After the crunch of harvest, the end of the calendar year can feel physically tiring and emotionally taxing, especially in 2020. While the season shifts to holiday wine sales, it’s important to remember that now is also a critical time in the cellar.
It is vital to ensure that good production notes were taken through the harvest season, as any experienced winemaker will tell you it all becomes a blur after week one of harvest. Organizing the cellar post-harvest can be a daunting task, but that is where DG Winemaking has you covered! Here are the top four tips on getting through November and December to set up your cellar for a reinvigorating January.
Plus, if you want some step-by-step guidance, the Post-Harvest Checklist is now available to all DGW Insider and Elite members. Skim to the end of this post to find out more about joining the DGW community and start making changes in your cellar happen!
Conduct a Harvest Review
This is an easy annual exercise that can quickly save winemakers and cellar managers a lot of time in the future.
Give your cellar team 30 minutes to sit down and individually write down:
- What went wrong in the cellar during the 2020 harvest season? What were some challenges that were faced?
- What went right during the 2020 harvest season? List some wins for the team.
- What equipment needs repaired or replaced?
This may seem unproductive, but these details are quickly forgotten post-harvest. Reviewing the last harvest season is a quick way to physically jot down details that may have been important, but will otherwise get lost within time. It’s fair to mention that depending on the staffing structure, the head winemaker may not have been aware of specific issues that routinely popped up. This exercise of individually having each employee jot down their experiences is a great way to audit the team and get valuable input that is otherwise missed. Plus, it shows employees that their hard work was not taken for granted.
To take this a step further, this is also a great reflective opportunity to encourage employee suggestions for addressing issues and/or get their input on something that they would like to learn in the year ahead to improve at their job. This is a really nice exercise if you have younger generational employees who often thrive on professional development.
Budget for the New Year
One of the outcomes in the above exercise is the identification of key equipment needs. This should allow the winemaker to prioritize and start budgeting for 2021 purchases. It is possible employees may have also identified some purchases that may make their time more efficient.
While the 2021 conference season appears to look a bit different than in previous years, equipment sales are likely to continue through the winter months. Plan out what is needed in November and December so that January and February can be used to contact suppliers and inquire about quotes.
For any items that may fall outside of the 2021 budget, this is a great time to structure a two- to five-year plan for future investments. Sharing this with employees may also help to rejuvenate the team as they anticipate operational upgrades and new production directions.
Update Production Records
Everyone’s least favorite thing to do!
Having a database for production and analytical records, whether on Excel on through a savvy production software, saves time in the cellar and provides clear, concise information on each wine produced. Keeping track of sulfur dioxide additions/concentrations and wine additive selections is easier in a database than in a notebook filled with lots of notes.
Isolate some time each day or a few days a week to make this a priority, cutting down the task into smaller, manageable tasks.
While in the groove of managing production records, it is also a great time to update FDA compliance documentation. Review standard operating procedures (SOPs) and sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs) to make sure they reflect your actual production practices, update or add any protocols (e.g., running and cleaning the pH meter, running a titration), and review and update any employee training records that have expired. Once those tasks are completed, create a spreadsheet to document that FDA documentation annual reviews for employees are complete. These tasks are more clearly outlined in the FDA Documentation Training Series. DGW Insider and Elite members also have access to the Post-Harvest Checklist, which details essentials for these steps.
Finish Necessary Wine Analysis
I recommend a standard list of analyses that each wine should have after primary fermentation and malolactic fermentation (MLF) are complete. This includes pH, titratable acidity (TA), alcohol concentration, volatile acidity (VA), free sulfur dioxide concentration, and total sulfur dioxide concentration. Depending on the wine, malic acid concentration and residual sugar content may be additional analyses that are important to complete and record. Having this information close to when the fermentation(s) is(are) complete provides a baseline assessment of the wine chemistry for that wine at that moment in time. That information can then be used to determine when and if something goes wrong with a wine during later stages of production.
Often, good analytical records also identify trends or problem areas across the entire winery.
Taking the time to get analytical data for each of the wines produced requires discipline. But it is also one of the easiest places to start improving.
We spend a lot of time in the DGW community breaking down the bare minimums for analysis, what analytical test matters and when is the right time to assess a wine. If you know you need more guidance on this, check out our DGW Insider and Elite memberships, below, and how they can help you obtain your production goals.
Get Access to What We’re Talking About!
Monthly DGW Insider memberships are now available or save 5% with an annual membership. If you want to use some of the tools listed above, the DGW Insider could be for you! Click HERE for more information.
DGW Elite memberships offer access to all of the tools included in the DGW Insider membership. DGW Elite also includes twice monthly one-hour group Q&A sessions with Denise. Additionally, Elite members are invited into the private Facebook community where other community members can stay in touch with each other, ask for advice or recommendations, and contribute to helping others.
Elite membership for the full 2021 year is only available until February 2021. If you have ever wanted an extra resource to double check how to do something, Denise is that wine expert that will put you in a step in the right direction!