Sheldon Haynie
February 1, 2013 | Sheldon Haynie

Unified and Inspired

The Unified Wine and Grape Symposium is an annual conference, trade show and pub crawl in central Sacramento. As one can imagine the wine industry does know how to throw a party, with myriad semi private events up and down the 'Kay in Sacramento. Add in sponsored regional tastings, and you have an opportunity to sip a variety of pretty good wines at no cost. Or at least you don't have to pay for them in cash, just wear and tear.

While the partying is a great time to network, and get a sense of the industry there are technical sessions as well, the mornings are general interest and the afternoons breakout into tracks for viticulture, winemaking, marketing and business. As Jane and I were attending, we had to make some choices in the afternoons, and she covered winemaking, while I did the Viticulture and stepped into some of the marketing as well, just as we do at Lightheart. We eschewed the opportunity to learn about international sourcing of grapes as we just don't see that we will be buying from Chile anytime soon, even if the big guys are doing it to reduce their costs.

International even "global" trends of lower costs of shipping, increased demands and the recognition that the US is the largest wine consuming nation, and that California is the largest portion of that supply at 3.5 Million tons, is a bit hard to grasp, when your production is a rounding error on the slide, 5 digits down. Hey were were 0.001% of that !

Its a bit daunting to realize that the largest winery in our area J. Lohr at 1.5 Million Cases is only 1/40 the size of Gallo. You look at our production plans and we are in a whole different business. Just as we like it. While we are not concerned about Foreigh Exchange rates and duty draw backs, we are concerned about making the best wines we can, supplying them to our customers in the Bay Area and eventually extending that as it makes sense.

We have the same farming and winemaking issues, getting good soil, vines and water, and keeping them pest free and productive. Just not likely to be mechanizing the vineyards anytime soon, as the threshold is about 300 contiguous acres and two $500k multi-tools per region. We will continue to be in a labor crunch, and try to strategically reduce our costs, by pre-pruning, or using low maintenance trellising. Our yields are increasing with our cultivation practices, from sub 1 ton towads 2-3/acre  in the past year. We can see that with additional health from continued pruning, and cover crop incorporation, they will reach the 4-6 ton range which they are entitled to in our climate. 

Our Winemaking scale is also vastly different, from wineries who have tanks the size of our swimming pool, to our modest 60 barrels, up from the 1 we started with in 2009. We are using better science, more attention to santitation and sensory evaluation, and our product is getting consistently better as we learn and apply the knowledge we gain.

While there are clear differences of scale, there's no difference of detail. We both serve a market that is increasingly sophisticated, less brand loyal and have many more choices. As one panelist in the consumer trends session remarked, "When you see insects coming onto the menu, you are out of recession and into recovery. What wine are you going to pair?"



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