Grape & Wine Magazine - June/July 2024

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New Dried-on-Vine Raisin Variety a Solution to Labor Costs Winery Feature: Scheid Family Wines NGRA Partners with USDA-ARS to Launch New Grape Research Volume 2: Issue 3 June / July 2024 POWERED BY JCS MARKETING

PUBLISHER: Jason Scott


EDITOR: Taylor Chalstrom



Phone: 559.352.4456

Fax: 559.472.3113



Cecilia Parsons Associate Editor

Donnell Brown President, National Grape Research Alliance

Pam Strayer Contributing Writer

Steve Pastis Contributing Writer

Vicky Boyd Contributing Writer

Whitney Brownie Vineyard Team

Jacquelyn Fernandes Territory Manager, Nutrien Financial

Jason Scott Publisher/CEO, Grape & Wine, JCS Marketing Inc.


Surendra Dara Director, North Willamette Research and Extension Center

Kevin Day UCCE Pomology Farm Advisor, Tulare and Kings Counties

Elizabeth Fichtner UCCE Farm Advisor, Kings and Tulare Counties

Katherine Jarvis-Shean UCCE Orchard Systems Advisor, Sacramento, Solano and Yolo Counties The

Steven Koike Tri-Cal Diagnostics

Jhalendra Rijal UCCE Integrated Pest Management Advisor, Stanislaus County

Mohammad Yaghmour UCCE Area Orchard Systems Advisor, Kern County

January 2023 3
research, industry updates, company profiles, and advertisements in this publication are the professional opinions of writers and advertisers. Progressive Crop Consultant does
assume any responsibility for the opinions given in the publication.


Readership studies play a crucial role in the agricultural sector, particularly for specialized industries like grape wine. These studies help publications like Grape & Wine understand their audience better, enabling them to tailor content to the specific needs and interests of grape growers, winemakers, consultants and other industry professionals. This targeted approach is vital for fostering a thriving agriculture industry.

Firstly, readership studies provide valuable insights into the preferences and information needs of industry professionals. By analyzing data on what topics are most read and appreciated, Grape & Wine can focus on producing relevant and engaging content. This could range from the latest grape growing strategies to wine market trends and winery profiles. Such information not only keeps readers informed but also helps them make better decisions for their operation, ultimately leading to improved crop yields, quality and business success.

In a recent Baxter Research Center media study in Grape & Wine, 58 grape growers, winemakers, consultants and other industry professionals shared overwhelmingly positive feedback.

I need to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry, and this magazine greatly assists in doing that. Always nice to be informed of new products and techniques being used in the industry, – R. Weaver “
”"I am new to the grape industry, and I value how Grape and Wine presents a broad array of the needs and challenges wine growers face,” – D. Bonetti “

“Provides me relevant and current information that supports my interests and profession as a wine educator and enologist," another said.

Secondly, readership feedback is essential for fostering a sense of community within the industry. When grape growers and winemakers actively participate in readership studies, they contribute to the creation of a publication that truly represents their collective voice and concerns. This collaboration can lead to the sharing of innovative ideas, experiences and best practices, further strengthening the industry as a whole.

Moreover, providing feedback to Grape & Wine can help address specific challenges faced by the industry. For instance, concerns about grape growing strategies, water, wine market trends or consumer preferences can be highlighted and addressed through in-depth articles and expert opinions. By understanding these issues, the magazine can play a pivotal role in advocating for the industry and influencing policy decisions that benefit the grape and wine industry.

“Good cutting-edge content," said one respondent.

“My work is closely related to the vineyard industry; topics and articles in this magazine have been very timely and spoton,” said another respondent.

In conclusion, readership studies are indispensable for a publication like Grape & Wine. They enable the publication to produce content that is not only informative and engaging but also directly relevant to the needs of the industry. Grape growers and winemakers should actively participate in these studies to ensure their voices are heard and the publication continues to be a valuable resource for the industry's growth and success.

Comments about this article? We want to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

4 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024

When mixed with water and allowed to sit at least two hours, powdered or crystalline acrylamides will turn into hydrogels, which can be used as part of an ant bait system.

Gel baits target sugar-feeding ants and deliver an ultra-low insecticide dose.

Researchers are looking to the super-absorbent hydrogel technology behind disposable baby diapers as part of a possible ant management system.

Although the hydrogels still need California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) approval for use as adjuvants, David Haviland, UCCE integrated pest management advisor in Kern County, said he’s hopeful it will come shortly.

Developing better ant control is part of an integrated approach to reducing the amount of grapevine leafroll associated virus-3 and vitivirus in grape vines, said Stephanie Bolton, Lodi Winegrape Commission grower research and education director. That’s because ants transport and tend vine mealybugs within the vineyard for their honeydew. In addition, ants disrupt integrated pest management by protecting mealybugs from natural predators. Mealybugs, in turn, transmit viruses as they feed on the vines.

If growers can reduce ant populations, then along with other IPM measures like mealybug mating disruption, biological control and roguing infected vines, they should in theory be able to help slow virus spread.

Haviland, who has been working on a gel ant bait system with Extension colleagues for several years, demonstrated mixing and application during a recent Lodi Winegrape

Commission field day in a Lodi-area vineyard.

He’s not alone. Monica Cooper, UCCE viticulture advisor for Napa County, conducted a pilot study in 2015 followed by two years of replicated field trials in North Coast vineyards in 2016 and 2017 looking at gel-based ant baits. She found the system significantly reduced Argentine ant populations providing users correctly identified

6 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
UCCE IPM Advisor David Haviland mounted a Herd spreader on an ATV to apply gel ant bait in vineyard trials.

the target ant species and the pesticide concentration in the gel mixture produced delayed toxicity.

Chlorpyrifos Alternatives

The latest round of gel ant bait trials was a result of a $1.34 million CDPR grant looking at alternatives to chlorpyrifos, a now-banned insecticide. The researchers focused on ant species that feed on sugar.

Commercial ant baits that attract protein- or lipid-feeding ants, such as Southern fire ants or pavement ants, are already available. Almond growers, for example, apply them to their orchards about six weeks before harvest to control ants that feed on almonds drying on the ground after shaking.

These baits typically use soybean oil as an attractant and contain a small amount of a toxicant or insect growth regulator. The theory is worker ants take the material back to the colony, where they feed it to other workers, larvae and the queen. Eventually, the

colony collapses.

If the pesticide acts too quickly, it kills off only a portion of the workers, and the colony can rebuild.

Know Thy Ant Species

Proper ant identification is important to determine whether ants are pests and to ensure the correct bait. More than 275 ant species are found in the state, but only a handful are considered agricultural pests, Haviland said.

In Lodi-area vineyards, the main ant pests are the native gray ant (Formica aerate) and pavement ant (Tetramorium immigrans), while in North Coast vineyards and southern San Joaquin Valley grapes and citrus, Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) are the predominant ant pest.

Native gray, pavement and Argentine ants are attracted to sugar-containing substances, including honeydew produced by Asian citrus psyllid

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Although more than 200 ant species have been identified in the state, only a handful are considered vineyard pests (all photos by V. Boyd.)

Acrylamides are readily available in garden centers or in larger macrobins to increase soil water-holding capacity in container-grown plants.

(which can transmit citrus greening, also known as huanglongbing) and mealybugs.

Monitoring can be done using cotton balls soaked in a 25% sugar water solution. Sample one out of every 20 rows. Within the target row, place a cotton ball within 5 inches of a vine trunk once every 30 vines.

Wait two hours and return to count the number of ants. Rather than counting individual insects, Haviland said it’s often easier to score them zero for none, 1 for a few, 2 for about 11 to 49 and 3 for 50 or more.

Seeking Better Ant Control

Baits for sugar-feeding ants must be in liquid form to be attractive, so granulated sugar doesn’t work well. In addition, sugary liquid baits only work during the spring. Once insect pests begin producing honeydew, ants will instead gravitate toward them.

Although liquid bait dispensers are available for sugar-feeding ants, Haviland said the number required per acre to be effective in vineyards makes them unfeasible for commercial growers. That led researchers to look at hydrogels that can retain moisture for several hours as potential carriers.

UC Riverside Biological Control Specialist Mark Hoddle examined sodium alginate gels made from seaweed as carriers for minute amounts of pesticides. After two years of trials in citrus, he found the gel baits significantly

reduced ants, which allowed natural enemies to attack the psyllid as well as other sap-sucking pests. As a result, the amount of new citrus flush infested with Asian citrus psyllid decreased by 75%, and the number of citrus mealybugs were reduced by 50%.

Haviland and Cooper, on the other hand, looked at polyacrylamides. They are the same materials used in ultraabsorbent baby diapers as well as to increase soil water-holding capacity in container-grown plants. The products are also available in macrobins.

When used to prolong irrigation in plants, polyacrylamides are considered soil amendments and don’t need CDPR registration, Haviland said. When used as part of ant baits, they are considered pesticide carriers and therefore classified as adjuvants. In California, adjuvants also must undergo CDPR registration, he said.

Haviland said they are working with the citrus and the wine and table grape industries to request a Section 18 emergency use exemption for the gels.

Off-the-shelf polyacrylamides come in granular or crystal form and change into gels as they absorb water. In the case of the ant bait, the researchers mixed four parts water and one part granulated sugar to which they added an “ultra-low” amount of insecticide. Once they created a solution, they added polyacrylamide and allowed the mixture to sit for at least two hours in

a properly labeled, covered container to rehydrate.

Water quality, such as salinity and hardness, may affect gel formation, said Nathan Mercer with CDFA. As a UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management postdoctoral researcher, he was involved in the Lodi trials in 2022 and 2023. Mercer recommended users first mix a jar of the gel to test water quality.

Lodi Trials Targeted Pavement Ants

In the Lodi trials, researchers looked at four insecticides, all used at a fraction of the labeled rate: boric acid, thiamethoxam, abamectin and pyriproxyfen. They applied the gel bait at either 5 gallons per acre or 10 gallons per acre using a hand spreader the first year. During the second year, they used a Herd spreader hitched to an ATV.

Calibration and maintaining an even speed are important to ensure users aren’t over- or under-applying the gel bait, Haviland said.

Users should try to apply the gel bait early in the morning, under foggy or cloudy conditions, and aim for the shade under canopies to prolong moisture as much as possible, Haviland said. Under optimum conditions, the bait will remain attractive for up to two days before it dries out.

Conversely, he advised against applying

8 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
UCCE IPM Advisor David Haviland demonstrated how to apply gel ant bait during a recent field day hosted by the Lodi Winegrape Commission.

it under the blazing sun in the middle of the day when the gel may dry out in less than two hours.

The researchers also compared plots that received only one treatment to those that had received two applications.

“All the insecticides worked pretty well to some degree at both 5 gallons and 10 gallons per acre,” Mercer said. “All did a good job of keeping down the pavement ants, especially Platinum (thiamethoxam). Platinum did a really good job after just one application.”

In the plots that received two thiamethoxam treatments, the researchers saw a 38% reduction in vine mealybug numbers in grape clusters.

North Coast Trials Looked Good, Too Cooper looked at polyacrylamide gel bait laced with boric acid at 0.05% or thiamethoxam at 0.0006% active ingredient. She also found both worked well.

In vineyards treated with two applications of thiamethoxam-laced bait, ant foraging was eliminated for five to six weeks, and activity was further suppressed for up to six months. Ant activity was based on sugar water-laced cotton ball surveys.

In vineyards treated with two applications of boric acid-laced bait, ant foraging was eliminated for four to six weeks, and activity was further suppressed for up to five months.

Cooper said the overall ant population declines suggest the effects of bait applications over multiple seasons are cumulative.

Start Early

For the ant baits to be successful, Haviland provided a few caveats. They are only effective in the spring before pests begin to exude honeydew.

“Once you get honeydew, the ants are smart; they know the difference between sugar water from Walmart and filet

mignon,” he said.

In addition, the ants must be foraging, which typically starts in mid-March in the interior and southern regions of California, whereas in the North Coast region it may be later. Survey ants with sugar-soaked cotton balls to determine site-specific differences in timing.

As part of a vine mealybug program in interior and southern regions of California, Haviland recommended a gel ant bait application about April 1, followed by a second about four weeks later if needed based on ant surveys.

The costliest ingredient in the gel bait is granulated sugar, and Haviland said he plans to conduct trials this season to see if cutting the amount in half to an 8:1 water-to-sugar ratio will be as attractive to ants as using a 4:1 rate.

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Winery Feature: Scheid Family Wines

Jack of All Trades Scheid Family Wines

Hits Sweet Spot with Its Own No-Sugar, Low-Alcohol Brand

Scheid Family Wines in Monterey County uniquely shows how two generations of leaders in one family can successfully navigate the twists and turns of California’s wine industry over a span of 51 years yet innovate and grow the business, even in trying times. The winery’s success is the result of its nimble and agile approach as it explores different paths to profit.

Its newest wine brand, Sunny with a Chance of Flowers, shot to Hot Brand

status in 2021, rivaling the performance of millennial and Gen Z favorite Josh wine. The winery also launched its first TV commercial to support Sunny’s launch.

In 2023, Wine Business ranked Scheid as the 25th largest winery in the U.S. It has 3,000+ acres of vineyards in Monterey County with annual sales of 900,000 cases. 60% of its business is in private labels (it makes 45 of them today for major retailers) and 40% of its business is in its 10 branded wines. It supplies 90% of the grapes for all the wines, buying 10%, including Paso Robles Cabernet (for a client who wanted Paso on a label).

The winery makes 100,000 cases a year of its new greatest hit, Sunny with a Chance of Flowers, in the Better for You (BFY) category, one which grew in dollar sales 13.3% (NIQ scan data from March 24, 2023-24) compared to non-BFY wines, which declined 1.5% in the same period. Unit sales were up 14.2% for BFY wine while non-BFY wines declined 4.3% in unit sales.

That new brand was an early entrant in the BFY space, thanks to Heidi Scheid perusing the grocery aisle for up-andcoming trends. It was there she also

noticed consumers and products that said “no sugar” were gaining ground.

In 1972, business-savvy executive Al Scheid, a graduate of Harvard Business School, started the company as a tax loss venture, initially buying 10 acres of vines.

The company grew and grew as grape growers and then bulk winemakers selling to major brands. Today, it has 12 estate vineyards over a 70-mile stretch of the Salinas Valley.

In 2005, Scheid built its own winery, making private label wines, and in 2012 launched its own brands.

Financial prowess is baked into the heritage. Two of Al’s children, Heidi Scheid and Scott Scheid, each got degrees in finance and outside experience in the finance industry before joining the family business as Executive Vice President and President, respectively.

Scheid’s entry into finished wines has been fairly spectacular, growing from 4,000 to 700,000 cases in less than 10 years. The producer aims to get to a million cases by 2025.

In 2020, Wine Enthusiast honored Heidi with its Winestar award for Person of the Year.

Today, the company’s original and most expensive brand, Scheid Vineyards, features wines ranging in price from $28 to $90, fueled by direct-to-consumer sales. It has two tasting rooms: one in the popular wine tourist town of Carmel and the other in Greenfield in Salinas Valley. It’s arcing into the future with next-generation wine brands focused on younger

10 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
Scheid Family Wines Founder Al Scheid (middle) with his two children, Heidi (right) and Scott (left), who each got degrees in finance and outside experience in the finance industry before joining the family business as Executive Vice President and President, respectively.

and health-conscious consumers.

Targeting Gen Z and Millenials with Better for You, LowAlcohol or Organic Brands

Scheid’s finished wine brands are on a roll, chasing younger and more health-conscious consumers with BFY, low-alcohol bottled wines as well as canned, fruit-flavored, low-alcohol spritzers and organically grown wines. All three are gluten free and vegan.

Introduced in 2020, Sunny with a Chance of Flowers ($17 to $20) is a big hit in the marketplace, growing from 11,000 to 100,000 cases now with the support of major retailers.

Sunny’s slogan, “Moderation has never tasted so good!”, messages its major appeal: 9% alcohol, 85 calories per serving and zero sugar.

Made with natural extracts and botanicals, Hoxie is similarly positioned with 5% alcohol, 90 calories and no added sugar. Hoxie first became popular in hipster circles in Los Angeles as brand creator and founder Josh Rosenstein, a former chef, concocted staff drinks with wine, fruit and herbs.

The grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon blanc) are all grown by Scheid. The three canned, flavored wines include Strawberry Rosé and Lemon Ginger Rosé along with Grapefruit Elderflower, its most popular. Wine Enthusiast gave Hoxie a 91-point score.

Since it has partnered with Scheid, Hoxie sells in BevMo, Sprouts, Target, Whole Foods and independent wine shops. Rosenstein is now Scheid’s Director of Alternative Beverages.

“I think alternative packaging in cans is also important,” Heidi said. “I think canned products are really suited to lower alcohol, and something that has some spritz, not still wine.”

Expanding its spritz niche, Scheid also partnered with Q Mixers to complement its Sunny wines, offering consumers more spritz flavor options. Sunny’s website leverages the cocktail craze with

recipes that mix in everything from watermelon slices or ginger beer to alcoholic add-ins. Examples include elderflower-based St. Germain liqueur with Pinot Noir for a “Red Blossom” or tequila for a wine-based “Sunny-rita.”

Birth of a New Brand with Positivity: Sunny with a Chance of Flowers

Speaking in March at the Wine Market Council’s annual meeting, Scheid told the audience how she zeroed in on the BFY category and the importance of zero sugar before launching her Sunny with a Chance of Flowers brand.

“Why did White Claw become so popular so quickly?” she asked. “I think a lot of it is labeling. It has 5% alcohol right there at the top of the label. It says 100 calories at the top. It has ‘gluten free.’”

She said the wine producers could learn from that.

“We in the wine industry are not really known for good labeling in terms of giving consumers information. There are a lot of zero-sugar wines out there. Consumers don't know which ones they are. And they have to kind of figure that out, by trial and error, whether it tastes sweet to them or not. So, we took a look at White Claw and just thought, ‘Okay, there's something there that they're doing that we're not doing.’”

At the same time, she said, “We were seeing all these news articles about low [or] no-alcohol trends and lifestyles. We really started to ask ourselves, ‘Where does wine fit into this lifestyle conversation?’”

She set out to create a brand with low alcohol and high transparency.

“If making wine is hard, making a low-alcohol wine is harder, and making a low-alcohol, zero-sugar wine that tastes really great is super-duper hard,” she said. Scheid uses a reverse osmosis process to curb the alcohol levels. She

In 1972, business-savvy executive Al Scheid, a graduate of Harvard Business School, started the Scheid Family Wines, originally Monterey Farming Corp, as a tax loss venture, initially buying 10 acres of vines. Today, the company has 12 estate vineyards over a 70-mile stretch of the Salinas Valley (all photos courtesy Scheid Family Wines.)

wondered if ‘zero sugar’ really had to be in the mix.

“Taking a lesson from other product categories convinced us sugar is a very important attribute to consumers, and they want to know what the level of sugar is,” she said.

Sustainability has also proved to be a market differentiator, she said. Scheid

June / July 2024 11

Scheid Family Wines makes 100,000 cases a year of its new greatest hit, Sunny with a Chance of Flowers, in the Better for You category. Its appeal factors include 9% alcohol, 85 calories per serving and zero sugar.

is certified sustainable by the Wine Institute’s CSWA program, won the California Green Medal Environment Award in 2019 and has been 100% powered by wind for seven years.

Scheid credits brand developer Theresa Scripps for the Sunny brand name and packaging.

“In terms of lifestyle attributes, we really wanted to project positivity. We wanted it to lean into moderation. When we were originally launching Sunny, there was pushback from people saying, ‘Wine is already the drink of moderation. Why do we need a healthier version of wine?’”

Heidi responded, “Because we can do better. I can lean into that more for people who really are interested in pursuing moderation and who are interested in consumption.”

Pivoting to Organics–Grandeur Transparency and going after a distinct market segment are also high on the priority list with Scheid’s organically grown Grandeur brand, produced solely from the company's 667 acres of certified organic grapes.

After originally announcing it would convert all 3,000+ acres to organic, Scheid dialed back its organic expansion plans, responding both to the market and its initial organic conversion efforts which found that vines in its coolest,

coastal and northern areas (regions I, II and III, according to the Winkler index) struggled with mildew.

“It's really kind of just pushing ourselves as growers to see what's possible in our region,” Heidi said.

I think canned products are really suited to lower alcohol, and something that has some spritz, not still wine.

Scheid, Scheid Family Wines

The vineyard team found greater success with its warmer, southerly vineyards in Hames Valley (classified Region IV in the Winkler index) focusing initially on Petite Sirah. Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot soon followed. The Region IV organic vines are close to the San Luis Obispo County border with Paso Robles.

“We cut our teeth on organic farming on the 90-acre White Flower Vineyard,”

she said. “We were able to start it off as organic rather than doing the conversion, which is a little more complex. We found we can be pretty successful down there.”

Scheid said the winery has plenty of grapes for its organic program, selling Grandeur at Whole Foods, Natural Grocers and Total Wine. “The organic market is still pretty nascent,” she said. “Going organic–that's a big ship to turn. It'll be interesting to see how that space unfolds over the next few years.”

But organics’ appeal to younger consumers is compelling, she said.

According to Bonterra, sales of organically farmed wines grew 7% in 2023 in a year when overall wine sales declined. Scheid’s Aristotle brand, a $12.99 Whole Foods exclusive from Scheid’s organically grown Petite Sirah, outperformed peers in a year when the brand changed from sustainable to organic and redesigned its label. Aristotle’s depletions were up 7% in 2022 over the previous year, while similarly priced Petite Sirah wines were down 24%, a Scheid spokesperson said.

In addition, Scheid’s organically grown wines have ingredient labeling. “I think younger people care very much about how their products they consume are made and what's in them,” Heidi said. “They want a level of transparency. Grandeur has ingredient labeling on the back. I don't see that happening very much across the industry.”

Into the Future: Engagement and Portfolio Diversity Are Key to Success

Scheid looks at the evolving wine landscape as an opportunity to broaden the offerings. Wellness is one way to build engagement. Organics is another. And transparency is another option.

“A brand has to deliver the right price for that particular consumer to meet them where they are,” she said.

Though the winery has 10 brands of its own, Scheid said Sunny is the No. 1 priority. “It's our largest brand and very much has the support of our retailers

12 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024

who are seeing great success within that ‘Better for You’ category,” she said.

“Building brand loyalty is a different game these days. It's tougher. I think Sunny with a Chance of Flowers wins because it has this really positive brand ethos. Many people are drawn to that. We definitely have extremely loyal consumers of Sunny, which is great to see. We hear from them a lot, through social media and DMs. People are really engaged.

“There's always going to be that consumer that wants the bigger, bolder wine,” she continued. “We certainly have that in our portfolio. And there are people that buy at different price points. But the younger consumer who we’re trying to on-ramp into wine has so many choices in front of them, a really astounding number of choices just when they walk into a store. And then if they get onto their phones, which they're typically on quite a bit, there's just a whole world out there. So how do we create something that excites them?”

Younger drinkers are much more focused on drinking according to the occasion, she said. And that calls for variety.

“I will always love the classically made wines. I think that's where people will end up or will at least have as part of their repertoire. They might drink Sunny with a Chance of Flowers where that really fits what they're trying to do on a Tuesday night and then Hoxie by the pool on a Saturday or down at the beach. And then hopefully, they'll drink a beautiful, classically made Chardonnay or Pinot Noir or a Cabernet on Friday and Saturday night. There's room for all of it. And I think that's what consumers want these days is that choice of having a wine that suits the occasion.”

That variety of wine can maintain wine’s universal appeal, she said.

“That applies to people whether they're young moms, or middle aged, or like my mom who's 86 who had given up drinking. Sunny pulled her back into the wine world. She has her little glass of Sunny Sauvignon Blanc at 5 p.m. every day,

and then a glass of Sunny Pinot Noir with dinner at night. They're the littlest pours you've ever seen. But she loves having this 9% option available.”

Heidi’s mom was a wine drinker her entire life, and is extremely healthy, but stopped drinking for two years because her doctor said he didn’t know if she should be drinking wine at her age.

“She was really sad that she had to give up wine,” said Scheid.

“When we first bottled it, I dropped off some Sunny bottles for her, and she called me that night, and was literally crying, saying, ‘You have allowed me to reclaim a piece of my life that I had to give up. Because you don't understand what it's like to be in your 80s, nobody gives you anything to add to your life. They only take away things like you're not supposed to do. So finally, I get to have something come back into my life.'” Comments about this article? We want to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

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Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, Calif. takes the opportunity to be philanthropic in its community wherever possible (all photos courtesy Niner Wine Estates.)



The availability of information has changed the way businesses operate and engage with customers. While a company can offer solutions to everyday problems through their innovative products and specialized services, price and convenience are no longer the sole determinants of their success. Consumers seek to align their spending habits with their personal values. Thanks to the digitized world, they have the tools to find out if a company is a good fit.

Today’s shopper understands when they make a purchase, their money does more than buy a product or service. Their dollars also support the mission and initiatives of the business they purchased from. In today’s socially conscious marketplace, consumers want to know how the businesses they support make a positive impact.

70% of Americans believe it’s important for companies to make the world a better place. Shareholders hold a similar sentiment: 73% of investors stated efforts to improve the environment and society contribute to their investment decisions (Aflac 2019).

In fact, some will even part ways with a brand over a conflict in values. Three-quarters of participants in a 2022 Harris Poll research survey reported having done just that. In the same survey, 39% said a values mismatch would lead them to permanently boycott their favorite brand, and 24% would break ties at least temporarily (Consumer Goods Technology 2022).

When it comes to making a positive change toward sustainability, “Consumers see themselves, along with for-profit companies, as the primary catalysts for change,” (Business Wire 2021). But organizations shouldn’t participate in these efforts blindly.

A company’s philanthropic endeavors should reflect their mission and align with their core values. The beauty of a successful philanthropy program is it isn’t a one-size fits-all approach; it can and should be as unique as the business that embraces it.

Realize the Need for Redirection

Wineries are often asked to donate bottles or cases of wine for local fundraising events. Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, Calif. used to participate in these often. While making donations of this sort did align with certain elements of the business, Andrew Niner, now president of the SIP Certified ® sustainable estate, felt like there were more impactful ways the business could give back.

“When you operate a business in a small town, it is important to reinvest in the community that supports you,” said Niner. “These wine donations felt a bit misdirected; it didn’t feel like we were having a real impact. So, we decided to cut back on these and redirect our efforts to supporting one to three local charities each year. Now, we have more of an active role and are meaningfully involved in our community, and we see the impact."

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Niner Wine Estates supports the Juan Nevarez Memorial Scholarship, a local program helping the children of California’s vineyard and winery industry achieve their dreams of higher education through financial and support services.

Focus Locally

Local investments directly improve the quality of life for people in the community. They also give businesses the opportunity to build relationships with other organizations and make connections with individuals that share their values.

Niner Wine Estates is a supporter of MUST! Charities, a nonprofit organization also based in Paso Robles. This organization identifies critical community needs and vets local non-profit organizations that specifically serve those needs. MUST! Charities then invests funds and strategic planning into the non-profit to strengthen their focus and impact.

Niner also supports a local program that hones in on uplifting the people of the wine industry: the Juan Nevarez Memorial Scholarship. This program helps the children of California’s vineyard and winery industry achieve their dreams of higher education through financial and support services. 100% of every donation goes directly to the recipients, and Niner has been helping these deserving students since 2017.

Niner’s philosophy around charitable investments emphasizes the importance of transparency. When asked if the business shares their investments with customers, he said it’s something he always makes a point to do.

“If they are buying your product, they should know what you support.” Once a year, the company shares a Philanthropy Report outlining how much and where they invested.

In addition to the annual newsletter, the winery also spreads charity awareness through their wine club communications. Niner believes these communications help raise awareness of meaningful causes within the community.

Bring in the Team

But customers aren’t the only people who are interested in these insights. Jobseekers in Millennial and Generation Z age groups consider a company’s environmental and social contributions when they are on the hunt. What they crave is alignment with their own values.


S I E R R A N A T U R A L S C I E N C E D I S E A S E C O N T R O L : D C + P E S T C O N T R O L : P C + S Y S T E M I C P E S T C O N T R O L : S Y S T E M I C A Contact Jacqueline Castillo @ 510-282-8852 for more information

Nearly 9 out of 10 Millennial and Gen Z professionals are open to changing jobs if they found a company whose values closely aligned with their own. These individuals “prioritize a sense of purpose and meaningful connections to the company’s values as these factors contribute significantly to job satisfaction and commitment,” (LinkedIn 2023).

Once hired, employees who feel an alignment with their company’s mission, vision and values are far more likely to recommend their employer as a great place to work and say their work gives them a feeling of personal accomplishment (Qualtrics 2022). This highlights an opportunity for business leaders to engage their staff in the company’s philanthropic endeavors.

Niner inspires and encourages his staff to get involved. Employees are given the opportunity to allocate $2,000 each year to any charity of their choice. Niner said as well as giving staff ownership and a meaningful stake in the community, these staff-directed donations show him what his staff are passionate about and help to raise his own awareness of deserving charities.

While charitable funds make a considerable impact, monetary gifts are not the only way for a business to invest in the community. Volunteering time and

services are equally impactful. Plus, these pursuits offer individuals handson experience in positively influencing members of their community.

The El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) provides essential services for

‘ On top of uplifting communities, meaningful philanthropic strategies can improve company culture and cultivate consumer trust. ’

community members in need, including showers, laundry and clean clothes, and meals. Every month, staff members of Niner Wine Estates volunteer through this organization to prepare and serve meals. Niner said that it’s a great team-building activity that’s good for the company culture. He appreciates the team can have a direct and impactful experience giving back.

Niner compared their philanthropy strategy to an investment strategy. “If you invest in a ton of different things, you can lose track of exactly where your money is going and what it’s doing. But if you invest in just a couple of things, you can have more of an active role in your investments and really know your impact.”

Giving back is good for business. On top of uplifting communities, meaningful philanthropic strategies can improve company culture and cultivate consumer trust. The efforts Niner Wine Estates makes to enhance transparency about their philanthropy help their customers know when they enjoy a bottle of wine or visit the estate for a tasting, meal or event, they are supporting all the good work this business does in its community.

Consumers’ needs and interests are constantly evolving. So are those of a business. Sustainably run businesses know to stay relevant and successful, they must be aware of opportunities to adapt. The next Sustainable Story shares how an estate vineyard and winery in Arroyo Grande, Calif. ensures its staff continually improve their skills and expand their knowledge.

Comments about this article? We want to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

16 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
Volunteering time and services are equally impactful as monetary charity. Niner Wine Estates employees volunteer with the El Camino Homeless Organization every month to prepare and serve meals.

210+ Days *California gravimetric data collected 2018-2020 SIMPLE twist application SECURE through mechanical harvesting

June / July 2024 17
UNSURPASSED longevity! Fresno
ISOMATE VMB is PROVEN ISOMATE® is a registered trademark of Pacific Biocontrol Jeannine Lowrimore Northern California 209.603.9244 Joe Devencenzi Central and Coastal California 209.642.0136
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disappears in the canopy

Transforming Soil Health A Four Year Success Story with Cation EX5 PLUS

Soil sodicity and salinity– a big problem! Here is an efficient and sustainable solution!

Saline sodic soils are an everincreasing problem in agriculture. The presence of high concentrations of Na+, Cl-, Mg2+, and SO42ions in soil solution inhibits growth of many plants (Munns 2002, 2005). This high sodium and salinity levels in agricultural soils pose significant challenges for growers worldwide, negatively impacting crop productivity and soil health High salinity is associated with low soil water potential and specific ions, especially Na+ and Cl-, are potentially toxic at higher concentrations. The toxic effect of Na+ far exceeds that of Cl(Tester & Davenport 2003). High sodium levels can damage soil structure, leading to soil surface crusting. This crust impedes soil water movement and aeration, thereby restricting root growth and limiting overall plant production and efficiency (Priyanka Gangwar et al., 2020).

Pistachio cultivation in central California faces these challenges, impacting crop growth, yield, and soil health. The central San Joaquin Valley, specifically, is an area where evaporation exceeds precipitation (Marino et al., 2019). Traditional gypsum applications have been a go-to solution for mitigating these issues. While gypsum can be an effective amendment for reclaiming salty soils, gypsum's low solubility and slow action can limit its efficiency, especially in modern agricultural settings where quick and effective solutions are often needed.

Additionally, the effectiveness of gypsum application relies on pre-

cipitation events to facilitate its dissolution and movement into the soil profile, which can be unpredictable and dependent on regional climate patterns. Moreover, the logistical requirements associated with broadcast applications of gypsum, such as the need for large quantities of material, machinery for spreading, and labor costs, can further add to the challenges and expenses involved in its use.

In modern agriculture, where efficiency and cost-effectiveness are paramount, alternative soil amendment strategies MUST be considered to address soil sodicity and salinity more effectively. These alternatives could include the use of more solution calcium sources, such as AgroPlantae’s Cation-EX5 PLUS which can provide quicker and more readily available calcium and other important ingredients without the same logistical constraints as gypsum. Unlike traditional gypsum, Cation-EX5 PLUS is injected directly into the drip system, reaching the root zone swiftly and directly. Direct injection enables rapid and efficient infiltration into the soil profile, ensuring the timely and more uniform distribution of calcium ions.

In this article, we explore the results of our research comparing the performance of Cation-EX5 PLUS with traditional gypsum applications in managing sodium and salinity levels in pistachio orchards located in saline and sodic soils in central San Joaquin Valley, California.

Fig.1 Significant reduction of 38% in sodium levels in Cation-EX5 PLUS treated areas compared to the grower standard.

Fig. 2 Significant reduction of 55.2% in SAR levels in the Cation-EX5 PLUS treated areas compared to the grower standard.

18 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024

In the heart of agricultural innovation, AgroPlantae's groundbreaking solution calcium source, Cation-EX5 PLUS, has sparked a revolution in soil health management. With four years of field trials yielding remarkable results, our commitment to excellence has never been clearer. Over this transformative period, AgroPlantae’s soluble calcium solution has significantly reduced sodium levels by an impressive 38% and SAR by 52% and salinity within the crucial first foot of the soil profile. This groundbreaking achievement not only speaks to the efficacy of our product but also establishes a new era in sustainable soil management practices.

The impact doesn't stop there! In parallel with these remarkable soil improvements, our field trials have also demonstrated substantial enhancements in pistachio yields.

Take, for example, the astounding ~13% increase in dry yield achieved with Cation-EX5 PLUS, equating to a remarkable 129lbs/ac more than the grower standard.

But wait, there’s more! In the final year of our study, the momentum only accelerated, with yields soaring by an astonishing 42%. This remarkable improvement, amounting to an additional

428lbs/ac of yield per acre, underlines the unparalleled potential of AgroPlantae’s Cation-EX5 PLUS.

These tangible differences in yield not only translate to increased profitability for growers but also speaks volumes about the transformative power of AgroPlantae’s product and to the enduring impact of our soluble calcium solution on soil health, crop productivity, and grower success.

3 Cation-EX5 PLUS 2021 yielded 13% more dry yield (lbs/ac) compared to the grower standard. Visit AGROPLANTAE.COM or give us a call (559) 498 0388 to learn more!

As we reflect on these four years of innovation and success, one thing becomes abundantly clear: AgroPlantae's Cation-EX5 PLUS isn't just a product; it's a catalyst for change. With its proven ability to enhance soil health, combat salinity, and boost crop yields, our calcium solution is paving the way for a brighter and more sustainable future for agriculture.

June / July 2024 19
Fig. Fig. 4 Cation-EX5 PLUS 2023 yielded 42% more dry yield (lbs/ac) compared to the grower standard.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Predict a Wine’s Success

“Tastry doesn’t tell you how to make wine; it just gives you various options, saves you huge amounts of time, and, at the end of the day, you pick the wine you want to sell.”
‒ Cameron Hughes, de Négoce

Katerina Axelsson, founder and CEO of Tastry, which uses artificial intelligence to predict which wines an individual is going to like before they try them, sometimes even before they become aware of them (all photos courtesy of K. Axelsson.)

Wineries are starting to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict which wines an individual is going to like before they try them, sometimes even before they become aware of them.

“We can predict the Vivino (Wine Rating System) score with 93% accuracy just by looking at the chemistry of the wine,” said Katerina Axelsson, founder and

CEO of Tastry, which uses technology that compares information about a wine’s chemistry with a database of 248 million consumer palates. “We've been in the industry for several cycles, so winemakers and wineries can see what they submitted to us is what actually happened.

“One of the biggest reasons, especially going into this year, that a winery should use Tastry is to find the con-

sumers that are going to be loyal, repeat customers,” she said. “We have this belief that every wine is a Screaming Eagle for someone out there. Your wine has a market for it; the challenge is how do you get to those consumers without wasting all your marketing money?”

“Using [this] technology, I can understand instantly the market size for a particular wine and also the best way to

20 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024

Tastry can predict the Vivino (Wine Rating System) score with 93% accuracy just by looking at the chemistry of a wine.

optimize a wine based on its intended audience, be it retailer or consumer,” said Cameron Hughes, founder of de Négoce, which sources and sells thou


June / July 2024 21
Helping Smaller Wineries
helps provide solutions Contact us to see how we can help! (559)584-7695 or visit us as Serving California since 1983

When AI for predicting a wine's success is properly applied, the return on a winery’s investment is $44 to $215 for every dollar it spends using the technology.

“We have been referred to as the matchmaker in the industry,” she said. “We connect retailers and wineries, we connect wineries and consumers, we connect retailers to consumers, and now we're connecting distributors to wineries and retailers.

“We touch the entire supply chain, and we're only a team of 30 people,” she continued. “Shifting the paradigm of any industry is an ordeal in and of itself, so we figured we needed to have discipline and focus on doing one thing really well.”

There have been serious temptations to get Tastry to stray from that goal. Major corporations such as Pepsi, British American Tobacco and Nestlé have all inquired about using Tastry in their industries, according to Axelsson.

“We've had to be very disciplined and say, ‘No, we're really focused on the wine industry right now,’” she said.

Tastry currently has limited, if any competition, according to Axelsson.

“I wouldn't say I have any direct competitors,” she said. “If we have any competitors at all, it would be like an adjacent competitor that’s pursuing the attention of a consumer, but when it comes to the technology, I haven't found a better answer than we really are the first company to do something like this, whether you look at the technology or the business model.”


Axelsson attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where she studied chemistry and winemaking, graduating with a B.S. degree in chemistry.

“We have this belief that every wine is a Screaming Eagle for someone out there. Your wine has a market for it; the challenge is how do you get to those consumers without wasting all your marketing money?”
‒ Katerina Axelsson, Tastry

“I paid my way through college by working in the wine industry,” she said, estimating there are about 400 wineries in a 40mile radius around the university. She did various jobs for some of those wineries before ending up working in a winery lab.

“I was young and ambitious, and curious,” she said. “I started to notice idiosyncrasies and pain points in the wine industry. The biggest thing I noticed was wineries were investing a lot of years, and in some cases millions of dollars, in making a wine for consumers. It's kind of a shot in the dark; you're dealing with nature and you can manipulate the outcome of the chemistry to an extent, but it's a very reactive process, and what your preferences are or what your vision for the final product is doesn't always correspond to whether the consumer likes it.”

22 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024

Axelsson described the winemaking process as “very intuitive and not data-driven.” She noted there was an 85% failure rate when launching any kind of wine.

“The reason for that failure rate, I learned, is because you can sell someone almost anything once,” she said. “You can pick up a bottle of wine because it has a nice label or it looks interesting, but if you don't like what's in the bottle, you're not going to buy it again, and the product is going to fail because it can't get repeat purchases.”

Axelsson had “a hypothesis” that there was a way to understand what consumers really like and what their flavor preferences really were.

“If we were looking at the chemistry, we were looking at “We weren't looking at how consumers perceive that chemis

price point, allowing winemakers to optimize their wines for their audience in a way never achievable before,” said Hughes. “Tastry doesn’t tell you how to make wine; it just gives you various options, saves you huge amounts of time, and, at the end of the day, you pick the wine you want to sell.”

“It might seem a little odd to use AI at first, but when they see what it actually is and how it's applied, the fear of it being ‘the Terminator’ or anything like that dissipates pretty quickly,” said Axelsson. “It's not what you imagine it is. It's just another tool in the toolbox, and it's just another paintbrush for the artist.

“It's been an incredible tool for so many businesses,” she added. “We've saved entire productions, especially during smoke season, and I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of that

“It turns out there's a way to do that,” she said, adding that

“We just incorporated so we could get an SBA loan to get

“When I started, I thought the challenge would be to build

way they have been doing things their entire life, said Axelsson. “When it comes to AI, especially with a traditional industry like the wine industry, it's not a ‘you build it and they will come’ kind of thing. There was a lot of education that had to take place, a lot of relationships had to be built, and we had to establish trust in the industry.

“We have worked really hard to establish trust with the top wineries, and we have a lot of winemakers on our website that publicly share their endorsements or the case studies they have had with Tastry,” she added.

“Tastry can do in an hour what would take weeks to do, and give you options depending on your target audience and

Comments about this article? We want to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

June / July 2024 23



Protecting your vineyard from market volatility and other uncertainties starts with your

Financial and recommends now as a good time to evaluate a financial plan and make sure you are taking steps to positively impact profitability

and surrounding yourself with people who can provide partnership and expertise to enable your

When we think of profitability, it’s common to use a simple, black and white theory: Spend less on producing your crop than what you can sell it for. Developing a successful profitability equation is much more nuanced. Grape growers who take the time to develop a solid financial foundation and proactive plan give themselves an edge when it comes to overcoming the challenges of earning a profit.

Many variables can negatively impact profitability: labor costs, water access/ availability, changes in pest management strategy, etc. Your chances of success will increase if your financial position is stable and capable of adapting to variable conditions, whether caused by economic or environmental forces, or a combination of the two.

Grape growers can take steps to strengthen their financial position if they consider a few critical factors that will impact profitability this year.

Where Can You Find Cost Savings? Despite many costs creeping up, there are savings to be had if you look in the right places. As a starting point, it’s a good practice to review your interest expense and research different lending options that could have the potential to lower the overall cost of borrowing.

Over the last few years, growers have seen a much higher percentage of their profits eaten up by interest expenses due to rising interest rates. At least in the short term, interest rates will continue to be a big topic of concern for growers. Despite more-active-than-expected inflation data, in May the Federal Reserve decided to maintain interest rates at their current levels for the sixth-straight meeting, keeping rates at a 23-year high as they wait for more reassuring signs of controlled inflation before considering a rate cut. You can’t control rates, but you can take advantage of promotional offers alongside traditional fixed-rate financing to avoid overpaying on interest

expenses. In many cases, this approach will bring the total effective interest rate down to a level that, when consolidated, lands below Prime.

Take a hypothetical example where a grape grower finances an equal amount for three different input purchases over the same financing period. In addition to their own in-house financing offer, a retailer may have access to a variety of promotional rate offers on some brands. For example, a financing package might look like:

• Product A at 9% APR

• Product B at 2% APR

• Product C at 4% APR

If this grower paid for these products with their operating line of credit, they would be looking at a financing rate ranging between 7% to 11% APR. If this same grower used the blended approach

24 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
capital management strategy success (photo by Rick de Jong, Agro-K.) Jaquelyn Fernandes is a territory manager with Nutrien (photo courtesy Nutrien Financial.)

and took advantage of the option to finance the purchase of all three products, they would bring their effective interest rate down to 5% APR, which adds up to meaningful savings on interest expense.

Proactive Cash Flow Considerations

It’s not enough to have the right mix of crop nutrition and protection products; you have to go a step further and think about how and when you’re paying for those products, and checking that strategy to make sure you are giving yourself the most flexibility when it comes to managing your money.

Grape growers also need to look closely at their cash flow to ensure profitability. Those who evaluate the terms of their financing programs and line up payment due dates with the crop schedule will create more financial stability for their operation, which can pay dividends when you come up against the unexpected.

Say your crop is infested with bunch rot near harvest. You may not have cash on hand for a few more months until harvest proceeds are recorded, but if you take the time now, in early season, to diversify your capital and use financing programs strategically, you’ll be able to preserve cash from your operating line. Imagine down the road, come harvest time when your financial picture is probably a little tighter, the relief you’ll feel knowing your operating line isn’t fully leveraged and you still have some flexibility. Consider how your needs may shift between now and harvest and look for ways that you can give yourself more options in terms of how and when to spend your capital.

Protect Your Vineyards Against Market Volatility and Other Uncertainties

This year, like every other year, you are going to face challenges. Some may be driven by the market, others by Mother Nature and more still by things you probably haven’t considered. Most of these variables are beyond your control; no one has a crystal ball to show where the market will go, and it’s hard to predict how consumer preferences are going to shift and how that will impact variety selection and decisions to protect the health and vitality of your vineyard. The inherent challenge in the

ag industry is for growers to come up with a winning plan despite success being so dependent on variables beyond your control. It may leave you feeling powerless, but there are a few proven strategies you can implement to protect your operation, create some peace of mind for your financial security, and prepare to respond to whatever comes your way.

Start with your capital management strategy and surround yourself with people who can provide partnership and expertise to enable your success. It may seem like a basic principle, but diversification is also critical to manage your risk. Especially when it comes to your finances, don’t underestimate the value of having a diverse stream of capital to pull from. This ensures you aren’t overextending yourself, and that you have more options when it comes to sourcing capital.

Having a sound financial plan is also a helpful practice to develop useful contingency plans and to avoid situations where you might take a financial hit because of something unexpected. Financing crop

inputs enables you to keep cash on-hand so your backup plan has maximum flexibility to respond to unforeseen expenses. On the flip side, growers who use their operating note to pay for operational expenses may not have as much financial latitude. Something growers may lack if they use their operating note to pay for operational expenses.

Summer is a great time to develop or adjust your financial plan with an eye toward profitability. If you invest the time and energy in setting up a solid financial foundation for the year ahead, there’s no reason to believe 2024 won’t be your most successful year.

Jacquelyn Fernandes is a territory manager with Nutrien Financial. She provides financing expertise to growers throughout the western U.S. to increase their buying power and maximize every opportunity for success. Learn more at

Comments about this article? We want to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

June / July 2024 25
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Choose DPG Potassium Plus™ for your crops. It's not just a fertilizer; it's a comprehensive solution for better yield, better soil health, and a better future. For more information on how DPG Potassium Plus™ can transform your agricultural practices, visit our website or contact a Deerpoint Group representative today.

June / July 2024 27
Learn More by Visiting our website 559-224-4000


One takeaway from the Sustainability Summit was the use of vermiculture in vineyards to improve soil health. Here, KG Vineyards Co-Owner and Sustainability Director Madelyn Kolber’s son, Judah, holds worms from their soils (photo by P. Strayer.)

Several hundred wine producers came together April 30 and May 1, 2024 for a broad-ranging, two-day conference in Lodi for the third Sustainability Summit sponsored by Wine Institute’s California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). Day 1 was devoted to field trips showcasing on-farm practices at two California Green Medal-winning sites, who are part of Lodi Rules (a stricter set of practices than CSWA), while Day 2 presented a series of speakers and panels from major wine-growing regions, including New York, Washington, Oregon and California.

Experts shared their recommendations on how to cultivate resilience with consumers, government and nature.

1. Boost Wine Industry’s Appeal with Sustainable Practices

As wine sales decline and consumers drink less alcohol overall (across beer and spirits as well as wine), Robert P. Koch, Wine Institute’s president and CEO, told the audience wine is going on a new communications initiative to combat anti-alcohol trends and said showcasing the wine industry’s commitment to sustainability is a plus.

“It promotes positive public relations to help ensure a halo effect for wine,” he said. “By focusing on sustainable winegrowing and working together, we can build resiliency while adding to a compelling story to share with the world.”

28 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
“By focusing on


winegrowing and working together, we can build resiliency while adding to a compelling story to share with the world.”
-Robert P. Koch, Wine Institute

2. Tell Consumers Specifics About Your Wine and Sustainability Practices

Along the same lines, Liz Thach, MW, President, Wine Market Council, and former Sonoma State University professor of wine business, told wineries to let consumers know more about specific sustainability actions and recommended seven action items for wineries to take.

Steps include calling out farming practices on your labeling and packaging, creating a special tab on your website to showcase sustainability and providing specific statistics on your progress toward sustainability (i.e., "70% of energy is powered by wind.")

As the U.S. consumer demographic becomes more multicultural, she recommended hiring a more diverse workforce to reflect that increasing

June / July 2024 29
Contact us for more information at (208) 678-2610 @redoxgrows LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST Scan the QR code to listen to our Podcast Rd Root Development Ne Nutrient E ciency AsD Abiotic Stress Defense diKaP™ increases plant respiration by providing efficient potassium and phosphorus nutrition. Mainstay™ Si fortifies cell wall strength with efficient calcium and silicon nutrition. diKaP™ and Mainstay™ Si each improve your crops ability to withstand abiotic stresses, giving it a fighting chance to add solids, boost color, and increase brix. Scan to learn more IMPROVE MARKETABILITY BOOST BRIX & COLOR
KG Vineyards also uses sheep to fertilize and mow its vineyards (photo by P. Strayer.)

diversity. Proactively communicating high-level nutritional information ("no added sugar, 120 calories per serving") helps, too, she said, as well as making at least one wine under 12% alcohol.

A final tip: Offer sustainability tours at your winery.

3. Encourage Biodiversity

LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards in Acampo, Calif. farms more than 7,000 acres of vines. Aaron Lange, head of vineyard operations, brought visitors to see the company’s biodiversity initiative, which includes restoring a four-acre area near their tasting room into a habitat of pollinators in a partnership with pollinator experts Xerces Society.

The winery has also installed two miles of hedgerows of native species (coyote bush, quail brush sage, milkweed, toyon, redbud and salvia) around vineyard perimeters to increase biodiversity.

They are also trying out the use of vermiculture to enhance soil health on a pilot project.

4. Put Worms to Work to Improve Soil Health

KG Vineyards Co-Owner and Sustainability Director Madelyn Kolber and her son Judah demonstrated the value they get from worms in their soil as Judah delivered a prepared talk and then showed wriggling worms to visitors. The worms improve soil health at low cost, they said.

The team also uses sheep to fertilize and mow its vineyards. They farm 2,000 acres.

At another station at KG’s The Camp, Charlie Hamilton, viticulture and operations manager, explained the various soil types visitors could see in a soil pit showing blue soils deep down below clay layers.

30 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
Steven Ostoja, Ph.D., director of USDA’s California Climate Hub, warned climate warming will accelerate from an average of three heat events to 16 by mid-century and more than 29 a year by the end of the century, changing the way vines behave (slide courtesy S. Ostoja.) Offering sustainability tours at wineries can speak volumes to consumers about a brand (photo by Matouš Forman.) Wine Market Council’s Liz Thach told wineries to let consumers know more about specific sustainability actions at this year’s Sustainability Summit hosted by Wine Institute’s California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

5. Get Ready for More Frequent Heat Events and Increased Pest Pressures

Steven Ostoja, Ph.D., director of USDA’s California Climate Hub, warned climate warming will accelerate from an average of three heat events to 16 by mid-century and more than 29 a year by the end of the century.

The increased heat is also expected to bring in new invasive species and increase insects’ reproduction rates.

Both of those factors will change the way plants behave, Ostoja said.

“This is the single most frightening dynamic to me... We lost 129 million trees in the 2012-16 drought to a bark beetle that was not even on the radar,” he said.

Even more worrying, Ostoja mentioned research by UC Merced’s Tapan Pathak, associate professor and a specialist in climate adaptation in agriculture, shows climate warming effects will turbocharge insect reproduction rates and invasions.

Ostoja suggested mitigating heat by planting trees in vineyards and irrigating in advance of heat events.

More research from Ostoja’s group is available on the USDA Climate hub website and in the USDA climate adaptation resources workbook on California specialty crops.

He also cited a new April 2024 paper, A variety-specific analysis of climate change effects on California winegrapes, authored by the USDA California Climate Hub and partners, with additional information and insights.


Climate change impacts and actionable strategies for mitigation (from Steven Ostoja, Ph.D.): https://drive.

USDA California Climate Hub: https://

USDA Climate Adaptation Resources Workbook: https://www.climatehubs.

Climate change effects by winegrape variety:

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June / July 2024 31
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NGRA Partners with USDA-ARS to Launch New Grape Research

Have you ever wondered how research gets started? Or how researchers know which issues to tackle that will make the biggest difference to industry? One way is through direct engagement with industry stakeholders.

One of the most effective ways the National Grape Research Alliance (NGRA) advances the research needs of the grape and wine industry is through our close working relationship with USDA-ARS. ARS is USDA’s in-house scientific agency. It employs about 2,000 scientists in research units across the nation. Of its $1.7 billion budget (FY23), ARS commits roughly $25 million to grape research, often with input from NGRA stakeholders.

NGRA is a nonprofit membership organization that seeks to catalyze research that benefits all sectors and regions of

the American grape and wine industry, spanning wine, table grapes, juice and raisins nationwide. We connect industry, academic scientists and state and federal research agencies (like ARS) to initiate novel research projects and programs to solve industry challenges. Since our founding in 2005, we’ve been instrumental in securing $65 million in funding for scientific solutions to grape and wine industry issues.

To ARS, NGRA serves as a unified industry voice to help guide the effective application of its scientific resources in support of grape research. Since 2005, NGRA and ARS have co-produced a Grape Industry Workshop every two to five years, in alignment with the five-year cycle for the agency’s research programs. And our last one, held last fall, was our most impactful yet. It went beyond the usual conference proceedings to actually launch new research.

On Nov. 7-8, 2023, at the USDA’s National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Md., 30 members of NGRA, representing all grape sectors and regions of the U.S., gathered

32 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
NGRA Research Chair and Gallo VP of Winemaking Research Nick Dokoozlian addresses attendees at the ARS Grape Industry Workshop (photo by Tim Rinehart.)

Research Alliance advances the research needs of the grape and wine industry is through its close working relationship with USDA-ARS (photo by Jessica Youngblood.)

with 50 ARS scientists (many among ARS’ most decorated) and senior leaders, including Administrator Simon Liu and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Chavonda Jacobs-Young, who is also USDA’s chief scientist. Representatives from other federal research funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation and Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, attended, too.

On the first of a two-day agenda, NGRA Research Chair Nick Dokoozlian presented NGRA’s research themes and priorities, which were updated earlier in 2023. Then ARS scientists presented their research programs, arranged in sessions based on NGRA’s research theme areas: genetics and grapevine improvement, integrated production systems, natural resources and environment, plus several emerging industry hot topics like spotted lanternfly. While most of the talks centered on viticulture, some provided insights from other agricultural sciences, such as corn genetics, tomato breeding, climate and soil science, AI and pheromone-based detection methods for the commercial table egg industry, that could hold some relevance to grape-related issues.

A brainstorming exercise on Day Two broke attendees into breakout groups to identify, based on the Day One download, priority research that ARS could lead or support. By day’s end, the three most compelling project concepts were selected to receive NGRA Research Fund planning grants. These funds will enable project participants, including scientific collaborators and industry advisors, to hold an in-person planning meeting to hone concepts into highly relevant, outcomes-focused research project proposals. The winning project concepts and their related NGRA research theme areas were:

• Natural Resources and Environment Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation: A Predictive Analysis for the Grape and Wine Industry

• Integrated Production Systems Mealybug Detection and Mating Disruption 2.0

• Genetics and Grapevine Improvement The Genetics of Production Efficiency

In the months since the ARS Workshop, all three project teams have met continuously to refine the research. In addition to helping to target the projects to relevant grant programs for funding, we’ve been working to develop laser-focused objectives and deliverables, identify and invite scientific collaborators including from other land-grant universities and other research institutions across the country, and build in robust extension activities to ensure the results reach industry stakeholders. Our goal is to have each project polished to grant-application perfection by the end of 2024 (assuming the right funding opportunities fit that timeline).

We’re proud of our close association with USDA-ARS and thankful for their continued engagement in our joint Grape Industry Workshop. The relationship-building and research exchange achieved there are always invaluable. But this year, with the launch of new, needed research coming as a tangible result, it was a workshop to remember. It was an exciting two days, and we (and grape and wine industry at large) will be reaping the rewards for years to come.

Donnell Brown has served as President of the National Grape Research Alliance since 2017. Learn more about NGRA at

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June / July 2024 33
ARS National Program Leader for Specialty Crops Tim Rinehart and National Grape Research Alliance President Donnell Brown. One of the most effective ways the National Grape


Labor-intensive hand harvest and pruning


California’s raisin grape industry has for many years depended on the versatile Thompson Seedless variety for most of their production. Experiencing a tough marketplace 22 years ago, raisin grape growers began to look at ways to pare down production costs, acknowledging labor-intensive hand harvest and pruning accounted for most of the cost of growing raisin grapes.

The raisin industry was built around Thompson Seedless grapes, which delivered the flavor, color and texture desired by processors. However, labor costs involved in cutting and placing the grapes on paper trays on the ground, rolling then and picking them up have only increased. Thompson vines also require hand pruning.

One of the solutions to cutting labor costs was a dried-on-vine (DOV) grape variety, a variety bred to reach a sugar level point, or brix, so it naturally dries on the vine. The first variety, Selma Pete, was introduced in 2002. This USDA-ARS variety was selected for its early maturity at 14 to 21 days before Thompson Seedless. Selma Pete, a white, seedless variety, checked all the boxes for growers, but processors who built their business around color, flavor and texture of Thompson Seedless were not convinced it could replace Thompson Seedless qualities.

While Selma Pete was a promising DOV raisin grape variety at the time, Dustin Hooper, the commercial manager for raisins at International Fruit Genetics (IFG) which was purchased last year by Bloom Fresh Global, said the raisin industry still needed more DOV options for growers. By planting a DOV raisin grape, he said, growers can potentially cut down on labor-intensive cane cutting and hand harvest.

This year will mark the first commercial harvest for Rais-one, IFG’s DOV raisin grape variety developed to meet the flavor profile sought by processors and give raisin growers more options for harvest. In the original breeding block for IFG Rais-one, canes have not needed cutting for the fruit to dry. The grapes can dry on the vine naturally, or the canes can be cut for an earlier harvest.

“It really depends on the grower and the growing season,” Hooper said of the decision to cut or not cut canes. “The goal is to not have to cut the canes, but it can be done earlier to get the fruit harvested.”

If the growing season has been cool, cutting the canes can help speed up harvest. Hooper said some growers may choose to cut canes on part of their acreage to spread out harvest.

Labor Saving for Growers

Three different California growers have planted 15 acres of the IFG Rais-one variety with the first of five acres of commercial fruit coming to market in 2024. All 15 acres will be in production for 2025.

Fowler-area raisin grape grower Steven Cardoza is enthusiastic about his IFG Rais-one vines and has about 10 acres being grown organically. Two small blocks have already produced raisin crops, but he is looking forward to this year’s production from vines that were planted in June 2022.

The choice to plant a DOV variety was easy, Cardoza said.

“The self-drying trait and earlier maturity are huge. These will fill an early harvest slot before we move into later-maturing varieties. Plus, there is less concern with rain.”

Watching the vines grow and comparing them with other raisin grape varieties, Cardoza said there are no significant differences in nutrition demands or water use. The canopies are not large on this variety, he said, but the vines are very fruitful.

Cardoza said his goal with DOV raisin grapes is to completely mechanize harvest and pruning to save on labor costs.

“No cutting canes with this variety is huge. We can just shake them into a bin, and they are marketed as ‘sun dried.’”

He explained because IFG Rais-one has a fruitful basal bud, mechanical pruning can be done. With spur pruning, no tying is needed, he added.

34 Grape & Wine Magazine June / July 2024
accounts most of the cost of growing raisin grapes. One of the solutions to cutting labor costs is a dried-on-vine (DOV) grape variety, a variety bred to reach a sugar level point, or brix, so it naturally dries on the vine (photo courtesy International Fruit Genetics.)

Cardoza said significantly reducing the need for hand labor in the vineyard is a huge cost save for raisin growers.

His IFG Rais-one vines were at 90% bloom on May 8, earlier than his other raisin grape varieties. This will allow him to get the raisins out of the vineyard earlier and move up the time schedule for other vineyard off-season work.

There are some challenges involved with developing new raisin grape varieties, Hooper said.

It is not easy to select genetic material, make decisions on crosses, then select the most promising crosses for trials. Trials show if the crosses will provide what growers and processors need for their customers. Hooper said this process can take five to seven years. Before trials can even take place, he added, potential growers must be convinced to plant and grow a new variety. Even if all goes right with growers over the time of the trial, Hooper said, processors can be critical of new varieties regarding flavor profile, look, texture and how the fruit keeps in storage over time.

Another DOV variety, Sunpreme, released just 10 years ago, was found to have a “muscat flavor” at maturity. On the harvest side, he said the bunches shattered easily, losing part of the harvest.

There are two other patented varieties in the Bloom Fresh Global program besides IFG Rais-one: Sheegene 27 and Sheegene 28. Another variety is in the patenting process.

He said IFG Rais-one harvests up to now are testing favorably with processors, and indications are that it has the taste and storage ability found in Thompson Seedless.

Hooper said grafting a new variety on existing rootstocks is not recommended. Most of the Thompson Seedless vineyards are older and won’t produce the quantity needed to be profitable if a new variety is grafted onto the rootstocks. There is also a major risk that old vines contain viruses which will have a negative impact on any variety grafted on it.

It’s best to rip out the old vines, rip the ground and fumigate before planting new varieties. Trellis changes will also be necessary to accommodate mechanization.

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