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WINThe Wine Industry Advisor is an Online Industry Publication featuring news and articles relevant to the wine industry. Our goal is to be a resource for wine businesses and professionals by providing free access to our knowledge base articles, industry press releases, and daily news. We aim to provide you with the information most relevant to you.

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

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WIN-Advisor-Afternoon_BriefThe Afternoon Brief is a summary of daily news headlines and top stories packaged in an email format and delivered to subscribers at the end of each business day. The Afternoon Brief is a natural addition to the Wine Industry Network's evolving platform of free business resources.

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One Man’s Idea Becomes Leading Filtration and Remediation Solution for Wine Industry

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.”

News Archive

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.”

Sawyer too connects the rise of rosé to a changing food culture. “American consumers are ready for it, and it’s not just because the wines are of that quality now, but it’s because the food culture has changed, and that is probably the key to all of this. We don’t eat steak and potatoes all the time anymore, we eat definitely fresher foods, we eat salads and the most incredible dishes we’ve ever had now, so when have that pink version of the wines, it gives you so much more of an ability to pair them with what’s really the best thing to be pairing with, high acid, beautiful lavish flavors that are much more expressive when they’re young and fresh and fruity in some ways, but not sweet, and that’s the key.

“There are still sweet rosés, of course, but restaurants and great retailers are not going in that direction, they’re looking for the dry ones, and it’s because they pair so well with the types of cuisine that is now available to us. We’re going into a gourmet landscape that we’ve never had before, and that’s why pink works so well, because they’re really complementing the food we’re now eating.”

* Nielsen retail outlets data, period ending 2/25/2017


New Company Breaks Barriers to Distribution for Small Producers
31 March, 2017

Consolidation continues to make distributors bigger and fewer while the number of producers grow with new small producers enter the market. The vast majority of wineries in the US produce less than 5,000 cases, and they’ve been effectively blocked from three-tier distribution because distributor giants won’t take them on, but that’s about to change.

Liberation Distribution (LibDib) today announced the launch of the first web-based three-tier alcohol distribution platform, and it has the potential to impact distribution in a big way. Now any licensed producer that wants distribution can have it. The catch? No catch, just go signup and start selling, and if you later want to switch to a different distributor, you can leave at-will without paying any fees, or fear of franchise law enforcement.

LibDib Founder and CEO, Cheryl Durzy, knows the pain small producers are feeling first-hand from her years of experience managing wholesales for her family’s 80,000 case winery, Clos LaChance, and it inspired her to create LibDib.

“A year and half ago I was trying to get a wholesaler for a new brand that we were doing,” Durzy relates, “Nobody would take it. I contacted every single wholesaler in New York, and nobody would take it, but with LibDib any winery that wants distribution in states that we cover can have it. A 200 case Oregon winery can have distribution in New York, and they can set it up within an hour.”

Cheryl Durzy, LibDib Founder and CEO

For now, LibDib is only licensed as a distributor in California and New York, but the plan is to expand and cover all 50 states.

Alcohol distribution laws governing New York and California mostly allow for shipping directly between the producer and the retailer, but spirits entering California are subject to an at-rest law requiring them to be shipped to LibDib’s licensed warehouse and then be shipped from there to the retailer by the distributor. “We started in those two states because we’d be able to prove both models, the warehouse model plus the direct shipping model,” Durzy explains, “and the two states represent 25% of consumption.”

For orders placed through their platform LibDib takes care of all the legal obligations in terms of taxes and reporting, as well as invoicing and collections, while the producer handles shipping and the sales and marketing of their brands. For many small brands handling their own sales was something they already had to do, and with LibDib they’re only charged 15%, less than half of what the average distributor takes.

LibDib keeps down their expenses by not carrying any inventory, but shipping everything directly to the retailer as orders are made.

The time is ripe for a web-based three-tier alcohol distribution platform, not just because the technology is available, but because of the market trends. “There’s a new niche in the market, that people want unique items, small production, craft, and traditional wholesalers don’t make money on it, so it’s a perfect opportunity to provide this service for people and allow them to ship direct,” says Durzy.

Unlike the traditional distributors, LibDib doesn’t rely on any one account or popular brand to make their numbers, but by taking a very small cut out of thousands of individual transactions.

This model not only benefits the producer, but also the restaurant, bar, or independent retailer who’s trying to deliver on the customer’s demand for something special. “LibDib also helps small restaurant and small retailers, who can’t make the minimums,” says Durzy. “They can buy two or three cases a month, and that’s all you have to buy. You buy what you want, when you want, and how much you want.”

As an example, a vegan restaurant that wants to offer vegan wines can go to and search for vegan wines, and in one order get a case each from three different small wineries that no one else in their city carries. And if they know a winery has wine that’s not listed, they can contact the winery directly and ask them to list it for sale.

“We encourage direct communication between retailers and makers,” says Durzy. “Wouldn’t it be better to manage your own brand and talk to the restaurants you think want your things, and you can contact them through the platform and make appointment, or send samples and do an online tasting?”

Ultimately LibDib plans to have an extensive online catalog where producers can easily share their brand stories, collateral and product details for retailers to research and buy. And it is up to the producer to decide which products they want to sell where, in what quantity, and at what price.

“Each state you have a different price because of different taxes and cost of shipping,” Durzy explains. “They decide which products they want to put in distribution in that particular state, and then they set their price.”

The platform has a transparent pricing tool that shows the producer what the costs are, so they and set the price according to what they want to pocket. A few companies were invited to try the platform before the launch, and the initial response is very positive.

“Distribution has been the most frustrating aspect of our business,” said Arthur Hartunian, Owner of Napa Valley Distillery. “LibDib is simple, easy to use and allows us to get our products to market efficiently. I’ve been telling every small to mid-sized producer I know that they need to work with LibDib.”

Though Liberation Distribution looks a lot like other web-based market solutions we’ve seen work for other industries like AirBnB and Amazon, it’s different in that it enters a highly regulated market, but it has the potential to make a huge impact, and Durzy is not shy about her ambitions; shooting for a thousand accounts by the end of the year.

“We want to be the best distributor to work with, we want to teach people how to sell, we plan on having a lot of educational webinars, and things like that to educate people on how to be better in the marketplace,” says Durzy. “We want to be the distributor that helps brands grow, not hinder them.

“It’s not just a technology platform, it’s an idea change too, it’s a shift in perspective.”


French Wine Capitalizing on U.S. Drinking Trends
17 March, 2017

Major trends in the U.S. wine market including premiumization, sparkling wine, and rosé play to the strengths of French wine leading to a 14.2% value growth, surpassing runner-up New Zealand at 13.7%, to claim the highest import growth by nation over the past 52 weeks according to Nielsen data*.

Bubbles to the Top

While the Prosecco trend is roaring ahead, grabbing the attention, and pushing the bulk of the growth in the sparkling category with a 23.1% value growth, French Champagne is holding its own at 8.4% growth – slightly below the 8.8% of the overall category, but well ahead of U.S. domestic sparkling, which only managed to grow at 5.3%.

Prosecco captured a 2.2% sparkling category share increase by value over the past 52 weeks, but only 0.1% came out of Champagne’s share, which is still larger than Prosecco’s at 20.1% compared to 18.5%.

So does Champagne need to fear Prosecco? Probably not. While they are the two major players in the sparkling category, Champagne’s average 750ml bottle price sits at $52.35, more than four times the $12.27 average of a bottle of Prosecco, making Prosecco a potential growth funnel for consumers to mature to Champagne’s higher price point as premiumization continues.

The Rosé Revolution

The premium rosé revolution reflected in the 56.6% value growth of the >$7.99 rosé segment over the past year, on the heels of the previous year’s 55.7% growth, is largely a French import phenomenon.

Though the growing premium rosé segment is still only 1.1% of the table wine category (up from 0.7% just one year ago), France is the origin of 78.3% of all U.S. rosé imports, and rosé alone represents 16.8% of the total value of French wine imports with the average price of a French rosé sold in the U.S. coming in at $13.90.

The total annual U.S. premium rosé segment retail sales* amounted to $146,747,201, and when it’s held up against the $110,810,876 worth of French rosé imports, it leaves very little room for anyone else, and with French rosé imports outpacing overall premium rosé growth with an impressive 63.4% increase, that doesn’t appear to be changing.

French Wines in the Growth Zone

Over the past 52 weeks wines priced above $9 captured 2% market share from the lower priced segments bringing it up to 52.9% of the total annual value of the retail table wine market. That’s less than the 2.6% it gained the year before, but still represents a strong premiumization trend and clearly shows where the growth in the wine market is happening.

French Champagne and rosé live in this premium segment, but so does the average bottle of French wine sold in the U.S., which is priced at $12.71 (up $0.33 from a year ago), the highest average bottle price of all imports by nation.

French varietals that are trending down in the U.S. market, Malbec, Merlot, and Syrah are also impacting those wines imported from France, but they represent a very small percentage of French wine imports leaving little trace in the overall strong performance of French wines in the U.S. market, and their continued rosy outlook.

* Nielsen retail outlets data, period ending 2/25/2017


Wine & Weed Symposium 2017: Strange Bedfellows or Opportunity Knocking?
03 March, 2017

By Dawn Dolan

Wine & Weed Symposium LogoGarnering attention from such disparate online news sources such as ForbesThe Emerald Report and Homeschooling Guys, Wine Industry Network’s newest conference, the Wine and Weed Symposium, announced for August, 2017 in Sonoma County, CA, will be the first such pairing of these two industries. One, a tried and true luxury item for millennia, with 170-year old historical roots in California. The other an underground, cash industry coming to the light.  How will this match-up work out?

Acting as MC for the day, Tina Caputo, long-time wine industry writer and editor explains the purpose of this new event. “The wine and marijuana session at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo [December 2016] focused on the tourism side of the cannabis industry. The Wine & Weed Symposium will be much more comprehensive, covering the topic in-depth from many different angles, from understanding regulations to dealing with competition for land and labor. The idea is for both industries to come together for an open discussion, and to identify challenges and opportunities surrounding wine and cannabis.”

An open forum to provide this meeting of industries was the brain-child of George Christie, owner of Wine Industry Network, the sponsor of this unique one-day conference. “We are facing a lot of uncertainty, and wineries don’t really have any one resource to turn to in order to ask all the questions that are currently circulating. We hope to provide a safe environment where the wine industry people walk away feeling like they know more facts about what the future may hold.”

Topics such as legal issues, collaboration opportunities, threats, environmental issues, and labor issues will all be introduced in the day-long symposium. One of the featured speakers, Tawnie Logan, the Executive Director for Sonoma County Growers Alliance, looks forward to the opportunity to address the wine industry. “We want to help with education and understanding the options open to our industries. How can you [wineries] work with the cannabis industry?”  Logan says that the cannabis industry is a cash industry, earning three times as much as the direct-to-consumer wine industry in California, and about 20% of the annual 2016 US wine sales revenue. “It is imperative that the wine industry understand the nuances and how to collaborate with us. The wine industry has had one hundred years to develop, and now gives back to social and environmental causes. We are at year one. We need the wine industry to help bring us in, and show us what responsible industry practices look like.”

Asked what she considers to be the opportunities and the threats that face the wine industry with the implementation of the new laws, Logan replies,” There are many opportunities if the wine industry can get ahead of it. They have the opportunity to work with a new tourist attraction to Sonoma County.  We have wine, food, ocean, biking, and kayaking.  Craft beer tourism is a new menu item for tourists. Not all visitors are wine drinkers. Men are attracted to beer and spirits, and women want wine. But we are seeing a generational shift.  We need to figure out how to incentivize a tourist target market. How many items can they pack into a trip?  If you are over 40 years old, maybe you are angled toward the wineries, and you want to experience the vineyards. Kids in their 20’s want to hit Russian River Brewery and the dispensaries, so it’s a different kind of crowd. If we market this appropriately and make it collaborative, we can all do well.” 

Rebecca Stamey-White, partner at Hinman & Carmichael will be a featured speaker at the Wine & Weed Symposium. She agrees with Logan about partnership opportunities, and says, “I think the risk of competition is being over-blown. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation; there is room for collaboration, with consumers enjoying both industries at different points in time. For example, the food element is something the wine industry has done really well. Cannabis goes really well with food, so collaboration on the hospitality around food may be a great chance to work together.”

Problems are sure to arise, and one that Logan acknowledges is unique. Due to the hitherto prohibition status of cannabis, this is an industry that is not being newly created, but it is converting into a daylight industry. “Prohibition instigates black market activity,” she says. “The next five years are the most critical years for transitioning out of prohibition.” Many pot farmers don’t have a savvy supply-chain knowledge due to the underground nature of their agricultural product, and Logan notes that, “The level of business experience in the cannabis industry is almost non-existent.” She says they are looking to the wine industry to be a model for them. 

Stamey-White goes further, “The regulatory issues that the cannabis industry is facing are daunting. Unlike the alcohol industry, where licenses are issued at the state level and localities can restrict certain operations but do not issue their own licenses, for the cannabis industry, you have to have a state and a local license, and there may be additional limitations and taxes at the local level. If localities choose to restrict cannabis operations, these businesses won’t be able operate in those communities, even if they would otherwise comply under state law.”

She also notes that banking is an issue, with most banks choosing not to work with cannabis businesses because of the federal illegality. In a February 10, 2017 online article in The Recorder, Cheryl Miller lays out the colossal issue for this industry; banking. Citing Julie Anderson Hill, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, Miller writes that Hill reports that attempts to skirt federal restrictions on marijuana banking usually only “work for a short period of time until everyone figures out what’s going on. The trouble here is, you don’t know at what point you’re going to provoke the federal government,” she said. “I can’t tell you where that enforcement line is. In fact, as a lawyer I’m supposed to tell you that marijuana is illegal under federal law.” Miller reports that in the state of Washington, a rigorous and transparent licensing process has led six state-chartered banks and credit unions to accept marijuana-business clients. This may perhaps be the wave of the future for California banking institutions.

Another impediment is the cost of operations of cannabis farming. Stamey-White asserts that is quite high, given the lack of business tax deductions, local and state taxation, and the overall cost of doing business being higher and more complicated in a regulated market. She says that people come to her wanting to get into the cannabis industry. She laughs, “You know the saying how do you make a million dollars in the wine industry? Start with ten million! That is becoming very true for cannabis businesses as well.”

Pointing out another huge impediment, Stamey-White calls out the tax issue. “Cannabis businesses can’t take normal business deductions on their taxes. IRS section 280E states that growers can’t write off business expenses. No other industry has that type of hardship.”

Stamey-White is excited about a full day of discussion of these important issues. “These people are extremely passionate about what they are doing; the plant, their craft, and the medical and lifestyle benefits. In that, it is very similar to the passion found in the wine industry.” 

The Wine & Weed Symposium will take place in Santa Rosa, CA on August 3rd from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek. 


What Cans Can Do for Wine
17 February, 2017

Cans represent a very small segment of the overall wine category, but it’s growing rapidly, and there are good reasons that key industry players are making moves or at least keeping tabs on it.

Wine industry veteran, Jim Doehring, launched his new in cans only brand, Backpack Wines, in September last year after a period of market research that convinced him the market was ripe for it.

“Total sales in 2016 was up 122% from the year before according to Nielsen; it could become a very significant segment of the market,” says Doehring. “We did a number of focus groups and panels. The majority of the consumers in our focus groups were millennials ages 22 to 35, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.”

What sparked the idea of Backpack Wines for Doehring was his own failed picnic adventure with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that for lack of a corkscrew and cracked cups ended up less romantic than he’d hoped for. And the reason he primarily surveyed and targeted millennials is their on-the-go lifestyle where the convenience of the can is a great advantage. “It’s for anyone who has an active lifestyle where they’re outside at a picnic or BBQ and just want the convenience,” asserts Doehring.

Wine Market Council research backs up Doering’s insights about millennial’s lifestyle. They are the generation that drinks the least wine at home, but report that 7% of their wine drinking occasions are neither in a home nor on-premise.

Jordan Kivelstadt, CEO and Founder at Free Flow Wines, recently announced that they’re opening up a canning line for wine at their Napa facility, and he agrees with Doehring. “I think what’s held wine back from some of those casual drinking experiences is the fact that you need a glass for every way that wine is served, and for corks you need a corkscrew too.With a can you don’t need any of that, you just pull out the can and drink and I think that’s why beer has been more successful than anything for that outdoor drinking experience.”

In the competition between beer and wine, beer generally performs better in the lower age groups, supposedly before they mature to wine. How much of that advantage can be ascribed to packaging advantages remains to be seen, but the portability, single serve, and less formal format of the can are all aspects that speaks to the young millennial and potentially skews them toward beer.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem is one of the canned wine pioneers, and to owner Ben Parsons the pretense of wine is one thing that’s he tries to shed in competing for the millennial consumer. “From my brand’s perspective, I’m going after that craft beer drinker as well. I’m going after the younger demographic that’s just wants to have fun and not think too hard about the vineyard and all the pretense.”

Parsons and the Infinite Monkey Theorem is featured in the Canning Manufacturers Institute’s campaign about innovative wine brands opening up to cans (video above).

Growing Industry Interest

Sherrie Rosenblatt, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Canning Manufacturers Institute, sees a rise in winemakers choosing cans and also flags millennials as the target consumer. “One of the first places we saw this was Sofia’s minis from Francis Ford Coppola Winery, that made the small cans available, targeting millennials who wanted portability and accessibility at casual outings, giving them the beverage choice in a package that was easy for them to transport.”

While recognizing that cans are a nascent segment, Kivelstadt believes that the conversation around cans is changing and that the industry is excited about it. “A number of our existing customers have expressed interest, and at Unified the response was extremely strong,” says Kivelstadt. “Because of our partnership with Ball, people went to the Ball booth to learn about cans, and then Ball said, ‘go see the guys at Free Flow Wines; they’re launching a canning line,’ and that combination has been very very powerful.”

Jordan Kivelstadt

Doehring agrees, “just being in the industry and chatting with people, they’re taking a very serious look at cans. A few years ago there was almost nothing on the market, now you can go into convenience stores and see eight or ten selections, and granted that’s not a lot compared to bottles, but we know they’re coming.”

The canned wine and single serve market segment has been maturing in recent years, but one reason that it has not seen a huge number of new brands might be the barriers of entry that make it hard for small and mid-sized brands to test the segment without a huge commitment.

“What I believe has held canning back from becoming more prevalent in the wine industry is that there hasn’t been an option like what we’re offering,” says Kivelstadt. “You had the option of guys in Modesto, huge minimums, high loss rates, no expertise in wine, or these mobile canners who just don’t have the quality control to the level that Free Flow does. Or the speed or efficiency, so the costs are so much higher. So what we want to do is break that middle ground, we want to provide high speed, high quality line that allows wineries that are interested to get in.”

The minimums for custom printing cans are usually a container, which is 110,000 cans per SKU or 5,000 cases. Kivelstadt explains that Free Flow Wines has invested in a sleever that will allow them to put a custom branded shrink wrap on blank cans, called “brights”, so that brands can enter the segment with a smaller commitment and still use the full canvas of the can for their branding. “They’re amazing,” he says, “unless you really look hard, it looks like it’s printed on the can.”

Does Quality Wine Fit in a Can?

There are some constraints on what wine can go in a can. Wines with a very high acidity, ph below 3, can dissolve the interior liner and make contact with the aluminum, and copper in the wine beyond 0.2 parts per million risks being extracted from the solutions and boring into the aluminum. Also, the can is an inert environment, so wines must be made ready to drink, but this doesn’t mean it can’t hold quality wines.

“There’s a number of new packaging options on the market, and people will always take a look at them and wonder,” says Doehring. “That was something we needed to overcome right away, and what we decided to do was create a good quality product in a can. That was our way to address their concerns.”

The SMRP for a four pack of 250ml Backpack Wines is $19.99, the 750ml bottle equivalent of $15, which fits within Kivelstadt’s price points expectations for canned wines. “I really don’t see this getting above $20 retail per bottle anytime in the near future. Maybe I’m wrong, I’d like to be wrong, I think premiumization is where the industry is going, but I’m thinking a lot of wines between $12 and $18 a bottle.”

Because the 250ml can isn’t a legal standard of fill and therefore must be sold in four-packs as opposed to the 375, which can be sold single-serve, Kivelstadt expects the canned wine market to segment based on can size. “I think the 250ml segment is going to move toward the lower end of the market,” says Kivelstadt. “And I think the 375ml can, which I will give Underwood a tremendous amount of props for leading that charge on, will become sort of the premium end of the segment.”

Sustainability Benefits

Convenience is at the top of the list when explaining why cans appeal to millennials, but the sustainability benefits are something that speaks to both millennial sensibilities and many wineries.

“It’s amazing to see how environmental concerns play into the millennial mindset more than any other generation,” says Doehring, “It’s something that we definitely think about, and we know our consumers think about.”

Aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable, and according to the Canning Manufacturers Institute have a 67% recycling rate, which is higher than any other beverage container. It also has significant shipping benefits; where a palette space that takes 56 cases of bottled wine can hold 100 cases of cans.

“At Free Flow, we’re all about environmental stewardship and alternative packaging,” says Kivelstadt. “Kegs were a first step, and we’ve taken 15 million pounds of trash out of landfills so far with kegs. This is now another opportunity to continue that commitment to quality and sustainability. We’ve always been focused on the on-premise, which still is about 20% of the overall industry, so this gives us an opportunity to enter the other 80% and offer what we think is a high quality sustainable package.”


Free or Discounted Wine Tasting Options Vanishing in Sonoma County
03 February, 2017

Industry Follows Napa’s Lead in Charging Premium Prices for ‘High End’ Experiences

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

Back in what might be described as the good old days, consumers could waltz into any given tasting room on any given day in Sonoma County and enjoy several samples of locally produced, high quality wine at no cost.

In fact, Sonoma County prided itself on that freewheeling, open door policy as a way to be distinguished from nearby Napa Valley, which was quickly earning a reputation for elite wine tasting experiences at premium prices.

Those days are now pretty much a thing of the past as Sonoma County follows its famous neighbor’s lead and wineries throughout the region move steadily toward fee for tasting, seated tasting experiences and, increasingly, tasting by appointment only.

Beth Costa, the Executive Director of Sonoma County Wine Road, a marketing organization for the local wine industry, remembers back about twenty years ago when she was working for Kendall Jackson and the winery first decided to change its no-fee tasting room practices.

“It was two dollars per person then and the guest got to keep the glass,” Costa recalls. “And yet, it killed the staff to have to charge for it. They were resistant; they wanted to be hospitable. Things have definitely changed.”

Costa argues that consumers themselves are driving the shift by demanding more from their winery visits than casual conversation and a few free sips.

“People’s tastes have changed,” she attests. “People want to meet the winemaker, learn about viticulture, they want to be educated. People want an experience.”

Tammy Boatright, the President/Founder of VingDirect, a national, direct to consumer wine marketing firm operating in Sonoma County since 2008, could not agree more.

“We don’t have one region we work with anymore that doesn’t charge tasting fees,” Boatright declares. “What we’ve seen in the industry is that as fees go up, sales and conversion rates go up as well. It’s Marketing 101. People value what they pay for; they do not value what they get for free.”

Costa points out that the increasing popularity of Sonoma County wines has brought droves of tourists into the area, which makes crowd control an issue and strengthens the case for wineries to have more restrictive policies, including fees for service.

“It’s funny, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Costa notes ruefully. “You advertise your beautiful grounds and pretty soon you have busloads of people showing up to use your private picnic facilities. It becomes really hard to manage.”

There are still some wineries in Sonoma County that have maintained no-fee tasting options for their guests.

Korbel Champagne Cellars in the Russian River Valley is one of them. Visitors to Korbel can take a 30 to 45 minute facility tour, followed by a complimentary, sparkling wine tasting at the winery’s bar, with no reservations required.

In an email response to questions, Marge Healy, Korbel’s, VP of Communications writes, “We want our visitors to feel like our guests and therefore we don’t charge for touring or tasting.  That said we want everyone to be able to experience the magic of Korbel. Korbel did not get to where it is without the support of our loyal fans. This is our way of giving back.”

While Korbel does offer several other private tour and tasting options that require pre-planning and payment, the company intends to keep free tours and tastings on the menu for now. According to Healy, “To my knowledge, I do not see our policy changing anytime soon.”

But Korbel may be one of the exceptions.

Carla Jeffries is the General Manger of Thumbprint Cellars, which operates a busy tasting room in the heart Healdsburg, where there are dozens of wineries within walking distance of the downtown square.

Jeffries says the industry is definitely moving away from complimentary tastings or VISA signature type discounts because guests devalue the experience, and the tasting room staff works hard to deliver a visit worth remembering.

“To really understand that person in front of you takes finesse, it takes time,” Jeffries explains. “And from the customer’s perspective, they’re thinking ‘wow, they really want to know about me.’ I think the industry is moving toward giving people what they want, because there’s value in that and people are willing to pay for it.”

Jim Morris is the Director of Business and Hospitality for Flanagan Wines, a winery that was located in Bennett Valley for more than a decade before moving operations and a new tasting room to Healdsburg last December.

Flanagan Wines offers tasting by appointment only and charges $40 per person. That fee is waived if the customer purchases three bottles of wine, which range in price from about $50 to $150 per bottle.

Morris says the decision to structure the tasting room this way comes from a desire to create a more high-end experience for guests that “reflects our brand from top to bottom.”

“There are 442 plus wineries in Sonoma County alone,” Morris claims. “How do you stand out with 442 wineries? You better have a compelling story and you better be able to tell it well. We can’t (do that) in a crowded tasting room.”

Morris describes Flanagan Wines as delivering “very intimate, one-on-one tastings” that will often include a cheese pairing from local producers that helps to showcase the diversity of Sonoma County agricultural commodities. He says Flanagan Wines is also partnering with other like-minded wineries and lodging businesses in an attempt to create a complete hospitality package for his guests.

So far, the formula seems to be working.

Morris asserts that since the tasting room opened at the end of last year, he has only had to charge about a dozen tasting fees because visitors have responded so positively through purchases and wine club enrollments.

“Our wines are not inexpensive,” he acknowledges. “If you’re going to charge a lot of money, the value better be there.”

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DTC Symposium Delivers Good News and Advice for Direct to Consumer Wine
20 January, 2017

By Dawn Dolan

Playing to a sold-out 500 seat audience, the two-day Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium struck a new high point for its ten-year lifetime. Hitting such topics as global marketing, white-glove VIP treatment, why statistics matter to your winery sales, and an uplifting state-of-the -DTC union, the conference was a winner among attendees.

The state of the DTC address by Ken Nowlin of SOVOS, owners of Ship Compliant, was a happy one for the wine industry, with some areas shifting spots, but all doing quite well. Cracking the 5 million case mark in 2016, sales also set a new high at over $2 billion. Sonoma County was the focus of his praise, with their price per bottle moving up even as supply increased, something not normally found.

Day one of the conference included a variety of sponsor sessions and feature talks, one on creating the best DTC team and DTC happenings outside of California. Highlights included keynote speaker Lulie Halstead, of the London-based Wine Intelligence, a marketing, branding and research firm, marking global trends in the wine industry.

Halstead broke wine consumer trends down into parcels of We, You, and Us, to help understand how consumers think about products, with the concepts of effortless, instant, and individual as what needs to be focused on for marketing and delivering goods.

When asked what the biggest take away for the day should be for the attendees, Halstead replied, “Think about what you are offering from your consumer’s perspective, instead of your own. Take yourself outside of your viewpoint. Think about how you feel when you are reacting to other companies marketing to you.”

In her address, Halstead emphasized that it is about making the consumer feel special, either for choosing your product, or choosing your brand. “What are you doing to make your product and service more individualized,” she asked, “what are you doing as part of your local community to gain their respect?”

Keynote speaker Drew Huening, digital marketing master to the stars (Google, Facebook, Amazon) spoke to the many without large marketing budgets, explaining how to utilize an often-untapped resource: Facebook analytics. “Facebook analytic tools are as easy to use as Facebook is,” Drew said. “They are newer, and more user-friendly than Google Analytics, which are now ten years old.”

While going through how to use segmentation of lists and loading them into Facebook analytics, he was asked how you convince a rather slow-moving and suspicious industry to put their jealously guarded data base of names into Facebook? He explained that Facebook uses encryption just like online banking platforms use, and that people shouldn’t be worried about abuses. “The last thing Facebook wants to do is to alienate all the small businesses that are buying ads,” he quips. “Small business ads pay for much of how Facebook operates.”

Afternoon sessions included Reservations Revealed, a discussion for wineries using a reservations system, or wanting to do so. Before the session, Sandra Hess, Founder of DTC Wine Workshops, laid out its objective, “Wine consumers of all ages want more high touch tasting experiences and events. Winery teams are exploring whether or not reservation management tools are a good fit to keep up with consumer demand. In this lively discussion, industry specialists will share best practices for leveraging reservation management tools to better stay connected with club members in between visits and to also attract new audiences with advance reservations. Attendees will learn the dos and don’ts for setting up tasting experiences that require reservations.”

In the Leveraging Metrics session, Tammy Boatright of VingDirect, one of this year’s panelists, told the packed room that using metrics translates into the three AAA’s: Audience, Activity and Avenue, “It’s all about creating the right offer, at the right time, to the right people.”

In a private interview, Boatright elaborated on how important it is that wineries and their tasting rooms only track information that they are going to use, “Do they need to know how many people also bought a cheese plate while they tasted? If there is not an actionable result going to come of it, don’t track it. Your staff is already busy enough. Track things that will make a difference to your sales goals.”

During the White Glove Service panel, which had experts in that market talking about their experiences, panelist Chloe Tyer of Plumpjack sparked interest with her comment, “Set your environment; don’t let your employees set it, or you won’t like the results.” This led into a discussion for the need to train employees on how you want them to act, talk, and present your brand, with interviewing and hiring for the right fit; the front-end piece of successful high-end service that companies often ignore. Many tips were given, but the overall theme was stated most succinctly by panelist David Dodrow of Copper Peak Logistics, “Deliver on your promise.”

The Symposium also included a small trade show with a focus on products to help with DTC sales, which was pertinent and manageable. FedEx was doing private shipping consultations, VingDirect talking about the benefit of their performance tracker, Sandra Hess showed off her complement of consultants, and the POS and telemarketing groups were teaching interested parties how they can help improve sales.

Comments about the symposium complimented the fantastic array of useful talks, with take-aways that attendees were excited to put into practice. Although a pricey conference, the laser-focus on direct-to-consumer issues is impossible to get anywhere else, and so for most, a cost well spent.


New Website Provides ‘One Stop Shop’ for Grape and Bulk Wine Transactions
10 January, 2017

by Elizabeth Hans McCrone

You wouldn’t necessarily identify Atlanta, GA as the hub of wine industry technology activities, but that’s exactly where Justin Charbonneau launched his brainchild, GrapeConnect; a relatively new website that provides grape and bulk wine buyers and sellers the opportunity do business together online, for free.

Charbonneau came upon the idea after his parents relocated to northern Georgia and befriended owners of a local winery who were looking to source grapes from out-of-state while their young vineyard became established.

Their frustration with locating available grapes, as well as growers willing to ship them, spurred Charbonneau to do research on how grape and bulk wine transactions happened online.

“The more I looked, the less I seemed to find,” Charbonneau reports.

The discovery intrigued Charbonneau and prompted him to, as he says, “get a landing page up and see if it resonates for people,” which is just what he did last June.

Since then, GrapeConnect has grown by leaps and bounds, changing and developing week-to-week as users provide regular feedback to the site developers.

“It’s in a constant state of flux as we keep on learning,” Charbonneau confirms. “We’re very responsive to feedback; I think that’s one of the most important things.”

In its current state, GrapeConnect works like this:

Sellers register (for free) on the site by providing basic information about themselves and their business. They are then directed to a Dashboard where they are able to post a listing of any and all grapes, juices, bulk wines and shiners available. Sellers are encouraged to share the metrics buyers care most about, including minimum order quantities, deposit requirements and states they are willing to ship to.

Buyers are then able to navigate through those listings to find the products they are interested in and submit a confidential bid to the seller through GrapeConnect’s Private Bid Tool. The seller may accept, reject or counter their offer through the same online function. Alternatively, if the terms of the listing are agreeable, buyers can launch right into a deal by initiating a ‘Deal Proposal.’ Buyers can register (also at no cost) any time prior to or during the deal-proposal process.

“We have the ability to facilitate negotiations,” Charbonneau says. “If they’re actually ready to push forward on a deal, they can go forward with that process.”

Charbonneau notes that his software is programmed to create a solo Deal Manager that “spits out” the actual terms of the agreement as the details of the terms are being worked out between the buyer and seller. He emphasizes that whenever anything happens in the Deal Manager, both parties are notified.

“The idea is to deliver transparency and convenience,” Charbonneau explains. “In line with being a one-stop-shop to search for what’s available, we want to be the one-stop shop to do the deal.”

Charbonneau notes that GrapeConnect does not currently facilitate actual financial transactions; those happen directly between the site users. He does clarify that sellers may indicate how they would like to be paid when invoicing and buyers are able to put in federal tracking numbers or other relevant information necessary to complete the transactions. All financial and other information is protected by a secure website, backed up daily and encrypted with “the highest level of SSL (Secured Socket Layer).”

To date, Charbonneau reports that there have been about $20 million of listing value posted to GrapeConnect, a sure sign that he’s onto something that may have been lacking in traditional wine industry business practices for some time.

“People do a lot of handshake, local agreements with sources they’ve used for a long time,” Charbonneau points out. “Relationships are important; we get that and want to build the technology around them. But if you have grapes or bulk wine that you want to buy or sell, you should be able to go to one place for that, even if you have a handful of sources you usually work with.”

For his part, Charbonneau believes the time it takes to create a listing for potential buyers, is time well invested.

“We’ve helped to connect lots of buyers and sellers, kind of like an ad hoc free broker,” Charbonneau describes. “We want to add value to the industry by creating a place where people can find all the information they need … enough data, enough economic factors to help them make their decisions about grape pricing … in one spot.

“Our goal is to make people lives a little bit easier with what they’re already doing.”


The Sparkling Winemakers’ Choice for a New Year’s Toast
26 December, 2016

We asked a few sparkling winemakers to share their wine recommendations for celebrating the new year, one of their own wines, and one from another winery that they enjoy. We hope you’ll find something new and exciting in their recommendations that can start your new year off with a great sparkling experience.

Tondi Bolkan, Winemaker for Francis Ford Coppola Winery

The wine brands I work on our the wines of our Sofia brand. These include our Sofia BdB, Sofia Mini, Sofia Rose, and Sofia Riesling and Chardonnay. Sparkling wines are fun to work on with my co-workers and share with my family & friends year round, not just around the holidays. There’s always a reason to celebrate.

But as we close 2016 and get into holiday party mode, New Year’s Eve is definitely THE best party to host. As the designated party hostess, I am always on alert for potential mess makers.  So to toast the New Year, I like serving and drinking our Sofia Minis. Our Sofia Minis are our sparkling white wine blend in a can. By the time midnight rolls around, there’s always the chance of one guest reaching their limit. With the can, I never have to worry about a spilled can either staining my rugs red or wine glasses breaking on the floor. Safety first!  

Our Sofia BdB is a sparkling white wine made with Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Muscat varietals.  These grapes provide a wine profile that is more fruit forward, floral, with a touch of tartness.  Sometimes, I like to trade in the crispness for a slight creamier weight. So my second recommendation would be Gloria Ferrer’s Carneros Cuvee. I really love the ripe tropical fruit and round mid-palate topped with smells of yeast & lees. My husband knows what to pick up when we run low on the bubbles!

Gilles Martin, Winemaker at Sparkling Pointe Vineyards & Winery

Sparkling Pointe Vineyards & Winery, located on the North Fork of Long Island, NY, specializes in the exclusive production of Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines by esteemed Winemaker Gilles Martin. Here are Gilles’ recommendations for sparkling wine to pop open this New Year’s Eve.

Gilles recommends Sparkling Pointe’s tete de cuvée, the 2007 Brut Seduction. This mature sparkler is aged inside the bottle on the lees for over 8 years making it Sparkling Pointe’s oldest wine. This wine is of a deep gold color with notes of brioche and toasty almonds and pairs seductively with local shellfish and lobster. Gilles loves this wine because 2007 was a fantastic vintage. With the nice, dry weather on the North Fork, he was able to achieve a perfect balance in the vineyards between ripened fruit and balanced acidity. Gilles believes that the North Fork terroir provides perfect conditions for producing sparkling wine because the maritime climate allows for a perfect balance of fruit and acidity.

Another sparkling wine that Gilles likes to enjoy when not indulging in his own creations is from the region where he grew up and honed his skills as a winemaker: Champagne, France. This past May, Gilles visited the houses of Champagne and was very impressed by the 2006 Amour de Deutz.  He enjoyed a glass with Jean Marc LaLlier, a descendant of the founder of Deutz, and the Vintners of Sparkling Pointe, Tom & Cynthia Rosicki, and will forever cherish this memory and the Champagne that added to this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Penny Gadd-Coster, Winemaker for Rack & Riddle

Wines perfect for New Year’s Eve and beyond!

Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blanc –  One of the first Blanc de Blancs we made from two incredible vineyards. The flavors in the base wine were so beautiful we decided to set some of the wine aside from our Brut blend to make this wine and it has become a favorite of the team. This is a crisp clean sparkling wine with aromas of apple, peach and tropical notes. On the palate the wine shows lively acidity and smooth fine mouse. The extended aging with this wine brings a finish that is long and luscious with tropical notes. This north coast blanc de blanc allows us to create sparkling wines that truly reflect the best North Coast Chardonnay has to offer and will not break the budget. This wine will be a hit with all of your family and bring a sparkle to your New year gatherings.

Breathless Rose –  Making Rose is special and one of the most fun wines to make and to share. It is always a great privilege to be able to work with great fruit. This wine is a blend of Carneros Pinot Noir and North Coast Chardonnay with a dash of Pinot Meunier. The brut Rose has a creamy mousse and round mouth, with flavors of strawberry, cream and spice. The finish is crisp with bright fresh fruit. Just the color will make your New Year’s celebration extra special.

My recommendation for another wine would be the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir. Kathleen Inman lets the grapes take command allowing natural fermentation and hands off winemaking, meaning no use of tannins or enzymes for color or flavor enhancement. The wine shows the love and respect she has for the land and the grapes that grow on it. Beautiful cherry fruit flavor with a touch of earth along with nice oak balance- the perfect food wine but also a great wine to bring in the New year with friends and family.

Paul Ahvenainen, Director of Winemaking F. Korbel & Bros.

Even though I drink plenty of bubbly throughout the year, the holiday season is special. For me, it just wouldn’t be the holiday’s without a few glasses of Korbel Natural. The bright acidity, dry finish and laser-like focus on Russian River Valley fruit works on so many levels. The red fruit of the Pinot Noir and green apple flavors of Chardonnay when combined with the bright acidity helps support rich foods like artisanal cheeses and pate’s, while also serving as a bright counterpoint to the sweeter things we encounter this time of year. Or, best of all, just enjoy a glass by itself as a refreshing aperitif.

Another of my long time favorites is the Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley. Roederer Estate makes several other cuvees, some with more age and complexity. However, I personally keep coming back to the non-vintage Brut because it too is so focused on the fruit. In this case, it’s the Anderson Valley and a blend that is just a bit more focused on the Chardonnay part of the blend.  Arnaud Weyrich clearly understands the flavors he is working with and keeps this wine tightly focused in a good direction.

McPrice Myers, Co-Winemaker of Myers-Deovlet

The 2013 Myers-Deovlet Santa Barbara County Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut, would be a great choice for the Holidays. This is our inaugural release. I’ve partnered with Ryan Deovlet, of Deovlet Wines, to produce a sparkling wine that represents our passion for great grower champagne.  100% Chardonnay coming from four revered Santa Barbara County sites, that showcases the citrus fruit and floral qualities of the vintage. It performs well as and aperitif and has plenty of richness to handle most holiday fare.

I also recommend Marie Courtin 2012 Extra Brut Efflorescence. 100% Pinot Noir made in a Blanc de Noir style with no dosage at bottling,  You will know this is the real deal as soon as you put your nose in the glass. It has striking  aromatics of red fruit, chalk, bread dough and mint.  The palate has incredible balance and the vibrant finish continues to grow with every sip.  If you want to geek out or just have a great experience don’t miss out on grabbing one of these beauties.


Free Flow Wines Sparkles with Innovation on Tap and Beyond the Keg
09 December, 2016

Free Flow Wines saw the rising popularity of sparkling wines and the category’s particular challenges for delivering an optimal by the glass experience as an opportunity to expand the portfolio of services they offer, and their innovative work to create a sparkling keg program for wineries was recognized with a 2016 WINnovation Award.


Jordan Kivelstadt, Founder & CEO and Dan Donahoe, Founder & Chairman

“We had a lot of restaurants asking about sparking,” says Jordan Kivelstadt CEO and Founder at Free Flow Wines. “We’ve obviously been growing with still wines and been having a lot of success there. Sparkling on tap seemed like a logical extension, and we had wineries willing to play with it, so we came together and made it happen.”

Free Flow Wines uses a state of the art in-line carbonation system rather than the more traditional Charmat method and has also developed a set of draft dispense protocols for restaurant operators to ensure a perfect pour every time, with no foam and plenty of sparkle.

The wines are not full champagne level sparkling but in the frizzante range, which still requires three to four times the pressure of a normal beer keg and presented challenges for the perfect pour. Foaming at dispense known as flash point became a big issue, and temperature became an even bigger issue.

free-flow-wine-on-tap“The hardest part about it wasn’t getting the sparkling wine into the keg, it was getting it out of the keg at the restaurant. So we worked closely with our equipment partners and accounts to make sure they could successfully dispense the wine,” says Kivelstadt. “It was just working through that and finding the optimum balance, and that’s what we did.”

The Snooze Restaurants which offers mimosas and other sparkling wine on tap drinks as part of their brunch menu was one of the piloting partners, and now the Marriott and other have joined in offering sparkling wine on tap from Free Flow Wines.

Kivelstadt, however, is not content with the growth yet. “Next year wine on tap will represent about 1% of U.S. wine on premise consumption; our goal is 10% in ten years.”

Next year, Free Flow Wines will be launching a brand new sales and marketing effort focused on increasing the category to attain this goal, but they’re already working to help all their stakeholders be successful in the category.

“We started something we’re loosely calling the Free Flow Institute,” Kivelstadt explains, “it includes a quarterly state of the market report for our customers, where I host a live webinar and walk them through what’s happening in the marketplace and where we’re seeing innovation and trends.”

Free Flow Wines also offers monthly sales training webinars that they encourage everyone in the industry from restaurateurs to winery and distributor sales reps to join in, ask questions, and learn about how they can help continue to drive the category forward.

Even though they’ve been the standard bearer for wine on tap, their vision goes beyond wine on tap and relies on a company culture of innovation. Says Kivelstadt: “Our vision is to continue to drive innovative alternative packaging that improves sustainability and quality in the wine industry.


“To foster a culture where no idea is a bad idea, the first thing is to never say ‘no’ – at least initially. Then you’re constantly pushing people to innovate, pushing people to challenge themselves, and that’s really a big deal for us.”

That core vision and culture is driving Free Flow Wines to think beyond the keg. “You’ll see Free Flow do something next year that will extend our presence in alternative packaging and focus on our core aspects of innovation, sustainability, and quality,” says Kivelstadt.

The company is uniquely placed in the wine industry working with on-premise operators, wineries, and distributors. They listen to the feedback, find out what’s working and what’s not, and then pair that with solutions, develop ideas, and work with their partners to make them a reality.

“Being successful in innovation is about making sure you look at it from every angle. It’s that culture of innovation that encourages people to think outside the box, and then challenges them on those ideas, but doesn’t sink them,” Kivelstadt explains.

“We get asked all the time for off-premise solutions, and again just continuing to push really hard on innovation; we are exploring something that we think is in alignment with our core mission and a great off premise solution.”


A Scary Invention
28 November, 2016

He is president of Hot Foot America, inventor of the WINnovation Award winning Fright Kite, and has worked with bird control for decades excluding birds from crush pads, tasting rooms, barns, window ledges and other commercial structures. However, says Roger Snow: “In the wine industry people always said, ‘what do you have to keep the birds out of the vineyards?’” Now he has an answer.

The company has a history and culture of innovation starting 40 years ago with the development and patenting of the Hot Foot bird repellent gel and continuing with sprays, shock tracks, and netting systems to prevent bird damage.

The idea for the Falcon Crop Protection’s Fright Kite first occurred to Snow after speaking with a falconeer and seeing how effective the natural predators were. However, he also noted the high cost and the return of pest birds after the imminent threat had disappeared.


“When those falcons came out, the birds just disappeared,” says Snow. “So that was the spark that ignited my thinking, maybe you can put up something that looks close enough to the real thing, something that you can leave out there to scare the pest birds.”

Snow and his team started a research and development program with the objective of bringing this product to market and testing it for effectiveness. Having never worked with kites before, they found a small local manufacturer with a good business record, who also had experience producing helikites for military use.

“We told him what we were looking for, and he was willing to work with us.” says Snow. “Our goal was to create something that would scare the birds, that would stay up there all the time, so you wouldn’t have to go out there every day and mess around with it, and something that would be affordable and work.”

They started experimenting and testing a helikite, which is a helium filled balloon, but it was problematic. Because helium changes density with air temperature, the helikite would fly really well during the day, but then in the afternoon the temperature would drop and the balloon would shrink and sink down and get stuck between the vines.

“The next morning the balloon would fill up again, but of course the flight line would be tangled up in all the vines, and you’d have to run out and clear it; no one wanted to do that,” Snow explains. “Experimenting with helium was a good idea, but it fell flat. That left kites as the only option to get something up there.

“From my days as a kid I remember we used to fly box kites, which were really good for stability. So we wanted to get a combination of the box kite and the delta kite that would go up in the air very easily in a light wind, but dash around to mimic the movements of the falcon. We ruined a few before we finally came up with something that worked.”

To get the kite high up high in the air and make it visible to birds from a long distance, they attached 35 feet of flight line to a 42 foot telescoping aluminum pole getting the kite up to approximately 70 feet in the air. To create the appearance of a pack of falcons hunting together they placed a shorter pole in the vineyard with a kite hovering closer to the vines, imitating a falcon ready to swoop.


The pole system is easily moved from vineyard to vineyard by just one person, so the kite is able to follow varietals that are ripening at different times. The kite has the ability to self-launch with as little as 2mph wind and withstand up to 35mph withstanding field conditions and requires virtually no maintenance.

“There’s still a bit of work to be done on the poles, and once we’ve finished that, we hope to apply for a patent,” says Snow, “but what we’ve got is certainly good enough to give us the results and know that the system works.”

Over the course of the entire 2016 growing season field trials were run at five different vineyards ranging from Paso Robles to Healdsburg and in size from 2 to 50 acres. At the end of the harvest the results were astounding. In almost every case there was absolutely minimal damage to grapes, and 95%-100% of pest birds were repelled.

“The kite has a shape and color that pest birds recognize from the Peregrine Falcon; it darts and dives in a random pattern just like a real hunting falcon and even has wing movements like a real bird,” says Snow. “We call it the Fright Kite, because it gives the birds a hell of a fright.”


Harvest Recap and Look Ahead for 2017: Anticipated Changes in Vineyard Contracts, Bulk & Grape Market
11 November, 2016

By Dawn Dolan

clements-brian-hs“We have good sellers and good buyers in the North Bay,” Brian Clements states firmly. “The North Bay region provides premium grapes, and the luxury category of $10 per bottle and higher is selling very well, across all varietal categories.”

But, this is farming after all, and as Clements says, “We can’t control what the weather does in any given growing season. We had three big [crop] years in a row, and then the size of the last crop was inadequate to what the market needed for this premium-level category.”

A Vice President and Partner at Turrentine Brokerage, Clements manages Turrentine’s grape brokerage team, and is the go-to for industry information on crop yields, grape market conditions, and contracts. He is quoted frequently in business journals and local press, and will be leading the five-person panel discussion into the perplexing arena of grape contracts at the WIN Expo 2016, Harvest Recap and Look Ahead for 2017: Anticipated Changes in Vineyard Contracts, Bulk & Grape Market.

He would like the panel to discuss how the labor situation may impede progress in this area. “Labor was a big issue in 2016, and will continue, with rising costs and availability of labor a major issue. This may mean considering more mechanization at all stages: pruning, leaf pulling, harvesting.”

Grape growers with all sizes of vineyards will be represented, Clements assures. “We have Chris Boland, of Boland Vineyard Management on the panel. He’s a younger, up and coming guy who is well-like by the wineries. He is farming several hundred acres in total, with most of what he farms and sells being small vineyards. Steve Sangiacomo is a larger farmer who provides grapes to many, many wineries.

“The winemaker from St. Francis, Chris Louton, will be talking about what the wine consumer is looking for these days. The consumer taste swings over time, and so does what wine writers are liking in any given moment.”

As far as grape contracts go, Clements notes that “Grape prices have peaked in the North Bay. The market has become a seller’s market, and it is likely to stay that way going into 2017. We continue to see multi-year contracts being signed. Planting contracts are becoming fashionable again, to keep up with the increase in luxury wine sales.”


This entails the grower and the winery entering into a long term contract to purchase grapes from a vineyard that the grower will develop. Particularly if the grower will be borrowing money to develop the vineyard, it is usually necessary for the grower and the winery to have a pre-plant contract.

Clements says that he is already hearing next year’s market talked about, and is seeing contracting being done now for the 2017 harvest. John Mackie, the lawyer on the panel, will be bringing legal clarity to questions about what can be done with the development and execution of these grape contracts.

Despite the time constraints, Clements promises that he will lead the discussion into, “…all aspects of contracting; labor, growing season, market, all aspects of the 2016 harvest, what it takes to get grapes to a winery, heat, rain, and mildew at harvest.” He will include some “problematic topics and not shy away from some of the difficult themes that growers are concerned about,” he expresses. “I hope that people can take away something of interest to talk about.”

North Coast Wine Industry Expo: Harvest Recap and Look Ahead for 2017: Anticipated Changes in Vineyard Contracts, Bulk & Grape Market


Wines Millennials Want: Five Stand-Out Qualities Millennials Are Looking For
28 October, 2016

Expert Editorial

If you want a sense of the enormous influence of millennials, just take a look at the stats. Millennials, the largest generation in America, are expected to spend 200 billion dollars in 2017. They account for 11.6 million households with kids, and they are the most ethnically and racially diverse American generation. Add some context to those numbers — more wine, beer, and spirits options exist now than ever before — and you come up with a positive yet daunting outlook. Millennials are eager to spend their money on wine brands they believe in, but they’re also our most spontaneous and engaged generation.

So, if you want your brand to make it into millennials’ carts, you’ll need to understand their wine-buying habits. Millennials have massive buying power, and yet they often confound retailers. Here are five important qualities every wine brand should consider when marketing to millennials.

Wine as story. Millennials are looking for stories that begin with clean ingredients and end with quality products. Based on Watershed’s proprietary research, 84 percent of millennials believe they can digest a brand’s entire story at first glance. Now, more than ever before, consumer decision making is compressed. Packaging should be optimized for the
glance-and-buy generation with BIG, bold letters. Wines that find success with millennials communicate simplicity and transparency.

Wine as relationship. Millennials may be spontaneous buyers and quick-decision makers, but they’re also looking to build relationships with the products they buy. According to our study, millennials trust brands that make promises and commit to them. Young consumers want to treat brands like old friends. A personal relationship doesn’t end after hanging up the phone, and a brand doesn’t end at the close of an article or advertisement. Maintaining relationships with millennials should be approached with the same care that goes into developing a great product.

Wine as recommendation. In addition to brands, millennials establish trust with preferred media outlets. In contrast, our study uncovered that 84 percent of millennials distrust traditional advertising. Many even go so far as to choosing a product because it’s not advertised. The fact is: a millennial is more likely to purchase wine recommended by a blogger, podcast, or magazine they already follow than a print or digital ad.

Wine as lifestyle. Many millennials rely on media outlets to help curate an entire lifestyle. It is important to respect the relationship of trust consumers have with their media sources. A wine must reflect the person who drinks it. Packaging should communicate mission, and once you find your brand’s true north, you’ll be able to operate within a set of buyer values. Conviction is key to gaining millennial engagement.

Wine as reputation. Millennials believe established, big brands can communicate authenticity right alongside their smaller counterparts. Consistency can make or break brand trust. The top five most mentioned food and beverage brands when asked about authenticity in our study were Trader Joe’s, Coca-Cola, KIND Bars, Honest Tea, and Starbucks. One 23 YO female research subject described Bota Box Wine as “authentic” based on its consistency and reputation: “It talks about its environmentally-friendly packaging and the way that they use technology to keep wine fresh and are not ashamed to be boxed wine, which allows them to come in at a lower price point but still be of high quality.”

While winemakers can’t simply check off boxes to build an authentic retail brand, there is a way to approach this consumer group with confidence. Millennials, often called the “Tinder generation,” are split-second decision makers who want your full brand to come across on the first impression. Wine brands that deliver on their promises, as long as those promises are clearly communicated, should expect more engagement on the shelf.

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Lisa DonougheExpert Editorial

by Lisa Donoughe

Lisa Donoughe is the Founder of Watershed Communications, a brand strategy firm specializing in the new food and drink economy. She has more than 30 years of experience telling distinct stories and building brand equity. For more information about Watershed and their proprietary research, visit

Millennials on How Their Generation Engages with Wine
14 October, 2016

Jessica Altieri

Jessica Altieri

The millennial consumer continues to rise in prominence for the wine industry, but being able to identify the important trends and mediums to connect, engage, and build loyalty with them is a challenge for traditional wine marketers.

“It’s not a game.  It’s not a fad. It’s business. Millennials are about to move into their prime spending years,” Jessica Alteri, CEO of Wine Channel TV flatly states. “Investing in talent that knows how to use the right technology and fuel engagement with Millennials will be key to the success of wineries in the future.”

Altieri is a Certified Sommelier, a California Wine Appellation Specialist, and listed as a pioneer in the world of digital wine lifestyle entertainment, having created the world’s first digital wine lifestyle network, Wine Channel TV.

“The wine industry has traditionally been, let’s say, a little behind in embracing the internet,” Altieri says. “Millennials buy and drink wine in big numbers, but how do they buy, and why do they buy certain brands?”

That question will be the focus of the WIN Expo session: Insights into the Millennial Mind: Tapping into their $1.3 Trillion Spending Powerwhich Altieri will be moderating.

“Millennials, as we know, are embracing technology fast,” Altieri elaborates. “So the question is: How do you talk to them? How do you engage with them? Do you have any idea what the best medium is today? These are topics she will be focusing on during the session.”

George Christie, president of Wine Industry Network (WIN) who produces the North Coast Wine Industry Expo emphasizes that this panel will be composed entirely of actual millennials.


“Marketing to Millennials is something people talk about and want to explore, but it’s usually non-millennials doing the talking. We wanted actual millennials to share how this group consumes information? What works for them versus what doesn’t? What kind of brands resonate with them? These are things the wine industry needs to understand to be more effective in their marketing,” Christie states.

“The millennial consumers are there waiting for you to grab their attention and show them what you have to offer,” says Altieri, who hopes to lead the discussion toward what is the best way to get their attention. “Millennials are changing the way the retail world works. Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are accelerating engagement and activation to buy with live, user-generated content.”

Christie adds to this, “They rely on peer recommendations and personal experience.  They don’t want to be told.  It’s all about the authenticity and passion for the product, not about glamour. Fortunately for the wine industry, the kind of people that successfully own or work at wineries do it because they love it. If it was about the money, they’d be in Silicon Valley, not Sonoma Valley!”

While you can’t teach authenticity, Christie designed the session to convey the identification of key trends and mediums you need to know about to connect, engage, build loyalty, and share your winery’s story with the millennial audience.

North Coast Wine Industry Expo: Insights into the Millennial Mind: Tapping into their $1.3 Trillion Spending Power


Bakery Succeeds with Wine Industry Marketing Strategy
04 October, 2016

La Brea Bakery takes a page out of the wine industry’s playbook with their new La Brea Bakery Reserve line of farm designated breads and asks the consumer to taste the terroir of Big Sky Country, Montana and their heirloom grains.

So can you taste the difference? Yes you can, but as vintners know, it’s not just about tasty high quality bread or wine, it’s also about the story and the experience.

Andrew Blok, the brand manager for the La Brea Bakery Reserve line, is not afraid to admit that he draws heavily on his wine industry background, which includes a degree in viticulture and oenology from UC Davis, years of experience working at North Coast wineries, and an MBA in wine business from Sonoma State University.

“I’m taking what I know. Wine has laid the foundation over the last thirty, forty years of educating consumers,” says Blok, “so I’m looking for that consumer, who’s interested in that little bit more thoughtful bottle of wine.”

Andrew Blok

Andrew Blok

The name, Reserve, and the package emulates how wine is presented to the consumer including place of grain origin, genus of wheat, and pairing suggestions. La Brea Bakery Reserve launched in select markets in May, and Blok expresses his excitement with the consumer response so far.

“People continue to say, ‘I’ve never thought about a loaf of bread that way,’ and we’re just really excited that you can take something as ancient and important as bread and create that light bulb moment for people.”

Blok explains how regular bread in a sense is like bulk wine; it goes through the commodity channels where flour is flour and a grape is a grape no matter where it’s grown, and how in bread flavor is usually thought of as the inclusion of an additional component like garlic, olive oil, rosemary, or perhaps rye, but not terroir or genus.

“While you can make a lot of great bread that way, and La Brea Bakery makes incredible breads across the country every single day,” says Blok, “this provided an opportunity to be a little more thoughtful and just understand that loaf of bread a little bit more.”

La Brea Bakery Reserve front“Terroir is one of those funny things,” Blok continues. “There’s a lot of science involved, but there’s a little bit of magic too. When we went up to visit the farm in Montana, the farmer, Dean, was incredibly knowledgeable about his land and what he’s doing. High elevation farming and lower rainfall. It’s not deep clay soil, there’s a little bit more sand and gravel content in there, which helps to stress the wheats.

“But you wouldn’t even have to know any of that to just step out on the farm and know that there’s something special going on there. We call it a transformative experience.”

The parallels to the wine industry are clear. This is exactly the kind of experience that wineries are trying to share when they invite customers into the vineyards and winery, but perhaps it is helpful to remember that wine is not the only product that can do this.

“Following farm-to-table, we keep seeing across the industry, and I think this mimics wine; people want to know where their food comes from,” Blok asserts. “Is it sustainably grown, responsibly harvested, and of the highest quality?”

La Brea Bakery Reserve backThe wine industry has largely embraced the farm-to-table trend and incorporated it into the winery experience with food pairings and winemaker dinners, but another part of the heightened consumer engagement, the rise of craft beverages, has been seen as a threat to wine’s market share.

However, this overarching consumer trend to engage more with their foods is in part a testament to the wine industry’s success in shaping a consumer segment, and having more products be ambassadors of this approach could grow the segment for all authentic and thoughtful food and beverage producers.

“I think there could be opportunities for the wine industry to continuing to find new ways to educate people,” says Blok. “Something we’re doing from a retail perspective, is trying to be a little more thoughtful about how we approach the whole store. Instead of just saying, we’re in the bakery, it’s what we do, and it’s what we know.

“What we’ve been finding as we looked to educate beyond our department into cheese and wine and really create ambassadors across the store, you end up being more successful.

“Instead of just focusing in on the wine buyer, partner with the bakery manager, so he knows when he’s selling a French loaf that would go great with a California Chardonnay, or an Italian round, that’s a perfect Pinot Grigio pairing. I think there’s an opportunity to really look beyond your category and really create ambassadors throughout the store.”

Each of the three breads in the La Brea Bakery Reserve lines comes with a wine pairing suggestion, which borrows the familiar wine tasting trope in the consumer’s mind to help create the new way of thinking about bread, but also generously directs the consumer back to the wine aile to complete their experience.

La Brea Bakery Reserve Loafs

Sauvignon Blanc with PAIN DE CAMPAGNE: This is a classic Pain de Campagne with a pure, distinct flavor. A thin crispy crust and a chewy crumb contain sweet, nutty notes followed by balanced sourness, making for a complex and exciting loaf.

Cotes du Rhone with STRUAN loaf: Complex and diverse grains provide incredible texture and flavors that are complemented perfectly with subtle acid from the pre-ferment and ancient grain notes. The loaf has incredible texture from the toasted sesame seed topping.

Champagne with FORTUNA loaf: This loaf has levels of texture from the diverse grain mix, including a crispy crust and a mixed crumb from the sprouted wheat berries. Sweet and sour pre-ferments balance each other perfectly, with a tangy note from the sprouted berry and subtle, natural sweetness from raisin juice.


Running Winery Associations from the East Coast to the West Coast: Meet Morgen McLaughlin
16 September, 2016

by Allison Levine

Morgen_McLaughlin_300x300Running a wine association takes a tireless multi-tasker. The job is a combination of strategy, business development, marketing, finance and politics. It takes understanding the needs of the association, as well as the community as a whole. It is about managing the desires of a diverse group, from large producers to small producers.

Morgen McLaughlin knows this all too well. She has spent time on both coasts running wine associations, first working with the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association in Upstate New York and now on the west coast as the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association.

McLaughlin was raised in Connecticut, not exactly in wine country. But, in 1978, when she was six years old, her parents started a winery and vineyard on the family property. With a farm on the property, a winery was a value add to their lifestyle. From that point on, she grew up riding tractors and working harvest and all associated wine activities. In response, McLaughlin had no interest in working in the wine industry. “I wanted to do the opposite,” she explained. “I wanted to get off the farm and get away from family so I went to school in Boston and studied to be high school English teacher.”

Upon graduation, McLaughlin moved back to the family farm and winery for the summer. It was only supposed to be a transition period as she no longer wanted to be a teacher and was considering applying to business school. Her parents were living full time on their property in Colorado so McLaughlin was in charge of the farm, including the vineyards. Here was a city girl living on a farm doing things she had never done before, like plowing the fields. As the summer passed, McLaughlin realized that she was not going to start graduate school that fall. Living in a house with no central heating, she was suddenly chopping wood for the two wood stoves. She got a little help from Nate, an old family friend who was living across the street on another farm. Nate had helped plant her family’s vineyard when he was a teenager and started helping McLaughlin with some of the farm chores.

As the seasons changed, McLaughlin was more involved in the vineyard. It was during pruning that she said her passion for wine was born. Three years later, McLaughlin and Nate got married at the vineyard and they proceeded to have three boys, expand the winery, build a tasting room, manage an event space and run a catering business. With viticultural challenges, the estate vineyard was planted to hybrid grapes so they began purchasing chardonnay, cabernet franc and merlot from Long Island and riesling from the Finger Lakes to produce 2500 cases of wine each year.

It was in Connecticut that McLaughlin honed the skills that would later come in handy when running wine associations. She began by working on creating the Connecticut Wine Trail with highway signs, a website and an email list. She was also dealing with weather, land-use issues and family dynamics. She and Nate bought an old farmhouse off of the property that they restored in 2006 and McLaughlin started looking for a job outside of the family business to expand her resume.

After nine months of interviews with marketing companies, McLaughlin sent her resume to the Finger Lakes for a position leading their wine tourism organization. Having traveled to the area for conferences and to buy grapes, she was familiar with the region. She got the job and spent the next six-and-a-half years commuting between Corning, New York and Connecticut, where her family was.

The tourism marketing organization was founded by Corning Enterprises, the economic development arm for Corning Inc. that was created to improve the image of the area in order to improve their employee recruitment to upstate New York. A research company hired by Corning Enterprises found that wine was the draw and the tourism marketing organization was named the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association. Focusing on tourism with wine at the center and including hotels, restaurants, museums and tour companies, the organization would be able to target a more affluent customer. With a background in wine, McLaughlin was the perfect person for the job.

Building Finger Lakes Wine Country

FLX WineWhen McLaughlin began working with Finger Lakes Wine Country in 2006, life was a shifting into the digital sphere. With a budget that she could spend on advertising, instead of print, radio and television, she moved to online content generation and social media. With a new public relations strategy, including desk-side appointments a few times per year in New York city, McLaughlin was able to overcome the perception of Finger Lakes wines at that time.

McLaughlin recalled one time as she sat with the assistant editor of Town and Country Magazine pitching the Finger Lakes as a perfect place for destination weddings. The woman questioned why any of her readers would want to get married in the Finger Lakes when the wines were not good. McLaughlin responded that she “smiled and told her it is because we have some of the most amazing wines in the world and are just getting started.” From there McLaughlin shifted from promoting the wines in general to focusing specifically on the riesling produced in the Finger Lakes. “No one else in the United States could compete with us with regards to riesling. We had the potential to be a top tier region so we had to start to move the needle so that a Town and Country Magazine reader would be interested in coming to the region.”

McLaughlin also convinced the wineries to submit samples and would do big drop-offs toWine Spectator for review. She explained that points really mattered at that time and the wines ranged from scores in the low 80s to 91 and 92 points. “You can see a wave of improvement from vintage to vintage and can see the growth of the area with people coming in. It was about telling the story and we had the raw ingredients. It was a matter of packaging and selling.” And that is what McLaughlin did. The Finger Lakes has received numerous accolades, including being named a Top 10 Worldwide Wine Destination by Wine Enthusiast and a Top Wine Destination in the U.S. by

Heading West

Santa Barbara VintnersAfter more than six years of commuting between Connecticut and Upstate New York, it was wearing on McLaughlin. Her husband did not want to move the family to Upstate New York and the three boys were getting older and needed her around more. McLaughlin began looking for a new position that would be in a location that would work for her family. She was offered the job in 2013 with the Santa Barbara Vintners Association and the family happily agreed to move west.

The Santa Barbara Vintners Association was founded in 1983 and, as an outsider, McLaughlin saw a lot of similarities with the Finger Lakes. She was familiar with California wines but not with Santa Barbara wines. There had been the “Sideways phenomenon” but people on the east coast did not know the movie took place in Santa Barbara. McLaughlin came to the region with fresh eyes and with the perspective of an east coast wine consumer. She saw the opportunity for a story that needed to be told better and had fresh ideas to try. “I was excited to focus on wine in Santa Barbara. It was an established region but lesser known.” But the association in Santa Barbara was also quite different from the Finger Lakes. In the Finger Lakes, the focus of the association was on wine tourism but in Santa Barbara it is a wine association, exclusively focused on wine.

In the three years that McLaughlin has been in Santa Barbara, she has seen a return to consumer interest in higher-end wines, particularly pinot noir. There is also a new sense of discovery for chardonnay. Although Santa Barbara is still a small region and less known, it is well-positioned as one of the regions for this sense of rediscovery. McLaughlin is also working very closely with the local tourism office to encourage people to think of Santa Barbara for its wine, along with its beaches and luxury lifestyle.

While targeting the marketing and messaging of Santa Barbara wines to the consumer, McLaughlin is also focusing on better communication between the region and appointed and elected officials. “There is a disconnect amongst people. There is an idea that you can grow and make wine but not sell it. If wineries cannot sell their product, then you are putting the sustainability of your region in jeopardy. We need to do a better job communicating the nuance and complexity of growing and selling wine.”

Present and Future Challenges of the Job

With more than a decade working within wine associations on both coasts, McLaughlin sees the challenges ahead. In many way, she says, “Santa Barbara County, and California as a whole, is starting to regulate itself out of the wine business. The biggest obstacle we have is that we as a region are handcuffed in trying new ideas for wine experiences.” In the Finger Lakes, McLaughlin explained, wineries could be very entrepreneurial and creative and could try different things. “If you wanted to build something, you got a building permit. If you wanted to serve food, you went to the health department to get a food permit. We did not have to go to the county planning commission and spend years in the approval process.” Unfortunately, in Santa Barbara, they are limited in being able to bring forth creativity and improve upon the wine experience.

California is also dealing with climate issues that are shifting the industry. “The water issue makes it increasingly challenging to grow and over the next twenty years dry farming, new rootstock and other requirements will be needed. Municipalities need to figure out their water policies, who has access and how to monitor it. We need to prepare for a worst case scenario.” And, McLaughlin continued, “climate issues put places like Michigan, Ontario BC, Upstate New York and Idaho in possible positions to take some of the sun away from California as the next big areas.”

“In 1994 when I started my career in the wine business there were 922 wineries in California and 850 wineries in the other 49 states. Twenty years later (2014) there are 4,285 wineries in California and 6,132 in the other states,” said McLaughlin. “And this trend of more winery growth outside California will continue.” There is increased wine consumption across the United States and wine is produced in every state. With this interest in wine and a movement to support local business and agriculture, people will explore what is in their backyards. “With so many regions competing for the wine tourist, if you are not improving your product offering and presenting new hotels and restaurants, you become antiquated and it is hard to compete.”

With all of this competition also comes a shift happening in the industry. Wine tourism as a whole cannot stay in its own bubble. There is a convergence with other alcoholic beverages such as craft beer and distilled spirits, as well as the legalization of marijuana. “Regions that can start connecting all of the dots will be at an advantage,” McLaughlin believes. As she juggles the various responsibilities of running a wine association, McLaughlin is one of the people who is connecting those dots.


Bakery Succeeds with Wine Industry Marketing Strategy
16 September, 2016


La Brea Bakery ReserveLa Brea Bakery takes a page out of the wine industry’s playbook with their new La Brea Bakery Reserve line of farm designated breads and asks the consumer to taste the terroir of Big Sky Country, Montana and their heirloom grains.

So can you taste the difference? Yes you can, but as vintners know, it’s not just about tasty high quality bread or wine, it’s also about the story and the experience.

Andrew Blok, the brand manager for the La Brea Bakery Reserve line, is not afraid to admit that he draws heavily on his wine industry background, which includes a degree in viticulture and oenology from UC Davis, years of experience working at North Coast wineries, and an MBA in wine business from Sonoma State University.

“I’m taking what I know. Wine has laid the foundation over the last thirty, forty years of educating consumers,” says Blok, “so I’m looking for that consumer, who’s interested in that little bit more thoughtful bottle of wine.”

Andrew Blok

Andrew Blok

The name, Reserve, and the package emulates how wine is presented to the consumer including place of grain origin, genus of wheat, and pairing suggestions. La Brea Bakery Reserve launched in select markets in May, and Blok expresses his excitement with the consumer response so far.

“People continue to say, ‘I’ve never thought about a loaf of bread that way,’ and we’re just really excited that you can take something as ancient and important as bread and create that light bulb moment for people.”

Blok explains how regular bread in a sense is like bulk wine; it goes through the commodity channels where flour is flour and a grape is a grape no matter where it’s grown, and how in bread flavor is usually thought of as the inclusion of an additional component like garlic, olive oil, rosemary, or perhaps rye, but not terroir or genus.

“While you can make a lot of great bread that way, and La Brea Bakery makes incredible breads across the country every single day,” says Blok, “this provided an opportunity to be a little more thoughtful and just understand that loaf of bread a little bit more.”

La Brea Bakery Reserve front“Terroir is one of those funny things,” Blok continues. “There’s a lot of science involved, but there’s a little bit of magic too. When we went up to visit the farm in Montana, the farmer, Dean, was incredibly knowledgeable about his land and what he’s doing. High elevation farming and lower rainfall. It’s not deep clay soil, there’s a little bit more sand and gravel content in there, which helps to stress the wheats.

“But you wouldn’t even have to know any of that to just step out on the farm and know that there’s something special going on there. We call it a transformative experience.”

The parallels to the wine industry are clear. This is exactly the kind of experience that wineries are trying to share when they invite customers into the vineyards and winery, but perhaps it is helpful to remember that wine is not the only product that can do this.

“Following farm-to-table, we keep seeing across the industry, and I think this mimics wine; people want to know where their food comes from,” Blok asserts. “Is it sustainably grown, responsibly harvested, and of the highest quality?”

La Brea Bakery Reserve backThe wine industry has largely embraced the farm-to-table trend and incorporated it into the winery experience with food pairings and winemaker dinners, but another part of the heightened consumer engagement, the rise of craft beverages, has been seen as a threat to wine’s market share.

However, this overarching consumer trend to engage more with their foods is in part a testament to the wine industry’s success in shaping a consumer segment, and having more products be ambassadors of this approach could grow the segment for all authentic and thoughtful food and beverage producers.

“I think there could be opportunities for the wine industry to continuing to find new ways to educate people,” says Blok. “Something we’re doing from a retail perspective, is trying to be a little more thoughtful about how we approach the whole store. Instead of just saying, we’re in the bakery, it’s what we do, and it’s what we know.

“What we’ve been finding as we looked to educate beyond our department into cheese and wine and really create ambassadors across the store, you end up being more successful.

“Instead of just focusing in on the wine buyer, partner with the bakery manager, so he knows when he’s selling a French loaf that would go great with a California Chardonnay, or an Italian round, that’s a perfect Pinot Grigio pairing. I think there’s an opportunity to really look beyond your category and really create ambassadors throughout the store.”

Each of the three breads in the La Brea Bakery Reserve lines comes with a wine pairing suggestion, which borrows the familiar wine tasting trope in the consumer’s mind to help create the new way of thinking about bread, but also generously directs the consumer back to the wine aile to complete their experience.

La Brea Bakery Reserve Loafs

Sauvignon Blanc with PAIN DE CAMPAGNE: This is a classic Pain de Campagne with a pure, distinct flavor. A thin crispy crust and a chewy crumb contain sweet, nutty notes followed by balanced sourness, making for a complex and exciting loaf.

Cotes du Rhone with STRUAN loaf: Complex and diverse grains provide incredible texture and flavors that are complemented perfectly with subtle acid from the pre-ferment and ancient grain notes. The loaf has incredible texture from the toasted sesame seed topping.

Champagne with FORTUNA loaf: This loaf has levels of texture from the diverse grain mix, including a crispy crust and a mixed crumb from the sprouted wheat berries. Sweet and sour pre-ferments balance each other perfectly, with a tangy note from the sprouted berry and subtle, natural sweetness from raisin juice.


Next Generation Santa Cruz Mountains: Carrying On Paul Draper’s Legacy
06 September, 2016

You know time is flying when the 40th Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris is being celebrated right and left. That auspicious event which forever forged the legacy of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as the Hollywood Super Couple of the Grape World, took place in 1976.

Eric Baugher and Paul Draper

Eric Baugher & Paul Draper

Just a few years prior to that, in 1969, Paul Draper, a philosopher with no formal winemaking training, joined Ridge. He would go on to become one of the most famous names in all of winedom, producing the #2 California Cabernet in the Judgment of Paris, which pitted his famed 1971 Monte Bello Ridge Cabernet against four top Bordeaux (Number 1 in the overall ranking was the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cab, followed by 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (#2), 1970 Chateau Montrose (#3) and 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (#4).

A re-enactment of the Judgment in 2006, 30 years later, proved the very same 1971 Monte Bello Ridge Cab the clear winner over all the other original submissions, by a very large margin. In between, Draper kept producing winner after winner, continuously raising the profile of this piece of dirt, and with it, the entire Santa Cruz Mountains AVA (which was not even formed until 1981), as a place of prodigious and consistent winegrowing provenance.

Quote Drape SCMDraper recently announced his retirement after 46 vintages, turning over the keys of the kingdom to a new group of winemakers in the Santa Cruz Mountains, eager to make their mark, yet cognizant of the enormous footsteps left by his departure, not to mention the pressure of sustaining that larger-than-life legacy.

Wine Industry Advisor asked some of the next generation of winemakers to share what Draper meant to them and how his legacy informed their winemaking. Even from those who had never met the man, we heard the following: Set a high benchmark for the region. Responsible for the new world’s greatest wines. Established Monte Bello as the best real wine brand in the world. Humble and gracious. Brought a thoughtfulness and philosophical approach to winemaking that showed the world that world-class wines were coming from our region. A thinker, not just in winemaking, but everything. He is one of the most brilliant minds of our time, a true intellect.

What follows are thoughts and postulation from some of the next generation of Santa Cruz Mountains winemakers who are carrying forward the torch passed on by one of the industry’s greatest luminaries as he enjoys life on the other side of the sorting table.

Eric Baugher, Ridge’s current Director of Winemaking, has had the distinct privilege of working beside the man: neither one of them formally studied enology or viticulture. Of all the winemakers interviewed, he knows Draper best, and shares these thoughts.

“As a philosopher turned winemaker, he approached making wine as an artist rather than technologist. This was quite unique at the time, when most of California’s winemakers were enologists trained in an academic setting with heavy reliance on chemistry.

“Paul showed a great passion for understanding nature and balance, applying it to vineyard and winemaking practices, which then shine through in the wines. In those early years in the Santa Cruz Mountains, most producers had very little viticulture and winemaking experience, and most of the wines were variable in quality year-to-year. He was able to bring a higher level of disciplined winemaking that resulted in greater wine quality, consistency and age-ability.”

Says Ryan Beauregard of Beauregard Vineyards: “Paul is the Grandfather of the region in my eyes. He is the one that proved to the world that Santa Cruz Mountains can make some of the best wines in the world. I am very thankful for his pioneering.”

John Benedetti

John Benedetti

John Benedetti of Sante Arcangeli adds: “When I was first getting started— volunteering as a cellar rat at Heart O’ The Mountain and making barrels on the side for myself—I was their canary in the indigenous yeast coal mine. They were following a very conservative UC Davis textbook approach at the time, and I was wanting to go native with my own wines, so that’s what I did.

“I was reading articles on the subject of native fermentation that Paul Draper had written, and interviews he had given on the subject. I was impressed by how eloquent and thoughtful his approach was, and by how generous he was with his findings. I think his wines have always showcased that elegance and intellect.”

Adam Comartin of Comartin Cellars (formerly assistant winemaker at Testarossa), acknowledges the legacy: “He has managed to keep Ridge and the Santa Cruz Mountains (SCM) appellation at the pinnacle of quality at an international level. He set the bar for consistency in SCM wine. To me, Paul has given winemakers confidence to pursue their own style or goals, which sometimes can be compromised by trends or reliance on scores. In addition, he has left us an example of how you can be a minimalistic and terroir driven winemaker, while still embracing technology and further challenging quality through experimentation.”

Nathan Kandler, winemaker for Thomas Fogarty Winery, founded in 1981, has walked both in the footsteps of Paul Draper and Michael Martella, who has been at it for over 30 years at Fogarty, established in 1981. “In the 1960s, the Santa Cruz Mountains was the back woods. It’s pretty remarkable how Paul set the bar so high for an estate wine and site expression.”

Olivia Teutchel

Olivia Teutchel

Olivia Teutschel, winemaker at Bargetto, notes: “He has brought relevance and legacy to this region. The consistent quality of his wines has made SCMs a recognizable name in the global wine world.”

Nicole Walsh of Ser (also winemaker for 16 years at Bonny Doon), never met Draper, but his influence is palpable: “I applaud Paul’s commitment to pre-industrial winemaking as they like to call it, or minimal intervention, more natural winemaking. He has made consistent, high quality wine that I, for one, strive to emulate.”

We then asked about their winemaking approaches, what they were doing to change the perception of the region and what they thought the region should be known for. Their answers show a convergence of talent and effort. This is a group Paul will certainly be proud to watch in his golden years.

How Has Your Approach to Winemaking Changed in the Last Five to Ten Years?

Eric Baugher: “Very little has changed in my winemaking approach in the last 10 years. It certainly has from my earliest years at Ridge. I’ve developed a greater sensitivity to tannins, focusing more on that during fermentation, to avoid over-extraction and imbalance. In the vineyard, working closely with our highly knowledgeable and experienced viticulture team, to make the call on when to harvest as the grapes reach peak flavor with ripe tannins, and lower alcohol potentials. Going forward, it will be very much the same. The disciplined winemaking will continue.”

Ryan Beauregard: “Starting in 2010, my wines went 100% native yeast. I was first influenced this way because of Ridge. I also used American Oak in the beginning because of Ridge. However, I switched to French Oak in 2013.”

John Benedetti: “When I started out, I wanted to go all native, all the time. But in recent years I have come to like the results I get from a mixture of native and inoculated fermentations. I no longer have a hard-and-fast doctrine that I follow— instead I follow a more fluid program that allows me to adapt to the vineyard’s needs, with a less-is-more approach to additives being a core principle behind my fluid approach.”

Adam Comartin

Adam Comartin

Adam Comartin: “My vision of winemaking has always been BALANCE; Balance of fruit, acid, oak, and ripeness. Over the last 5 years, I have had the benefit of experiencing and learning more techniques to consistently achieve my style and balance in the wines. Looking forward, I plan to experiment more with different vineyards/sites, specifically within SCM, and try new experimentations in the cellar to keep pushing the quality envelope.”

Nathan Kandler (Fogarty): “If we can learn anything from Paul, he paid attention to site. His focus was incredible. I’m listening to each site. It takes a long time to learn, and every year adds a new chapter.”

Olivia Teutchel (Bargetto): “After graduating with a degree in Enology, I found my goals have shifted from focusing on chemistry to focusing on the vineyard. I got used to looking at the numbers and expecting certain things from year to year. I have grown to learn that you can’t always depend on the numbers and that each vintage is different and that’s how it should be.”

Nicole Walsh (Ser): “I think there was a big change in the way I approached winemaking that started around 2007. I was managing Randall’s estate vineyard and making the wine from the estate. I was utilizing organic and biodynamic farming practices and wanted to make sure that the resulting wine allowed the expression of the site.

“I used only indigenous yeasts, and followed no ‘recipe’ as I had in the past. I had such a connection with the fruit I had been caring for and was using more intuition and sensory analysis to make winemaking decisions. Since that time I have continued to learn and have become more scientific with the wild yeast cultures, cold soaking, etc., but have maintained my commitment to the same “pre-industrial” practice of winemaking.”

How Do You See The Next Generation Changing the Perception of the Region?

Eric Baugher: “What makes this region so special is that it is comprised of only small producers. The large commercial/conglomerate wineries have stayed out of this region and haven’t tarnished its image. The yields are low, the difficulty of raising a crop is high, and the real estate is insanely expensive. This keeps the big producer out and allows the region to be made up of many small, mostly family, operations that can specialize in the many different grape varieties that can tolerate the cool climate of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and make some of California’s most interesting wines.”

Ryan Beauregard

Ryan Beauregard

Ryan Beauregard: “The quality bar has been raised significantly in recent years. Wine is not just wine. It is a jewel. Next generation winemakers are more interested in recognition than financial gains: they are focused on terroir and old world techniques.”

John Benedetti: “My hope is that we will raise both the quality and, more importantly, the consistency bar and put forward a larger core group of focused producers who are consistentlyshowcasing the same high quality that Ridge Monte Bello and Mount Eden Chardonnay have showcased for years. I feel like there is a handful of producers here now who are working on producing those kinds of wines consistently, which is really exciting. There has been a re-focusing among a core group of producers here that is very encouraging.”

Adam Comartin: “I think the new group of SCM winemakers brings a new level of education and experience to the region. Our experience outside the appellation, both technically and stylistically, will help elevate the quality of the vineyards and the wines. Most important, with more talented winemakers, our appellation will have more examples of the quality and consistency the region can offer. I think consistency is the key word here…I feel confident that the new generation will bring a level of consistency to the AVA that has not been seen.

Rather than having a few shining stars (Draper at Ridge, Jeffrey Patterson at Mount Eden), there will be many stars collectively showcasing the diverse vineyards of SCM.

Lastly, our new generation of winemakers is more socially engaged and in the market promoting the appellation and wines, which gives a broader, more personal view of the region.”

Nathan Kandler

Nathan Kandler

Nathan Kandler: “It’s a challenge when you’re not the new kid on the block anymore (Fogarty was founded in 1981): it’s so counter to California culture. How do we stay relevant, on the cutting edge of style, without being a slave to fashion? We focus on appellate blends, but also spotlight distinct vineyards.”

Olivia Teutchel: “New winemakers might try different varietals, styles and blends. I also think more sub-AVAs will form as the region develops and more vineyards are planted.”

What Should the Region Be Known For?

Eric Baugher: “We are not Napa or Sonoma, and we are certainly not Central Coast…we are the Santa Cruz Mountains, one of Earth’s most distinctive cool-climate mountainous winegrowing regions. The landscape is rugged, thick forest, rocky outcroppings, ocean views, resulting in low yields that produce graceful, yet powerfully complex wines. “

Ryan Beauregard: “West side Pinot and Chard equivalently. I don’t think that Pinot is the shining star for SCM: Chardonnay is neck-and-neck. Cabernet from the East Side or higher elevation West Side: Beauregard Ranch is one of those sites. I think our Cab rivals Monte Bello.”

John Benedetti: “I’d say Chardonnay makes up the largest portion of my cellar from this area because I feel we have some very distinctive chardonnay vineyards here, especially in the Ben Lomond Mountain sub-AVA. I’m a fan of a few local Pinots: Fogarty, Beauregard and Windy Oaks. You will also see some Cab/Cab blends from Beauregard Ranch and Ridge in my cellar.”

Adam Comartin: “Diversity. Our vineyards and wines are small production, artistic and very limited. As for varietals, I think Chardonnay, Pinot then Cab. As a varietal, Chardonnay seems to be the most expressive and consistent in the many diverse micro regions, climates and soils of SCM. Pinot Noir is a close second, but seems to be more limited on where it can achieve the highest level of quality. Cab Sauv has proven to be exceptional, but only in very selective vineyards.”

Nathan Kandler: “As I travel across the country, I am convinced Chardonnay may be the thing we do—not better—but different, in a very distinctive way.”

Olivia Teutchel: “This region produces some wonderful Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet wines, as well as a lot of other great wines. I think the focus should be on the region and not just on the varieties we produce.”

Nicole Walsh: “I think the region should be known for Pinot and Bordeaux blends. I am not sure there are enough producers making varietal Cabernet? I see a very distinctive flavor profile from the region for those varietals, and I think there are enough quality producers that there is a good representation of the area.”

While each winemaker has, like Draper did, their own style, approach and varietal focus, it is clear they all have embraced—or are learning to—three of his lifelong lessons: 1. Pay attention to the site. 2. Don’t get caught up in trend-chasing. 3. Be disciplined in your approach, because discipline is the mother of consistency.

It is entirely possible—indeed, most plausible—that in the hands of the next generation, the best days of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA are about to dawn anew. We know Paul Draper will be cheering them on.


Wine Intolerance
19 August, 2016

Expert Editorial

You may know it as wine allergy, wine intolerance, wine sensitivity, red wine headache, white wine headache, asian flush – what is the origin of this problem? There are a lot of opinions, and there is some controversy about the issue. Sulfite comes up frequently, but very few people are sulfite sensitive enough for this to be an issue. Tannins and histamine have been blamed. Biogenic amines, too. Who is right? What are the triggers for this problem of wine intolerance?

Wine intolerance is a much different issue than hangover – the suffering we experience from being indiscrete about the amount of ethanol we consume! Wine intolerance reactions can be severe for some people consuming as little as a couple of ounces of wine.

Wine Intolerance Symptoms

Coming to Understand Wine Intolerance

Over ten years ago a patient asked me if I could help her be able to drink wine again.

She loved drinking wine, especially whites, but had given up on it. A few years prior she started experiencing a piercing headache, foggy-headedness and fatigue after a glass of wine – or less. And, she would wake up exhausted and sore and achy the next morning.

This seemed such an interesting puzzle and sent me studying about how wine is metabolized.

After a few weeks of research I suggested a four week clinical trial of very precisely targeted vitamin and mineral formula to determine if that would improve her wine tolerance. After a few weeks she was able to joyously savor her Gewürztraminer and “buttery” Chardonnays!

The next time the issue of wine intolerance came up in a new patient history I was excited to see this patient see the same wonderful results. But, when she used the same vitamin and mineral formula…nothing – no relief – at all!

Eventually I was able to figure out the puzzle of this patients’ wine triggers, too. Over time the triggers for wine intolerance became apparent. And, the results kept getting more predictable as I kept fine-tuning the formula.

These triggers as it turns out are naturally occurring compounds in wine that come from the grape itself or are produced during fermentation and aging – sulfites, phenolic compounds (tannins), aldehydes, prostaglandins, histamines, tyramine, and miscellaneous congeners (fusel oils, methanol, acetone).

I observed the unique pattern of symptoms each person who has wine intolerance experiences depends on the combination and degree of sensitivity to these compounds of that individual.

Wine Intolerance Triggers

The Wine Intolerance-Food and Environmental Sensitivity Connection

As I was treating people for their wine sensitivity they would tell me that they weren’t getting a headache for the rest of the day after riding the elevator at work with someone wearing too much perfume, that having to do laundry in their “moldy” basement wasn’t making them feel exhausted and achy all over, that they weren’t getting headaches after being around an air freshener, or new carpet or paint, that they could eat food that had MSG or other food additives and they wouldn’t get foggy-headed or spacey, that they could “eat that food that would always give them trouble” and not have trouble.

It turns out that the triggering compounds in wine that can make you suffer are in the food you eat and the air you breathe! It doesn’t matter if you drink, eat, or breathe these compounds – if you don’t metabolize them effectively, you’ll suffer.

If you’re sensitive to histamine you will react to histamine whether you drink wine or eat foods that are high in histamine. And, the “gut” problems from histamine intolerance are commonly diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The problem can trigger headaches, anxiety, hives, rashes, eczema, insomnia, extreme fatigue, dizziness…

If you’re sensitive to phenols – the family of compounds that include tannins – you’ll experience a number of reactions that are often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

It’s Not A Mystery – It’s Genetics!

You will be sensitive to histamine if you don’t have enough of the enzymes that break down histamine – diamine oxidase (DAO) and/or histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT).

You will be sensitive to phenolic compounds if you don’t have enough phenol-sulfotransferase (PST) to break them down.

The same is true for all of these compounds – not having enough of the enzymes to break them down and render them harmless means trouble for you. Level and activity of enzymes responsible for metabolizing and making these compounds innocuous is influenced by genetics. The genetic predispositions to being sensitive to these compounds can be tested and the nutritional biochemistry of these enzyme systems is known.

Targeted clinical nutrition can support these systems, up level enzyme activity, and improve wine tolerance. A small clinical observational study of people who had quit drinking wine altogether due to the severity of their reactions was quite promising. Eighty-five percent of participants were able to drink two 5 oz glasses of wine without headache (the primary inclusionary criterion) after six weeks of targeted clinical nutrition.

How Common Is Wine Intolerance?

A German study from 2012 concluded that approximately 9% of women and 5% of men have this problem.1 In my opinion, the problem appears to be more common in the US – probably somewhere around 12% in women and 8% in men – due to the higher baseline exposure to man-made chemicals from food and the environment in the US.


1 Wigand, P., Blettner, M., Saloga, J. & Decker, H., 2012, Prevalence of wine intolerance: results of a survey from Mainz, Germany, Deutsches Ärzteblatt international, 109(25), pp. 437-44.


Mark ForceExpert Editorial
by Mark Force, Vinami

Mark Force is a chiropractic physician from the wonderful wine country of Ashland, Oregon. Dr. Force has practiced clinical nutrition, developed and run clinical studies for nutritional formulas, published in peer-reviewed journals, edited and contributed chapters to reference books for the physician, and taught functional medicine focused diagnostic and therapeutic methods to physicians of all disciplines for over 30 years.

Dr. Force has recently developed a patent-pending nutritional formula for eliminating wine intolerance/sensitivity, Vinami (

40 Years Later Pinot Noir Joins Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Besting French Rivals
08 August, 2016

Domaine SereneOn the 40th anniversary of the ‘Judgement of Paris,’ the United States has once again proven the best place to grow classic French varieties is not always in France. Oregon Pinot Noir has shaken expectations with the announcement that Domaine Serene’s 2012 Winery Hill Vineyardgrabbed the coveted Platinum Best of Show for Pinot Noir over £15 at the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA). The wine from the Dundee Hills AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley beat out 6 grand cru and 26 premier cru Burgundian Pinot Noir.

The competition began with more than 16,000 wines. A panel of 240 of the world’s most renowned wine experts, including 69 Masters of Wine and 26 Master Sommeliers conducted the blind judging. Less than 2% of all international medal winners were from the United States; and only 5 out of the total 539 gold and platinum medal-winners were American.Domaine Serene took home a total of eight medals from the competition, including one silver medal and six bronze medals, the most of any American winery.

Ryan Harris, President at Domaine Serene and their Burgundy winery Château de la Crée, foresees even greater recognition of Oregon as a world class Pinot Noir producer. The more people who experience Oregon wine, the better, and this level of recognition increases Oregon’s global reach. “Once they taste, the wines will speak for themselves,” predicts Harris. Harris once placed Oregon Pinot Noir on a continuum between California Pinot Noir and red Burgundy. He now believes that Oregon Pinot Noir can rise above both regions.

Winery Hill Vineyard, Domaine Serene

Oregon Pinot Noir is positioned, according to Harris, to offer the ripe fruit characteristics commonly seen in sunny climates such as California, combined with the complex, terroir-driven characteristics for which Burgundy is famous. “The best of both in a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir in a style that Erik Kramer [Director of Winemaking and Viticulture], calls Oregundian.’”

Domaine Serene’s path to success is based on a focus on quality that includes care for the land, meticulous winemaking, teamwork from the top down, and the tenacity to follow advice on a selective basis.

Quality begins in the vineyard and the story of Domaine Serene begins with site selection in the late 1980’s. Harris explains, “When founders Ken and Grace Evenstad purchased their first 42 acres in Dundee Hills they were told grapes would not ripen above 600 feet elevation.” Winery Hill Estate is one of the highest vineyards sites in Dundee Hills, stretching from 775-930 feet. Ken Evenstad often says, “The enemy of the unknown is the known.” The reason people thought grapes would not ripen above 600 feet is because nobody had done it before. The standard at the time was to push for high yields from vineyards. The Evenstads’ goal was to maximize quality, not quantity, so the elevation works in their favor. In fact Domaine Serene employed a classic Burgundian vineyard technique and dropped fruit limiting the crop to two tons per acre insuring concentrated flavors plus phenolic and sugar ripeness. The well established, dry farmed vines root deeply absorbing just enough water to keep the plant health, but the fruit concentrated. The volcanic jory soils for which the “red hills” of Dundee are nicknamed, are said to produce red fruit scented wines with a sophisticated integration of tannins and acid. All of these factors produced extremely well balanced fruit in the dry, concentrated vintage of 2012.

Domaine Serene’s most valuable asset is their vineyards which are LIVE certified sustainable. Domaine Serene is being placed into a dynasty trust so it will never be sold, but will stay with the family and must be sustained for future generations. According to Harris, vineyard decisions are made based on a 200 year impact plan. Of the 750 acres owned by Domaine Serene, only 250 are planted to vines to maintain natural habitat and balance.

Ken and Grace Grape Sorting

The careful winemaking process begins with hand picking. Pinot Noir is a very thin skinned grape. Gentle handling prevents bruising the fruit and premature breakage of the skins that can be detrimental to quality. Hand harvest is followed by hand sorting. “Ken and Grace are on their feet for hours working the sorting line,” shares Harris. The Evenstads work harvest both in Oregon and Burgundy, lending their 27 years of experience to train the teams and ensure that only the best and ripest fruit passes through to fermentation. This is one of the most important and difficult steps of the process because a few bad clusters can have a large negative impact on wine quality.

Processing takes place in Domaine Serene’s five level gravity flow winery. The gravity flow facility eliminates the need for a pump which Ryan explains can adversely affect the quality of the wine.

Each block of Domaine Serene fruit is fermented separately. Sometimes there are 250 small lot fermentation vessels active at once. This meticulous attention to detail ensures that the winemaking team has the best individual components at their disposal to blend in the end. Harris explains, “Once blended, wines can never be un-blended. It’s like a chef keeping all ingredients separate until she composes her dish on a plate.”

Domaine Serene Winemaking Team

Under Kramer’s leadership, the team practices what they call “drinking and thinking.” This means the winemaking team tastes all of the individual barrels regularly so they can understand their evolution. The blending process is highly involved and takes about a year. Careful thought is applied to how the blended wines may develop and how each component may enhance the finished wine.

Unlike many directing winemakers, Kramer does not have the pressure of travelling to represent the winery. This freedom from travel allows him to be present for all aspects of the winemaking process. Instead the important customer and trade interface is handled by a very experienced sales team and the principles of the winery Ken and Grace Evenstad and Harris.

Specific techniques used for the winning wine included cold soaking the grapes for ten days to extract flavor, tannin and color nuances – aspects that Harris says were noticed by the judging panel. The winning wine was barrel aged 16 months in French Oak, 57% of which was new, with an additional 18 months of bottle age before release.

Harris credits the success of this wine and others to the stellar winemaking team and the involvement of the Evenstads. “Diversity, breadth of knowledge and experience make this Domaine Serene’s strongest winemaking team in 27 years.”

“At Domaine Serene there is no ego, just collaboration, focus on quality and attention on the future,” said Harris. The business philosophy at Domaine Serene is “continuous improvement. ”According to Harris, after a little celebration of this great accolade fromDecanter the team basically said, “This is great. What next?” The “next” category includes building a “visitor experience” opening May 2017, building a Chardonnay only winery, and launching a series of sparkling wines in 2018.


Heat Damage & Fine Wine
22 July, 2016

Fine wine does not take kindly to overheating or to freezing, yet fine wines are often shipped around the world with less care than cartons of lettuce. Winemakers devote great care to every step in the creation of their product in both the vineyard and in the winery, but transport and storage conditions can ruin wine before it ever reaches the consumer. Historically, the topic of temperature conditions has been neglected — a dark secret everyone knew was lurking but no one wanted to discuss, much less address.

Wine demands a cool, relatively humid, relatively constant environment. For centuries fine wine was stored in natural underground caves that protected the wine from light, vibrations, and spikes in temperature. The natural underground cave temperature was between 13°C and 15°C.  Except for the claret trade between Bordeaux and England, 99% of wine was consumed within 20 kilometers of its production.

Today, wine is a multi-billion dollar item in global trade. Routinely shipped between five major continents, wine is exposed to a wide variety of environmental challenges. Importers concerned about over-heating often request the container be placed below decks on the ship. However, compliance is far from 100%. Climate controlled, or “reefer” containers can be used to minimize concerns about over-heating or freezing wine. But reefer containers add cost, and thus are often avoided.

Over the past 15 years in particular, as the world trade in wine has tripled, the task of maintaining ideal conditions during the voyage from winery to consumer has become increasingly challenging. Sometimes the reefer container loses power or is not actually plugged in. More frequently, temperature challenges appear on the “shoulders” of an ocean voyage; spikes occur during the transport and consolidation before an ocean voyage, as well as upon arrival in the importing country. Dock strikes, long waits for customs, and non-refrigerated trucks compound the challenge once the ship arrives. While passing through the Panama Canal, the ship’s captain must be able to see each side of the canal. This means that sometimes containers are unloaded and left on the side of the Panama Canal for another ship to pick up the following week. Stories abound.

Wine Shipments 25C

What is the impact of current conditions in the global wine distribution channel? Wine gets cooked. Everybody agrees. Nobody knows exactly how big the problem is. We have heard estimates between five and twenty-five percent of the wine coming into North America is flawed by temperature problems. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

In his Wine Buyer’s Guide No. 7, Robert Parker made the following sobering observation: “Tragically, far too many wines are still damaged by poor transportation and storage and it is the consumer who suffers…It is a frightening thought, but I have no doubt that a sizable percentage (between 10 and 25%) of the wines sold in America have been damaged because of exposure to extremes of heat.

Furthermore, the damage is not always obvious. If the temperature spiked to 40°C and then dropped quickly, while the wine bottle might leak, and the cork might push a bit, the wine is not necessarily damaged. Conversely, the bottle might heat to 30°C for a day or two and cook the wine, without the cork pushing or wine leaking.  No one had studied this question in any detail.

In order to make a judgment about when a wine becomes “cooked” we needed a scientific baseline.  eProvenance conducted extensive research with industry renowned ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, California. They cooked five different wines at different temperatures and professional tasters noticed the difference in the taste and aroma of the wine after the wine had been subjected to just 30°C heat (86°F) for a total of just over two days. eProvenance then developed a patented monitoring system and a proprietary algorithm that allows us to quantify the damage to wines during transport and storage and assign an eProvenance Score. Based on millions of data points collected by eProvenance during thousands of shipments around the world, the implications of these statistics are startling — more than one in three wines (as much as $1.6 billion in wine) encounters poor conditions during transport and storage. Even short DTC shipments can experience dramatic and damaging temperature swings.

DTC Temp Stats

How can this damage be prevented? Maintaining wine quality all the way to the end consumer requires best practices throughout the journey by all members of the distribution channel. It’s been said you can’t change what you can’t measure. Monitoring conditions in the distribution channel yields measurements that shed light on problem areas as well as success stories. When the resulting observations and analysis are shared with members of the channel, corrections and improvements can be made where needed and good practices can be acknowledged and reinforced.

Of late, it has become clear that monitoring yields several important benefits. As members of the channel see the results, their wine handling improves and wine quality is protected far more consistently. When consumers learn their wine has been monitored, they are reassured about the quality and impressed by the dedication of the winery to that quality promise. In fact, they generally become more loyal repeat customers. When there is a clear record of provenance, the value of the wine increases.  In the same way that buyers will pay a premium for ex-château wine, they will generally pay for the assurance of quality. Monitoring deliver new marketing insights and reveal gray market activity where it exists.

Over time, we hope monitoring will bring about industry-wide awareness and a new commitment to improving conditions and protecting wine quality.

Expert Editorial - by Eric E. Vogt, CEO, eProvenance

A serious business venture (over a billion dollars in wine experiences improper storage temperatures during transport), assuring proper care of fine wine is also a personal quest for eProvenance founder, Eric E. Vogt. Knighted as Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole by the French government for advancing the understanding of the wines, winemakers, and wine culture of Bordeaux, Vogt combined his business background and personal passion to launch this effort to improve the handling of fine wine across global distribution channels. eProvenance has designed an innovative, patented system for monitoring and analyzing the temperature, humidity and geolocation of this precious cargo. Our proprietary algorithm results in the eProvenance Score, which clearly indicates whether a shipment has been damaged, not just whether it has experienced problematic temperature conditions. Working with leading wine producers, importers, distributors and transporters, eProvenance helps create “cold chains” to protect fine wine, similar to those used for food and pharmaceuticals.

Top Somms Advise Vintners on How to Get on Their Wine Lists
08 July, 2016

Sommeliers and wine directors see and taste a lot of wines. What gets their attention? What’s the best way to get attention? We asked them. They were not shy.

Jeremy DennisJeremy Dennis of Dio Deka in Los Gatos says, “Sometimes, I have particular needs. Random reps will come in and fill gaps. I work with over 100 wine contacts from a range of distributors, some on a day-to-day basis. Other times, I will take a wine that just strikes me. I love wines with big acidity that are age worthy. I lean towards old world Burgundies that offer the right combination of style and price.”

His primary advice to wineries is to find a distributor who will represent you well. Often, smaller is better. “Choose someone who understands you and what you do. Someone who will be positive and aggressive about presenting your wines. Someone who believes in your brand. If I see a winery twice a year, that’s a good thing.”

The Dio Deka wine list is sufficiently large that he has the latitude to include names for cachet only, but he’s interested in new discoveries. His advice is simple:

“Be true to yourself. Be sure of your vision. Don’t try to please the masses! If it’s an authentic product, they will come!”

Mark BrightHimself a winemaker, at the tutelage of Ryan Beauregard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mark Bright of Saison (San Francisco), has been in the business for 13 years, even though he looks barely old enough to vote, let alone drink. The Chicago native turned San Franciscan is a Rajat Parr disciple and learned much from this Master Somm who has influenced the careers of so many.

Says Bright of what he learned from Parr, “The most important is to never stop the search for amazing wines. There are so many fantastic regions and terroirs to explore. Keep an open mind.”

His advice to those who want to get on his list, “We do lots of tastings as a group with my sommelier team. Just produce pure, balanced and tasty juice. “

John LancasterJohn Lancaster has been compiling the wine list at San Francisco’s reveredBoulevard for 19 years now. He’s also a winemaker trying to get his wines placed on other people’s lists.

He says that the whole game has changed tremendously since he started. “Frankly, it’s the hardest that it’s ever been!  I think the best days in the wine business are behind me. It’s so competitive now. People don’t have time to see everyone anymore. A few years ago, every account wanted to see me. Now, nobody returns phone calls!”

Nowadays, he says, business is done via email. “I set up appointments: I don’t like cattle calls – I think it’s rude! I respect people’s stories, and I want to hear them.”

Of his selection process, he says, “Sometimes I have a need, like a Gruner Veltliner between $38 and $45. Sometimes I taste something, and it blows me away, and I say, ‘I have to have this wine whether we need it or not!”

He counsels other winemakers to spend as much time thinking about the sales piece, the marketing strategy, as about the wines themselves. Says Lancaster, “Have a plan from the git-go. It’s harder than you think. Talk to others when you’re just getting started, before you even put wine in the bottle!”

Chris Sawyer

Sommelier/author, Chris Sawyer, says the most important criteria in selecting a wine for a list is, “Does this wine work with the food on my menu?” He notes that the traditionally simple wines of 20 years ago no longer cut the mustard, literally. “They can’t cope with today’s food. I try to find deep wines vs. shallow wines. We’ve moved away from comfort food and those wines no longer have a place in top restaurants.”

Such cuisine complexity requires wines that pair with fine cuisine Says Sawyer, “Wines that were meant to go with comfort food where each bite tastes predictably the same no longer work with the diversified plate where every bite is different. Food comes first. The best food wines do not overpower: they have finesse.”

This leads to an obvious point that can’t be overstated: Winemakers should always look at the restaurant’s menu and wine list before they even pick up the phone to schedule an appointment to taste. Even better, they should eat at the restaurant and let the food guide the selections they ultimately decide to present to the wine buyer.

Although sommelier James La Mar is trading in his Somm cup to work for a winery, La Mar has had a stellar career in the Bay Area at darlings including The Woodside Pub and Madera.

While developing the wine list at Chez TJ, La Mar learned from then Sales Director, Matt Ryan of Big Basin Vineyards, that when selling a wine that’s good, be generous and don’t be a geek. “Be true to yourself, be authentic. Be completely committed to your story and you will be successful.”

Erika Szot, who took over from La Mar at Chez TJ, creates pairings for 10 and 16 course menus nightly. She says, “There is a buyer out there for everything. It is our duty to give people what they want.”

Erika Szot

Of her quest to expand the list, she says, “We have a fairly large list, but we’re looking to build a well-balanced one that is more thorough. We’d like to increase our verticals. Pairings are fun with verticals, because you can work with the vintage differences to play with the tannins and acid to tune with the food. Rosés are interesting: they are highly pairable, and consumers love them.  I like that you can play around with them, and that they are so many different styles. We are always looking for single vineyard Pinots, and for aromatic whites like Riesling, that pair well with food. And Champagne.”

Her advice to wineries is to email her and introduce themselves. “We pride ourselves on travelling around and meeting with up and coming wineries. James (La Mar) took on several new Santa Cruz Mountains producers early on, which was genius. We look for new discoveries. I look forward to hearing your story.”

Paul Mekis 600Director of Wine for Madera (Rosewood Resort, Menlo Park), Paul Mekis was tasked with building the list from scratch.  From the time he began in 2009 until the present, the list has grown from 600 to 2300 selections. The philosophy that guided him was fairly straightforward.

“I try to find a balance between well recognized wines that customers are familiar with as well as new discoveries from up-and-coming vineyards around the world. Generally, I enjoy offering an assortment of wines that range in style and price point, yet compliment the menu offerings,” says Mekis.

Asked what advice he would give a winery who would like to get their wine on his list, Mekis says, “I recommend scheduling an appointment with me. I love finding a new, upstart winery that makes excellent, well-balanced wines that aren’t manipulated and taste like the grape varietal. For me, it’s all in a strong terroir that offers a sense of place.”

Nobody denies it’s a highly competitive world of wine out there. It takes tenacity as much as kismet to land on the right lists. From Jim Rollston of Manresa, come these pearls of wisdom: “Make the best wine you can, reflecting your vision about what is unique in your wine versus the rest of the world’s wines. I may or may not see the same things you see in your wines, but if you feel you have made a benchmark wine for the region, then you have succeeded no matter the placement on one restaurant’s wine list!”


Her Side of the Story: Notes from Women Winemakers of Napa
24 June, 2016

Having many years in the wine industry, and settled into their high-profile work in the Napa Valley, these women comment on being a woman in the industry, and why gender isn’t the defining factor. Commenting are veterans Heidi Barrett of Barrett Wines, Calistoga, Elizabeth Vianna of Chimney Rock Winery, Stag’s Leap District, Cathy Corison of Corison Winery, St. Helena, and new mom Helen Keplinger of Keplinger Wines, Napa.

Is there something characteristic about wines made by women? If so what?

Heidi Barrett

Heidi Barrett

H.B. I think it’s very individual. Big wines are made by women, and delicate, silky, and elegant wines are made by men too. It take a certain personality type instead of gender. The job is to serve up delicious juice every year. I’ve thought about it a lot, and it keeps coming up. Are men or women better tasters? We have our specialties for tasting components, and the idea may be that women have more taste buds per mm, so they may have a biological advantage. But I’d love to get to the point where I just talk about why I’m a good winemaker, and not a woman.

E.V. Not that’s particularly associated with being a woman. A winemaker that makes masculine wines or feminine wines…this is a more stylistic thing than a gender thing. Women have an innate ability for multitasking, which helps in winemaking.

C.C. Women make all different styles of wine from all over the world. If we bring anything special to the table, it’s attention to detail. Women have had to be better.

H.K. I tend to think of wines and their makers more on an individual basis. Certainly wines made with heart are a reflection of their makers, and capture some of their personality in the wine. And thank goodness – it’s such an intriguing piece of a wine’s story.

What are the main obstacles for women who want to become winemakers?

Elizabeth Vianna

Elizabeth Vianna

H.B. At little wineries it is strength…you have to be really fit. You do a lot of shoveling, tractor work, operating equipment, and moving heavy barrels…one needs to be strong and healthy. Employers may look at smaller, petite women as being the weak link. In the old days, when you came aboard you were being sized up by the guys to make sure you could pull your own weight. We’re smart and capable, but in that particular job you are only as good as the weakest link. Or, you could end up with just a desk job in a large corporate structure and never have to move barrels!

E.V. For anybody who is getting into it now, the challenge is the scarcity of jobs. Now people stay put (in a winemaking job). It is less about gender, and more about the availability of jobs. Thelma Long, Celia Welch, and Cathy Corison all pioneered for us. They made it clear that women belonged here in this industry and established that women were a part of winemaking. In Napa, the scarcity of jobs is the obstacle. The good news is there are a lot of developing regions that new winemakers can explore: Washington, Oregon, and the Central Coast.

C.C. There aren’t any real ones. Winemaking, like many pursuits, was long largely a man’s world. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how quickly that has broken down in my lifetime. Slowly, our society is learning how to integrate work and family life. It’s a challenging juggle.

H.K. I think there are far fewer obstacles now than there used to be. However, although there are many women in this industry, there are still many more men. Relationships are key to getting connected to jobs, vineyards, and opportunities, and there are still men who are more likely to hire other men or who are more comfortable working with other men. Starting out, it can be hard to forge the relationships that will be key in helping achieve what you desire in your career, but those relationships, once made, tend to go the distance.

Can you share a breakthrough experience or lesson?

Cathy Corison

Cathy Corison

H.B. The lesson I learned was how to make it work for me. If I proved that I was a hard worker, then I would be part of the team. Dive right in. Volunteer for the hard stuff. It never crossed my mind that I couldn’t do it. Working in Germany and Australia, women weren’t the norm in the cellar, so we had to work harder to prove ourselves.

E.V. Most gratifying has been the ability to mentor people. I get emails or calls, not just women, but young men as well. One of the greatest things we can do is inspire and empower young women to go for it. I was unaware that people would call and write. It’s very rewarding.

C.C. When I studied winemaking in the mid-1970’s, Viticulture and Enology were separate departments in different buildings. Though I wasn’t required to take a single viticulture class, I took them all. During my early winemaking career, the vineyard manager grew the grapes and the winemaker made the wines. The intersection was the moment when grapes samples arrived in the laboratory for analysis, leading up to a picking decision. From the start of my own project, thirty years ago, I have always spent most of my time and energy out in the vineyard. I can’t make a wine any better than the grapes that come in the door.

H.K. When I applied for my first real internship, I sent out 30 resumes and cover letters. I had only three replies. Luckily, one of them was Heidi Barrett, who hired me, became a good friend and a great mentor. She was my foot in the door, and she helped me get my start in the form of two great jobs. I now practice her generosity with my own interns, providing guidance and connections to people and jobs to help them get their start, so they can take it where it leads them.

What duties do you have as the winemaker that you never thought you’d have to do?

Helen Keplinger

Helen Keplinger

H.B. The sales aspect is something you don’t think about or train for. Then suddenly you have to meet with people, do interviews, talk with the press; it can add a lot of excitement to the ag business! If you create something, and are artistic, sometimes people want to know about you. It happens in the wine business, and with celebrity chefs and rock bands.

E.V. Something that Davis didn’t prepare us for was the sales. You have to be articulate, and able to communicate with very different kinds of groups. Sommeliers, distributors, and the general public. It’s probably not uncommon for us scientist-types to be a little more inward than outward. However, often we [winemakers] become the public face of the winery with all what that entails.

C.C. I never dreamed I would own my own vineyards and winery. A little bit of business training would have been a good idea.

H.K. I think the amount of cleaning was a shock when I first started out. [Now] it’s long been second nature, and is just a part of the job.

What is your favorite varietal to work with & why?

H.B. Cabernet. I love making Cab. I get to make all sorts of fun stuff, but it’s [Cab] still king for the red grapes. You can make it in different styles, and it’s age-worthy. Like a time capsule that you can take away.

E.V. Cabernet. I got into wine because I love Cabernet. It’s the “King of Grapes” for a reason. I wanted to make it, and I wanted to drink it as a consumer. It’s so versatile. It grows well in climates that are cool, warm—it’s a sturdy little grape. I’m a die-hard Cabernet lover.

C.C. I just love wine, so I drink widely, but I’ve spent my entire adult life specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon. Forty-one years ago, this month, when I graduated from college, bent on making wine, Napa Valley was one of the only winegrowing scenes and certainly the best known. I piled everything I owned in my VW bug and was in Napa within two days. I make Cabernet because I believe that Napa Valley can make Cabernet as well, or better, than anywhere else in the world.

What varietal would you characterize yourself as?

C.C. If I could be a grape, I’d be a Barolo. Very serious and tenacious, with a long view.

H.K. Right now I’d choose to be a Barolo from Piemonte – they’re so pensive, honest, humble, transparent, beautiful, and take time to truly unfold. We were just there in November, and the landscape, people, wines, food made such an indelible impression. Wines in which to lose yourself; simple food made magnificent by the incredible quality of the ingredients.

What do you never get asked but would love to comment on?

H.B. I like to be interviewed because I’m among the best at what I do, not because I’m a women. Eventually, no one will even consider gender. Individual merits will be important instead of gender. I look forward to that change. For now, if it helps the progress, then that is why we still talk about it. If we can continue and give someone a hand up or encourage and inspire, then that matters.

E.V. One of the things that drives me a bit crazy is the term “winemaker”. It conveys the idea that the winemaker makes the wine. In most wineries, it’s a team effort and a collective process. Wine is only as good as every single person who puts their hand to it. At Chimney Rock it is six people plus the ranch hands, as well as our ownership that gives us the support to do what you need to do. Not just one person.


How Does a Small, Family Owned Sonoma County Winery Become the Official Wine Partner of a World Class Sporting Event?
10 June, 2016

Kim Stare Wallace

Kim Stare Wallace

Passion and authenticity is the answer. This weekend the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series comes to Chicago for the second qualifying race on US waters. The first took place on the Hudson in New York City last month and lined up 35,000 fans along the pier and on hospitality boats.

One of those fans was Kim Stare Wallace, but she was not just there as an excited sailing fan, she was there as CEO of Dry Creek Vineyard, the official wine of the events in New York and Chicago.

“To be selected by the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Races as their official wine partner is a huge honor for us,” says Wallace, “It’s a culmination of our years and years of involvement in various regattas and sponsorships of sailors. It’s really quite an honor, we’re very excited.”

The America’s Cup is a series of dynamic yachting regattas representing the pinnacle of world-class yacht racing with the best sailors in the world competing for the oldest trophy in international sport, and during the New York and Chicago events Dry Creek Vineyard wines will be exclusively poured in the event’s hospitality areas and spectator boats.

The race authority could have selected any brand, a mass marketed or international brand, but they chose Dry Creek Vineyard, a small, family owned Sonoma County winery. “The allure for them is the authenticity of our brand,” says Wallace, “the authenticity of our wines, the quality, obviously, of the wines, but especially the fact that we truly are passionate about sailing. It’s not just a marketing gimmick.”

Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 1983Dry Creek Vineyard has long been associated with sailing. David Stare, Wallace’s father and founder of the winery, is a sailor, and she grew up sailing with him on the San Francisco Bay. In 1977 Stare sponsored the first sailing team at Sonoma State University, and in 1982 the sailing ship theme first appeared on their wine labels. Since then, Sonoma County artist Michael Surles has provided the nautical paintings for the labels, and the wine has become known as the Wine for Sailors.

The passion for sailing is clear, not just from their history, but when Wallace speaks about sailing and the excitement of the race. “Sailing at this level is a whole different kind of sailing than what I’m accustomed to and that recreational sailors are accustomed to. With sailing there are two things; first you have the element of teamwork and secondly you have the element of mother nature, which is somewhat unpredictable,” explains Wallace. “So not only does the crew have to be expert sailors, but they also have to be expert tacticians, navigators, meteorologists. You have to be an expert of so many facets, the wind direction, the changing wind, the tide, the currents, et cetera.”

“These are the rockstars of the sailing world, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of the top sailors, and what I’ve always asked them is how did you start sailing? Well, they all started the same way that most of us do as a kid; learning on a lake or a pond or perhaps an ocean, but in very calm waters. They all learned the same way; I find that quite fascinating.”

Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2012The first America’s Cup was originally won by the New York Yacht Club in 1851 in Great Britain around the Isle of Wight, and the American’s successfully defended the Cup for over 150 years. The regattas in New York and Chicago play a part in determining the seeding of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers in Bermuda in 2017.

In Chicago Wallace will not only be enjoying the race but overseeing a number of VIP hospitality venues throughout the fan village, pouring her wines, and providing hospitality to distributors, customers, and fans. “It should be a great deal of fun,” says Wallace, “I have never met a sailor that isn’t a fun chap. They’re fun, adventurous, confident risk-takers, and they love the outdoors, and I absolutely would love it if Team USA won.”


Move over, Harassment!
02 June, 2016

Expert Editorial

Move over, Harassment! Discrimination and retaliation have officially muscled their way into anti-harassment policies. Consider them equal opportunities in the workplace now.

The changes to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act that went into effect on April 1, 2016, requiring all employers to have a policy preventing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, also set new standards for mandatory sexual harassment prevention training. Although many employers already have written anti-harassment policies in place, these new rules require the policy meet an even higher standard. Employers will most likely need to update their policies to make sure they meet the new requirements of the amendments to FEHA.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) applies to all California employers  and prohibits harassment in employment based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, and military and veteran status.

The new FEHA amendments also add to the already lengthy list of compliance requirements for sexual harassment prevention training, which has been required under AB 1825 in California since 2005. Employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors and managers. “50 or more employees” includes part-time and temporary employees, and independent contractors. The training must meet very specific criteria and needs to be provided within six months after the hiring or promotion of a new supervisor, as well as every two years for ALL supervisors and managers.

The new regulations also clarify that audio, video, and computer training are “supplemental” and those modalities alone cannot be relied upon to meet the training requirement under AB 1825. Employers choosing to use web-based or e-learning training options must now meet additional criteria such as having a “qualified expert” available to answer questions, interactive participation among the attendees, and training on the employer’s particular harassment and reporting procedures.  A copy of the webinar must be kept as well as all questions and answers submitted to the trainer. The additional burden with web-based and e-learning tools is an indication that in-person training may be the preferred to harassment prevention training.

Farm labor contractors have other training requirements related to harassment prevention, as outlined in California Senate Bill 1087.

With these amendments in effect, it is a good time for California employers to review their policies, record keeping, and training procedures to ensure compliance. Starting off on the right foot by ensuring compliance now may likely save on problems later that could require a lot more time, effort, and money to correct.


Casi JewettExpert Editorial

by Casi Jewett

Casi Jewett, Associate at The Personnel Perspective, has a Masters in Organizational Development from Sonoma State University and has two senior-level professional certifications in Human Resources. She works with employers on compliance matters, employee relations issues, organizational design, management training and facilitation, and implementation of HRIS systems. Learn more about her work or call (707) 576-7653.

Packing: The Window to Your Wine’s Soul
17 May, 2016

Think taste is the main determiner of repeat wine purchases? Studies consistently show that non-expert wine drinkers are far more likely to remember the design and color of a wine’s packaging than the taste of the product itself.

A 2005 German study found that packaging and brand were the biggest influences on a c