Every winemaker’s top priority is the quality of their wines, though winemakers may pursue different strategies on the journey toward perfection. Some might swear by a certain barrel type or additive supplier. Others may experiment with different packaging and closure options to help preserve wine quality as long as possible — ideally until it’s in the consumer’s hands.
But the truth is that there’s no single secret to perfect wine. Every varietal, blend, and vintage is different — that’s the challenge (and fun!) of winemaking. With that in mind, there is one key, underrated strategy that more winemakers should take advantage of:
Creating more time.
We’re not talking about using a time machine here, although that would be great. We’re talking about finding ways to increase efficiency in your existing winery processes so that you (and your cellar team) have more time to dedicate to each unique wine. By giving yourself time back in your busy schedule, you can focus on testing and tweaking to your heart’s content.
In this article, we’ll cover two major areas of inefficiency in the typical winery: team communication and data collection/reporting.
How to Improve Team Communication in the Winery
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Standard operating procedures — hardly anyone’s favorite topic, but a vital one nonetheless. SOPs, which provide detailed instructions for common tasks, are vital to any serious business. They help you standardize processes in the winery and ensure that team members have a resource to reference. SOPs can also make training new or seasonal employees easier, since your preferred methods and policies are already documented.
In the winery, SOPs can (and should) cover everything from harvest procedures and cellar work to employee hygiene, sanitation, and the tasting room. Writing the SOPs will take time at first, but just the process of deciding what to include will help you cement the best workflow for your business.
Use a Digital Record-Keeping System
One area many wineries (and other businesses) struggle is day-to-day communication about tasks, inventory, and sales. Has anyone done that pump-over yet? What lab analyses do you need to do this week? Are the case goods inventory numbers updated from that recent wine club shipment? These and about 100 other questions could come up in a typical week. Can you confidently answer them? If you’re tracking your business data primarily on paper or in static spreadsheets, our guess is no.
Make a plan to transition your record-keeping, including data for production, inventory, and sales, to a digital winery software that your entire team can use. With access to a centralized system, each team member can keep track of their duties and make it easier for other employees to access important information. In other words, you can spend less time trying to track each other down to ask questions and instead focus on the important things. A system like this will help you record all important production data, automatically update inventory when new lots are bottled or case goods are sold, and even connect to your accounting system for a seamless flow of data.
If you are using a digital system, make sure you include notes about how it should be used in your SOPs. For example, when a lab analysis is completed, how should that be recorded in the production module of the software? What should employees do when a sales order comes in (create and send an invoice, etc.)? Having a record of these procedures and training all employees on the process will help you get the most out of all the tools you invest in.
Streamlining Data Collection & Reporting
Beyond team communication, using a dedicated system for record-keeping is also important for reporting and decision-making. When you consistently document winemaking activities, you can make smarter decisions year to year and more easily identify where things went wrong if you encounter a problem. Finding (or making out) your notes about last year’s Pinot Gris can be time-consuming if you have to track down a stray notebook in the middle of, say, the busy harvest season. Taking better records now means that, in the future, you can look back at successes and challenges with this year’s wines and make decisions accordingly.
If you’re a winemaker at a small winery, the whole idea of “data collection” may seem laughable — who has time for compiling data and processing it when there’s wine to make? We hear you. But the purpose of modernizing data entry and reporting is that it will save you time in the end. Rather than racking your brain trying to remember how much of an additive you used in a certain lot two years ago, you can look it up in the software and know for sure. With clear SOPs and a centralized digital system, you can improve the quality of your data, minimize time spent tracking down information, and ultimately make the best wine possible.
Not to mention, one major benefit of using winery management software is that key business reports — like inventory on hand, cost of goods sold, and even parts of the TTB Report of Wine Premises Operations — can be automatically generated. No spreadsheet management is required. When you follow business best practices, you make your life easier in the long run.
What to Do With the Time You Save
The beauty of having more time is that you decide what to do with it. What task do you always wish you could squeeze in? Maybe it’s additional testing in the lab. Or you’ve been meaning to plan future vineyard blocks and haven’t found time in your schedule. You may just want more bandwidth to train your staff and support them. While the options are limitless, here are a few things you could do with the time you save:
- Keep a closer eye on production: Assign and monitor work orders for the cellar team to ensure key winemaking tasks are completed.
- Spend more time on quality analysis of each wine: Take samples and monitor changes in chemistry and composition to get the wine where you want it to be.
- Prep for and execute bottling runs: Easily check inventory of all your key packaging materials so that you’re ready for that next big bottling day.
Don’t like our suggestions? We won’t take it personally. At the end of the day, you’re the expert! The point is that your time is valuable, and the more of it you can carve out in your schedule, the better.