Harvest at Shannon Family of Wines is a monumental task requiring precision planning and execution. We interviewed Joy Merrilees, Vice President of Production for the Shannon Family of Wines based in Lake County, California, to understand how she juggles rapid expansion with their commitment to improved quality and sustainability.
Shannon Family of Wines has experienced phenomenal growth, swelling from 180,000 cases in 2017 to 400,000 cases in 2021 – a 122% increase in just four years. They make wines under four primary and ten secondary brands, for a total of 62 separate products stored in dozens of tanks and over 9,000 barrels. Merrilees explains that to create that much wine, “we make and track thousands of separate lots every year.”
Shannon Family of Wines has used vintrace since 2017 to organize its winery operations, and Merrilees has seen enormous increases in her team’s productivity as a result. Before adopting vintrace, government compliance was “an arduous task. We wrote it all down on ledgers. It was one person’s job for an entire week. From 40-hours, now it takes five minutes.” Where barrel life was once based solely on barrel age, now her team can see how many months each barrel has been full, allowing for optimal barrel replacement planning.
Like many vintrace clients, Shannon Family of Wines started with bulk wine, barrel and tank tracking before adding bottling and incoming supply quality assurance. All quality control documentation received from suppliers is scanned and uploaded into vintrace, keeping everything in one place. Prior to vintrace, there was a lot of precious floor space dedicated to paper and filing cabinets. “Now, we use that space for more important items.”
Two days before the 2020 harvest, Merrilees was presented with a massive project to integrate the newly acquired Steele Winery facility – where everything was tracked with ink, paper, and spreadsheets – into the Shannon Family of Wines operation. The site had 18 staff members, tanks, barrels, bulk wine, incoming grapes, plus non-wine consumables such as additives and packaging.
For most wine companies, the scale of this sort of systems integration project would have been punted to the “off-season,” something to be addressed between February and June. They would compromise their quality standards and put up with the limitations of paper recordkeeping for one more season.
Merrilees and her core staff of four were already using vintrace, so they didn’t have to wait. Teaming with vintrace Technical Support, they quickly added the Steele site into their system. vintrace provided the Google Sheets templates with a tab for wines, tanks, dip charts, barrels, vintages, appellations, and lab data. Merrilees went into divide and conquer mode, assigning tabs to each team member, who spent a few days collecting and entering baseline data. Then vintrace’s team took over to build a functioning database. At the acquired site, ‘the spreadsheet, pen and paper gang’ were trained to use vintrace simultaneously.
The results were impressive. Merrilees explains, “Once uploaded, it worked. We were able to do both training and data in just a week. Already having staff who understood vintrace made it easy to get everyone on board quickly.” For Shannon Family of Wines, system integration was achieved a year ahead of a typical winery’s schedule.
While there is a single database for the two facilities, vintrace makes it easy for Merrilees to create visibility rules. For example, each winery’s cellar staff sees what is in their facility, but the accounting team can see everything.
vintrace has made sustainability more accessible and data-driven for Shannon Family of Wines. They started using lighter-weight glass in the winery, which is a positive, but what was the actual impact? vintrace made it easier to measure by calculating glass weight reduction and the increase in bottles per full truck, thereby calculating a reduction in truckloads and other carbon footprint metrics. In the vineyard, organic certificate numbers and dates are logged into vintrace, which then alerts the vineyard team not to use non-compliant materials.
Merrilees believes that using vintrace helps make better wine. “It lets us stay on top of every lot. With so many lots and just four to five people on the team, each person can look at the relevant data. Also, vintrace frees up more time to meet and taste wine together while having the wine data accessible at our fingertips. We can be more fact-oriented in our winemaking.”
Shannon Family of Wines is currently adding the vintrace vineyard module. Having successfully organic-certified 900 of their 1200 planted acres and now adopting regenerative farming techniques, they need to keep an even closer eye on vine health and predators. The viticulture team makes good use of vintrace’s photo attachment features, which allows anyone to see exactly what the person walking the rows saw. It also builds a historical database for future reference.
Finally, Merrilees is impressed with how vintrace continuously innovates and updates all aspects of their software, invoicing, lot tracking, barrel management, allergen and safety tracking, and so much more. “The technology is always improving with updates occurring every two weeks.”
“Before adopting vintrace, government compliance was an arduous task. We wrote it all down on ledgers. It was one person’s job for an entire week. From 40-hours, now it takes five minutes.”
Vice President of Production for the Shannon Family of Wines
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