Four Brands. Two Winemakers. Tracking From Grape to Bottle at Two Facilities.
Alex Frost was recently promoted to Winemaker for Sextant Wines in Paso Robles, California. Sextant has grown into an approximately 65,000 case operation producing wines under the Sextant, Paris Valley Road, Windemere, and Crooked Path brands, with several custom crush clients. They expanded into a second facility about 12 miles away. One winery does about 400-500 tons annually and is focused on smaller lots, while the other crushes about 1,000 tons in larger average lot sizes.
Over the years as Sextant grew from one facility into two, their overall tonnage more than doubled to add brands and custom crush clients. The one constant is that co-Winemakers Alex Frost and Doug Hidlinger are the guys responsible for getting the wines made, barrels organized, accurate lab and production records, chemicals ordered, and everything recorded. “By having two wineries we are able to bring in fruits of all quantities,” says Frost. “Doug can focus on the Paris Valley Road brand at the new facility, and I am primarily located on the west side at Sextant. We must work closely together to make sure that movements between facilities are tracked correctly. vintrace allows us to manage both facilities in one place, and by having real time access to movements at each facility, we are able to track easily and make the best wines possible.”
Frost has extensive vintrace experience, having adopted it at Sextant in 2016 when he was the assistant winemaker, and he is now preparing for their 5th vintrace-assisted harvest. Before vintrace, Frost handwrote all work orders – in ink- for both winery sites. As Frost put it, “the amount of paperwork was absurd. It could take hours to investigate a wine’s production and lab history. You could find a barrel that wasn’t on your Excel inventory worksheet, or vice versa. Where did it go?” With vintrace, he needs just 15 minutes to do all the topping work orders, which once took hours to write by hand. All data was kept internally on the company server instead of vintrace’s cloud-based system, which left them at the mercy of server outages.
Before vintrace, Frost kept extensive record books when transferring wine in bulk or barrel between facilities. Their accounting department would track all the transfers, manipulate figures in Excel, and then fill in government forms by hand. From a data management perspective, vintrace makes the two wineries seem like one. Now, moving barrels takes just a few clicks, and bond to bond bulk transfers are a breeze. Producing a 702 report is a click of a button instead of 8 hours of tedious work.
Most importantly, the vintrace mobile app gives Frost instant visibility from his laptop or phone to the wine history at both facilities and allows him and Hidlinger to be in lockstep. Regardless of the site location, or his destination, data is always accessible.
“When we’re tasting with winemaker/owner, we can answer any questions with real-time data. Or, we can give him the exact gallonage of a bulk lot over the phone.”
Juggling his brands and varietals, Frost places a high value on the vintrace blending console. When creating trial blends before vintrace, Frost spent hours calculating the portion of wines going into potential combinations, and the delegation of the excess to allocated out. This process was time-consuming and error-prone. Luckily, the vintrace blending console instantly and accurately makes those calculations, freeing up Frost’s time to discover more trial blends and optimize wine quality. He increases profitability at the same time with the feature of detailed costing – built-in by the lot. Frost also uses the vintrace “sandbox” feature to do trial blends, for example, “If we buy bulk wine at a certain price/gallon, we can see how it might affect total product cost and labeling limitations.”
For the upcoming harvest, Sextant has added vineyard and block assessment via the mobile app. Frost can enter data directly, including photos and notes, which anyone can instantly see while in the vineyard.
More Winemaking Time
Having used vintrace for four years, Frost claims the most valuable benefit is “spending your time on wine quality, and not on data entry. Without vintrace, paperwork would inundate us, and we’d be miserable.” vintrace compiles the information that drives decision making in both the vineyard and the winery.
“In addition to the final blend, we can retain the trial blends we considered as well. Everything is in front of you. We see every acetic acid for the last 16 months, or Wine X alcohol level for the last five years. When that data is on paper filed in a binder, it can’t be effective in decision making.”
While the laws of physics still prevent Frost from being in two or more places simultaneously, vintrace may have helped him move from Assistant Winemaker to Winemaker.
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