Upgrading from pen and paper to real-time digital data entry - Union Wine Co's. seventh harvest with vintrace

Union Wine Company in Oregon's Willamette Valley is quite the success story. In just 15 years, they have grown from a startup to a nearly 500,000 case (7,000 ton) operation, making wines under the Alchemist, Kings Ridge, and Underwood brands.


Going into the 2020 harvest, Union’s winemaker Cheney Vidrine and Assistant Winemaker Kaitlin O’Brien faced a flourishing winery’s usual challenges. Some examples:

  • The importance of following a process in sequence. While work orders contain the necessary instructions, it is easy to execute them out of order. For example, cellar workers occasionally forget to take a tank volume measurement (tank dip) before executing a wine transfer.
  • Data entry and accuracy. A clipboard system is error-prone, as it requires the creation and printing of work orders, handwritten data entry, and transcription of that data into digital form. In addition to penmanship and transcription errors, sometimes the clipboards would go missing. Additionally, searching for a pen can delay the process.
  • Delays in lab data collection. Daily Brix and temperature measurements help to decide when to press, rack, or fill barrels. These data are captured at the tank in ink on paper. Unfortunately, that information is not visible to the winemaking team until lab personnel has transcribed them many hours later.
  • Ambiguity. Despite best efforts, it can be challenging to write concise work orders. Consequently, the instructions can create questions and conversations between the winemakers and cellar staff that may lead to mistakes.
  • Handoff challenges during shift changes. When in-progress work orders are handed off to the next shift, mistakes can occur when communication is limited to handwritten or easily misinterpreted notes.
  • Covid-19. Passing paperwork orders back and forth is inconsistent with ‘touch-free’ coronavirus prevention.

With six years of experience using vintrace, Union addressed these issues by providing iPod Touch devices its 30 cellar staff and utilizing vintrace’s digital work orders system. Improvements were immediate. vintrace’s digital work order system made it easy for cellar staff to work sequentially and avoid errors. As O’Brien explains, “with vintrace, one must complete the screen requiring a tank dip before they can move to the next step.”

Another game-changer came from lab staff entering Brix and temperature data directly into iPods—and therefore into vintrace—in real-time, eliminating the lab staff’s need to transcribe. O’Brien said accuracy was “ten times better, plus data was in our winemaking system as soon as it was measured. When that rolled out, it was a celebration day!” Eliminating pen, paper, and transcription steps saved daily labor hours.

The cellar staff ultimately did more of the heavy lifting by inputting all of the data directly. In addition to improving accuracy and saving time, having tank data go straight into vintrace led to quicker and more informed winemaking decisions.

Ambiguity was significantly reduced. The cellar staff had less work order related questions for Vidrine and O’Brien. vintrace’s digital work order system helps provide step-wise clarity as well as additive lot codes for all items, so the team knew exactly which additive to use.

Handoff errors between shifts were nearly eliminated, thanks in part to the ability of vintrace’s software to save progress and log notes in real-time. Cellar staff appreciated the capability to upload photos directly into vintrace. A picture may say a thousand words, but who has time to write a thousand words at the end of a 12-hour shift?

Union Wine’s cellar team much preferred the iPod over the clipboard. The ability of the staff to concurrently manage multiple work orders, as well as have visibility to other goings-on in the cellar, help instill a holistic understanding of the winemaking process. The software training is easy and moving away from paper eliminated the potential for the transmission of COVID-19.

O’Brien notes that “switching to iPods and digital work orders made harvest so much easier for everyone.” Winemakers could see the status of work orders and fruit receipts for all three winery buildings at anytime from anywhere through the vintrace dashboard. Vidrine started his day a little later than O’Brien, and his laptop and his phone allowed him to see everything going on at the winery before he arrived. The cellar team completed tasks in a more timely and efficient manner and gained greater process ownership.

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“This year I was out on the floor 90% of the time.”

Kaitlin O’Brien, Assistant Winemaker
Union Wine Co.

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