In Fredericksburg, Texas, Becker Vineyards has grown enormously since it released its 1500 cases in 1995. And even after 25 successful years, people still ask, "you make wine in Texas?"
The Texas Hill Country winery now produces 110,000 cases split among 30 separate wines retailing between $22-40 per bottle. Rachel Fanning, Becker’s assistant winemaker and enologist since 2013, explained that what was once a simple operation has exploded into organizing wines kept in 80 tanks, 4500 barrels, and a case goods warehouse spread across six separate buildings. Not surprisingly, growth created complexity exceeding the capability of Becker Vineyard‘s tracking systems. Their old systems had limitations and translation issues.
Too much walking, transcribing notes, and playing “winery hide and seek.”
In the Winery: Before adopting vintrace in 2017, when Becker’s cellar staff proceeded with barrel work, a few might be missing, leading to an instant game of “winery hide and seek” to locate them. Fanning and several staff members would stop whatever work they were doing to search through 6 buildings and several thousand hand-labeled barrels to find the few that went missing. Similar episodes occurred with bottling supplies. Fanning noted that before vintrace, “There was a lot of walking. I always got my steps in.”
In the Vineyard: With growth, grape sourcing became more complex. Becker has estate vineyards, but most fruit comes from the Texas High Plains AVA near Lubbock, a six-hour drive. The needs of each appellation differ: It’s humid near the estate, so vine health necessitates detailed supervision. At the same time, in the distant High Plains, monitoring means taking handwritten notes, then driving six hours back to the winery to transcribe them. That resulted in errors and data loss.
Poor Translation = Poor Communication
Like any growing winery, Becker Vineyards became a place where separate functions formed and grew, each with knowledgeable, experienced staff. Still, each uses a different language and system to do their work. Think of an environment where the winemakers speak only Russian, accounting speaks only Portuguese, and the lab speaks only German. No amount of experience and good intentions can overcome that language barrier. So, data became siloed, and any task that requires the participation of two or more functions was laborious and error-prone.
A few examples:
- Monthly 702 forms took several days for bookkeeping and production to accurately extract the production numbers.
- Barrel location was hard to track. Cellar staff would text Fanning where they stored newly filled barrels, and she would then enter the location in her system. If someone forgot to text her, or she didn’t log it, or either party made a data entry error, the barrels disappeared from the system, setting up a future game of winery hide and seek.
- Barrel inventory didn’t automatically build to the actual wine volume, requiring significant data manipulation.
- Glass deliveries. To get visibility on bottle deliveries, Fanning regularly asked their General Manager what he ordered and when it would arrive, then log it into her bottling schedule.
With vintrace, Becker Vineyards now has a single, essentially unlimited, and integrated system that communicates in every function’s language.
Fanning notes that with vintrace, “you have seven different ways to look at something. The lab worker, winemaker, finance have actionable data from whatever way they need to see it.”
Some examples include:
- Work orders: Fanning now keys in a work order in her language e.g., empty all 2019 Syrah lot XYZ barrels, and vintrace immediately translate that for the cellar staff to execute in their “language,” e.g., empty barrels #1427-1449, located in Building 6, rows 7 and 8. Cellar staff perform the physical work and scan barrels and tanks on their iPhones. Locations are now part of the work order requiring no more cellar staff texts to Fanning regarding the location and no more winery hide and seek.
Fanning explains that “everyone knows what is going to happen today, especially during harvest. The lab and cellar teams can see tonnages, the number of trucks, varieties, vineyards, expected Brix, etc.” Potential problem lots are pre-flagged before arrival. Also, “fewer people go into and out of offices with questions or problems, and there is a lot less paper shuffled back and forth.”
- Compliance: vintrace’s instantly and accurately pulls 702 reports, saving 15-25 hours of non-value-added work each month.
- Bottling planning: When ordering packaging supplies, the GM enters the order (item, quantity, price, and delivery date) into vintrace, allowing Fanning to use that data in the format she needs for her bottling schedule.
- Blending: Using vintrace’s composition tab, Fanning and her team know the exact composition of potential blends in real-time, as well as balances that would remain for other blends.
- Invoicing and accounting: Becker uses vintrace for all distributor and bulk wine sales invoicing. Accounting data such as bulk and bottled wine transfers, and dispatches to the tasting room are easily entered into an excel spreadsheet template and seamlessly uploaded into their accounting system.
Finally, in the vineyard, vintrace provides powerful solutions. Fanning enters data and notes in real-time. On her iPad, vintrace allows her to create an entirely new block while out in the remote High Plains AVA, or directly enter block-specific notes and photos related to vine health in a humid region.
Working with vintrace.
“With vintrace, we have sharing of really good information. The visibility is golden.”
Rachel Fanning, Enologist,
Becker Vineyards, Fredericksburg, Texas
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