For most of my clients, I encourage them to get into a harvest mindset in July. Clients in southern parts of the U.S. often must start thinking about harvest in April and May.
But with the advent of COVID-19 causing disruptions to our daily lives and business operations, I would encourage wineries to start planning, well… now.
This is only about a 4 week time difference, but these extra few weeks will go by quickly. As needs increase in the vineyard, it is easy to lose track of what to do in the winery and scramble a week or two before harvest is about to begin.
I strongly advise against this practice. It’s rushed. It’s chaotic. It doesn’t emphasize a priority on wine quality.
While it may feel like it is “no big deal,” winemakers that put equal care, planning, and preparation into the cellar will reap the most benefits from the quality-driven grapes grown in the vineyard.
Furthermore, many experts are advising companies to prepare their operations for the continued presence of COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions it has brought to our lives. Such preparation will decrease the chaos during harvest, which was felt by many wineries in the Southern Hemisphere when COVID-19 restrictions emerged quickly.
If you missed the review of current recommendations to food companies and how wineries can incorporate these practices, please review, here.
Darn Good Winemakers and DGW Clients can supplement today’s information with the webinar on “Harvest Preparation in the Cellar,” which details a month-by-month assessment (under normal life conditions) for what the winery should plan prior to harvest. The Pre-Harvest Prep Checklist is also available to DGW Clients.
A key thing I am recommending to wineries right now is to complete their inventory needs before the month of June ends. Winemakers should evaluate inventory of:
- Harvest enological products (e.g., yeast, malolactic bacteria, nutrients, etc.)
- Sanitation chemicals
- Laboratory chemicals
- Processing equipment needs
Harvest enological supplies
Winemakers should check all of their winemaking additions and review expiration dates. Make sure unused products have been stored properly, according to supplier guidance. Sometimes, suppliers extend expiration dates after completing efficacy trials, so it is worth double checking the efficacy of expired product with the product’s supplier (e.g., AEB, BSG, Enartis USA, Gusmer, Laffort, Scott Labs, etc.) prior to purchasing new product.
If you’re new to making sure you have a running inventory of needs for harvest, now is a good time to start one. DGW Clients have access to the Enological Products Harvest Must-Haves, which is a list of my bare bones product recommendations for wineries to cover all of their bases before the start of harvest.
I always like to make sure there is a good inventory of cleaning (detergents) and sanitation chemicals in the winery before the start of harvest. I never want to be in need of these things when harvest is underway.
Remember, it is recommended that the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing operations may need to increase for the 2020 harvest due to COVID-19. It is recommended that wineries should sanitize all equipment prior to its use and, ideally, verify that the sanitation has been effective.
At the end of every production day, or in between personnel shift changes, a full cleaning and sanitation cycle for the equipment and processing room is recommended.
Darn Good Winemakers and DGW Clients can review my cleaning and sanitation protocol using the “Winery Sanitation Steps that Work!” step-by-step process.
At the risk of being too direct, this is the year that sanitation should get taken more seriously by wineries. It is time to make time for it. Over the course of my career, I’ve heard many renditions of “winemaking is 90% cleaning, 9% paperwork and 1% making wine,” and this year will echo that mentality above our past vintages not only for wine quality, but for the safety of cellar employees.
As reviewed prior, if the winery is using proper cleaning and sanitation protocols, there is no need to change chemicals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this current time, there is not any evidence suggesting viral transfer through food and beverages.
However, integrating sanitation agents for high-touched surfaces that are not usually incorporated into the regular production sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs) do require some extra thought by wineries at this time. I encourage wineries to review my recommendations on the free Winery Prep for COVID-19 Mitigation checklist for help with this step.
Make sure you take time to review laboratory (lab) needs, as well. Inventory any expired chemicals and add them to the list of ordering needs.
It should go without saying that expired chemicals need to be safely discarded. Please keep in mind that how chemicals are discarded will vary from winery to winery as most lab chemicals cannot get disposed of down the drain.
This is also a great time to make sure all lab equipment is working properly. Ensure that any additional lab supplies do not need ordered. Replace or repair any broken glassware, order a new pH electrode if it is over it’s 1 – 2 year shelf life, and make sure any chemical standards or calibration agents are ordered if needed. If you make a habit of getting some of your lab equipment certified or calibrated (e.g., scales, pipettes), try to schedule those appointments early as there may be delays due to COVID-19.
For those that send out juice or wines for analysis at an ISO accredited wine lab, make sure to have a stock of sample bottles. You won’t regret having these in the thick of harvest. This is also a great time to print out sample bottle labels and store in a convenient place before harvest begins.
Finally, run through your processing equipment. Check pumps and get them serviced if needed. Again, scales may need calibrated or certified. Forklifts should be evaluated for maintenance. Pull out the crusher/destemmer, press, and any other harvest-specific equipment. Give it a good cleaning and make sure it is working properly. Double check that the press bladder is not torn. Evaluate the condition of the glycol chiller, especially if it has not been used for a few months of time. Anything that has been idle for a period of time should be on the list to evaluate.
Order Supplies Early
After inventories have been completed, order the necessary supplies. Plan to get everything, or close to everything, ordered through June and July.
For those that are planning on making formula wines with the 2020 vintage, keep in mind that most flavors require at least a 4-week turnaround time after getting ordered. Depending on the formula, it is possible some of the other ingredients could have a long turnaround time for delivery as well.
I specialize in helping wineries create formula alcoholic beverages with a priority on quality. If you need help with this, please inquire about consulting options at [email protected] today.
Another must for wineries: complete bottling operations before harvest begins. Every year I am floored by the number of wineries that tell me they are still bottling well into the second month of harvest.
Don’t do this!
If this is an annual habit, I have some 2020 consulting spots open to help you get out of that chaos. Inquire at [email protected] to figure out consulting options that work for your operation.
Get bottling completed so you can focus on harvest and making sound, quality wines. When production operations are pulled in multiple directions, it is impossible to place priority on quality. That is when things get missed, wines start to go bad, and the winemaker is stressed.
In our next post, I’m going to tackle some changes to bottling operations in the wake of COVID-19.