Summary of the Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division Direct-to Consumer Wine Sales videocast, Part 1

By Dr. Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management

Each year, The Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division releases a State of the Wine Industry Report. This is followed by a videocast overview in January, and then a videocast focusing on Direct-to-Consumer Wine Sales in May.  For more information about these products and events click on this link: www.svb.com/premium-wine-banking.  On Wednesday, I watched Part 1 of the Silicon Valley Bank “Insights for Successful Consumer Wine Sales” videocast.  If you missed the live videocast, you can watch the recording and/or sign up for Part 2, which will air on May 29, 2019, via this link: http://bit.ly/2EvkV9g.  Both videocasts will be the subject of Cryril Penn’s July 1 Wine Business Monthly article. Until then, I decided to write a blog post to give you an idea of some of the main themes discussed during videocast, as well as examples of how you can utilize the information at your own winery and tasting rooms.  

In-home Experiences/Tasting Opportunities: Personalization and Convenience 

The panel discussed the fact that subscription boxes are popular – in fact, the industry was estimated to be worth at least $10 billion in 2018 (http://bit.ly/30C1WmK). Subscription boxes are offered based on “who” the box is for (e.g., age range, gender, pet owner), interests (e.g., food, wine, fitness, environmentally friendly products), usage (e.g., beauty and clothing, education, cleaning), and are often “mass customized.”  As with one specific wine-based subscription box, new subscribers answer survey questions, after which each package is semi-personalized with products that are most likely to appeal.  

Perhaps you are wondering how you can take advantage of this trend.  Whether you have an existing club/loyalty program or if you have considered doing so, you can implement the “best practices” that make subscription clubs so popular.  A couple of these include:

1)    Incorporate user-generated content (UGC)

UGCs are customer reviews that include photos and/or video, in addition to text, that describes the user’s experience (think Amazon reviews), which companies then repost on their own social media accounts.  

Why is this type of review valuable?  As reported by Michale Ugino, co-founder & CMO of Sellbrite, the following are reasons why you should repost UGC on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. (http://bit.ly/2YN7YiR):

  • a majority of adults in the U.S. use social media,
  • customers trust what other viewers say about the product – even if they are strangers – more than they trust “brand-created content,”
  • video and photos are more engaging compared to text-only posts,
  • with the need for brands to post frequently to remain relevant on social media – such content can help keep your tasting room front and center on followers’ feeds, and
  • aside from the time needed to locate and repost the content – it is free. 

This makes sense – if your customers are “on” Instagram, for example, why not use this outlet to showcase “real people” as they talk about how much they enjoy your wine or the great time they had in your tasting room (http://bit.ly/2YN7YiR).  

While you can use a tool like Google Alerts to receive email notifications when something is posted about your brand online, you will need to develop a hashtag, use it consistently in your posts, encourage others to use the hashtag in what they post, and monitor its use.  You can read about how several bands have used UGC successfully by accessing Ugino’s article: http://bit.ly/2YN7YiR.  

2)    Elements of surprise  

If your current club allows members to select the exact number bottles and varietals of wine they receive in a shipment, you might find that other customers look forward to “surprise” packages that they receive, and that part of the excitement is in the “reveal.” Excitement builds throughout the process – starting from the date when the customer expects the box to arrive, to when the box is delivered to the mailbox/doorstep, and peaks when the customer beaks open the package and inspects each item.  

Even if a particular item does not exactly appeal – most likely the recipient will give it a try and/or pass it on to a friend/family member, which further extends the brand’s reach and potential clientele base.   Perhaps you have seen the commercials for certain subscription boxes that air before the shipment – giving a “sneak peek” as to what the subscriber will receive – and then after all boxes have been shipped – when additional videos provide subscribers with information on how to use the product (even if a detailed card or booklet is included in the box with photos and usage instructions).  

Think about the impact you could have with creating short videos and posting them on social media sites that 1) provide a sneak peek as to what is in the subscription box and 2) a longer video (or series of videos) that provide descriptions of the wine, what to pair them with, how long they can be stored, how to store them, etc. 

While you may feel more comfortable recording and editing a video before it is posted – having a live event will give you the opportunity to ask and answer viewer question.  You may have already produced videos that describe these elements for some of your wines, but if the videos are released in tandem with the delivery – there might be a stronger connection, interest in the content, and viewership.   Just another strategy for developing content to stay relevant and on your followers’ screens.  

What are other ways that you can provide a level of convenience and personalization?  Think about how you can enhance the online shopping experience with delivery and in-store pickup.  Do you and your tasting room staff suggest tie-in products that complete the main purchase, or recommending purchase based on past behaviors?  There is at least one way that winery tasting rooms can offer convenience and potentially increase transaction size. 

Lingering 

The panelists not only had experience in the wine industry but in other “traditional” industries that are also seeing a maturing customer base and searching for ways to appeal to Gen Y (born between 1977 and 1994; http://bit.ly/2W1xWSB) and Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012) consumers.  

One of the issues that arose during the discussion was how these generations behave differently from more mature consumers in tasting rooms, restaurants, and similar.  Past blog posts have described how important experiences are to these young consumers and that the value received needs to be justified by the price paid.   Price is certainly a consideration for these young consumers who likely have less discretionary income than older generations, and these young wine drinkers may be choosing tasting rooms based on the fee they will pay, but they are also selecting them based on the value of the overall experience.  

Videocast host Rob McMillan, EVP and Founder, Premium Wine Division, Silicon Valley Bank, provided an example as to how his step-daughter selected a tasting room based on the tasting room fee, outdoor lounging area, and activities offered (cornhole game area). This particular group was looking for a tasting experience during which they did not feel rushed and where they could “linger” or hang out and have a good time.  

I have shared the image below of a winery tasting room in Australia that had a driving range guests could use to practice their golf swing while consuming wine, beer, and cider. As I observed the group using the driving range (which was available for a fee), they were relaxed, socialized, and spent more on food and beverages than visitors who were participating in an informal tasting – and the demand on the staffs’ time was very minimal.  

Driving range at Sidewood Estate, South Australia

Lisa H. Kislak, Chief Markering Officer, Crimson Wine Group, discussed the value of “soft seating” and that it is a concept recognized in the restaurant industry – flexibility in space (like many modern hotel lobbies).  Such spaces will allow for lingering and create an atmosphere that encourages this type of behavior.  

The inclination may be to create a large space for visitors to chillax; however, first create a small area and evaluate the response (as with any changes that you make to your wine, selection, etc.) to determine if response is positive, how positive the response was, and then make the decision to increase the offering based on these data. The area you create could be as simple as a few picnic benches and tables or a bit more stylish like the example below.  

Outdoor recreation and seating area at Jacob’s Creek Winery, South Australia

Tastings by Reservation

While many of your tasting room visitors enjoy the freedom to walk in without having to plan too much in advance, others may enjoy the ability to make reservations for a more involved tasting – which may include a number of benefits: 1) time-stressed individuals know they will not have to wait long for staff to pour samples, 2) assurance that staff will be available and able to answer questions, and 3) access to reserved wines.  

I witnessed this several times at several Australian wineries where a dedicated tasting bar area was set aside for this purpose.  A “premium” fee was charged for the tasting and the staff member who oversaw the tasting was one of their seasoned employees who could answer any questions guests asked.  These factors elevated the tasting room experience and even though visitors paid more for a tasting – the value they received was well worth it.  Perhaps, as a result of the heightened level of satisfaction during their experience, they had an increased interest in the wines, willingness to follow the tasting room on social media, and likelihood of writing a positive online review.  

Collect Data from all Customers

I often write about data collection and analysis in my blog posts, as there is great power in knowing what appeals to tasting room visitors.  Though it is fairly easy to collect data, track purchases, and communicate with club/loyalty program members, if you are not learning about who is visiting your trashing room/purchasing online and who are not members of your club – you are missing out.  

So, how might you collect data from visitors who (for one reason or another) have not/chose not to join the loyalty program?  If you offer a tasting that requires a reservation, customers should provide the minimum: name, city/state (to learn from how far visitors travel, if there are “pockets” of households where visitors live and that could be the basis for targeting), email (to send a confirmation email and make it easier for the recipient to signup for an email newsletter), cell phone number (additional way to send the confirmation for the tasting and for him/her to signup to receive texts about upcoming events).  

However, there is also the opportunity to ask about preferences (to tailor the tasting to their interests, select the appropriate person to oversee the tasting, etc.), consumption frequency (to suggest club membership type/level that might fit their needs), how they learned about the tasting room (for future promotional efforts), etc.  The reservation form/system should also provide links to Facebook, Instagram, etc. and encourage recipients to follow the tasting room and key staff.  

Tammy Boatright, President of VingDirect, encouraged viewers to evaluate customers based on how frequently they purchase, when the most recent purchase was made, and how much consumers spend on each occasion and annually.  This will allow you to segment customers and identify who purchases your wines online vs in the tasting room, who purchases more frequently, and/or spends more per transaction.  From there you can develop promotions or events that would appeal to groups that exhibit similar interests.  Perhaps, if you find that a certain group of visitors only visit your tasting room or make an online purchase around the holidays, you could develop a targeted promotion to entice them to visit during periods in between.  

Early Season Update

Dr. Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture, Department of Plant Science

Another growing season has started for many Pennsylvania grape growers. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, we are seeing and hearing of situations of vine winter injury across the State. This past winter, the lowest temperatures occurred at the end of January and during the first two days in February, with values around -5 °F (-20.6 °C) here in State College (central PA) and even lower temperatures were recorded at other locations.The injury seemed to have mainly affected Vitisviniferavarieties with reports of bud kill up to almost 100% for the most cold-sensitive varieties and, in some cases, trunk splitting.Growers also noticed uneven /nonuniform budburst which is typical of winter-injured vines.  We ask that more growers share their experiences with us; in particular, we would like to know if growers made any pruning adjustments and what the results are/have been. 

Since winter injury is a reoccurring issue for the eastern US, during certain years, we have covered topics related to vine cold hardiness, injury assessment, and pruning techniques for winter-injured vines at Extension meetings. Also, we have posted an announcement that focused on Pruning strategies for cold climate viticultureon the Penn State Viticulture and Enology Facebook page in January 2019, just before the “Arctic Vortex” event hit our region. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions on how to manage cold-injured vines.

We heard from several PA growers in southern and central PA that budburst occurred earlier this year, a week to 10 days is what has been typically reported, than in 2018. This was also true for the hybrid varieties grown at the Penn State research farm at Rock Springs (central PA). I checked the growing degree days (GDD), a widely used index of heat accumulation, data calculated by the Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA Cornell) for weather stations located in North East, Erie (northwestern PA), Biglerville (south-central PA), and Reading (southeast PA). Although historic data are not available, I compared the average GDD accumulated from January 1 to May 15 for 2013-2017 to those accumulated for the same period in 2018 and 2019 (Figures 1, 2 and 3).

Figure1. Cumulative growing degree days (GDD) at North East, Erie (northwestern PA)

Trends across locations/regions 

Not surprisingly, it was cooler in Erie compared to south-central and southeastern PA between January to Mid-May, not just in 2019 but for each year analyzed. In 2019, approximately 158 GDD accumulated between January 1 to May 15 in Erie, while GDD were at least double in south-central and southeast PA. Differences in temperatures across regions and locations explain why budburst typically occurs much earlier in southeast PA compared to the northwestern part of the state.

Difference between years 

In Erie, the GDD accumulated between January to mid-May 2019 (red line) were slightly lower than those for the same period in 2018 (blue line) and for the 2013-2017 average (black line). Also, note that there was no accumulation of GDD for a few days in May 2019 due to cool temperatures (Figure 1). The trend, however, was opposite in south-central and southeast PA, at least at the locations reported in this post. April was warmer (higher GDD) in 2019 compared to 2018 and the 2013-2017 average. While warmer spring temperatures favor earlier budburst they also increase the chance of freeze injury to green, tender plant tissues (Figure 4). 

Figure 4.Spring freeze (frost) injury on Concord, Rock Springs (PA)

At several locations across PA, temperatures were below freezing in the early morning of April 29 and some varieties were close to or already passed budburst. Below freezing temperature does not necessarily mean freeze injury as many factors affect the temperature at which the plant tissue is damaged or killed.  However, the freeze event on April 29 did cause freeze damage to vines at several locations, while others avoided the damage by using frost protection methods, such as frost dragons.  Some of the varieties grown at the Penn State research vineyard at Rock Springs, chiefly Marquette and young LaCrescent vines, sustained freeze injury. It is too early to estimate crop losses, but at least we are seeing some secondary shoot development (Figure 5).

How to recognize a secondary from a primary shoot

A relatively easy way, especially for caned pruned vines, is to check the angle of projection from the cane. Primary shoots typically grow with an angle of 45°, while secondary grow at an angle of 90° (figure 5).

Figure 5. Primary shoot damage after spring freeze event on April 29. Note a secondary shoot developing at 90° from the cane.

You can learn more about the basics of spring freeze injury and methods of protection at https://extension.psu.edu/understanding-and-preventing-spring-frost-and-freeze-damage

Looking ahead

It is almost time for some early season canopy management practice. Please check the following articles if you need information on shoot thinning or early leaf removal: 

Early season grapevine canopy management, Part I: Shoot thinning

Early season grapevine canopy management, Part II: Early leaf removal 

2019 PA Wine Marketing & Research Board Symposium: Presentation Summaries

On March 5, 2019, Penn State researchers and Extension personnel presented research findings and provided five-minute overviews of upcoming studies at the 2019 Wine Marketing & Research Board Symposium, held in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Winery Association Annual Conference.

In this post, we have included short summaries of what each presenter discussed during their session along with a PDF/access to their presentation.

Research presentations

Under-vine cover crops: Can they mitigate vine vigor and control weeds while maintaining vine productivity?

Presented by Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture, Suzanne Fleishman, Ph.D. Candidate, and Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management 

Michela, Suzanne, and Kathy discussed research conducted at Penn State related to the use of under-vine cover crops as a management practice alternative to herbicide or soil cultivation. Michela reviewed potential benefits of under-vine cover crops, such as reduction of excessive vegetative growth, weed suppression, and reduced soil erosion. She showed how the selection of cover crop species depends on the production goals of a vineyard, climate, vine age, and rootstock. Suzanne presented results from her research project. She is investigating above- and belowground effects of competition between a red fescue cover crop and Noiret grapevines, comparing responses between vines grafted to 101-14 Mgt vs Riparia rootstocks. Surveys will be administered to Pennsylvania grape growers and wine consumers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Growers will be asked to respond to questions about interest in using cover crops and benefits that could encourage their use. The consumer survey will focus on learning whether cover crops use would impact their purchasing decision and if they would be willing to pay a price premium for a bottle of wine to offset additional production costs.

Presentation PDF file

Impact of two frost avoidance strategies that delay budburst on grape productivity, chemical and sensory wine quality.

Presented by Michela Centinari, Assistant professor of Viticulture 

Crop losses and delays in fruit ripening caused by spring freeze damage represent an enormous challenge for wine grape producers around the world. This multi-year study aims to compare the effectiveness of two frost avoidance strategy (application of a food grade vegetable oil-based adjuvant and delayed winter pruning) on delaying the onset of budburst, thus reducing the risk of spring freeze damage. Our objectives are to: i) evaluate if the delay in budburst impacts grape production and fruit maturity at harvest, as well as chemical and sensory wine properties; ii) elucidate the mechanism of action of the vegetable oil-based adjuvant through an examination of bud respiration and potential phytotoxic effects; and iii) assess the impact of the two frost avoidance strategies on carbohydrate reserve storage and bud freeze tolerance during the dormant season. 

Presentation PDF file

Toward the development of a varietal plan for Pennsylvania wine grape growers

Presented by Claudia Schmidt, Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics, and Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture

Claudia Schmidt is a new Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics with an extension appointment at Penn State. Claudia used the opportunity of the symposium to introduce herself to the industry. In her presentation, she first gave an overview on what and where Pennsylvanians buy their wines and spirits. She then talked about the research needed to develop a varietal plan for the Pennsylvania grape and wine industry to match existing and future grape production and variety suitability with anticipated consumer demand. The immediate next steps on her research agenda are to develop a  baseline survey of grape production in Pennsylvania and, in collaboration with Michela Centinari, region specific cost of production of grapes.

Presentation PDF file

Survey for grapevine leafroll viruses in Pennsylvania: How common is it, and how is it effecting production and quality?

Presented by Bryan Hed, Research Technologist

This is a continuing project funded by the PA Wine Marketing and Research Board, that has focused on the determination of the incidence of grapevine leafroll associated virus 1 and 3 (the two most economically important and widely distributed of the leafroll viruses) in commercial vineyard blocks of Cabernet franc, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Chambourcin, across the Commonwealth. Over two years, the survey has shown that grapevine leafroll associated viruses 1 and/or 3, were present in about a third of the vineyard blocks examined. Infection of grapevines by grapevine leafroll-associated viruses can have serious consequences on yield, vigor, cold hardiness, and most notably fruit/wine quality. Bryan also discussed a second phase of the project, anticipated to continue for at least another two years within 6 vineyard blocks of Cabernet franc, identified in the survey. In these vineyards, we plan to plot the spread of these viruses, examine and report their effects on grapevine vegetative growth, yield, and fruit chemistry, and characterize the influence of inter- and intra-seasonal weather conditions on virus-infected grapevine performance.

Presentation PDF file

Integrating the new pest, spotted lanternfly, to your grape pest management program.

Presented by Heather Leach, Extension Associate

Spotted lanternfly (SLF) is a new invasive planthopper in the Northeast U.S. that threatens grape production. Heather covered the basic biology, identification, and current distribution of SLF. She also presented on the economic impact of SLF in the grape industry and ways to manage SLF in your vineyard. SLF can feed heavily on vines causing sap depletion in the fall which has resulted in death of vines, or failure of vines to set fruit in the following year. While biological controls such as pathogens and natural enemies along with trapping and behaviorally based methods are being researched, our current management strategy relies on using insecticides sprayed in the vineyard. Heather showed results from the 2018 insecticide trials conducted against SLF, with efficacy from several products including bifenthrin, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam, carbaryl, and zeta-cypermethrin. You can read more about the results from this trial here: https://extension.psu.edu/updated-insecticide-recommendations-for-spotted-lanternfly-on-grape

Presentation PDF file

Five-minute research project overviews

Impact of spotted lanternfly on Pennsylvania wine quality.

Presented by Molly Kelly, Extension Enologist 

The Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) presents a severe problem both due to direct damage to grapevines as well as their potential to impact wine quality. Insects are known to produce or sequester toxic alkaloid compounds. The objectives of this study include characterizing the chemical compounds in SLF and production of  wines with varying degrees of SLF infestation. We can then provide winegrowers with recommendations for production of wine from infested fruit. Toxicity studies will be conducted to determine the levels of toxic compounds in finished wine, if any, using a mouse bioassay.

Presentation PDF file

Exploring the microbial populations and wild yeast diversity in a Chambourcin wine model system

Presented by Chun Tang Feng, M.S. Candidate, and Josephine Wee, Assistant Professor of Food Science  

In Dr. Josephine Wee’s lab, we are interested in the microbial population and diversity associated with winemaking. When it comes to wine fermentation, not only are commercial yeasts involved in this process, but also many indigenous yeasts. Our research goal is to isolate the wild yeasts and assess their feasibility of wine fermentation. We are expecting to explore the unique yeast strains from local PA which are able to make a positive impact on wine flavor. 

Prezi Presentation 

Rotundone as a potential impact compound for Pennsylvania wines

Presented by Jessica Gaby, Post-Doctoral Scholar and John Hayes, Associate Professor of Food Science  

This study will examine Pennsylvania consumers’ perceptions of rotundone with the goal of determining whether a rotundone-heavy wine would do well on the local market.  This will be examined from several different perspectives, including sensory testing of rotundone olfactory thresholds, liking and rejection thresholds for rotundone in red wine, and PA consumer focus groups.  The ultimate aim of the study is to determine the ideal concentration of rotundone in a locally-produced wine that would appeal to PA consumers.

Presentation PDF file

Defining regional typicity of Grüner Veltliner wines

Presented by Stephanie Keller, M.S. Candidate, Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture, and Kathy Kelley,  

Grüner Veltliner(GV) is a relatively new grape variety to Pennsylvania, and while climatic conditions are favorable to its growth, the Pennsylvania wine industry is still becoming familiar with the varietal characteristics of GV grown and produced throughout the state.  This study focuses on defining typicity of Pennsylvania-grown GV wines.  Typicity is described as the perceived representativeness of a wine produced from a designated area, and defining typicity can improve wine marketing strategies.  This study uses multiple experimental sites across the state to create wines from a standardized vinification method.  The wines will be analyzed using both instrumental and human sensory methods.Surveys will be administered to Pennsylvania grape growers and white wine consumers in the Mid-Atlantic region.  Growers will be asked their interest in growing GV and what perceived and real barriers may impact their decision to grow the variety.  The consumer survey will focus on understating how to introduce them to a wine varietal they may be less aware of and what promotional methods may encourage them to purchase the wine. 

Presentation PDF file

Boosting polyfunctional thiols and other aroma compounds in white hybrid wines through foliar nitrogen and sulfur application?

Presented by Ryan Elias, Associate Professor of Food Science, Helene Hopfer, Assistant Professor of Food Science, Molly Kelly, Extension Enologist, and Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture

The quality of aromatic white wines is heavily influenced by the presence of low molecular weight, volatile compounds that often have exceedingly low aroma threshold values. Polyfunctional varietal thiols are an important category of these compounds. This project aims to provide research-based viticultural practices that could lead to increases in beneficial varietal thiols in white hybrid grapes. The expected increase in overall wine quality will be validated both by measuring the concentrations of these desirable compounds (i.e., thiols) in finished wines using instrumental analysis and by human sensory evaluation, thus providing a link between the viticultural practice of foliar spraying and the improvement of overall wine quality.  

Presentation PDF file

A fond farewell to Jody Timer

By Bryan Hed, Andy Muza, and Michela Centinari

For this week we would like to devote our blog to Jody Timer, our grape insect pest specialist at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center in North East, PA, who retired at the end of February.

Andy Muza, Bryan Hed, Denise Gardner, Jody Timer, and Michela Centinari

Jody came to work at the Penn State research center in August of 2004, filling a position long since vacated by her predecessor, Sudha Nagarkatti. With an M.S. degree in Biology and many years of experience monitoring water quality and chemistry for a company in the North East area, Jody was hired to work at the North East lab as a skilled technician for Dr. Michael Saunders of the Entomology Department at the University Park campus. From day one, Jody was a passionate researcher for grape growers in the Lake Erie Region and eventually the whole state for almost 15 years (how the time flies!). Her main research has always focused on control methods for the grape berry moth and how this knowledge can be applied to management programs. In that regard she and her technician, Mike Schultz, have spent countless hours each season monitoring berry moth populations on several local commercial farms in the Lake Erie region, and working closely with Andy Muza, Erie County extension, to provide real-time updates on pest pressure for local juice grape growers.

Bryan Hed and Jody Timer

She has also played key roles in the study of a number of invasive pests like Japanese beetle, Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, Brown Marmorated Stinkbug, Spotted Wing Drosophila, and most recently, Spotted Lanternfly. One of my most memorable moments in working with Jody was my involvement in one of her experiments to taste test stink bug tainted Concord grape juice; one of the reasons I shudder at the mere mention of ‘cilantro’.

Jody’s position was mostly devoted to conducting research but she often played the part of teacher through extension presentations of science-based recommendations for grape growers at regional meetings like the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey, PA; statewide meetings like the spring grape disease and insect pest workshop; and local extension meetings such as coffee pot meetings and the mid-summer chicken BBQ in the Lake Erie region. Jody is also a world traveler and, having been to many exotic places across the world, she has a unique and heightened perspective that most people only experience through TV and books. I’m sure that she is looking forward to seeing many more places with her husband, Rich, after her retirement. For those of us who worked closely with Jody over the years, she will also be remembered for her hard work ethic, devotion to her family, and her great sense of humor. Jody’s retirement will leave a large hole in our grape team and our efforts to serve the grape growers of Pennsylvania. We wish her well in her retirement.

An overview of recent wine products

By Dr. Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management 

With the number of websites, trade publications (e.g., Chilled, Spirited, The Tasting Panel), data from sources like Nielsen, and related, it can be daunting trying to keep up with new wine-product launches, evolving categories, and what might be on the horizon.  Some of the more prevent wine products discussed recently have been: spiked sparkling beverages, rosé and Sauvignon Blanc wines, sangria, and sparkling wines. In this blog post, I have provided a bit of the consumer and market research that I gleaned from the many publications and newsletters that I regularly read.  

Spiked sparkling beverages 

In 2012, the first hard seltzer (e.g., alcoholic seltzer water), SpikedSeltzer, was introduced based on Nick Shields’ observation of women at a bar who were ordering several vodka sodas (Schultz, 2018).   Other motivations for developing spiked sparkling water, according to Casey O’Neill, Boston Beer Company, was that they “were looking for a light, refreshing drink to reward ourselves with that wasn’t heavy on the alcohol” (O’Brien Coffey, 2017).  

These products also meet the needs of consumers who seek products low in calories and carbs and are gluten-free with (as you might expect) likely buyers more likely to be younger female drinkers (Wine Business Monthly, 2019a). 

Now, the category, “which didn’t exist two years ago” (Wine Business Monthly, 2019a) experienced sales of nearly $487.8 million, while volumes increased 181% for the 52-week period ending December 28, 2018 (Kendal, 2019), and accounted for about 10% of all flavored malt beverage sales in 2018 (Nielsen, 2018). 

Several wine-based, alternative beverage alcohol products with 5—6% ABV, have been introduced (Barth, 2018) have been spiked with rosé wine:

  • Truly Spiked & Sparkling’s Truly Rosé, with a 5% ABV, 1 g sugar, and 100 calories per serving, 
  • Nauti Seltzer’s Nauti Rosé 
  • Smirnoff raspberry rosé flavored spiked sparkling water beverage (90 calories and 1 carb)

Even SodaStream International Ltd has explored the trend.  In November 2017, a limited-edition Sparkling Gold “fine alcoholic concentrate,” was launched for the holidays.  The concentrate is not used with the SodaStream machine, but rather added to a glass along with chilled sparkling water (https://www.foodandwine.com/news/sodastream-sparkling-gold-riesling).  While only available for purchase through the manufacturer’s German website, the product provided users with a 10% ABV beverage “resembling the taste of fruity Riesling wine.”  

A product that is available in the US is Drinkmate which is produced by iDrink Products.  Using either a Drinkmate Machine or portable Drinkmate Spritzer, which use “Fizz Infuser technology,” consumers can carbonate any beverage.  

iDrink Product’s Drinkmate Spritzer
Permission to use the image granted by iDrink Products.  
Image source:
https://idrinkproducts.com/collections/on-the-go/products/drinkmate-spritzer-special-bundle

The Drinkmate sparkling wine spritzer can be crafted in just a few steps: “Add super-chilled white wine to halfway mark of Drinkmate bottle. Carbonate and add [a] slice of lime to rim glass.” https://idrinkproducts.com/blogs/drinkmate-recipes/drinkmate-sparkling-wine-spritzer

A recipe for a mimosa using white wine and a Drinkmate Machine
Permission to use the image granted by iDrink Products.  
Image source: https://idrinkproducts.com/blogs/drinkmate-recipes  

Empty CO2 cylinders can be returned to the company for credits that will be applied to future purchases.  

Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc

For the four-week period ending December 1, 2018, according to Nielsen-tracked data, off-premise wine sales increased 3.5% (Wine Business Monthly, 2019b).  While Chardonnay remains the most popular white wine varietal (based on off-premise value and volume), rosé table wine and Sauvignon Blanc experienced the greatest percentages of growth.  Off-premise sales of rosé grew 43.4% in dollar value and 43.8% in volume, and Sauvignon Blanc experienced an 8.4% increase in value and a 6.3% increase in volume (Wine Business Monthly, 2019b).

AdWeek recently published an article that described JNSQ, a new wine brand developed by The Wonderful Company (brands include POM Wonderful, Teleflora, Wonderful Pistachios https://www.wonderful.com). JNSQ is an abbreviation for the French phrase “je ne sais quoi” which is “used to describe someone so unique and exceptional that no words exist to sufficiently capture [the] essence” (http://www.wonderful.com/brands/jnsq.html)

JNSQ’s promotional message that describe the brand’s essence
Permission to use the image granted by JNSQ  
Image source: https://www.jnsq.com/pages/about-us

For now, a “Grenache-forward” Rosé Cru (image below) and Sauvignon Blanc, both made with California grapes and packaged in a bottle “inspired by vintage luxury perfume bottles…[with a] resealable glass stopper,” retail for $29.00 on the JNSQ website.  A 10% discount is applied to orders if the purchaser subscribes to either a 30, 60, or 90-day replenishment.  

Permission to use the image granted by JNSQ  
Image source: https://www.jnsq.com/products/rose-cu

According to the article, roséand Sauvignon Blanc were selected as Millennial women’s wine preferences have shifted to these wines. Lynda Resnick, The Wonderful Company co-owner, was quoted as saying these females and “older Gen Z’ers are bringing back an appreciation for quality, craftsmanship and functional beauty.”  

To further demonstrate Sauvignon Blanc’s popularity, in 2018, the Sauvignon Blanc Experience (https://sauvignonblancexperience.com), held in May 2018 in Kelseyville, CA, exceeded its goals for attendance.  The event which coincided with International Sauvignon Blanc Day featured speakers from wine brands and wine-growing regions around the globe and tastings for consumers and the trade (Wine Industry Advisor, 2018).  If you offer this varietal and want to host your own event – the holiday is celebrated the first Friday in May, which will be May 3 in 2019. 

Sangria and Sparkling

Referring again to Nielsen data, as reported in Wine Business Monthly (2019b), sangria sales value and volume increased by 10.4 and 5.5%, respectively, for the four-week period ending December 1, 2018, while sparkling wine grew 7.9% in value and 4.4% in volume.

Last summer, Market Watch Magazine published an article about sangria, sales growth at that time, projected on-premise growth (the CEO of Beso Del Sol Sangria predicts that the “category will grow upwards of 50% over the next few years”), and related trends (Marketwatchmag.com 2018).  Interviews with retailers, restaurants, and other brands touted the drink’s versatility as a year-round beverage (based on the wine and flavors used in the recipe), the cultural importance to Latino and Portuguese customers, and three brands that experienced “double-digit gains” in 2017.  

Of the brands, Lolea (launched in 2014, with a 34.2% growth in 2017) focuses on:

  • providing customers with a “better quality product,” 
  • packaging (e.g., a red, white, pink, black, gold color scheme, resealable bottle) and
  • engaging presence (e.g., social media, allowing and encouraging others to download artwork and images and share them with others).  

With five different offerings, with flavors ranging from “cherry red tone,” to a sparkling white “enhance with elderberry flowers and wild apples” and both a standard-sized and a 187ml bottle (below), the brand also offers a gift bag set, complementary products (e.g., ice bucket), and a party kit that includes eight 187ml bottles of sangria (four red and four white), and coordinating cups, straws, and bottle opener (https://sangrialolea.com/content.php#producto).  

Single serving sized bottles of Lolea No 2 is “made with high quality Macabeo and Chardonnay white wine, fresh orange and lemon juice, and a touch of vanilla”
Image and description source:https://sangrialolea.com/lolea-n1.php

In addition to drinking the sangria “straight up,” a number of cocktail recipes are offered that use the products as ingredients.  Examples include adding a splash of Cointreau and pieces of oranges and lemons to a pitcher of their red sangria (https://sangrialolea.com/lolea-n1.php).   A great strategy to encourage increased purchasing frequency and volume.   

Another company that experienced double-digit growth, Beso Del Sol (launched in 2015, with 39.6% growth in 2017) offers a:

  • white (tasting notes: Airén grapes, lemon, peach, and mango), 
  • rosé (Tempranillo grapes, orange, lemon, peach, mango, and a touch of cinnamon), and
  • red sangria (Tempranillo, lemon, orange, and a touch of cinnamon) (https://www.besodelsolsangria.com/our-story/). 

Other potential products include sparkling sangrias and a “winter sangria infused with winter fruits and spices” (Marketwatchmag.com 2018).  According to their website, their sangrias are gluten-free and vegan certified (https://www.besodelsolsangria.com/our-story/). 

Based on the Wine Market Council’s data – Millennial consumers have been the emphasis behind the growth of sparkling wine as are more likely to consume the beverage “sometime during the year, compared with older age groups” (Daniel, 2018/2019).  Restaurants interview for the article have had success with sparkling wine cocktails (e.g., as an ingredient for “high-end” sangria, and also mixed with elderflower liqueur, gin, and basil).  Rosésparkling and single-serving sized packaging, as you might have guessed, are increasing in popularity.  

Several sources mention consumer interest in sparkling wine from New Wine World regions, including New Zealand, South Africa, the US, and Australia – which is known for its sparkling Shiraz.  While this sparkling is often a component of an Australian Christmas meal (Wine Companion, 2018), it also pairs well with breakfast items, rare beef, roasted duck, Asian flavors (barbecue pork, teriyaki salmon, and peaking duck pancakes), traditional roasted lamb, and “fruit forward deserts.”  

The beverage can be a base for sangria, made with “orange and lemon rinds, cinnamon, brandy, and a dash of soda,” a punch, “just add grapes, berries, mint, and soda…(an option) dash of lime juice for extra bit,” or a desert, “ drop a scoop of vanilla ice cream into a glass” of sparkling shiraz for an “elegant” milkshake-like concoction (Wine Companion, 2018).   

If you do not have sparkling shiraz on hand, you can still make a cocktail using prosécco.  A recipe published in a recent issue of The Tasting Panel (Jackson, 2018), called the Benvenuto Frizzante, is made with prosécco, amaretto-tasting liqueur, and a variety of other and ingredients.  

References

Barth, J. (2018, December 13). How we will drink wine in 2019: Trends according to winemakers and pros. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jillbarth/2018/12/13/how-we-will-drink-wine-in-2019-trends-according-to-winemakers-and-pros/#24b429123a9c

Daniel, L. (2018/209). Shining sparklers. Cheers 29(6):18-21.

Jackson, M. (2018). Eternally Stylish.  The Tasting Panel 76(9):4-6. 

Kendall, J. (2019, January 28). Nielsen: Off-premise beer sales flatten in 2018 as hard seltzer sales near $500 million. Retrieved from https://www.brewbound.com/news/nielsen-off-premise-beer-sales-flatten-in-2018-as-hard-seltzer-sales-near-500-million

Market Watch Magazine. (2018, July 30). Sangria time. Retrieved from http://marketwatchmag.com/sangria-time/

Nielsen. (2018, August 24). No signs of fizzing out: America’s love of sparkling water remains strong through August. Retrieved from https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2018/no-signs-of-fizzing-out-americas-love-of-sparkling-water-remains-strong.html

O’Brien Coffey, J. (2017, August 14). Five reasons to drink spiked sparkling water. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeanneobriencoffey/2017/08/14/five-reasons-to-drink-spiked-seltzer-now/#26799bbc415e

Roth, B. (2018, June 20). A sparkling success – Why hard seltzer is a $500 million category worth watching. Retrieved from  https://www.goodbeerhunting.com/sightlines/2018/6/18/a-sparkling-success-why-hard-seltzer-is-a-400-million-category-worth-watching),

Schultz, E.J. (2018, April 16). How the brand that started the spiked seltzer craze is trying to keep its edge.  Retrieved from https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/brand-started-spiked-seltzer-craze/313119/

Wine Business Monthly. (2019a).  Outlook & Trends. Wine Business Monthly.  26(2): 19-22, 24, 26, 28, 30-31. 

Wine Business Monthly. (2019b).  Retail sales analysis: Off-premise wine sales rise 3.5 percent. Wine Business Monthly. 26(2):172-173. 

Wine Industry Advisor. (2018, May 25). Sauvignon Blanc Experience attracts attention of the wine industry. Retrieved from https://www.wineindustryadvisor.com/2018/05/25/sauvignon-blanc-experience-attention-wine-industry

Food, flavor, and wine consumer trends 2019

By Dr. Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management

While food and beverage trends are released throughout the year, it seems as though a bulk of the industry and consumer trend reports are released during the winter.  In recognition of these reports and the insights and guidance they offer, I have summarized some of the more prevalent food trends and sources that concentrate specifically on the wine industry.  

Food trends: What we will (likely) be eating in 2019  

As we have talked about in past blogs, it is important to have a meaningful conversation with consumers who visit your tasting room or who you communicate with through social media.  Whether it be the starting a conversation, promoting a particular wine, or having a topic for an Instagram post, knowing a bit about current food trends can help you suggest wines that will pair with these important and emerging flavors and cuisines.     

Emerging international fare   

Pertaining to interest in specific international cuisines, adults age 18 to 34 and 35 to 54 years, were much less likely to consume Italian and Chinese foods than consumers age 55 and older.  This is the case whether they are dining at a restaurant, preparing meals at home, and/or when purchasing packaged food from food stores.  The interest in international flavors among consumers age 18 to 44 years is “because they like trying new things” (Failla, 2019).    

So, what is expected to interest consumers in 2019?  Comax Flavors, a “world leader in creating leading edge flavor technology and innovation for the food and beverage industry” uses market research to gain consumer insights to better predict potential demand.  Recently, they identified “A Passage to India,” which “capitalizes on the growing younger demographics’ attraction to multicultural flavors,” and “Steeped in Culture” that includes “high-impact fermented and pickled flavors” as two noteworthy trends for 2019 (Foodingredientsfirst.com, 2018).    

In addition to matching wines to complement individual spices used in Indian recipes (e.g., cardamom, coriander, curry, and garam masala), “Indian-inspired flavors,” like cardamom mocha, maple cumin, and maple curry spice blends may also be important flavors in 2019 (Foodingredientsfirst.com, 2018).  Interest in spice blends appears to appeal to U.S. consumers as the number of consumers who “prefer foods cooked with lots of spices” increased from 41.1% in 2013 to 44.1% in 2018 (Failla, 2019).    

Flavor profiles    

Over the past few years, umami has gained attention within the food industry.  Umami’s “unctuous, savory flavor is presented in high-glutamate foods like tomatoes, meat, and soy” (Mintel, 2018).  Another, koji mold, “a mold spore that typically ferments miso and soy sauce” is used on meats give “a more fermented taste” (Foodbusinessnews.net, N.d.).    

But another lesser-known taste sensation is kokumi.  Mintel’s 2018 US Flavor Trends report identifies kokumi as a food trend on the “fringe,” which is poised, “in the next five years,” to become more popular.  The “taste concept is associated with flavors achieved by slow-cooking, aging, and ripening.”    

Vegan and plant-based diets  

No longer a fad, according to an article published by The Economist, a quarter of U.S. Millennials between ages 25 and 34 claims to be vegetarians or vegans (Parker, 2018).  Consumers may choose to become vegan to lose weight, lower their blood sugar, and try to prevent diseases (Matthews, 2018).    

Whatever the reason, several articles cite a study conducted by GlobalData, which reports that between 2014 and 2017, the number of Americans who indicated they were vegans increase by 600% (Matthews, 2018).  To meet demand, school districts and fast food restaurants are offering vegan options on their menus (Matthews, 2018).    

There is often some confusion as to how vegans differ from vegetarians.  While vegetarians may eat dairy products and eggs, vegans do not eat or use animal products such as leather and fur. But those are not the only plant-based/plant-forward diets that consumers plan their meals around.  The flexitarian trend, for instance, still resonates with today’s consumer.  A flexitarian diet includes mostly plant-based foods but incorporates animable products and meat in moderation (Streit, 2018).    

The importance of plant-central meals goes beyond appealing to consumers based on their food choice philosophy, rather a food tend that has been suggested by several sources will focus on “hearty vegetables” such as cassava, Japanese yams, parsnips, jicama, and white potato (Foodbusinessnews.net, N.d.).    

Not only is there a need for the perfect pairing with plant-based cuisine, but there are a fair number of consumer-focused websites and articles that are educating vegans, vegetarians, etc. about fining agents used in the winemaking process.   An article published by Wine Enthusiast presented the various fining agents and indicated which were vegetarian (e.g., egg whites, casein), vegetarian and vegan (e.g., Poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone, bentonite), and neither vegan nor vegetarian (e.g., chitosan, isinglass) (Krebiehl, 2018).  The author also indicated that some vegans are even investigating whether wine grapes are grown using animal-based fertilizers such as bone meal or fish emulsion.   

U.K. retailer Majestic Wine has added symbols to their website (Majestic.co.uk) to alert customers selecting wine as to which ones are vegan (VE) and vegetarian (V).  Other retailers in certain European countries are also subscribing to this strategy.      

One way or another, whether it is reproducing restaurant meals at home, purchasing prepared food from supermarkets, or subscribing to meal delivery services (Reiter, 2018), consumers are eating at home more – and they need to know what wine to purchase and serve with these flavors.  Take the opportunity to familiarize yourself with prominent trends, listen to your customers, and provide recommendations that will help them have the best culinary experience possible.    

Wine consumer demographics and trends  

U.S. generations   

Before I describe who is drinking wine in 2019 and what has/is expected for this new year, here is a brief primer on U.S. generations, the birth years that define them, and the percentage of U.S. population in each.   

While there are slight differences in the years that mark the beginning/ending for each generation, according to the PEW Research Center (Dimock, 2019), the years that define them are below.   

Pertaining to the percentage of consumers in each generation.  Data published in the first-quarter of 2017 (Nielsen, 2017) described the percentage of consumers in each generation.  

How the generations are impacting the wine industry   

Mintel’s most recent Wine Report (Mintel, 2018) indicates that 55% of U.S. adults, age 22 and older, who participated in the September 2018 survey, drink wine.  This 55% includes a combination of those who drank wine “most often” (25%) and those who drank wine, but not as often as other beverages (30%).  The percentage of wine consumers was slightly lower than the percentage of beer drinkers (57%) but higher than consumers who drink white spirits (42%), dark spirits (35%), and other alcoholic beverages.  

As in the past, a fair amount of attention (and hope) is placed on Millennials becoming high frequency/high volume wine consumers.  According to an article published on BeverageDaily.com, about 28% of adult Millennials indicated that they “drink wine on a daily basis” (Newhart, 2019).  

Each January, the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division releases its State of the Wine Industry (McMillan, 2019). The report provides data on wine-consumer demographics, purchasing and consumption trends, winery owner confidence statistics, the economy, consumer sentiment, and similar.  The Millennial generation, because of its size and that all members are of legal drinking age, is the basis for much of the analysis of the health of the industry.  

As with the Beveragedaily.com article, one major point presented in the Silicon Valley Bank wine Divis report focuses on the Millennial generation’s wine consumption.  According to the author, while Millennials “hold slightly higher consumption shares in the $8-$11 bottle price points” they “aren’t engaging with wine as hoped.  They lack financial capacity, currently prefer premium spirits and craft beers, and have been slow getting into careers” (McMillan, 2019).   

It would be in the industry’s best interest to heed this information and not ignore other generations who are drinking more wine and spending more per bottle.  For example, during the period of 2015 to 2018, Millennials accounted for 16 to 17% of U.S. winery sales, while sales for the smaller Generation X cohort increased from 32 to 34%.  Winery sales for Boomers held steady at 40% for the four-year period. Boomers also account for a greater percentage of premium wine sales (McMillan, 2019).        

Upcoming blog posts will focus on alcohol product trends, consumer demographics, and strategies to consider for utilizing these data.    

References 

Barth, J. 2018. How we will drink wine in 2019: Trends according to winemakers and pros. December 13, 2018 https://www.forbes.com/sites/jillbarth/2018/12/13/how-we-will-drink-wine-in-2019-trends-according-to-winemakers-and-pros/#24b429123a9c 

Dimock, M. 2019. Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins.   http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/ 

Failla, J. 2019. International Food Trends US, January 2019.  Mintel. 

FoodBusinessNews.net. N.d. Ten cutting-edge culinary trends in 2019.  https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/media/photos/4009-ten-cutting-edge-culinary-trends-in-2019 

Foodingredientsfirst.com. 2018. Multicultural and pickled tastes among 2019 flavor trends tipped by Comax. https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/multicultural-and-pickled-tastes-among-flavor-trends-tipped-by-comax-for-2019.html 

Krebiehl, A. 2018. Is wine vegetarian, vegan or neither? WineEnthusiast. https://www.winemag.com/2018/05/09/vegetarian-vegan-wine/ 

Matthews, R. 2018. The vegan trend: Why so many people are changing their diets.  https://chicagodefender.com/2018/05/03/the-vegan-trend-why-so-many-people-are-changing-their-diets/ 

McmIllan, R. 2019. State of the wine industry report 2019. Silicon Valley Bank wine Division. https://www.svb.com/globalassets/library/images/content/trends_and_insights/reports/wine_report/svb-2019-wine-report 

Mintel. 2018. 2018 US Flavor Trends. The report, and other resources, can be downloaded by accessing this website: http://www.mintel.com/us-flavor-trends 

Newhart, B. 2019. State of the industry: What’s to come for alcohol for in 2019.  https://www.beveragedaily.com/Article/2019/01/03/State-of-the-industry-What-s-to-come-for-alcohol-in-2019 

Nielsen. 2017. The Nielsen U.S. total audience report: Q1 2017. https://www.nielsen.com/be/en/insights/reports/2017/the-nielsen-total-audience-report-q1-2017.html 

O’Brien Coffey, J. 2017. Five reasons to drink spiked sparkling water. Forbes.com https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeanneobriencoffey/2017/08/14/five-reasons-to-drink-spiked-seltzer-now/#26799bbc415e 

Parker, J. 2018. The year of the vegan. The Economist.  https://worldin2019.economist.com/theyearofthevegan?utm_source=412&utm_medium=COM 

Reiter, A. 2018. Americans are cooking more meals at home, eating out less.  Foodnetwork.com. https://www.foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/news/2018/9/americans-are-cooking-more-meals-at-home–eating-out-less 

Streit, L. 2018. The flexitarian diet: A detailed beginner’s guide. HealthLine.com  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/flexitarian-diet-guide 

Gassing Regimens

By: Conor McCaney, Graduate Assistant, Department of Food Science & Technology

            The winemaking process is a dynamic one: from crush, to fermentation, on to post fermentation cellar procedures, aging, and bottling.  Each step along the way allows for the potential ingress of oxygen, whether wanted or not.  While oxygen is considered by many to be the enemy of wine, this is not always the case. In fact proper use of enological oxygen at crucial steps in the winemaking process is paramount to wine development.  That said, many winemakers dutifully aim to eliminate it from the process altogether particularly in partial tank headspace.  Proper gassing regimens and selection of the correct gas for a particular application is something that many do not do well and fail to fully understand the principals at play.  Managing proper inert gas procedures is tricky.  Most protocols are generally arbitrary ones copied from bad information and the proliferation of poor techniques passed on anecdotally from winemaker to winemaker.  In general it is a procedure that is often over looked and never given much thought. This usually means the use of a high pressure cylinder (most often nitrogen), and a ¼” or ½” hose that is allowed to run for an arbitrary amount of time, generally 15 to 20 minutes.  The results are the improper use of inert gases from the failure to measure gas volumes delivered (using a flowmeter), monitoring results with the use of a dissolved oxygen meter, using an under or oversized delivery system and unsubstantiated cost analysis pertaining to gas type and volume needed.  

            Typical gas choices are: carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon.  Most wineries choose to use carbon dioxide and nitrogen because they believe it provides the best cost-benefit in terms of oxygen displacement per unit cost.  This is not the case. To understand this, we must first delve into some fundamental principles of gases.  In the wine industry, we typically use gas by volume, either in standard cubic feet or molar volume delivered from a standard steel pressurized cylinder in which the gas is compressed.  These gas volumes are usually measured at 25°C and 1 atm.  If you happen to purchase gas by the pound it is necessary to divide the gas by its molecular weight before you can compare gases to one another.  The approximate molecular weights are: 40 g/mole for argon (Ar), 44 g/mole for carbon dioxide (CO2), 28 g/mole for nitrogen (N2), and 29 g/mole for air.  One mole of any of these gases measured at standard pressure (1atm) and temperature (25°C) occupies one molar volume, roughly equivalent to 22.4 liters, 5.92 gallons, or 0.8 standard cubic feet.  Using the ideal gas law PV = nRT the behavior of gases can be described in which pressure and volume is a fixed proportion in relation to the number of moles of gas at absolute temperature.  This indicates that gas molecules take up the same amount of space regardless of their mass when they are at the same temperature and pressure (Avogadro’s Law).  Thus one mole of any gas contains the same number of molecules (i.e., 6.02 x 1023).  This also indicates that the head space in a tank, barrel, or other container will fluctuate regularly throughout the day in response to temperature and pressure changes. Tanks that are kept outside experience greater temperature changes throughout the day compared to a tank kept inside at a constant temperature.  Changes in barometric pressure and temperature can cause the headspace in a tank to pump 3% to 7% of its volume in and out daily. This ultimately means that the headspace in a tank is not a static system and could be constantly changing.

Air is roughly composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% argon, so in essence nitrogen is air without the oxygen.  In any gassing procedure it is ideal to reduce the percentage of oxygen in the headspace to below 1% or even below 0.5% to inhibit the growth of aerobic microbes and prevent wine oxidation.  The most commonly used gas in winemaking is nitrogen (N2) with a molecular weight (MW) of 28 g/mole making it moderately lighter (less dense) than air at 29 g/mole MW.  Graham’s law of diffusion (also known as Graham’s law of effusion) states that the rate of effusion of a gas is inversely proportional to the square root of its molar mass at constant temperature and pressure.    This principle is often used to compare the diffusion rates of two gasses such as nitrogen and air.  The diffusion rates of nitrogen and air are almost identical meaning that nitrogen does not provide adequate layering, but rather readily mixes with air and does not remain in contact with the wine surface for an extended period of time.  This also means that in order to reduce the O2level from 21% to less than 1%, the headspace needs to be flushed with a volume of nitrogen that is five times the volume of the headspace. So if the tank has a 100 gallons of head space it would take 500 gallons of nitrogen to reduce the O2level from 21% to below 1%.  The cost of nitrogen is approximately $0.05 per cubic foot (Praxair, Inc).  However, because nitrogen requires five times the volume equivalents to reduce the O2percentage from 21% to less than 1%, the cost to gas a barrel (60 gallons) is $2.00, 100 gallons of headspace is $3.34 and 1,000 gallons of headspace is $33.42.  This is significantly higher than the cost of using argon for the same O2reduction in the equivalent headspace volumes.  This is why headspace gassing with nitrogen requires a substantial effort and time commitment on the part of the winemaking team to be effective.  It takes substantially more nitrogen and a greater application time compared to argon to achieve the same reduction in oxygen percentage with a shorter effective shelf life.

In contrast to nitrogen is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is significantly heavier than air at 44 g/mole compared to 29 g/mole and by Graham’s law has a much slower rate of diffusion compared to air.  This allows for a more significant displacement of air compared to nitrogen.  However, when CO2is delivered from a compressed tank, it is difficult to achieve the desired laminar flow necessary for successful layering.  This results in substantial mixing of CO2and air.  A more effective alternative for CO2delivery is dry ice (solid CO2) which leads to more efficient layering of CO2and subsequent displacement of air but does not form a permanent layer.  However, it should be noted that CO2cannot be considered inert in the same way as nitrogen and argon.  Because of Henry’s Law, which states that the solubility of a gas is directly proportional to the partial pressure of the gas above the solution, CO2readily dissolves into wine under standard conditions and its solubility can be increased or decreased with changes in pressure.  This dissolution of CO2into the wine causes the pressure in the tank to fluctuate and results in the intake of air from the outside environment through an airlock to replace the lost volume of gaseous CO2.  If there is no vacuum release valve on the tank, this could cause the tank to implode.  Carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine will also alter the acid, flavor, and textural profile of the final wine.  Carbon dioxide is much more effective when deployed early in the winemaking process at juice stage or when the wine is young as there will be substantial time to allow excess dissolved CO2to come out of solution.  The use of dry ice to protect grape must is an effective way to protect wine must from excess oxygen exposure, deter fruit flies, and subsequently cool the must.  

This leaves argon with a molecular weight of 40 g/mole, making it substantially heavier than air (29 g/mole) and similar in weight to CO2but more inert.  A major opposition to the use of argon regularly in wine production is because it is significantly more expensive compared to the other two gases.  It is true that when purchasing gas by volume argon is roughly three times as expensive as nitrogen or carbon dioxide. However it is much more effective at displacing air and creating a more permanent blanket that remains in contact with the wine surface longer while also remaining inert compared to CO2. Less volume is also needed to achieve the same desired results.  At approximately $0.11 per cubic foot (Praxair, Inc) not including daily tank rental fee, a barrel (60 gallons) can be completely gassed with argon for $0.88, 100 gallons of head space for $1.47, and 1,000 gallons of headspace for $14.71. This cost is relatively insignificant to a winery’s bottom line in terms of the degree of quality preservation that argon can provide.

When using any of the gases discussed previously, it is important to select the proper pressure gauge, hose diameter, hose length, flowrate, and the use of a t-valve in order to deliver the gas under laminar conditions.  The use of a lower velocity, will encourage laminar flow delivery and reduce any chance of turbulence and subsequent mixing with air, thus creating a more layered effect.

            It is ideal to keep the flow velocity to 1 meter per sec or less.  To determine the velocity divide the volumetric flow rate in cubic meters per second by the cross sectional area in meters of the hose being used.  If using cubic feet instead of cubic meters, perform the same calculation but convert the units from cubic meters to cubic feet and meters to feet.  Table 1 shows that it is best to use a 1.5” or 2” diameter line with a t-valve to deliver an adequate amount of gas in a reasonable amount of time.  This will require the use of an oversized regulator compared to the typical 0.25” regulator used on most compressed gas cylinders.  

            In essence it is best practice to recommend the use of argon as the headspace gas for the majority of wine production processes.  Carbon dioxide and nitrogen have their respective roles but when it comes to headspace gassing argon it the number one choice.  In the production of high quality wine, it is imperative to establish proper gassing procedures.  This includes the successful training of staff in all aspects of gassing procedures and the selection of the correct gas for the appropriate task. This also requires selecting the correct regulator size, hose diameter and length, the use of T-valves, measuring gas flow using a flowmeter, and finally verifying results with the use of a dissolved oxygen meter to monitor oxygen levels in the tank headspace pre and post gassing.  The proper investment of time and resources in this often overlooked area of winemaking can have a profound effect on wine quality and preservation in the long run. It can also reduce long term costs by reducing the amount of gas and time required to achieve the desired reduction in the amount of oxygen present in a tank headspace.