiences, and the number of employees that must use and implement the system.

In Napa, at Alpha Omega Collective, which is made up of the 15,000 case Alpha Omega Winery, 20,000 case Tolosa Winery in San Luis Obispo and 6,500 case Spain-based Perinet, which sends 4,000 cases to the States. They use WineDirect and Paul LaRose oversaw the migration in 2015. The winery subsequently lured Tim Powell away from WineDirect to become Director of Technology. It appears they were happy with the system.

Paul LaRosePaul LaRose

Powell says, “There are many factors when deciding on a POS system but the key priorities are a) reliability and dependability, b) consistent performance without lags or delays and c) speed of workflows. The POS has to be an extension of the tasting room staff’s hands.”

“We have a very active and loyal wine club,” LaRose, the Omni director of sales, points out. “DTC makes up over 90% of Alpha Omega’s overall business and 70% of Tolosa’s. Of the Perinet wines shipped into the U.S., 85% of the revenues are from DTC. Data capture is just as important as sales and hospitality in our winery. At Alpha Omega, having a winery in the heart of the Napa Valley on Highway 29, acquiring accurate data is how we grow and expand.”

At the smaller, 2,500 case winery 32 Winds in Dry Creek Valley, Winery Manager Liz Findeiss has a list of what she is looking for in a POS System, “I value the ease of training new employees, Customer Relationship Management, the ease of running wine club cycles with multiple club variants, credit card updating capabilities, the ability to host and sync with online store/website, prompt customer service, and automatic order submittal to fulfillment house.”

At Charles Krug, they produce 60,000 cases a year and currently have E-Cellars as their POS system. “The ability to generate data and have robust analytics is critical. From simple information like all buyers in a region to anyone who has purchased a Cabernet in the last two years,” says Jim Morris. “The ability to pull solid data from the system is critical.”

While there have been solid improvements in POS systems in the last few years as they have specific requirements for wineries like state-to-state licensing and shipping procedures as well as the myriad of sales channels wine is sold through and the continued growth of direct-to-consumer selling, there remain stumbling blocks for wineries at all levels.

At Alpha Omega, LaRose points to one shortcoming, “I’d like to see the ability to split sales channels within one order. For example, if you have a wine club member order six bottle of wine in addition to their regular six bottle shipment, having the ability to ring up six bottles under Tasting Room and six under wine club in the same order would be ideal.

“This gives you clean and accurate reporting within your sales channels in which you can scale and grow utilizing ‘clean’ data. Also having clean and precise orders spread among your sales channels creates less internal politics and distractions while creating more focus on top line revenue and bottom line awareness.”

At 32 Winds Winery, Christine Bizzell points out issues with their current system, “The eCommerce and email marketing components are a problem. In addition, we’ve experienced bad user experience, low engagement with email campaigns and low web sales.”

Tim PowellTim Powell

Morris says he is frustrated with Krug’s system’s mobile POS components and lack of a fully-cooked email system. He sums it up by saying, “I have been through many POS decision making processes and it seems the latest, newest shiny thing rarely lives up to its promises. Winery POS systems are very complicated beasts and there are many business functions that must be fully integrated into them.

“They also must work with larger accounting programs so data passes seamlessly into the financial part of the business. And they MUST have extraordinary customer service, online chat windows and comprehensive ongoing training.”

Alpha Omega’s Powell, formerly with a POS supplier says, “The POS and eCommerce industry is very competitive these days. We’ll always assess our ROI and keep a finger on the pulse of the new and up-and-coming solutions out there,” he continues. “We value stability, reliability, performance, and ease of use. We also value a good partnership composed of solid communication, excellent customer service, and an understanding of our business needs.

“When your partner is ‘all-in’ and when the effort is there, you can feel it. It makes all the difference in a successful, long-term partnership.”

Point-of-Sale Systems


Active Club Solutions, Inc. is a leader in tasting room technology, offering cutting-edge solutions for managing and growing your wine sales since 2003. We offer an iPad winery POS, the best wine club software and winery ecommerce integrated in one solution. Active Club’s support, training, and services are world class. As a company and a team, we are invested in our clients’ success and growth, as we grow with them. Our clients’ needs are our first priority, and define how our technology and services evolve.


Founded in 1991, Microworks found its niche in the Wine Industry after providing consulting services to several wineries in Northern California to help them find more efficient ways to manage their tasting room sales, wine clubs and shipping processes. Previous to the Wine Industry, Microworks provided automated retail solutions for specialty gift shops around the US, Canada, and Pacific rim. Microworks commitment to developing and continually improving its products has made them a leading and well respected provider of Direct Sales Management software. Our commitment to quality and customer success has proven valuable for our customers.


We are a web-based sales technology platform, which supports online, POS, and club transactions for wineries of all sizes. Our comprehensive suite of business tools will help wineries sell more wine through the direct to consumer channel, while streamlining their fulfillment process and overall data management. 


In May of 2002 OrderPort started out as an eCommerce company specializing in integrating with warehouse and fulfillment systems. Ten years later, in 2012, partners Matt Payne, Stephen Ratzlaff, and Rick Belisle decided to follow their passion for wine and came up with OrderPort Winery Solutions. From there, OrderPort created the wine industry’s first iPad based POS system. This system acts as a hub for wineries, integrating four to five systems into one cohesive, easy-to-use system.


360Winery is brought to you by a committed team that is led by the seasoned entrepreneur, Achamma Mathews. A wine connoisseur herself, Achamma is a visionary with 3 decades of experience in developing software products for the food and agriculture industry. Achamma worked closely with Australian wineries to release the first version of her winery software in 2005. She has now rolled out the upgraded 360Winery software with unique features to help winery owners and managers around the globe run their wineries efficiently.


TROLY Solution will help your winery increase your sales and your margins by helping you manage the inventory, DTC, wine club, fulfillment, reporting, and accounting. Troly is more than an advanced software. It will allow you to optimize your Direct Sales and save a lot of managing time, save on shipping and credit card fees, help you manage your inventories and integrate your “Point of Sale (POS)” (on tablet and mobile), can automate your marketing emails, credit card verification before shipping and will be integrated into your website. Also, everything can be connected to your accounting software.


Our cloud-based platform allows you to manage your direct-to-consumer (DTC) business across multiple sales channels (ecommerce, POS, and wine club), all while enjoying a single view of the customer. With simplyCMS as its foundation, the company has been around for many years and our existing customers come in all shapes and sizes, from small wineries to large multi-brand/multi-site wine businesses. Our platform includes everything you need to provide an excellent experience for your customers: content management, CRM, marketing tools, ecommerce, wine club, a contemporary mobile point-of-sale, an advanced shipment manager, and compliance tools.


It began in 2003 when Richard Kline founded eWinery Solutions, a software platform designed for wineries of all sizes. When building this business, he met with hundreds of winery owners to carefully assess their eCommerce and wine clubs needs. As one of the largest winery solutions providers, vinSUITE is comprised of over 30 professionals, many with dozens of years in the industry. Our dynamic support and professional services teams set us apart from our competitors. And our dedicated account managers ensure our clients receive the utmost attention. Over the years we’ve helped wineries of all sizes and experience levels grow their DTC business.


Our Vintegrate Division is devoted entirely to the wine industry – wineries (small boutique to those producing 5 million+ cases), custom crush facilities, fulfillment houses, tasting rooms and wine shops. We’ve designed our Vintegrate Software Suite to make your business more profitable. We know you are tired of systems that don’t work together and the additional staff time required to bridge the gaps. We’ve built an end-to-end solution in Vintegrate so you can have all the tools you need from a single vendor solution AND we’ve built an integration engine to give you the choice of a multi-vendor platform where everything communicates.


VinterActive’s SecureWineShop™all-in-one wine sales software helps you sell more wine by accepting secure payments via website, smartphone, tablet and even your Facebook page. This proven cloud-based ecommerce solution is PCI-DSS validated and uses tokenization technology to maximize customer security, reduce liability and simplify  reporting requirements. Based on more than a decade of wine industry experience & customer feedback, SecureWineShop offers a shorter path to purchase, more powerful marketing features, and more advanced management tools than any solution available to the wine industry today.


Our goal is to help wineries sell directly to consumers in the way that works best for them. Today, we do that by providing our clients with end-to-end sales solutions—from ecommerce to fulfillment—as well as educational materials designed to help them grow.  It lets you reach new customers, engage current ones, and keep more of your profits. But to really excel, you need to also meet your customers’ sky-high expectations for service and delivery. Convenient ordering, great customer service, speedy delivery, and impeccable accuracy are all par for the course these days—and the stakes are only getting higher. As the only company providing end-to-end DTC sales solutions, we’re the partner who can help you exceed their expectations at every turn.

Intersection of Key Findings from Two Major DTC Reports
23 August, 2019

by Dawn Dolan

For wineries seeking answers and comparisons, there are two major reports available which can give insights into sales and marketing trends and tactics. Released in May 2019, VinterActive’s VinQuest Report is based on a survey of wineries returning a total of 110 surveys from across the nation (although a preponderance came from CA). The study is based on volunteered information, and Bryan St. Amant, Founder and CEO of VinterActive notes, “It’s a voluntary project. We’ve worked with winery associations for years. They like the information—it’s useful for their members.” He would like to see more nation-wide participation, and shares that, “For the benchmarks, Sonoma or Napa will have closer benchmarks to this information.”

Released in June, WineDirect’s Annual 2019 Direct to Consumer Sales Reportis based on transactional data from 1200 wineries across the nation, all clients of WineDirect, who use their point-of-sale and E-Commerce platforms. Adrienne Stillman, Marketing Director at WineDirect, emphasizes that the data is all anonymous. “We broke out everything by place, then give a more granular view to help people understand it,” she says.

Cross-referencing the two reports reveals an intersection of corroborating information. Beginning with e-commerce, a platform that both reports see as an increasingly important milieu for a winery to sell its goods. VinQuest reports that while most wineries have online sales as part of their purchase options, they show that the number remains fairly small. As a percentage of their sales, in general the larger the winery, the greater the percentage of online sales. Online sales are seen as a tool to be used by existing customers, as a general rule.

WineDirect reports that mobile traffic to websites was at an all-time high at 49% of visits, and that the increase in mobile orders alone was 30% last year. With a high order value, high number of bottles being ordered per purchase, and lowest barrier to entry (your website is open all the time), the opportunity to increase the current 10% penetration is one of their most important take-aways.

Tasting room sales are down statistically, and both sources present that the value in having a tasting room lies in customer acquisition. While wine clubs out-perform DTC sales in established markets, that does not hold true in emerging wine areas, where tasting room sales still reign. Regardless of where a tasting room is located, the acquisition benefit of gaining loyal, repeat clients and wine club members comes from people visiting a brick and mortar establishment. Says Stillman, “Use the tasting room as your customer acquisition vehicle. Treat it as the main source of how you grow your database.”

WineDirect reports that in the past few years, point-of-sale average order value has decreased by 2%, but Wine Club average order value has increased dramatically, by 54%. Part of this increase is due to staff knowledge and customer service. The VinterActive report highlights that the larger the winery, the more sales training their tasting room staff receives in a year. This correlates directly with the value of sales made. Wineries investing in the most training hours saw twice the amount of DTC sales growth.

What is each company representative hoping that the wine industry can take away from their report? Stillman says the basic answer is to use it as a benchmarking tool. St. Amant agrees, “The benchmarks just satisfy people’s curiosity. How do we stack up? Go ahead and compare yourself. Where do you stand? Start with that.”

Stillman has the figures. “Because of the vast size of our client base, we are able to share a unique insight into some of these numbers. Wineries have a granular look and they can benchmark themselves to their peer set. They can use it to decide where to focus their energies if they are under- or over-performing.” She thinks that some of the more emerging regions can use this study to look into the future. She states they could ask themselves, “Where are we going? What should we be focusing on next? Use this information”, she says, “as an opportunity for new wineries to see what they can shoot for.”

St. Amant was somewhat surprised by what activities are associated with higher growth “High intensity sales training—I didn’t realize just how important that is. There is a difference between sending 6 emails per year or 60. I was partially shocked at the high frequency marketing.”

Combining multiple channels of marketing correlated with superior results in terms of sales growth, and is an important takeaway that St. Amant hopes comes through. “What marketing tactics do you use-look at the number. The people who do better, they are doing eight things instead of five things. There is room for hard work and improvement. If you want to be successful, then try it.”

Quick Take Aways

  • Online sales are increasing; be sure your e-commerce is accessible and user-friendly for not only your computer-using clients, but optimized for ease of use from your mobile users. Online sales represent the biggest opportunity for growth.
  • Utilize your tasting room for client acquisition.
  • The better trained your tasting room personnel, the higher the returns. Invest in staff training.
  • High intensity marketing = high returns. Develop a multi-pronged marketing plan.

Consumer Insights Show Cannabis’ Impact on Wine
16 August, 2019

By Dawn Dolan

While the 3rd Annual Wine & Weed Symposium offered ideas to both camps on how to work together, utilizing marketing strategies, and integrating more women into the ranks, the critical piece of information that many in the audience were waiting for was presented during Jessica Lukas’ session, “The Cannabis Impact on Wine”. Ms. Lukas is Vice President of Consumer Insights at BDS Analytics, Inc, which has world-wide cannabinoid market data. In presenting her information to a crowd that was a little in awe of the graphs and the blitzkrieg of statistical analysis, she nevertheless made her points known and understood.

To understand her data, one needs to understand that this is information gathered from ~80% of the legal market.

The US market is huge, with California coming in ahead of Canada for sales, followed by Colorado. Right now California is enjoying a $2.5 billion dollar market. Projections through 2024 show this to be a $40+ billion dollar industry world-wide in just five short years, enjoying astronomical growth. The US is projected to garner ~70% of that total value.

Although impressive, keep in mind that currently the US Alcohol market is currently roughly fourteen times bigger, and in five years will still be earning five and a half times more than its cannabis counterpart, with a five year projection at around $170 billion dollars. For the three states with the most history regarding this subject, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, alcohol sales do not appear to have been affected by the legalization of recreational cannabis, and the increased sales value seems consistent with the general US trajectory for alcohol. In most areas so far, alcohol grows with cannabis.

For the Wine Industry, her next sets of data looked specifically at a type of edible that seems most in direct competition with wine, which is the cannabis beverages category. Currently comprising only 6% of all edible forms of cannabis (remember edibles themselves only make up ~15% of cannabis products available), there is a growth curve of +15% for cannabis beverages that any stock investor would be pleased to see in a portfolio. With a rapidly changing and capricious market, one of the impediments to beverage sales has been the taste, which Lukas notes, is the “number one consumer driver” for this category.

So who are the consumers of cannabis? Are they also wine consumers? Coming from all walks of life, consumers are a diverse group. In her slides, we saw that of the collections labeled Consumers, Acceptors and Rejecters™ in fully legal states, there has already been a striking change. In Q1 2018, 31% were Consumers, 32% Acceptors (those who don’t use but don’t mind or are open to it), and 37% Rejecters. Lukas illustrated that in just the past year, the shift is there to see, with Consumers climbing to 38%, Rejecters dropping to 33%, and Acceptors dropping to 29%. The dropped numbers together total the increase in Consumers of 7%, and an overall gain of 4% to the grouping of Consumers & Acceptors (those currently consuming or open to it).

An interesting statistic showed that nearly half (45%) of alcohol consumers in fully legal cannabis states also use cannabis products, and that 65% of cannabis users also imbibe in alcoholic drinks. However the risk for the wine industry Lukas laid out was that as Alcohol users are increasingly consuming cannabis, the reverse is not true; cannabis users are decreasing their use of alcohol.

Although she presented that within the alcohol category, wine was more insulated than other alcoholic beverages, the next risk she showed to alcohol was the cross-over effect, where a percentage of people, who presumably used to think of a particular social or recreational occasion as purely a wine occasion, now consider that it could be either a wine or a cannabis occasion.

A last risk cited was that wine consumers, when they pair alcohol and cannabis, consume less wine than they otherwise might, perhaps helping to drop the overall volume consumed. And more and more are considering cannabis as a singular, solo event, playing on the interesting cultural disparity in thought, that being that drinking alone means you are a drunk, whereas using cannabis while alone is more acceptable. That said, of those who use both wine and cannabis, ~70% have not changed the amount of alcohol they consume overall. The risk is highest in the relaxation category, where the substitution of cannabis for alcohol is potentially greatest, and the perception of health and safety dominate, especially among younger adults.

As for the question of the day, is cannabis impacting wine sales, her answer is “not yet”. The amount of cannabis consumption impacting wine consumption is still negligible, but in this changing market and changing environment, and with new users coming online who are not burdened with the stigma of days gone by, next year’s Wine & Weed Symposium may tell a different story.

Wine in Cans Could Be 10% of Category Says Free Flow Wines
02 August, 2019

Free Flow Wines are betting big on the continued growth of alternative sustainable wine packaging with an investment of around $10 million in a new state-of the-art 58,000 square foot facility in Sonoma. The facility is designed from the ground up to support Free Flow Wines projected growth of both their kegging and canning business.

From its beginning 10 years ago, quality has been a core focus for Free Flow Wines. That meant getting high quality wines to fill their kegs and making sure that they preserved that quality for the end consumer, delivering the best possible wine experience for wine by the glass.

Rich Bouwer at Free Flow Wines facility

Rich Bouwer at Free Flow Wines facility

Building on that promise, their new facility includes a temperature controlled cellar with a 210,000 gallon storage capacity built with the same high quality stainless steel tanks as the wineries making the wine; allowing them to have secure bulk wine storage for on demand filling.

“We see the number of tap handles going in increasing every year; more hotels, more restaurants,” says Richard Bouwer, Chief Operating Officer at Free Flow Wines. “Once someone has tried wine on tap, they never want to go back. Every restaurant venue we see go to wine on tap wants to stay there.”

Kegs on cleaning and filling lineFree Flow Wines set a new record this year with 21,000 kegs filled in one month, but the new highly automated kegging line with advanced robotics is geared for even more growth with a 150 kegs cleaning and filling capacity per hour or 1.1 million per year. “It allows us to double and triple the number of kegs,” says Jordan Kivelstadt.

Kivelstadt founded Free Flow Wines with Dan Donahoe ten years ago, but just announced that he will be stepping down from day to day leadership of the company, but remain in an active role on the board of directors, and he is still passionate about the mission of the company. “Quality, innovation, sustainability, those are what we care about, those are the core of the mission of Free Flow and what I think makes us one of the most dynamic companies in the wine industry right now.”

Three years ago, Free Flow Wines expanded from kegging into canning wine as well. Starting with 1,500 case per month, they are now at 50,000 and on the way to 150,000. Their faith in the category is underlined by the investment in a new fully automated canning line representing about half their $10 million investment in the new facility.

Canned wine currently represents about 20% of Free Flow Wines business with the rest being kegging and draft service, but they expect that share to double in the next year. “We see cans growing very quickly; this year we’ll do three times as many cans as we did last year, about 600,000 cases of cans. Next year we see well above a million cases,” says Bouwer. “We think inside of 5 years, this could be 40 million cases, this could easily be 10% of the wine category.”

And Bouwer believes that the evidence to support his projection of cans’ continued rise is there in the market. “The consumer loves wine in cans, it’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s a high quality closure, [and] we’ve seen the same take-up in other industries, whether cold coffee or craft beer.”

Jordan Kivelstadt

Jordan Kivelstadt explaining the quality control of cans

The new canning line is highly automated with a fill rate of 300 cans per minute allowing for a capacity increase from 50,000 cases per month on their old line to month to 400,000 cases per month.

The line has five quality control checks along the way, including weighing and gamma ray measuring to ensure a quality product. “Our canning line will be the highest quality canning line in the wine space. When that can comes out, we know it’s a good can and nobody else is doing that in wine today,” says Bouwer.

The new line has a 5,000 case minimum per run, but the old canning line is still operational as well and offers an entry point for wineries looking to try out cans.

By Kim Badenfort

New Sources of Revenue for Winery Associations Up for Debate
22 July, 2019

Janet Perry

As historic funding sources dry up and impact marketing budgets, vintner associations look to new ideas to increase revenue. Business Improvement Districts (BID) for the wine industry may be the answer, but change always comes with growing pains. If BIDs are adopted by the wine industry, should individual AVAs work together to promote their region?

Alison Laslett
Alison Laslett

We spoke with Alison Laslett, Executive Director of Santa Barbara Vintners Association (SBVA). She says she favors the adoption of a Business Improvement District (BID) for the wine industry because it provides consistent, sustainable funding that does not have to come off the vintners’ bottom line. “It’s also a cost structure that the consumer is familiar with because of hotels, because of San Francisco and other tourist areas,” she added.

Laslett explained that historically, associations could hold events that were very profitable. The SBVA was founded in 1983 and the Vintners Festival was a big piece of their fundraising. “That’s when wine festivals were unique,” she said. “They were new. They were exciting and lots of people came.”

Wine events have become more familiar now. “Auctions, festivals, all these events are there,” said Laslett, “but they don’t generate the kind of profit that an association really needs to be successful.”

SBVA had considered other options like sponsorships, expanding their events and raising dues. “Vintners make wine to share,” said Laslett. “Wine is not just a product to them, it’s an art and it’s a passion. They make legacy investments in their vineyard and they invest for generations in their family businesses. When you have that kind of investment in a culture, a product, an industry, then you are willing to pay dues to market it. The issue is the level of dues required to actually move the needle on marketing is cost prohibitive. It’s just too much.”

One possible solution is the establishment of a Business Improvement District. The Business Improvement District (BID) is based on a 1994 law that states that if an industry has more than 51% support, then they can put an assessment on that industry.

“We are proposing a two percent assessment on the retail sales out of wineries, that includes California Sales tax,” said Laslett. “The reason to do that is it’s a very trackable, traceable way to confirm that the assessment is fair. You can audit the assessment then against the California tax.”

Laslett said, “What I have found is when you sit down with somebody and explain the value to them, of building the reputation and the recognition of Santa Barbara County wine, then they’re more clear on what the value of the BID is and how it works.” Laslett added that their focus right now is continuing the discussion with the local vintners about what the BID is and how it could benefit their wine region

Some vintners thought it was coming off of their bottom line and thought they had to pay the two percent. Others fear that consumers won’t want to pay the 2% and they’ll look for their wine elsewhere. Laslett said the penny drop comes when they see the number of consumers they will gain due to the increased marketing budget.

Laslett noted that change always feels risky. “I have heard again and again, from the hotel industry and the tourism boards, that everybody has the same initial concern when a BID is proposed. It’s unfamiliar and it feels scary. But, again and again I have also heard, ‘this does not slow the consumer down.’ The tourism boards, the hotels, are able to promote themselves on a level, by working collectively, that they’re not able to do individually. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve for the vintners, is to give them some real power to succeed.”  

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV) worked with consultants to explore implementing a BID as well, but have paused their efforts while their board has formed a task force to review all of their options.

David Mounts
David Mounts

The board’s decision to pause was in direct response to a coordinated request from a sizeable percentage of the WDCV’s winery members, including several representing the historic core of the Dry Creek Valley. That group raised concerns about the BID concept in terms of consumer confusion, dilution of Sonoma County brand messaging, and financial fairness, as well as whether the proposed path is the right one for the WDCV overall. According to one member of the group, “it’s not obvious to any of us that more marketing is the right answer. But we look forward to gathering as a community to figure this out.”

David Mounts, Board President of WDCV explained, “We know that we cannot continue to rely on events to drive funding and want to find a way to fund our organization that is aligned with the fabric of the businesses that comprise our community. There are pros and cons to each of the options on the table, and we are in the middle of a process to bring all these options to the table and have our community make a recommendation on how to move forward. BIDs are set up in all sorts of customer interactive businesses. Restaurants, hotels, chambers of commerce, etc. They’re not that uncommon.”

Ann Petersen, Executive Director of Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley echoed the need for more funding. “Two factors are really impacting profitability for wineries right now. First, consolidation in wholesale channels. Fewer distribution channels means less opportunity for particularly small wineries to get on wine lists and retail shelves. Second, increased competition from both inside and outside the wine industry. There are now more than 10,000 wineries in the U.S. alone. And, every wine region in the world is competing for a share of the U.S. wine market.”

“We know that if we don’t innovate and implement strategies to attract the right kind of consumer to our AVA, we face substantial risks,” said Petersen. “Only a collective marketing effort can make the right impact while preserving what people love about Dry Creek, meeting the owner in the tasting room.”

Michael Haney
Michael Haney

Michael Haney, Executive Director of Sonoma County Vintners prefers a county-wide approach to promoting the region’s wines. “We have concerns regarding individual associations implementing assessments, and believe instead, that our strength is working together as one wine community to promote the wines and wineries of Sonoma County to the world. We feel that promoting Sonoma County first is a much more effective and advantageous method and program for increasing awareness, market share and visibility for our County-wide wine community. ‘Rising tides lift all ships.’”

Millennial Winemakers – the Future of Mid-Atlantic Wine
15 July, 2019

By: Paul Vigna

The future of any industry rests with who’s coming along to take the reins. That’s certainly true in winemaking, where families are turning over responsibility to their kids or hiring a college grad. Here are vignettes on four under-35 mid-Atlantic winemakers who already have made an impact.

Virginia MitchellGaler Estate Winery

Like most students, Virginia Smith entered college at Penn State unsure of a career destination. She knew she loved food; hence the decision to start in Food Science in the College of Agriculture. But it was a research project that got her interested in wine and learning more about what she calls “the culture, artistry and science of the craft.”

Once she participated in her first harvest in the Lake Erie region in fall 2011, any questions about her future aspirations were answered. She worked an internship at Mazza Vineyards along Lake Erie, noting that “It was a first-hand experience into the hard work and long hours that go into grape processing, winemaking, cellar work and bottling.”

Three years later she jumped in with both feet, leaving Mazza, getting married and sneaking in a honeymoon, then heading across Pennsylvania to Galer Estate Winery in Chester County. The winemaker and winery manager have fit in well at the boutique winery adjacent to the renowned Longwood Gardens, northwest of Philly. It produces around 2,500 cases annually.

“When I was hired I had very little understanding of what terroir and typicity of the wines meant. I have learned so much about my personal style of winemaking during my five years at Galer,” she says.

Mitchell, 29, looks at every year as a new experiment and winemaking as a constant learning process. While those food science classes are in her past, she still sees similarities.

“I wanted to make a product that would be special and a new experience — not just the same product on a conveyor belt, year after year,” she says. “I believe that the wine helps to create a memorable experience for so many people, which makes it unique and special every time you taste.”

Lauren Zimmerman, Port of Leonardtown Winery

It’s not just the awards that make people stand up and take notice of Lauren Zimmerman. There have been plenty of those, including seven gold medals in Maryland’s 2018 Governor’s Cup competitionand two best in class. But Port of Leonardtown Winery, almost 100 miles south of Baltimore, sources its grapes from a co-op, which presents its own challenges. Still, it succeeds.

“I’ve learned there are no set rules for winemaking,” she says. “I also learned that all viticulture areas have their own set of challenges. While growing grapes in Ontario we had to fight with the deep freeze of winter. I always envied the southern vineyards but after moving to Maryland in 2012, I quickly learned it’s not all warm weather and sunny skies.”

Zimmerman, 34, grew up in Prince Edward County, a Canadian wine region that has recently exploded. Back in the early 2000s, she says new vineyards were popping up close to her home. “I was intrigued by the agriculture side of the business, but it was my mom, an avid wine drinker, who convinced me to study enology and viticulture after I graduated high school. I thank her regularly, usually with bottles of wine. I couldn’t imagine myself in any other industry.”

That much is obvious from watching interact, either with other winemakers or customers. “Some people find the wine industry intimidating, as if they have to describe each sip in specific detailed tasting notes. I assure them that the most important thing is that they like the way the wine tastes.”

When she gets a little down time, she’ll tour other wineries and chat with winemakers about the challenges they face. “And of course, taste their wine,” she says. “It’s the best way to learn.”

Mike BeneduceBeneduce Vineyards

If anything has made Mike Beneduce grow up fast in the wine industry, it has been central Jersey’s fickle weather.

“I used to be devastated when we would work our fingers to the bone all year to grow this beautiful fruit for like 360 days and then have a massive rainstorm come through five days before harvest and just destroy a whole year’s worth of work,” says Beneduce, 30. “ Recently I’ve just started to accept that as part of the gig.”

That would describe his move into winemaking, creating a product that he recalls being made in the basement as a child. “When my siblings and I got a little older our Dad would let us play hooky from school to help with bottling, and I always volunteered to run the bottling machine because you had to start the flow by siphoning the wine into each filler head with your mouth. Of course, you’d end up getting a mouthful of wine every time.”

He graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since. “I’ve learned that there really is no right or wrong in winemaking,” he says. “You just try something, pay attention to the results, and adjust your game plan for the next year.”

A Certified Sommelier under the Court of Master Sommeliers and an active professional member of the international gastronomic society, he’s also past chairman of the Garden State Winegrowers Association. The winery, considered one of New Jersey’s best, is a member of The Winemakers Co-Op that’s pushing to raise quality.

It won’t happen overnight, he says. “More than anything we just need time. Progress is measured in generations in this business, so we just need to be patient and do what we can with the time we have.”

Katie DeSouza HenleyCasanel Vineyards

So what is the most satisfying aspect of 31-year-old Katie DeSouza Henley’s job? She says it’s the cultivation of legacy.

“Everything starts with you: planting, caring for the vines, harvest & crush, fermentation, aging, bottling and finally selling that ultimate product, she says. “From bud to bottle, my fingerprints are there: not only to remind me of where I started, but also to illuminate where we are going as a family and as a business.”

A Virginia native who majored in English at Virginia Tech, she found enology and viticulture much more to her liking. “Two things drew me into winemaking: my family and curiosity.”

They bought the farm in Leesburg, in Loudoun County, in 2006 and opened the winery two years later. “I saw huge potential and opportunity to grow in Virginia’s booming wine industry; I started as the dishwasher and never looked back,” she says.

Since 2014 she has been overseeing winemaking and grape growing at Casanel, a winner of state and national awards, including best in class for its 2016 Carménère at the recent San Francisco Chronicle competition.

“Raising the bar is so much more about quality-driven winegrowing and winemaking practices: it’s about building a business model that supports sustainability and pride in one’s own estate vineyards and cellar,” she says. “The East Coast, especially Virginia, will only be recognized as a legitimate grape-growing and winemaking region when we place emphasis on growing better-quality grapes here at home rather than sourcing them from other outside regions.”

The Third Annual Wine and Weed Symposium Revealing a Growing Harmony
21 June, 2019

Janet Perry

“With cannabis, there’s a lot of independent thinking going on; like in the wine industry, These are dream chasers, no matter how daunting the chase might be.” George Christie.

Whether you are thrilled about it or nervous about the impacts, cannabis is here to stay. If you’ve been wary, it might be a good time to take a page from “The Godfather” and accept that “It’s just business.” The overwhelming success of the annual Wine and Weed Symposium is a great indicator of the possibilities inherent between the two industries.

The Symposium will be kicking off with a look at the family Coppola’s venture into cannabis by their Chief Winemaker and CEO, Corey Beck. “He’s going to give the keynote address and share the Coppola story of why they did it, what they experienced, and where they plan to go from here,” said host George Christie, President and CEO of the Wine Industry Network.

Christie looked back, “The symposium has evolved since the first year when it was mostly focused on educating the wine industry about ‘what just happened?’ We had just voted to legalize recreational cannabis here in California and there was a lot of curiosity on what that would mean for wine.”

The response was overwhelming, the event sold out and was praised by industry leaders for its groundbreaking approach to creating understanding between two industries vying for the same pie. The second year proved to be just as successful and tickets are expected to sell out again to this August’s third annual event.

“One of our goals is to help continue to facilitate a dialogue and an understanding for the wine industry about what’s happening with cannabis,” Christie said. “Is this an opportunity for Sonoma County to have more people travel here and spend money? Are there common causes that perhaps both industries believe in that they could team up on, like affordable housing, land use and sustainability? Inevitably there will be issues where the two industries are not on the same page and having that dialogue will minimize the negative impact and will allow both parties to work through those differences a bit more quickly.”

This year’s solid line-up of speakers will focus on the positive opportunities that exist now, as the two industries merge and successes are outweighing the feared negative impacts.

“However,” mused Christie, “we are still going to present the data and look at states where recreational cannabis is legal, what the impact has been on alcohol and more specifically, what do we see the impact to be on wine? And, how do those trends compare to states where cannabis is still illegal.”

“We’ll also be looking at the investment landscape, and in particular, the big alcohol beverage companies’ activity, why they’re doing it and what’s driving it,” explained Christie. “What have the early investors experienced so far? What do these investment experts predict that we’ll see more of going forward?”

“The Marketing and Packaging session will be looking at some of the creativity that we’re seeing come out of the cannabis industry,” said Christie. “I think that they are doing a really great job in a way that comes through as being incredibly authentic, which is what we’re all striving for in wine as well.”

“When it comes to millennial buying behavior and what’s getting their attention, what they’re looking for and what influences them, cannabis is succeeding,” said Christie. “I think it will be very interesting, from a marketing perspective, to have a couple of notable designers get up and show off a little bit.”

Christie has noted a trend of women from the wine industry emerging as leaders in the cannabis industry too. “Women, Wine and Weed” will be a roundtable discussion of female cannabis industry professionals with a background in wine, sharing their stories and perspectives on the similarities and differences between the two industries.   

“I say this all the time, whether you’re for or against it, the California cannabis industry is here to stay, especially here in Northern California,” said Christie. “Wine is going to be sharing a lot more than just our neighborhood with this emerging industry. I just think that from a business perspective, the responsible thing to do is stay informed and pay attention to what’s happening.”

The third annual Wine and Weed Symposium will be held Thursday, August 8th, 2019 at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country, in Santa Rosa, California.

Wineries Struggle with ADA Website Compliance in Wake of New York Lawsuits
07 June, 2019

Lack of Clarification from Federal Government Creates Confusion

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

Scott OsbornScott Osborn

When Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyards near Seneca Lake in upstate New York, first heard that winery websites should be addressing the needs of visually impaired people last October, he said he and his team immediately began to work on “getting our site up to standard.”

In January he got sued.

And his business wasn’t the only one.

According to the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, last fall, 26 wineries from Long Island and the Hudson Valley were named in a class action lawsuit and another 12, including Fox Run Vineyards, in January for “ … failure to design, construct, maintain and operate its website to be fully accessible and independently usable by (Plaintiff) and other visually impaired people.”

At issue is Title III of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which applies to private businesses. The intent of the Act, signed into law by George Bush in 1990, is to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access, opportunity, participation, independence and economic self-sufficiency as individuals without disabilities. (

When first enacted, the law was primarily directed at businesses in buildings that lacked adequate provisions for people with physical handicaps who might be unable to access steps or navigate narrow corridors and doorways.

But with the rise of the Internet in the 21st century and society’s reliance on it to conduct nearly all aspects of contemporary commerce, Title III of the ADA has been extended to website development as well.

There’s little controversy about the intent of the law and its basic premise. As Osborn puts it, “I want everyone to come to my winery and access my website. I want to achieve as much as I can. The problem is, there’s not much information available as to how to go about it. ”

The sticking point appears to be a lack of clarity from the federal government as to what exactly defines website accessibility for the visually impaired and what those businesses that have been found to be out of compliance need to do to fix it.

James Marshall Berry is Chief Strategy Officer with JMB Web Consulting, LLC based out of Sonoma County. He works with a number of winery clients who have serious concerns about the compliance issue and how address it.

Berry contends that since the Department of Justice (DOJ) has declined to be specific about issuing any official website compliance guidelines, small businesses are scrambling to define their own best practices and the actual decisions about compliance are coming down from individual courtrooms where the cases are being litigated.

“We all would like a standard of measure that tells us is it or isn’t it compliant,” Berry asserts. “But if it’s up to a judge and jury to decide what’s good enough – that has sweeping ramifications.”

Berry says that many wineries and small businesses are turning to website accessibility practices that were developed in 1999 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community where “member organizations, a full time staff and the public work together to develop web standards.” (

Under the W3C, a workgroup came up with an initial list of 14 standards and checkpoints, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) that could be followed in order to make the Internet more accessible to people with disabilities.

In 2008, those guidelines were updated (WCAG 2.0) to reflect the ever-evolving nature of technology, and focused more on “principle-centered guidelines,” rather than the “technique-centered guidelines,” which made up the bulk of the earlier work. (

However, as Berry points out, “It can be as arbitrary as contrasting colors on a logo, or one color of orange being brighter than another … at the end of the day, it’s going to fall to CMS (Content Management System) to become compliant. And, were winery websites originally built that way? Not really. Do they have the money to fashion their websites to facilitate compliance? Probably not, but it will likely be cheaper than a lawsuit.”

Richard J. Idell is an attorney with Dickenson, Peatman and Fogarty, a law firm in Napa CA, with extensive experience representing wine industry concerns. He is also an entertainment lawyer, specializing in live performances and has significant experience with ADA issues.

Idell agrees that it can be frustrating for wineries and other small businesses to be subject to lawsuits without clear Justice Department guidelines. But, as he points out, “the fact that there are not clear guidelines on the issue doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it.”

Idell references the WCAG 2.1 standards for website development guidance that suggest, among other things, installing software with alternative text that contains a code that describes images on a page, or screen reading software that does allow the visually impaired to read online content.

He notes that the risk of damage awards and attorney’s fees is significant and a good reason to address the problem, even without clarity from the Justice Department.

“This will all get sorted out eventually,” Idell predicts, because, as he says, the litigation will result in decisions where the courts say what is covered in the law and not. “When the law was passed, Congress saw the best way to get a law implemented is have attorneys bring cases for private litigants. That is why you have private individuals filing suit.”

For their part, winery owners like Scott Osborn are doing their best to cope with an ever-shifting legal and technical landscape. Under his direction, Fox Run Vineyards has completely rebuilt its website, with assistance from the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester New York.

Fox Run Vineyards website accessibility menu

Osborn hired User 1st, a company specializing in website accessibility. At the top left on the Fox Run Vineyards homepage, there is now an Accessibility tab. When activated, users may choose among several options to address accessibility needs, including activating a screen reader, navigating by keyboard, changing color contrast, making a grayscale and stop moving elements.

“It took us three to four months to get this thing done and done correctly,” Osborn reports. “People who don’t have (disability) issues – we don’t think about it. And we should. We just need a way to think about it without having a lawsuit.”

Sam Filler, the Executive Director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, could not agree more.

“No one is intentionally trying to limit access,” Filler states. “The problem is with the rules not being clear.  Even if you’ve followed best practices and WCAG 2.0, it doesn’t absolve you from a lawsuit. You could be 98 percent there, but one photo that wasn’t accessible can bring up a complaint.”

“Bigger companies have the resources to settle (lawsuits),” Filler continues. “For smaller wineries a settlement and the money to fix a website can mean their yearly marketing budget.

“There needs to be breathing room so wineries can become compliant. Our industry is totally committed to providing appropriate disability access. If it’s not there, our winery owners are committed to making the appropriate improvement.”

Takeaways from the 3-Tier Wine Symposium
31 May, 2019

By Dawn Dolan

Created to unlock the keys to successfully taking a brand to market, May 22nd’s 3-Tier Wine Symposium, produced by Wine Industry Network (WIN), did just that, taking audience members through the building blocks of creating a successful bid to market. Unique in its focus on small producers, their use of technology quickly backed that up, as symposium goers used their cell phones to fill out polls online, with real time results showing that the vast majority of attendees were well under a 10,000-case production level. Stated goals for the day were to provide new perspectives, create new ideas, and give wineries a good start at an implementable plan of action.

Opening remarks were made by George Christie, President and CEO of WIN, followed by remarks from moderator Laura Webb, of Okos Partners. Webb jumped right into the first session, giving a 30,000 foot overview on distribution for the audience. Panelists’ discussion centered on legal issues, challenges in today’s market environment, and the evolution of the distribution network.

Cheryl Durzy speaking

LibDib’s Cheryl Durzy discussed her company’s disruptive distribution mechanism, which has already caused a shift for many producers, her goal being, “A technology solution, with 3-tier access for all” added to, “one case at a time brand building.”

The next session focused on the distributor mindset, and audience members were able to learn what happens from the distributor’s side, learning about the thought process and costs that go into the incubation of a new brand. Understanding what the distributor needs from a winery seeking to retain them was a crucial component. Doing your research and having a plan are of paramount importance to the distributors. Noted Jeff Roth, of VP of Breakthrough Beverage Group, “What three or four brands do you want to be next to on the shelf? These are the conversations [with your distributor] that you need to have.”

A broad theme of finding a distributor that meets with your needs surfaced, as did the understanding that one distributor’s goals may not be compatible with your own, and to make the time to find the right match. Audience members echoed concerns in their posted questions, which included, “What should the plan we bring to a distributor meeting include?” And “What will the distributor provide for me?

After a short break, session three reviewed the strategies for entering into negotiations with a distributor, with panelists sharing common mistakes that producers (wineries) often make. “Come to the table with resources to grow your business. Be willing to partner so they’ll be a willing partner as well,” suggested Gordon Palmateer, founder of Palmateer Wine Group. A discussion of the costs the producer will bear caused some uproar, but the understanding is that no longer does the distributor do it all for the winery they represent. Having skin in the game and good communication are keys to success.

After a catered lunch by John Ash, the sessions drilled down into the nitty gritty details of the wholesale business. Session four offered insights on launching a new brand and expanding your market. Here, as in previous sessions, planning was key, with market research, target demographics, and “warm market” launches all considered winning factors in pre-planning a new launch. Spend amounts per case were talked over, along with percentages for building out a new brand launch, and time to profitability. Audience questions touched on concerns of expenditures, and where to invest, as well as possible missed steps in a launch, and converting from primarily DTC to becoming a brand with both wholesale and DTC.

Michael De Loach speaking

Following on this discussion, the next panel discussed how to get your fair share of attention from your distributor. Local wine guru Mike De Loach, owner and president of MD Wine Industry Consulting shared his thoughts, “Blitz! An all-hands on deck where you meet everyone in the state you are targeting.” This was necessary to create buzz and demand for a new launch, he stated. Panelists discussed incentivizing your distributor’s sales staff, and best practices for doing that.

Flowing from this session into the next with the topic of how market visits are changing, speakers at session six offered up wisdom for handling these essential and unfortunately expensive pieces of your marketing plan. Audience questions included, Who should I go see, What should I do to prep for a market visit, What should my ride-along expectations be, and Can I ask for a placement list?

“Connect to social media,” “Shout your scores,” and “Have something specific to say” were recommendations that came forward. Targeting the top three accounts, meeting independently with top performing store managers, and spending time in one or two key places to develop relationships were all offered up, solidifying that this is still a business based on interpersonal relationships. Jim Sweeney, Director of Sales & Marketing at Humboldt Distillery told the audience that action after the visit was another key, “Your market visit is only as good as your follow up.”

The last session of the day took the audience through the planning phase, accentuating what will get you and your brand noticed by your distributor. “Success is not an accident!” noted Senior Consultant of Palmateer Consulting, Chris Lynch. Create and stick to your plan, being flexible as it unfolds. Use data to help invest your resources correctly. Dan Hoban, SVP at Young’s Market Company was straightforward about who he sees succeeding, “A supplier who comes in knowing what works in that market and know how their brand fits in.” Be communicative and available to your distributor were all reiterated concepts. Noted presenter Keith LaVine of Disruption Wine Company, “It takes building blocks for getting it done. How to achieve specific goals necessitates checkpoints along the way.”

Laura Webb

Webb, partners in Okos Partners, a consulting group developing solutions for most industries, did an outstanding job moderating the symposium’s topics, taking care to cover the majority of the numerous questions posted by the audience. She closed with the encouragement for the audience to use what they had learned that day and implement it.

See more pictures from the 3 Tier Wine Symposium.

Selecting the Right Custom Crush Facility
17 May, 2019

By Paul Vigna

Tony LeonardiniTony Leonardini

Tony Leonardini is the winemaker and partner for BNA Wine Group, makers of the rapidly growing Butternut brand, among others. The production for the thousands of cases of wine it makes uses a half-dozen custom-crush operations, so he can offer plenty of suggestions on finding a facility that fits your needs.

Still, even with his familiarity, not all the hook-ups have come from searches he has made. “I was actually in the gym one morning and I complaining to another winemaker,” Leonardini said. “He’s like, ‘You need to go talk to these people,’ and gave me the phone number. I talked to them and I’ve been with them now for years and years. So word of mouth, I would say, is one of the biggest [ways to find one]. It’s like hiring someone and doing your due diligence … calling their references.”

Identifying potential production partners these days is getting easier, thanks to a growth in facilities – primarily on the West Coast – devoted to offering wine production services and an increase in wineries that are utilizing extra space by making wine for others. Identifying the right one? That’s more of a challenge, with factors related to cost and services in addition to the “people priorities” that are crucial to any relationship.

Let’s start with some basics as you begin to shop:

  • Assess the equipment it has and compare to your needs.
  • Figure out which tier of service matches the cost of your wine.
  • Ask questions about the protocols, both for winemaking and cleanliness.
  • Get a sense of the place’s personality and flexibility, and how well it communicates, to ensure, as Long Island winemaker Richie Pisacano puts it, that your juice “isn’t getting lost in a sea of wine.”

Allowing others to handle production has worked perfectly for Leonardini, located in Napa, and his partners, permitting the business to grow without a major investment in land or a winery or staff. It’s a chance, he says, to invest in the brand rather than a building or crew, and by purchasing grapes from all over California and using crush facilities near them, it keeps BNA from “putting all our eggs in one basket.”

Sugarloaf Crush Barrel Room

One key, he says, to a long-term relationship is obvious: Find people you get along with and work well with in the winery. “When you first start out [looking], you kind of think they are all the same,” he says. “but they’re not. They may be charging the same thing. But [if] you need some barrels tossed or an addition made to a tank, you want it done correctly and done in a timely manner.”

His story shared similarities with Maayan Koschitzky, an Israeli native and Screaming Eagle alumnus who in 2014 became director of winemaking for Philippe Melka at Atelier Melka and Melka Wines. He’s juggling eight custom-crush facilities. Get to know who you’re working with, he says, and make sure your winemaking approach matches theirs. “For example, if more barrel fermentation is important but the custom crush doesn’t do it, then you’re probably not in the right place,” he says.

Indeed, that would be just part of what Koschitzky referred to as knowing the facility’s wine movement, such as the number of days you can leave your wine in a tank and how often they’ll top and filter the wines, Know your basic protocol, he says, and make sure it matches the facility’s equipment and personality..

That time in the tank becomes crucial during harvest when the word “crush” also describes the experience inside the building, with winemakers scrambling to manage the process. Blair Guthrie is familiar with that drill. A New Zealand native and winemaker and vineyard manager for Stewart Cellars in Yountville, Napa County, he says knowing the agreement on fermentation time, for instance, can become paramount after the fruit is picked. “Sometimes, the fruit starts coming in and all of a sudden there’s no tank space left,” he says. “Make sure that’s something sorted out; otherwise in the middle of harvest you’ll be arguing with a facility that you thought you’d be in tank for three weeks and they’re trying to get you out in 10 days.”

Everyone interviewed noted the importance of the fit; for instance, if you’re making small lots, find a facility that utilizes small tanks, or vice versa. The same goes for the level of care and service; what you pay for producing your $20 bottle of wine won’t be nearly as comprehensive as what you’ll get for that $50 bottle of wine you’re bringing to a higher-end facility. “I could pretty much do all the work [I need to] off my laptop,” Guthrie says of the high-end operations he works with. “Another facility, where custom crush is not really their business, I am there a lot more monitoring what they are doing.”

Grand Cru Custom Crush

Look for facilities that are spotless and have protocols in place for cleanliness, including obsessively cleaning and sanitizing hoses, tanks and pumps between clients. That was one tip on the list sent in by Kerith Overstreet, who oversees the winemaking for Brulium Wines LLC in Sonoma County.

Also on her priority list: Know in advance what is included with crush price. “Does this include bottling? Empty barrel storage? Is there an up-charge for wines that over-vintage in barrels? Is there a lower price for quick turnaround wines like rose?”

Some places provide a winemaker and crew while others just offer the facility for use. Again, the emphasis is on knowing what you’re getting. Leonardini notes he uses one facility just to crush and ferment, another to barrel and another just to bottle, those decisions dictated by cost, location and what each place does best. In other cases, the single facility does it all.

Says Leonardini on the process of figuring out what works best for him, “These are things that you just kind of learn over time.”

Custom Crush Specialists

Fior di Sole

For over 20 years, Fior di Sole has been an industry leader in brand development, packaging innovation & wine production for the wholesale & retail markets. Our proven record includes the development of numerous million-case brands across all categories, from Extreme Value to Iconic wines; with a particular focus on Popular Premium, Premium & Super Premium categories.

Grand Cru Custom Crush

Grand Cru is a major step ahead of all other crush facilities and includes large variety of small tanks, the best crush equipment, perfectly sized barrel rooms that work well with our target client production, and last but not least the focus on supporting hospitality and customer interaction to help our clients build their DTC business.  With the right mix of member wineries everyone should feel as if they’re truly in their “own” facility and the place will feel very much like home to them. 

Gravity Wine House

Gravity Wine House is a Santa Rosa-based, boutique, custom-crush facility. We work with a limited number of select winery clients, focusing on small lots of premium wine. Our goal is to make our winery clients feel like they are in their own, dedicated winery.

Healdsburg Custom Crush

A custom crush facility specializing in small lot premium wines. We cater to clients both large and small who share our passion for winemaking. Our commitment is to provide a clean, professional environment, tailored services, all with attentive customer care.

Owl Ridge Wine Service

Owl Ridge Wine Services is a premium custom crush, private label and bottling facility located in the Russian River Valley. Our mission is to provide responsive, professional and conscientious service to our clients with attractive pricing and a staff dedicated to producing the highest quality wines. 

Punchdown Cellar

Formerly known as Copain Custom Crush, Punchdown Cellars is a Santa Rosa-based provider of winemaking services and logistics to boutique wineries and independent vintners. Founded in 2001, the crush facility was based on a collective of winemakers sharing space and having the freedom to hand craft their wines. The concept was a much welcomed breakaway from the status quo in the world of custom crush.

Rack and Riddle Custom Wine Services

From small boutique wineries to large multi-national wine producers and everyone in between, we provide unparalleled custom crush and winemaking services to all of our partners. We work with you to ensure you receive exactly what you want and need from grape to glass or to simply assist you with your existing winemaking and production needs.

Sugarloaf Custom Crush

Sugarloaf Crush has come to life through the experiences of being a Custom Crush Client. As a client in the custom crush niche, we have seen the strengths and challenges of being a Service Provider: reporting, ongoing and unpredictable pricing, and wine movement between facilities, from crush to storage to bottling. 

Terravant Wine Company

Custom crush is just the beginning. We specialize in helping winemakers do what they do best. Join the dozens of businesses who make their wine inside Terravant. 

Iconic Wine Sustainability Innovator Challenges Peers
07 May, 2019

Each year at the Sonoma County Barrel Auction, the Sonoma County Vintners have recognized local wine industry icons who have shaped the heritage and history of Sonoma County winemaking. This year, they are also celebrating innovators who help propel the Sonoma County wine community forward. One of the innovators, the Duncan Family of Silver Oak Cellars, perfectly exemplify that the two categories can overlap, and even a brand with deep wine industry roots and strong traditions can innovate.

2019 Icons and Innovators: Ron Rubin, David Duncan, Margo Van Staaveren, and Rod Berglund

Silver Oak started making their cult cab at their Napa winery in 1972 and the Duncan family has since taken a leadership position in the Napa and Sonoma communities buying 113 acres in Alexander Valley in 2012. In 2015, the Oakville winery received its LEED Platinum Certification in the category of Existing Building, Operations and Maintenance, and in 2018 Silver Oak opened their newly constructed LEED Platinum Building Design and Construction Certified winery in Alexander Valley. The only two LEED Platinum certified production facilities in the world.

Spoken as leader and pioneer, “I challenge you to do it,” David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak said speaking at the North Bay Business Journal’s Wine Industry Conference in April. He emphasized that even though the result was a beautiful building this was not a prestige project.

“The main place we were able to make an impact was the winery,” said Duncan, and “The investment in the winery was an investment in our brand. Everything we did at the winery has a payback.”

Duncan believes that the most innovative element is their water treatment process, which allows them to use every drop of water three times and be water net positive. He pointed out from a business perspective that even though the million dollar membrane bioreactor was a big expense, it frees up acreage that would have otherwise been used for aeration ponds to plant vines that create revenue.

The bioreactor filters 100% of the water from the cellar with natural biological activity and reduces potable water needs by 37%. They also harvest rainwater which will provide 100% of landscape irrigation needs.

The layout and design was also an important consideration to create a visitor experience where the buildings frame the vineyards and winery tours have impressive reveals, like when first entering the winery and crossing the “Star Wars Bridge” with American Oak Barrels stacked on each side, and little details, like having the right lighting, was tinkered with to make it just perfect.

Another amazing little detail which combines the reclaim and reuse ethos of sustainability with historic significance is the redwood siding on the winery and tasting room. The wood was salvaged from old wine tanks built by Cherokee Winery in the 1930s, then later disassembled by Robert Mondavi when he purchased the brand.

Even though Silver Oak is a classic brand, they are an unapologetically modern winery that has been an early adopter of technology that improves efficiency, quality, and sustainability.

“I think the most exciting trend in viticulture is technology in the vineyard,” Duncan said. Silver Oak is using precision viticulture technology in their vineyard to monitor vine growth and health with lasers, and use historical data to create maps of growth by zone to continue to grow better grapes.

Silver Oak hopes to pass on the lessons they’ve learned in building the winery to others, both wineries and people who come to visit, but they are not done and plan to make their Twomey winery LEED certified as well.

By Kim Badenfort

Pinot Noir Auction the Flywheel of Success for the Willamette Valley Brand
26 April, 2019

By Jade Helm

As auctioneer Fritz Hatton, pointed his finger and called “Sold!” for the last lot of Pinot Noir, the crowd at the Willamette Valley Barrel Auction responded with jubilation. The fund raising event broke the $1 million goal in a rather dramatic final act. Spurred on by Hatton and the energy in the room, six buyers made a spontaneous, collaborative bid of $60,000 on five cases of “First Blood” from Duck Pond.

Auctioneer Fritz Hatton

Auctioneer Fritz Hatton, Photo credit by Easton Richmond Photography

The auction is held annually at the Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg Oregon. Among several goals it is designed to showcase the very best of the Willamette Valley – mainly Pinot Noir. Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom Wines and the chair of the first auction in 2016 explains, “We [Willamette Valley] are the new world region for high quality Pinot Noir. The American wine trade turns to us when they look to put Pinot Noir on their wine lists and shelves.”

The 2019 auction featured 86 one-of-a-kind Pinot Noir lots and six collaborative Chardonnay lots from the 2017 vintage, made in quantities of five, 10 or 20 cases. Among them were Pinot Noir from all seven of Willamette Valley’s nested AVAs (American Viticulture Areas), including the newest, The Van Duzer Corridor. Other highlights included wines made from historic Willamette Valley vineyard sites Hyland EstatesDurant Vineyards and Winderlea Vineyard & Winery; celebrated winemakers like Véronique Drouhin (Drouhin Oregon Roserock), Brianne Day (Day Wines) and Rollin Soles (ROCO Winery); and collector favorites such as Domaine SereneShea Wine Cellars and St. Innocent.

Shirley Brooks, 2019 Auction Co-Chair and VP of Sales and Marketing for Elk Cove Vineyards, points out how young the auction is. “This is the fourth year of a new undertaking. Energies were devoted to developing and executing a successful trade auction and we have reached that goal.” Here is a nutshell view of the growth over the four short years.

  • 2019 Total wine sales: $1,016,000 (113% increase from 2016)
  • 2019 Average Lot Price: $11,043 (53.1% increase from 2016)
  • 2019 Average Bottle Price: $160 (81.5% increase since 2016)

All proceeds from the auction support the marketing, branding, and education efforts of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association (WVWA). Eugenia Keegan, 2019 Auction Co-Chair and Oregon General Manager for Jackson Family Wines remembers, “In the past, we [WVWA] would have great ideas for marketing initiatives, but no way to fund them.”

Keegan explains, “It is hard to establish a direct return on investment for marketing efforts,” but points to several programs funded by auction proceeds that she feels have benefitted the member wineries of the WVWA. Pinot in the City, Willamette Valley’s “on the road” trade and consumer tasting program has expanded its educational offerings to select trade.

Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown Moderates Panel on 2017 Vintage Prior to Auction. Photo credit by Easton Richmond Photography

Media related opportunities have shone a spotlight on the region. WVWA allocated marketing funds to capitalize on its 2016 Wine Enthusiast Wine Region of the year accolade. For the first time, out of state media were hosted for the wine auction, including educational seminars and a “mini roadshow” expanding the reach of the Willamette Valley’s unique wine story. This year Florida’s South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival will include a seminar entitled The Origin and Evolution of Oregon Wines. This opportunity arose partly from media connections co-sponsored by the WVWA.

The auction is also a platform to intermingle Willamette Valley winegrowers and the tastemakers and gatekeepers of the national and international wine trade. In addition to donating special lots of wine, participating wineries are tasked with inviting members of the wine trade to the event. This year’s event drew 450 industry members. Among them were 128 registered bidders representing 29 states and three countries. Pre- auction educational and tasting events enhanced the opportunity of the trade to peel back even more layers of the Willamette Valley’s wine stories and to understand the 2017 vintage. The day before the live auction began with a sold out seated tasting comparing the 2017 vintage to key years in the Willamette Valley’s Pinot Noir history. Guests heard first-hand experiences from panelists Adam Campbell of Elk Cove, Maggie Harris of Antica Terra, Harry Peterson-Nedry of RR Wines, and Thomas Savre of Lingua Franca. Afterward trade guests were hosted at Domaine Drouhin and Domaine Serene where they sampled wines and enjoyed face time with principles of all the participating wineries. The day ended with many buyers entertained at dinner by host wineries. One industry member who has attended each year remarked that prior to the first auction in 2016 it had been years since he had visited Willamette Valley. “I’ve discovered wineries and purchased lots from producers I never would have encountered otherwise,” he shared.

Willamette Valley is known for small, family owned and operated wineries. This often translates to small staff and limited budgets for travel. The opportunity to interact with this many trade members without the need for air travel or appointments can lead to valuable connections. Russell Gladhart, Winter’s Hill Estate, shares his experience from the 2018 auction. “I had not met the buyer of our auction lot prior to last year’s auction. A couple of months after the auction, the buyer of our lot visited our winery and tasted through our whole portfolio. They subsequently made a substantial purchase of our wines to sell in several locations.” Winter’s Hill focus on “direct to consumer” sales affords limited resources for distribution. Gladhart explained “I don’t have many opportunities to present our wines in person to large on-premise and wholesale accounts. For us, it’s a great opportunity to share our wines and our story.”

“Willamette Valley is one of the few wine regions experiencing growth in its category,” reports Brooks, a position she attributes at least in part to the auction and the marketing and education programs it funds.

To learn more about the Willamette Valley Barrel Auction or to request a trade or media invitation, look for updates at leading to the April 2020 event.

Is Gallo Saving the Wine Industry?
10 April, 2019

Last week, E. & J. Gallo and Constellation Brands closed the deal for Gallo to purchase 30 of Constellation’s lower-end wine brands for $1.7 Billion. The sale came as no surprise with rumors having flurried for some time that Constellation wanted to offload their lower price-segment brands and focus on high-margin and growth segments like premium wine brands Meiomi and the Prisoner, and of course, cannabis.

Betting on high-margin and high-growth sounds like a winning strategy, and Constellation’s stock rose on the morning after the announcement. But if Constellation was so eager to get rid of these brands, and consumer trends point toward premiumization, why would Gallo want to buy them?

Two immediate reasons present themselves. First, Gallo may have gotten a good deal. When the sale of Constellation’s wine brands was first rumored, the price mentioned was $3 billion. Secondly, perhaps Gallo is just better positioned to make a profit off these brands with their high degree of vertical integration and synergies from producing multiple brands in the segment. However, the answer could also lie in the core difference in company identities between Gallo and Constellation.

Constellation is a publicly held company invested in wine, beer, spirits, and cannabis. Their outlook is constrained by quarterly earnings reports and their impact on stock prices. They have a fiduciary duty to make the most possible profit for their investors and move their investments around within their sphere to achieve that goal.

Gallo, however, is a multigenerational family-owned wine business. They are deeply invested in the wine industry, with the company’s identity and history bound up in wine as well, so it is hard to imagine them divesting from wine. As a family business, they can take a longer, generational outlook focused on passing a flourishing business to future generations.

This difference is clearly expressed in the statements each company issued announcing the deal.

Bill Newlands, Constellation Brands president and chief executive officer said, “One of the hallmarks of our success over the years has been our ability to evolve and stay on the forefront of emerging consumer trends. This decision will help enhance organizational focus on a more premium set of wine and spirits brands that better position our company to drive accelerated growth and shareholder value.”

While Gallo’s chief executive officer, Joseph E. Gallo, said, “We are committed to remaining a family-owned company focused on growing the wine industry. While we continue to invest in our premium and luxury businesses, we see a tremendous opportunity with this acquisition to bring new consumers into the wine category.”

They speak to the two macro-trends of the wine industry; premiumization, which has been ongoing for some years, and the emerging challenge of bringing new consumers into the wine category, which is causing growth outlooks to flatten, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the Wine Industry Report.

The challenge for the industry is bringing in new consumers, Millennials in particular, to replenish the base as Boomers decrease consumption. The slowing growth means that brands will have to fight for share to grow, and perhaps move into the more profitable segments like Constellation did, leaving behind the slumping entry-level market.

While wine producers can stay profitable for now with a premiumization strategy, most consumers don’t start out buying $20 bottles of wine. So, if the entry-level segment isn’t replenished with new consumers at the same rate that existing ones are trading up, we will eventually reach a point when ageing premium wine consumers can no longer be replaced at a sustainable rate. And if lower-priced brands disappear because companies are chasing profit margins, there won’t be anything to attract new consumers.

That’s the challenge the wine industry is facing right now. But whose responsibility is it to invest in bringing new consumers into the category? No one in particular, or perhaps the industry associations? However, when your share of the pie is as big as Gallo’s and your outlook as long, shrinking almost certainly means a loss. So maybe this deal isn’t about Gallo needing more low-price bands, but about the industry needing entry-level brands to continue to bring consumers into the wine category. Perhaps this deal is about Gallo making a strategic move to save the wine industry for future generations of wine businesses?

By Kim Badenfort

Butternut Brand Grew from 1,500 to 100,000 Cases by Paying Close Attention to Market Trends
05 April, 2019

By Paul Vigna

While there are no questions any more about Butternut Wines’ prominent spot in the marketplace and its soaring potential, Tony Leonardini admits that he and his partners had some doubts about the timing when they created the brand.

A winemaker, Leonardini says he and partners John Hooper and Gary Carr began developing the brand around a buttery Chardonnay at the time when a group called In Pursuit of Balance was gaining steam.

John Hooper, Tony Leonardini, Gary Carr

Left to Right: John Hooper, Tony Leonardini, Gary Carr

“It was this low-alcohol, no-oak, really fresh kind of natural wine and we were starting Butternut, which is the total opposite, you know, oak, butter,” he recalls. “We’re thinking, are we doing the right thing? So we started another brand called Bandwagon, a stainless-steel Chardonnay, no oak, a little bit of creaminess, really crisp. Well, that brand went away after three or four years and Butternut just took off.”

Butternut is one of the fastest growing brands in its category, showing double-digit growth over the past three years. Founded in 2011, with an initial offering of 1,500 cases, it exceeded sales of 100,000 cases in 2018 and projects growth in excess of 40% in 2019.

Anchored by Republic National Distributing Company USA, which distributes Butternut wines in 17 states, BNA Wine Group has established a strong nationwide distributor network that, through commitment and focus, continues to accelerate its growth. While BNA features four lines, Butternut is its cash cow, at a suggested retail price of $14.99 for a 750ml bottle and $6.99 for a 375ml can.

Leonardini grew up in California and worked in the family’s wine business through college. In his late teens, he experimented with winemaking and after earning his business degree started Little Lion Wine Company, releasing a Cabernet Sauvignon called Volunteer.

That set the current success in motion, with his wine finding an appreciative audience in Tennessee, nicknamed the Volunteer State. It’s where he met Carr, an industry veteran, and Hooper, a fourth-generation wine distributor and the early financial backer for BNA, which is based in Nashville while production remains in California.

As for the origins of Butternut, the winemaker credits his brother-in-law, who had 20 to 30 barrels of Chardonnay sitting around with no takers and no time to label and sell it. Offered the wine, Leonardini immediately accepted. “I had no name. I just liked the wine,” he says, adding that right then his wife walked into the house with a box of butternut squash. “And the light went off,” he says, “Wow, how great is that? Buttery and oaky. It describes the wine. I Googled it, and nothing came up. It was on.”

They immediately sought out markets where they thought the wine would do well, Leonardini says, ticking off the states: Florida; Alabama; Mississippi; Tennessee. “We just started getting distribution as fast as we could,” he recalls.

Carr says one of the more important steps the group took was to add new product, as distributors were responding to the name and recognizing it as a brand. “Making that decision really paid off and allowed us to produce a Pinot Noir, Rose and Cabernet in the Butternut family,” he says, “Since then, we have incorporated cans and changed the packaging on the bottles to have a Stelvin closure. All of these expansions have been a result of listening to our distributors and paying close attention to market trends.”

Of the four lines, Butternut accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the company’s business. Available in every state, Leonardini says it has done best in beach communities around the country, and in the Southwest. While the other varietals have done well ­– they have been pleasantly surprised by the success of their canned Pinot – the go-to for a majority of customers has been the full-bodied Chardonnay.

“I think it really shows what the consumer is looking for,” he says. “It’s like it you’re making a pasta dish or something, you’re not going to just throw salt in the water and then throw your pasta in. You are going to add oregano and garlic powder and garlic, whatever. I think it’s the same thing with Chardonnay. You kind of want to go to that spice rack to give that consumer a memorable experience.”

With the principal consumer largely the same ones heading weekly to the supermarket, it makes sense that BNA Wine Group have developed great relationships with chains such as Whole Foods, Kroger and Publix, among others. “Those have become really good partners for us, because we really recognize that demographic,” he says.

And as consumers keep buying, the company continues to seek expansion. Reached in California, Leonardini says he was headed to Colorado and then Nevada the following week. “You take your foot off the gas, someone else is taking that place on the shelf. So we just gotta stay on it.”

Smart Packaging, Tech Labels, and Emerging Technology in Marketing the Wine Brand on the Bottle
22 March, 2019

By Barbara Barrielle

As the wine world, like all business sectors, struggles to adapt and adopt emerging technologies in communicating messages to existing and potential customers, Professor Damien Wilson says the base root of the issue may be that we are not communicating the message that the consumer wants to hear.

Wilson is the Hamel Family Chair in Wine Business Education at Sonoma State University in the heart of the wine country. He believes the wine business has a history of missing the mark in targeting the consumer, making mistakes like focusing on high level consumer when the majority of wine buyers spend less. “If wineries have an oversupply at the top end and reduce prices to move inventory,” says Wilson, “those consumers that buy at the lower price will not pay up in the future.”

Staggering facts include the fact that “of the 10,000 wineries in the world, it is like the top 70 that account for 90 percent of wine sales…so that leaves, 9930 competing for the remaining 10%.”

In addition, the flight of consumers from traditional retail to online buying has some shocking statistics including the fact that the same buyer will spend more per bottle online than in-store and that their online basket is bigger. The online consumer is also incentivized to buy more to meet the “free shipping” threshold because home delivery matters.

Although Wilson clearly feels the wine business is behind in technology, there is some fun being had in labeling and “Smart packaging” is emerging. Even more exciting are the options on the horizon for marketing and communication in packaging as well as authentication and data gathering.

Well-known producer Bogle Vineyards makes and sells a lot of wine, most of it in the less than $10 category. Bogle is reliable, approachable and has a lot of fans. Their premium brand, Phantom, a red blend, was previously released one time during the year and had a healthy following. In launching Phantom Chardonnay, the Bogle family decided to play up the “phantom” story to engage existing consumers and, hopefully, attract new ones.

Bogle launched Phantom red and white with Augmented Reality (AR) labels. These labels have key markers embedded that are picked up by an app and allow the label to “tell a story.”

“We are a family business so we can move more quickly on decisions, but AR is a big investment. It was a big number that gave us pause,” said Jody Bogle. “But, we decided to take some risk and have some fun.

“And our distribution network became very excited. This gives them more tools in the bag to move the needle among competition,” says Bogle, “and the labels will be updated seasonally to keep telling the story of our winery and the Phantom. It is mysticism and spiritualism and something different to everyone. This summer season we will employ ‘gamification’ to engage people in a way that keeps them hooked, inviting customers to find keys, tokens and learn more of the story.”

Rob McAllister, a longtime consultant for Bogle Vineyards who works with the production company, Franklin Pictures, that produced the original Phantom video that launched the Augmented Reality Phantom label, is quick to point out that the typical Bogle consumer is not a young millennial. “Bogle trends toward an older demographic; 30+ years, young families, and grocery shoppers,” says McAllister. “We are not chasing the 24-year-old flash in the pan. That is not the Bogle strategy.”

A hanging neck tag directs the customer to download the app and then scan the wine label to bring Phantom to life. It has been fun and exciting for the Bogle team and they love stories about the sharing of the AR magic, including the Trader Joe’s cashier who was demonstrating to customers in line.

Augmented Reality is an investment and takes time to implement. It also does not provide two-way communication although that is enhanced with gamification. Labels can also be problematic to scan in uncertain lighting and operator error as the Vivino and Delectable apps have experienced. But the quest for information about wine or spirit brand has been clearly demonstrated by the use of phones and their apps in retail locations, restaurants, and tasting rooms.

Near Field Communication (NFC) is the potential solution to this issue. The company Prosurix has an app that was originally developed as a solution to the massive counterfeiting in the wine industry and now has emerged as a marketing, inventory tracking, and two way communication tool.

Prosurix is an app that is instantly downloaded by Android or iPhone and is a simple sticker that contains an NFC chip programmed to reflect a marketing message and audio or video tools. “The algorithm coding prevents counterfeiting and is based on location programming,” says founder Steve Glamuzina who owns a major wine and spirits store in Buffalo, “The Prosurix chip also allows a direct line of communication between producer and consumer which has been difficult in the three-tier system.”

Always seeking out new ways to communicate, Vintage 99 Label started employing iQ-dio digital content technology and, as sales manager Brian Lloyd will tell you, wineries are slow to adapt to technology. He’s been at it for five years with little progress. QR codes, which connect to websites, were employed by some wineries on their back labels but became problematic if a winery did not update their websites and information became outdated. “IQ-dio technology,” says Lloyd, “allows the consumer to have expanded content, including tasting notes, tours, specific varietal information, and promotions. And the iQ-dio chips can be updated in real time.”

Vintage 99 has an example of the RFID chip embedded in a front label but, as Lloyd points out, wineries are reticent to give up that prime real estate, so he understands if it is easier to accept on the back label. However, the iQ-dio system is easy to use for the consumer who doesn’t even need to download an app to take get access to the additional information.

One of his customers, Twin Oaks Valley Winery, does employ iQ-dio on their back label and winemaker/owner Malcolm Gray, who has a technology background, concurs that the wine industry is behind in telling their stories through technology. But, it’s not that simple.

“The benefits of iQ-dio are that tasting and pairing notes, specials, and discounts are available instantly,” says Gray. “Drawbacks are that mostly GenX and Millennials are the target market as they have their smartphones attached to their palm. Baby Boomers don’t seem to be that comfortable with digital media yet, if ever.

“Not to mention, wine is a very personal thing. Without tasting it, the label can only convey so much,” concludes Gray.

Companies Offering Smart Packaging Solutions

Adcraft Labels

Labels and packaging enhanced with Augmented Reality (AR) that turns your labels and packaging into an online 24/7 interactive customer experience with videos, website, and mobile app links to engage and educate consumers.


MaXQ is an end-to-end digital packaging system designed to grow consumer engagement and loyalty powered by Amcor’s technology partner Kezzler.. A single scan lets consumers view complete product information, benefit from updated promotions or even have a live conversation with the brand. Each code is unique and also provides authentication and track & trace. Amcor also worked with Selinko on an NFC chip based tamper detection capsule for fine wine and spirits.

Gliding Eagle

Gliding Eagle’s cloud-based data system tracks each product unit from the source to the end-user around the world. Each step is recorded to ensure product authenticity and channel accountability and is labeled and uniquely identified with a 12-digit code.

Guala Closures

Guala Closures Group has developed the first NFC Closure dedicated to the wineries, allowing them to start a 1 to 1 relationship with their end consumers. The NFC tag, co-developed with NXP, is protected in the Cap and delivers majors benefits for the wine brand: Marketing data acquisition, land Track & Trace. For the end consumer it provides authentication and engagement with the brand.

Multi-Color Corporation

MCC offers Connected Wine embedded with Talkin’ Things technology. It provides customer engagement tools based on proof of purchase, security and logistic options, and a comprehensive data management system. This technology gives maximum protection against counterfeiting and refilling for customer and wine and spirits brands.


The combination of the Prosurix app and unique encoded NFC chips on each product not only form a powerful anti-counterfeiting shield at a low price point, it also offers wineries an opportunity to track their goods and interact directly with the consumer at the point of purchase through the augmented reality features of the app, which can deliver information that informs the consumer at both before and afterward purchase. The app includes a cellar archive for the consumer to keep record of their wines, and brands can communicate with the consumer that has their wine cellared to offer them pairing suggestions or offers of similar products they might like.

Vintage 99 Label

The interactive wine labels from Vintage 99 Labels are called iQ-dio and allow wine shoppers and buyers quick access to tasting notes, food pairing suggestions, videos and audio messages from the winemaker, view other varietals, and more. The NFC chip embedded in the label allows mobile devices instant access to this information without having to download an app or navigate through a corporate website.

All New 2019 Sunset International Wine Competition Now Accepting Entries
15 March, 2019

By Laura Ness

After a brief hiatus, the SunsetInternational Wine Competition—the one competition that truly reflects the unique character of The West—is back, and in very capable hands.

Begun in 2012 to highlight wines that best fit the Western lifestyle, the highly regarded competition is now under the guidance of Wine Competitions Production & Management (WCP&M), owned and operated by Debra Del Fiorentino.

The 2019 Sunset International Wine Competition will take place in Sonoma County, California, beginning Monday, May 13, 2019. Registration is now open to all table, sparkling, fortified, fruit, and specialty wines produced in any wine producing region of the world that meet the applicable federal legal requirements for sale in the United States.

Entries will be accepted until May 10, 2019. Full entry rules and forms are available online – Submit Entries.

Sunset, the undisputed leading media brand of the Western ethos, has an extremely strong appeal to wine consumers: 96% of subscribers drink wine regularly and 92% agree that wine is one of the special pleasures in life. It is estimated that Sunset readers drink 60 million glasses of wine weekly! Make sure your wines are included in this unique competition.

Now in its seventh year, and with over 3,000 plus annual entries, the Sunset International Wine Competition ranks among the most distinguished world-renowned wine competitions. It is designed to attract all wineries interested in reaching the Western wine drinker, from backyard pools to wave-swept beaches to rushing mountain streams, and everything in between. Literally, wherever the West’s ever-active lifestyle takes them, Sunset readers, who spend an average of $3,000 or more on wine each year, want to know about the wines that will enhance their life experiences. Make sure your wines are among them.

A key component of this competition is its ability to include winning wines as part of the most influential wine program in the country. The magazine is committed to promoting its winners in ways that no other competition can. Winners of the 2019 competition will be prominently featured in the October edition of Sunset magazine.

The Sunset International Wine Competition is juried by a carefully curated set of judges who bring an understanding of the Western palate and lifestyle. Says Del Fiorentino, “We pride ourselves in hand-picking a seasoned panel of retailers, distributors, restaurateurs, winemakers and wine writers, who collectively represent a remarkable sphere of influence for winning wine brands. Judges are among the most experienced wine professionals, including Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine.”

WCM&P was recently voted by competing professionals as the best and most professional wine competition management company with top notch judges, backroom staff, and partners. With competitions including The Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge, Harvest Challenge, East Meets West, International Women’s Wine Competition, Experience Rosé, and Craft Distillers Spirit Competition; the Sunset International Wine Competition is a natural addition to this robust portfolio.

To enter the Sunset International Wine Competition, go to Entries must arrive by May 10, 2019, in order to be included. For further information, please contact

Five New and Interesting Products from the Unified Trade Show
01 March, 2019

Even if you went to the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium and spent two days visiting the nearly 700 exhibitors on the massive trade show floor, you probably didn’t have a chance to visit every exhibit, and you may have missed some of these interesting finds.


RoboBottle™ is is a sensing device developed by G3 Enterprises to make improve bottling line performance by increasing productivity, improving quality, and reducing waste. The RoboBottle goes onto the line like a bottle and uses advanced sensors to help mechanics set up capper heads. Sensors on the top, neck, and shoulders of RoboBottle detect crucial factors such as top-load, thread roller force and pilfer roller force. It communicates wirelessly to G3’s dashboard app, BottGuide, leading the mechanic through the proper set-up procedure step-by-step.

The RoboBottle is only the first product in G3 Enterprises’ visionary vine to glass innovation project that aims to work with partner and collect data that will illuminate how and where processes can be improved to produce a better end product more efficiently.

Message ON the Bottle

ReThink Labels showcased their newest solution called Message ON the Bottle™ which gives wineries the ability to create outstanding award-winning labels for their brand, with the flexibility to personalize each label with custom messaging.

The system is fast and easy to use. An individual can type in a personalized message using a mobile device or tablet, and the information will be transferred wirelessly to the system and generate the label. It can print enough labels for 200 cases of wine in 30 minutes.

New Diam Origine 5 and Oxygen Release Study

Last year Diam launched the all natural Diam Origine 10 and 30 made with beeswax, which like the classic Diam goes through the Diamant process that disinfect the cork to create a consistent TCA free closure with a reliable oxygen transfer rate. This year Diam added Origine 5 for medium aging wines, but more remarkably, they shared the discovery and subsequent research into the different evolution of wine sealed with Diam 10 classic and Diam 10 Origine.

Diam’s research shows that there are two phases of oxygen from the cork that affects the wine; there’s the Oxygen Initial Release (OIR), which is determined by the amount of oxygen stored inside the cork and impacting the aromas’ development early on and up to six months after bottling. Then the Oxygen Transfer Rate, the speed of oxygen ingress over time, takes over and determines the wine evolution as it ages.

Diam’s observations showed that the Origine 10 had a higher OIR than the Diam 10 Classic with the same OTR. This knowledge can be a helpful tool for winemakers to decide which closure to use depending on their early and long term ageing goals for the wine. An young release of Cabernet Sauvignon might benefit from a more rapid development early on combined with a slower development long term making the Diam Origine the right choice, while the same winemaker might want to preserve the crispness of his Sauvignon Blanc for longer and decide to go with Diam Classic for a lower OIR.

The Oak Lab

Scott Laboratories officially launched The Oak Lab™ at the Unified Symposium. They are an enterprise that is dedicated to oak infusion products. The Oak Lab was founded with the vision of bringing a new perspective to the oak infusion market by developing and embracing new technologies, and re-imagining the process of product trials, selection, and application. They currently have four oak infusion products which can be found


Amcor Debuted the Easypeel wine-opening system, a one-piece aluminum capsule engineered to open wine bottles along a clean line, every time. The design protects the bottle and brand appearance from being damaged by rips and tear of capsule that might end up detracting from the aesthetics or entirely removed a capsule that’s intricate to the design and overall presentation of the brand.

Unlike other capsules designed for ease of use, like those that rely on pull tabs, Easypeel incorporates the use of a traditional bottle opener to remove the top of the capsule, but in a way that even the novice consumer can perform as well as the professional sommeliere, leaving a clean cut line and good bottle presentation.

DTC Channel Is Reaching Maturity for Wine
22 February, 2019

Larry Cormier, General Manager, ShipCompliance by Sovos, presented the topline results from their annual Direct to Consumer Wine Shipping Report based on the 8 million transactions a year filtered through ShipCompliant by Sovos at the DTC Wine Symposium Wednesday.

The good news is that shipments broke the $3 billion mark in 2018 with continued growth in both volume and value. However, the growth is not as high as seen in recent years, which may be a function of the overall flattening market for wine as also reported by Silicon Valley Bank, and Cormier said, “the DTC channel is reaching maturity with few new markets to be opened, so growth will become more organic, but we have a huge beachhead to build on.”

Oklahoma was the only new state opened to direct shipping in 2018, and only a few states remain closed to the direct to consumer shipping.

The average bottle price increased 2.4% in 2018 over 2017 reaching $39.70, and value growth outpaced volume for all topline varieties and for wineries of all sizes. It’s particularly notable that large wineries have invested in the channel and showed a 27.7% volume and 36.7% value growth.

Sonoma County can boast to have surpassed Napa in overall volume shipped for the first time with a 19% volume increase. Bucking the trend, however, the value of Sonoma shipments only increased 18% indicating a small decline in average bottle price. While Napa moved in the opposite direction increasing the average bottle price by 7.1%, but only increasing volume by 1.6%.

For the seventh year in a row, Oregon outpaced the average volume growth of the channel with a 19% increase, though the average bottle price only increased 1.4%. The Rose success also  continued in the DTC channel in 2018 with a 24% growth in volume and 28% in value making it now the eighth most shipped variety.

Despite an overall optimistic report, Cormier noted a few areas to beware off. “With the success of the channel, states are starting to put more scrutiny on carriers, which in turn means they are putting pressure on shippers to be in compliance,” said Cormier.

He also noted that the Millennial generation is about five years behind where Boomers were at their age on average disposable income, which of course affect the premium wine market.

The ShipCompliant by Sovos Direct to Consumer Wine Shipping Report is available for download at

By Kim Badenfort

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019: A Wine Communication Artist
18 February, 2019

By Barbara Barrielle

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019

Elaine C. Brown

Elaine C. Brown

I first had the pleasure of meeting Elaine Chukan Brown when we were both invited to a harvest lunch at Jordan Winery. This traditional feast, orchestrated by the lovely – and tireless – Lisa Mattson, brought me in contact with someone who inspired me immediately by the fact that she was a successful writer who had raised her college-age daughter, Rachel, on her own and had a grace and intelligence that I got to experience more intimately after being asked to write about her.

Brown is a native Alaskan… really and truly a native with parents from two different Alaskan tribes. She grew up in a fishing family and has been on the water since the age of nine, starting her own salmon fishing operation in her teens. Brown has always worked with a dedication that puts those of us who follow a traditional path to shame. She fished the season tirelessly, sleeping very little, and experiencing the highs and lows of what nature delivers. If the season was June 1stthrough August 15th, Brown would keep fishing after the crew left picking up the late season catch. “I am not necessarily driven,” she says. “I do what’s in front of me.”

As one gets to know Brown and follows her unconventional life to where it has led her now – to the top of the wine writing heap – it becomes evident that this simple belief, or really practice, has been the reason her life has been an adventure. Not an adventure of extreme sports or pushing the limits, but an adventure of exploration. She chooses a path and excels, then may choose another path and give that avenue her full attention.

Having a successful fishing operation, Brown chose to attend college a bit later, but when she did, she did it with gusto. Quickly ripping through college at Northern Arizona University, then earning a McGill University Tomlinson Fellowship and serving as Dartmouth College’s Charles A. Eastman Fellow, Elaine returned to teach philosophy at her alma mater in Flagstaff, being recognized consistently for her work. “Graduate school is so much work, so much pressure. I just had to get it done,” she says. “I was always expecting to be judged, and I have to get things done with excellence. Everything is an opportunity to contribute and deliver with excellence.”

After almost ten years as a professor of philosophy, Brown decided to begin to unwind her life as an academic. She gave herself a year and, within that time, knowing she was not under pressure to produce or create lesson plans for the future, she started to explore wines. Wine had created memorable moments in her life and, as with philosophy, she was keen to explore this concept more. Having to write under a pseudonym, Brown started a blog with the unlikely title of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, and just as powerful and perfectly unique, she started illustrating her wine experiences. It was on the walls of FLG Terroir Wine Bar and Bistro in Flagstaff, where she traded illustrated wine tasting notes for wine, that her wine “writing” career took off. Unexpectedly and with a fury, Brown was recognized as an artist in wine when her whimsical yet spot-on notes, were posted on some wine blogs, and people in the wine world took note.

The same approach she brought to academia, she applied to her wine education. Friends and colleagues echo that commitment when speaking about Brown. Dan Petroski, winemaker at Larkmead and Massican, discovered Brown’s unique approach early on, as did Cathy Corison who proudly displays Brown’s illustrated overview of a Corison 25-year vertical in the tasting room. Petroski describes Brown’s unique style, “from an academic perspective she is incredibly thoughtful about wine, knowing the right questions and also how to listen. But her listening is always charged in thought. While she is listening, you can see she is thinking, reshaping the question and following up with more depth and insight.”

Petrosky continues, “Her process is rigorous, but her writing makes it seem effortless. She is truly gifted, and we in the wine industry are fortunate she is exerting her energies on us and not the work of philosophy, her former career as an academic.” As you will see, her friends and fans speak eloquently, admiringly – and at length – about her.

It was not easy to make the decision to go full throttle into wine and leave the comforts of an academic career, but Brown attacked and has not relented, to the benefit of all who love her zest and fervor for wine discovery. Early on, she was invited to Friuli, a sought-after trip for wine writers, but Brown was new to this world. Dan Fredman was one who encouraged her to go, and while tasting and eating all day, Brown would pound out her blog each and every night. If there was an hour off, she would write. This was in front of her, and she delivered it with excellence and continues to do so.

As a PR pro and sommelier Fredman explains, “Elaine Brown came late to the wine world, and this may explain why she’s been able to translate complex wine topics to novices and pros alike,” he says. “It’s all about exercising her innate curiosity about every detail imaginable… she brings an intellectual point of view that’s backed by academic discipline, but all of her work, whether in a magazine piece or as a moderator at a wine symposium, is informed by her approach as a wine lover and sheer appreciation of a subject she so obviously adores.”

“This is my all time favorite photo ever for California wine history – I am holding Rhys Glaab (son of Ryan and Megan Glaab of Ryme Wines) and standing with Randall Grahm, the late George Vare (who brought in North America’s first Ribolla Gialla but was a significant business influence in North Coast wine otherwise too), and Abe Schoener of Scholium Project,” says Brown.

Fredman also pointed out to me that Brown goes deep into a subject and spends an extraordinary amount of time getting to know winemakers, growers, vintners, marketers, and the whole gamut of what goes into wine.

During her expanding adventures in the wine world, Brown sacrificed in ways that demonstrate her dedication to what has become a truly inspiring career. She moved to Sonoma to be close to the largest American wine regions (although she is also an expert on Arizona wines and has spoken about the quality of wines from this region on several occasions) and raised her daughter,Rachel, modestly, building her wine career and earning money where she could. In the summers Rachel would visit extended family in Alaska, and Brown would delve into months of wine exploration. She developed a system, picking annual goals like making 2016 the year of the “role of soils” segueing into Chardonnay in 2017 and 2018. A study of Zinfandel will be her focus for 2019.

She is a popular speaker and presenter, having given inspirational keynote talks at Pinot Noir NZ, Prowein, Women in Wine, Central Otago Pinot Noir, IPNC and TEXSOM. James Tidwell, the founder of TEXSOM, says, “Elaine inspires through her depth of dedication to her chosen crafts. Whether as a writer, illustrator, or speaker, Elaine not only practices the skills necessary to excel but also does the research that allows her to convey the complexity and nuances within and amongst subjects. Her insight and commentary are held in the highest esteem, inspiring for the thought and care that are given.” Tidwell continues to explain that she has been instrumental in many areas of the popular TEXSOM, from speaking to wine judging, to writing for the magazine, and, finally, illustrating for the conference program.

Elaine Chukan Brown

Her illustrations are magical, her writing is thoughtful, and her life is inspiring. And Brown has only just begun. Now writing on North American wines for the esteemed, the site’s eponymous founder is also impressed by Brown. “Elaine is one of the most diligent of our team of 14 on She took particular trouble, for instance with her (free) four-part series on the fascinating history of Chardonnay in California, continuing to supplement and refine the detail of it right up to publication during Christmas week,” says Jancis Robinson. “She’s also very good at personally keeping me up to date with West Coast wine news and is a great public speaker.”

As Brown herself says, “I am earnest in doing my work. I think, how can I contribute? Is there a chance for excellence here? I want to educate on a subject that may be complicated, but I share it in a way that all you need is interest.

“People make a mistake assuming that this is simplification, but it is clarification, and the details make it compelling. Education is everything I do. I want to know how things work and am always curious,” she continues. “I need to present (information) in a way that genuinely show what I find interesting. When I started, I was brave and naïve but had my willingness to learn and ask questions. In the wine industry, a lot of people have given me their time, and I respect that time, and I am sharing it.”

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019: Adventurous Winemaker and Mensch
08 February, 2019

By Barbara Barrielle

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019

Mick Schroeter

Mick Schroeter

Many know Mick Schroeter’s talents in winemaking and his path from the big reds of Penfold’s to the delicate Russian River Valley Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs of his current gig as Head of Winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer, as well as his entry to Sonoma County wines at Geyser Peak where their Sauvignon Blanc became the standard bearer for U.S. produced wines of this variety.

But, when you go to ask Mick’s friends and colleagues for insight into the man, both in the wine business and socially, it is Schroeter’s commitment to his family and community that people want to talk about. Even jokester John Holdredge of Holdredge Wines was hard pressed to come up with a funny anecdote or sarcastic riff. He just loves and respects Mick too much.

So, if you are looking for dirt and gossip on this mild-mannered but greatly talented winemaker, you can stop reading now. But, if you want to admire someone who has dedicated his life to fine wines as well as participation in his children’s’ schools, supporting wife Linda’s tremendous talent as an artist and teacher and his love of his adopted home of Geyserville, then you want to hear more about Mick Schroeter.

Schroeter grew up in a family of winemakers his father, Les Schroeter, and uncle, Kevin Schroeter, were at the top of their game at Penfolds. Mick, wanting to see if the winemaker life was for him, dropped out if high school in Nuriootpa (aboriginal for “meeting place”) to work in the lab of Kaiser Stuhl winery, which was soon after acquired by Penfolds bringing Mick into the family business.

Meeting local Australian girl, Linda, and marrying her 36 years ago preceded by a few years Schroeter’s pursuing a winemaking education at the age of 25 at the prestigious Roseworthy College where he graduated in 1987 and returned to Penfolds. There Daryl Groom was the head of winemaking and Mick became in charge of the day-to-day red winemaking, one of the premier winemaking jobs in the world at the time.

Married to a fellow Australian and killing it in his career, Schroeter, was offered the opportunity in 1992 to travel and visit the emerging wine regions of Chile and Argentina, an amazing wine immersion opportunity that fit in with the Australian love of adventure and exploring. He and Linda tagged on a trip to wine regions of Europe and, eventually, to California, where friend and mentor, Daryl Groom, was now entrenched at Sonoma County’s Geyser Peak Winery.

After working a harvest and getting to know the area, Daryl asked if Mick would be interested in staying. “I was leaving one of the plum winemaking jobs in the world,” says Schroeter. “But, it was one of those times, before kids, when we had to seize the opportunity … It was the thrill of adventure to uproot and move over and not really be sure … but, if we didn’t do it, we would always wonder if we had missed it.”

Upon arriving at Geyser Peak, Schroeter was asked to stretch his abilities into even more directions. Having never made a white wine in his career (he was primarily a Shiraz winemaker). “In the early 90s, Sauvignon Blanc was a minor variety, but, at Geyser Peak, we crafted a unique style that quickly grew to be half of the winery’s production,”says Mick. “We embraced the herbaceous characters of New Zealand white without being over stylized. A very approachable wine.”

During Schroeter’s 17 years with Geyser Peak, he made many different wines and played with a number of varieties that had not been in his theoretical quiver at Penfolds. Geyser Peak grew, as did the Schroeter family’s roots in Northern California. A year after arriving, daughter Mathilda was born, followed by Sadie in 1996 and Charlie in 1998. Mick and Linda immersed themselves in the Catholic schools the kids attended and in the community at large.

“Inspiration in wine does not just encompass winemaking. It involves who you are, what you stand for, how you engage in your community and how you interact with your peers, friends and family,” say longtime colleague Daryl Groom. “For all of these traits, Mick is truly inspiring. He is a wonderful father, husband, and friend.”

After allowing themselves five years to experience the winemaking life in Sonoma County, Mick and Linda have now stayed long enough to see their kids grow and experience life as Americans while never forgetting their Australian roots. Now empty-nesters, the Schroeters are still in the Healdsburg community while their daughters are working harvests in Australia and exploring winemaking themselves. Son Charlie is in college in Arizona.

Five years became seventeen years at Geyser Peak and Mick refers to life here as an “ongoing adventure for us.” The latest chapter in Schroeter’s winemaking adventure is the head winemaking job at the revered Russian River winery, Sonoma-Cutrer. Taking over from Terry Adams, only the second Director of Winemaking in Sonoma-Cutrer’s history, after his 30 year winemaking career there, Mick had the opportunity to work side-by-side with Adams while he was integrated in the house so well known for its classic Burgundian style Chardonnays.

Mick had the opportunity to steer the path of Sonoma-Cutrer and take advantage of the winery’s spectacular vineyards which were just maturing and expand the Pinot Noir program.

Close friend and fellow winemaker John Holdredge says, “I could say a lot about what a truly gifted winemaker Mick is-and how broad his skill set is. Just when the world thought his gift was Australian Shiraz and Cab, he reinvented himself with his Sauvignon Blancs at Geyser Peak, and then did it again by elevating the already excellent Chardonnays at Sonoma-Cuter to another level.”

Schroeter’s team at Sonoma-Cutrer is all female. Having only one son at home and some strong-willed women at home, Mick’s lifelong training seems to be working with his all-female winemaking team. Not only does he lead the hands on winemaking team of Cara Morrison who crafts Chardonnays and Zidanelia Arcidiacono who makes Pinot Noirs, Rula Theorory is Lab Manager, Myra Hernandez oversees Production and the Cellar, and Shannon Darnell is in charge of Vineyard and Grower Management.

Cara Morrison describes it this way. “Mick says it best when describing our all-female winemaking team. While proud of this quality, Mick quickly points out that it’s not just because Sonoma-Cutrer acknowledges the importance of female inclusion and leadership, but because each member of our production team is the best person for the job.”

“Mick has an excellent sense of humor, which is very helpful come the demanding and hectic harvest season!” Continues Morrison. “If times get a bit stressful, we just hand him his comfort food … a bag of Cheetos!”

Zidanelia, known as “Z”, who studied winemaking in Argentina, say Mick has a lot of energy and that he injects this energy in to work and working with your style. “The winemaking team gets along so well,” says  Z. “Mick is a mentor and when he knows that you know what you’re doing, he gives you freedom. I do what I think is best … Mick is very empowering  and includes the entire winemaking team on decisions. He seems happy here.”

Schroeter himself says it has been amazing how this team of women work together. “Most of what we do is as a team, not a ‘me’ environment,” say Mick. “The team works together, working in and overlapping boundaries to everyone’s advantage.”

With his team turning out the best wines possible from each harvest, Schroeter has had the opportunity to create a Winemaker series for Sonoma-Cutrer. These smaller production wines are available primarily to the wine club and in the tasting room and have included Sonoma-Cutrer’s first Sauvignon Blanc (of course!), a Rosé of Pinot Noir, a late harvest Chardonnay and, just this past Fall, a vintage 2014 sparkling wine from both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that is simply a stunner… and a bargain at $43.

Mick let out a small secret in that he may be producing a sparkling red soon, hoping to make an impact at Sonoma-Cutrer with this kind of bubbles that has been popular in Australia for decades.

“Mick is at a highly-focused Chardonnay and Pinot Noir house but can’t help wanting to create extra fantastic wine offerings,” says Daryl Groom. “While it shows off his well-known winemaking talents and is great for Sonoma-Cutrer wine lovers, it is also inspiring for his winemaking team to be engaged in a diversity of offerings.”

Continues Groom, “I do have to smile and quietly chuckle sometimes seeing Mick as Director of Winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer. Having known Mick and made wine with him for over 40 years, we both were indoctrinated early, particularly from our Penfolds days, that with red wines, bigger was better … now he is making one of the largest volume, highest quality Pinot Noirs in the world!”

Mick considers himself fortunate in his life and career. “The wine business is the greatest occupation. Every year is different, and at the end of the day you create elegance. It is very rewarding. And the reason we have stayed here for 25 years is that we have a work-life balance and are very integrated into the community. We don’t have direct family here, but we have friends that are like family.”

One of these friends, John Holdredge, says it best. “What truly defines Mick is his devotion to his family – his incredible bond with Linda (his childhood sweetheart and wife of 36 years), and how he revels in the success his kids are achieving. He’s not the kind of guy to talk about it – he’s the kind of person who quietly does it. And, as I think about it, his integrity as a husband and is the same integrity his wines convey.”

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019: The Vine Whisperer
01 February, 2019

By Laura Ness

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019

Anybody growing grapes in the Santa Cruz Mountains has heard the name Prudy Foxx. If they have a true love of the vine and all it stands for, they’ve hired her to help them grow the best grapes possible. Foxx is a well-known, well-traveled, and well-schooled viticultural consultant, helping vineyard owners decide the best varieties to grow and how best to grow them in their particular microclimate. And here in the mountains, everything is microclimate.

“The Santa Cruz Mountains is filled with thousands of little hills, valleys, and mountaintops, each with its own exposure, soils and challenges,” she says. Over the years, she has worked with most of the best known and most highly regarded vineyards in the region, including Bates, Lester, Beauregard, Big Basin, Saveria, Legan, Christie, Regan, Trout Gulch, Woodruff and Zayante. It’s the proverbial Who’s Who of premier Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards. Foxx, who is known to many of her clients as the “Vine Whisperer,” has almost single-handedly converted trellis design from sprawl canopy to vertical shoot positioning, especially important for regulating air and sun exposure in a place perpetually visited by fog.

Through her consultancy, Foxx Viticulture, Prudy has around 80 clients, actively manages over 100 acres, and consults on another 200, constantly trying to talk people out of planting where it’s just not feasible, or even ideal. Her goal is to install only grand cru level vineyards, capable of producing ultra premium grapes. Otherwise, she says, it’s not worth her time, or the growers, for that matter. She also does a good deal of matchmaking for grapes with winemakers, many outside the region, including Arnot-Roberts, Steve Matthiasson and Jill Klein of Matthiasson Wines, Kenny Likitprakong of Ghostwriter, Dianna Seysess of Ashes & Diamonds, Ian Brand, Drew Huffein and Emily Virgil of Trail Marker, Matt Licklider of Lioco Wines, Ridge Vineyards and Winery, and Bonny Doon Winery.

Foxx, originally from Indianapolis, was an Environmental Science major at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. “It was the 70’s, and I was eager to do my part to save the planet. I narrowed my focus taking a class called ‘Agricultural Economics,’ that put a magnifying glass on modern agriculture and how research and development for our food production system had moved away from flavor and quality to an emphasis on packaging, shipping, and shelf life. The discussion was about how post World War II, U.S. agriculture moved away from local sustainable food production systems to mega farms and centralized industrial agricultural systems dependent on mono-culture, chemicals (some derived from poison gasses used in war), and mega equipment.”

This resonated with her profoundly and led her to dig deeper into ag history and plant and soil physiology, which eventually forged the path to her becoming the prominent viticulture expert she is today.

It all began, though, with bad grapes. When she went to work in the cellar at Mount Baker, a Western Washington winery near the Canadian border, she saw firsthand how the condition of grapes arriving from the vineyard (deplorable) impacted the outcome of the wine (equally deplorable).

Says Foxx, “I decided if wine really is made in the vineyards, then that was where I needed to be. I wanted to get to the point where I could walk into any vineyard and identify what was going on with it and how to work with it to produce the best wine possible from each place. I wanted to be one with terroir in a very deep sense. I want to know it from the inside out. I wanted to be able to walk into the vineyard and know its story and identify any problems and see its potential. That was 1983. I devoted the next 35 years to this singular vision.”

A desire to work with the quirky and irascible Randall Grahm led her to her first viticulture job at Bonny Doon, and eventually to her own consultancy. Since then, her life is literally spent among the vines, as they are the source of what brings her a livelihood as well as joy, inspiration and satisfaction.

“For me, the most important thing is to somehow communicate with people the life of the vines and the vineyards – to truly understand what it means that ‘wine starts in the vineyard,’” she says.

And the most important thing to know about Foxx is that she never stops learning. She’s on a vision quest to understand precisely what makes vines tick, and how to read the tea leaves of terroir to arrive at that quintessential marriage of the right grape in the right place that can make a bottle of wine an experience of nirvana.

Prudy Foxx in Burgundy Vineyard

Foxx recently took a three-year series of short courses offered by the University of Bordeaux and the University of Dijon in Burgundy that focused on the role of terroir in wine production. Explains Foxx, “For the French, this is a process that starts in the vineyard and goes all the way through the bottle without pause. The academics go back and forth from vineyard to wine without segmenting the two. These courses filled in missing cracks in my understanding of viticulture. I came to the point where I had finally achieved my life goal: to be able to walk into a vineyard and in general, understand what is going on with it. I can read its story in the wood, in the soil. I can evaluate the site and know its potential for ultra-premium fine wines or just great wines or even good wines.”

Reaching this point was such a thrill for Foxx. She already knew instinctively that it is all about site: “Really, any less optimal site can be improved for wine quality by adjusting management styles, but a great ultra-premium site distinguishes itself by producing long term consistent vintages of high quality fruit with minimal inputs.”

While many grapegrowers and winemakers like to refer to themselves as farmers. Foxx is usually careful to avoid the term. “I associate farming with a very industrial mindset where the goal is as much food production as possible and the landscape is nothing more than a medium to get there. Wine grape production or viticulture is almost the opposite in that the goal is great flavor, balanced chemistry, soft skins with integrity to protect the anthocyanins, all with minimal inputs. Clean fruit, well-formed fruit is also crucial. Quantity is celebrated, but not the goal.”

Harkening back to that class in college, she observes, “Conventional farming is all about inputs to maximize yield, which is the opposite of the goals of ultra-premium wine production. There is no attention at all paid to soil tilth and soil structure. In fact, the plants growing above ground were considered separate from the soil all together. People only focus on what is above ground and not below.”

In fact, it’s all about the dirt. “I want to put the ‘culture’ back into viticulture by bringing back a sensitivity to the whole environment that is the vineyard. A holistic view, if you will. The soil below the vines is just as important as what is above. There is an amazing living community of precious microorganisms thriving in healthy soils that play a huge role in bringing the unique flavors of place to a wine”

She also has strong opinions on what she calls “Viticulture Folklore:” things like low yields make better wines and deficit irrigation is good. She’s not even sure where the “low yields mean higher quality” myth came from, although she figures it might have something to do with France’s required maximum yields of roughly 2-4 tons/acre, which is more a way to control supply than quality.

“Interestingly, in France, they determine yield by Hectaliters/Hectare. In the US, it’s lbs/acre. So in France, they look at a volume of liquid per area of land. That means that a low yield pressed really hard during processing can make the same amount of wine as an average yield pressed lightly. So many factors affect wine flavor and longevity and quality. There is so much to it! It is so much more than clones and address.”

She says most viticulturists agree that wine quality is all about vine balance: the fruit to vine ratio. Other key components of wine quality include sunlight in the canopy, good airflow throughout the vineyard and excellent soil drainage. Aspect and relation to morning sun is another big factor. “The total tonnage of fruit judged as a whole coming from a designated block is not in itself a determining factor of quality at all.”

On the topic of deficit irrigation, Foxx wonders at the origin of the idea that all supplemental irrigation yields inferior wines. Again, she cites France, pointing out how it is so not California. “The reality is that it rains in France during the summer, and this is a blessing and a curse, depending on timing of rain and canopy and fruit quality. There are certainly some beautiful vineyards in our region that are dry farmed. Almost none of them started that way, but as they have matured, their roots have reached deeply down into the soils and those soils have the water holding capacity or access to subterranean water to make it work. Many of these vines benefitted from the heavy rains we used to have in the winter in California.”

She worries about the serious impact the drought and semi-drought years have had on vine health. “It is a bad idea to load up a vine year after year with fruit and then offer no replenishment of water, if it cannot access water naturally. The vine will most likely suffer extreme stress, leading to trunk and vine diseases often linked to external sources, when in reality, if the vine was healthy, it may have never picked up the pathogen at all. In more delicate varieties, it can also cause the fruit to shrivel post veraison, diminishing wine quality extremely.”

Foxx predicts that supporting immunity in the vines will be the next frontier of viticulture. “Vines, like wine, are constantly maturing and adjusting to their external environment. A poor set one year can adversely affect the following vintage due to imbalances in the canopy and bud shading. Poor or excessive winter rains continue to influence the older vine for years. Vines have a very long memory.”

Then, there’s the topic of organic and biodynamic. “Both biodynamics and organics are terms that are somewhat abused because they have become cool buzz words. I love organics and I really love biodynamics, because it takes the whole concept of natural inputs and holistic growing to the next level of using locally sourced inputs and taking into consideration bigger factors of influence like gravity, solar and lunar influence, even planetary influence. While I know this is way out there for any grounded scientist, I prefer to keep an open mind. Clearly the position of the moon affects the tides. Why wouldn’t it also have an effect on plants and root growth?”

Unsurprisingly, Foxx embraces organic practices to the fullest extent possible. “I use primarily organic techniques, including elimination of herbicide use. Herbicides are terrible for the long-term establishment of extensive microbial communities in the soils. I really don’t like most organic herbicides for the same reason though they are generally not systemic and not as detrimental. I use organic suffocant sprays that eliminate early spore establishment of disease pathogens on spring vine growth and carefully formulated soil and foliar nutrients that do not rely on heavy salts to deliver the product to the vines and soils. I use cover crops, compost sometimes, organic mineral amendments, and beneficial plantings to encourage biodiversity. I water if it’s really, really dry. Water is not the enemy.”

Foxx feels the most successful modern approach to modern viticulture embraces the goals of organic farming by maximizing soil health and taking a holistic view of the environment to support healthy ecosystems that produce healthy vines and great wines.

While a scientific understanding of plant and soil physiology lays the groundwork for a successful viticulture practice, it is intuition that also plays a critical role in the ultimate outcome. And, viticulturists have to clearly recognize their role in all of it.

Summarizes Foxx, “Basically, the best vines do most of the growing and fruit maturation on their own. The grower is there to manage canopies and keep the light and air flowing and the soils happy. The best growers are guardians of the vines.”

A guardian of the vine if there ever was one, Prudy’s intuition—natural and acquired—is her true keystone: the ability to sense the potential of a place, whether vines are planted there or not or never should be. This is a rare gift, perhaps akin to Michelangelo visualizing a David from a lump of marble. Only in her case, the outcome can be far more delicious.

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019: An Outspoken Voice for the Little Guy
18 January, 2019

By Laura Ness

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2019

Tom Wark

Tom Wark

Some see Tom Wark as an advocate for the wine industry, given his role as the Executive Director of National Association of Wine Retailers since 2007, but he prefers to think of himself as an outspoken voice for the “little guy.” Since 2004, he’s been unapologetically airing concerns over the three-tier distribution system and lack of consumer choice in the marketplace, lambasting what he terms “rent seeking, special interests and other self serving groups.”

Asked to name them specifically, he points to the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, nearly every state wholesaler trade organization, nearly every state based wine retailer organization, Southern-Glazers and the rest of the top wholesalers.

Says Wark, “Every single one of these organizations couch their objections to direct shipment of wine in terms of a healthy public policy when in fact they constantly pursue policies that harm consumer access to wine in order to line their own pockets.”

That’s the stalwart, direct and convincing voice that readers of Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog, have come to know. Wark gives no quarter to those he feels are maligning and misrepresenting others for the purpose of personal gain. “So, yes, I’m an advocate, but I could also legitimately be labeled a loudmouth.”

The Fermentation blog came about in 2004 when Wark was extremely interested in the direct shipping issue. Says Wark, “This was before the Granholm decision and states were all over the board. However, there was one consistent thing: wholesalers across the country were eagerly ponying up money to prevent wider access to wines via direct shipping and working to assure consumers only had the wine choices wholesalers thought they ought to have. This was certainly something I was interested in.”

Of the name he chose, he says, “When I named my blog I wanted a name that would allude to thinking through the issues as well as allude to wine. I like to think that the way I examine issues is through the fermentation of those issues in my mind.”

The platform, one could say pulpit, in this case, has served him well as a vehicle for hashing out his thoughts and advocating for change to the institutions he feels are hampering the ability of small fry producers to compete against the larger fish that constantly threaten tsunamis in the fish bowl.

Wark explains, “As the executive director for the National Association of Wine Retailers, I have had the opportunity to meld my own deeply held feelings about this industry with the interests of a remarkable set of retailers willing to demand a level playing field.” He feels they are making some progress, but the war is far from over. While many states changed their laws to allow out-of-state wineries to ship wine to consumers, at the same time, some states banned out-of-state retailers from shipping, while allowing in-state retailers to ship wine to consumers within the state. The state’s rights debate is far from over, and the wholesalers’ deathgrip on their power to decide which brands get support and which don’t is far from losing its potency. Headway is being made, but premature “Mission Accomplished” banners are not going to be flying here any time soon.

Wark, a native of Northern California, likes to point to his auspicious beginnings in the wine industry as accidental contact back in 1970 that left a lasting impression. He managed to dump the contents of a jug of Sebastiani Red all over his mother’s freshly waxed kitchen floor. Although that first impact might be considered negative, it was certainly his first exposure to wine.

After graduating with a Masters in Diplomatic History from San Francisco State, he began his career as a wine marketer and publicist in 1990, opening his own consultancy, Wark Communications, in 1994, to serve small and medium sized wineries and wine-related companies with media, communications and marketing services.

Wark credits people like Bill and Sandra MacIver, former co-owners and founders of Sonoma County’s Matanzas Creek Winery, with acting as mentors. He refers to Bill as “one of the most important and outspoken advocates for the small winery and small grower this industry had ever seen, acted as an inspiration for me. And for that matter, Bill’s wife and the founder of Matanzas Creek Winery, Sandra MacIver, showed me the power and importance of pursuing goals with an empathy and purpose.”

Among the chief causes he has proudly taken up include:

Legal Interstate Direct Shipment of Wine

“This is a critical opportunity for wine consumers, wineries and retailers that has been and still is stymied by rent-seeking, special interests and other self serving groups who treat the wine market and consumers as tools. I’ve taken the opportunity to point out these groups, particularly wholesaler middlemen, and their miserable actions, stale ideas and duplicitous ways of working.”

The “Natural Wine” Movement

Wark feels this is “a deeply interesting reaction to globalism and the corporatization of wine, but its most ardent champions have, over the years, taken to maligning and misrepresenting those that don’t embrace their movement. I’ve taken the opportunity to try to stand up for winemakers who have been the target of the immature and nasty champions of Natural Wine by calling out the charlatans who have attempted to raise up themselves and their movement by standing on the shoulders of others, then kicking them in the face.”

The Three-Tier System

Nothing incenses Wark more than this arcane construct, which he firmly believes to be the single most detrimental mechanism to the artisan winery in the United States. “This highly archaic, antediluvian and outmoded system that legally forces wineries into the orbit and arms of middlemen who demonstrate no interest in the wineries or wine consumers has harmed the development of the wine industry. I’ve tried to point out the philosophical, practical, and principled reasons to oppose and overturn this wine sales paradigm by being an outspoken proponent for alternative systems of wine sales.”

The Emergence of Blogs

As one who has exploited the power of the blog to advance his agenda and rail against the predatory machine, Wark recognizes the power of blogging to give broader exposure to alternative voices. “Few things have excited me more in the 25 years I’ve worked in the wine industry. It has allowed an explosion of voices, many of whom have added deeply to our perspective and understanding of wine, and who without the blogging platforms would never have been known. I’ve tried to be an advocate for these folks and this new approach to wine media and publishing by founding the American Wine Blog Awards, helping to found the Wine Bloggers Conference (now “Wine Media Conference) and drawing attention to unique voices.”

Recreational Cannabis: Where Weed Meets Wine

Without doubt, Wark is the poster child for raising concern over the impact of legal recreational pot on wine sales. A firm supporter of legal cannabis, he firmly believes it will negatively impact the wine industry be reducing wine sales. “I think the wine industry needs to prepare for this eventuality rather than help the cannabis industry more easily compete against wine.”

All his ranting and advocacy on behalf of the “little guys” has earned him not just recognition—and in some cases, rancor—from the targets of his lobs. In fact, his involvement in such issues caused Mike Steinberger of Slate Magazine to describe Wark as “the wine world’s first wine muckraker.”

Undoubtedly muckraking, or whatever you want to label expressing your contrary opinion about a repressive regime, can be a potentially dangerous occupation. Just look at Jamal Khashoggi.

We asked Wark if he’d ever been threatened for his outspoken views. “Over the years, I’ve received numerous very nasty emails…that are always anonymous. The most recent one reminded me that they knew where I lived and my son’s name.”

We wondered if there was any hope of dismantling the onerous three-tier system in our lifetime, and Wark was upbeat. “Yes, there is hope that the most onerous parts of the three-tier system will be dismantled in our lifetime. When it happens, it will be as a result of a coalition of craft brewers, artisan distillers and consumers who together make the case that having to sell their products to a wholesaler is detrimental to their economic prospects and a severe limitation on consumer access to these products.”

What kind of legacy does Wark want to leave? Says Wark, “I think about helping my four year-old son, Henry George, grow up to be a good man and being known as a good husband to Kathy. But where my career is concerned, I have a great deal more to do. I want to be involved in helping change the wine industry to be more consumer-friendly, and based less on archaic systems that hinder innovation. I want to work with the smaller and driven companies that believe making a living and product should reflect their deeply held ideals. I want to use Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog to raise consequential ideas.”

And we’re quite certain—and certainly proud—that he’s not backing down from his thought-provoking diatribes on behalf of the David’s of the world, while the Goliath’s seethe in seemingly anonymous animosity.

Most Read Wine Industry Stories of 2018
03 January, 2019

What were the biggest wine industry stories of 2018 or what do we really want to read about? Below are the most read Wine Industry Advisor articles of 2018 and the the most read Afternoon Brief stories.

Wine Industry Advisor

Wine Industry Under Attack in Napa

Package Redesign Flipped Double Digit Decline to Growth

Tasting Room Trends: 2017 Review and 2018 Forecasts

Six New and Interesting Products from the Unified Trade Show

Man of Steele: 50 Harvests and Counting

Wine & Weed Tours: A Legal Way for Wineries to Benefit from the Green Rush

Can You Beat This? Kokomo’s 100-Point Score in the North Coast Wine Challenge a Game-Changer

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: Defender of the Consumer Palate and Your Right to Choose

Selling Wine in the Tasting Room

Top 10 DTC Sales Growth Practices

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: The Alternative Wine Packaging Trailblazer

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: A Pillar of Oregon’s Wine Tourism Industry

Napa Storytelling: Why So Serious? A Research Study

Finger Lakes In Pursuit of Excellence: The New Generation

Domestic Rosé Gaining Market Share from French

Afternoon Brief

Sheriff’s Office ID’s Vineyard Worker Killed in Sonoma Valley Tractor Accident

Local Winemaker Patrick Foley Dies at 31

Gallo Opens Up in Public

Fukushima’s Nuclear Signature Found in California Wine

E. & J. Gallo Buys Star Winemaker Dave Phinney’s Locations Wine Brand

Beloved California Vintner Ulises Valdez Dies at 49

Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2015 Named Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of the Year

Constellation Dumps Cheap Wine for Weed

Joe Wagner Responds to Copper Cane Controversy

Somm Struck Off Over Tasting Leak

New Mondavi Plan Upsets Some Locals

Napa Vineyard Worker Dies After Getting Pulled into Grape-Picking Machine

Napa Expert Grim About the State and Direction of the Valley: ‘I Don’t See Any Hope’

Why the Tasting Room Is Dead

The Devil Seeks Forgiveness from Merlot

Consumer Behavior Data Now Accessible for Efficient Wine Marketing
18 December, 2018

By Barbara Barrielle

Emetry, a 2018 WINnovation Award Winner

Paul Mabray, CEO of Emetry, believes that the wine industry doesn’t have an education problem; the wine industry has an engagement problem and the key to solving this is data, but data mined and implemented correctly.

“The wine industry has been obfuscated by their data sources given the traditional three tier distribution system,” says Mabray. “Consumer behavior and the foundation of how consumers buy is not apparent to wineries, so we (Emetry) come in as kind of data miners, gather wells of data, clean them up, and put them in a data lake.”

Mabray knows data well and is considered the longest-standing digital guy in the wine-industry. After a brief foray into sales where he created a CRM to remember details of his customers’ personal lives to better serve them, he took the thankless job of wine club management at Coppola and grew it to 3,000 members with the implementation of quick credit card data. He was instrumental in (which merged with, and founded WineDirect and VinTank which furthered his concentration in gathering data to drive sales in the wine industry.

Paul Mabray

To that end, Emetry’s services are like a diagnostic health check for a wine brand. Getting the right data can reflect knowledge about consumer behavior, competitors’ brands, whether sales are trending up or down, where media comes from and how does the product fare among consumers seeking like products.

The software allows wineries to look at a broad geographic field or narrow to a specific territory, state, city or even single restaurant. In a two dial input, look at a geographical area and then seek a result such as how does my brand compare to other white wines or Sauvignon Blancs or Chardonnays or even just California wines. Producers can look for data as broad or as specific as they desire.

“Modern marketers use this data with great efficiency. They are enlightened about their customers at all levels,” explains Mabray. “They may think their competitor is X, and it is actually brand Y, or they may think their brand appeals to men, and their market is actually more driven by women. It is really about driving good sustainable growth for a strong future market.”

Emetry’s closest data partner is the food and drink app Delectable, popular among millennials, wine professionals, oenophiles, and wine enthusiasts, that allows the user to scan a wine label and bring up information, reviews and pricing, as well as comparable wines in the same category. This data is extremely relevant to consumer search and buying behaviors and excellent indicators of where a product or brand fits into the buying patterns.

“With our attention to responsible data mining, Emetry gets as close to the consumer as possible, digitally and in real time,” says Mabray. “And while the 21 percent of wines that are the 800 pound gorillas in the big box stores may not be the clients for Emetry, the other 71 percent need to know fast, avant-garde data analyzing consumer behavior as they are purchasing as restaurants, small boutique retailers, and other outlets.”

Mabray explains that markets outside of wine are so much more advanced than the wine industry. The industry has cultural impediments he likens to the Hollywood effect. The wine industry has a kind of glamour associated with it where many people are drawn to it and want to work in the business no matter what they have to do to get into it. Much like show business where people will start anywhere and take little or no pay for starting level jobs, the wine business many times does not seek talent out for executive level roles or seek talent from outside industries.

And, furthermore, the wine industry has not experienced the external pressures that other industries such as retail, travel and publishing have experienced with online marketing giants like Amazon, Expedia, and blogs. “They have had to adapt or die,” says Mabray, “but, in the wine industry it has taken, the single true online challenger, eleven years to get to $110 million in sales. But winter is coming, and the industry needs to adjust.”

The Direct-to-Consumer market now represents about ten percent of the $27 billion off-premise wine sales, but it is a growing segment that, with declining tasting room sales and other pressures, the industry must take seriously.

Launched recently to great anticipation, Emetry’s clients already include industry luminaries like Wente and Duckhorn.

One Man’s Idea Becomes Leading Filtration and Remediation Solution for Wine Industry
07 December, 2018

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

VA Filtration USA, a 2018 WINnovation Award Winner

For Bryan Tudhope, the CEO and founder of VA Filtration USA, solving problems through chemistry has always been second nature.

It started back in 1998 when he was a chemical engineer for water purification systems in South Africa. An engineering colleague asked him if he knew how to remove vinegar from wine and he decided to give it a try.

The method Tudhope developed worked so well, he started VA Filtration South Africa in 1999 to focus on vinegar removal for wineries in the Western Cape. 

Two years later, he and his two partners decided to expand the business to the USA.

In 2002, VA Filtration USA was officially born and it has evolved into the leading provider of filtration and remediation services for the North American wine industry.

“I started with just one machine, running around California and couldn’t keep up with demand,” Tudhope recalls. “I hired a tech to help me, and the business just grew. It turns out a lot of the hardware used to remove vinegar can also be used to address other problems.”

Bryan Tudhope

The ’other problems‘ Tudhope refers to include VA/EA reduction, Brett character reduction, green character reduction, cork taint removal, smoke taint reduction, alcohol reduction, and CO2 addition/O2 removal.

Tudhope’s mobile system also provides wineries with crossflow filtration, lees filtration, and a system known as Sweetspotter, a rental unit developed specifically to address problems in small lot wine production.

“Our systems are capable of handling a lot of different operating procedures,” Tudhope explains. “We have different membranes and other elements that we load into the systems for high level filtration, as well as to the handle the critical, second stage processes that capture exactly what it is that you want to eliminate from the wine.”

The benefits of Tudhope’s technology are numerous. Among them, he lists:

  • Zero oxygen pickup
  • Filtration to .2 microns, resulting in complete removal of bacteria
  • No DE needed in the newest Dynamic crossflow system
  • No heat pickup

“Everything is mobile, mounted on trailers so that we can take it from facility to facility,” Tudhope adds. “We’ll take it to wherever you want, for whatever it is you’re trying to remove.”

VA Filtration USA is one of the winners of the 2018 WINnovation awards. Introduced by the Wine Industry Network (WIN) in 2013, the WINnovation awards were set up to honor companies that have developed groundbreaking products or practices contributing to the advancement of the North American wine industry.

VA Filtration USA was selected this year because of its commitment to designing, manufacturing and operating all products in-house, in the U.S. The company was also lauded for its outstanding technological achievements and its overall positive impact on the quality of winemaking.

When asked to describe the philosophy behind what he and his company have done to receive recognition as a leading wine industry innovator, Tudhope is very clear that it comes down to two basic principles.

“Number one is that we pride ourselves in offering excellent service in terms of the processes we deliver,” Tudhope affirms. “A good wine is a winemaker’s pride and joy. If it’s (filtration, remediation) not done correctly, you can really mess that up. But done correctly, the full effect of the wine comes back out.”

“The second thing,” he continues, “is really listening to what winemakers need, and even figuring it out before they need it … that’s what drives the innovation.”

Tudhope, who has been working with filtration and remediation for 18 years, did not know that VA Filtration USA was under consideration as a WINnovation Award winner.

“It’s exciting, I had no idea. This is quite a surprise,” he admits. “It’s nice for the staff too, being able to share this with them. For us, seeing what you’re able to achieve just by removing a compound – and being able to offer that service and repeat it day after day – it’s really important.”

12 Things Not to Miss at the WIN Expo Trade Show This Thursday
03 December, 2018


Again this year the North Coast Wine Industry Expo (WIN Expo) will be the second largest wine industry trade show in North America with 300 premium wine industry suppliers at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Thursday Dec. 6. The broad array of exhibitors will showcase everything vineyards and wineries need and some new things you didn’t even know where possible.

Below are a few exhibits to note including four of this year’s WINnovation Award winners, exhibitors launching new products, experts to learn from on the trade show floor, and #ExpoDeals.


DIAM – Booth 211

DIAM Bouchage has a well established reputation for their micro-agglomerated corks treated with the Diamant process, which uses supercritical CO2 to extract compounds that cause sensory deviations, including TCA from the cork. Their latest innovation is Origine by DIAM, an ultra-sustainable cork made from natural ingredients: cork, beeswax emulsion and a 100% vegetable polyol binder. The beeswax used is completely natural, making the corks watertight and protecting the wine against any capillary migration while also protecting the integrity of the cork elasticity.

Cork already has a highly sustainable credentials, but Origine takes the next step in the evolution providing an option for wineries that are fully committed to natural and sustainable products and won’t compromise on the quality and reliability of their wines.

Emetry – Booth 234

Using data analytics for marketing isn’t new, but the wine industry is still learning how to best take advantage of the massive amounts of data that can be collected about their consumers. And who better to help pave the way than digital wine pioneer Paul Mabray, who’s heading up Emetry. Their innovative approach is to aggregate data from multiple sources and help wine brands quickly and clearly see what opportunities exist in the market, so they make informed strategic plans for growth and marketing.

Their software uses data from a range of digital sources, including the wine scanning app Delectable, and packages it into one easy to use insights dashboard. Within the dashboard, users are able to enter their product and look at the diagnostics of it in different markets. The insights go beyond product sales data and focus in on consumer purchasing behaviors. The users can see what type of consumers are talking about their product, where they purchase it, what else they purchased, who their competitors are within a market and more.

Prosurix – Booth 101

Prosurix  is a new packaging innovation that combines anti-counterfeiting technology with powerful marketing tools for the wine and spirits industry. Founder and CEO Steve Glamuzina, long-time owner and operator of Georgetown Wine and Liquor, developed it to guard against fake wine and spirits products making it into the hands and cellars of consumers, but that’s just the beginning.

The combination of the Prosurix app and unique encoded NFC chips on each product not only form a powerful anti-counterfeiting shield at a low price point, it also offers wineries an opportunity to track their goods and interact directly with the consumer at the point of purchase through the augmented reality features of the app, which can deliver information that informs the consumer at both before and afterward purchase. The app includes a cellar archive for the consumer to keep record of their wines, and brands can communicate with the consumer that has their wine cellared to offer them pairing suggestions or offers of similar products they might like.

VA Filtration USA – Booth 513

VA Filtration a wine service company with an ingrained spirit of innovation, that have developed numerous cutting edge technologies for the wine industry all designing and manufacturing in-house. CEO and Founder Bryan Tudhope will be at booth 513 to share more about their latest products and services.

The latest offering from VA Filtration is its lees recovery system which allows the recovery of wine from lees without the use of DE. The benefits of the technology include zero oxygen pick-up, filtration to 0.2 microns, resulting in complete removal of bacteria, no D.E needed, and no heat pick-up.

New Products

G3 Enterprises – Booth 213

At the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento this year, G3 Enterprises introduced the expansion of Vivelys’ Boisé® oak chip line with the Boisé® Inspiration line of 100% French oak staves to the U.S. Market. These two new Boisé Inspiration 7mm staves, #07.1 and #07.5, were created with two distinct profiles that reflect the demands for maturity and fruit balance on the palate seen in the U.S. market, and were based on the same research and selection process that  have guarantees consistent results of Boisé oak chips for year. Following the success and customer feedback on these staves they’re now introducing a third reference of 7mm staves, called #07.3 at the WIN Expo, which will provide caramel and spicy notes and a lot of roundness in the mouth.

Western Square – Booth 527

Western Square Industries and EQX Global are introducing their new Seismic Safety System designed to increase barrel room safety and minimize potential earthquake damage. The safety tray fits beneath a stack of barrels, and in conjunction with an epoxy coated floor, it is designed to reduce the effect of seismic shock waves. It went through numerous prototypes and rigorous testing at the University of California, Berkeley’s Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center and is now ready for use in the wine cellar to enhance the safety of staff and wine.

Topnest – Booth 129

TopNest Designs is a multi-line manufacturer’s representative company that specializes in promotional products for the wine industry, and they’re bringing many new products to display at the WIN Expo like a wrist watch made from French oak barrels as well as many classic items that work well for branding giveaways, wine club gifts, or in the tasting room.

UPM Raflatac – Booth 518

UPM Raflatac is introducing a new range of sustainable wine label materials with 90% post-consumer recycled (PCR) label liner. When paired with FSC-certified or PCW (post-consumer waste) face stocks, the sustainable materials will give your brand an uncompromising edge towards environmental responsibility.

Experts in the Trade Show Floor

The Engine Is Red – Booth 453

The Engine Is Red is hosting three 15 minutes talks on branding at their WIN Expo booth by invited guest. Drop by for one or all of them as well as a snack

9:40-9:55 AM – The Mind of a Designer: Understanding the Strategy of Packaging with Nicole Walsh, Managing Designer, The Family Coppola

11:10-11:25 AM – Building a Wine Brand to Believe in with Jesse Inman, Founder & Winemaker, Lucky Rock Wine Company

2:40-2:55 PM – Creating Brand Experiences That Delight with Andrew Ballus, Founder, Sift

Steamericas/Hotsy Pacific – Booth 235

Steamericas is not only focused on bringing the best products to market, but are actively investing in research to determine how effective their sanitation methods truly are. They teamed up with Dr. Stewart Lebrun Ph.D. of Lebrun Labs LLC to conduct research into the effectiveness and best-use methodology of dry steam using the Optima Steamer SE II. This 4 phase study focuses on one of winemakers’ biggest fears, the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces (Brett), and how dry steam can reduce the risk. Dr. Lebrun will be available to answer questions about the study at the Hotsy Pacific booth, the distributor for Steamerica’s Optima Steamer SE II.

WineDirect – Booth 525

With expertise in all areas of ecommerce and fulfillment and a longstanding commitment to wineries’ growth, WineDirect can help you at every stage in your development. WineDirect’s team of DTC Experts will be on site at the WIN Expo offering complimentary DTC Check Ups. Stop by for actionable ideas on how you can grow your DTC sales and everything your winery needs to start, manage, and grow your direct-to-consumer business from wine club, ecommerce and point of sale software to fulfillment and marketplace distribution.

You can check out the Wine Industry Advisor’s Featured Exhibitors Guide for more insights on what will be in display on the WIN Expo trade show floor or see the full list of exhibitors here.

Business Management

Human Resources






Production Services


Tasting Room




You can also follow what’s happening on the trade show floor and conference sessions on twitter #WINexpo.


The WIN Expo is also called “The Buying Show” because lots of business is being conducted on the trade show floor and this year there are over 50 special #ExpoDeals being offered by exhibitors at the show. Exhibitor booths offering a special deal for WIN Expo attendees are marked with a gold star balloon, so you can easily spot them on the floor, but you can also see a list of the #ExpoDeals offered at the show on the website.

For more information about what exhibitors are showing that might be interesting to you, check out the Wine Industry Advisor’s Exhibitors Guide with featured exhibits listed by category below. To register for the WIN Expo visit

Mouthfeel Lessons Learned – Troubleshooting Fermentations
16 November, 2018

By Janet Perry

Alison Crowe

Alison Crowe

“Mouthfeel, or how a wine feels on your cheeks and tongue when you taste it, is one of the most important sensory aspects that communicates ‘quality’ in a wine,” says Alison Crowe of Plata Wines. “If a wine looks great, smells wonderful but then disappoints when you put it in your mouth, then we’ve let the consumer down, and they won’t be as likely to buy another glass or bottle. Having a style-appropriate mouthfeel is absolutely critical in having a wine that hits on all cylinders. You won’t have a successful brand, or a well-scoring one, without optimizing the mouthfeel of your wine.”

Crowe says to help develop mouthfeel in her wines she will focus first on having the right fruit, then the correct fermentation conditions, depending on if the wine is red or white. “The next step is to think about building richness in texture during malolactic fermentation immediately afterwards and coaching the wine through it’s ’young development‘ stage with the considered use of elements, including lees stirring, barrel selection, oak products, enological tannins and even mannoprotein sources.”

As a wine “approaches bottle, the ways to influence and optimize mouthfeel dwindle but become more impactful and targeted,” says Crowe. “The best mouthfeel is achieved when you take a 360° whole-lifetime view to building and maintaining texture in your wines.”

Wine Mouthfeel Workshop

Crowe will be a panelist in the Wine Mouthfeel Workshop at the 2018 North Coast Wine Industry Expo and Conference (WIN Expo), along with Lucas Meeker of Meeker Wine and Tami McKay of Ray’s Station Winery. The Mouthfeel session will be moderated by Libby Spencer of Enartis. A cutting edge world leader in enological coadjuncts, Enartis has been running trials to determine the best way to address problems as they arise. Joined by the local winemakers, the trials will be tasted and discussed, along with the best techniques for great mouthfeel.

Libby Spencer

Libby Spencer

“It’s unfortunate, but quite often, our most valuable lessons are learned from mistakes,” says Spencer. “In any given vintage, many winemakers will have 1 or 2 troublesome lots that require her to seek solutions outside of her current toolbox. Our role at Enartis is unique in that winemakers never call to say how good their wines might be; we get called when things go wrong. As a result, when you compound 100 winemakers having 1 or 2 troublesome fermentations, we get awfully good at troubleshooting. Some trials are simply a tool to verify we understood the winemaker’s need or direction of the wine. And to prove the proposed solution is the most appropriate fit.”

“Enartis is one of a group of suppliers from which I pull expertise and winemaking supplies,” says Crowe. “They’re a great resource from lab services to fermentation additions to internal expertise. I’ve used many of their products over the years; they’re a go-to for so many winemakers in the U.S.”

Crowe explained, “Mouthfeel, as a stand-alone issue, hasn’t been addressed in quite a while at many major industry conferences, and I think it’s an important topic whose time has come. There are many techniques that can be applied throughout the winemaking process to optimize mouthfeel in red or white winemaking.”

“I believe that winemakers, and aspiring winemakers early on in their career, always have new things we can learn from each other,” said Crowe. “The wine industry is a very sharing community. We like to get together and geek out over new techniques, new products, new equipment, the list goes on.”

Crowe said, “Industry conferences like WIN Expo are a great opportunity to taste some wines and get the most up to date information and expertise from not just folks like Enartis but especially each other.”

The 7th Annual North Coast Wine Industry Expo Conference and Trade Show will be held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Thursday December 6, 2018. For more information visit

Preventing Stuck Fermentations While Preserving Wine Quality
02 November, 2018

By Paul Vigna

Susan Lueker

Susan Lueker

Susan Lueker is the director of winemaking for SIMI Winery in Healdsburg, California, a UC Davis grad who has built her resume at some of Sonoma’s top producers, including Hacienda Winery, Kendall-Jackson, and Dry Creek Vineyard. She joined SIMI’s team in 2000.

She has worked through more than her share of fermentations, providing her many insights to the Exploring the Impact of Fructophilic Yeast and Fructose During Fermentation panel scheduled from 10 to 11 a.m. Dec. 6 at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo.

“If you’ve ever had a stuck ferment, you want to avoid that in the future,” she says. A stuck fermentation is one that ends before all the available sugar in the wine has been converted to alcohol. She has been trialing new yeasts designed to prevent that. “In the past, I’ve battled with stuck fermentations that were mainly fructose, and they’re a bear to restart.”

Exploring the Impact of Fructophilic Yeast and Fructose During Fermentation

Tinus Els, who will moderate this panel, says that stuck fermentations are a major enological problem for the industry, elevating the residual fructose and greatly reducing the residual glucose. Wines with high contents of post fermentation sugar become susceptible for microbial spoilage, potentially ruining it, he says.

Tinus Els

Tinus Els

Els is a South African native who has worked 18 years in winemaking and winery management. Now living in California, he works for BSG, the distributor for Pinnacle Yeast supplied by AB Mauri. He says the company is currently running trials on four different yeasts, including two fructophilic yeast strains, part of a new Pinnacle range of yeast recently launched in the United States with BSG.

During this session participants will taste trial wines with the winemakers, learn the importance of analyzing glucose and fructose levels, the potential cost impacts of grape analysis management by ensuring the right yeast for the right grapes, and obtain insights on the latest technology in the world of yeast strain development.

What you’ll also see, Els says, is a comparison of “fermentation speeds with the experimental yeasts and most importantly, the speed of fructose consumption as fructose are most of the time residual in stuck ferments.”

Jason Mabbett

Jason Mabbett

Lueker says she just started a review of fructophilic yeast on high sugar ferments. “I was thinking more about the reasons behind this trial. Usually strong fermenting yeasts don’t deliver that subtle aromatic or flavor characteristics, they produce pretty generic wines,” she says. “So you give up sensory aspects to get a clean, steady fermentation. This way we get to see if we don’t have to sacrifice flavor and aromas for safer fermentations on high brix must.”   

So far so good, she says. “They’re all about 3 Brix, so [it’s] too early to tell about sensory aspects.”

Jason Mabbett, another speaker on the panel, has spent nearly 10 years on the technical side of the industry, working now as a technical sales manager for AB Mauri. He noted that while a stuck fermentation is more likely to occur in red wines, winemakers have seen it also happen with whites. The difficulty with a stuck fermentation, he notes, is that it’s generally not recognized until the arrest has occurred, and “treatment options usually impact the characteristics of the wine and often lead to reduced wine quality.”

Jeff Hinchliffe

Jeff Hinchliffe

Asked whether the biggest hurdle to marketing these new strains of yeasts was the cost or getting people to invest in something new, Mabbett notes it’s a combination of things. “First, the number of yeast brands in the marketplace and second the fact that vintage only occurs once a year,” he says. “As such there is a lot of competition in order to try and garner trial space. Second, it often takes a considerable period of time to grow sales to a commercial level as wineries often wish to replicate trials in order to be sure that the yeast is effective/performs well.”

The panel will also include Jeff Hinchliffe of Healdsburg’s Hanna Winery and tastings of his trial wines. For more information and to register for the North Coast Wine Industry Expo Conference & Trade Show visit The WIN Expo is held this year on December 6th at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Navigating the Changing Landscape of Wine Publicity
19 October, 2018

By Barbara Barrielle

Good wine writers look for what appeals to their audience. Who is their reader and are they strictly looking for an examination of wine quality – or lack thereof – or are they seeking lifestyle pieces where the quirky winemaker and extravagant vintner steal the show? The wine is simply a player in the story.

Wine Writers: What Are They Looking For?

Good publicists know the writer, but more importantly, know who their audience is and what appeals to them. They pitch what’s relevant, and that’s the way it’s always worked, but the wine PR landscape has changed over the last 10 years as has the way readers consume information. Wineries that want their fair share of media attention are having to change their tactics as well. One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of having and maintaining relations with influencers in the media and as well as understanding who they’re writing for.

Sara Schneider

Sara Schneider

Sara Schneider, long the food editor at Sunset Magazine and then the magazine’s wine editor, has recently made a shift to Robb Report as the Contributing Wine and Spirits Editor. “Sunset readers look for good value,” Schneider said. “Robb Report readers look for value but at a much different level.”

At Sunset, her team didn’t pan wines they didn’t care for. “If we didn’t like a wine, we didn’t write about it,” she says. At Robb Report, the approach remains the same, but the reader is definitively high end and of a very affluent demographic. They are wine drinkers and, while there may be concern about Robb readers and their acquisition of expensive wines as either trophies or simply investments, at the core they enjoy a very good bottle of wine.

Katie Calhoun, president of Calhoun & Company Communications, a San Francisco-based public relations firm with clients as diverse as Chateau Montelena and Lodi Winegrowers, is pleased to hear that Schneider, in her new role, is seeing a “ramp up” in the quality of wine samples. It means that wineries and PR firms are paying attention to Robb Report’s reader base and what they are looking for in wine coverage.

Schneider says that, in addition to the wines that may attract her readers, she is looking for stories that will interest them as well. Family stories, innovation, new material and ground level stories like the one she will cover in the Rhone of a new Chateauneuf-du-Pape launch. “Knowing the reader and the authentic news for that reader is what will attract my attention.” Says Schneider.

Virginie Boone

Virginie Boone

Virginie Boone, contributing editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine explains, “It’s very important to have relationships with PR professionals, we need each other. Over time, you build a mutual trust and understanding of what’s useful and relevant to one another. 

“I find that the PR people I trust over time become invaluable resources, and I know I can turn to them if I’m working on something in the early stages of development or conversely, if I need something fast on deadline. Not to mention the other types of assets we need as writers that can sometimes be hard to track down directly from a winery, from prices of wines to current vintage, etc.,” says Boone.

While Sara Schneider and Virginie Boone remain wine writers for print and online publications, Katie Calhoun’s job as a publicist has changed wildly in the days since most major newspapers had wine coverage. Now there are two newspapers with a dedicated wine journalist; Eric Asimov at The New York Times and Esther Mobley at The San Francisco Chronicle. Now wine writers are bloggers, part-timers, influencers and wannabes.

Wine writers are often not dedicated just to writing about wine but have day jobs like teaching high school or selling insurance. Yet they may have a blog or online magazine that has a following and they are important to reach.

“We have to meet writers on their time. If they can’t meet for lunch because they work, we are finding other ways to meet with these writers that come in all shapes and sizes. We need to travel more. And everyone is freelance,” explains Calhoun.

Katie Calhoun

Katie Calhoun

PR agencies have to be versatile. A story may be the wine or it may be the antique car collection the vintner has in the barn on the property. The story may be about the chef and his recipes or the organic garden where he grows his produce. There may be gorgeous floral gardens. Or there may be a cool winery dog story to pitch. It is easy to see that, with so many potential angles, smart PR firms are not just pitching wine writers but lifestyle and hobby writers of all varieties.

“Building our media list is the most important thing we do, and it is time consuming,” says Calhoun. “We are looking at the writers’ audiences, the price of wines their readers may support, the regions they target and then we target the message.

“We do not simply send samples of our clients’ wines. We have changed the way we are doing things and we may send an alert or release,” Calhoun expands. “We look for a response and require interaction for a hot minute.”

It is a challenge to qualify the many bloggers and influencers that demand time, attention and, ultimately, samples. That is why developing the media list is crucial. And Calhoun understands the pay-to-play that is required by some publications and influencers, so she will pay a highly qualified influencer with significant followers that can weave the wine into an artistic post. Wine writers get paid to write, and a social media influencer will get paid to get that wine seen.

Michael Wangbickler

Michael Wangbickler

Michael Wangbickler, president of Balzac Communications, with clients like the prestigious Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, concurs that the number of traditional wine media publications has “shrunk incredibly, but we have seen the emergence of digital media in many other forms.” He says, “we view writers as content creators, whoever their audience happens to be. The challenge is who is worth our time… the client’s time.”

“The tendency is toward metrics, but traffic can come from anywhere. In a writer (or influencer) we are looking for the quality of their content, the frequency of their publishing,” explains Wangbickler, “and ultimately the credibility of the source.”

It is a changing frontier on both sides and it requires both the writer and the publicist remain adaptable and alert to their audiences and their expectations.

Schneider, Calhoun, Boone, and Wangbickler are all part of the Wine Writers: What Are They Looking For? conference session moderated by Chris O’Gorman, Director of Communications at Rodney Strong Vineyards, at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo on December 6th, 2018 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Registration for this and other sessions can be found at

Local Experts Weigh in on the State of the North Coast Wine Industry
12 October, 2018

By Dawn Dolan

Dr. Damien Wilson

Dr. Damien Wilson

What’s been happening in the North Coast wine industry?

Specifically developed for wineries in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino Counties, the State of the North Coast Wine Industry conference session at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo (WIN Expo) will delve into topics for small, direct-to-consumer wineries as well as bigger players with national distribution.

Lead by Dr. Damien Wilson, Hamel Family Chair of Wine Business Education with SSU’s Wine Spectator-sponsored Wine Business Institute, the panel features data from North Coast wineries, and offers up expert local perspectives on what has gone on in the past twelve months, including information about how the fires affected the area, and what some wineries have done to combat the slow flow of traffic.

State of the North Coast Wine Industry

“We couldn’t have a better person to lead this conversation than Sonoma State University’s Damien Wilson,” says George Christie, founder and CEO of Wine Industry Network. “SSU is the leading institution as it pertains to the business of wine. We wanted to focus specifically on the state of the industry for the North Coast to ensure the attendees, especially winery owners and executives, are getting the most relevant information possible. These are very busy people, so the value of the information has to exceed the value of the time they spend at the conference.”

Stephanie Peachey

Stephanie Peachey

Featuring panelists from different realms in the industry, both large and small, well-known and just setting out, Wilson will be guiding the discussion into topics such as fire aftermath, successful strategies for gaining more traffic, and the appointment-only effect. Making up the panel for this session will be: Joel Miller, Founder and President at Customer Vineyard, Dale Stratton, VP of Marketing for Constellation; Stephanie Peachey, VP of DtC and Brand Strategy for Kosta Browne Winery, and George Hamel III, Managing Director of Hamel Family Wines.

The session will be utilizing data taken from a local customer base and coming up with benchmark metrics. Notes Wilson, “This is information from local producers. We are specifically looking at data from our region, and creating regional benchmarks.”

Perspectives will be offered on the state of nationally-marketed local brands, how to work your niche, DtC market, along with notes on managing the marketing for a high-profile, small production wine brand.

The panelists will share insights on what they see as actionable items for the upcoming year in the wine industry. One of the things that Wilson is keen on is keeping the industry from becoming too fragmented. “We need to get more holistic in our communications, and become more generic,” he says. “We all want to generate sales, make the best wine, and keep cash flowing as well.” 

George Hamel III

George Hamel III

Wilson advocates keeping our wine-speak on a more basic level so as not to scare off newcomers wanting to learn. It may be key to keeping them coming back to our region by making our North Coast wineries a welcoming an environment as possible to attract new visitors.

“People need to go to a place where there is positive reinforcement. Don’t’ fragment the category. Get them interested. Learning to love wine is not an overnight occurrence,” Wilson notes, “It’s a process.”

Christie, who is also a partner in a small local wine brand notes, “There has been a lot of talk about tasting room traffic being down, but sales per person are up. Why is that? With the addition of new tasting rooms opening, does everyone just get a smaller piece of the same size pie or are there opportunities for everyone to experience growth?”

The panel will also offer their perspectives on these and other challenges facing the local wine industry as part of the Q & A section.

The State of the North Coast Wine Industry conference session is held at 1:30pm as part of the Wine Business Strategy & Leadership Conference track at the Wine Industry Expo on December 6th, 2018 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Registration for this and other sessions can be found at

Oxygen Transfer Rates: Small Amounts Can Mean Big Differences to Wine Sensory Profiles
28 September, 2018

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

Don Huffman

Don Huffman

Gone are the days when screw caps and synthetic cork wine closures automatically translated to inferior wine.

Most industry professionals today agree that technological advances in how wine is sealed have not only protected the contents as well as natural cork, but also created more options for winemakers seeking innovative ways to continually improve their craft.

According to Don Huffman, Wine Quality and Education Manager for Vinventions LLC, an international company offering closure solutions to winemakers worldwide, the operative term here is Oxygen Management.

“Outside, respected institutions have validated that just subtle differences in oxygen can control maturation in a bottle,” Huffman reports. “Winemakers know that if you have control of oxygen in the wine and the bottle, you get an equation that will ultimately be successful.”

Oxygen Management: Closures and Wine Aging

To that end, Vinventions, and other companies like it, have created a broad range of closures that include those made from plant-based renewable materials, micro-agglos that are now glue-free, advanced synthetics, natural cork and screw caps all with an eye toward wine preservation and controlled O2 ingress.

Huffman says winemakers are concerned with a formulaic process that combines desorption, a phenomenon that occurs when a substance (like O2) is released through a surface during bottling, coupled with the oxygen transfer rate (OTR) of the closure, to make a single ingress calculation. This is something that contemporary closures take into account.

“A winemaker can choose something ‘tight’ or more ‘open,'” Huffman points out. “Trained winemakers today are choosing between different levels of oxygen, because some (of them) want to control that relationship from start to finish.”

Michael Cox

Michael Cox

Huffman will be moderating a panel discussion about the impact of oxygen management on the sensory profiles of wine after bottling at the 7th Annual North Coast Wine Industry Conference and Trade Show scheduled for Thursday, December 6 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA.

The workshop Huffman will be part of is called “Oxygen Management: Closures and Wine Aging.” It will include a trial tasting of wines that have been bottled for at least two years.

“I’m going to pour two wines that contain trace amounts of oxygen level differences in the bottle,” Huffman confirms. “We’ll have the winemakers taste the difference and explain what’s going on.”

Steve Matthiasson

Steve Matthiasson

Huffman will be joined on the Oxygen Management: Closures and Wine Aging panel by Michael Cox, winemaker with Schug Winery. Cox attended UCLA as a chemical engineering student before transferring to UC Davis and graduating with a degree in Enology in 1991. He was the Head Winemaker at Napa Valley Cellars before joining Schug in 1995. 

Steve Matthiasson, winemaker with Matthiasson Wines, will also be part of the panel discussion. Matthiasson has a background in horticulture and viticulture. In 1991, he began working for a small, sustainable, agriculture consulting firm and in 1999, he co-authored the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices. Since 2003 he has focused on his own family farming and winemaking.

Hoss Milone

Hoss Milone

Hoss Milone, winemaker with Brutocoa Family Vineyards, completes the panel lineup. Milone worked as a boy on the Milone family ranches, vineyards and orchards in Hopland, CA. In 1997, his family started the Milano Winery and in 1983, he became the Assistant Winemaker there. In 1991, he went to work at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery where he worked for 18 years. In 2009, Milone returned home with Brutacoa Family Vineyards and assumed the role of Head Winemaker.

The Oxygen Management: Closures and Wine Aging session is part of the WIN Expo Winemaking Conference Track at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo in Santa Rosa December 6, 2018. For more information on individual sessions and speakers or to register for the WIN Expo trade show and conference visit

Mystery Shoppers Visit Starmont Winery
18 September, 2018

Strategically located on Highway 29 at the crossroads of Carneros and Napa Valley, Starmont Winery offers visitors a multifaceted approach to their wine tasting itineraries. Easily accessible from either direction, the modern facility and tasting room focuses on their small production, DTC wines, mostly grown on the surrounding 55 acre Carneros Estate. The region is well known for the fruit produced from the historic Stanly Ranch, 50 acres of which is maintained and harvested for Starmont’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay. The Starmont label originated from a Chardonnay produced by Merryvale and the portfolio was launched in 2006 when the winery was built. Limited access to the property was available on Sundays until the tasting room opened in mid- 2015.

Tasting experiences at Starmont are unpretentious, and no appointment is required. Guests may choose to situate themselves in one of the comfortable outdoor patio seating areas or sit inside at a table or at the tasting bar. The relaxed vibe and cool Carneros breezes from the San Pablo Bay are a welcome respite from hot summer days. The tasting menu is generous with a line-up of five to six wines, and usually always includes their flagship Chardonnay and several of the Carneros Estate Pinot Noirs.

According to the website, Starmont offers several tasting options ranging in price from $25 to $65 per person and highlight Carneros or Napa based selections, a Stanly Ranch tour and barrel tasting, and, for vintage Merryvale fans, a Portfolio tasting.

Our tasters were hosted as walk in guests, but were not made aware of the tasting options, so assumed the Carneros selections represent the default menu. The hospitality team was warm and welcoming and offered guidance to self-select a preferred seating area. Shortly thereafter an assigned host presented the tasting menu and explained the origin of the wines, a bit about the history of Starmont’s foundation with Merryvale and the relevance of the Stanly Ranch Vineyards. While informative and interesting, perhaps because our tasters opted to sit on the patio, the host didn’t linger long, and did not go above and beyond to learn more about their guests. Wines were all presented factually, and unique qualifiers related to the history of the region were incorporated into the presentation. The staff seemed to be working as a team, and were attentive to the stage of the discussion, offering to clear glasses or tend to needs of each group.

The tasting menu was succinct, with an organized listing of the wines to be presented, complete with descriptions and tasting notes, and prices were easily accessible on the reverse side. The wine club was referenced on the Tasting Menu vis a vis a notation that the tasting fee would be waived if one were to join, but other than that, it was not brought into the discussion.

Hosts did query as to preferences in an effort to qualify palates, and extra pours were offered based on responses. At the end of each tasting guests were asked if there was any interest in purchasing, but no references were made to upsell bottles to waive tasting fees. Whether a purchase was made or not, our tasters were not asked for contact information or their interest to stay in touch.

Overall Starmont Winery has a lot to offer, with its convenient location, representation of Carneros wines, and open air atmosphere. The staff is warm and welcoming, and the experience itself is relaxed and unassuming, but perhaps too much so. Our tasters, outside of buying some wine, left the premises without any invitation to reconnect or stay in touch. We scored them based on an average across the quality and content of the presentation as it related to sales conversion and overall connection with the winery and the host.

Starmont Winery
1451 Stanly Lane
Napa, CA 94559

WHAT THEY DID WELL: Walk-ins welcomed, knowledgeable staff, unpretentious, thorough presentation


STORYTELLING: Knowledgeable staff; winery history

CONNECTING WITH HOST: Relaxed vibe; Interesting presentation


  1. Product Knowledge
  2. Wine list and pricing prominent throughout tasting
  3. Asking for purchase

Virtual VinesThe V Files™ by Virtual Vines

THE V FILES™ is a monthly publication (subscribe for free) which offers an ssessment and rating of wineries DTC performance in relation to overall guest experience and staff proficiency. Wineries are chosen at random by Mystery Shoppers and are evaluated using a scorecard approach leveraging DTC best practices. The ratings are based on how well each winery delivers a memorable guest experience and staff’s ability to sell, covert and connect with customers.

The Rating System is based on performance in the following categories:

  • Inspirational Story
  • Connection w/ Host
  • Sales Acumen
  • Wine Club Conversion
  • Collecting Customer Info

Virtual Vines DTC Sales and Marketing Consulting Services help integrate DTC best practices to help wineries build brand awareness, increase sales and grow customer loyalty For more information please contact us:, 707-927-3574

Your Wine Brand Could Be Lost in One Single Trademark Infringement
05 September, 2018

By Dawn Dolan

The landscape of the alcoholic beverage industry in the new millennium looks dramatically different than the drinks business of the 20th century. There has been a staggering increase in the number of new private label wine brands for retailers and restaurants, while foreign producers have moved into the U.S. market with new brands at a rate never before seen.

“It is more challenging than ever to secure trademark rights and brand recognition in the U.S. alcoholic beverage market, largely due to the number of new producers and new product offerings,” says John Dawson, Partner at Carle, Mackie, Power & Ross LLP. “This is not just limited to new wine labels, the growth in craft beer, cider, and spirits businesses have been substantial, all of which are brand-driven.”

Overall, there are many more alcoholic beverage brands in use in the United States and a corresponding increase in the number of trademark applications and registered beverage trademarks, than there were at the turn of the century. Still, Dawson notes, “Many new producers don’t understand the value of a registered trademark. Even a 1,000 case winery stands to benefit from obtaining trademark registrations for their brands: It gives them the comfort of knowing they can invest their energies in a protectable name that they own, and also lays the groundwork for an exit strategy down the line, should they ever consider a sale of the business.”

Artistic and Legal Considerations in the Creation of a Great Brand

The recent scooping up of small, niche brands shows that thoughtful brand building strategies, paired with the appropriate protection of that brand can mean greater security and return for owners. “Being prudent and deliberate in your brand building is crucial,” advises Dawson.

Yes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for producers to secure trademark registration and their own brand identity. As a brand owner, you don’t want to infringe another producer’s intellectual property, especially in connection with the launch of a new brand. “I’ve seen entire businesses fold within months of a product launch, after they spent a ton of money on marketing, but not enough on vetting and securing their own branding,” notes Dawson. “All it took was one trademark infringement lawsuit, and they lost their entire business.”

As these observations demonstrate, the legal side of branding is a critical consideration, and is often neglected in the development of a product. Dawson will be speaking to these issues at the Artistic and Legal Considerations in the Creation of a Great Brand session at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo. This panel will touch on topics such as the importance of selecting a brand and brand identity that you can claim as your own, making sure that the brand resonates with consumers and is consistent with the company’s raison d’etre, and the importance of protecting your intellectual property rights.

In the U.S., if you don’t police infringements of your intellectual property, you can lose your trademark rights. Dawson shared, “Trademarks are an indicator of one particular producer, one source. They represent a certain quality and consistency in product. If several people use the same trademark, there is no assurance of product consistency or source.”

Not only is this topic critically important for newer producers with new brands, but also for those launching product extensions and new SKU’s as well. For existing companies, Dawson says, “This panel will be helpful as far as making them aware of the importance of brand messaging through packaging and design, as well as the scope of IP protection afforded domestically and internationally.”

He notes that because the popularity of U.S. alcoholic beverages has grown in the international export markets, it’s common for producers to start here, but then want to sell in Asia, Europe, and South America, where additional steps must be taken to obtain brand protection. As far as exporting goes, he continues, “What wineries often don’t realize is that their rights in the U.S. might not extend into international markets. Their rights may not be deemed equally sound and valid abroad.”

The Artistic and Legal Considerations in the Creation of a Great Brand panel discussion will illuminate certain considerations as far as what third party copyright and trademark issues can arise that some may not have considered. This session is part of the Business Strategy and Leadership track at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo Conference in Santa Rosa, December 6, 2018. Visit to learn more and register.


Cannabis Beyond the Black Market, Blurring Medicinal and Recreational Use
22 August, 2018

Bill Silver, CEO of the highly successful CannaCraft, keynoted the 2nd annual Wine and Weed Symposium in Santa Rosa on August 2nd, hosted by Wine Industry Network. Silver sat down with Wine Industry Advisor afterwards to talk about some of the topics he didn’t have time to address in his keynote including cannabis as medicine, the language we use around it, and the County’s recent decision regarding small cannabis farms.

Silver has been witness to some illuminating trends since the industry was allowed to open its doors wide. “One of the interesting phenomena, we’ve actually seen with the opening up of the recreational markets is an increase in the sales of our medical brand, Care by Design. It’s far outpaced the growth of some of our recreational brands, which are also growing substantially. I think what’s happening is that people who weren’t comfortable going into a dispensary under the system where you had to go see a physician. Now, you can just go in, and what we’re seeing is friends are bringing friends in saying, ‘Look, come with me and I’ll show you’.”

Silver noted that the choices available to consumers now are abundant. “The industry has evolved to create products to allow people to access the medicine without the traditional practice of smoking it. In addition to the vape cartridges, you have sublingual drops and sprays and soft gels. You can get your medicine via chocolate or through a non-calorie, non-carbonated beverages. You can get CBDs. There’re creams, there’re oil applicators. Even disposable strips or other infused products, like honey.”

“There’s so many ways that people can access the medicine, which helps them to find the right application for their health condition,” explained Silver. “What you see is a sophistication of the personalization of medicine. People can get the right medicine for what they need at the right time.”

Silver is also thoughtfully critiquing how the industry approaches it’s interactions with the public and is looking to more proactive ways of presenting cannabis. “I’m not even sure we’re using the right words anymore,” declared Silver. “When we say medicine or we say recreation, we begin to create categories of how people understand what they’re taking, and we may have created a false understanding of the true potential. I think of this as truly health and wellness, not traditional view of healthcare as sickness treatment.”

Silver says he likes to use the parallel of coffee to help people see the subtleties. “When you have a cup of coffee in the morning, is that recreational or medicinal,” asks Silver? “If you’re taking it for the energizing effect that’s potentially medicine, but some people describe coffee as a way to relax in the morning. If you’re meeting friends for that cup of coffee, is that medicating or is that recreating? What about decaf coffee? So it’s really a continuum. I think cannabis is very much the same way. It has efficacy in treating disease, but it also can help keep you healthy and you can take it to keep healthy states, like for me personally I’ll have our high CBD product before I run in the morning. It keeps my joints healthy and keeps me pain free.”

Sonoma County cannabis just took a hard hit with new tightened regulations for smaller cannabis farmers that may drive them back into the black market or out of business. “This is just my personal opinion,” declared Silver, “but the county isn’t honoring the will of the voters. They should look at the percentages of the people that were supportive of this industry rather than listening to a vocal minority. The county needs further work on bringing different ideas together and coming up with a win-win solution because they’re not really addressing the concerns on either side. There are ways to support the industry, and in the end I think many of us want the same thing.”    

It’s important to see the big picture when considering cultivation and the neighborhoods in which many reside, and Silver feels this has been missed in recent county meetings. “There’s no one from the cannabis industry that wants anyone to feel unsafe, and that is a major concern of some of the groups that are opposing some of the cannabis businesses,” explained Silver. “Those are concerns that need to be addressed, but we also need to recognize that the incidences that have sparked most of the concerns are occurring in black market cannabis areas.”

Silver says the way to keep things safe is to keep everything in the regulated market. “Clearly there are economic advantages to supporting the industry. If the county doesn’t want to support healthy and sustainable growth, then those businesses are going to go elsewhere.”

Silver explained that he had witnessed an exodus of cannabis cultivators doing business in Sonoma County. “Our business used to source from Sonoma County, and not only tax dollars, but the actual business revenue, has now left. So all those small businesses would then spend their dollars, not only on business supplies because that’s their income. That money gets spent on schools, non-profits, it supports local restaurants and retail outlets. That money is no longer in the county.”

Silver praised the Wine Industry Network’s Wine and Weed Symposium. “It’s very cutting edge to bring leaders of two industries together, exploring how we can learn from each other and where they might travel next, sometimes in partnership and sometimes separately but from an awareness of possible collaborations, and certainly in our community, ways to support other industries, like tourism. I think with wine and cannabis, in our communities we’re just beginning to understand the ways we can work together.”

By Janet Perry


New Wine Shopper Data Solution Helps Wineries Achieve Distribution Success
07 August, 2018

By Dawn Dolan

Label Analytics has a new unique tool for wineries already in the wholesale market, or those just jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to distribution. Many wineries find it difficult to break into the three–tier system and gain any traction when a preponderance of the wines on the shelf are owned by large operations. The consumer may not even realize that many of the wines they see on the shelf, with very disparate labels and price points, may belong to the same entity. Many, if not most of those, are the wines that carry the spaces on the shelf; i.e. those that sell.

“Trade buyers know what does and doesn’t make it to the shelf. We [Label Analytics] test shopper responses to bottles. We have shopper sheets. We give the winery this information so they can engage the trade buyers, who are motivated to sell. It’s all about first impression visuals,” Says John Lawlor, CEO and co-founder of Label Analytics.

Label Analytics’ Wine Shopper Data Sheets are trying to level the playing field for wineries seeking to join the fray. Under the current system, a winery must use their distributor’s sales force to convince the retailers that their wine will make that retailer money taking up precious shelf space. For the retailer, that can require a 6 to 9 month process, in which they could see diminishing returns, at which point they may drop the wine or label entirely. This constitutes a loss for all parties: the winery who has now produced wine they cannot sell, the distributor who took a chance on them, and the retailer who bumped another wine to give up the space.

When hired to produce a Shopper Data Sheet Deck, Label Analytics sets up a study using a minimum of 500 consumer shoppers. Featuring proprietary algorithms and offering actual consumer testing for each product, the data is statistically significant. A client winery’s wine (or wines) is secreted within a slate of 81 wines, divided into panels of 9 per page. Consumers see each of the nine pages of nine wines each, and rank the wine on five key sales indicators. They have no idea who the client winery may be, and are answering purely on personal preference.

Results of the survey are broken down into panels, which the client can use to asses probable success in the market, equating her wine to other comparable wine varietals falling at a certain price point. The individual demographic analysis feature breaks down by gender, age group, price point, etc. Label Analytics reports that their system ranks products on: Shelf Attention, Memorability, Price Impression, and Purchase Interest vs. competitive brands, and that their analysis shows an estimated 80% of consumers choose a new brand based on the label.

When compiled and presented on the Wine Shopper Data Sheet, the brands performance against the competitive set is clearly displayed, and the winery can share the deck with retail wine buyers or with their distributor’s wholesale reps, who can then use it to make the case for the wine in meetings with trade buyers.

Label Analytics offers the Wine Shopper Data Sheet Deck for a flat license fee, retaining the data. Clients may use the Response Deck for three months upon its completion, and then can switch to a monthly or annual licensing fee should they want to continue with its usage. Offers Lawlor, “Shopper sheets may show what competitors are doing best [matched against your wine]. We show the winery a competitor’s set, that shoppers considered. We make suggestions based on what we know are probably their competitors, and we can tell which competitors were most attractive [to consumers]. Also where does this fit for the stores? They won’t bump a good seller.”

Armed with knowledge gained, a winery can either make the plunge into the wholesale realm, or reconsider. Finishes Lawlor, “Our objective for wineries: Sell more wine with shopper confidence. Building a brand in the wholesale market takes engagement. If your wine isn’t competitive on the shelf to customers, you are not going to make a good living.” Using shopper data has not been the norm in the wine industry, but this product and other emerging offerings out on the market may be the start of a new trend. One to watch.

Opening New Doors at Kosta Browne
24 July, 2018

This summer, the iconic Pinot Noir producer, Kosta Browne winery, are opening two new doors, one with their recent acquisition by Duckhorn Wine Company, and the other a literal door to their new tasting gallery in Sebastopol.

With Vineyards far flung throughout the best Pinot Noir regions of California, from the Anderson Valley in the north to the Sonoma Coast, Russian River, and Santa Lucia Highlands in the south, it is impractical for Kosta Browne to offer the kind of vineyard tours that some wineries use to give their guests a connection to the wines, so instead they’ve focused on creating a luxury urban winery experience with a direct overview of the winery workings.

Kosta Browne recently opened their doors for a preview of this new gallery tasting experience in Sebastopol and included a chance to taste some of their new and upcoming releases. The new tasting gallery overlooks the cellar floor through a large window into the winemaking facility of Kosta Browne, so guests can see the activity in the cellar as they taste the wines and even visit the cellar if they wish.

The space has a beautifully sleek modern feel combined with warm and cozy wood and leather tones, and the tasting gallery is also intrinsically connected with another innovation at Kosta Browne; their new Observation Series wines, which are all very small production and only available to those who visit the winery.

From a bar setup on the cellar floor at the preview event, winemaker Nico Cueva poured his Pinot Noir Free James from the Observation Series labeled 16PNSC.FREE.45W.85CF, which he explained is their code indicating that it is a 2016 Pinot Noir from Sonoma County, Freestone AVA, 45% Whole Cluster and 85% Concrete Fermented.

The Observation Series wines immediately stand out as distinct from the other Kosta Browne wines with it’s simple and modern label dominated by white space, while their other wines still sport labels very closely resembling the label of the original 1997 vintage Kosta Browne Pinot Noir, which began the now twenty plus years story of Kosta Browne beginning with just one barrel of Pinot Noir.

However, the concept of the Observation Series is meant to honor that history and philosophy of innovation, experimentation, and unrestricted approach to winemaking, so when Cueva comes across a wine that stands out as unique and distinct, he has the opportunity to make it into its own limited production Observation Series wine instead of blending into one of the broader Appellation Series wines.

Because the series is based on the winemaker’s observations during winemaking, the series can include entirely different wines from vintage to vintage, potentially making each wine a one-time only and highly collectable item from the prestigious winery. Only 315 cases were produced of the Free James Pinot Noir, and while Cueva recognizes the potential of the Observation Series as collector’s wines, he expresses his primary goal to be that people drink and enjoy these unique wines.

Other wines in the Observation Series include 162 cases of the 2016 El Diablo Chardonnay and 231 cases of the 2016 Mount Carmel Pinot Noir.

Guests at the gallery preview also had the opportunity to experience another new addition to the Kosta Browne lineup, the 2016 Cerise Vineyards Pinot Noir. Kosta Browne bought the prestigious Cerise Vineyards in Anderson Valley, from Peter and Heidi Knez in 2016, and this vintage will be released in the fall as part of their Single Vineyard Series.

All the vineyard holdings and long term leases were part of the acquisition by Duckhorn Wine Company, and there are no immediate plans for personnel or other major changes. The sale of Kosta Browne is expected to close in August.

The official opening of Kosta Browne’s Sebastopol gallery is August 9, and the gallery will be available for booking by those on the Kosta Browne mailing list, even those not currently receiving allocations. However, guests are advised to book their visit well in advance, as this is sure to be a popular destination.

By Kim Badenfort

How the Pennsylvania Wine Industry Is Rising to the Top
20 July, 2018

By Paul Vigna

For years, Pennsylvania’s wine industry was growing in numbers and scope but stagnant in legislative and financial support, especially when compared to neighboring states such as New York and Virginia.

That changed in 2016 as part of a statewide transformation called Act 39, which allowed alcoholic beverage sales beyond the producers and the state’s liquor system. Connected to that legislation was the industry’s first legitimate funding steam, which began in 2017 with $1 million awarded by the Liquor Control Board through the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing & Research Board. It’s raised through new direct shipping fees. Similar amounts were passed along in May 2018 and again Wednesday last week, the latter tied to the 2018-19 fiscal year.

For a state that had so little for so long, the $1 million sounds lucrative. But compare it to several other East Coast states and it puts that funding into perspective. The impact of Act 39 and its effects on distribution further complicates things.

Annette Boyd

Annette Boyd is the director of the Virginia Wine Marketing Board office and can recall that state’s funding bump to $1.2 million in 2010. It’s nearing $2 million today and growing annually because it’s tied in to ever-increasing sales of Virginia wine in-state. Generally, two-thirds goes to promotion, although that ratio is flexible.

Eight years ago, elevating that state’s wine profile was its top priority. “Our No. 1 goal was to drive people to wineries,” Boyd said. “We felt like if we could get them to a winery, the rest would happen on its own.” Other goals were to create interest from the trade and generate more media. Part of that was achieved by revamping the Governor’s Cup and building it around a gala that takes place annually in Richmond.

Since then, with the number of Virginia wineries tripling since 2007 and profile far less an issue, those priorities have been tweaked to, among other things, establishing a regional footprint.

New York’s initiative has been another success story. Jim Trezise was, for 31 years, the president of that state’s Wine & Grape Foundation before becoming president of WineAmerica in January 2017. His funding got as high as $2.6 million, usually two-thirds going toward promotion.

“As to successes, our research-funded program was great thanks to Cornell, which we are very lucky to have,” he said. “Our promotion strategy was essentially ‘Bring the people to the wine and take the wine to the people’ [i.e., tourism, and urban market promotions in a coordinated fashion], which worked well. In both research and promotion, having long-term programs and consistency is key. Our annual wine competition [New York Wine & Food Classic] was also a great success.”

Pennsylvania’s approach has mirrored both states, building enthusiasm on social media and on the PWA website with lists of events and stories that are intended to drive consumers to the wineries. More than half ($544,350) of the latest expenditure was designated for the continuation of a statewide marketing campaign, the expansion of PA Wine Month in 2019, and new regional marketing partnerships in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley. Its “Visit PA Wine Land” theme emphasizes to visitors that they’re never more than an hour away from a Pennsylvania winery.

Jake Gruver

This is a state with a nearly $5 billion industry that’s in the top 10 nationally in wineries, wine production, and grapes grown. It’s also celebrating 50 years since the passage of the Farm Winery Act, which created the state’s wine industry. Nothing has affected it more in five decades than Act 39, which has significantly expanded where producers can sell their product and, frankly, given some consumers less reason to visit wineries.

“The wine industry in PA is in a sort of a state of flux,” said Jake Gruver, the PWA president and co-owner of seven-year-old Armstrong Valley Winery outside Harrisburg. Wineries, he said, have to decide whether to move their product into grocery stores and, if so, how that will affect business at the winery.

“Maybe a winery is fine with selling more through grocery stores, but they may have to reduce staff because of less patrons on-site,” he said. “These are new areas for some wineries, and some wrong decisions could be bad. It has thrust wineries, breweries and distilleries into making marketing decisions with no proven long-term outcome. So we are all scrambling to find our place in all this.”

Elaine Pivinski

Elaine Pivinski echoed those sentiments, having opened Franklin Hill Vineyard in Bangor, amid Pennsylvania’s Delaware River Valley, in 1982. For four decades she was “coasting along in a comfortable place” introducing new products, opening secondary locations and building a following. Then came Act 39. “Everything has changed. Your customers can purchase your products for just slightly higher cost in the convenience of a grocery store or PLCB location or in an urban environment.”

Jason Reimer

Jason Reimer

Gruver would like to see some of the state’s funding stream be directed toward educating those in the industry or fledgling winery owners to be able to “step in and continue and improve on the work that’s been done so far.” At the same time, he knows the marketing is essential. “You know what a Ford is, but Ford still markets their cars and trucks all the time, Why? Because they don’t want you to forget, for a minute, who they are and what they have to offer. PA wineries need to do that.”

Leave it to Jason Reimer, a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, to sum up the state of the “underdog” state industry. A former PWA board member and part-owner of The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey admitted it’s playing catch-up to several nearby states. At the same time, he pointed out, 75 percent of Pennsylvania’s wineries have opened in the last 15 years. Developing a solid marketing strategy “will take time,” he said. “The reality is we are making as good  – if not superior – wines in Pennsylvania. We just need to tell our story.”

Man of Steele: 50 Harvests and Counting
09 July, 2018

by Laura Ness

There aren’t many of Jed Steele’s contemporaries still making wine. Most have hung up their hoses and gone fishing, or passed on to the great vineyard in the sky. Few have as many stories to tell as this man. And far fewer have made as many wines from as many different places. And fewer still can claim to have been at the forefront of the creation of two powerhouse AVAs: Mendocino and Lake County. 

Jed Steele, photo by Muse photography

And it all began with a horse named Stymie.

Both Jed’s maternal and paternal grandfathers were 4th generation Methodist ministers, and his Dad initially followed in their bible-thumping footsteps. Perhaps that’s why he gave his youngest son the distinctive and powerful name, Jedediah.

Says Jed, “They were the fire and brimstone kind of Methodists. No card playing, no drinking, no dancing. Four hours of bible-reading on Sundays. But then my father worked as a newspaperman during the war in Paris. That completely changed his perspective.”

When Jed, who was born in New York City, was 5 years old, his Dad moved the entire family to San Francisco, except for Jed’s oldest sister, who got married just before their departure. Turns out his Dad had developed, along with a very discerning palate and appreciation for wine, a much more discrete, and far more lucrative, taste for the ponies. Rumor has it that it was his secret stash of considerable winnings on a racehorse named Stymie (in his day, the richest race horse ever), that enabled the family’s move to the big time high rolling city of San Francisco.

“I remember my Dad had a big wine cellar, and he was always buying old Burgundies and Bordeaux. I also remember the photo of Stymie that hung in his office.”

After high school, Jed, who had developed a knack for basketball, attended Gonzaga University, a Jesuit college in Spokane, on a sports scholarship. He ended up being a basketball coach. “Nobody else in my family was sports-minded,” says Steele. He majored in law, but after two years, switched to psychology.

His Dad meanwhile, was spending his advance checks for his writings on 1959 and 1961 Burgundies and Bordeaux wines, and learning a lot about California wines. “California was a very small wine community in the 1950s,” says Steele.

It seems Jed was destined to become part of it. His first job after college was in the cellar at Napa’s Stony Hill Winery, which inspired him to go back to school at UC Davis, where he earned his Masters in enology.

Photo by Muse photography

Then he went from the nascent wine country of Napa to the wilds of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, where he worked as both winemaker and vineyard manager at Edmeades Winery from 1974 through 1982. It was a small two-horse town, with the two horses being Edmeades and Husch. “All that was planted up there at the time was French columbard (from which Italian Swiss Colony used to make sparkling), chardonnay, gewurztraminer and cabernet. Nobody started planting pinot there until the 1990s. UC Davis at the time recommended it for cabernet. Two or three years out of five, you might get it ripe. Darryl Corti was a real fan of the cabs from here: they were around 12.8 or 12.9% alcohol.”

Always up for an adventure, Steele partnered with the legendary Sacramento retailer in 1974 to produce a private label Mendocino cabernet sauvignon that used artwork on the wine label: a first for a California winery. Prior to this, Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux was the only winery to feature original artwork on its label. Steele says the artist who created the artwork, a painting of an old apple dryer next to Edmeades, was Bill Zacha, founder of the Mendocino Arts Center.

While that wine might have been a great showcase of Mendocino’s artful nature, Steele says it underscored the general unsuitability of the Anderson Valley for growing cabernet. “Funny story. Dan Baron, who I worked with as a vineyard manager in the Anderson Valley, was helping Christian Moieux find a place to land.

It was a rainy night and the winery (Edmeades) had a steel roof. We had Christian taste through our style of Cabernet, and he says, ‘It’s so Bordeaux! I’m going to Napa where they can get the grapes ripe every year!’”

Although he went on to bottle the first California cabernet sauvignon specifically create to benefit a medical facility in 1977, following the tradition of Hospice du Beaune, he realized that cabernet was not the strong suit of the Anderson Valley.

Says Steele, “I was one of the lead guys in setting up the Anderson Valley AVA, back in 1976. It was my idea that was integral to the delineation of the boundaries. Allan Green (Greenwood Ridge) was also instrumental. Husch had vineyards in both Anderson Valley and Ukiah. Lazy Creek was one of the first to use Anderson Valley on their labels.”

After 10 years at Edmeades, it was time for something different. Opportunity came knocking in the form of a phone call from Paul Dolan, asking him to come help salvage a vintage at Kendall Jackson. What would become the most widely known and popular style of Chardonnay ever to come out of California, began pretty much as a giant batch of lemonade.

Says Steele, “They had 20k gallons of chardonnay at 1% residual sugar that wouldn’t go dry. I’d never had RS at Edmeades, but remembered that Dick Arrowood and my former assistant winemaker, Milla Handley, had both made chardonnay with a bit of RS at Chateau St. Jean. It worked for them. I decided to add a big slug of Chenin blanc. And it took off!”

Thus was born the KJ Vinters Reserve Chardonnay. Now, he just had to repeat it every year. This proved easy enough, and production went from 30k cases to over a million in 9 years time.

But not everyone was a fan. Steele says, “Wine writers pilloried me for making chardonnay with RS. I’d say, ‘Wine is not a religion! Look at what Sonoma Cutrer and Bien Nacido are doing!”

And then came the chapter that he continues to write: the Lake County chapter. In 1991, Steele start his own wine brand in Lower Lake in California’s Lake County. He then bought the Mt. Konocti Winery in Kelseyville, where he moved production in 1996.

“When I first came to Lake County, it was an uninspiring scene. Most people were farming pears. The soils were mostly heavy clay, which leant itself to whites, but not reds. Guenoc was 45 minutes away, right on the Napa border. All the others were on the west side of Clear Lake. It was just Wildhurst and Steele in Lower Lake. Then Beckstoffer arrived in 2000, and Greg Graham moved up here.”

Things have changed dramatically for Lake County in the last 18 years. There are now 10k acres of grapes planted here, mostly at elevations between 1300 feet and 3000 feet. The primary grapes here are sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Beckstoffer now owns 1500 acres of grapes here. Jed himself owns five vineyards here and leases another three from the Dorn family, original Lake County settlers.

“Lake County sauvignon blanc has stood out since day 1,” says Steele. “It’s our calling card. We also make viognier and roussanne. Cabernet sauvignon, thanks to Beckstoffer’s acumen, has become the #1 red variety here. They age very well, especially from the Red Hills area.”

But what is the grape that has always stood out for Jed? Cabernet franc. “It will always be a minor player, though. It will never surpass cab sauv, but it has a special place in my heart.” He gets cab franc from two sources: a vineyard he owns, and one he leases. “I’ve made rosé from every conceivable varietal without much success. But I’ve been to the Loire Valley, and it’s what they use. I figured, if the red is this good, a rosé should work. It’s beautiful and ages really well.”

As exciting as his Lake County wines are, most of the vineyards there are Bordeaux and Rhone focused. With a deep affection for chardonnay and pinot noir (what doesn’t he love? we wonder, too), Steele has long been affiliated with stellar names like Bien Nacido, Sangiacomo, Goodchild and Durell. The wines he makes from these vineyards are truly stunning. “Good vineyards are the key to great wine,” he says. And he loves Washington grapes, too. Seventeen years of consulting work with Chateau Ste Michelle have brought him in touch with some particularly interesting

grapes like blaufrankisch and aligote. His “Blue Franc” wine with the vaguely Blue Nun looking French woman on the label has a huge following in lots of markets, especially in the Northwest.

If you’ve been keeping track, it will not come as a surprise that this man is making 40 (probably more like 40-something) different wines from at least 16 varietals, under four different brands. Two of them, Steele and Shooting Star, were created in 1991.

Jed’s flagship label, Steele, stems from Jed’s passion for chardonnay, pinot noir, and zinfandel, and features vineyard-specific wines from estate vineyards and from other vineyards he’s worked with since the 1970s. Steele varietals now include pinot blanc, viognier, cabernet franc rosé, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, pinot noir, petit verdot, zinfandel and cabernet franc. His Steele California Cuvée Chardonnay, at $22, is his flagship white wine. But if you’re looking for a solid couple of single-vineyard pinots for $30, both the 2014 Sangiacomo and 2014 Bien Nacido are red-fruited beauties that can waltz their way across a dance floor.

Jed created “Shooting Star” to focus on exceptional grapes that didn’t fit into the Steele program. It includes predominantly Lake County wines that restaurants can offer at a by-the-glass price. The label itself is a great story.

Jed’s father gave him the middle name Tecumseh, after a revered chief of the Shawnee tribe. Chief Tecumseh was born during a great meteor shower and was introduced to his tribe as “Chief Tecumseh, born under the sign of a shooting star.”

Shooting Star now includes aligote, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel, barbera, and Blue Franc. Most are bottled under screwcap and are priced well under $20.

In 1999, Jed created Stymie. This is Jed’s homage to his Dad. After his father passed away in 1989, his mother gave him the painting of the horse that had always hung in his Dad’s office. Jed says his Dad liked to joke, “Son, if it wasn’t for a nag named Stymie, you’d never have become a winemaker.”

Only two varieties are produced under the Stymie label: merlot and syrah, sourced from the Silva and Jacobsen properties. These wines represent the best of the best, grown and vinified in Lake County, according to Jed, who feels merlot is underserved in California. “Dan Berger thinks my merlot is one of the best merlots he’s ever had. At the time, there were tons of high-end Cabs, but only one or two high quality merlots.” He charges $45 for it.

In 2002, he collaborated with his son Quincy, also a winemaker with experience in Australia and Argentina, to create the Writer’s Block label. It began with an overabundance of syrah. Jed said, “Here’s a project for you!” Quincy specified the wine making protocols, which include both old and new world techniques. He also developed the clever labels. Writer’s Block is actually prolific, and includes roussanne, syrah, grenache, counoise, petite sirah, cabernet franc, malbec, pinot noir and zinfandel.

Most wines throughout the entire Steele portfolio are under 1k in lot size. How does he do it? That’s begs the question, why does he do it? Because he can?

“I’m actually discontinuing four SKU’s next year,” he says. “Actually, I’ve decided to limit my SKUs to sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc.” It’s a joke, but one that his sales team won’t find amusing.

Speaking of sales, he’s enjoyed some serious recognition of late. His Shooting Star brand was chosen by Wine & Spirits Magazine June issue as one of their 2018 All Stars, an award that honors brands that consistently pass the magazine’s scoring panels with wines under $20.

On the heels of that recognition, his 2015 Shooting Star Lake County Zinfandel was featured on NBC’s TODAY Show on June 20th as a top Summertime Wine pick. TODAY’s wine experts Leslie Sbrocco and Ray Isle appear monthly on the show to recommend some of their favorite wines.

Asked about his philosophy of winemaking, he admits, “For better or for worse, I’ve always considered myself a populist winemaker. I want to produce wines that are a good value, maybe to my economic detriment.”

“I don’t get caught up in trying to make the perfect wine. I don’t make ‘prima donna wines.’ For me, winemaking is darn simple. And lastly, wine is not religion.”

He should know a thing or two about that, given that his Methodist grandmother, when she was too old to go to church, would sit on the front porch in her rocker and spit at the Catholics as they walked by.

Yet, Jed gives his employees Sundays off. His is one of the very few tasting rooms in California that is closed on Sundays. This has nothing to do with religion, he says. “I just think people need a day off.”

Mystery Shoppers Visit Alpha Omega
25 June, 2018


Alpha Omega Winery was founded in 2006 by vintners Robin and Michelle Baggett. The Baggetts began their foray in the wine Industry through their well-known first winery endeavor, Tolosa, which was established in 1998 in San Luis Obisbo’s Edna Valley. The Baggett’s launched Alpha Omega with the intention to create exceptional Bordeaux varietals representative of Napa Valley’s unique terroirs. Mostly known for their single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Alpha Omega farms their fruit among thirteen of the regions’ seventeen AVA’s within some of Napa’s most historic vineyards, including Beckstoffer’s To Kalon, Missouri Hopper, Dr. Crane and Las Piedras, Georges III, Stagecoach, and Sunshine Valley. Winemaking duo Jean Hoefliger and Michel Rolland (consultant) set out to create “wines that express their passion for excellence” and that they have, winning accolades and garnering consistently high acclaim from Robert Parker.

A tasting experience at Alpha Omega is professionally choreographed, from the types of tastings and areas to indulge. The décor is casual- elegant, and includes a walk in tasting bar and a spanning outdoor covered patio abutted against a reflecting pool that expands the length of the patio. Five fountains in the center of the pool sooth the mood even on a frenetic Saturday afternoon. Private Single vineyard tastings are hosted in well-appointed suites adorning the main tasting room and adjoining buildings.

Whether you walk in off the street or have a pre-reserved appointment, the staff are all primed and positioned to instill a sense of organized hospitality that accommodates every type of guest. Whether it be the valet who takes your car at the door, the concierge stand where you check in, or your assigned host who is called to escort you to your tasting experience, it is a well-oiled machine.

Alpha Omega offers various levels of tasting experiences and tours ranging from $50 for a sampling of current releases, to a private tasting of To Kalon Single vineyard vintages for $150. Outside of the wines that are poured and a short wait to assign seating and a host, a walk-in tasting experience was treated at the same service level as a private tasting, where a host is pre-assigned and a room is set up with glassware and accoutrements anticipating your arrival. Once you arrive and check in, a host is assigned, and upon introduction, they already know your name. Not only is this an endearing way to make an initial impression on a guest, it is also a savvy strategy to collect important contact/guest information at the very beginning of the experience.

During the walk in tasting experiences, hosts were engaging, spending enough time to connect with their guests, but were also able to manage several other parties without leaving anyone for want. Wines were all presented factually, with focus on the foundation of the Alpha Omega story. It was apparent many of the guests had been there before, perhaps visiting as wine club members, as many were relaxed on the sofas and seemed to know some of hosts by name. Anywhere one ended up being stationed, there was a comfort level among the staff and guests that instantly made visitors feel at home.

Private Client Tastings rank in the top echelon of how experiences should feel when sampling such a premier line up of Napa Cabernets. These sessions were hosted by senior, well- seasoned, professional staff who were obviously career trained in sales, wine knowledge or hospitality (or all of the above). They took the time to understand each guest’s preferences, got to know enough to connect and qualify buyers and did a great job positioning wines variably so they would appeal to each palate. When it came time to decide on a purchase, creative options were presented which would appeal to buyers preferences. Inquiring as to interest in joining a club or positioning an invitation to stay in touch were presented as integral to the conversation, not as an afterthought when it came time to close out.

Alpha Omega is the first winery in our V Files™ series that scored the highest in all five categories. They are a fine example of a winery that knows how to not only produce outstanding Cabernet among a sea of formidable competitors, but how consistency, sales training, white glove customer service and a little finesse can capture the attention of prospective new customers, while also galvanizing relationships with their committed base.

Alpha Omega
1155 Mee Lane
St. Helena, CA 94574


  1. Varied/ placed options for tasting areas
  2. Well-choreographed assignment of hospitality and sales staff
  3. Engaging Staff, well trained on how to connect with guests; positioning value proposition
  4. Product knowledge- Consistent presentation of brand story
  5. Built in processes to collect guest information and follow up correspondence

Virtual VinesThe V Files™ by Virtual Vines

THE V FILES™ is a monthly publication (subscribe for free) which offers an ssessment and rating of wineries DTC performance in relation to overall guest experience and staff proficiency. Wineries are chosen at random by Mystery Shoppers and are evaluated using a scorecard approach leveraging DTC best practices. The ratings are based on how well each winery delivers a memorable guest experience and staff’s ability to sell, covert and connect with customers.

The Rating System is based on performance in the following categories:

  • Inspirational Story
  • Connection w/ Host
  • Sales Acumen
  • Wine Club Conversion
  • Collecting Customer Info

Virtual Vines DTC Sales and Marketing Consulting Services help integrate DTC best practices to help wineries build brand awareness, increase sales and grow customer loyalty For more information please contact us:, 707-927-3574

Technology Advances Farming and Winemaking Practices at Rombauer
11 June, 2018

By Dawn Dolan

If you’ve never seen a NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) map, they look pretty much like a topography map, which shows a green color in areas denoting healthy vegetation and yellow to red colors in more difficult areas. For the science-oriented, according to the GISgeography website, NDVI quantifies vegetation by measuring the difference between near-infrared (vegetation that strongly reflects) and red light (vegetation that absorbs). Healthy vegetation (chlorophyll) reflects more near-infrared (NIR) and green light compared to other wavelengths. But it absorbs more red and blue light, which is why our eyes see vegetation as the color green.

Perusing old and new NDVI maps of some of their trademark vineyards, Rombauer winemaker Richie Allen shows how he looks for differences within a vineyard. He makes decisions each year to try to influence outcomes and to improve a vineyard or section of a vineyard over time. “I am looking for the best balance for that vine, for that vineyard,” explains Allen. “NDVI helps define our farming and winemaking practices.” 

Using NDVI since 2004, Rombauer has changed practices throughout the years based on the insights the newest features that the more modern NDVI maps can bring, but they also use past maps as a record of decisions made to see, over time, if those decisions have been effective or not. According to Allen, all 600-ish acres have some form of NDVI done on them. From 2004-2008, basic knowledge was gleaned about the vineyards from the lower-level mapping done then.

Richie Allen

Richie Allen

Since 2008, however, issues such as watering, cover crop planting, and calling the harvest are all influenced by the NDVI maps, as well as other technology, like weather stations, field reports, neutron probes for water, petiole testing, and sap-flow meters and pressure chambers. The amount of data can be overwhelming, and it “is hard to synthesize,” says Allen. He wishes for an integrated system that could collate all the information, but for now slogs through masses of data and makes the decisions needed.

Final NDVI maps are gathered about a month before harvest. This information, along with designated sample points set up throughout the vineyard, comes in to the winemaker.  Tracking the accumulation of extractable color is paramount for success, states Allen. Knowing pH, TA, and Brix is necessary, but to Allen, the whole extended package is important. He explains that each grape has a maximum sugar load, with the color loading shutting down soon after the grape reaches its maximum sugar load, and “it’s different for each block, varietal, section.”

Once it has gone beyond its maximum sugar load, the grape only reaches higher brix by evaporation, not by accumulation. So harvest is nerve-wracking. “The moment you decide to pick is the moment you give up for that season. That’s the most quality you’ll have in that wine,” says Allen.

Rombauer is leading the way, taking NDVI use to new heights. Heather Rehnberg, Director of Marketing, touts that not only does NDVI influence watering practices, but to state it another way, it also influences when they do not water. With a double dripper system, watering is highly targeted in many of their vineyards, based on what is being seen by the NDVI maps, and supported by observations on the ground.

Rombauer believes they are at the forefront of water economizing and sustainability practices in Napa Valley, and Rehnberg notes that, “Rombauer educates their national sales staff on these practices, so they can pass it on to their distribution points.” They also make sure tasting room staff has a basic knowledge of the mapping and its uses to share with visitors with a higher level of curiosity about farming practices.


Close Calls as 44 Best of Class Wines Clash in Dan Berger’s International Wine Competition Sweepstakes
05 June, 2018

By Laura Ness

Laura Ness

Laura Ness, Judging at Dan Berger’s IWC

As we gathered for the judging of the sweepstakes wines at the Dan Berger’s International Wine Competition earlier this month, the suspense was killing us. Did any of the wines we loved on our panel make it? Not that it really mattered. We trusted all the wines would be great. And we knew there would be some Berger ringers: we anticipated a Gamay Noir, as he mentioned it the night before at the judges dinner, graciously hosted by the generous Cline Family at their stunning Jacuzzi facility, where they served grass fed beef from their Meadowbrook Ranch accompanied by a panoply of produce from their Green String Farms. The meal was as memorable as the bottle of 1978 Ahlgren Zin brought by long-time judge Tom Bohr.

What started out as the Riverside International Wine Competition 37 years ago, eventually moved north to Santa Rosa, becoming Dan Berger’s IWC. It’s fitting, as Dan was among the founders of the original Riverside event. This year’s DBIW competition was managed by Debra del Fiorentino of Wine Competitions, Inc. who, along with her expert backroom staff, is bringing a new world order to the wine competition scene.

With 1,278 entries from all over the world, the nine panels of judges, each of which included a winemaker, had their work cut out for them, eventually sending up 44 wines, each of which had earned Best of Class, to the Sweepstakes. Daunting.

First, was a taste off of two sparklings: a Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Sparkling Brut Rosé vs. the J non-vintage Blanc de Blanc. The Sofia Rosé took it by one vote. Tough crowd.

Then it was on to the 17 whites, which were a grand mélange of intercontinental beauties from across the globe. The winner was a 2017 Echo Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with 13 votes, followed by the runner up, a 2017 Albarino from Horton Vineyard in Virginia with 12 votes, and third place finisher, the 2015 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay, with 10 votes.

Dan Berger, Jeff Slankard, and Tom Bohr with 2017 Echo Bay Sauvignon Blanc

Other popular white wines were the 2015 Langhart Hill Dry Riesling from Sonoma (9 votes), the 2016 Thirsty Owl Traminette from the Finger Lakes (NY) with 9 votes, a Seyval Blanc “Prairie Fumé” from Wisconsin with 7 votes and two white blends, a 2016 Seyval Blanc and Vidal blend from Cellar Door Winery in Maine, and a perky blend of Cayuga, Valvin Muscat, Vignoles and Aromella, from St. James Winery in Missouri. If any of those varieties are new to you, welcome to the club. Let’s just say they work together like a well-tuned string quartet.

Next up was a faceoff between two rosés, the 2017 Miro Grenache and the 2017 Draxton Pinot Meunier rosé that won the Experience Rosé competition earlier this year. The latter won 14 to 10.

Twenty reds now vied for our collective attention, again hailing from far and wide. The top vote-getter, with 17, was the spicy 2016 ZD Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, followed by the smooth operator 2016 Trentadue La Storia Reserve Zinfandel from Geyserville with 11 votes, and the 2016 Miro Petite Sirah from Dry Creek with 10 votes, exhibiting beautiful weight and drive. Winemaker Miro Tcholakov (of the Trentadue and Miro labels) surely had a hard time deciding between his Zin and Petite Sirah on this one.

Sweepstakes wines

Four wines garnered 9 votes each: the 2015 Miro Pinot Noir from Conzelman Vineyard in Anderson Valley, the 2016 Jeff Runquist Sangiovese from Amador County, the 2016 Scott Harvey Barbera from Amador County and the 2015 Reustle Prayer Rock Syrah from Umpqua Valley, Oregon.

The Merlot-, Sangiovese- and Montepulciano-dominant Cuvee 32 La Storia Reserve from Trentadue topped the red blends with 8 votes, while the peppery excitement of the 2013 Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir from Michigan and the 2016 Jeff Runquist Charbono from the Sierra Foothills, each also garnered 8 votes.

Miro Tcholakov

Miro Tcholakov, Trentadue and Miro Cellars

In the dessert wine category, there were three finalists: a St. James Winery (Missouri) Sweet Red made of Chambourcin, Norton, Chardonel, Valvin Muscat and Traminette, which brought in two votes, and the St. James Blackberry dessert wine and Hazlitt Vineyards Late Harvest Vidal Blanc from the Finger Lakes which were initially tied with 11 votes each. It turned out winemaker Nick Goldschmitt had either forgotten to vote or had abstained. He subsequently cast the deciding vote for the Blackberry, and the folks at St. James could be heard cheering all the way across the country.

As always, some winemakers seemed to have hit the sweet spot, with multiple wines in the Sweeps. This time, it was Miro Tcholakov of Trentadue and Miro Cellars, with a total of five wines in the Sweepstakes. St. James Winery had three, and Jeff Runquist, two.

Sweepstakes Winners Recapped:

  • Best Sparkling: Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Sparkling Brut Rosé
  • Best White: 2017 Echo Bay Sauvignon Blanc
  • Best Rosé: 2017 Draxton Pinot Meunier Rosé
  • Best Red: 2016 ZD Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Best Dessert: St. James Winery Blackberry wine

Note: Berger does not believe in a “Best of Show,” saying, “That would be pitting apples against oranges.”

Congratulations to all the Sweepstakes winners and to the Best of Class winners. As Berger remarked of the Sweepstakes lineup, “Every category had amazing wines, and you found them all!”


Domestic Rosé Gaining Market Share from French
21 May, 2018

The rosé trend still shows no sign of slowing with its third consecutive year with over fifty percent growth. According to Nielsen retail outlet data the rosé category grew 64% over the last twelve months, but unlike a year ago domestic rosé is now outpacing imports growing at 112% compared to 42.8% growth for French rosés. This marks a significant turnaround from a year ago when domestic producers were trailing overall category growth. However, French rosés continue to hold the dominant market share with 60% of the rosé category measured by dollar value.

The vast majority of rosé imports fall in the premium segment (above $9) and the average French Rosé costs $12.63 compared to the average domestic rosé which is priced at $7.47. However, even in this segment domestic rosés are gaining market share with growth topping 110% over the last twelve months compared to just 43.1% for French rosés in that segment.

Domestic rosé’s initial gap in keeping up with the growth trend could be a function of wineries needing time or being cautious about entering a new category, but doubts about rosé’s viability as a category seems to have faded as nearly 400 new rosés entered the U.S. market over the past year, and domestic rosés may make even further gains on the French in the coming year with the French grape supply suffering from the severe weather and consequently smaller harvest of 2017.

Some of the domestic rosés capturing big market shares in the premium off premise segment are new players in the segment, but have existing, strong brands, like La Crema and Meiomi, that have catapulted them into the ranks of best-selling premium rosés. However, the pioneers of domestic premium rosé like Francis Ford Coppola’s Sofia and Charles & Charles Rosé are still holding strong with consumers.

Charles & Charles is a collaboration between Charles Smith and Charles Bieler started in 2008, and the rosé is one of five wines that they make together. Bieler brought extensive rosé experience to the collaboration, having made rosé in France since 1998. Bieler has been producing Bieler Pere et Fils ‘Sabine’ Rosé from Coteaux d’Aix Provence since 2005, the no. 1 Aix-en-Provence sold in the U.S., which gives him a unique Trans-Atlantic perspective on domestic versus French rosé.

Charles Bieler on Domestic & French Rosés

Charles Bieler

Charles Bieler, photo by Brittany Klutzke

American dry rosés have learned a lot by emulating the French, especially provenical style, but do you think there’s a particular American style, traits, or trend of dry rosé emerging?

Over the last 20 years we’ve been making rosé, I haven’t seen an American rosé trend emerge. American rosé producers most often seek to achieve a Provence style, but some are more successful at it than others. Differences arise because most American producers are using warm-site grapes better suited for ripe red wines, which aren’t ideal for making Provence-styled rosé. To achieve the delicate balance characteristic of Provence rosés, winemakers must make several adjustments while crafting their wines.

At Charles & Charles, we’re proud to have an edge when facing this challenge. Charles & Charles is unique in that we are a 10,000+ case producer who has a dedicated rosé program that does not overlap with our red program. Through this investment, we’re able to make savory and citrus-forward rosés that the new rosé drinker is seeking, as opposed to wines with the simple red fruit profile that red programs produce. Winemaking adjustments and additions to juice intended for a different purpose will only take you so far.

With the huge influx of new rosés in the US Market, what do you think is the most important for domestic and French brands to make it in this growing market segment?

It’s become a fiercely competitive wine market of late. The rosé market has come a long way from where it was 20 years ago when I started and I couldn’t give away rosé. Just by being from Provence or pale-pink in color doesn’t guarantee anything in this market today.

To play in the high priced game of $18 and above you need scores and an aggressive lifestyle marketing campaign. Novel bottle shapes will occasionally allow a brand to break through. There are of course also rosés that break through when a big company leverages the strength and success of another variety from that brand, like its cabernet, allowing them to get chain distribution.

At the end of the day though, I think that buyers and consumers are getting smarter about rosé so it comes down to quality and authenticity at reasonable prices as the only sure way to get a certain amount of success. That’s probably not sufficient to become a top brand, but at some point this category will soften. When that time comes, all that will be left are a few of the biggest brands and the quality/value wines.

What do you see as the main differences in making a French or American rosé?

I’d first caution against grouping all French rosés into the same category, as there’s quite a range within France. Certainly Provence is the clear leader, and the successful rosés that aren’t from Provence are trying to mimic that style. Many American wineries are also attempting to go after this same Provence profile, but America’s warm site vineyards tend to yield a bit softer and red-fruit oriented rosé. There are some great $18+ American rosés that are from appropriate rosé vineyards and made to have the savory balance, but they aren’t in abundance.

Successful American rosé is achieved with vineyards, terroir and climate that mirror that of Provence. Because these variables naturally differ, American rosé producers must do quite a bit of additional work to achieve the Provence style. And, American producers are able to do this more easily than their French counterparts. For example, in Provence it’s illegal to add white wine to a rosé. Provence winemakers can co-ferment certain white grapes and retain their appellation status, but they can’t simply add white wine. New world wineries are increasingly relying on this method to add elegance.

Predictions for the rosé segment in the US, how much more growth do you expect? Will domestic producers eventually overtake French?

My hope is that US retailers don’t allow the big brands, marketers or profiteers to become more than 50 percent of the average set. If the majority of the set is well made rosé from suitable vineyards by people with tradition and a story to tell, I think the category can grow nicely for years to come.

Rosé is a style of wine that fits beautifully with how we tend to eat in the US, and I predict rosé consumption will expand from simply warmer-weather sipping to year-round. This expansion is already happening, but will continue.

However, the market could shift if retailers become less discerning about their selection and allow marketing-driven rosés to become the majority of the set. If that comes to fruition, I predict the rosé market will peak in the next year or two and ultimately the top rosé-focused brands and the good producers will remain.


Top 10 DTC Sales Growth Practices
18 May, 2018

VinQuest 2018 Reveals the Importance of the Human Touch in DTC Wine Sales

By Janet Perry

Bryan St. Amant of VinterActive LLC has been doing VinQuest research for more than a decade, producing data that illustrates which tactics have been successful for wineries seeking more direct to consumer sales. VinQuest 2018 Consumer Direct Wine Sales Report was created to help growth-oriented wineries succeed, utilizing this data.

The more than 200 wineries surveyed are predominantly from California, with 18 other states represented as well. The wineries range from very small, producing less than 1,000 cases per year to very large wineries producing over 42,000 cases per year.

St. Amant pointed out that the report has no great truths to it, to direct one absolutely to what will be the answer to increase direct to consumer sales. What it has is great data that is easily synthesized to show what would be the most beneficial, according to one’s viewpoint in the industry, to achieving one’s goals.

St. Amant said, “My main takeaways this year are old and new: the old takeaway confirmed by this survey is that the fastest growing wineries work harder, trying more sales methods and marketing tactics compared to slower growing producers; and the new takeaway is that wine clubs are now the main driver of sales growth for DTC wineries. So any winery trying to grow their DTC sales should prioritize wine club initiatives if they haven’t already done so.”

Laura Larson, Founder of Virtual Vines DTC Sales & Marketing Services had this to say, “The DTC channel of the wine industry has a unique opportunity to capture, nurture and grow their direct consumer base since their products incent an emotional type of purchase. Building relationships by creating an inspirational or lifestyle based brand story and delivering it throughout the customer journey is easier to accomplish than many other Industries. Delivering memorable experiences at the winery, engaging in digital conversations through social media and interactive web-based applications present many opportunities to build relationships with customers that promote sales opportunities and grow customer brand loyalty. As more and more wineries are entering the DTC channel, they need to set themselves apart by implementing sales and marketing strategies that appeal to customers in a unique and more personal way. Customers want to be part of something special, and they want wineries to help them feel that way.”

Tasting room sales were edged out by wine clubs in sales, but Larson pointed out that tasting room staff are more important than one might presume. “Front line tasting room staff are often the ones who have the unique opportunity to interact directly with customers,” said Larson. “In spite of that, we still see wineries place more emphasis on the hospitality side of the business and not enough on ensuring their tasting room and wine club staff know how to ask for a sale, upsell a buying opportunity or grow returns from existing, committed customers. I think wineries are often afraid they will veer too far away from their customer service based hospitality culture if they create salespeople. In my experience, good salespeople know how to be hospitable. To offer a quote I always use from Sir Richard Branson- ‘Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your customers.’”

Sales training does appear to make a difference. Larson said, “The learnings derived from training should become a culture or way of life- meaning taking the best practices or learnings and integrating them into daily practice. Implementing a comprehensive training curriculum not only builds knowledge and sales acumen, but it also helps build staff confidence, team building, motivation, and employee loyalty.”

Larson discussed the Marketing Benchmarks from the study. “One common denominator in the Top 5 marketing methods (customer referrals, customer Loyalty, Industry referrals, on-site events and email marketing) is tied to successful relationship development. The metrics prove personal attention and high touch marketing tactics garner much higher performance results. Consumers are looking for more experiences and want to feel connected to the business and that they are a part of something.”

“Coming from a couple of decades in the technology sector,” said Larson, “I have found the winery community is pretty far behind the curve when it comes to leveraging technology to manage the customer journey to capture new customers and foster relationships with existing customers. There are some decent tools out there, but it’s challenging to find too many that play well with others. Some of the older legacy applications which work well in the back office are reluctant to open the kimono to embrace newer, innovative tools which are more flexible, mobile and offer a better experience for their customers. If more of the manufacturers of the software solutions would work together and provide more seamless integration in the name of customer satisfaction, I think everyone would benefit in the long run.”

“Wine is an emotional product and an emotional sale,” said Larson. “People relate to wine based on experiences. So often wineries do a great job delivering memorable experiences if you visit them in person, but don’t do such a good job conveying that experience in the digital genre. Wineries should embrace digital tools as another way to talk to their customers. Wine consumers are using smartphones to browse, send messages, shop and purchase more and more every day. Wineries need to adapt and implement digital strategies that make it efficient for their customers to be inspired by their brand, see, shop, share and purchase their products. Digital channels offer a unique opportunity for businesses to be interactive, real-time, with customers and prospects from anywhere on any device!”

St. Amant said, “Based on feedback from our seminars, I think our analysis of the top-10 tactics used by growing tasting rooms, wine clubs and ecommerce operations always provides good fuel for thought. And there’s always interest in regional differences. For example, despite the historic success of Napa wineries in the DTC space, most of the growth in this segment is forecast in other regions.”

St. Amant stressed that if a winery, no matter the size, wanted to improve their direct to consumer sales, the VinQuest 2018 report would have valuable information for them to access.


Considering Value and Strategy When Entering Wine Competitions
08 May, 2018

By Dawn Dolan

For small and large wineries alike, entering wines in a competition is a tried and true marketing tool. Get a medal, push out an email to your direct-to-consumer base telling them about the award, and give the info to your sales reps, and let them sell the product with its new, improved standing.

However, new competitions continue to emerge, and wineries are increasingly faced with considerations about which competitions to participate in to get the most value out of their marketing budgets. Is a gold medal worth the same from any competition? And what additional value do individual competitions offer?

Daryl Groom, partner and chief judge of the Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge says that from the viewpoint of the newspaper, the desire is to provide a highly regarded competition platform, where wineries want to participate. A regional competition, drawing from well-known appellations north of the San Francisco Bay area like Mendocino County, Napa County, and Sonoma County, but also up-and-comers Lake County, Marin County, and parts of Solano County.

The North Coast Wine Challenge Only publishes gold medals and above and also provides points scores for those wines, which is very desirable from the a winery’s perspective. Diane Wilson, winemaker and owner of Wilson Winery in Dry Creek Valley appellation, says that this one of the reasons that the North Coast Wine Challenge is on their list of the four competitions they participate in. “We can use the point score they provide. Consumers relate to that.”

Another added value provided by the North Coast Wine Challenge is an event in June, called The North Coast Wine and Food Festival where wineries can showcase their winning wines to a thousand consumers and tradespeople, and the benefit to wineries doesn’t end there.

“The judges we choose to taste the wines are major buyers or writers or influencers in the wine industry. Quite a few wineries may never be able to get their wines in front of these people by other means. Buyers for United Airlines, HEB, Safeway, PF Changs, Sigels, Barons Markets, Ferry Plaza, Oxbow, Single Thread to name a few,” Groom Notes.

Given the difficulty for most small wineries to get in front of these types of buyers, the benefit is tangible.

Another significant benefit which the consumer may not see, but is valuable to the wine industry, is education. “We pride ourselves on being a mentoring and training platform for young professionals in the wine industry with the introduction of associate judges”, Groom notes. “No other competition does this.”

Co-producer of the Experience Rosé competition, Craig Palmer is enthusiastic, and feels they are filling a niche by having a program dedicated exclusively to rosé wines. “We want rosé to be front and center, the priority, so it needed its own competition,” declares Palmer.

Their motto is “Every Day Pairs Better with Rosé,” so to that end, Palmer notes that there are events that show the versatility and approachability of rosé. “This [program] gives extended value throughout the year.”

With two curated tasting events for the public, Palmer says plans are in place for a daily promotion of rosé, looking to the winners for content each week. A featured release, recipe pairing, or inside information about a brand or winemakers may be offered up, providing opportunities for the winey to utilize this with their clients. Palmer says, “When you enter [Experience Rose competition], you join a year-long opportunity to tell your story about rosé.”

Soda Rock Winery, one of the Wilson Artisan Wine brands, is a sponsor of this event, and Wilson says they decided on the sponsorship to help the trend. “Rosé is the new hot wine,” says Wilson. “I think’s it’s overcome the sweet white zin stigma, now being made in the more French and Italian style. We wanted to help promote this trend and corroborate people’s choice of it.”

The unbiased judgements from competitions is not only a tool for winery marketing, they also provide consumers help. “Wine can be intimidating,” says Chris O’Gorman, Director of Communications at Rodney Strong Winery, and he believes in the value of wine competitions. “A consumer goes to a shelf, and there are thousands of wines to choose from. If he sees something under $20 that won ten gold medals, it points the consumer in the right direction.” 

O’Gorman feels the competitions they choose to enter give good value for the winery. He cites the San Francisco Chronicle Competition as doing a great job, both by providing an event at which the consumer can taste the winning wines, and by excelling at their publicizing, which helps sell wine. He points out that wineries need to hold competitions accountable, making sure they have quick turn-around in publicizing the results and follow-up events, or the public loses interest.

However, he also cautions that wineries need have skin in the game as well, and must do their part to publicize the results and get out the information to their direct-to-consumer and wholesale consumer base.

Groom elaborates on the value to the consumer, “…the competition becomes a guide and tool for their wine drinking and buying. We have done all the work to let them know what the best wines are and where the best values are. It would cost them a huge amount of time and money to taste and evaluate all the wines we do.”  Wilson agrees, “Scores and awards help by validating the consumers’ choice.”

So what strategies do wineries use to select which competitions they will enter? It can be quite a pricey endeavor, with a chunky fee per entry, sending 2-5 bottles of each, plus the delivery or transportation fee. Depending on the per-bottle price and entry fee, wineries lose the production cost of the bottle, at minimum, and at maximum, lose the profit from a full retail sale. Thus an average cost to a winery per wine entered probably starts at $125 and ends upwards of $250 per entry. Clearly this represents real money to small wineries, but can be worthwhile investment, both to those running larger quantities, and those with a primarily DTC base.

O’Gorman says Rodney Strong’s strategy is primarily based on helping their wholesale platform. “As we move up the price-point scale and lower on the production numbers, we have to think about whether it is a good fit. Is it a new wine that we want in front of judges? What is the quality of the judges?”

They are careful to think through the end result, and how the results will be used. For a wine marketed across the country, they get the news out quickly to their sales reps, and use social media and press releases to push out the information as soon as they get it.

Wilson says they participate in four competitions, with small-lot wines not being sent in. “Wines that are limited we don’t want to put in,” she says. Timing plays a role for Wilson too, as she noted that the San Francisco Wine Competition is first in the year. “If a wine doesn’t show well there in January, we might try later in the year at another competition. It’s nice to have accolades, which help sell the wine.”

Also, playing a role in the decision of which competition to enroll in is location. If a large enough client base is concentrated in one state, entering a competition there can make sense. For Wilson Winery, with a mainly DTC base, Wilson notes that one of their choices is the 2018 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ International Wine Competition. “We want exposure in Texas, which is one of our biggest wine markets,” states Wilson.

For wineries choosing the right competitions to enter means evaluating how the benefits a competition offers matches the brand’s needs and market strategy, which pushes the competitions to continue to innovate and develop additional ways to reach consumer  with events, content, and providing year-round value to get wineries to continue to sign up with them.


Malene Wines Shows How Rosé Rolls
20 April, 2018

More than most wine styles or varieties, rosé has an associate lifestyle connotation of highly Instagramable moments. If you’re not sure what that looks like, try searching the hashtag #RoseAllDay or other rosé related hashtags and see what shows up. The sheer volume lends some plausibility to the claims that the social media habits of millennials in particular has fed the rosé trend; a trend that still shows no signs of slowing even after three years of 50-60% annual growth.

Malene Wines Airstream at Seghesio Family Vineyards

In the bottle, Malene Rosé is inspired by classic Provenical-style rosés, but the brand is also fine-tuned to the current rosé lifestyle trend, and its image is executed to perfection in the mobile tasting room fashioned from a classic 1969 Airstream Overlander trailer, fully decked to hit the road and setup at festivals or other events and #RoseMoments.

The trailer was custom refurbished with a tasting bar, wine-on-tap system, and a small seating area in the other end. The large original wheels were replaced with three smaller ones to remove the wheel well and allow for a flat bottom throughout the trailer.

Fintan du Fresne

Malene winemaker Fintan du Fresne took the airstream on its inaugural tour visiting other wineries in the Crimson Wine Group, Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg and Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa before heading into the South West for a few festivals, which can of course be follow on Instagram (@MaleneWines #MaleneScene).

However, the airstream is not just for touring, it’s scheduled to return to Chamisal Vineyards where it will be setup as a tasting room in the months of April through November. The grounds at Chamisal have been landscaped to accommodate this semi-permanent setup for open air seating in front of the trailer for a garden-picnic like atmosphere.

Map of Malene Wines tasting trailer location at Chamisal Vineyards

In addition to the newly released third vintage of their Provenical-style Malene Rosé, du Fresne reveals that two additional styles of rosés are scheduled to be released this spring. And while Malene is envisioned primarily as a rosé brand the full brand lineup of wines will also include a Vermentino and red Grenache, both wines that du Fresne believes will fit stylistically with the rosés.


CK Mondavi Finds Growth Opportunities Without Chasing Trends
06 April, 2018

The fourth generation of the Mondavi family, internally referred to as the G4, is stepping up to play a larger role in the family business. They each bring with them unique experiences from outside the family business including entrepreneurial ventures like the Mondavi sisters’ Dark Matter Wines. However, there’s no indication that this changing of the guard will usher in a revolution in the company’s business model or focus. In fact, CK Mondavi and Family is taking steps to sharpen focus on their core products, market, and competencies.

Mondavi fourth generation

Mondavi G4

“Our grandfather died two years ago now, and a lot of times we’ve witnessed in our neighbors that when the patriarch passes away things shift, they sell or the culture of the company changes,” says Riana Mondavi, “But that’s one of the things we want to make sure people recognize; the Mondavi family is still here. Doing things like the label change and putting the fourth generation on the board of directors is our way of saying: We want this to keep moving forward.”

The G4 have roles as shareholders, board members, and brand ambassadors, but only Riana Mondavi works for the family business full time as Director of National Accounts, On Premise.

Riana Mondavi, photo by Erin Miller

The family business did look at some of the hottest trends including roses, canned and kegged wine, but concluded that it was not a good fit for them, and that they were better off narrowing their focus and playing to their strengths.

“As far as a dry rose goes, I’d love one,” says Riana Mondavi, “but we’ve paired CK Mondavi down to varieties we’ve been doing for a really long time; we call it our core six, and our strategy comes down to doing those and doing them well. Because even at over one million cases, we still have a huge amount of opportunity out there.”

Pairing down to just six varieties meant cutting Moscato and White Zinfandel from the CK Mondavi lineup. “White Zinfandel was a trend we tried to follow, but it’s going away,” says Riana Mondavi, “and we weren’t the main players in that market, so we decided not to beat our heads against the wall in a market that’s not going anywhere right now.”

The strategic choice to focus on the core six also means that CK Mondavi isn’t about to venture into any of the new trending packaging spaces like canned or kegged wines. CK Mondavi bottles everything on their own onsite bottling line, which isn’t setup to handle cans or kegs, and Riana Mondavi explains that it would be a considerable expense to get the wine out to another canning or kegging facility. “We’ve had the discussion about kegs, but it’s kind of a wash when it comes to the margin aspect of it.” “I’m not saying there isn’t going to be something new from CK Mondavi in the next several years, that talk is always out there, and I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least open up that topic, but rather than continuing to add to it and throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks, we’re taking advantage of some of this low hanging fruit that’s still out in the marketplace.”

While CK Mondavi is determined to stay true to their heritage and core products, they know they cannot stand still but must keep refining their product within the scope. Charlie Gilmore, who took over as head winemaker two years ago, has found the family run business very receptive to ideas for improvement. The 2017 release of CK Mondavi is the first vintage made fully under his direction, and one of the changes he made was to the Chardonnay; dialing back the amount of Muscat and adding Viognier to the blend.

Charlie Gilmore, photo by Bob McClenahan

“You want to make sure that the wines you make continue to go up in quality, and they continue to respect the heritage of those wines. So you try to make incremental improvements along the way,” says Gilmore. “It’s a small shift, taking a tiny bit of Muscat out and putting a little bit of Viognier in; a small percent of the blend can make a big difference in the end product. We don’t think the customer will see too much change between the vintages, but they might say ‘Oh, this one is a little bit better.’”

Priced at $6.99 the CK Mondavi wines fall into one of the toughest price segments, which according to Nielsen has been declining for years with a nearly 5% loss over the past twelve months. However, while the segment as a whole is suffering, CK Mondavi is capturing enough market share within the category to achieve stable growth.

“In this industry and definitely this price point there’s a lot of competition,” says Gilmore, “so we have to keep fighting to win, and it’s across the board from winemaking to sales, every one of us has to be hungry to keep the company going in the right direction, and we’re doing that.”

Last year CK Mondavi updated their brand label to a more modern look and added the word ‘family’ to the brand name now: CK Mondavi and Family. “We feel it means something to the consumer,” said Marc Mondavi, “we’re a family owned corporation, there are no outside shareholders.”

Riana Mondavi agrees with her father about the importance of emphasizing the brand’s strong family heritage on the bottle. “The fact that we can have Mondavi on the label is huge, people trust it, they recognize it, and it creates for an amazing consumer base just out of the gate. It’s our task to take the next step to promote it and show that we may be the old guys in town (we’ve been around for 75 years), but we’re still here, and we’re still doing great things.”

Not only does CK Mondavi have plans for continued growth, they also have confidence in their continued supply of California grapes. They own 1850 acres and only about half of it is planted, so when they need more grapes to grow the brand, they have the space to expand, and they also have strong multigenerational relationships with many California family grape growers.

“My dad’s funny, he tells the sales team, ‘keep selling, I’ll find the grapes!’” Riana Mondavi laughs, “but we’re lucky that my grandpa started these relationships a long time ago and my dad and uncle have maintained them. These amazing family grape growers that we continue to lean on are going to be a huge part of making sure the brand maintains its quality and continues to grow, which at this volume and price point we’re in is very difficult for some people.”

So while there’s been a lot of change at CK Mondavi and Family over the past two years; the loss of Peter Mondavi Sr., a new winemaker in Charlie Gilmore, an updated package, and now the entry of the fourth generation of Mondavis into the business, they remain committed to their heritage and core brand promise.

“We’re comfortable with what we’re doing, and we want to do it to the best of our ability,” says Riana Mondavi. “That’s one of the ways we’re going to maintain California only and 100% American, if you stretch yourself too thin, you lose sight of what you do best.”


Wine Industry Under Attack in Napa
23 March, 2018

Contentious Measure C: Is There a Right to Change Ag in Napa Valley?

By Dawn Dolan

To the outside, the escalation of the argument between the proponents of and those against the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, better known as Measure C, the initiative to amend the Napa County General Plan and Zoning Code, appears to have reached a red alert level with record speed. In fact, this has been a festering sore ready to break open for the past few years. Dividing lines are drawn fairly clearly: agriculture is against. The Napa County Farm Bureau stands with other agricultural entities, represented by The Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture (

For the past fifty years, Napa has had a unique place in agricultural history. The California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (commonly referred to as the Williamson Act) paved the way. “The Act enables Napa County to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels to agricultural use,” states the County of Napa website. Napa went further, creating in 1968 the first Agricultural Preserve in the nation, protecting Napa’s land for primarily agricultural use, of which nine percent is currently planted to wine grapes. According to the Napa Valley Vintners website, this land-zoning ordinance established rules for agricultural and open space use for this fertile valley. Originally protecting 23,000 acres, it today encompasses a little over 32,000 acres of Napa.

Bringing forward iterations of the initiative over the past few years, the authors of Measure C forced the hand of the supervisors, according to even neutral entities. Ryan Klobas, Policy Director for the Napa County Farm Bureau, says they have gone over this initiative “with a fine-tooth comb.” He expressed concern that the 9111 report states that there will be the potential multiple lawsuits if this initiative is passed as worded, which would cost the County money. The 9111 report was commissioned by the County to analyze the initiative.

Napa Vision 2050, the group promoting Measure C, states on their website; “Deforestation of watershed oak woodlands and around streams and wetlands increases soil erosion, decreases year-round water availability, and reduces water quality.” It also states that the initiative will help to protect the watershed woodlands and streams from harmful development. Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson are the authors of this initiative. Hackett is quoted in the St. Helena Star, giving the reasons for bringing forth this measure as, “The most important environmental and social justice issue today is protection of our natural resources and the future of the quality and quantity of our water supplies.”

Klobas says that they have repeatedly asked for scientific evidence to substantiate these claims being made, which forced this initiative onto the ballot for June 2018, yet none has been presented. “We wish that they would have engaged in a process and come to the organizations that represent agriculture in the County. Voters shouldn’t mistake the historical agricultural protections with the desire to limit vineyard.”

Klobas feels that scare tactics are being used, and he is seeing this as “an opportunity to educate the public on how dangerous this initiative is, narrowly targeting vineyard planting.”
Outspoken vintner, Stuart Smith, is irritated by the lack of due process. “We live in a free-market capitalist society, with democracy and property rights. They did not go through the process of going to the board of supervisors, instead they went to an initiative process. If they had gone through due process, like a stakeholders meeting and through the Board of Supervisors, etc., we might have come to some agreement.”

According to Smith, a version of the initiative was first submitted in 2016, but the State Supreme Court of California ruled that it was flawed and didn’t meet the state requirements. Authors of this initiative have submitted plans, seemingly unsuccessfully, three times.

He points out that the environmental community doesn’t want any more roads built in California, so the result, in Napa Valley, is horrible congestion. No one likes the jammed up thoroughfares, he states, but he thinks that it is a result of the choice not to build roads. Traffic congestion then “makes angry people angrier,” with the scapegoat being the vineyards and wineries. Smith acknowledges that this is a very divisive issue in his County, within a currently very angry and divided country.

However, his position is that Napa County, since the Ag Preserve was put in place, has had a comprehensive and successful general plan, with “agriculture as the highest and best use of the land.” It keeps the land in the country in agriculture, and housing in the cities. “Hackett and Wilson are now changing every fundamental aspect of the Napa General Plan,” says Smith. “This initiative will undercut that general plan. It will put houses on a higher level of priority in the general plan within the oak woodlands, because agriculture will be not allowed.”

Klobas says, “Napa has some of the most stringent [agricultural] regulations in the country. The initiative provisions may conflict with well-written, clearly defined planning documents. We believe that Measure C is anti-agriculture. It narrowly targets vineyard planting, and doesn’t preclude luxury homes, event centers, wineries, etc.” This would mean that although vineyards would be prohibited, grandiose housing, event centers, and even more wineries would still be able to use that land.

Smith says that were he being selfish, he would be for this proposal. “I’m incentivized to vote for it, as it will limit vineyards and drive up my [own] vineyard property prices,” he notes. But taking away property rights infringes on what he believes in. “There cannot be middle ground when you take something from somebody for your own benefit. They are taking the property rights from a third of the county.”

When asked about the new James Conaway book, “Napa At Last Light,” which decries the development of the wine industry in Napa Valley and makes the case for Measure C, Smith called it self-serving, while Klobas cautioned readers not to confuse historical agricultural protections with the desire to limit vineyards.

Friends of Napa River are staying neutral, as is Napa Regional Parks. Sources there say they wish that proper protocol would have been followed, instead of ramrodding this initiative through onto the ballot.

Through another program, the conservation easement program, the Land Trust of Napa County has worked with vintners and other land owners to place over 55,000 acres of Napa into conservation easements, ensuring these parcels will stay rural. The county has checks in place, it would seem, to protect the land from complete engulfment by grape vines. Smith offers up a heart-felt entreaty; “Measure C is a major threat to fundamental tenets of Napa. No one knows where Napa is going; it is constantly changing. Napa has the least amount of people per square mile. We have a vibrant tourist industry, and people are upset about that. The people that live here are opposed to us [wineries and grape growers]. They want the fruits of our labor (a beautiful Valley) but they don’t want to see us doing the hard work necessary to sell wine, which depends on direct to consumer sales, and being able to welcome customers to your winery. We need to be able to sell our product. Let’s have a discussion about that.”


Why Wineries Need Specialized Digital Audits
09 March, 2018

By Carin Oliver, CEO, Angelsmith, Inc.

Expert Editorial

We all know that wineries are unique businesses and require specialized services that most of the marketing world just doesn’t understand. But as crazy complicated as your business is, your consumer’s journey is even more complex. The way they find, validate, and purchase wine has dramatically evolved.  

Consumers have increasingly turned to digital channels to learn about new wines and wine tasting experiences, research wines as they stand in the grocery store aisle, and buy more wine, more frequently, online.  

Digital and social marketing is where many traditional wineries have fallen out of step with consumer behavior. But how do you transform your marketing so that digital is a financially viable distribution channel for your winery?

Even midsize organizations struggle to adequately develop strategies that provide a formalized approach to transform their marketing. This is where a comprehensive digital audit can help to identify gaps and opportunities, optimize ROI on digital investments, improve web and other digital performance and better understand how your winery performs against industry benchmarks.

What Is a Digital Audit?

At its core, a digital audit should be a complete review of your business’ online presence. It should include:

  • A deep examination of your website, including its alignment with your brand, its content and information architecture, its ease of use, its technical setup, its performance on desktop and mobile, it’s search engine optimization, and so on.
  • A review of ecommerce, checkout, and other conversion paths, with an eye to best practices, how well they perform, and if there are any points of friction for the consumer.
  • A thorough exploration of your social media presence, including what social networks your business is on, how well it is represented on those networks, the quality and frequency of content posted to those networks, engagement with and by users of those networks, and how the effort impacts your overall business goals.
  • A survey of your brand’s presence on third party review sites, including where you have a presence, whether your reviews on those sites are positive or negative, how your brand is managing those networks, and how traffic originating from those platforms convert on your website.
  • A review of your email marketing, including the email platform, list management, send frequency, the content used, and how your database responds.
  • An examination of your online advertising history, including channels used, targeting, performance, content, and generated revenue.
  • An assessment of your analytics and tracking, identifying if critical metrics are being collected, proper sales attributions are in place, and if you are able to properly track all your online marketing efforts.
  • An actionable and achievable recommendation roadmap

Why Wineries Need Digital Audits

Without a comprehensive digital audit, a winery’s marketing mix may be misaligned with its consumers’ actions. And with so many digital options to choose from and limited resources (even the big organizations need to carefully choose which digital tactics to invest in), it’s impossible to make an informed decision without a roadmap that aligns with your winery’s growth goals.

How a Digital Audit Helped One Winery

A recent example is a winery that believed earned and organic media (PR, organic social) were responsible for the majority of their business results. While these tactics were driving considerable and critical awareness, the winery had over-invested in these and substantially underinvested in tactics to Intercept & Influence™ consumers who were closer to the sale. They had been told by several agencies that they should be investing more in unpaid social media. Angelsmith switched some of their resources to other tactics and optimized their website.

The results from their digital audit better aligned their marketing with their consumer behavior and helped them better understand how their lack of web usability was holding them back from realizing digital as a profitable distribution model. So now, when consumers do land on their site they are more likely to convert.

Rapid technological changes happen so fast that it’s really hard to not only stay on top of an ever changing set of best practices, but to integrate them into your marketing. For example, the increasing adoption of mobile has changed the way people find and utilize your website, how they engage with social content, which keywords they use to find your winery, and even how they make tasting room reservations. 

Although most wineries have someone in charge of making website updates and managing the day to day marketing, no one is responsible for taking optimizing for the customer journey. A comprehensive digital audit clear will provide a playbook to make digital a viable distribution channel for your winery.

Carin OliverExpert Editorial
by Carin Oliver, CEO, Angelsmith, Inc.

Carin is the CEO of award-winning digital advertising agency Angelsmith. She developed Intercept & Influence™, a proprietary work process that maps how consumers use digital channels along their path to purchase. She is dedicated to understanding how affluent Americans make purchase decisions in wine, health & fitness, and restaurants.  With more than 20 years of marketing experience, she loves to share her knowledge.

Although never a high school geometry teacher, Carin is a great lover of test, iterate, and test again. 

You can find her in her Sausalito office with her husband and partner, Eric and their intrepid digital marketing team.

Engaging Consumers with Digital Tools in Today’s Experience Economy
23 February, 2018

By Dawn Dolan

In the late 90’s a book came out dealing with a subject that is gaining more and more importance in the wine industry. The authors, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore entitled the book The Experience Economy.  Their premise was novel nineteen years ago: Think about connecting with your customers through experiences to secure their loyalty. They said that goods and services were not enough to interest the consumer anymore. They believed that in the new economic era in which they found themselves, businesses must organize and offer extraordinary and memorable events for their customers.

Looking back, we can now clearly see that this prediction was right on the mark. The experience economy, one may argue, perhaps gained real traction as the Millennials took their place as earners in society, approximately fifteen years ago. Oft-cited as the group which looks for experiences, not goods, on which to spend their money, we in the wine industry can look at how we reach these experience-seekers with value-added offerings.

In an article in Forbes magazine (online), of November 24, 2015, contributor Daniel Newman stated, “As consumers, our interactions with brands are no different. We no longer simply make a purchase and walk away. Consumers seek—and often expect, whether we realize it or not—additional utility from the brands we patronize. We want to feel like they’re listening. We don’t just want the goods or services, but we want an experience to sweeten the deal. Welcome to the experience economy, where—as the Harvard Business Review so eloquently put it—”a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event.”

Dave Moser of Terravant Wine Company, speaker at the DTC Symposium last month in Concord, CA, discussed the how-to’s of offering up an “experience” at your winery. Developing a cost-benefit analysis is the first step in determining if there is profitability in your proposed venture. His winery tour example included items such as the acquisition cost per visitor (include all costs of getting people to you, in this case the mostly on advertising, with some staffing costs and if you are providing transportation of any sort, etc.), fees charged, and the winery’s average conversion statistics for wine club sign up and purchases.  His example:

  • Acquisition Cost per Visitor: $30
  • Tasting Fee: $25                               
  • Tour Fee: $60
  • Average Bottle Price: $60
  • Average % of Visitors buying wine to take home: 60%
  • Average % of Visitors signing up for Wine Club: 10%
  • Wine club members stay 18 months; 4 shipments x 3 bottles per year.

Doing the calculation for the acquisition of 100 visitors with the draw of the tour, Moser in this example shows that the cost of spending money to bring those extra hundred visitors to your winery is far overshadowed by the revenue gained from those hundred people. A key component to this is the winery’s metrics. A winery must know their conversion rates in order to make these assumptions.

  • Cost to Acquire 100 visitors: 100 x $30 = $3,000
  • Revenue from Tour Fees (40%): 40 x $60 = $2,400                               
  • Revenue from Tasting Frees (60%): 60 x $25 = $1,500
  • Revenue from Take-home Wine = 60 x 1 bottle x $60 = $3,600
  • Revenue from Wine Club + 10 x 18 x $60 =$10,800

So, is this case, of the 100 people on whom the winery spent money to get to their location, 40 percent would take the tour, 60 percent would just do a tasting, generating fees from either choice. 60 would buy a bottle to take home, at an average price of $60, providing $3,600. And 10% of those first 100 would join the wine club, for an average purchase over their wine club life of 18 bottles, times a $60 bottle price average for a total of almost $11,000. So, for a one-time $3,000 expenditure, this winery generated $18,300 in revenue.

JCB Tasting Lounge

The expenditure part of the above equation bears discussion. Social media marketing was the bulk of the cost in the first example. The strategies and steps involved in gaining new clients through social media platforms, notably Facebook and Instagram are important, and learning their costs is integral to successful planning. Offering experiences can be a creative, original, and yet inexpensive strategy for a winery to create an experience that will increase the value of what they produce. But there is a cost. Do you have staff in place and dedicated to this venture? Part of the cost-benefit analysis includes not only the cost for online outreach, but for the staffing to create this outreach.

Successful marketing of your winery experience lies in finding what makes your particular offering unique, and touting those qualities in your social media marketing programs. Competing in a nation with over 9,000 wineries, the need to differentiate yourself in a large playing field is what can make or break your appeal to the public. In the DTC Symposium session, Reading Between the Digital Lines: Facebook and Instagram Ad Strategy, a further look at the steps to take was offered: Decide upon the marketing goals, show the consumer the brand, then actively demonstrate how the brand fits into your target consumer’s lifestyle through words, pictures and video.

Setting realistic and disciplined goals for your marketing strategy can feel sluggish, but fashioning a methodical approach to creating that brand perception, by establishing what panelists deemed a “deep-truth”, and creating brand loyalty through engaging with your clients takes time.  Breaking down the business of advertising on social media into four parts, the steps discussed offered potential consumers phases: awareness, consideration, purchase, and loyalty. Acknowledging that social media was an inexpensive way to reach an audience, the caution offered up was that only in the final phases was the goal purchase. The main goal of the levels is really engagement.

Facebook advertising offers the option for wineries to engage people who are like-minded consumers, who may not know the brand. Best, wineries with small marketing budgets can set a nominal monthly dollar amount and look for new clients with whom to engage. Larger wineries may make a larger investment, allocating money to both advertising and to expert advice on how to best use the many features that several social media marketing platforms can offer.

The overarching theme for winning with this type of marketing is to engage in authentic ways, such as utilizing user-generated content which “establishes legitimacy, creates advocates, and is more trustworthy,” and can engage clients emotionally. Using Instagram to create a hashtag following, offering live blog events, and giving behind the scenes access are examples noted, along with using Facebook Live to broadcast events, product releases, and more real-time, behind the scenes access all help to engage clients.

Boiling social media marketing down to a two words takeaway; engagement and authenticity provides the strongest keys to being successful with social media marketing programs, whether advertising your unique experience, or building brand awareness and loyalty.


Six New and Interesting Products from the Unified Trade Show
09 February, 2018

Even if you went to the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium and spent two days visiting the nearly 700 booths on its massive trade show floor, you probably didn’t have a chance to visit every exhibit, and you may have missed some of these interesting finds.

G Ink Reflection

G3 Enterprises continues to enhanced the capabilities of their G Ink, and to illustrate how it can imitate the look of foil on the label, Sterling Creativeworks designed a label showcasing the advantages of using G Ink over foil, which includes not only cost and production efficiency, but is also expressed directly on the label with wide varying metallic hues on the uncoated paper.

In the video below Cynthia Sterling shows and talks about the G Ink Reflection label design and the advantages from a design and production standpoint.


One of the biggest announcements by Enartis International was the introduction of Zenith, an alternative to traditional cold stabilization methods. Zenith is a potassium polyaspartate based additive that stabilizes tartrates and color in wine. Pre-cursors such as gum Arabic and CMC led the Enartis to develop the StabiWine program in collaboration with prestigious universities and international winemaking companies.

Zenith requires less energy, drinking water, and manpower while cutting environmental greenhouse emissions by 90%. It is the next step in saving time and money, especially for large-scale facilities that would otherwise use their chilling systems. Zenith is in the final process of approval by the FDA but is already approved for winemaking by the European Union. Keep a look out in the next coming months for this new winemaking alternative.

StellarTan Tannins

Gusmer Enterprises showcased the new Polyphenolics® line of StellarTan finishing tannins produced from carefully selected California grapes and extracted with a gentle process requiring only hot water as a solvent and preserving the nature of the tannins.

The line consists of five finishing tannins and a fermentation tanning that can help winemakers increase the wine’s tannin concentration and improve the mouthfeel and aroma of the wine. Each product in the line is chosen for its total phenolic concentration and varying degrees of polymerization, which are broken down by type for each product to give the winemaker a full complement of options to choose the tannin profile for the wine

Precision Carbonation

VA Filtration has just introduced its new precision carbonation system. The PreCarb system, called the Carbonator, is a diffusion-based CO2 addition system that allows you precise control of the level of CO2 in wine, cider, or beer. The system measures the amount of CO2 in the wine as it enters the machine then a calculates a precise dosage for the desired level in the outgoing wine. The Carbonator can also be used to removed dissolved oxygen level of the wine. It is completely automated so no sparging or frequently checking numbers is required. The machine also operates in a closed system so no loss of aromatics or outside oxidation occurs during the process. VA filtration showcased the machine at the Unified Symposium and rentals are available.

Inspiration Oak Staves

Vivelys introduced their new Inspiration Stave product line featuring two distinct profiles: vanilla and smoke/toasted. The Inspiration staves are made from 100% new French oak, and like their Boisé oak chips are created through a rigorous scientifically controlled process that includes sorting the oak based on analytical findings and precise heat processing to achieve a consistent and reliable product.

The two product profiles are tailored toward the demand Vivelys have seen especially in the U.S. market with winemakers seeking maturity and roundness as well as fruit and balance on the palate, without excessive dryness.

Oxi_Out Gas Management System

The Oxi_Out selectively removes dissolved oxygen from the wine without ruining its organic characteristics allowing the the wine to be bottle with lower SO2 while still protecting against premature aging. The machine uses nitrogen and/or carbon currents and can extract up to 97% of the oxygen present.

Oxi_out is a product of Agrovin USA and MA Silva USA is the exclusive North American distributor.

By Branden Hamby and Kim Badenfort

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: Growing Grapes, Family, and Community in Sonoma County
30 January, 2018

By Kim Badenfort

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018

John and Terri Balletto

John and Terri Balletto planted their first vineyard in the mid-nineties on a 35 acre lot in Sebastopol (now part of the potential Sebastopol Hills AVA) where they were also building their home. Back then, they were vegetable farmers, but the hill did not have enough water to grow produce, so with the advice of family friend Warren Dutton (Dutton Ranch), they planted 20 acres of Pinot, 10 of Chardonnay, and 5 of Pinot Gris.

Today they farm almost 800 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County and sell grapes to over 30 wineries, keeping just the top 10% of grapes for their own estate bottled Balletto Vineyards wines. It was a long, arduous journey to get to where they are today, a journey that shaped them as people, a family, and a business.

“Along the way we’ve had a lot of help from the community, a lot of help from inspirational people,” says John Balletto. “One of the reasons we’re so enthused to give back to our community is because when my mother and I were alone, we had a lot of people help us like the Sanchietti family, the Dutton family, and Mr. Hansel (of Hansel Auto Group).”

John Balletto and his mother Hazel

In 1977 John Balletto had just graduate high school when his father died of cancer, so he went to work with his mother on their five acre vegetable farm. “We had to farm to survive, that was our only way to make it,” Balletto recalls.

They slowly added a few acres, and in 1982 Balletto’s high school counselor helped them get a farmer’s home loan to buy 40 acres in the Santa Rosa plain. But the money wasn’t the only hurdle. “The property was part of a 110 acre parcel, and the county didn’t want to split it, and we could only afford 40 acres,” Balletto recalls. “But, Mr. Hansel, who sat on the county ad hoc committee that decided whether properties should be split for ag, said they should give this young kid a chance. So we’ve had a lot of people help us.”

Nick Frey, Brand Ambassador for Balletto Vineyards, explains how adding acres continues to be a core business philosophy for Balletto. “I say, John never saw a piece of land he didn’t like. His mother was a product of the Great Depression, she came out of the dust bowl in Oklahoma and moved here, and when they were growing the vegetable business, she said ‘if you ever have any extra money buy land.’ And he took it to heart, he just added another hundred acres last year.”

That approach mixed with foresight and courage put Balletto ahead of the vineyard buying trend of large wine companies that is now driving up land prices. Anthony Beckman, Winemaker and Vice President of Balletto Vineyards, relates. “It was 2008 and the economy was starting to crash a little bit. I met with John, and I said, ‘the economy is crashing, and I think wine sales are going to be the first ones to take a hit, we should cut back on inventory, we should be really careful here.’ His words to me were ‘don’t look at it that way, this is a time of opportunity.’

“So when a lot of people were getting out, he was getting in, and now looking back 10 years, what a brilliant move that was. You couldn’t even look at buying those vineyards today.”

John and Terri Balletto

Beckman joined Balletto Vineyards more than ten years ago in 2007, a stint that’s not unusual at Balletto Vineyards and far from the longest. “Some of the workers have been with them approaching 30 years,” says Beckman. “Even on the cellar side, I have two guys that started working for John 20 years ago, they moved from the produce side, and now they’re my main cellar workers. My Assistant winemaker has been with us 7 years.

“This is very much a family business, and there’s a work mentality that everybody works really hard, and everybody has this work ethic of moving forward.”

John’s mother Hazel worked half a day packing zucchini every day until she was 75, and John and Terri’s two daughters Jacqueline and Caterina grew up as part of the business from the time they were very young, learning the work ethic, and after finishing college, they’ve both returned to Balletto Vineyards.

“Dad wanted us to learn every aspect of the business,” Jacqueline explains. “So when I started here I worked in the lab, then I worked for a distributor, and with our sales manager, and I worked out in the field, before I came over in the tasting room, so I’d get a well-rounded experience and know everyone and every aspect.”

Caterina Balletto (left) and Jacqueline Balletto (right)

Caterina says, “So many of my friends from college said, ‘oh why do you need to go to college, you’re just going to go back and work for your parents, it’s super easy.’ But let me tell you that they expect more out of you than anyone, and although it’s hard, it’s also extremely rewarding.”

The kids don’t have to look far for a role model, He’s like the energizer bunny,” Caterina says of her father. “He loves it, he loves his job. Part of it is that it’s all he’s ever known, but he’ll come in on the weekend, and it’s not because he’s forced to, it’s because he loves being out in the vineyards checking and  making sure things are good.”

Jacqueline adds, “He always has to finish something, and for me that’s been one the greatest lessons. When you start something, make sure you finish it; if you can’t figure it out, you have to find a way to figure it out. He has a lot of perseverance, and he never stops.”

“Oftentimes I’m just trying to hold on to John’s shirt tails, just trying to keep up,” Beckman laughs. When Beckman started at Balletto Vineyards they had six wines, now they have twenty two and are planning for the next project. “There was a time when I would caution John, but I’ve since learned that when he makes a decision you immediately start thinking about what fifty things can I do to make this decision work. Then, everybody gets in this mode of we’re moving in this direction, what do we have to do to make it successful? It’s a mentality, and it comes from John down.”

While John is the front man that keeps pushing for expansion, Terri plays an important part in keeping it all together. “I think Terri is the key to a lot of things,” says Beckman, “she’s much quieter than John, and I think that’s a good thing; they balance each other well. That said, she knows exactly what she wants, she has her opinion, and she’s really good at making decisions.”

“Terri’s the glue that keeps it all together behind the scenes,” says Balletto. “We run a really thin staff, and we don’t have a lot of layers, so she’s the backup on a lot of stuff. We have three other partnerships that we are involved with, and she does all the bookkeeping for that plus our personal stuff too, she does a lot. And it’s important to have someone behind the scenes making sure it’s all held together.”

For all the work Terri does for the business, Balletto credits her greatest success to be her commitment to their daughters, helping them and pushing them to achieve. Terri grew up in the 4-H program, and it meant a lot to her Balletto explains. She was always “making the girls go to their meetings, getting up and speaking in front of people, and following through on their animal projects. That program and her involvement helped turn them into really good people, which lead to high school, and college, and back here again.”

As in everything else, the Balletto’s never fail to give back to the community that supports them, and last year Terri was honored as the Sonoma County 4-H alumni of the year for her work on with the Youth Ag & Leadership Foundation.

“Terri Balletto is the quiet force working behind the scenes at her family winery, stitching together the various threads that make Balletto Vineyards such a rich and integral part of Sonoma County’s fabric. In addition to being the centerpiece of her close-knit family, Terri generously channels time and resources to many community groups and charitable organizations including the Youth Ag & Leadership Foundation where she serves as a director and board secretary,” said Tim Tesconi of Healdsburg who serves with Terri Balletto on the foundation. The Youth Ag & Leadership Foundation raises and distributes funds to enhance and support the 4-H program in Sonoma County. The foundation’s mission is to develop the next generation of community leaders, people like Terri Balletto, who was a 4-H Club member in her youth.

Jacqueline and Caterina helping out with the produce business

“4-H is really important to me, it’s great, I love the program,” says Terri Balletto. “It teaches all ages together, that’s why I think it’s so important; the young kids get to come in and learn from the older kids, and eventually they grow up and become mentors for younger kids. It’s a fantastic youth leadership program. So that is definitely my passion.”

Community service is another value that the Balletto’s passed down to their daughters, and Jacqueline is now the third Balletto to be on the harvest fair board. “My parents taught us that you always support your community, because they’re the ones that will support you, that’s who helped support my dad when his dad died, and that’s one of the things they’ve always instilled in us,” says Jacqueline.

And Caterina ads, “remembering to take care of not only your community but your employees. My dad says he doesn’t just go to bed thinking of our family, but the fifty other families that rely on us. So, it’s really a business that builds on a whole group of people, not just us.”

Now Balletto Vineyards donates to 600 organizations every year, but Balletto notes that there were a few years when they couldn’t afford to give back. “We had a couple of tough years, 98, 99, and 2000 were tough for us. That’s when we basically converted all of our vegetable operations to vineyards. That was a big deal. We took a company at 250 employees and rinsed it down, sold the marketing part, and then borrowed more money to plant 300 acres of grapes in 2000, 2001, and 2002, so that was a big step for us to do that.”

Frey, who was Executive Director for the Sonoma County Winegrowers when Balletto served on the board including three years as its chairman, sums it up. “John and Terri are very involved in the community, and just like with farming, when John gets involved, he is all in. They are not ones to pad their resume or get that organization to advance their business, it’s to support their community and make a contribution, and I think a lot of that comes from when John’s father passed away. People in the community really were there for him, and he doesn’t forget it, he’s very loyal to friends and long term employees. He really wants to give back to the community, because he feels they helped him to get where he is today.”

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: Grapegrower, Innovator, and Always One Step Ahead
15 January, 2018

By Allison Levine

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018

David Parrish

David Parrish

Those around him will say that David Parrish is not one to brag about his accomplishments, but they are the first to call David Parrish an innovator in the wine industry. “David lives to work. The industry is his passion. He is always trying to perfect something or get that one thing a little bit better,” explained long-time friend and business colleague Charlie Castro. “David always stays ahead of the curve.”

David Parrish is always one step ahead. He owns vineyards in Paso Robles. He is a winemaker. He is a trellis designer. He has developed a shade cloth. He holds more than 20 patents. “He is constantly moving and shaking, coming up with ideas for a new adaption. He has woken up from dreams with new trellis ideas. Who dreams about inventions?” marveled his daughter Cecily Parrish Ray.

Parrish was raised working on his grandfather’s 740-acre vineyard in Atascadero. He attended UC Davis where he graduated with a degree in Biology and minored in Chemistry/Math. While studying at Davis, Parrish also took courses in winemaking. After graduation in the 1970s, he began working with trellises for fruits and vegetables. The head of the UC Davis Viticulture Department Dr. Mark Kliewer contacted Parrish regarding a research project for different trellis styles in the wine grape industry. After a successful 5-acre trial, Parrish began working with Robert Mondavi, and others, in Napa, designing trellises.

In 1995 Parrish started his first vineyard in Creston, 15 minutes south east of Paso Robles. He designed his own trellis system for the 40 acres of cabernet sauvignon which include four different clones grafted on two different rootstocks. After selling the grapes to Napa producers for almost a decade, Parrish decided to start making wine and in 2005, the first Parrish Family Vineyard wine was produced. Today they also own a vineyard in Templeton and one in Adelaida and are producing 1500-1800 vines annually. They recently opened a new winery facility and anticipate a new tasting room on the Adelaida property to open this year.

While Parrish is growing grapes and producing wine with his daughter Cecily, he has continuously worked with trellising and developing systems to improve the vineyard. Parrish started A&P Ag Structures and for over 20 years they have been the leader in new trellis designs for wine grapes, table grapes, vegetables and tree fruits, working with vineyards throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Israel and Canada. Currently they are working on new raisin grape trellises in partnership with Sun Maid Raisins and other major raisin companies in the San Joaquin Valley. These new trellises will allow raisins to go through rain with less damage so that they can actually dry on the vines for a more natural and delicious flavor. According to Parrish-Ray, her father has “trellised almost everything.” While Parrish sold A&P Ag Structures to the employees, he is still very involved in sales and is the CEO. Castro, who met Parrish 28 years ago, has been working for Parrish for 16 years. He describes Parrish as “a great guy to work for because he takes care of his employees. He knows how the vines need to grow in order to produce quality wines and has had a major hand in the way we grow table grapes today. David is the innovator. He comes up with ideas, shares them with others and convinces them to use them.”

Scott McLeod, who works as a consultant with Parrish, best explained. “I’ve known David for 25 years or so. We met on a new vineyard development site in Rutherford (Napa Valley), and I was impressed with his materials and craftsmanship. He and his team installed the first high density trellis in Napa for Opus One, and they did all the work for us at Inglenook where I worked for eighteen years. His legacy is that he repairs a lot of trellises of his competitors that either fail due to poor quality or poor workmanship or both. His materials last fifty years, enough to use them on two vineyard cycles.”

While trellising might be Parrish’s greatest legacy, followed by his wines which reflect the work he has done in the vineyard, he continues to innovate and stay ahead of the curve. For the last decade, he has been working on a white shade cloth that helps protect the grapes southern side while reflecting light from the northern side, enabling more balance in the ripening. The white shade cloth has been in use for a few years and 2017 was the first year that Parrish used it in his own vineyard. Never one to settle, Parrish is already working to make an even better cloth this year.

In addition, Parrish has been involved in the creek restoration business. After purchasing the vineyard on Adelaida Road, he noticed the faint line of a creek. He worked with a local team and learned that it was part of Adelaida Creek. They cleaned it up and planted new native plants to help prevent runoff and erosion when it rains. Instead, they capture the rain waters and fill the aquifer below. Parrish then donated the portion of the creek to the San Luis Obispo County who are offering tours to educate others about water conservation.

Always looking for the next innovation, Parrish is also the distributor for a new type of wind machine called the Tow and Blow. Not wanting to use water for overhead frost prevention and sensitive to the sound most machines make, Parrish found this quieter mobile system in New Zealand. It can be moved from vineyard to vineyard for frost protection and evaporative cooling.

David Parrish

Staying ahead of the curve, David Parrish is continually looking for ways to improve the quality of the grapes in the vineyard. He will never stop as there is always something to tweak or adapt or advance.

Most Read Wine Industry Advisor Stories of 2017
02 January, 2018

Looking at the 15 most read Wine Industry Advisor articles from 2017 gives a little insight into some of the things there were on the minds of industry professionals in 2017. Three of the stories including the top one involve distribution problems faced especially by small producers. The legalization of cannabis and how it’s affecting wine was a hot topic particularly when it comes to impacting competition for labor. And of course new products from industry suppliers, packaging, and drinking trends continue to make the list.

  1. New Company Breaks Barriers to Distribution for Small Producers
  2. New Machine Uses Density to Meet Grape Sorting Challenges
  3. Free or Discounted Wine Tasting Options Vanishing in Sonoma County
  4. Mystery Shoppers Visit Pine Ridge Vineyards
  5. Increased Competition for Labor Leaves Wine Hanging
  6. U.S. Producers Betting on Rosé and Challenging French Dominance
  7. Who Loses in the Breakthru/RNDC Merger? Everyone
  8. French Wine Capitalizing on U.S. Drinking Trends
  9. Five New and Interesting Products from the Unified Trade Show
  10. What Cans Can Do for Wine
  11. A Pathway to Wholesale Success for the Small Producer
  12. It’s What’s in the Bottle That Counts … Or Is It?
  13. Selling Wine Through Facebook Requires the Tenacity for Testing of a Sadistic High School Geometry Teacher Giving Surprise Quizzes
  14. Wine Industry Daughters Celebrate Their Mothers
  15. A Foot in Two Industries: How Wine and Weed Cross-Pollinate

New Company Rapidly Changing How 3-Tier Alcohol Distribution Happens
15 December, 2017


Cheryl Durzy with WINnovation Award, photo courtesy of North Bay Business Journal

The vast majority of wineries in the US produce less than 5,000 cases, and they’ve been essentially blocked from three-tier distribution because distributor giants focus on the big brands and won’t take on small ones. Cheryl Durzy, Founder and CEO of Liberation Distribution (LibDib) experienced that first-hand from her years managing wholesales for her family’s winery, Clos LaChance, and her frustration with the system inspired her to create LibDib.

Wine Industry Network recognized LibDib with a 2017 WINnovation Award for their innovative and pioneering effort, which since its launch in March has already created opportunities for many small brands to reach new customers, listing more than 1,500 SKUs on the LibDib platform. “This is exactly the kind of ingenuity that the WINnovation Awards were created to honor,” says George Christie, President of Wine Industry Network, “they fill a dire need for small producers and help make the whole industry better.”

LibDib is doing 3-tier distribution entirely differently and is rapidly changing how 3-tier alcohol distribution happens. LibDib is the first licensed distributor to also be a technology company, and their platform provides distribution for all makers regardless of size and without favorable placements, advertising or incentives.

“LibDib is to distribution what the gas engine was to the steam engine, a needed adjustment for the times,” says Brian Rosen, Chief Operating Officer at BevStrat and recognized three-tier system expert. “Cheryl and team have built a best in class, model that allows the 50,000+ makers that are ignored by big distribution to have a fighting chance at adult beverage success. She will be viewed as a pioneer for years to come.”

Breaking the barriers to distribution, LibDib accepts any maker of specialty wine, craft spirits and microbrews on their platform to get products to market easily and in full legal compliance. After uploading a license and basic information, the Maker defines product selection, calculates the listed wholesale price, and defines where to distribute—down to the account level. Using the LibDib platform, restaurants, bars, and retailers can purchase a wider variety of products at a lower cost, saving time and money for both makers and retailers.

“As the producer of two small brands, we are always seeking ways to distinguish ourselves and offer a more personalized experience to our sales partners. LibDib not only helps us achieve these goals, but also offers creative ideas and opportunities to further promote our brands. The online platform is user friendly, intuitive, and nimble for both producers and buyers, and our sales partners have embraced distribution done differently. Best of all, we’ve gained several new accounts who found us on LibDib. In a short time, LibDib has become one of our most useful sales tools and an important part of our go-to-market strategy,” says Darlyne N. Miller, National Brand Manager, Knights Bridge Winery / Huge Bear Wines.

LibDib launched as a licensed distributor in California and New York, but the plan is to expand and cover all 50 states. They are currently working on entering Wisconsin and Nevada by leasing space at existing distributor warehouses to be in compliance with local regulations. Because LibDib does not enforce franchise laws, they can collaborate with other distributors, share data, and allow the possibility of traditional distributors to pick up successful clients from LibDib creating a win-win situation for everyone.

“The key to making the three-tier system work for every business—big or small—is to utilize technology to increase access and reduce friction.” said Founder and CEO, Cheryl Durzy. “The LibDib development team is truly industry-leading with their ability to create and expand on a user experience where both sides of the distribution equation win.”

In addition to expanding their distribution area LibDib also continues to develop and improve the tools they provide makers and buyers including precise search tools for buyers providing a simple discovery process for small production wines, beers and spirits by type, variety, ratings, price, region, vintage, and brand. They also allow for increased flexibility and control over all aspects of the LibDib marketplace and experience, giving makers the ability to set territories by zip code and county, making it easy to target specific locations for distribution.

The consolidation trend making distributors bigger and fewer while the number of producers grow does not seem to be slowing, but with LibDib providing small producers a point of access to retail, bars, and restaurants, this may not continue to be the same existential threat to new and small brands.


Innovative Thinking Yields a Third Way for White-Winemaking
01 December, 2017

By Branden Hamby

Laurent Fargeton

Laurent Fargeton

Cilyo®, a new technique with several positive impacts including reducing the need of fining agents for must protection and the ability to add stabilized and improved press fractions to blends received one a WINnovation Award for its ingenuity and advancement in winemaking processes.

We interviewed Laurent Fargeton, Product Manager at Vivelys, who helped develop Cilyo, to tell us more about the technology.

First, tell us about Vivelys?

Vivelys is a French company created more than 20 years ago (previously known as OENODEV). 70% of our turnover is made abroad, 25% of which in the USA.

Vivelys and its 5 subsidiaries – USA, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria – support winemakers all around the world helping them to create specific wine profiles.

To achieve that objective, we built our knowledge with the help of internal experimental programs – more than 3000 modalities in the last 10 years – and our consultants fine tune it in order to fit to their clients’ objectives.

In time, we have been known to develop innovative solutions every time we were facing an issue without technological answers.

We started with Micro-ox in early 90’s, Dyostem (grape ripeness monitoring) in 2000’s and Cilyo® is the latest innovation we developed to help winemakers to control their white wine profile.

Could you talk about Cilyo and how you determined the need for this new technology?

Cilyo® is a measurement tool that analyzes oxygen needs of white and rosé musts. This early oxygen addition (before AF) allows to decrease their sensitivity against oxidation and also change their mouthfeel (more viscosity and length), without using oenological products (SO2, fining products, etc.).

Cilyo® principle is based on the use of enzymatic mechanisms that are presents naturally in the berries, and oxidize specifically phenols acids, molecules responsible of oxidation.

We started our brainstorm 7 years ago when we realized that existing strategies to control oxidation in white wines were not completely satisfying: On one hand, Hyperoxygenation could lead to a stabilization of wines against oxidation but in the meantime decreased wine aromas potential. And on other hand, Hyper protection strategy, using antioxidative products, needed a 100% protection all the time (with a high dosage of SO2 used during winemaking as a consequence).

So we thought that there could be a third way to deal with those phenols using the natural enzymatic mechanism, removing those components early in order to reveal aromas without risk.

Cilyo® helps to determine the quantity of oxygen we need to add to the must in order to complete those enzymatic reactions and not go into chemical reactions (that change wine profiles).

We developed a tool based on a mathematical algorithm that calculate that dose of oxygen, and then we went back to the winery to add oxygen in the settling tanks with a system of Micro-ox  -we designed a specific function in our system to enter directly the dose calculated by Cilyo®, and the system add it in 3 or 6 hours.

So Cilyo® and MOX are complementary. One device measure oxygen needs, and the other add that dose of oxygen to the must.

It was a big R&D program: more than 5000 measures, 200 modalities

In what ways does Cilyo change or affect the current methods of winemaking?

We add oxygen at the Settling stage as Polyphenol oxidase (enzyme) is mainly located in gross lees and destroyed during AF. In the meantime, during oxygen addition, we will produce oxidative compounds that we can remove during settling. This is definitively a good moment to run that process.

So I would say, it changes the winemaking process in the sense you have to integrate another measurement and treatment step to the process where traditionally you want to go as fast as possible (bottle neck step).

But the advantages are important:

  • Decrease of oxidabilty in the time
  • Change of wine profile, in particular for press wine
  • Decrease of use of antioxidative products (we even ran some modalities with no SO2 added during all the process)

For all those reasons, people that use our strategy get a lot of financial benefits.

For us, it’s a step forward a more sustainable winemaking process, driving toward more balanced and resistant wines (consumer benefit).

We are very proud that Wine Industry Network recognized our know-how in producing innovative solutions; we also got an innovation award for this product in October in Champagne during the Viteff tradeshow.

Trial Shows Amino Acid Based Nutrients to Increase Wine Aromatics
27 November, 2017

By Branden Hamby

When thinking about the aromas of wine, most people focus on the fruity or floral sensations that arise from a glass; esters, specifically the acetate esters formed during the fermentation process, are responsible for the expression of those complex aromatics in wine. These esters are formed not only from the nitrogen sources, such as ammonium and amino acids, within the must, but also from the nitrogen found in nutrients used in winemaking.

“The esters have a substantial impact on the aromatics, they add complexity and quality to the expression of aromas through the degradation of yeast-derived amino acids found in the nutrients,” says Marco Bertacinni, Country Manager at AEB USA.

Trials, conducted by AEB, were set up by testing amino acid nutrients against other common nitrogen based nutrients to determine their impact on the aromatics of the wine. Four wineries participated in the trials and found a quantitative increase from the use of amino acid based nutrients in at least one of the trials by using gas chromatography to measure aromatic levels. The other three wineries began the trials during the 2017 harvest and are awaiting GC analysis to determine quantitative results.

Amino acids nutrient supplementation is one way to successfully supplement must to produce desirable aromatics through ester production. This method involves the Ehrlich Mechanism which shows the degradation of amino acids to produce esters. This pathway is more energy intensive but produces favorable aromatic esters such as ethyl acetate which gives more fruity aromas reminiscent of bananas or pineapples when at low concentrations.

Sensory analysis and evaluation was done on all the samples, and says Bertacinni, “There really is a difference in the aromatics by using amino acid based nutrients over the traditional supplements such as DAP.”

Diammonium phosphate (DAP) supplementation during fermentation is the other way to supplement must and is common in every winemaker’s harvest playbook. It is used to help raise assimilable nitrogen levels in the must (YAN) as well as help speed along fermentation. Ammonia is the least energy-demanding form of nitrogen available to yeast, this allows for amino acid biosynthesis to take place when DAP is supplemented in the must. Esters form from the intermediates of this biosynthesis.

Bertacinni will be moderating a session on The Influence of Nutrients on Aromatics at the WIN Expo, and he will be joined by a panel of winemakers to showcase his findings on the topic. The effects of nutrients on wine are significant, especially when it comes to aromatics, and the panel will discuss the pros and cons of using DAP and/or amino acid based nutrients as well as present a tasting comparing different wines and how the aromatics were influenced by the different nutrients.

The WIN Expo Trade Show and Conference takes place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA on November 30. For more information and registration, go to

Ingenuity and Technology Making Advances for the Wine Industry
10 November, 2017

Five wine businesses awarded WINnovation Awards

Whether solving a problem or seizing an opportunity, these five wine industry suppliers used ingenuity and technology to develop innovative products and solutions for vineyards and wineries. They represent the vanguard of product and service innovation that is essential for the advancement and prosperity of the wine industry.

Wine Industry Network’s fifth annual WINnovation Award winners for excellence in wine industry innovation are:

  • Amos Industrie
  • Biome Makers
  • Liberation Distribution
  • Tule Technologies
  • Vivelys USA

Below are short introductions to the specific innovations from the winners that merited their recognition.

Amos Industrie

Amos Industrie, France’s Faupin Group, developed the innovative Tribaie, which literally means Berry Sorter and separates the grapes based on density rather than optics. Scarcity of labor and higher costs have pushed the industry to increase mechanization, and this ingenious approach to grape sorting overcomes some challenges faced by optical sorters.

After destemming, grapes are placed in a sugar or must solution that’s keyed to a density chosen by the winemaker. The grapes that are riper than the solution sink because they have a higher brix, while the grapes that are less ripe float. Rotating rollers catch smashed, crushed or rotting grapes into a third selection. Each selection can then be vinified separately into two or three different wines depending on the winemaker’s preference.

The Tribaie is used at approximately 100 wineries around the world, and this is the second year that it has been successfully used in the United States by L’Aventure and Staglin Family Vineyards.

Biome Makers

Using sophisticated medical diagnostic technology, WineSeq by Biome Makersidentifies the microbiome fingerprint of soil and helps predict the effects that the microbiome has on the quality and sensory properties of wine. This quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the microbial biodiversity of the vineyard further allows for monitoring the sustainability of crops while providing an early diagnosis of disease before any symptoms are showing. WineSec is a precision oenology tool allowing enologists to create more complex and genuine wines based on a better understanding of their Terroir.

Biome Makers, Inc. is a biotech company developing tools to better understand the role of the microbial communities that are present in the soil by combining DNA sequencing and “Intelligent Computing.” The company has a database of more than 2,000 microbial species affecting vine health.

Liberation Distribution

Liberation Distribution (LibDib) is doing 3-tier distribution entirely differently and is rapidly changing how 3-tier alcohol distribution happens. LibDib is the first licensed distributor to also be a technology company, and their platform provides distribution for all makers regardless of size and without favorable placements, advertising or incentives.

Any maker of specialty wine, craft spirits and microbrews can use the platform to get their products to market easily and in legal compliance. After uploading a license and basic information, the Maker defines product selection, calculates the listed wholesale price, and defines where to distribute—down to the account level. Using the LibDib platform, restaurants, bars, and retailers can purchase a wider variety of products at a lower cost, saving time and money for both makers and retailers.

Since LibDib launched their platform in March 2017, more than 1,500 products have become available on their platform in California and New York, with plans to expand to new markets soon.

Tule Technologies

Tule Technologies’s new FieldStat Water Stress Forecasts gives growers a view into the future status of their vines and leaps into the future of precision agriculture. The forecasts help the grower develop a site-specific understanding of the vine water-relations of each block by showing how the water stress level of the vines are responding to irrigation, rainfall, and evapotranspiration, so that the grower can make more confident irrigation decisions and achieve water stress and grape quality targets in a diverse set of vineyards.

Vivelys USA

Vivelys has developed an alternative to hyper-oxygenation and hyper-protection of white and rosé wines, which consists of adding the quantity of oxygen to the must corresponding to its need to eliminate the polyphenols responsible for the subsequent oxidations.

Cilyo by Vively measures the real need of oxygen for each must, white or rosé, by injecting a known amount of oxygen and measuring its consumption thanks to the action of the polyphenol oxidase enzyme. This helps winemakers determine the optimum amount of oxygen to add to the must.

The dosage of oxygen will reduce the amount of phenols before fermentation, preserving aromas and increasing the mid-palate. This technique has several positive impacts including reducing the need of fining agents for must protection and the ability to add stabilized and improved press fractions to blends.

Wine Industry Award Winners and Reception

The 2017 Individual and Supplier Wine Industry Award winners announced by the North Bay Business Journal can be found here. Join us in honoring all of them all at the awards reception on November 28, 2017 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa in Santa Rosa.


Advancements in Protein Stability & CMC vs. Traditional Cold Stabilization
27 October, 2017

By Branden Hamby

Consumers don’t enjoy seeing haze or tartrate crystals floating around in their wines. Therefore, protein stability as well as the cold stabilization of wines happens in cellars all over the world. Winemakers and cellar crew dread the time consuming and energy-intensive process of stabilization by chilling, seeding, and racking the wine off the tartrate crystals or fining agents. Fortunately, breakthroughs in innovative technologies have led to the creation of products that stabilize the wine without going through this subtractive process.

Carboxyl Methyl Cellulose (CMC) is a colloidal stabilizer that inhibits potassium bitartrate crystal growth. It does this by preventing microcrystal nucleation and interrupting growth phases through disorganization of the surface of the crystal. This removes the need for refrigeration, reduces wine loss, and speeds up wine preparation time before bottling. The CMC method requires less time and energy use than traditional cold stabilization methods and is a non-subtractive alternative.

“Protein stability before using CMC is key,” says Tinus Els, the Technical Sales Manager for BSG Wine. “New technology has allowed us to detect protein stability faster and more efficiently, allowing winemakers to make better choices about methods to stabilize their wines.”

Tinus will be leading the North Coast Wine Industry Expo session on the Advancement of Protein Stability & CMC vs. Traditional Cold Stabilization. He has years of winemaking experience working as a flying winemaker all over the world including winemaking project in France, Spain, Chile, and South Africa. Joining him will be a panel consisting of winemakers Tim Donahue, Director of Winemaking at College Cellars in Washington, Gabriel Valenzuela, Senior Winemaker at Rack and Riddle Custom Crush in California, and Leo Facini who is a Technical Manager with Juclas USA. Together they will showcase the different cold stabilization methods and the new Proteotest Kit by Enology VASON, which allows for quick measurement of when protein stability is reached without over estimating the bentonite requirement.

Not only will the session go over the differences between CMC and traditional cold stabilization methods, but will also dive into an in-depth analysis on costs associated with the methods and how they affect wine quality. Session participants will also get to taste trials conducted using the CMC vs Traditional Cold Stabilization methods.

The 2017 WIN Expo Trade Show and Conference will take place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA on November 30th. For more information and registration, go to

New Machine Uses Gravity to Meet Grape Sorting Challenges
16 October, 2017

By Dawn Dolan

Could the French Tribaie be the next big thing for ensuring quality of wine with its unique grape-sorting process?

This time of year Northern California is focused on grapes and the quality and condition in which they arrive at the winery:  brix level, flavor profiles, seed color, bird damage, rot. To ensure quality, many wineries engaged in grape sorting, and at the basic level, that sorting starts with labor – a scarce commodity in California at this time.

A new option in the US market is the Tribaie Grape Sorter, made by the French company Amos Industrie, and Staglin Family Vineyard, a high-end winery in Rutherford, Napa Valley is the first U.S. winery to buy the Tribaie grape sorting machine.

Normally the first line of quality control is hand-sorting; that is, removing all visible leaves, debris, and obviously bad bunches before the grapes hit the crusher/destemmer. Used for millennia, this process is constrained by the shortage of labor, and even in premier grape-growing areas labor issues push more and more wineries to use machine harvesters.

The machine-harvested grapes come in very clean of debris (the machine harvester blows off the greenery), and sans stem, making the labor needed to sort at a basic level superfluous.

The owners of Staglin Family Vineyard were impressed by the Tribaie at a wine show in France and decided to invest in the machine. Company representative Gilles Deschamps was on hand for the trial of the new machine at Staglin during their Cabernet harvest, along with Paolo Bouchard of Bouchard Cooperage, the machine’s American importer.

The Tribaie offered a commanding presence on the crush pad. Using specific gravity to sort grapes, the machine bathes grapes in an infinity pool of sugar water, which the winemaker adjusts to her preferred brix level. Grapes not dense enough due to lack of appropriate ripeness, float to the top of the solution and are siphoned off.

Optical sorters that employ high-speed cameras and image-processing software to quickly scan and sort destemmed grapes; eliminating grapes that are lacking in color and shape have received some criticism for removing good grapes inadvertently, and they struggle with white wine variety grapes. However, the Tribaie works equally for white and red grapes, as the machine uses density, not appearance, as a control.

First the de-stemmed grapes are fed into the hopper, where matter other than grapes is siphoned off immediately. Grapes are then led into a five-channel feeder, dispersing grapes into the bath in an orderly and even arrangement. Grapes not meeting the specific gravity settings, or those that are broken, float at the top, and are siphoned into one bin. Winemakers may choose to use these grapes for a secondary wine production.

Grapes exiting the machine are clean, the layer of dust coating grapes this time of year washed away, and all at or above the pre-determined brix level. The sugar bath responsible for the specific gravity should be checked approximately every two hours, and can be recalibrated as needed.

Each machine is made to order by Amos Industrie, who makes many types of winery and fruit harvesting equipment. They started with their first such machine seventeen years ago, and currently have 105 machines operating in France. Asked if they were specifically targeting Napa and Sonoma Counties where the average price per bottle is far higher here than anywhere else in the US, Deschamps replied that they are targeting, “anyone who wants top quality, reserve wines.”

Taking hand-harvested or mechanically picked grapes equally, Tribaie can eliminate labor expenses of sorting, while improving wine quality, which seems cost beneficial. However the overall price of the machine may prove prohibitive to wineries that produce wines at lower volume and price point, or are satisfied with their current product.

First and foremost, for the Tribaie to be effective the winemaker must call harvest before grapes become too ripe. “This machine is not for overripe grapes coming in at higher than 27* brix”, notes Deschamps, “and for wineries who are harvesting fewer hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres), it probably doesn’t make sense.”

Offered in two sizes, Amos Industrie will be showcasing their larger Tribaie at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo, held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on November 30 this year. Although the first vintage of Staglin Family Vineyards wine won’t be available for a taste test, Gilles Deschamps will be on hand to discuss the machine with interested parties. He notes that a designated technician is already in place in the USA for the first Tribaie, and those to follow.


Pét Nat Wines: A Fresh Look at an Old Style for 2017 and Beyond
29 September, 2017

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

Contrary to popular belief, Dom Pérignon was not the first monk in France to discover the magic between wine fermentation and carbon dioxide to create the bubbles in a bottle that led to champagne.

Although he did pioneer a number of important winemaking techniques, including the use of cork to contain wines under pressure, other winemakers throughout France during the 1600’s had already invented a different method of capturing the sparkle in wines known as Pétillant Naturel.

Pétillant Naturel, or Pét Nat for short, means natural sparkling in French. It differs from the méthode champenoise way of making sparkling wine in that no secondary fermentation is required. In the Pét Nat method, known as méthode ancestrale, grapes are picked, crushed and then bottled while the wine is undergoing its primary fermentation. The process is completed in the bottle without the addition of yeast or sugars.

The result is a fresh, spritzy, low-alcohol wine, full of bright, natural fruit flavors and sometimes a bit hazy in appearance, as the wines typically do not undergo clarification, so dead yeast cells may still be present in the finished bottle.

“It’s an artisanal style of winemaking,” explains sommelier Christopher Sawyer. “It’s not primitive; it’s just the most pure version of making sparkling wine.”

Sawyer is well versed with winemaking styles. He is internationally known for his 20 years as a private sommelier, as well as for his experience as a wine journalist, wine judge, consultant and public speaker. Sawyer has traveled the world following trends in wine and participating as a judge in international wine competitions.

One trend he is particularly focused on right now is Pét Nat wine – and he’s not alone.

“They’re fun,” he exclaims. “Young, spirited, sometimes not perfect because they can look a little different … but thanks to the recent success of orange wines and the distinctive characteristics of the grape varieties being used, as well as the vineyards where they are grown, sommeliers and other people who know wines say ‘that’s an interesting wine, let me taste it.’”

Sawyer notes that although Pét Nat bubbles are not as “powerful or heady” as those in champagne, the style of winemaking is as clean as it can get, with little to no manipulation of the original fruit.

“One of the main concerns for winemakers is the purity of the fruit, the varietals and the clones they’re working with,” attests Sawyer. “A Pét Nat wine is a good way of showcasing the fruit of your winery with minimal intervention, so the finished flavors are reflective of (both) the vintage and the special vineyard blocks they are working with, instead of making sparkling wines that are mainly blends and typically topped off with younger wines if they are non-vintage bruts.”

Sawyer maintains that one of the primary advantages of Pét Nat wines is how quickly they are ready to be uncapped and enjoyed.

“Champagne (and other sparkling wine) is an investment for winemakers,” he affirms. “With méthode champenoise, you have to be patient and wait for two years for the wine, sugar and yeast to bond together in the bottle.

“On the other hand, Pét Nat will typically be ready to release the following spring or early summer. For these reasons, you have a spirited, young wine to market the following year. So, instead of waiting for something to be great, it’s already young, vibrant and showy right out of the gate.”

Perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of Pét Nat wines is their ability to complement a wide variety of fresh food, particularly in an era where both are much valued.

“Knowing about wine is one thing; the real point is wine and food pairing,” Sawyer opines. “The cookie cutter land of flavors, we’ve gotten away from that in the last two decades. We grow our own herbs, veggies and fruit trees; we like going to farmers markets, instead of relying on grocery stores, and sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming practices are now en vogue in the wine industry. Basically, we’ve gotten to a level where pure wines can make a real impact.”

“Pét Nat comes out in the spring,” he continues. “That’s when we get into the green factor that goes with freshness. That’s what this young, spritzy style of wine is all about – to go with everything from fresh oysters, split pea soup and fresh salads with spring flower petals, to grilled mushrooms, fish, chicken or pork with vibrant sauces … You’re not looking into the future with these wines. You’re looking into the here and now.”

Christopher Sawyer will be sharing more of his enthusiasm and perspectives on Pét Nat wines at the upcoming 2017 WIN Expo Trade Show and Conference taking place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA on November 30, in a session called Pét Nat: Make Your Winery POP!

Faith Armstrong, winemaker and owner of Onward Wines, and Jen Pelka, owner of The Riddler and the Principal and Founder of Magnum PR, will join Sawyer, who will be moderating the session.

For more information and registration, go to

Experts Fear Global Wine Industry Lags Dangerously Behind in Embracing Social Media
15 September, 2017

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

“We have to understand this … that in 25 years, there won’t be people alive who have lived without it.”

So predicts Monika Elling, CEO and Founder of Foundations Marketing Group (FMG), a strategic communications and brand building company for the wine and spirits industry.

Beyond Social Media 101: The Next Frontier

Elling is referring to social media and other digital communication platforms, citing the critical importance of moving beyond what she calls “retro thinking” to embrace customers where they live in a technologically advanced world.

“They (customers) don’t even think of it as social media,” Elling emphasizes. “They see it as part of their lives, how they gather information. In reality, it’s as much a part of life as is a car (for everyone). We don’t talk about the horse and buggy anymore, right?”

Elling is well versed on digital technologies and communication within the various alcohol beverage communities. Before creating FMG, Elling was Director of Public Relations at Lauber Imports, a division of Southern Wines & Spirits, America’s largest wholesaler.  She was also Chief Marketing Officer for Monarchia Matt International, where she launched the European company’s American division.

As a noted speaker and author, Elling is sought after for her expertise on social and digital media and their implications for the state of the wine and spirits sector. Her views on these topics are crystal clear.

“Today, everything is visually driven,” Elling observes. “If you don’t have a website that drives your window to the world, you’re left behind. Consumers will see it. It takes a split second to make a decision about your brand – and 80 percent of wineries on a global basis don’t understand this.”

Elling’s concern for the wine and spirits industries stems from her perception that the success producers may have enjoyed decades ago will no longer be possible in a landscape that has been transformed by different communication platforms.

“Today every word has a ripple effect, nothing is said in a vacuum,” Elling warns. “There’s a serious disconnect with understanding how information travels on a brand-building scale. It’s all about where consumers sit. And they are light years ahead on these conversations.”

Elling notes that many “shockingly significant producers” with huge investments in property, winemaking expertise and equipment have “websites that scream of fifteen years ago.  And so do their bottle labels,” she adds.

She believes the predicament stems from a type of abstract disengagement with the customer, which she illustrates like this:

“There’s some Baby Boomer guy in the middle of a country (anywhere), sitting on a stunningly beautiful piece of agricultural property with five hundred years of history, making up a label that he thinks a U.S., female, millennial consumer will buy … seriously?”

Her advice, to the industry as a whole, is to develop a business plan that is in alignment on multiple points and strategies, including a communications component that is directed by those with the expertise to handle it.

“The industry is focused on winemaking expertise, production and equipment,” Elling points out. “But, we’re not spending resources on hiring talent for digital media communications – and then we wonder why it’s not working properly?”

Elling will be sharing her insights and solutions about these issues during the upcoming 2017 WIN Expo Trade Show and Conference taking place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA on November 30, in a session called “Beyond Social Media 101: The Next Frontier.”

Marci Ikeler, the CEO of Little Arrows, a company that focuses on “creative social media that drives real business results” will moderate the session. Other speakers on the panel include Chip Forsythe, Winemaker for Rebel Coast Winery and Christopher O’Gorman, Director of Communications for Rodney Strong Wine Estates.

For more information and registration, go to

Wine in Cans Shifting Consumer Perceptions, Especially Among Millennial Drinkers
01 September, 2017

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

The classic “wine snob” model, epitomized by images of cork sniffing connoisseurs spending lavish amounts of money on bottles culled from famous European cellars, may well be making way for consumers embracing a newer, fresher version of the beverage that’s driving a sharp, upward trend in the wine-buying marketplace: wine in cans.

Canned Wine: Crushing the Stigma by Raising the Quality

Nielsen announced earlier this year that sales of canned wine increased from $6.4 million to $14.5 million in 2016, a whopping 125 percent jump. The same report notes that canned wine dollar sales soared 170 percent, versus a six percent increase in the more established box wine business for the same period.

Melanie Virreira, marketing team leader for Ball Corporation in North and Central America, attributes the growth in canned wine consumption primarily to millennials, who continue to break patterns all over the alcohol beverage map.

“What’s driving wine in can growth today is the combination of consumer trends and recognition of can advantages and capabilities,” Virreira attests. “We have a new wave of younger drinkers who are very receptive to new packaging types and unconcerned with the traditional ways of consuming their favorite beverage. Ultimately, they want to drink wine and they are asking for a package that allows them to do that where they want to and how they want to.”

It’s worth noting that wine in cans is not a new concept. In 2000, Francis Ford Coppola broke ground in the industry by launching the popular Sofia Minis; sparkling wine in a can, complete with an attached pink sipping straw. Other wineries followed suit and the canned wine revolution continued.

This past year, Coppola’s winery released three new versions of its well-known Diamond brand wines in cans: the Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

According to Jennifer Leitman, Coppola’s Senior Marketing VP, the growth in canned wine and response to the newest Diamond wine in cans has been “amazing,” which she chalks up to businesses successfully tracking and responding to contemporary lifestyles.

“Our industry isn’t immune to larger trends,” Leitman notes. “People take their music, their entertainment, their food, their phone … everywhere. Computers are a great example. From giant desktop computers, to laptops, to smartphones and tablets. They’re getting smaller and more portable. You can work from about anywhere now … why not drink wine in more places too? Blending experiences together is big.”

Virreira and Leitman will be bringing their insights and perspectives about the canned wine industry to the 2017 WIN Expo, taking place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA on November 30, in a conference session called “Canned Wine: Crushing the Stigma by Raising the Quality.”

Virreira will be moderating the session and Jim Doehring, Founder of Backpack Wine Co. and Ashley Sebastionelli, President and Co-Founder of Lucky Clover Packaging will join Leitman on the panel.

For more information and registration, go to:

DNA Maps Consumers' Route to Good Wine Choices
18 August, 2017

The wine purchase decision is a confusing, anxious moment for many consumers, and a critical opportunity for wine brands. How does, will, should, one decide which wine to purchase when not in a position to taste it first? Many marketing strategies vie for influence over the consumer with critic scores and curation, competition medals, premium packaging, brand positioning, and now DNA based taste targeting.

Vinome, a wine club that sends its members wine based on their DNA, launched last month as part of the Helix marketplace. Helix is a DNA sequencing platform that will sequence people’s DNA for the relatively low entry fee of $80, and then allow them to purchase add on services from Helix’s partners, who then query Helix’s database to customize their products to the consumer. The marketplace launched with 18 partner companies, mostly health, fitness and nutrition focused, but also with Vinome representing wine in the entertainment category.

Helix wants to empower people to use their DNA every day by sequencing the DNA once and then querying that data as often as possible to unlock a lifetime of experiences tailored to the individual by adding more and more product to their marketplace, and though it may be a little surprising to find wine among the first products, it makes sense both from a consumer and winery perspective.

Explaining the idea behind Vinome at Helix’s launch event in San Francisco, Ronnie Andrews CEO of Vinome started by pointing out that it was increasingly difficult for small wineries to get distribution and get in front of consumers, and that Vinome was a way to do that. He then went on to explain how Vinome works and why it’s valuable.

To illustrate the conundrum that many consumers face when selecting a wine, he presented two wines, one from Balletto and the other from Stonestreet; both Chardonnays, both quality wines, but very different. One was crisp and steel fermented, the other textured and barrel aged, so to choose a bottle that fits their tastes, the consumer would need a high degree of knowledge, or they could let Vinome make the selection for them.

Ronnie Andrews CEO of Vinome

According to Andrews, the selections Vinome makes for their customers have an impressive 98% positive response, but they are not entirely based on querying the DNA.

When setting up a Vinome account the user is asked to answer a series of questions about tastes they prefer like sweetened coffee, chocolate, and other food flavors. That information is then added to the DNA information from Helix’s database to create a taste profile. “The survey gets us in the right neighborhood, and then the DNA narrows it down to exactly the right street,” Andrews explained.

Vinome analyzes all the wines in their store for their flavor compound and matches them with the customers’ flavor profiles to ensure a happy marriage. Currently, Vinome offers wines from around 25 boutique wineries, but they are looking to expand their selection and offer a wider variety for all their customers’ taste profiles. Andrews also sees a future where Vinome taste profiles have a reach beyond the wine club and online store to restaurant wine lists and retail shelf talkers advising consumers on which flavor profile best matches a given wine.

From a consumer standpoint a 98% likelihood of getting a wine you’ll like is a good proposition, and, at least at this early point in the DNA customization market, it is also a novel concept, which in itself adds to the experience.

For wineries being introduced to consumers they may not otherwise have engaged with is obviously a benefit, and the Vinome customers might be particularly desirable as early adopters of new technology and therefore likely trendsetters, not to mention that they had $80 to pay for the initial DNA sequencing, which says something about their disposable income.

While much of the Vinome model isn’t new, we’ve seen curated wine clubs with customer taste feedback algorithms before, Vinome has taken the extra step in bringing the hard science of DNA sequencing for taste preferences into the wine business, and as the science grows and becomes more prevalent, it may well play a sizable role in the future of consumers’ wine choices.


Maryland Wine In Pursuit of Excellence
04 August, 2017

By Paul Vigna

Rob Deford

Rob Deford

Rob Deford knows about the footsteps he follows as owner and president of Boordy Vineyards, which sits on an historic 240-acre farm with its signature 19th century stone barn in the Long Green Valley of northeastern Baltimore County.

It’s the winery started by Philip Wagner, a former editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun who made wine with, among others, H.L. Mencken and became so immersed in the development of his vineyard that the dean of American enologists, Maynard A. Amerine, once called him the most influential on grape growing east of the Rockies. Indeed, it was Wagner who wrote a book called American Wines and How to Make Them that was published in 1933, around the time Prohibition was repealedIt was widely distributed and used by many, wrote Regina McCarthy in Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History, because all the other books on on wine making and grape growing at that time were written in French.

Now it’s Deford’s business to grow, the family having purchased the operation in 1980. “Boordy is a winery with a 72-year history in Maryland, so the pursuit of excellence had to be against the headwinds of this history,” he said. “The key is to maintain an open mind, and avoid complacency. At various points, I have felt that our winery was bumping its head against a ‘glass ceiling’ of wine quality, and at each of these moments, we have taken steps to break through this ceiling to achieve the next level of quality.”

That included the creation of the “Landmark Project” in 2006, which involved replanting all 47 acres of its estate vineyards and building a new winery, which opened in September 2013. “The effect upon the quality of our wines from these two initiatives has been remarkable,” he said.

Boordy Vineyards

Boordy Vineyards

Boordy is one of a handful of the state’s 85 licensed wineries (as of 2016) that have sunk a significant investment into their business, encompassing the vineyards, production equipment and tasting room. They have been at the forefront of a steady growth in wineries – there were 41 in January 2011 – and gallons sold – a more than 12 percent increase in fiscal year 2016 over the previous year. Annual sales of Maryland wine in 2015 are estimated at $47 million.

Still, getting noticed by the state’s consumers remains a work in progress, said Kevin Atticks, longtime executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association and founder of the Baltimore-area management firm called Grow & Fortify. That company also represents the state’s craft brewers and distillers.

“The biggest obstacles continue to be the lack of retail market penetration and the general perception of local wine by retailers and restaurants, based on old experiences,” he said. “… to advance Maryland’s wine industry, we need to continue to raise the quality throughout the state, while concurrently engaging in promotions that increase awareness of those wines and the incredible diversity of the region.”

Dave Collins, phot by Mary Kate McKenna Photography

Dave Collins, photo by Mary Kate McKenna Photography

Among those producers raising the bar is Big Cork Vineyards in western Maryland, within earshot of the cannons at Antietam National Battlefield. Its founding was one battle Maryland won, luring winemaker Dave Collins from a successful tenure at Breaux Vineyards in Virginia. He’s the master winemaker and head of operations at Big Cork, where the long list of grapes grown there include Gewurztraminer, Vermentino, Barbera and Petit Verdot. Its Russian Kiss, a dry blend of Muscat and Russian grapes, has been a hit in the tasting room and among judges. And a growing number of state and national awards, including the state’s Comptroller’s Cup this year for its Cabernet Franc, attests to the quality of those grapes and the winemaking. Big Cork opened in 2016.

“One of our greatest accomplishments is the success in growing such a wide number of varieties,” Collins said, noting there are 21 grape varieties growing on 35 acres. They’re adding another 5 acres of vines in 2018, eyeing the obstacles they face. “One of our goals is to establish enough estate vineyards to meet the ever-growing demand for our wine experience,” he said.

Big Cork Vineyards Tasting Room

Big Cork Vineyards Tasting Room, photo by Ryan Smith

That Big Cork succeeded so quickly in the vineyard was helped by Collins’ 25 years at a winery 20 minutes down the road. Collins: “My experience with growing and making wines in the Piedmont led me to choose varieties I knew I could grow successfully, make wines out of masterfully, and deliver to an emerging market.”

Another winery that has seen a similar acceleration in profile and success is Black Ankle, in Mount Airy, about a 45-minute drive west of Baltimore. Founded by former management consultants (and couple) Sarah O’Herron and Ed Boyce, they purchased a 146-acre parcel in 2002 and soon planted grapes. Six years later they opened for business, buoyed by a Governor’s Cup award before they had released their first wine.

Now one of the East Coast’s top wineries, Black Ankle has created a demand and supply unlike any other producer in the state, evident by a wine club that has topped 2,300 and necessitated an expansion of its tasting room that will be completed this fall.

Black Ankle Vineyards

Black Ankle Vineyards

Achieving excellence, O’Herron said recently, is through consistency.

“We take the most pride not in our best wine, but in our worst, which we go to great pains to ensure will still be good,” she said. “One of the best compliments that we get from customers is that they feel safe trying, sharing or giving any of our wines as a gift, because they know it will be good. That reliability across vintages, varietals and blends is what we strive for.”

The challenges to attaining the reliability, she said, are numerous, starting with the vagaries of the climate and the effects on each vintage.

“I believe that consistency is the key to growing our region,” she said. “By consistency, I do not mean sameness – there is plenty of room for a huge variety of styles, tastes, and price points, but what customers want to know is what to expect, and they want to get it every time. We don’t need to all be making ‘hand-crafted high quality wine,’ but whatever we go for, customers should know what to expect.”

Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron

Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron

That, agreed Atticks, has to be the goal of all of the state’s producers, which stretch from Bordeleau Vineyards on the state’s southeastern tip to Deep Creek Cellars on the state’s western border with West Virginia. In between are a handful, like Boordy, that have been around for more than 30 years – Basignani, Fiore, Linganore and Elk Run, to name a few. Amid the larger group are specialty producers of mead (Orchid Cellars), ciders and cysers (Millstone) and sparkling (Great Shoals).

Kevin Atticks

“A wine industry has many segments with different winery business models and market approaches throughout,” Atticks said. “Quality, though, should run deep through each. It’s no longer enough to market as ‘local’ wine… it must be excellent in quality and marketing in order to compete in today’s market.”

They can compete better now than 15 years ago, Deford noted, by what he said were strides made by the industry in fixing the state’s legislative environment for wineries, sticking together as a group and lobbying Annapolis annually. It doesn’t mean every hurdle has been removed, he added, bemoaning what he called the “lack of dedicated viticultural and enological research” by the University of Maryland.

“For years wineries have worked in semi-isolation, like mini experiment stations; a single varietal trial can take 10-15 years to resolve; grape growing and winemaking protocols need to be tailored to the specific conditions of our region,” he said. “We do have the benefit of [University of Maryland extension specialist] Joe Fiola; however, he has a near-impossible task [small fruit specialist] and a miniscule budget. Far more research is needed to accelerate the improvement in the quality of our region’s wines.”

Maryland’s wine industry is similar to neighbors Pennsylvania and New Jersey: growing in size, its wineries stretching across the state; wine lists largely a mix of sweet and dry; its presence most often recognized with five or six major festivals throughout the summer months. Stories on the state’s wineries, like a recent one in Wine Enthusiast, are documenting the growth. As O’Herron said, stressing Black Ankle’s aim for consistency, quality and customer service, “the more good Maryland Wine experiences that people have, the more they will be open to trying more of what is out there and spreading the word about our industry.”

But while more consumers are familiar with the industry’s existence than 10 years ago, recognition remains a challenge in the shadow of the well-funded Virginia industry to the south and against the many brands that proliferate retail shelves. Maryland wine right now accounts for less than 3 percent of the wine consumed by Marylanders. That, Deford said, needs to change.

“This is a low figure, even by regional wine industry standards,” he said. “We have an affluent customer base, so this begs the question of how we can claim a greater market share? In my view, the answer lies in offering wines that are of exceptional value. Many wineries, including Boordy, have produced top-notch wines and sold them for $50+/bottle. This mountain has been scaled: the real estate at the top is scarce, and the air is thin. Can we consistently grow and produce table wines of exceptional quality for $14-18/bottle? I believe this is what will ultimately have the greatest impact upon our market share and upon our reputation as a region.”

Additional wineries to consider for a taste of quality Maryland wines:

This article is just one of our exclusive “In Pursuit of Excellence” series that highlights the champions of wine quality in Eastern U.S. wine industry who are impacting the reputation of the entire region. In Pursuit of Excellence is also the theme for the 2018 U.S. Wine & Beverage Exposition & Conference scheduled for February 21st & 22nd in Washington, D.C.


Pennsylvania Wine In Pursuit of Excellence
21 July, 2017

By Paul Vigna

Virginia Mitchell

Virginia Mitchell is one of the young faces of a growing Pennsylvania wine industry, one that ranks among the top 10 states nationally in wineries (more than 200) and among the top five in wine production (1.6 million gallons annually) and grapes grown.

A millennial, she’s among a handful of female winemakers in the state, one educated at Penn State, partly under the tutelage of the current state enologist, Denise Gardner. Articulate, she’s a willing advocate for Pa. wines, eager to tout the glass-half-full side of the business. She’ll be carrying that banner at the American Wine Society’s 50th convention in Pocono Manor, Pa. in November, sitting on a panel that will discuss the diversity of grapes that thrive across this state.

Galer Estate Winery in Chester County’s Kennett Square is her third stop in Pennsylvania. She arrived there in 2014, and has worked with the owners on replanting the vineyards with less common varietals that she feels will better express the unique soils and climates of Kennett Square. It’s just one of the issues the state’s wineries face, an industry searching for wines that will strike a chord with consumers.

”A winemaker at a small winery, like Galer Estate, has to balance what the consumer expects and what can actually be produced from the grapes in the vineyard,” Mitchell said. “This can be challenging, since we’re still learning what grapes will grow well in our soils and in this climate. What we can grow well may not be what the clientele expects.”

The reality is that the clientele remains largely in the dark about what to expect, despite a significant uptick since 2010 in the number of producers making premium wines. While the industry itself grapples with its direction: largely sweet wines vs. dry wines and a focus on events vs. a priority on the wines.

Armstrong Winery

Armstrong Winery

Jake Gruver is a member of the Pennsylvania Wine Association (PWA) board of directors, but also is co-owner of a 6-year-old winery called Armstrong Valley in Halifax, north of Harrisburg.

One issue the PWA faces continually, he said, is responding appropriately to various issues without alienating some wineries. “Therefore, our approach thus far has been to be generic with initiatives that serve the entire industry,” he said. “I do think that going forward, we will see more specific issues being addressed.”

Jan Waltz

Jan Waltz was a supplier first at his Lancaster County site, for years selling grapes that wound up winning awards for other wineries. Then he and wife Kim opened Waltz Vineyards in 2009 and turned it into one of the state’s top wineries, based on awards, sales and restaurant placement. But it hasn’t been easy.

“Unfortunately, our biggest obstacle has always been to convince the wine connoisseur that great wines can be made in our region,” he said. “For the past 20 years we have worked diligently to educate the consumer that world-class wines CAN be made in central Pennsylvania.”

How? First, figure out the terroir to determine which grape varieties can thrive in his winery’s rural location 10 miles north of Lancaster, nearby an American Viticulture Area (AVA). Then excel in the vineyard and the cellar. “When this recipe for success is passionately followed, all the consumer needs to do is taste,” he said.

The two have complemented those efforts with education, for themselves and others. It was Waltz Vineyards that provided the site for an April 2017 workshop that assembled winemakers from 12 high-quality East Coast wineries, stretching from Long Island to southern Virginia. “We have hosted grape growing seminars through Penn State to educate others on how to produce top-quality fruit,” he said. “We have consulted for many start-up vineyard/winery operations. We have engaged in roundtable discussions and seminars to give feedback and assist the industry in its pursuit of regional identity. However, the most important contribution we have made is to consistently produce excellent wines.”

Allegro Winery

Allegro Winery

They’ve also run their business contrary to the norm, keeping their tasting room closed on Sundays and eschewing any association with a wine trail. Most wineries do belong to one or two trails – there are 14 total – that center around an activities calendar. Gruver said it’s the PWA’s responsibility to provide a positive environment for all wineries, no matter the business model.

“Currently the various wine trails throughout Pennsylvania are providing regional networks that have become instrumental in new start-up operations while at the same time supporting the older more established wineries,” he said. “When we work together, we all win.”

Carl Helrich

Allegro Winery is one of the oldest wineries in Pennsylvania, with the previous owners planting their first vines in 1973 in southern York County. Many of those vines, both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, provided a bridge and foundation to new owners Carl Helrich and wife Kris Miller.  

“We started in 2001 at Allegro, and the most difficult task we had was figuring out how to sell our wine,” Helrich said. “The winemakers and grape growers who came before me left lots of data points for what [grape] works and what doesn’t work. But the hardest obstacle we faced was trying to bring about consumer awareness for our wine and – more importantly – find a way to get the wine to their tables.”

Last year’s changes to the state’s liquor laws, allowing grocery stores and other retail outlets to sell Pennsylvania-made wines, came on the heels of an improving relationship the past couple years between the state’s Liquor Control Board and wineries, Helrich said those changes offer more options but also more to grasp.

“Our industry made a seismic shift and now looks from the outside much more like other states than it ever has,” he said. “Going forward, learning a new distribution system will be our biggest challenge.”

That notwithstanding, Helrich said his goal remains making “good wines across all of our wine list. What makes me most proud is the fact that customers come to our winery and find it difficult to narrow down what they want to take home,” he said. “That, for me, is success in the cellar.”

A collaboration with two winemaker friends (Brad Knapp from Pinnacle Ridge and Joanne Levengood from Manatawny Creek) have helped, as they meet several times a year to critique each other’s wines. Indeed, they have combined to make three vintages of a dry red blend called Trio, where each of the winemakers contribute grapes and their expertise in its production. It’s the state’s best example of a productive collaboration.

Galer Estate

Galer Estate

Galer Estate’s Mitchell said she still consults with Gardner, her former teacher, if there are issues with a wine, and continues to document her work in the cellar to avoid making the same mistakes again. In the end, she said, what she’s making and selling affects Galer Estate’s bottom line and the industry overall.

“After a wine tasting, if one person walks away from Galer Estate’s tasting room with a more positive outlook on Pennsylvania/East Coast wines [and hopefully they also buy a bottle or two], then I believe the region has become that much better,” she said.

What will help the state’s wine industry is a recent influx of $1 million annually to use for marketing and also for education. While this funding is long overdue, Gruver noted that it provides its own pressure to raise the profile and acceptance of Pennsylvania wine.

“In the past, the wine industry in some of our border states [New York and Virginia] have had a much more robust marketing effort because they had the funds to do so,” he said. Now Pennsylvania has the same opportunities. “Our challenge will be to make sure we don’t over-promise and under-deliver.”

Additional wineries to consider for a taste of quality Pennsylvania wines:

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This article is just one of our exclusive “In Pursuit of Excellence” series that highlights the champions of wine quality in Eastern U.S. wine industry who are impacting the reputation of the entire region. In Pursuit of Excellence is also the theme for the 2018 U.S. Wine & Beverage Exposition & Conference scheduled for February 21st & 22nd in Washington, D.C.

Building a New Winery with Deep Roots in Paso Robles
11 July, 2017

The success of Paso Robles wine is a community effort according to David Parrish, owner of Parrish Family Vineyards, who has been growing grapes in Paso for forty years and making wine for twelve. Now, he says, is the right time for him to build his own winery in Paso Robles’ Adelaida AVA.

After graduating from UC Davis, Parrish began his wine industry career doing vineyard trellis work for luminaries Robert Mondavi, Bob Steinhauer and others throughout Napa. Today he holds 24 patents for trellis design and continues the innovation he considers essential for farming success.

When Parrish left Napa to return to Paso Robles, he was inspired by Mondavi’s vision of transforming an area into a world-class wine region, and believed that it didn’t just apply to Napa. “I see that same kind of energy I saw in Napa then in Paso Robles today,” says Parrish, “There’s been real progress in Paso. They’ve actually developed their own style, they’ve taken the essence of the terroir, and now they’re starting to promote that. In just the last ten years their wines have gotten just exponentially better. I’m so encouraged!”

Parrish emphasizes the value of the community and neighbors helping each other. “One thing I like about Paso is that it’s still family owned vineyards and wineries. There’s nothing like the family winery where people live on the vineyard, live by their wineries, Tweet this it’s a family deal, and they really live it. It forms a closed knit community; we’re all pretty close.”

Parrish, who grows 150 acres of wine grapes in Paso Robles, explains that “I have wineries come to me needing just a few tons of Petite Sirah or Cab Franc, and I try my hardest to help them out. They would do the same for me; we have a great community.”

The Paso Robles CAB Collective is another example of the community spirit in Paso that Parrish cherishes. Formed in 2012, the Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective is an independent collaborative effort of Paso Robles growers and producers striving to promote the full potential of the Paso Robles region in producing superior quality, classic and age-worthy Cabernet and red Bordeaux varietals.

“At CAB Collective, we help each other, we discuss how we can make our wines better in an open forum of winemakers. That’s the way Paso is going, I hope that doesn’t change too much,” says Parrish.

The plans for the new winery reveal the ambition to grow, but lines up with the ideal of Paso as a region of family wineries. Parrish Family Vineyards currently produces 3,500 cases, but the new winery will have the capacity for 15,000 cases. “Size wise, I want to be a boutique winery, I don’t want to be a large winery. I want it to be a family winery, not a large corporate winery,” says Parrish, “but we’re absolutely going to grow into the 15,000 case capacity.”

Not just the functionality, but also the aesthetics of the winery was important to Parrish. “When you build these buildings they have pre-formed panels. They’re insulated and metal on both sides. They look like a metal building; I didn’t want that out there, it’s too commercial looking, so we built the complete winery, and now we’re cutting all the metal rafters off and put in wood rafters all the way around the perimeter. It looks like a barn.”

Building his own winery is a goal that Parrish has been meticulously planning and working toward. “I’m a planner,” he says, “so first I wanted to get my feet under me and learn a little more about the business. I’ve been in the vineyard business forty plus years, but the winery is a little different. A lot of people have had trouble making money in the wine industry, I’m hoping I’m not one of them.”

So far the trajectory looks good. For the past eight years Parrish Family Vineyards have been selling their wines direct to consumers through their downtown Paso Robles tasting room and growing steadily ten to fifteen percent per year. “I am glad we started small with a tasting room downtown. The learning curve was just right. We are ready to move out to one of our own vineyards with what we know now and the team I have with me,” says Parrish.

As a true family wine business, the team includes Parrish’s wife, Lynn, his daughter, Cecily, who runs the hospitality side of the business, and his son-in-law, Ethan Ray, as assistant winemaker and vineyard manager. Parrish believes that a strong and passionate team is essential for the success of his winery..

“I love the fact that I planted all these vineyards; I love taking it all the way through the wine process and into the bottle, it really is fun. And I love the aspect of working with people too, it does take a village, you really have to have a group of people around you that’s just as passionate as you are about what you’re trying to do. There’s long hours and not a whole lot of glory in the whole work process, so that passion is essential.”

Parrish’s own pride and passion is easily revealed when he talks about any aspect of his work, one of them being his 2014 Cabernet Clone 6 wine, which received a 94 point score from the Wine Enthusiast. Parrish says, “I really can’t say enough about this wine, I’m really happy with it. This is the style of wine I’ve been trying to make over the last 12 years.”

The Cabernet Clone 6, also known as the Jackson Clone, normally has smaller berries, but when Parrish harvested fruit in 2014 he notice it had very small berries, and the flavors were really intense. In previous years he had mixed this clone with the other clones to make their estate Cab, but this year he decided to experiment, kept the lot separate, and used a slightly different barrel program.

“It really paid off!” says Parrish. “I have an image, not just on my palette, but in how I want my wine to taste and look, and even how it greets you the first time you put your nose on it, and it’s really close to what I’ve been wanting to do.”

And, of course Parrish recognizes that quality of the wine is the key to success for his winery and for Paso Robles as a wine region.

“The reason I’m putting all of this money and effort into the winery is the improvement of Paso wine. Had I not seen the wine quality going up, in both my own wines and those around me, I wouldn’t be doing this,” says Parrish. “You have to have other wineries around you that are attractive in addition to your own, it’s a team effort.”

“In general I think Paso is really on a trajectory to compete worldwide with all the wine regions, no doubt about it.”Tweet this


Increased Competition for Labor Leaves Wine Hanging
23 June, 2017

By Laura Ness

The numbers don’t lie: there has been a steady loss off immigrant labor back across the Mexican border for the past 10 years, and it’s creating a true brain drain. The Mexican economy continues to accelerate, meaning fewer workers are motivated to head north. Many migrant workers have decided not to return to America for a variety of reasons, including cost, fear and uncertainty about how they’ll be treated. If they can get a job and live at home with their families, why leave?

Almost everyone in the wine industry we spoke with for this article indicated they were being impacted by the growing labor shortage, either by not being able to find skilled vineyard workers at critical times or by having to pay more for necessary services. Many also pointed to the impact of other more lucrative crops competing for labor resources: among them, sugar peas, cherries and perhaps the most alluring of them all, marijuana.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Mendocino County, where the weed industry has long been entrenched. Winegrower Martha Barra of Barra Family Vineyards says the competition for help is fierce year round and getting worse. They have 325 acres with 275 planted to grapes and demand for their price point continues to build. They are also extensively replanting as well as putting in new vineyards. Although she and her husband Charlie have five families living and working on their property, three of which came in 1983, it’s nowhere near enough to handle the growing business.

That prompted her to call the Sheriff at the Mendocino County jail to see if he had any convicts that could be let out for supervised work detail. After careful vetting, he was able to find men willing to work, and taking care of delivering and picking up the workers daily. They wear ankle bracelets and GPS monitors, and cost $11 per day. That’s actually working out well, as she’s had four to six such workers for the last four years. She even hired one young man full time after he completed his sentence.

Charlie and Martha Barra

But that source of labor is neither deep nor reliable enough. Barra said she has had to resort to labor contractors, but at pruning or harvest time, they would promise her a crew of 15 and show up with six. “We had no control over our own crop,” she says. “We can’t fool around. We have a lot of grapes, and when they’re ready, they’re ready.”

The Department of Agriculture also makes inmates available for field work, but of the 300 or so that were allegedly available, she was only able to get six to help with harvest.

So, desperate for help last year, she drove down by The Home Depot in Ukiah hoping to pick up some day laborers to do some pruning work, but it turned out the only work they were interested in was picking buds.

She thought, “This is what is happening to us. The marijuana industry is taking away workers.”

So at great cost, she hired a labor attorney from Texas with immigration experience and after many months, just hired 8 Mexican workers under the H-2A visa program for the first time. She hopes it will be worth the tremendous investment of time, energy and legal consulting fees she’s already made.

“H-2A is so complicated,” she notes. “Before we could apply, we had to advertise in Oregon and Arizona for job applicants to fill the positions. Only one person expressed interest: a mushroom picker from Ft. Bragg.” The domestic labor pool is just not there when it comes to the demanding labor of vineyard work.

The H-2A program, which brings in temporary workers for a maximum of 10 months, requires employers to provide lodging, transportation, meals or access to a kitchen to prepare meals. Workers are dedicated to that employer and cannot work elsewhere. Barra hopes to employ 8 such workers this year. If not, she says, “We’re screwed. All the newly planted vines need to be hand-tended.”

Says Barra, “We do not have to pay health insurance or payroll taxes for these workers. They do not draw social security. These are people who go back to their families when their time is up. It’s strictly regulated. The Department of Labor requires workers to be paid $12.57/hour, while minimum wage is $10.50. “Our minimum wage is $13 on our ranch,” says Barra.

She notes that in Washington State, the apple industry employs 15k H-2A workers, and the strawberry fields of Ventura, another 10k. The number of workers imported under this program has increased 18% in the last five years.

Kathleen Inman

Winegrower Kathleen Inman in Sonoma, has always been hands on, doing a good deal of work herself in her Olivet Grange Vineyard. “For spraying, mowing, and larger projects like pruning and harvest, I have used the same management company since 2000, when I planted the vineyard,” she says. Her labor costs have steadily increased, due to fewer workers being available, concurrent with fruit costs going up at least 10-20%.

The fundamental problem here is that there are very few American-born citizens with any interest in agriculture whatsoever: they simply are not interested in working the fields, orchards or vineyards.

Says Inman, “We have not found any existing residents in CA who want to do field work. There is a large pool of young people in Mexico who are anxious to work, but are not allowed to cross the border and work here legally. When I have had customers who have asked if they could help with harvest, without exception, after picking five or six bandejas (trays) at 70lbs each and lifting them up over their heads and into the picking bins on the tractors, they ask, ‘how much longer?’ The answer is, 8-10 hours a day for 8-10 weeks solid!”

“We are in a serious bind. There is just no labor,” says Winegrower Iscander “Isy” Borjón, who manages 500 vineyard acres in Amador County, and provides labor for an additional 500. He says workers go back to visit family in Mexico and find it way too expensive to return. Consequently, labor costs have skyrocketed 30% to 40% in the last few years. “Labor knows we need them,” he observes. “They smell blood in the water.”

Borjón notes that workers can make $800 to $1k in a week, working four hours per day picking cherries. “That’s a lot better than a 54-hour week at $11.50/hour pruning or shoot-thinning grapevines!”

“Working in the vineyards is hot, exhausting, difficult work,” agrees Rolando Herrera of Mi Sueno in Napa. “They will take a higher paying job, even if it means just 25 cents more per hour.”

Herrera, whose father was a Bracero, came to California as a migrant laborer, working three to four months per year. He’d like to see a return to a more lenient policy towards part-time labor: “We need a simple, legalized program for people to come for a few months a year.”

Seeing where the labor situation was headed, Herrera decided to offer his crew of 15 full-time employment, complete with benefits. With 40 total acres of tiny vineyards that are more like “gardens,” he cannot even consider mechanization. “I’m old school,” he says. And he works 12-hour days. “I’m happy to cut my margins to pay them.”

Nick Finarelli

Winegrower Nick Farinelli of Turley Vineyards in Amador, says the cherry crop this year was so huge, it sucked up the Ag labor pool right during a critical time for shoot thinning and leaf pulling. “We just had to wait it out,” he says. You can’t do that during harvest, though.

Winegrower Tom Gamble, is in a good place: it’s called Napa. Through direct ownership and partnerships, he farms 175 acres in Napa Valley. Says Gamble, “We have several direct long-time employees, and the rest are hired through our vineyard management company. Some have been with us for over 20 years. Like other high-end Napa Valley vineyards, we have high-touch vineyards, meaning many passes through each vine row are done every year. We employ one full time employee for about every 5-6 acres. We will hire directly or indirectly more people for peak labor times.”

Says Gamble, “Starting wages in Napa vineyards for those with no experience have for a long time been the highest in the industry and well above the minimum wage. It is now at or beyond the $15/hour rate, which officially doesn’t take effect in CA until 2023. This has ripple effects up the wage scale. The question now becomes will wine buyers support the increasing costs by paying more for a bottle of hand crafted Napa wine? If not, sustainability, the harmonizing of people, planet and profits becomes wobbly.”

Regardless of what happens in the future, there is no disputing that Napa is able to pay labor more, because the buying public is willing to pay pretty much whatever price Napa puts on the bottle.

Tom Gamble

Gamble’s perspective on the labor situation takes into account the cyclical nature of the economy, which directly impacts labor availability and wages. “The long-term trend beginning in the early 20th century of a diminishing amount of labor available for farms has seen many interruptions. The last interruption was the recent great recession. Ten years ago, around 2007, just before the recession, we saw the same challenges of finding labor, as the economy and labor demand peaked. After a decade lull, the trend has resumed with a new agricultural industry (i.e., marijuana) adding to demand for skilled farm labor.”

He observes that marijuana cultivation requires a similar skillset to that of vineyard management. “Assuming continuing legality, cannabis will increase its demand for labor and is a commodity that is many orders of magnitude more valuable a crop than wine grapes, and thus the producers can afford to pay more,” Gamble worries.

Gamble predicts that the overall number of farm workers will likely continue its more than 100 year decline as demand from other industries increases and offsetting advances in technology are employed. “Those who continue to pursue a life amongst the vines will learn greater skills and earn higher compensation,” he adds.

But that’s Napa. And what applies there, applies almost nowhere else. This is especially true for the smaller producers in winegrowing regions that don’t attract premium dollars for their fruit, as do Napa and Sonoma. Even if you can afford to hire your own crew and keep them employed year-round, as do Paul and Maggie Bush of Madroña Vineyards in the El Dorado Foothills outside of Placerville, CA, labor is a constant struggle. They work a family farm of 85 acres in El Dorado Hills, established in 1973, including vineyards and Christmas trees. They employ a 15-person crew full time, and consider themselves among the fortunate few. Says Bush, “If this labor situation continues, it will mean the death of the small farmer.”


The overriding message that came out of this discussion was that mechanization is inevitable. It is already the reality for most of the larger gorillas in the business, but even the boutique vineyard installers know it is the watchword of the future. But it will come at a heavy price.

Winegrower Borjón says he will not install any new vineyards in Amador County without proper trellising for mechanical harvesting. “I tell people you are going to have to pay more for labor each year, so prepare for mechanical now.”

Yet, he cannot bear to pull out the thousands of head-trained vines, including old vine Zin and Barbera that add such charm and beauty to the fabulous foothills, and help give Amador its unique flavors. “We have to change the way we farm,” says Borjon. “We have to fight tradition. And this will not be easy.” He is also experimenting with aggressive leaf pulling, rather than shoot thinning, to mitigate labor costs. “Sustainability is taking on a whole new meaning!” he says, wryly.

But mechanization does nothing for people like Martha Barra whose vines are not set up for it. “We have no choice: our precious north coast Pinot cannot be harvested mechanically. All our new vineyards are going in for mechanical, but those 28 acres of new vines still need to be lovingly nurtured in their youth. And that can only be done by experienced labor.”

Inman is also very skeptical of mechanical harvesting. “When I planted my vineyard, we put in metal posts and made sure that we could harvest mechanically if needed, but I am very fussy with how the grapes are picked (no knives, only secateurs) and demand we presort in the vineyard. Mechanical harvesters don’t do that!”

Steve Ponzo, Grower Relations Assistant for Constellation Brands, manages around 78 ranches comprising hundreds of acres of vineyards in Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma. “There’s no doubt many of the larger vineyards are already set up for mechanical harvesting.” Others are converting to mechanical in small blocks, but that requires labor, too. “It takes time to cut the spurs to get ready for mechanical,” Ponzo notes.

“Growers are also looking at mechanical pruning, although it’s still pretty new. There are tractor implements for underwire weeding, but most people are still using Roundup. The organic guys are using Weed badgers. People are seeing the writing on the wall. Your mind is definitely on mechanization,” he notes.

Gamble has a different take on mechanization. “In Napa, grape growing and wine making is an act of passion. Sensory judgment related to the craft and art of vineyards and wine is not mechanical. Production of world-class grapes and wines requires a human’s presence in both vineyard and winery. The tools are evolving, and operating those tools requires higher skills. Those skillful operators become ever more an integral part of keeping Napa at the pinnacle of wine.”

End of the Line?

Borjon family

The Borjón family, whose ancestors are French, is the perfect example of immigrant dreamers who make their new adopted country greater than it could ever be without them. Borjón’s great, great grandfather migrated to Mexico in the mid-1860’s, during the French/Mexican war. Isy’s father, Jesus, whose family comes from Paracuaro in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, moved with Isy’s mother, Nora, to the Shenandoah Valley of Amador over 30 years ago.

Working the vineyards in every job imaginable, while Nora cared for their three children, Jesus began his own small labor contracting business in 1991. Today, Isy runs his Dad’s highly successful Borjón Labor Contracting and Vineyard Management.

But he is understandably worried about the future. “If we had all the labor we used to have, everything would be great! Agriculture in America was built on the back of immigrant labor. Then it gets taken away. It’s like taking all the toys away from a kid: the backlash is going to be ugly!”

Would he encourage his own children to follow in his footsteps? Not so much, says Borjón. “I would like my kids to go to school and hopefully go off to do something else that I wasn’t able to do. But this, this is all I know.”


Allies or Adversaries: The Wine & Weed Debate
09 June, 2017

By: Laura Ness

Do you think that pot will take a huge bite out of wine sales or is this just a tempest in a teapot? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on which state you’re in, literally and figuratively.

Like former Speaker Tip O’Neill so famously said, “All politics is local.” So are opinions. Perspective is all about the undeniable bias of place.

Tom Wark

Tom Wark

Take Tom Wark and Rick Bakas, two well-respected industry voices frequently heard within the widely reverberating echo chambers of the wine world.

Wark is known for being an outspoken wine critic and public relations professional, who eloquently opines at He’s worried about the fate of wine in the growing world of weed. A recent blog post brought to light some alarming research that seems to indicate that over half of millennials may be very likely to transition entirely to cannabis over alcohol, while 20% of Generation X-ers might be tempted to do the same. He cautions the wine industry to take heed of weed: even if this prediction is wrong by half, that would still be a tremendous gut blow to the wine industry, especially given that these two demographic market sectors are continuing to expand their purchasing prowess.

Bakas, who has brand management experience at Nike and Sports Authority, along with plenty of wine sales and distribution chops, was the runner up in a social media contest held by Murphy-Goode and wound up being hired by St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery as their first director of social media in 2009. To help promote the wine industry, which he says was “in the tank” at the time, he collaborated with colleagues to invent the first “international wine day”.  They ended up formalizing “International Chardonnay Day” to be the Thursday before Memorial Day, and subsequently, he defined “International Cabernet Day” to be the Thursday before Labor Day.  Clearly, his commitment to the wine industry was avid, and there’s no doubt he helped expand its reach through what were then relatively new platforms.

Now, Wark and Bakas have taken firm positions on the wine vs. weed debate: one on the side of wine, the other, on the side of weed.

Although he supports the legalization of recreational pot use, Wark is adamant that the wine industry will see an impact, and not in a positive way. “There is going to be big competition between pot vs. alcohol and wine. A percentage of people will certainly choose to stop drinking and smoke dope. Whether it’s beer, wine or spirits that will suffer, I suspect it will be beer and wine.”

Wark’s chief concern is that wine currently represents an easy way for people to take the edge off the day and experience a pleasing buzz, but at $15 to $20 a bottle, the sweet spot for grocery store Chardonnay, it adds up and also contains calories. Pot does not. It’s cheaper, lighter, no hangover, no bottles to recycle. He thinks it’s inevitable that weed will end up taking a big bite out of the wine revenue stream.

Still, he says most wineries just don’t seem all that alarmed yet, “I hear the wine industry saying, ‘Oh, we can all get along.’ To that I say, not likely.”

Wark sees the beginnings of food and cannabis pairings, and wonders what the real benefits are, other than the fact that it stokes the appetite. He questions how its aromas and flavors could really pair with food, saying, “I reserve judgment on that. I am familiar with cannabis and there are not too many instances where cannabis has any other advantage than to get you high.”

That said, though, he says he can see wine, food and cannabis pairings, but they would probably not be taken too seriously. Still, Wark admits he’s keeping a “wide open mind.” His goal is to sell more wine, and hopes there is some synergy between wine and weed. After all, there are definitely plenty of parallels.

Noting that when California made medical marijuana legal in 1996, high-end cannabis producers took the AVA approach, he thinks Napa wineries with land suited more to weed than vines should capitalize on the brand recognition of terroir that wine has already distilled into it. “Sonoma and Mendocino are already linked to cannabis,” he says. “I think cannabis should be sold, regulated and marketed like wine.” He knows Napa could do the same.

He believes distributors are already figuring out ways to add weed to their mix. “They are all over it in Nevada,” notes Wark. “Wholesalers get first right of refusal to distribute pot.” Not enough jumped on board when the state initially asked, ‘who wants in?’ but when the state opened it up to outside parties, the wholesalers protested loudly. They are clearly salivating over the revenue potential.

The big revenue potential is what he calls the return of the pot parties, when the 21 and 22-year olds discover cannabis and become fans. If the cannabis producers and their distribution channels market weed as an alternative to alcohol, the results could make the wine industry not only green with envy, but incredibly envious of green.

From Wine to Weed

When asked how he stands on the wine vs. weed issues, Bakas says, “It’s interesting, we’re having this discussion now. My father-in-law just died of complications related to alcoholism. I didn’t realize how big a problem it is. I’m questioning a lot of this. I look at people at wine industry events and it makes me stop and think. Alcohol cures not one single problem. Pot has proven medical applications and benefits.”

So convinced is he of the relative merits of one versus the other, that he’s actually transitioning out of the wine industry and into the cannabis space, making no apologies, and instead, offering many supporting arguments.

First and foremost, he points to his mother, who has been dealing with MS since 1985, as a poster child for how pot can be a lifesaver, “We tried literally everything under the sun. The side effects of the drugs were so bad, she was taking pills to combat the side effects!”

In 2011, Rick moved his Mom from Boulder, CO, to Santa Rosa, where she eventually discovered the benefits of a certain type of cannabis oil, after realizing that smoking pot didn’t work for her. The tincture, which costs $30 for a monthly supply, is delivered by eye-dropper and works so well, that his mother is able to function and enjoy her grandchildren. Bakas obtains it from a dispensary just off the square in Sonoma.

Going through the process of finding the right cannabis product for his Mom made him realize that a platform where people could exchange information, findings, experiences and anecdotes was needed, so he created in 2015, “I couldn’t find what I was looking for on the internet,” he admits.

He recently launched an artificial intelligence bot called Abbi, that, with the assistance of real live doctors from Oregon with experience in the benefits of cannabis, helps people find the right cannabis product to treat their ailments. “Abbi has already sent out 13k medical recommendations,” he says.

Bakas sums up his life-changing pivot this way, “Alcohol killed my father-in-law. Cannabis saved my mother’s life.”

Does he think cannabis will impact wine sales? Perhaps to some extent, as people realize that the reason they’re drinking that glass of Chardonnay (or insert your favorite varietal here) every evening is to get pleasantly buzzed (insert your favorite adjective here), and they might switch to cannabis, which doesn’t kill brain cells.

Bakas goes on to point out the myriad benefits of cannabis. A few drops of cannabis extract added to massage oil can work wonders for aching muscles and other physical discomforts. While not advocating for edibles and inhalants, he’s clearly in the court of the potential positive effects of cannabis, for both recreational and medical uses.

He also says it’s worth mentioning that no one has ever died from cannabis, but every year approximately 88,000 people die in America from alcohol-related causes.

We don’t truly know the medical potential for cannabis because it’s listed as a schedule 1 drug, which makes it ineligible to research as a medicine.”

Bakas also thinks that one of the big benefits of having a controlled and legalized cannabis industry in California, is that it will cripple the efforts of the Mexican drug cartels. He expects Arizona and Texas to climb on board the legalization bandwagon, noting that Arizona’s Proposition 205 nearly passed in 2016.

Bakas thinks that there is room for all players in the recreational industry, and points to the huge tax revenue that Colorado is already enjoying from weed. He expects California to reap the same. He also points to the fact that the tax revenues from pot are supposed to be earmarked for education and for substance abuse programs. One can see some enormous ironies in that.

Update From Colorado

Doug Caskey, Executive Director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, says he hasn’t seen any evidence of cannabis sales impacting wine sales yet. In fact, wine sales are up. He believes cannabis may be having more of an impact on spirits and beer than on wine. However, he thinks they can all co-exist. At this point, though, they cannot all be enjoyed together in any public setting, as it is illegal to consume alcohol and pot in the same place. There are some private facilities for smoking cannabis, but no alcohol is allowed.

Even though the voters of Denver voted overwhelmingly to create pot clubs that would permit joint activities, the alcohol enforcement arm of the state has firmly disallowed it. Pot growers have challenged this in court saying that alcohol enforcement has no jurisdiction here. The discussion of whether and where you can consume pot and alcohol in public is ongoing.

Further, cannabis has hit some potholes with regards to individual county regulations: for example, Estes Park banned both sales and recreational usage, along with Mesa County.  

 “While recreational pot sales are legal in Colorado, smoking of pot in public is not,” says Caskey. “You see signs everywhere, especially at hotels, that state ’No smoking anywhere on the property, and yes, this means pot!’”

Even when not lit, weed can cause some malodorous consequences. Caskey notes that when the single pot dispensary in Palisades opened up right next door to the office of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, the office was forced to move because of the odor.

Caskey further observes that the cannabis industry, while expected to be a significant magnet to increasing Colorado visitors for the purpose of immersing themselves in a weed experience, is not yet creating the kind of tourism fundamentals that producers had hope to establish.

In fact, Caskey thinks that the tourism office may not have been so keen to embrace the weed wave, as it seemed initially hesitant to brand Colorado as embracing pot. But the wave has begun, and the revenue is rolling in, along with some observable side effects.

Rocky Mountain High is not just a side effect of inhaling pot or over-listening to John Denver: it’s also what happens to many tourists when they step off a plane at 6,000+ feet and take that first sip of alcohol, be it beer or wine. It doesn’t take much to set them on their ass, quite literally. Caskey mentions a noted increase in out of state visitors to Denver’s emergency rooms, and warns that altitude affects everything from the weather, which you can’t control, to your ability to metabolize alcohol, the limits of which can be easily tested. The other problem is that people ingesting pot for the first time may not realize how long it takes to have an effect. And unwittingly, they take more, thinking it’s a dosage issue, when in fact, it’s a metabolic one.

While the move from smoking to edibles and tinctures is gaining rapid momentum, for now, the advantage goes to wine when it comes to a dependable and immediate effect. Many cannabis companies are working on streamlining the delivery of their edibles to reduce “lag time.” One producer of edibles, 1906 out of Colorado, just released a line of rapid delivery chocolates, noting that their chief competition right now is Chardonnay, Xanax and coffee. Edibles will surely morph to become more like alcohol in the way they are socially consumed and enjoyed.

Wark opines that the industry should develop more cannabis products that deliver the benefits of pot without getting the recipient high. Would this make weed more of a single dependency or would it then leave the door open to augmenting the multi-layered experience that Bakas thinks could be an additional selling point?  

Says Bakas, “The benefits of cannabis are even more reason to love Northern California! We have a unique place where we can grow world class weed, wine and food.” He points out that cannabis yoga retreats are already happening, and knows from personal experience that massage and spa can be enhanced greatly with the use of cannabis infused coconut oil. “Not only does it relieve pain, but it takes a massage to the power of three! Cannabis provides a lot of benefits, while there are not a lot of medical benefits for alcohol. If you pit cannabis against alcohol, alcohol is always the worst drug.”

While Wark and Bakas may disagree on what the eventual outcome of wine vs. weed looks like, for now, they can agree on one thing: all bets are off when it comes to the current administration’s stance on marijuana.

Many of the concerns and questions addressed here will be discussed in detail at the Wine & Weed Symposium being held in Santa Rosa on August 3rd, 2017. Tickets are limited and selling fast! For more information visit:



It’s What’s in the Bottle That Counts … Or Is It?
30 May, 2017

The lab supervisor of a well-known Sonoma County winery approached me recently with a lovely bottle of Cote des Roses by producer Gerard Bertrand. The light, salmon-colored beverage encased in glass was beautiful to behold, but what intrigued us both was the fact that instead of a simple punt on the bottom of the bottle, the glass had been molded into the shape of a rose in full bloom. You could actually run your fingers over the indentations of the petals and delight in the color the wine imparted to the glass rose image.

“I don’t even like Rosé wine,” the lab supervisor confessed. “I just want the bottle.”

Her comment turns out to be a fascinating statement about the powerful appeal of texture in packaging, particularly in wine but applicable to other beverages as well.

According to Dennis Sones, the VP of Marketing at Quest LLC, a company that has been in the beverage container decorating business for more than 20 years, bottle appeal has everything to do with successful sales.

“It’s capturing that moment of truth for a customer,” Sones explains. “What are they going to do if you can get them to pick up that bottle? Our marketers tell us when that happens, there’s an 80 percent chance it will be sold.”

Other research seems to bear this out.

In an article titled “Everyone is Just Picking Their Wine Based on the Label,” Hillary Pollack cites a study done by that surveyed 2,000 wine drinkers about their buying and consumption habits (Pollack, 2016). The survey found that eighty two percent of the respondents said they selected their wines based on the appearance of the labels.

However, Sones warns that in today’s market, not just any old flat, one-dimensional label will do.

“The boundaries of the old-fashioned paper label have been exhausted, “Sones attests. “The consumer says ‘I’ve seen that already, it’s all been done.’ It creates a real challenge for brand marketers to see what you can do.”

Quest LLC, along with other marketers, have been exploring the world of texture to enhance and differentiate their customer’s brands in that crowded marketplace.

The company recently unveiled what it is calling “The Unstandard Collection;” twelve brands that, as Sones says, “take standard molds and transform them into anything but.”

One of the products is a Japanese sake that employs a shimmering image of Nori, the toasted seaweed wrapper traditionally used in sushi making, around the circumference of the bottle.

Another utilizes the rich tones of real wood with the brand statement burned onto the label to create a unique image. Still another applies a cloth fabric to the bottle and weaves the brand name among the threads.

“Every one of these samples has some (pattern) that makes you want to engage with the bottle,” Sones reports. “It can be shape, texture, the coding of a certain picture … actually, the sky’s the limit.”

Ed Rice, Director of Strategy with Affinity Creative, one of the premiere wine bottle labeling design firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, agrees that texture is playing an increasingly important role in what he calls “the stopping power” of a brand.

“Once you stop that consumer and invite them in, that tactile experience in the hand is an embellishment that heightens an emotive connection,” Rice affirms.

Rice contends that the wine industry is finally catching up with other business categories like cosmetics, which have typically used bottle molds, closures and raised embellishments to differentiate their products.

“Something that says, ‘I’m different. I deserve you and you deserve me,’” Rice describes.

He points out that differentiation in this manner often involves a sense of touch and credits the marketing of Grey Goose Vodka’s iconic frosted glass bottle with being able to convey the impression of a cold, frosty beverage.

“You’re lucky if you can find a way to indicate taste prior to purchase,” he notes. “If a consumer can’t taste it before they buy it, how do you engage their other senses?”

One of the methods Affinity Creative has successfully used to incorporate texture into the branding mix is through the application of unique bottle finishes and tactile label materials. For example, the company developed an embossed, pewter medallion-like label for their client King Estates which, as Rice says, “screams high value” in terms of packaging.

Another is for their client Flora Springs who produces a high-end Sauvignon Blanc called Soliloquy, which now appears in a tall, elegant bottle designed to include a finely cut, multi-faceted punt to convey distinction and quality.

“You see more texture application with limited edition, really high-end brands,” Rice observes. “But, as the overall wine market gets more and more competitive, you’ll probably see greater use of texture as a differentiation tactic across all genres.”

Bill Knopka is the VP of Sales and Marketing with North America Wine and Spirits, Multi Color Corporation (MCC) a global label solutions business.

Knopka tends to agree with Rice’s assessment of the current market.

“The more premiumization, the more effort put into design and packaging,” Knopka notes. “Our customers are always looking for a way to differentiate their packaging to stand out on a shelf or enhance a brand.”

To achieve that end, MCC has also been utilizing unique textured materials for some of their higher end customers. For example, Raymond Vineyards employed the company to create a red velvet label for the 40th anniversary edition of their 2014 Reserve Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. The result is a soft, rich and deep image that is enticing to touch and ties into the iconic red room at Raymond Vineyard’s home winery in St. Helena, CA.

“It’s so competitive, our customers want that value-added investment in packaging to get that tactile engagement,” acknowledges Chris Schumacher, MCC’s Technical Manager. “We can offer it through papers with pre-textured patterns or with techniques to make standard paper look premium.”

Schumacher says MCC employs a variety of innovative techniques to accomplish this, such as embossing, debossing, applying high-build screen inks or overprinting on foil. He maintains that using resin labels, wax seals, leather, wood veneer and other unique substrates also “adds authenticity and tactile engagement.”

“With today’s technology, everything is a flat screen experience,” Schumacher declares. “By the use of tactile packaging enticements, it’s reimagining what we do naturally. We’re seeing more and more of that in wine and spirits packaging.”

For his part, Knopka acknowledges that good design is a critical component to customer satisfaction and overall brand success. But, he says, it’s only part of the story.

“Packaging is a key part of enticement, but ultimately, it’s the product in the bottle that counts,” Knopka opines. “Our customers do a great job of combining the two.

“When consumers buy that first bottle, we’ve done our part. When they buy the second bottle, our customers have done theirs.”

Wine Industry Daughters Celebrate Their Mothers
16 May, 2017

By Allison Levine

The wine industry has traditionally been a male-dominated industry that has followed a patriarchal line from generation to generation. But women have been working in wine throughout history. They run the business, work in the lab, are the spokesperson, marketer and consummate host at the winery. As we celebrate Mothers’ Day, we honor our mothers who are our rocks and our role models. They are the ones who have always been there for us, have cheered us on and encouraged us. In the four wineries profiled below, daughters reflect on their relationships with their mothers while working together in the wine industry. Trombetta Family Wines While her parents met at Hewlett Packard, Erica Stancliff grew up in wine. Her mother, Rickey Trombetta Stancliff, and her father Roger began making wine in their garage in the 1990s before Rickey began working for Paul Hobbs. With encouragement from Hobbs, Erica went to study at Fresno State and in her senior year, her mother decided to start her own label. Just before she graduated from college, Erica got a call from her mother to come home and harvest her first vintage in 2010 and then return to school. Today, Erica and Rickey run Trombetta Family Wines, producing chardonnay and pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast.

“Starting the business together has been an incredible experience,” Erica expressed. “We are intertwined. We share a business, a hobby [horses] and talk on the phone five times a day. But it was my mother’s guidance that shaped the path for our pinot noir. She was the driving force behind the entire project.” And, while Erica makes the wine, Ricky is “amazing. She does all of the sales and marketing on her own but she also goes out on every single pick, helps with the leafing and cleaning the bins. I am so proud of her.” Erica explained. Familia Martinez Bujanda Marta Santander Martinez Bujanda is the 5th generation in the Familia Martinez Bujanda, founded in 1889. The family business runs along the maternal side of her family. Her grandmother, who is 92 years old, was the only child of a single vineyard owner in Oyon in Rioja La Besa, Spain. She married Marta’s grandfather who became the vineyard manager and believed that the family winery should only work with estate fruit. She spent every weekend in the vineyard while raising her children. Marta’s mother and uncle, the 4th generation in the family, run the family business together which includes four wineries in Spain in Rioja, Rueda and La Mancha – Finca Antigua La Mancha, Finca Montepedroso, Viña Bujanda and Finca Valpiedra.

Pilar Martinez Bujanda, Lauren Rosillo (Director of winemaking), Marta Santander Martinez Bujanda, Carlos Martinez Bujanda

Marta always knew she wanted to work in her family’s business but she did not want to work on the technical side of winemaking. “I am a shy person, but my mother thought I would be good on the commercial side of the business. She did not push me to go into the family business and wanted it to be my own decision, but she always tried to educate me and help me in the best way without pushing,” explained Marta who joined the family business in 2002. “My mother and my grandmother taught me that you have to work hard, hard, hard and I am proud of our family business.” CK Mondavi and Family Sisters Angelina, Alycia, Riana and Giovanna Mondavi started working summer jobs from the vineyard to the cellar to the lab for their family when they were each ten-years old. And at every event their parents Janice and Marc Mondavi would host, they would help serve guests. Looking back, Alycia explained, “I realized they were setting us up with the foundation of a family business and with a solid work ethic.”

While the Mondavi girls grew up in wine, their mother did not. Janice graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and was recruited by Sutter Home as the Public Relations Hospitality Manager. She met Marc 37 years ago and got involved in the family business overseeing the properties, managing bookkeeping and payroll. “She is the best salesperson we have in the company,” Alycia declared. “She is our mentor from every angle and is one of our best friends. She is the backbone of the family. Our family is driven by our father’s passion and our mother’s strength. She keeps us together and is the heartbeat, and the mediator. She is the sounding board for everyone. Rianna added, “Mom is an active listener and did a great job of teaching us how to listen to people and listen to what they need. It is how we approach business and people.” Today the sisters have two wineries together, Aloft and Dark Matters. Angelina is the consulting winemaker for the two wineries, as well as five other wineries. Alycia is a marketing consultant and oversees the day-to-day operations of Aloft and Dark Matters. Rianna, after working in wine sales for a distributor, lives in Dallas and manages national restaurant account sales for CK Mondavi and Family. Giovanna, the baby of the family, is currently working in finance but cannot imagine not working in the family business one day. Jackson Family Wines Katie and Julia Jackson grew up in the wine industry. Katie first fell in love with the industry after working harvest at one of the family wineries. Julia decided she wanted to work with her family after working harvest in France when she was 21. Both recognized the hard work, passion and camaraderie involved in making a bottle of wine. While their father, Jess Jackson, was an icon in the wine industry, their mother Barbara Banke worked side-by-side with him and has been an influential driving force in the family business. “My mom embodies strong and effective female leadership, and through her example, showed me that our wine industry was accommodating to both men and women leaders. She also taught me a very pragmatic approach to business,” explained Julia. Katie added, “I’ve always admired my mom’s long-term, strategic thinking. She always sees a couple of steps ahead as to what we should do next to be successful long-term, including how we can continue to innovate how we make wine in order to be better environmental stewards. I appreciate how fearless my mom is. She is a natural leader whose take-charge attitude and authority are immediately recognized. She has never been afraid to voice strong opinions or to take a strong stance about something, and I really admire that about her.” They are especially proud of their mom being the first woman to win the “Person of the Year” award from the Wine Enthusiast.

Today Katie is working as the VP of Sustainability and External Affairs for the company and Julia is learning the ropes at the company, including leading a Think Tank focused on enhancing the health and well-being of their employees. They recognize their mother’s signature touches on the family business, including a keen eye for finding great vineyards. “She was the driving vision behind my family’s recent expansion into Oregon’s Willamette Valley as well as making our first wine in South Africa. Her desire to own good quality land is a tremendous inspiration to me,” said Julia. In addition, their mother has made the company’s focus on charitable giving and social equity in the company a priority.

Seismic Shift at Big Basin Vineyards: “At the Time, I Didn’t Get the Hype Around Burgundy”
28 April, 2017

Bradley Brown

Owner/Winegrower Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards has been on a long, tumultuous journey as a self-taught winemaker in the middle of an appellation best-known for its eccentric, self-made legends. In that, he has good company, to wit, David Bruce, Jeff Emery, Tony Craig, Jeffrey Patterson and Ryan Beauregard, to name a few. When he decided to pursue wine as a second career in the late 1990s, after a successful dance with high technology, Brown couldn’t have chosen a more obscure spot, deep in the redwoods adjacent to Big Basin Park in Boulder Creek, to plant vines.

At first, he was wholly dedicated to Rhones, sourcing cuttings from one of his best mentors, John Alban, who inspired the robust and dense wines for which he gained immediate notoriety. Those were the days of the high flying, high alcohol, high Parker scoring wines that came to define the Rhones of Paso Robles, and Bradley kept good company among their creators. Syrah was the darling, made massive and tempestuous: no alcohol was deemed too high to defy its inherent gravitas. Grenache was elevated to the bombastic, and GSM blends cemented their place in our collective consciousness. Ah, if only we could have actually enjoyed an entire bottle before passing out.

But that was then, and that now seems so very long ago. The road to one’s style as a winemaker is often paved with torturous side trips that lead to sheer cliffs, from which one must fly like Icarus or carefully retreat. To Brown’s credit, he knows when to sail and when to bail. And he knows how to read a trend.

Fortuitously, he began to shift from the solitary infatuation with Rhones to the allure of Pinot Noir, around 2004, when Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard needed a place to crush after his partner, Ken Burnap, sold the Jarvis Road property in Scotts Valley. Emery ended up crushing at Big Basin Vineyards. Brown became intrigued with the myth of Pinot, and began sourcing fruit from vineyards in Corralitos, including Alfaro, Lester and Woodruff, sources he still uses today. He recently began grafting his estate Syrah over to Pinot Noir, choosing Mount Eden and Swan clones.

At the same time, he was developing, along with John Allen, a trippy, high elevation, limestone-studded vineyard called Coastview, in the Gabilan Mountains, south of Salinas. At first, he wanted Rhones, planting more selections of Syrah, and some Viognier, but eventually added Pinot Noir and god forbid, Chardonnay.

Some will remember Brown’s ardent exclamation in his early days as a winemaker that he would never make Chardonnay. Ever. You know what they say about never: it so rarely ever completes the forward pass. Brown now makes some absolutely stunning Chardonnay: so graceful of spirit, so light on its airy feet that you have a hard time wrapping your head around the fact it’s the same winemaker. But then, he isn’t. He’s changed. Evolved. Grown. And grown up. Fatherhood will do that to you.

Each assistant winemaker he’s had along the way, and he’s had a few, including Ian Brand, Lindsey Otis and currently, Brad Friedman, have influenced his evolution and helped him orient his compass towards his true North, which is grace, purity and balance.

Says Brown, “Two things happened in concert that changed my perspective. 2011 was the coolest vintage on record. You were never going to get things ripe. The Lester Vineyard Pinot (located in Corralitos, a coastal sub-region of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA) that year turned out great. Our estate Syrahs were very interesting: much more savory. I showed the 2011 Lester at WOPN (World of Pinot Noir) to Raj Parr who posted on Delectable that he really loved it. Picking the fruit earlier seemed to amplify the texture, mouthfeel and structure, but also produced more character and integrity. The other thing that happened was a tasting with a friend who is a heart surgeon and a collector of DRCs and Grand Crus. At the time, I didn’t get the hype around Burgundy. We opened up a 1990 Domaine Dujac Bonne Mares Grand Cru: one of the greatest vintages, and a warm year. It blew my mind. It was so ethereal and complex, filled with perfume. It was otherworldly. That experience changed my mind so completely about what Pinot was capable of.”

Consequently, in 2012, he picked all the vineyards earlier and made Pinots that he says, “completely blew my mind!” About that time, he became aware of IPOB (In Pursuit of Balance) and submitted to join. At first, his wines weren’t accepted, but he got in on the second attempt. “It was a big Aha! moment for me,” says Brown. “I was among great company, with great producers and renowned vineyards.”

Another factor that changed his winemaking was the use of whole cluster. He notes that in Burgundy, they use native yeast, as does he, along with abundant whole cluster. Being part of IPOB brought him in contact with other winemakers employing whole cluster to boost the mid-palate and texture in wines picked at lower brix.

“I became increasingly aware of whole cluster, but I was scared of the impact it would have with lower alcohol, higher acid. I worried they would be green and lack structure and color. With whole cluster, I didn’t want tannin or astringency. Starting in 2012, we did some whole cluster and upped it to 75% in 2013 on the Lester Pinot and 40% on the Alfaro Vineyard Pinot (also in the Corralitos area). We liked the whole cluster lots and didn’t find any bitterness. So, we really went for it in 2014, with 100% whole cluster on the Lester and Alfaro Pinots, as well as the Coastview Pinot.”

The Coastview Vineyard in the Gabilan Mountains sits at 2200 ft., above the Salinas Valley, on the eastern side of Highway 101. This warm, sun-drenched microclimate features decomposed granitic and limestone soils, and is capable of producing bigger, brawnier, more tannic wines.

Brown also began employing whole cluster in Syrah, venturing as high as 40% in 2014 with Coastview fruit. “You have to be careful with Grenache, though. The skins and stems are so thick, that 50% whole cluster is max,” he notes.

Equally important in the evolution of the Big Basin style has been the use of oak: much less of it, and much more judicious selection of wood. Says Brown, “In the early days, we tended to use lots of oak, mostly M+. I’ve definitely started to move away, beginning in 2009 and 2010, with a shift to different oak for different varietals. For Pinot, we use mostly M toast. Our goal is transparency. I don’t want to get oak flavors. New barrels can amplify the characters that are already there in the fruit, or by adding a specific oak flavor. We have used 100% new in the past.”

He’s been gradually stepping down the use of new oak, to 1/3 or even 20% new, depending on the vineyard: a seismic shift. Through rigorous testing, Brown and Friedman have isolated a former master cooper from Hermitage who uses only wood from the Alliers Forest. They’ve selected a very tight grain and light long toast, which they feel is ideal, especially for Chardonnay.

Yes, Brown is making Chardonnay, both from the Coastview Vineyard and from Bald Mountain, in the Ben Lomond Mountain AVA, another sub-AVA of the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 2014, Brown used only 20% new on the Coastview Chardonnay. He prefers the mouthfeel and aromatics of used barrels with this fruit. “It’s an amplification,” he says. “We only like certain forests and coopers. We’re not going to use Francois Freres or Taransaud.”

On the gradual ratcheting down of new oak and toast levels, Brown says, “Small shifts can make a big difference. In 2015, we used very minimal oak on the Bald Mountain Chardonnay. Our goal was to accentuate the purity and minerality. It actually didn’t finish ML, so we ended up with a very high acid wine.”

Sometimes people mistake the wine’s inherent spiciness for new oak. “The Alfaro Pinot has huge spice that confuses people. It’s not oak: it’s the wine. The barrel provides a polish early on that amplifies the perfume of the wine.”

For his Syrah program, Brown says the shift from 70% to 80% new down to 10% new, started in 2013 and 2014 when they went to Hogsheads with light long toast for both coopers. He says there is no detection of toast or char on the palate, as the wood does not caramelize, and therefore does not release that telltale vanillin. In 2015, they did just 20% new oak on the Syrahs. “I like the purity of Syrah with minimal oak,” he admits.

With Grenache, he’s even more restrained, preferring 100% neutral oak barriques. In 2015, he used an amphora for Grenache and tried concrete tanks last year in 2016. “I don’t think the fermentation is hugely different,” Brown says. “The thermal mass might impact temps with 3 to 5 ton ferments, but we’re doing very small lots.”

And then, there is oak aging. He’s taken a page out of the Burgundy playbook, preferring to leave Pinot in oak for two winters. “Deux hivers is an affirmation of my style,” he notes. “Some wineries are cutting barrel aging short. If you are using any significant new oak, you need more than a year.”

As for Syrah, Brown notes that 21 months elevage is standard in the Rhone: some might do 18. “Syrah experiences an evolution in barrel, especially our estate fruit,” he says. “It develops a much better finish.” His Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah, though, does only 11 months in oak to produce a fresh and vibrant young wine, that helps keep the price down for distribution.

Brad Friedman

Brad Friedman

Assistant winemaker, Brad Friedman, who has been with Bradley for two years now, has experience at 13 different wineries on five continents. He’s learned a lot about translating terroir to the bottle. “We are all about transparency, across the board. We look for the best way to express sit and vintage.”

Friedman says they are both Aquarians, so they have to keep each other in balance. “We’re both super lofty and up in the air. I’m really trying to level him out. I do lots of the logistics and planning.”

He’s been 100% behind the move to use less wood, arguing that their vineyard sites are so expressive, that even the slightest hint of over-oaking drags down the end result. “We’re at about 25% new oak, and it needs to come down even more, even with these new barrels,” admits Friedman. “I feel like I can see where he’s headed, and I want to get there faster.”

One of the things they did in 2016 was to stop keeping press fractions separated. Instead of putting each press fraction in a separate barrel, they all get settled in tank, resulting in less solids to bind together and ultimately, to less tannic wines. “It also helps them become more complex,” Friedman says. “It also preserves the ‘wholeness’ of the wine.”

Since they don’t rack at all until bottling, some of the wines are sitting on the gross lees for up to 2.5 years. In the past, this has led to what Friedman calls “a sappy sweetness,” even though the wines are bone dry.

Overall, Friedman admits, Brown’s transformation has been amazing to watch. “It’s been extremely challenging for him,” Friedman says, acknowledging that Brown’s new style of winemaking has confused some of the wine critics.

“I get it,” says Friedman, a musician, who pursued music as a major before switching to Biotech. “It’s like a performance where you played every note perfectly and you think you crushed it. And somebody says, ‘That sounded like shit.’ It’s intense to get past that.”

Critics be damned, the Big Basin Vineyards following is very loyal, despite the shift in wine styles. The results are there for the tasting.

Most impressive from the estate in the current offerings is the 2014 Homestead Block Estate Roussanne, a sophisticated, white-gloved wine that exhibits guava and kiwi with a smack of Asian pear.

Beautifully floral, the 2014 Coastview Chardonnay delivers an abundance of apricot, pluot and baked pear, with a raw silk minerality that provides a perfect balance between acid and creaminess.

The 2013 Woodruff Pinot Noir, a hearty, earthy, cinnamon stick and basil scented wine that comes from some of the oldest Pinot vines in the AVA. Native yeast gives it a mysterious surge of mid-palate power that carries to the long finish.

From the nearby Coast Grade vineyard in Bonny Doon, the 2014 Coast Grade Pinot is already phenomenal for such a young wine: it romps like a thoroughbred discovering its speed, filled with racy pomegranate, blueberry and cranberry.

Perhaps Brown’s present philosophy regarding Pinot can be summed up by this statement: “I’m not a big fan of that austere style, but Pinot shouldn’t be ripe and fruity.”

Tasting the current releases, it appears he’s definitely found that “just right” Goldilocks spot, and we hope he’s happy with it. The critics might not “get it,” but right now, his 2014 Pinots and Chardonnays, along with 2012 Syrahs, are in what he calls “the right place at the right time, vis a vis the market trends.”

Observing the tremendous uptick in interest in wine education and sommeliers, Brown notes, “All this wine education and awareness helps people appreciate the Old World styles. Millennials are geeking out on wine. People are digging this kind of thing.”

Friedman adds, “Anyone can make over overripe, extracted wine in 100% new oak. They all taste the same. And frankly, they’re terrible. The industry needs to be set on its ear.”


U.S. Producers Betting on Rosé and Challenging French Dominance
14 April, 2017

Chris Sawyer

“Is it on? Yes, it’s definitely on. Pink is trending; it’s a heavy trending thing, and I don’t see it going away at all,” says sommelier and author Christopher Sawyer, who recently judged in the Rosé Today Wine Competition.

Sawyer has been judging wine competitions for twenty years, and notes that rose being taken seriously by competitions is a very recent development, “The best of show pink is now a category. Seven years ago there probably wasn’t even a pink category in major competitions.”

Rosé Today is only in its fourth year but has continued to grow with a total of 239 entries this year from twelve US states and nine countries. The majority of the entries were from domestic producers showing an increased investment and interest in the category, which is also shown by a stream of new rosés from American brands hitting the market including Bota BoxLa CremaMichael Mondavi Family EstateMeiomiCastle Rock WinerytenshÉnDel Rio Vineyard EstateBlack Ink, and Ferrari-Carano Vineyards.

All of these wineries are bidding to get a share of the growing premium rosé category ($8 and higher), which according to Nielsen has seen over 55% growth for two consecutive years. However, most of that growth has been captured by French producers who dominate the category. French rosé imports outpaced overall premium rosé growth over the past 12 months with an impressive 63.4% increase at an average bottle price of $13.90.*

So, can American producers compete with the French for a bigger share of the rosé boom? Sawyer believes that they can and that the numbers don’t necessarily reflect how domestic rosés are faring in the market.

“A lot of the rosés in America that are super high quality are made by wineries that are super high quality, meaning there’s not much of them from each winery. Top rosé producers in America are usually under 1,000 cases,” Sawyer explains, “that’s why I think the numbers are a little skewed.”

Sawyer believes that when American premium rosés can’t keep up with the French in growth, it’s more a question of supply than quality. This advantage stems from a longer tradition of producing and consuming dry rosés. In France rosé is bigger than both red and white by volume, whereas in the U.S. market premium rosé still only represents 0.6% by volume and 1.1% by value.*

“We’ve found over this past decade that rosés do sell, and you’re finding more limited releases out there. Are all of these great rosés from America selling out? The answer is yes, especially at the high end level,” Sawyer affirms. “As a buyer, the trick is to get these rosés when they come out, you’ve got to get it before they sell out, so I would encourage some of these wineries to begin expanding their production a little bit and put in another 500 cases or even build it past that. You’ll find people that are willing to buy those cases.”

One of the few top selling domestic rose brands in the premium range that have managed to exceed the category growth is Charles Smith’s Charles & Charles Rose made with Syrah from Columbia Valley. And Charles Smith believes that the success is a combination of the flavor profile and the branding.

“Being in the Pacific Northwest with a cool, long growing season helps us develop and deliver really delicious flavor with a fantastic light, pink hue—also seen in my CasaSmith ViNO Rosé,” says Smith. “Likewise, in communicating the language of wine with Charles & Charles, it is emphatically American wine. And the label indicates it’s American wine, locally produced.”

Smith is not afraid to admit that he took inspiration from the success of French rosés. “Absolutely. We take inspiration and cues from where people have been successful before. Not to emulate, but to be inspired and build upon.”

Kim Moore, marketing director at Meiomi, who are launching their first rose this spring is also upbeat about challenging the French dominance of the category.” French producers have certainly paved the way for rosé in the U.S.,” she says, “but there is still a lot of room for producers from all regions to have a seat at the pink table. Domestic producers especially can leverage strong brand recognition and loyalty in the U.S. to bring existing and new consumers into the category. We can also continue building awareness of rosé through advertising, sampling, PR and social media to build market share.”

Meiomi is launching a spring campaign to promote their rosé. The campaign is focused on the core strength of their brand, the taste. “We strongly believe that Meiomi’s unrivaled taste is the cornerstone of this brand and a key ingredient of its success, so we want to communicate that to our consumers in a way that resonates,” says Moore. “Meiomi is also about discovery, so we aim to provide a sensorial glimpse into Meiomi with the ads, from the wine’s rich, silky textures to its full-bodied flavors.”

Though American producers are still trying to catch up to the success of French rosé, existing expertise and variety may prove to be invaluable advantages.

“The different styles we are making here now on the west coast are way more diversified than French producers. We’re working with so many different grape varieties, tempranillo, syrah, grenache, pinot noir,” says Sawyer, “and a lot of the people that are making these rosés are top producers of those red wines as well.”

Bob Ecker, the wine director for the Rose Today Wine Competition, agrees that domestic producers can play a bigger role in the rosé category if they dedicate the resources, lands, and staff to making great rosé wine. “Whereas the French were always doing this, domestic roses were always an afterthought – we have some extra juice, let’s make some pink rosé,” Ecker explains, “but now there are some really great rosés from domestic producers as seen in the Rosé Today competition. The judges were tough, there were many wines that got no medals at all. But there were some 40 gold medals given in the competition and 18 double gold medals. When they tasted very good wines, they awarded them.”

The largest category in the Rosé Today competition was for domestic dry rosé, and it was won by Bonterra’s organic Grenache (74%) based rose blended with smaller amounts of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo with the Provençal style in mind. “As winemaker for Bonterra Organic Vineyards, I strive to impart to each of our wines the balance and quality we’ve become known for – and which is a hallmark of – well-tended organic fruit,” Jeff Cichocki explains. “And while this latest wine is no exception, I like to think it offers something new from Bonterra. I was certainly inspired by the lovely rosés crafted in the South of France; in particular, we really wanted our wine to offer the same pale color and delicate balance of flavor.”

Bonterra has produced 2,000 cases of this rosé, and with a suggested retail price of $15, it competes at the center of the premium rosé category.

“We reviewed international styles extensively before crafting our rosé, with the Provençal style as a key benchmark. What impressed us about these wines was their elegance and restraint. The drier style is both versatile and drinkable, lending itself to multiple consumption occasions – which could allow producers to capture more market share,” says Cichocki. “The success of French rosé in the U.S. is a testament to the demand for this style, and we believe the added benefit of being organically farmed in California will be another appealing feature to our consumers.”

Even though the premium rosé category has been growing rapidly over the last few years, it has been from a very small base and there’s broad agreement that the trend is continuing, even if rosé won’t achieve the level of market penetration it enjoys in France.

“There are still a lot of consumers discovering rosé each year, proving this wine style has a lot of room to grow,” says Moore. “In fact, rosé across certain price segments is currently growing in triple digits (IRI Data Report, 12-week ending 2.9.17). Additionally, we continue to see rosé placed on wine lists—increasingly more than one option listed—which gives consumers a place to experiment and discover a new wine. This is a great opportunity to build a consumer base for retail, where we see the real growth trends.”

Charles Smith concurs. “In the last 10 years people have been more open to trying new things, brought on by things like cooking shows have brought more interesting tastes and flavors into people’s homes. And of course wine goes along with that. Wine has become increasingly popular in the American culture so it only makes sense that something as pleasant and fun to drink as rosé would rise to the top. I don’t see it slowing down. As they say, one friend tells a friend and tells another friend and it keeps going from there.”