In 2016, Phantom Creek Estates created a small, state-of-the-art, super-premium winery in Oliver, British Columbia. Karin Grosstessner-Hain, Phantom Creek’s Winemaker, explains that to consistently make great wines, it is imperative to know everything about the wine from vineyard to bottle. The wine’s data is inseparable from the wine itself—it is what instructs and guides winemakers (and their successors) to maintain and improve quality from year to year. A data collection system needs to be in place with the first vintage in order to have a baseline for future vintages, which is what led Phantom Creek to vintrace.
Like most winemakers, Grosstessner-Hain previously worked at wineries that only used Excel spreadsheets, which she described as “very stressful.”
“It took so long to input data in and out of a spreadsheet. It was hard to rely on your data, and I’d ask for reports less frequently because I knew it would take a long time to create it.”
In addition, data was often siloed—blending formulas on the Lab Manager’s computer, aging data on the Assistant Winemaker’s laptop, etc. Staff turnover is inevitable, which often results in a loss of crucial data and formulas. Like the wine style, inputting wine data has to continue on after people leave, adding “people come and go, vineyard blocks may change. You can’t let a winemaker leave with their ‘proprietary formulas.’ What keeps quality up for me is the information base you build over time, which can be provided to the owners, winemakers and other stakeholders.”
For this reason, Grosstessner-Hain and her team started using vintrace with their very first vintage. They were impressed with its powerful capability to collect data for every lot made, including growing conditions, harvest dates, winemaking protocols, all lab analyses, additions and treatments, even aging records including time in barrel and barrels used. Data collection is centralized, yet easily accessible by all staff from anywhere, with painless and powerful reports instantly generated. Files and formulas will not disappear with employee turnover.
vintrace lets the Phantom Creek team track over 70 individual lots each vintage. Initially, they collected lab data, logged all wine inputs and movements, and identified all vineyard blocks. Over time they added compliance, costing and inventory tracking.
Grosstessner-Hain explains her favorite parts of vintrace are:
- Blending. vintrace’s Trial Blend Console “lets me take a blend in my head and turn it into a Trial Blend Worksheet for the lab.” The program does all the calculations, allowing the winemakers to focus their brains on tasting instead of math. “I can have 100 different trial blends made really easily and accurately. During blending sessions, we can view wine data on our laptops, instead of bringing in tons of printouts.” Once the final blend is selected, it is easily converted to a Work Order for the cellar to create the blend.
- QR coded barrels. “In the cellar, we can scan the barrel with our phones and immediately know the wine that’s in it with all its data and history. If we notice something when barrel tasting, we can get the data right away.” Notes can then be added in real time so nothing is missed.
- VQA. To gain British Columbia VQA approval, volume and lab analyses must be provided for approval. Without vintrace, Phantom
Creek would have to rely on the accuracy of winemaker-created spreadsheets. Now “the VQA reports automatically calculate our blends so they adhere to the VQA minimums.”
- Service. The best part of vintrace is their personal service. “[Senior Account Executive] Hillary Silva is always there for me. Even five minutes before I need to fill the press, I can call her with a question and get an answer.” At their convenience, Phantom Creek staff view vintrace webinars for specialized subjects such as bottling.
For the 2021 harvest, Phantom Creek will start using vintrace barcodes for their vineyards, additives and Work Orders, adding iPads for harvest staff to use on the crush pad. In addition to shifting all vineyard tracking into the program, they are relying on vintrace to help them maintain quality while getting organic certification. When going organic, yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN) typically drops, so the program is being used to track YAN by vineyard block and vintage with an easily accessible year-over-year comparison on the app.
Choosing and using vintrace has helped Phantom Creek maintain wine quality. Grosstessner-Hain adds
“winemaking is a science, so we want our data as scientific as we can get it.”
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