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101 2nd Street, Suite 120
CA, 94952
United States
(877) 731-7905
Katie Olsson

Your Insurance Partner For the Wine Industry

As professionals in the wine industry for over 20 years, Heffernan Insurance Brokers has grown alongside our wine country neighbors. Our long-term commitment to the community and strong relationships with our insurance company partners has made us a perfect choice for wineries and growers.

Our Capabilities

  • We are appointed with all of the major insurance companies in the wine industry
  • We offer exclusive insurance programs for wineries and growers with "A" rated carriers
  • We assist with Workers Compensation Claims Management
  • We provide full service Loss Control
  • We have a dedicated team of wine insurance specialists

Our Coverages(for full list see Products & Services tab)

  • Workers' Compensation
  • Crop Insurance
  • General Liability
  • Wine Leakage and Contamination
  • Auto

Industry Accolades



Products & Services

Our Coverages

Workers Compensation

Worker's compensation is protection mandated by state law for a worker and his or her dependents against injury and death occurring in the course of employment. It is not health insurance and is not intended to compensate for disability other than disability caused by injury arising out of employment.

General Liability

General Liability covers four categories of events for which you could be held responsible: bodily injury; damage to others' property; personal injury, including slander and libel; and false or misleading advertising. CGL coverage pays for the injured party's medical expenses. It excludes your employees, who are covered by worker's compensation.

Crop Insurance

Crop Insurance protects against either the loss of crops due to natural disasters, such as hail, drought, and floods, or the loss of revenue due to declines in the prices of agricultural commodities.

Wine Leakage and Contamination

This coverage protects against Winery Leakage and Contamination.


Most businesses today operate with a motor vehicle. If the vehicles are damaged in an accident or stolen, the business has to repair or replace them. If there is an accident and the business is at fault, the business may be subject to large claims from people injured in the accident. A business auto insurance policy helps to cover both property and liability risks that businesses face because of the ownership or use of autos and trucks.

Liquor Liability

If your operation manufactures, processes, directly distributes, sells, serves or furnishes liquor/wine to the public through your operations, this endorsement provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage for the above exposure


Property insurance may be one of the most important types of insurance in terms of financially protecting the property and physical assets of your business.

Umbrella and Excess

Umbrella liability insurance provides two kinds of coverage: payments of liabilities in excess of the policy limits for an insured's basic commercial general liability, or employers' liability coverage; and liability for areas not covered in other liability policies.


Directors & Officers

Directors and Officers Liability Insurance provides financial protection for the directors and officers of your company in the event they are sued in conjunction with the performance of their duties as they relate to the company.

Employment Practices Liability

Employment Practices Liability Insurance is a relatively new form of liability insurance. It provides protection for an employer against claims made by employees, former employees, or potential employees. It covers discrimination (age, sex, race, disability, etc.), wrongful termination of employment, sexual harassment, and other employment-related allegations.


Pollution Legal Liability

Pollution Legal Liability provides coverage for pollution conditions associated with owned/operated properties, disposal sites, contracting operations and transportation exposures.


Earthquake and Flood

This insurance will cover you in the event of an earthquake or flood


Farm and Ranch

Farm and Ranch Insurance provides broad and flexible coverage for your personal and farm needs.


Employee Benefits

We can assist in all aspects of employee benefits management. A streamlined, responsive benefits program can help employees feel like their needs are being met in a timely fashion.


Personal Insurance

We can assist with all of your personal insurance needs as well. Have a big wine collection? Talk to us to make sure it is properly insured.


Meet Our Team
Meet Our Team
Debra Costa, Brian Stephenson and Liz Bishop
Napa Quake Prompted Busy Times for Winery Insurers
Napa Quake Prompted Busy Times for Winery Insurers
KRON 4's Vicki Liviakis reports View full story at
Top Risks Wineries Face
Top Risks Wineries Face
Debra Costa, Wine Practice Leader, of Heffernan Insurance Brokers shares her knowledge of insuring wineries. Including, the top insurance risks associated with wineries as well as how Heffernan is the best fit to insure your winery.
Markets in Motion: Insuring Wineries
In this episode of Markets in Motion, Debra Costa and St. Helena, calif-based Duckhorn Winery president and CEO Alex Ryan discuss how the winery business operates, as well as what is expected from an insurance agent in making sure everything the winery does is covered.
New OSHA Rules Delayed, Diluted under Trump

Acting on new marching orders from the Trump Administration, federal OSHA seems to be scaling back some regulations to benefit employers.

Significantly, it seems that large employers will not be required to start submitting their injury and illness reports electronically as required by Obama-era regulations that were to take effect in February.

The idea was that these electronic filings would become public information easily accessed online, as part of Obama’s push to publicly shame companies with poor workplace safety records.

Under current regulations, establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the record-keeping regulation must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A electronically by July 1, 2017.

As recently as early January, OSHA said on its website that it expected the site to be live in February. But in recent weeks, the agency changed the wording and it now states that: “OSHA is not accepting electronic submissions at this time.”

It’s unlikely that the electronic reporting will go forward under Trump, and that will also likely mean that companies won’t have their records posted online.

Another Obama rule, issued in December, is also likely to never see the light of day. That regulation gives OSHA the authority to cite companies failing to properly record workplace injuries up to five-anda-half years after an alleged violation.

For years, OSHA had taken the position that it had up to five-anda-half years after an alleged violation to issue a citation for recordkeeping infractions.

But a court in 2012 found that OSHA’s interpretation was inconsistent with what the court called the “clear” wording of the law, which gave the agency only six months to bring charges.

In response to that ruling, the Obama administration promulgated new regulations circumventing the court decision and restoring the five-and-a-half-year period.

Legislation overturning Obama’s rule has already been passed by both houses of Congress and Trump is expected to sign it. When he does, the six-month rule would stand.

The problem for honest employers in this is that six months does not give OSHA enough time to detect record-keeping violations and bring subsequent charges. Also, if an inspector finds during an inspection that a company has been flouting the law and not filing its records for years, OSHA would be unable to cite the business.

Unfortunately, this could create an unlevel playing field, as responsible companies comply with record-keeping rules, while companies that take shortcuts won’t.

In a further step, OSHA announced in February that it would delay the implementation of a new rule aimed at reducing workplace exposure to beryllium, a widely used mineral linked to a deadly lung disease.

The rule was slated to take effect in March, but OSHA has delayed that until May at the earliest.

Employers can also expect a slowdown in new rule-making thanks to Trump’s executive order in January that agencies must cancel two regulations for every new one they make.

The new policy is expected to slow ongoing OSHA rule-making, such as an industry-backed effort to write regulations specifically for tree-trimming work and discourage the agency from pursing wide-ranging rules, such as revising limits for chemical exposures.




News Archive

Liability Policy May Not Cover Your Firm Abroad
06 April, 2017

Over Seas Endevors

There may be the occasion when you have to send executives or a team overseas for work. And depending on the destination, the risks will vary – more in some countries and less in others.

Other factors that come into play include the number and age of your staff working overseas and what type of activities they will engage in when they are on their work assignment.

First off, your current liability insurance may cover the basics if your staff are there on a short-term assignment. For example, if one of them injures someone while driving a car in the country, your liability policy would likely cover the damages.

But if you are selling your service or products abroad of if you have a representative office there, you may need the enhanced coverage of a foreign liability insurance policy.

According to International Risk Management Institute, foreign liability insurance is:

“A specialty policy for an insured’s liability for foreign operations arising out of a permanent branch office, manufacturing facility, or other operation located in another country. The commercial general liability (CGL) policy provides coverage for incidental exposures – for example, when an executive (or group of employees)... occasionally travels overseas for business trips. For permanent operations in foreign countries, a separate foreign liability policy is required.”

Why purchase foreign general liability coverage?

Your existing corporate liability plan may not cover you for legal expenses and lawsuits brought in overseas courts. Travel to foreign countries brings with it a number of challenges, including corrupt officials, crime, and unfamiliar laws, languages and customs.

Organizations from the U.S. have no protection if they are taken to an international court, so protect yours with a good foreign liability plan.

Who needs the coverage?

You may want to consider foreign liability insurance if you:

• Have employees or volunteers who travel outside the U.S.

• Own or lease vehicles outside the U.S./Canada.

• Export goods or services.

• Have or transport property outside the U.S. or Canada, in- cluding at foreign trade shows.

• Outsource work to subcontractors who are domiciled outside the U.S. and Canada.

• Own or operate locations, such as sales offices or call cen- ters, outside the U.S. and Canada.

• Station American workers at foreign offices and/or employ third-country or local nationals.

Work Comp Cost Control Begins with Hiring and Onboarding
23 March, 2017

Everyone has heard the phrase “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” penned by the ancient Chinese thinker Lao Tzu.

For employers, keeping workers’ compensation costs under control can feel like a thousand-mile journey, but it also begins with a single step – the crucial hiring and onboarding process.

Why is this process so important for keeping workers’ compensation costs down? Because for years, studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and many others have shown that new hires are at much higher risk for injuries and time loss claims than those who have been on the job longer. Why? Bad hires and a lack of training are two prime suspects – even more reason to get the hiring and onboarding process right.

If you want to get your workers’ comp cost-cutting journey started off on the right step, follow these hiring and onboarding best practices:

  1. Create effective job descriptions. Workers who are mentally or physically unable to do the job you hire them for are a risk to themselves and your business. Review all job descriptions to ensure they are an honest representation of the position and accurately define all responsibilities, experience, skills, and education required, as well as your expectations.
  2. Screen applicants thoroughly. Your screening process needs to be as thorough as possible, including pre-screening interviews, careful review of resumes and other documents, checking references, performing background checks, and drug screening. Consider personality screening, which can give you valuable insights into a candidate’s personality traits.
  3. Mind the rules. When conducting background checks and screening, make sure you’re complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), state disability laws, and laws prohibiting retaliation against employees who file workers’ compensation claims.
  4. Conduct engaging interviews. This is your chance to probe into the psyche of each applicant, have a one-on-one conversation with them, and see how they think. Ask engaging questions and pose hypothetical scenarios, and take note of how thoughtfully they respond.
  5. Put it in writing. Every step of the hiring process should be documented and kept on file. Professionally written employment letters are an ideal tool for documenting job offers extended to promising candidates, rejection of unqualified applicants, and welcoming of new hires.
  6. Provide a thorough orientation experience. New hires who go through a structured onboarding process are much more likely to be satisfied in their job, stick around, and be more safety conscious. Get them started on the right foot by welcoming them, introducing them around, and thoroughly familiarizing them with their workstations, tools, supplies, company policies, safety guidelines, and your safety culture.
  7. Provide immediate and ongoing training. New employees should be trained in their duties by an experienced worker, started out in lower-risk situations, and gradually advanced to higher-risk work as they gain knowledge and skills. Reinforcement is vital, so monitor and track their progress, and provide ongoing refresher training.
  8. Keep the lines of communication open. New employees have many questions, so have an open-door policy and be available. Schedule regular progress meetings for the first month to give them a chance to talk about any issues, and provide constructive feedback.

Creating a safe workforce starts at the beginning with your hiring and orientation. By sticking to a thorough, thoughtful, and consistent process, you’re putting yourself in a much better position to foster the kind of work environment that can help reduce injuries and keep your workers’ compensation costs down.

Want more ways to create a safe work environment and cut your workers’ comp costs? Contact the workers compensation insurance professionals at Heffernan Insurance Brokers today. 

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Commercial Auto Insurance Rates Trend Higher in 2017
04 January, 2017

You should prepare for increases in your commercial vehicle insurance coverage for 2017 as accidents, injuries and costs rise for the first time in decades and insurers make up for years of low pricing.

Commercial auto insurance premiums have been trending between 6 and 10% higher since early this year and, if you’re policy comes due Jan. 1 or during next year, you may see your premiums increase. Experts say that rates are increasing in nearly all commercial auto segments – but trucking is feeling it more acutely.

The reason for the increase is that there are more accidents taking place on the roads and the costs of the claims – everything from vehicle repair to medical costs – are increasing for various reasons.

Auto insurance rates are rising at the fastest pace in almost 13 years, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The effects are being felt harder in the commercial auto insurance market than in the personal market.

That’s because commercial insurance rates have been stable for many years, barely budging despite rising costs. And now some insurers have left the market, reducing the supply of insurers in the segment, which has reduced competition and bumped up pricing.

The premium hike therefore essentially boils down to two factors: more accidents and rising claims costs.

Higher accident frequency

The increase in accidents, injuries and deaths is the result of:

• More people on the road due to cheaper fuel.

• More people on the road because the economy has improved and more people are driving.

• An increase in accidents due to distracted driving (mostly from texting using a smart phone or talking on the phone while behind the wheel).

One of the main contributing issues is risky behavior, which studies have found to be widespread. About 87% of drivers surveyed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in February 2016 reported that they had engaged in at least one risky behavior while driving in the past month, including using their phone or not wearing a seat belt.

Rising claims costs

According to the Insurance Research Council, the average cost of a liability claim increased 32% from $11,738 in 2005 to $15,506 in 2013. In 2014, it had reached $16,600, up 7% from the year prior.

Meanwhile, the average cost of personal injury protection claims (often referred to as no-fault claims) increased by 38.2% – from $5,802 to $8,017 – between 2005 and 2013.

Factors that are increasing costs:

• The cost of medical care for injured parties is increasing, particularly in the commercial auto segment, as victims of car or truck crashes tend to take longer to recover.

• As cars have become more high-tech, it has gotten more expensive to repair them. Also, more commercial vehicles than ever are being totaled, meaning the insurer has to pay out for the market value of the vehicle, because designs are often being altered to meet fuel and weight standards.

• Prices have been suppressed in the commercial market, and there are now fewer players in the market.

What you can do

While base rates are rising and out of your control, you can double down on safe-driver training for your employees.

If you can educate your driving employees in safe-driving best practices, you will reduce your accident rates, which will be reflected in the premium you pay.

For example, motor carriers that are very safe and have good “Compliance, Safety, Accountability” scores from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, are finding premium renewal rates that are consistent.

You can also adopt advanced technology like telematics and dashcams, both of which have been shown to improve overall driver safety. Cameras also help insurance companies when adjusting claims.

Keep Safe When Decorating Your Workplace
20 December, 2016

As the holiday season rolls around again, your business will have new safety considerations to confront. From holiday parties and risk of electrical shock to fires and trips and falls, companies have a set of safety and risk management challenges that may not be present during most of the year. But decorating and decorations present their own set of safety challenges and this is what you need to be aware of when decking your office’s halls:

Safety While Decorating

Keep all relevant OSHA regulations in mind when decorating your workplace: both when in the process of decorating and making sure you don’t create new safety hazards that will last for the duration of the month.

When your staff are decorating the office, ensure that they stick to the same safety guidelines that they would otherwise follow:

• Ladder safety – Make sure employees don’t stand on tables, desks or rolling desk chairs when hanging lights or other decorations. Insist that they use ladders and that they have a partner to hold the ladder when they are working on high.

• Keep walkways unobstructed – You may have boxes of Christmas decorations that you bring out every year, or you may purchase new decorations too. When employees are decorating, make sure they keep all walkways free of wires, cords, boxes or any of the material you are putting up. When people are working in a disorderly fashion, they can easily trip and fall.

• Install wisely – Also make sure employees don’t put up decorations in a way that can impede movement of your workers or office visitors, or create trip hazards or expose staff to getting caught in the decorations.

• Unobstructed exits – Do not place any type of decorative items in exit corridors or on sprinklers. It’s essential to verify that none of your decorations block exit signage or fire safety equipment.

Lighting Safety

• Use LED lights. Not only do they burn cool, they are also more economical because they only use 10% of the electricity consumed by other bulbs.

• Use lights that are recommended by a reputable testing laboratory. Such lights are usually labeled “UL” or “ETL”.

• Prior to use, inspect lights and extension cords for defects or damage. Check for loose connections, cracked or broken sockets and bare or frayed wires. Workers should report all defects to their supervisor.

• Immediately replace burned-out bulbs with ones that have the same wattage. Unplug Christmas lights when replacing bulbs.

• Make sure you don’t create a maze of wires, cords and plugs when plugging in Christmas lighting.

• Never use outdoor lights indoors.

• Make sure Christmas lights and other electrical outdoor decorations are plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter. This device helps prevent electric shock and fire.

• Never use nails or tacks to secure cords of lights. Also, don’t run strings of lights through hooks.

• Never pull on a string of Christmas lights.

• Always turn off Christmas lights before leaving the business premises. Never leave them on overnight.

Christmas Trees

• Consider an artificial tree, which poses less risk than a live one.

• If you have a live tree, make sure that it is properly watered so it doesn’t dry out, which is a fire hazard.

• Live trees can be safer when sprayed with flame retardant.

• Put your tree in an area that doesn’t impede foot traffic or movement of workers.

• Don’t put live trees near heat sources such as space heaters, where they can dry out and pose a greater fire hazard

Employers: Are You Prepared for the New Overtime Rule?
05 December, 2016

December 1 is just around the corner, and that’s when the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new overtime rule officially kicks in. It’s been a long battle and a time of uncertainty for employers, but the fix is now in. Beginning December 1, 2016, the final overtime rule:

  • Raises the salary threshold for exemption from overtime requirements to $913 per week or $47,476 per year for salaried employees, and from $100,000 to $134,004 per year for higher paid employees
  • Automatically updates the salary threshold every three years based on wage growth over time
  • Fortifies overtime protections for salaried workers who are already entitled to overtime
  • Provides greater clarity for employers and their employees

The new overtime rule will impact an estimated 4.2 million U.S. workers currently eligible for overtime pay. Here’s a partial breakdown of how many workers are affected by state:

  • California: 392,000
  • Oregon: 46,000
  • Washington: 76,000
  • New York: 278,000
  • Missouri: 85,000
  • Texas: 370,000

But contrary to what many employers think, there’s more than one way to comply.

For some reason, many employers are under the impression that the only way to comply with the new overtime rule when they have employees who earn less than $47,476 annually is to change them from salaried to hourly. But there are other options:

  • Raise salary and keep the employee exempt from overtime. This option works for employees who have salaries close to the new salary level and regularly work overtime.
  • Pay overtime on top of the employee’s salary when necessary. This option works for employees who work 40 hours or fewer in an average workweek, but have occasional spikes that require overtime.
  • Adjust hours and staff workload. There’s no requirement that an employee must have a predetermined schedule, and nothing prohibits working whenever, wherever, or however the employee and the employer agree.

FLSA enforcement is ramping up.

Between the new overtime rule, the increased scrutiny of employee classifications, and evolving minimum wage laws, employers are facing substantial changes in the way they compensate their workers. That means even more compliance headaches, and the DOL, the IRS, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), and other agencies are promising to ramp up their enforcement activities. In 2015, the DOL alone collected $246 million in back wages for more than 240,000 employees from employers who were noncompliant with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

These changing laws all share a common threat: an increase in Employment Practices Liability (EPL) risks for employers.

The past decade has seen a staggering 253 percent increase in the number of wage-related lawsuits filed in federal court. The cost to defend these claims is also skyrocketing, with average wage and hour settlement payments about $6.9 million from 2007 to 2015 according to NERA Economic Consulting. On top of that, cases can drag out in the courts for 18 to 24 months before reaching a settlement.

Make sure you’re ready

With employment laws in flux and EPL risks on the rise, now is a good time to conduct a thorough review of your employment, payroll, and recordkeeping practices, as well as your employee job descriptions and classifications. For assistance, see the DOL resources at and

Don’t forget financial protection.

If you run a business and have employees, you’re at risk – and if you’re not carrying Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLi), you’re raising the stakes on that risk considerably. In fact, you’re risking the very survival of your business. Just one EPL lawsuit could wipe you out if you’re not prepared.

Is your business protected from this growing risk? Let the business insurance experts at Heffernan Insurance Brokers make sure you are. 

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Think Like a Risk Manager to Protect Your Small Business Profits
19 October, 2016

For many small business owners, “risk management” means buying insurance. But while insurance coverage is a crucial part of any risk management strategy, it’s only one piece of the bigger picture.

Of course, as a small business owner, you likely don’t have the same training and expertise risk management professionals have. But you’re still responsible for managing the risks to your business – and if you plan to raise capital from investors, it’s even more important to have a good grasp of risk management.

So how do you think like a risk manager? It doesn’t have to be a big mystery. You just need the right mindset and a little direction. Follow these five steps to get you started in the right direction:

  1. Identify your risks. There are many risks that are common to most or all businesses, but others are specific to you and your line of work. As the business owner, you’re in the best position to know what those risks are. Use a risk checklist to start from, and add to it based on your specific exposures. To help you get started, see Small Business Insurance and Risk Management Guide by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Specific types of risk you need to consider include property loss, business interruption, legal liabilities, key person losses, and employee injuries.
  2. Assess your vulnerability to each risk. In other words, what are the odds that a particular risk will materialize, and how much would it cost you? The goal here is to quantify which risks are worth sweating over and which ones aren’t. For those that are, figure out how affordable it is to protect your company against that risk. For example, if it’s a low probability risk that would cost your company $40,000 in losses but would cost you $35,000 to protect against it, your resources may be put to better use elsewhere.
  3. Choose the appropriate method of minimizing exposure to each risk. That could mean taking steps such as implementing safety policies and more training, installing a security system, or avoiding dubious transactions. You also need to decide which risks you want to transfer, which risks you can retain yourself, and which risks you need to finance through insurance or other means.
  4. Get the right insurance. Insurance is a central part of any risk management strategy. Key types of business insurance include general liability, commercial property, and workers’ compensation. But do you also have risks that require product liability or professional liability coverage? Make sure you cover all the bases.
  5. Monitor and adapt as needed. Take a few days every six months or so to review and update your risk management plan. Include owners, department heads, and other key people in your company, and consider bringing in your insurance carrier for advice.

Remember, smart business owners take smart, calculated risks, and smart risk management is the key.

By learning to think like a risk manager, you’re giving yourself the ability understand your risks more clearly and make better decisions in managing those risks. When you need advice from a risk management expert, contact Heffernan Insurance Brokers.

Captive and Self-Insured Programs: Your Key to Cost Control
19 September, 2016

As a business owner, your prime directive is to keep your financial ship afloat. And, some of the largest expenses on your balance sheet relate to insurance – group benefits, workers’ compensation, liability insurance, property insurance and more. If you pay more than necessary for one of these expenses, it means you have less to spend on key differentiators such as inventory, product development, equipment, marketing and talent. Likewise, if your competitors pay less for insurance than you, they have more cash to invest. In this way, insurance and risk management decisions become a true competitive advantage … or disadvantage.

Fortunately, when it comes to insurance, you have choices. You don’t have to just accept the rate quoted for traditional insurance. While captives, self-insurance, partially self-insured plans and high-deductible plans were once tools for the “big boys,” that’s no longer the case. These alternative arrangements have become more mainstream and accessible, making them feasible for smaller companies as well.

If you’re wondering if an alternative risk arrangement might be right for your company, consider some of the key advantages:

  • Cost savings. The principal aim of self-insurance is to improve profits by reducing premium costs. Many companies find that by entering into an alternative arrangement, they can save up 15% or even more, right from the start.
  • Control. Policies, types of coverage, and retention levels, plan design, and claims management strategies are all customized for the specific needs of the business. That includes covering risks for which commercial insurance is either unavailable or prohibitively costly.
  • Full data transparency. You’ll have complete access to loss data so that you can make informed decisions. This can be particularly useful in group benefits, aiding with plan design and wellness program design.
  • Cash flow. The upfront costs involved with these programs is often less than that of traditional insurance, freeing up some insurance dollars and making it easier to manage your company cash flow.
  • Choice of counsel. A business owner is free to choose its own attorney instead of relying on a commercial insurer’s choice of attorney.
  • Claims administration oversight. Business owners are in complete control of how claims are administered. They can hire their own third party administrators and create their own rules of engagement.
  • Known out-of-pocket potential. Yes, you have a bit more financial skin in the game, but it’s not as risky as you might think. Several layers of reinsurance are built into the program so your potential out-of-pocket is a known and static figure.
  • Safety committment. With an alternative risk management program, it’s easier to get invested in safety from the top-down, because the financial rewards of doing so are tangible and immediate.

With all these benefits, you might be wondering, why isn’t everybody doing this?

As a matter of fact, an increasing percentage of companies are taking control of their costs with alternative risk management strategies. According to a March 2015 Benefits Pro article, 26% of employers with 100 to 499 employees self-insure and 82% of companies with more than 500 employees self-insure.

Those who don’t explore alternative risk management options tend to be concerned about change, out-of-pocket exposure and the complexity of program setup. However, with so many companies jumping on the bandwagon, new products and options address those concerns. In other words: It’s much easier to go alternative than it used to be.

Ready to explore alternative risk management options for your group benefits, workers’ compensation or other business insurance needs? Contact the experts at Heffernan Insurance Brokers today.

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Wildfire Season Risk Management: Common Sense Strategies
04 August, 2016

It’s the time of year for wildfires, and let’s just say the season is living up to its reputation. According to National Geographic, the United States sees more than 100,000 wildfires per year, consuming 4-5 million acres on the whole. Within the first five months of this year, the Insurance Information Institute said, there were somewhat fewer fires than the year before (20,563 versus 22,112), but in terms of acreage, the situation is more severe than usual. From January through May, 1.6 million acres have burned in 2016, as compared to 410,990 acres during the same period last year.

That’s for the United States as a whole. In California, Fortune said, two recent fires – Valley and Butte – have displaced more than 20,000 people and consumed 138,660 acres between them. The Valley fire alone is set to be the most destructive California wildfire since 1991.

The costs follow the severity, as one might imagine. According to the nonpartisan research organization Headwaters Economics, in the 1990s, the federal protection and suppression of wildfires cost less than $1 billion a year. Between 2002 and 2013, it rose to more than $3 billion annually. This year in California, the season was running around $212 million before Valley and Butte exploded. Those will make the previous estimate "look like a drop in the bucket in comparison," Fortune said.

If you’re concerned about the safety of your home, pets and family during wildfire season, here are some tips you can follow to help protect them.

Avoid the two most common causes of wildfire.

  1. Equipment mishaps. "Lawn mowers, weed-eaters, chain saws, grinders, welders, tractors, and trimmers can all spark a wildland fire," according to a wildfire readiness organization. To prevent sparks, don't run heavy machinery after 10am, and don't run it at all during dry spells.
  2. Burning unsafely. If you're building a campfire, do so safely: check for fire restrictions, choose an open location, clear it in advance and put it out completely when you're done, using the "drown, stir and feel" method. If you're burning debris, keep the pile under four feet long and high, clear a space 10 feet around it, keep a water supply nearby and obtain a permit first.

Protect your property and your family with common-sense strategies.

  1. If it's dead, remove it. Dead branches on your trees. Dry leaves on your roof or in your gutters. Overgrown grass that’s since turned brown. These can and should be removed.
  2. If a branch is near the ground, prune it. Wildfires can jump to treetops. The NFPA advises you to keep your trees lowest branches 6-10 feet from the ground.
  3. If it's burning, drown it. Be diligent about disposing of ashes, matches and cinders of any kind, thoroughly soaking them before you leave them alone.
  4. If it's fuel, keep it away. If you have a woodpile, it should be stacked at least 30 feet away from your home. The same goes for anything that could burn: keep a 30-foot burn-free area around your buildings.
  5. If you see a fire, call 911. Don't assume someone else has already called it in.
  6. If you live where fires are common, stay informed. "Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications," according to the Department of Homeland Security.
  7. If you're ordered to evacuate, do it. Don't make excuses. Don't delay.

Don’t stop there. Make sure your insurance limits are adequate and up-to- date with current building values. If you operate a business, ask your Heffernan Insurance agent about business interruption insurance. We recommend reviewing your policies with your agent at least once a year.

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Planning for a Business Expansion: 5 Points to Remember
06 July, 2016

Are you considering taking out a business expansion loan to help drive your company’s growth? Here’s a checklist of five key points to consider before taking on a business expansion loan:

  1. Is it the right time for business expansion funding?

The growth and expansion of your small business is tied directly to your ability to achieve one of two central objectives: 1) finding more customers; or 2) expanding your product and service offerings.

Simply put, finding more customers helps you increase sales of your current portfolio of products and services. As a second option, expanding your business’s products and services offers existing customers a chance to purchase a new item, while simultaneously drawing in a new customer base.

As you consider these two options, reflect and ask yourself if you are truly ready for business expansion.

  1. Are we in the right home?

The location of a business is at the forefront of its current and future success. If you are considering a business expansion, it’s essential to think about the location of your business. Also consider if you want to own or rent your property.

Buying a facility is certainly a significant commitment, especially considering that commercial mortgages are usually for shorter terms than residential mortgages (typically 10 to 15 years). Accordingly, a shorter term means a higher payment. Is your small business financially positioned to take on this type of increase?

Renting is sometimes a safer alternative to the up-front costs of buying property but can be less stable in other ways. For example, there’s no guarantee that a space will still be available to you beyond the time listed on your lease. In addition, renting requires the added cost of an up-front deposit, which is often the sum of your first and last month’s rent.

Keep in mind that if a new space needs updates or repairs, you will need to set aside funds from your business expansion loan for any renovations. As your business expands, it’s common to see a new location in the same market take over about 20% of the original location’s business. Is your business financially prepared to take on these costs while still growing?

  1. Can we afford the team we need?

It’s impossible to grow without building your team of employees, and new staff members mean added expenses in payroll and benefits. A business expansion loan can help cover these costs, but as you add employees, you must hire and fill roles strategically. If you anticipate having a hard time filling the roles you will need, given your industry or desired experience, it could be difficult to grow as quickly as you might like. Expansion will be exponentially more challenging without the right candidates to fill each new position.

As part of any expansion, you and your management team must be able to fully trust your staff, because your time will be divided across multiple locations. Finding the right talent to lead through these transitions is key.

  1.  Are we able to provide a stable inventory?

Inventory management is a challenge at the forefront of many expanding businesses. The idea of growing your current operations is often intriguing, but first consider your ability to manage an increased inventory. If your customer base were to double, do you have the appropriate means to support the increased demand?

Industries that experience regular cycles of higher and lower demand must make an extra effort to monitor and maintain stable inventory levels. In some cases, additional capital can aid in stabilizing inventory across fluctuating periods, keeping the right products in stock at optimal levels, even amid accompanying revenue fluctuations. A lack of proper inventory financing and management can leave you with either an extreme shortage or a heavy surplus of inventory, negatively affecting your business and finances.

  1. Where can we acquire business expansion financing?

Most small business owners will rely on an expansion loan at some point in the life cycle of their business. This might be to pay for new facilities, new staff members, added inventory or any number of circumstances related to growth. Whom will you trust with your business expansion financing?

Our trusted financing partner Fundation helps businesses like yours every day. Fundation can provide the business expansion loan you need to secure the new facility you’ve been dreaming of, or to finally get ahead of seasonal fluctuations to master your inventory system.

Fundation’s business expansion financing is designed to meet the diverse needs of all types of small businesses. Loans from Fundation feature conventional terms, convenient refinancing options and prepayment without any penalty.

If you need capital to finance a business expansion, contact our partner Fundation to find the best solutions for your business.

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Winery Risk Management: Are You Prepared for the Unpredictable?
06 June, 2016

The wine industry in the U.S. is enjoying the sweet taste of success. We’re currently the largest wine producing nation in the world, and new wineries are cropping up all the time. According to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, the 2014 grape harvest in California was the third largest on record, and the overall U.S. wine market grew another 1 percent last year, worth an estimated $37.6 billion.

But as any experienced winery owner knows, success comes with a host of growing and evolving risks.

  • The whims of Mother Nature, changes in distribution channels, fluctuations in revenue, and worker shortages are just a few of the challenges you face every day. You have to be prepared for the unexpected:
  • The August 2014 earthquake that struck the California Bay Area affected more than 120 wineries, with total losses estimated at $50 million according to the Napa Valley Vintners.
  • The State of California and advocacy groups are increasingly putting winery owners’ hiring practices under a microscope for their use of volunteers and interns.
  • U.S. and California wine producers could get caught up in a totally unrelated trade dispute with Canada and Mexico over the labeling of beef and other meat imports. The Wine Institute and other U.S. trade groups are concerned that Mexico and Canada will impose high tariffs on U.S. vintages as part of that ongoing battle.

This year’s challenge: an unusually early harvest

The choking drought California has endured for the last several years has pushed up the growing season. Wineries in California and other states are reporting harvests this year that are historically early and brief. Some have even finished harvesting earlier than they traditionally start. On top of that, overall yields are low this year. But with fewer ripe grapes, the flavors are more concentrated and the early harvest means the grapes retain more acid – so the quality of the end product could be the best ever. On the other hand, many winery owners are concerned about the financial impact of the lower yields.

It’s such a gamble, isn’t it? You never know what challenges you might face from year to year.

So how do you manage the unpredictable? It all starts with understanding the multidimensional components of your unique risks:

  • Agricultural. You’re involved in growing things, so you’re exposed to risks from Mother Nature, the use of pesticides and chemicals, and the chance of workplace injuries.
  • Manufacturing. You operate processing equipment and machinery to turn raw products into fine wines, so you’re exposed to all kinds of safety hazards, plus possible leakage, contamination, or malicious tampering of your product. You also have exposure to the usual supply chain risks.
  • Entertainment. You may sell your wines to retail and wholesale customers around the world, as well as at your own winery. That means you’re exposed to liquor liability and alcohol distribution laws.

Unique risks require unique protection

Your winery needs all the same standard business insurance coverages as any other business, but you also need specialized coverages and high liability limits for some of your unique exposures:

  • Insurance for your crops, trellises, vines, and potential chemical drift
  • Specialty coverage for leakage, contamination, or malicious tampering
  • Coverage for liquor liability
  • Personal liability for owners who live on the property
  • Coverage for employees

One common mistake among many vineyard owners is a simple lack of attention to detail, which can lead to gaps in coverage. This happens often when companies change carriers or policies.

That’s why you need an insurance partner who knows your operation as well as you do. With more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, Heffernan's Vintners & Growers Practice can help you manage the unpredictable.

Hiring Tips for Your Winery or Small Business: How to Find the Right Employees
12 April, 2016

Hiring is a critically important process for any business owner and can generate as much stress as it does excitement. There’s much to consider as you begin to grow your team, but finding the right employees—from a skills perspective as well as a cultural one—can be quite a challenge. Small business hiring is a skill that a business owner often gains confidence in with time and experience, but there are some central focus areas to help you make the best choices for your business.


Here are a few tips to guide you in finding and hiring the best team for your business:

Consider the Nature of Your Business

Hiring new employees happens in every industry and is a vital part of your business. Your employees are often your customers’ first line of sight into your organization and can leave a lasting impression. Hiring is never easy and can be more challenging when employees work remotely or travel to engage with customers in different locations. Regardless of the working structure or environment, it is necessary to carefully consider how many employees you need and their individual roles and responsibilities, and then match people specifically to each position. It might turn out that you need certain positions to be full-time while others are part-time; and some can be outsourced to contractors.

Determine When You Should Outsource

As your small business grows, it’s exciting to imagine a growing workforce, but it’s always recommended to pause before adding full-time employees—particularly if there’s technology or an outside agency available that can complete the work you need at a lower price point.

Many small businesses outsource functions like advertising, accounting and legal assistance because it is more cost-effective than having a full-time employee in-house. So before you hire for a new position or refill a vacancy in an existing role, look into technologies and service providers that can provide the work you need at a lower cost.

Place the People in the Right Roles

Small businesses often produce employees who wear multiple hats and whose expertise spans more than one area. This helps keep things moving efficiently, without requiring a large team. Often it makes sense to hire gradually as your business grows, maintaining a lean workforce and training people to excel in different areas and hiring people who can support several functional areas.

An employee’s mind-set and attitude can be as important as his or her skills and experience. If you set out to hire people who embrace a team spirit and are diligent, collaborative team members, they likely will be able to help in many ways and grow with your business. Pay close attention to a candidate’s connection to your company’s mission and willingness to embrace a diverse set of responsibilities. This type of agile employee is often best suited for any number of roles.

Review Finances Before Hiring

It might seem obvious, but always consult your budget before hiring a new employee. Review the entire cost associated with a new hire, from salary to taxes to benefits and insurance, in order to understand the complete picture. The total cost to your business when all the pieces are combined might surprise you.

Any time that you are moved to create a new role or fill a vacant position, first review your current balance sheets. Think through what you can comfortably afford to spend on the role and what the anticipated return will be from the work. The cost to grow your workforce can rise quickly, and it often makes sense to consult with a professional service provider to ensure that you are making the best decisions for the long-term health of your business. Our lending partner Fundation offers all types of small business financing options, like working capital loans and business expansion loans, to give your company the financial guidance and support it needs to grow your team of employees and your business.

Weigh Temporary Employees vs. Full-Time Hires

Small business hiring is justifiably one of the most stressful processes for a small business owner, and for good reasons. Your employees are the heartbeat of your operation, and you want the best possible candidates contributing to your business, with their diverse skill sets and abilities. A strong team is central to seeing a business reach its full potential.

Sometimes, finding the employees you need is more challenging than you might initially consider. If you’re not finding your ideal fit for a given role, don’t rush to fill it with someone who doesn’t give you total confidence. Instead, consider using temporary help like contractors, temp agencies or freelancers.

Seeking alternatives to a full-time employee can give you more time to find your best-fit candidate and also can help you gain a better understanding of the skill sets needed to help your business grow forward successfully.

Every business owner has experienced different obstacles in hiring, and the process is rarely uniform. There are many helpful small business hiring tips and resources to position you for success. Effective staffing most often results from a thorough understanding of your company’s unique needs.

Are you ready to make your next hire? Our partner Fundation can provide you with the growth capital you need to comfortably add new team members with no negative impact to your cash flow.

Contact Fundation today, and learn more about small business lending solutions available to help your business grow. Fundation is a true partner that will never sell your loan, and it delivers the highest level of customer service.


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Online Marketing: 5 Tools for Small Businesses
25 March, 2016

Building a small business is a challenging venture, regardless of industry. One way to differentiate your business from the competition is to improve and diversify your marketing strategy to reach potential customers in as many ways as possible. When it comes to marketing your business, you don’t have to do it all—you simply have to apply the strategies and approaches that make the most sense for your product and for your customers. Online marketing is arguably the most effective and dynamic option for today’s small businesses, and getting started is easier than you might think.


Here are 5 online marketing tools for small businesses that can help drive your business forward:

1. Optimize Web Design


A website is absolutely part of a digital marketing plan, as the central hub of online content for your business. It’s essential to keep your website up to date with current information and contact information, in a user-friendly design. Make sure that customers can easily navigate through your site to find what’s most relevant to them and that your site functions appropriately on mobile platforms like cellphones or tablets. It’s often favorable to skip flashy graphics and animations that can take longer to load and that detract from your key messages.

2. Create a Customer-Facing Blog


Blogging is an inexpensive and effective way for a small business to engage with its customer base online. Not only can you answer customer questions and initiate conversations; you can also position your business as an authority in your industry or field. Best practices in blogging suggest sharing consistently in a conversational tone and posting helpful information rather than a simple narrative. Your blog should be connected and linked to and from your website to drive traffic in both directions, increasing web traffic and your business’s credibility.

3. Incorporate Search Engine Optimization (SEO)


The best website in the world might be rendered obsolete if it’s not properly indexed and searchable by your customers. This is why search engine optimization (SEO) is so important for business owners. Improving SEO makes it easier for your customer and target audience to find your site, regardless of the size or focus of your business. SEO can be a complex area of digital marketing, which is constantly evolving. Working with a firm that specializes in this kind of online performance is often the best route for leveraging SEO effectively.

4. Distribute e-Newsletters


The costs and logistics of direct mail are quickly giving way to e-marketing. An e-newsletter is an efficient way to share information with your target audience and build brand awareness. It’s important to remember that this is a subtler marketing tool than, say, television ads or newspaper circulars. Information shared in an e-newsletter should help potential customers solve a problem or gain an understanding of a common issue, rather than bombard them with sales. An e-newsletter can be free to create and distribute and can be updated as often as needed. As your subscriber list grows, so will your customer reach.

5. Engage in Social Media Marketing


Social media is a focal point of digital marketing and continues to grow with the constant introduction of new tools. Using social media to advance your business is essential to a successful digital marketing strategy, and this can be achieved without incurring any major costs. By simply posting regular updates with quality information and practical tips on your Facebook or Twitter accounts, you will open the door to engaging conversations with your customers and potential customers. This type of activity increases visibility into your business and opens communication lines with a ready audience.


Online marketing isn’t the only option available to business owners, but it’s the fastest-growing and most dynamic method to interact directly with consumers. It might feel overwhelming to dive into using online tools to market your business, but you don’t have to do everything at once, and the benefits of using these tools effectively are endless. It is perfectly appropriate to test different approaches and campaigns to find the best and most effective options, as these tools are free or available at a very low cost.


Check out more small business marketing tips and financing advice from our lending partner Fundation.


Are you seeking alternative financing to start or improve digital marketing for your small business? Contact Fundation to learn about the short-term business loans available to your company. Fundation will never sell your loan, and it offers direct support and the highest level of service. 

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Robust Vintners and Growers Insurance
09 March, 2016

As a winery owner, grower, or manufacturer, you know there’s more to making good wine than simply growing grapes. With all the time and work that goes into each bottle, you need the right insurance to protect you from exposures. Like grapes, insurance comes in many varieties and can be complex.

That’s where Heffernan Insurance Broker’s Vintners and Growers practice comes in. Our specialists are specifically trained to mitigate the risks that keep you awake at night. We’re familiar with the winemaking process from start to finish, and whether your business is family-owned or global, your coverage will be tailored to fit your operation’s needs, managing applicable agricultural, manufacturing, and hospitality exposures.

 When you partner with Heffernan, we’ll handle all your insurance needs so you can focus on crafting the best product. Contact us today to speak with our Vintners and Growers specialists.

Visit our website for more info


Evolving cyber risks: Does your winery have an offensive strategy?
04 August, 2015

When it comes to cyber crimes, the bad guys are getting bolder and more sophisticated all the time. Major attacks on corporate giants, the healthcare industry, and now the federal government have compromised the private data of tens of millions of U.S. citizens and are costing those organizations millions to deal with the fallout.

Just how big is this threat? The Identity Theft Resource Center(ITRC) reports that the number of data breaches in the U.S. hit a record high in 2014, and according to the World Economic Forum's Global Risks 2014, cyber-attacks have become one of the five biggest threats worldwide.

These attacks have been a wake-up call for corporations and governments alike, but with bigger companies and government agencies starting to invest more in cyber security measures, smaller businesses that may be less protected are increasingly in the crosshairs.

Think you're not vulnerable? If you run any type of business, regardless of size, you have plenty of sensitive and vulnerable information:

  • Private customer and company information
  • Your employees' private health information
  • Your company website that's vulnerable to hackers, data miners, viruses, and other threats
  • Any jobsite technology you might use such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets
  • Internal threats such as paperwork errors or hacking by disgruntled workers

Bottom line: no business is immune any more, and if you become the victim of a cyber-attack, you could be facing liability for breach of confidential information, costs to notify individuals whose information has been compromised, investigative and public relations costs, loss of business income, and other legal and financial headaches, in addition to reputational damage.

What's your game plan to battle these risks?

It's no longer enough to have a strong defense in place against these risks, because you're always in reactive mode you get hit, you respond. The only way to stack the odds in your favor is to go on offense and keep your strategy evolving. That means taking time to thoroughly assess every risk and vulnerability, taking proactive steps to plug the holes, and being constantly vigilant and flexible as the threats evolve.

To put your cyber security program on offense, the first step is to have solid policies and procedures in place to cover prevention, resolution, and restitution. For protecting data, make sure you're implementing a three-stage control process: administrative, technical, and physical:

  • Administrative controls such as conducting background checks, using confidentiality agreements, thoroughly vetting all vendors, and conducting security awareness training with your employees.
  • Technical controls such as anti-virus software, network segmentation, web and email filtering, and encryption of data on main drives, data in transit, and databases on servers.
  • Physical controls include limiting access to buildings and sensitive data.

To put the finishing touch on your cyber security offensive, you need the right cyber liability insurance protection in case you do get hit. Your CGL insurance policy isn't enough it likely has either very limited or no coverage for these risks. There's also no one-size-fits-all cyber policy they vary greatly. So work with your insurance carrier to come up with a policy and a strategy that covers your specific risks. The last thing you need is to find out after an attack that you're not covered.

Finally, arm yourself with knowledge to stay ahead of the bad guys with resources such as these:

In this age of cyber warfare, you need to put your business on offense to protect your bottom line. Contact the risk management experts at Heffernan Insurance Brokers to find out more.

Heffernan Nonprofit Practice
09 July, 2015

Heffernan's Nonprofit Practice is committed to securing the best insurance programs at the most competitive prices to nonprofits of all types and sizes across the United States. We are passionate about what we do - learn more about what sets us apart!


Journey to the 80's! A Benefit For Heffernan Foundation
10 June, 2015

On Friday, October 23, 2015, we welcome you to join us for a totally awesome 80s dance party benefiting the Heffernan Foundation and local nonprofits providing services in the area of shelter, food, education and the preservation of the environment. Tickets are available for purchase now!

Get your tickets here!

Arsenic litigation: the latest poison for California wine industry profits?
28 April, 2015

It’s almost hard to believe the California wine industry is booming. Over the past few years, wineries in the state have been hit with everything from new labor restrictions to drought to a Napa Valley earthquake. Still, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data and a report by the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, a trade group that represents 1,000 California wineries, the 2014 harvest was estimated at 3.9 million tons, the third largest on record.

But as everyone in this risky business knows, as the industry grows, so do the risks.

The latest threat? Arsenic litigation. In a recently filed lawsuit, 28 California wineries are being accused of having high levels of arsenic in their wines.

Two California couples started the class action complaint, claiming that some of the top selling wines from these companies contain up to four and five times the maximum amount of arsenic the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for drinking water. The plaintiffs claim the high arsenic exposure is the result of negligent and misleading actions by these wineries.

Arsenic in wine: public hazard or much ado about nothing?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical in soil, many foods, and water across the globe. But according to the lawsuit, three separate labs independently tested a number of wines made by the defendants and confirmed they contain dangerously high levels of inorganic arsenic, in some cases up to 500% more than what is considered acceptable. Kevin Hicks, former wine distributor and founder of Beverage Grades, tested more than 1,300 bottles of wine, and almost a quarter of them had levels higher than the EPA's maximum allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water.

No one is claiming that anyone has died or suffered physical injury from drinking the defendants’ wines, but the plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages and a court order requiring winemakers to disclose on their bottles the risks of consuming inorganic arsenic in wines.

Naturally, the wine industry is fighting back. The Wine Institute is calling the claims "false and misleading," stating it’s “patently untrue” that these wines are unsafe to drink.

One issue is the EPA standard being cited. The federal government doesn't regulate wine like it does water, and most people drink much more water than wine. So the defendants say it’s inaccurate and irresponsible for the plaintiffs to use the water standard as a baseline. They also point out that the highest level of arsenic cited in the lawsuit is half the acceptable level for wine in Canada. Last year, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario tested 2,247 wines from California, and 90 percent of them tested below 10 parts per billion, 99 percent had levels of 25 ppb or lower, and all were within acceptable levels. The limit set by OIV, a European intergovernmental wine organization, is even higher.

Wine companies maintain they’re fully compliant with all federal and state laws. Many suspect the lawsuit is merely a fearmongering tactic to drum up business for the beverage testing company hired for the lawsuit, or maybe to drum up business for the trial lawyers.

Whether the lawsuit has merit or not, you need to be prepared for this risk.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, the cat is out of the bag. That means it’s a risk you need to aware of – and one you need to consider in your overall winery risk management strategy.

With more than 20 years’ experience providing risk management solutions to the winery industry, Heffernan's Vintners & Growers Practice has the perfect antidote to these risks that threaten to poison your bottom line. 

Vintners: Protect your grapes from the wrath of social media blunders
23 December, 2014

It’s hard to think of a technology that’s had more impact on our businesses and personal lives in the last 10 years than social media. It’s been a game changer for how we connect and interact.

But like any new technology, social media comes packaged with multiple risks.

Just ask the owners of Revolution Wines, a Sacramento-area winery. They were recently taken to task by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for this seemingly innocent 95-character tweet:

“Two days till @SaveMart Grape Escape in Downtown #Sacramento! Get tickets and info here:”

What was the offense?

By merely re-tweeting the post from a Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau’sTwitter feed, Revolution Wines had violated “tied-house” laws, post-Prohibition regulations designed to create independence among alcohol producers, distributors, and retailers. The law basically says that producers aren’t allowed to promote retailers. The ABC ruled that Revolution Wines was providing free advertising for SaveMart, the retailer hosting the event, and gave them a choice: have their liquor license suspended for 10 days or admit their mistake and be put on probation for one year. Revolution Wines wasn’t alone either – a total of eight wineries and breweries were investigated for social media activity that mentioned the same retailer.

The dangers of being trendy

We’re living in the age of the trending hashtag, and every one of them can be a double-edged sword, offering companies a chance to join a cause – and an equal chance to stick their metaphorical foot in their mouth.

Take the example of the #WhyIStayed campaign, which was started for victims of domestic violence. As you can imagine, when the Digiorno pizza company tweeted “#WhyIStayed You had pizza,” it didn’t go over very well, and didn’t do much for their reputation.

Then there’s the flip side – when people take over a hashtag intended to celebrate a company’s product by using it to ramp up criticism instead (think #CheersToSochi).

It can be easy to forget that when you stick your foot in your mouth in a face-to-face conversation, it’s usually a minor slip-up that everyone quickly forgets – but the same kind of slip-up on social media can live forever in cyberspace. Even the most innocent, well-intentioned social media activity can unleash a flood of indignation and turn into a PR nightmare – and a costly liability – simply because someone was careless.

Yes, it’s a risk management issue

For wineries, social media can offer new channels of customer engagement, ways to humanize their brands, and a chance to show that they’re culturally aware and tech savvy. In fact, if your company doesn’t have a social media presence these days, you can easily be perceived as old-fashioned and out of touch. But along with that presence come risks that have to be proactively managed.

Probably the most obvious risk is your company’s reputation, but there are plenty of others. Have you ever hired or fired an employee based on social media? What happens if an employee posts social content on your company’s behalf without your permission? Are your employees’ social media activities inviting hackers into your system?

Bottom line: Social media can be a powerful tool, but don’t underestimate the potential liabilities. Make it a risk management priority, and have clear company policies and procedures that focus on security as well as behavior, with clear guidelines on how and how NOT to represent your brand.

For more information on managing your social media risks and protecting yourself, talk to the business and winery insurance experts at Heffernan Insurance. 

Labor restrictions squeeze more out of growing California wine industry
03 December, 2014

Not even a lingering drought or an August earthquake in the historic Napa Valley region could hinder the 2014 grape harvest. It was the third largest on record – an estimated 3.9 million tons – according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data and a recent report by the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

It’s clear the California wine industry is booming. But that boom also comes with a host of growing and evolving risks that could quickly make you go bust – not the least of which are your hiring practices.

In fact, winery hiring practices in California are under increasing scrutiny.

Using volunteers, interns, and labor contractors has been a tradition in the wine industry for a long time. For many people, picking grapes and working at a winery is entertaining. Others volunteer to gain valuable knowledge and experience they can use to open their own wineries. The arrangement has always been a win-win, providing wineries with enthusiastic help while giving volunteers and interns valuable hands-on experience. Likewise, hiring through labor contractors has helped provide winery owners with a reliable and consistent stream of workers.

But that’s all changing. In recent years, California has been cracking down on these practices and industry groups have been increasingly vocal about putting a stop to them. Consider these two recent cases:

  • The owner of Westover Winery in Castro Valley is closing his winery after the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement slapped him with $115,550 in fines, back wages, and penalties for using unpaid volunteers.
  • Wines & Vines, a large grower and distributor of wine grapes in Northern California's Livermore Valley, was served notice by the USDA’s San Francisco office of a violation regarding a labor contractor. A compliance agreement was worked out, with the owner agreeing to assume greater responsibility for its labor contractors, submit to inspections, and provide evidence of contractors’ certification of registration with the DOL. The contractor agreed to pay $24,000 in back pay and penalties.

What’s the beef?

The state and the advocacy groups argue that people should be paid for their labor – at least minimum wage – and that using volunteers and interns without workers’ compensation coverage puts those people unfairly at risk. Some also feel that employers are merely taking advantage of the current economic situation to get free labor, and they’re skating around documentation and tax requirements in the process.

Avoid the traps while still providing the experience

Wendell Lee, an attorney and vice president with the Wine Foundation, urges wineries to stop using volunteers, according to Off the Grid News. The arrangement is becoming too fraught with legal issues. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop providing the experience. Wineries can still hold events such as educational seminars where consumers pay for the experience or wine “boot camps” for club members that pay to attend. You can also still use unpaid interns, but only if certain criteria established by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement are met.

If you hire immigrant or migrant labor through agricultural labor contractors, those contractors are regulated by the Department of Labor (DOL). So make sure everyone is abiding by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal and state laws. Violating these laws can cost you a bundle in overtime pay, penalties, and attorneys’ fees.

As the winery industry grows, so does the need for more sophisticated hiring awareness. When you need expert advice, Heffernan's Vintners & Growers Practice can help. With more than 20 years of experience providing risk management solutions for the winery industry, we are well-prepared to assist with your unique challenges. 

Wine industry spotlight: 5 risk management lessons from the Napa quake
16 October, 2014


On August 24, 2014, California Bay Area residents got an early morning wake-up call. The 6.0 magnitude quake was the biggest to hit the area since 1989, and it wreaked havoc in the historic town of Napa. The quake injured 170 and killed one, knocked out power to 15,000 residents, caused gas leaks, burned homes, buckled roads, and seriously damaged many residential and commercial buildings. The cost? Early estimates of the overall insurable property losses are hovering around $250 million.

For winery owners in the historic Napa Valley vineyards just a few miles away, the quake was also a wake-up call. According to the Napa Valley Vintners, a local trade association, more than 120 wineries were affected, with losses estimated at $50 million.

Natural disasters have a way of presenting teachable moments. So what lessons should winery owners learn from the Napa earthquake?


Lesson #1: Have an emergency response plan. The quickest way to restore some order to the chaos of an emergency is to have – and follow – a comprehensive emergency response plan. You’ll need to assess all possible hazards and risks, and develop a plan for responding. Check out these resources from FEMA to help you assess your risks. Your plan should address these areas:


·         -Resource management

·         -Crisis communications

·         -Business continuity

·         -IT

·         -Employee assistance

·         -Incident management


Lesson #2: Invest in quake-proof equipment and infrastructure. For instance, select your tanks and barrel racking systems for their seismic stability.

Lesson #3: Obtain an engineering report to evaluate the stability of your structures and equipment, and to make recommendations for retrofitting buildings and adding or designing equipment anchoring systems for better support.

Lesson #4: Conduct a cost-risk analysis for the purchase of earthquake insurance on structures and critical equipment such as tanks.

Lesson #5: Have the right insurance. The Napa quake has served as a reminder of how few California business owners have earthquake insurance. It can be costly, big earthquakes are rare, and many simply believe it’ll never happen to them. But earthquakes can happen anytime, and they can quickly put you out of business if you’re not prepared. Make sure your operations are adequately insured, not just for damage to infrastructure and equipment, but for business interruption and other risks.

Will you be ready for the big one?

Following the Napa quake, new radar images of the area taken by NASA revealed several small fault lines that nobody knew were there. Scientists are also warning about the Cascadia fault system just 100 miles off the north coast of California running north to Vancouver, saying it’s about due for a good shake. Cascadia created a 9.0 quake back in the 1700s, believed to be the largest earthquake the continental U.S. has ever seen. Then there’s the more famous San Andreas Fault, which could produce a large quake at any time.

Bottom line – it’s not a matter of if, but when another big one is coming.


With the complex and unique risks inherent to the wine industry, you need an insurance partner who knows your operations as well as you do.

Heffernan's Vintners & Growers Practice has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry. With a dedicated team of wine insurance specialists and exclusive insurance programs for wineries and growers, we’ll make sure your business stays on solid ground when the big one hits. 


Financial Impact of Napa Quake Rising
15 September, 2014

Our very own Debra Costa highlights the impact these natural disasters have had on the insurance industry.

Napa Quake Prompted Busy Times for Winery Insurers
02 September, 2014

Heffernan's Vintners & Growers Practice has more than 20 years experience mitigating the risks that keep vintners and growers awake at night. When an unexpected Earthquake hits, do you have the proper coverage to protect your most prized bottles and barrels?

Check out our very own Debra Costa’s take on the recent quakes and what you can do to ensure your policy is sufficient.

For more information on Vintners and Growers Insurance please visit our website at

What Does a California Quake Mean for Your Winery?
25 August, 2014

Are you prepared for the unexpected risks a natural disaster could bring to your business? With the recent 6.0 earthquake that struck the Napa Valley, a handful of wineries are being faced with unpredictable loses. While it’s still too early to determine how much this quake will cost the valley, many wineries are realizing quickly that they lost more than their prized reserves.

Running a winery is a complex undertaking, one that requires a great deal of planning and constant vigilance in juggling the many complex risks. One way to make the task much easier is to find a risk management partner who specializes in your industry. Heffernan's Vintners & Growers Insurance Practice has more than 20 years of experience providing industry tailored insurance solutions. We have the carrier affiliations, industry clout, and unique industry experience to get you the best coverage for your winery at the best rates. And that’s something worth toasting!

Contact us today to see how we can protect you against the next unexpected earthquake before it’s too late!

Harvest Season Safety Reminders for Vintners and Growers
15 July, 2014

Winemaking can be a romantic and profitable venture, with over $30 billion in retail sales every year in the U.S. But as every vineyard owner knows, it’s also an inherently risky business. Growing conditions, changes in distribution channels, fluctuations in revenue, and a shortage of skilled workers are just a few of the daily stresses.

Skilled and committed workers are valuable assets you want to keep safe. At wineries, they face a long list of on-the-job hazards, from heat exhaustion to chemical exposure to equipment operation hazards to night harvest risks, just to name a few.

With another harvest season approaching, here are 10 reminders to help reduce on-the-job injuries and prevent workers’ compensation claims:

  1. Create a safety mindset. Make safety a top priority with thorough training, personal protective gear requirements, and regular safety meetings.
  2. Have First Aid resources availablefor bee stings, animal bites, and other minor injuries that you can treat onsite, at least until emergency help arrives. This first line of defense can help keep many injuries from becoming worse.
  3. Prevent back injuries – the most common and among the most costly – by training workers in proper lifting techniques and setting limits on how much one person can lift without assistance.
  4. Be aware of slip, trip, and fall hazards such as tools and other objects lying around, muddy and slippery surfaces, etc.
  5. Avoid repetitive motion injuries with ergonomically designed work areas, training in proper pruning techniques, and hand exercises.
  6. Take care with chemicals and pesticides. Train everyone in their proper use and storage, including use of respirators and fire prevention techniques.
  7. Train your staff on safe use of all machinery, vehicles, and equipment including safe operation and storage, strict lock-out/tag-out procedures, and ladder safety.
  8. Be aware of environmental hazards associated with outdoor work such as heat and sun stroke, sunburns, insect bites, and working in cool night air.
  9. Know the risks of hosting wine-tasting events at your facility. Not only do these events expose you to greater liability issues with the visiting public, but your employees and volunteers are also exposed to risks different from their day-to-day hazards.
  10. Be proactive about emergency response preparedness, especially if you live in an area prone to earthquakes, floods, forest fires, or other natural disasters. Know your risks, have a plan, and make sure everyone on your staff knows what to do in an emergency.

Finally, don’t neglect your insurance coverage. With the long list of risks and hazards you face, you need comprehensive protection and a partner who understands your industry. With more than 20 years’ experience providing custom tailored insurance solutions for the winery industry, Heffernan's Vintners & Growers Practice offers both. With our industry experience and carrier affiliations, we’ll get you the best coverage available to protect your valuable employees and your bottom line – all at the most competitive rates.

Hey Vintners! Is Your Back Door Unlocked?
20 May, 2014

Not your literal back door of course. We’re talking cyber security.

The wine industry is growing; in 2013,California sales grew by 3 percent in volume and 5 percent in value. At the same time, the threat of virtual data breaches is also growing.

Now why is that? The connection is easy to trace. Today’s business landscape is defined by technology: there are a slew of powerful IT tools out there, which (among other things) have made online transactions the norm for companies and consumers alike. Wineries are taking note of that fact, turning to the Internet to market their offerings, conduct online transactions and store credit card data.

In so doing, they’re not only harnessing powerful technological tools. They’re also taking on a new set of risks.

Let’s Get Smart about Cyber Security

There’s a moral here. If you’re doing business online, you need to have proper defenses in place. This is something companies of every industry could be doing a much better job at which explains why there are so manybig names in the news these days turning up as hack victims. Target. Neiman Marcus. Zappos.

Then again, don’t assume you’re safe just in case you happen to be small. Some hackers take a high-volume, low yield approach to crime, targeting lots and lots of little guys, reaping their nefarious harvest in the aggregate.

Truth is, it can happen to anyone – and indeed it does.

How to protect your winery?

Of course, it’s important to make your system as secure as it can possibly be, of course. Choose providers who prioritize this stuff. Encrypt your data. Maintain strong firewalls. Practice PCI compliance. Restrict system access to those who need it, manage user privileges carefully, guard your unattended systems, change default passwords; the list goes on.

But as any responsible IT technician will readily tell you, on the information highway there’s simply no such thing as “absolute” security. Here’s the thing: hackers are pretty smart. Any line you draw can conceivably be crossed, if the right (i.e., wrong) hacker comes along at the right (i.e., wrong) time.

So in addition to beefing up your defenses, you’ll need to prepare a backup plan. How would you handle the fallout if your customer data ended up in the wrong hands? If you don’t happen to have a couple extra million stashed in the cookie jar, take a more affordable approach: Purchase cyber liability coverage.

Talk to us about your cyber liability exposures. We can help protect you from the costs of an unforeseen breach.

Heffernan’s Vintners and Growers Insurance Practice has more than 20 years of experience, and we assist wineries just starting out to large producers at 1M+ case goods annually.

Wine Industry Sales Uncorked…And So Are The Risks
09 April, 2014

From pinot to chardonnay, we love our wine. In fact, the U.S. wine industry produces nearly 800 million gallons a year, representing over $30 billion in retail sales every year. And according to a recent Gallup poll, 35 percent of alcohol-consuming respondents drank more wine than any other alcoholic beverage this year, a statistical tie with beer. Compare that with 1992, when 47 percent chose beer and only 27 percent chose wine.

The wine industry is clearly booming. But for those who venture into the business expecting to buy a vineyard, kick back with a glass, and get rich, it’s a tough wake-up call. The complexities of making and selling wine can be overwhelming. There’s the year-round farm work, mountains of regulatory paperwork, exhausting sales legwork, the $1 million-plus investment it takes to get started, and several years of operating in the red before seeing a single dollar in revenue.

 To read the full article click here and visit the Heffernan Insurance Brokers website!

Heffernan Insurance Brokers Named a Best Place to Work in the North Bay
23 August, 2013

One of the top North Bay Insurance Brokers has once again been named as a North Bay Business Journal’s Best Places to Work. Our Petaluma office will be recognized at the Best Places to Work reception on Wednesday, September 18 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa.  A special publication of the North Bay Business Journal supplementing the September 23rd issue will feature all of the winners.
What makes us a Best Place to Work? We offer a generous benefits package, flexible work schedules, wellness & philanthropy programs, and a company culture that emphasizes working hard, having fun, and giving back. 

“We are very proud to work for a company that is recognized as a ‘Best Places to Work,” remarked, Elizabeth Bishop, Senior Vice President and Branch Manager. “We enjoy coming to work and we also enjoy knowing we are contributing toward making our local communities better.” We’re very proud to be receiving this award for the second year in a row. Keep the fun going Petaluma!

Click here to visit our Facebook page and see all the fun we have at Heffernan Insurance Brokers.

Give us a call at 800-655-7796 to get started on your insurance quote today!



Client Referrals

Below is a sampling of some of the wineries we are proud to insure. Contact us for a full client referral list.


Jordan Vineyards


Duckhorn Wine Co.


Purple Wine Co.


Peju Province Winery


Mulas Family Vineyards


Sebastiani Vineyards

Title Name Email Phone
Debra Costa (707) 789-3051
Katie Olsson 707-789-3044
Rene Sprague 707-789-3058
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Heffernan's Risk Management Assessment provides you with clear insight into the true value of your insurance program. The purpose of the assessment is to look for gaps, improve your insurance coverage and reduce your costs long term.


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