Maximum Group Size is Still Six in Phase 3

A few wineries have let me know about confusion amongst some visitors as to what the group size is for Phase 3 reopening in British Columbia.  Although people can expand their personal bubble and travel farther afield, the wineries are still being held to accommodating groups of 6 or less.  If you are traveling with 8 people, you should know ahead of time that if the winery can accommodate you, they should be asking that you to split up into two smaller groups.

Most travelers seem to have taken this direction in stride but there have been scenes of rage and ire when a large group is not allowed to sit all at one table.  This has happened at restaurants as well as tasting rooms, but both are being told by BC to keep group sizes at 6 or lower.

As a responsible visitor during COVID-19 days, it is your responsibility to know “Dr.Bonnie’s Travel Manners” before you head out.

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Staffing Up for the Big Reopen

One of the big challenges for tasting rooms poised to reopen in June will be staffing up. This is always a challenge but again, welcome to additional challenges in the wake of COVID-19. Consider some of what’s going on out there:

Situation 1: Tight budgets combined with metering-in visitors through reservations and other methods, it is likely that many tasting rooms will be open for targeted times throughout a week rather than full hours, 7 days a week. This trend was already happening pre COVID-19 but now tasting rooms will be less likely to be able to put together full 8-hour shifts every day of the week.  Many small tasting rooms will no longer be looking for full-time workers but for a handful of part time workers to overlap in times during the day when they are scheduling more visitors. It will be harder to commit to workers for full time hours when there is so much uncertainty surrounding what the tourist season will look like. How many people will come to our tasting room?  What happens if there is another increase in virus cases? How can we keep our costs down while offering the best experience possible?  These are some of the questions going through small business owners’ minds right now.

Situation 2: The tourism industry, and in particular tasting rooms rely heavily on both the older, semi-retired labour force and also younger workers looking for full time seasonal work in the summer.  Many businesses I have spoken with are worried to put some of their part time older workforce on the front lines—as they should be. And many older workers are not willing to risk getting sick for a $16 an hour job that pays for a yearly vacation they may not even be able to take. Some of the people seeking full time seasonal work in March have already left the area when they weren’t hired on at the start of COVID and others are not willing to leave any assistance they are currently getting from the government for part time hours—which also makes sense.

So, we are left with tasting rooms that may lean more heavily toward part time, pulsed in workers and a work force that may be looking for full time, guaranteed work. Knowing that some of these dynamics are out there prior to opening is important before you start staffing up.

Option 1: Part time becomes full time. Do all you can to turn that part time job into a full time one.  Workers will have to be even more flexible with what they are asked to do because if an employer only needs a .66 time worker and is piecing together other tasks to make that person a full time offer, some of those other tasks will not be what you were primarily hired to do. Welcome to the new normal.  A certain amount of work needs to get done and there is only so much money out there.  This means that to turn a part time job into a full time one requires an innovative approach that looks at all the tasks and divides them out to the right people with the right schedules. If you are able to stretch a bit and turn a part time job into a full time one you are heading in the right direction—you are still trying to up your game and even grow in the face of uncertainty and that is a very good direction to be heading.

Option 2: Employee Sharing. If you really cannot afford a full-time worker but are finding a hard time locating a qualified part time one, I suggest you call another business—maybe not even one in the same industry that you are in—and see if they are having the same difficulty putting together a full time position.  Maybe it’s a conversation you have with your favourite coffee shop owner or that restaurant owner you know is also struggling. Sharing workers is one way to get around financial limitations. The usual job sharing is two employees sharing one position with one employer, but this is two employers sharing two jobs with one employee. Usually the onus is put on the employee to piece together part time schedules to make ends meet but if the worker shortage is as severe as it seems, it behooves businesses to look at other options to secure the right employee.

If both employers need the worker at the same time (for example, weekend days) then structure it so that one business gets the employee for Saturday and the other for Sunday.  Then put together the rest of the full-time schedule that works for both businesses and the employee. This option is more difficult because it requires coordination with another business, but it is also more innovative and may have very positive lasting effects into the future. Tighter partnerships between businesses, be they in the same or different industries, help form connections that you just can’t buy any other way. I would argue employers will be getting a more interesting employee if they go this route and the worker may like the variety too. In order for this to work there has to be good communication all around, but it may be a great solution if you can’t put together that full time position.

Option 3: Change your hours to fit full time schedules. No one says you have to be opened the way you used to be opened last year. I believe there will be a lot of good will out there when businesses reopen.  With hope, consumers will understand the severe pressures and strains that owners have been under and will be more flexible with things like days and hours open.  Visitors are going to have to get used to planning their days a bit more than they used to.  Appointments will be heavily utilized. That is not to say that you can’t just show up at a winery. Chances are if they have capacity, they will probably take you in, but you should not expect an experience if you haven’t planned it out beforehand.  All businesses need to meter in occupancy—from drive in theatres to casino slot machines to zip lining to art galleries to restaurants.  Don’t expect artisan beverage producers to be any different. Consumers should know that this isn’t business as usual. Don’t hold yourself and your business hostage to traditional hours just for continuity’s sake.

 

There is one last thing to keep in mind before going into this re-opening phase.  The staff who have been working throughout COVID-19 times, putting in extra hours in the face of uncertainty, often working from home isolated from their support, feeling stress sent their way by owners who are also visibly strained, these workers will likely face burn out sooner than the usual end-of-season October. Giving these employees a week off in the middle of July might be the recharge they need to get through the rest of the season. If you go too thin on staffing upon reopen you may find that there is not enough capacity for year-round employees to continue at the same high pace they’ve been working. Just a thought.

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Tasting Rooms Can Get Ready Now–Don’t Wait

Sectors of the economy all over the province are going to be turning in plans and protocols for the government to review in the next few weeks to allow for re-opening.  Tasting rooms (be they for wineries, cideries, distilleries and breweries) will all have to show they are ready with new protocols before they will be allowed to open.  The BCWI is holding an initial committee later this week to start these discussion and other sectors have already gone through this process (like the restaurant association).

If you are a BC beverage manufacturer that hosts the public in tasting room style operations you will have to follow what WorksafeBC has set down (see this document)  I have rewritten them for you in case for some reason you find it easier to ready Sandra Speak rather than government speak.

DO NOT WAIT to review these because they will end up in any plan for re-opening.  No one is going to do this for you. Reading them is not good enough. WorksafeBC and the health authorities will require you to WRITE down your plans for each of the sections below. I would suggest the following to get started:

  • Send these 6 points out (below) to employees ahead of a zoom or conference call to let them read them over
  • Get employees and management on a zoom or conference  call and start working through these sections.  There will no doubt be more detailed recommendations for protocols for tastings rooms as to what to do with walk in groups, group size, outdoor implications of moving your tasting room outside etc. but what is below will be expected to be worked through for each and every tasting room so don’t wait to start putting these plans in writing.
  • Start writing down the things you know you will need to address. This can be done even with out a walk through of the premises. I cannot stress enough–WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.
  • Start ordering supplies you will need including signs, sanitizers, cleaning supplies etc. A great resource for this will be here on the BC Food and Beverage site.
  • Listen to employee’s concerns individually about how they feel about coming back to work. Be prepared with offering resources and mostly, scheduling extra time with you, to discuss issues that have arisen since they have been laid off, removed from their normal duties and self-isolating.
  • Once you get ready to open, practice, practice, practice.  Use that new online appointment booking platform. Practice how you will greet, seat, pour, educate, get people to pay, take their wine to their cars, opening and closing procedures and on and on.  Consistency is your friend.
  • You should not open up unless your employees feel they are ready and protocols have been practiced and questions answered. If you don’t open up when you neighbor does don’t sweat it.  Remember this overarching rule of WorksafeBC: WORKERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE WORK IF THEY BELIEVE IT PRESENTS AN UNDUE HAZARD.  What is most important is a consistent approach from each winery. Customers will be looking for consistency and rigour more than anything else.

So, according to WorksafeBC, your business will need to do the following things:

  1. ASSESS RISK at your workplace
    1. Who needs to be involved? Frontline workers, supervisors, H&S committees
    2. How is COVID spread- droplets through coughs/sneezes or touch contaminated surface then touching face therefore how to consider the following for each tasting room:
      1. Where do people congregate? Break rooms, meeting rooms etc.
      2. What job tasks cause workers to come in close proximity
      3. What materials are exchanged like money, credits cards, paperwork
      4. What equipment or tools do people come in contact with
      5. What surfaces are touched including doors, light switches, tools
  1. Implement measures to REDUCE RISK
    1. Cleanings and hygiene
      1. Adequate hand-washing facilities; develop policies around when wash hands like before work, before and after breaks, after handling cash or other materials, before and after using common equipment
      2. Implement cleaning protocol for common surfaces including washrooms, tables, doors
      3. Remove unnecessary supplies like coffee makers, shared utensils and plates
    2. Maintain physical distance
      1. Consider reducing overall number of workers
      2. Ensure the right number of people are in each area to prevent coming in too close—space workers out
      3. 2 meters between all people, employees and public, where possible
    3. Where physical distance cannot be maintained
      1. Consider partitions
      2. Consider use of masks, face shields, gloves (although these have limitations)
  1. Develop (and write down) policies around who can be at your tasting room 
    1. Self-isolation
      1. Symptomatic people must self- isolate at home for minimum of 10 days; symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat and fatigue
      2. Anyone told to isolate by provincial health officer
      3. Anyone who has arrived from outside Canada for 14 days
    2. Limit visitors
    3. Make a plan if workers start feeling ill at work including who they should notify and how they will get from the workplace to their home
    4. If workers are alone to reduce transmission put in place procedures to ensure their safety—consider check ins by a person(s) NOT alone
    5. Develop work at home procedures
  1. Develop (and write down) Communication plans and training
    1. Train every person who is employed by you about staying home when they develop sickness symptoms
    2. Post signage including occupancy limits and effective hygiene practices. Post at main entrances including who is restricted from entering such as people with symptoms
    3. Ensure proper supervision of employees so they know what to do
  1. Monitor workplace as needed
    1. Address new areas of concern as they arise and involve workers in this
    2. Ensure workers feel free to raise safety concerns through a worker representative (9-20 employees), through a joint H&S committee (more than 20 employees) or some other way (under 9 employees)
    3. (Remember to write down any changes you have made to modify your plans–it shows you are actively monitoring the situation and are doing due diligence)
  1. Assess risks from resuming operations if you have not been operating normally
    1. If you’ve seen staff turnover, are workers ready to adapt to new job roles, use new equipment? Consider more training and orientation
    2. Do workers that have been away need training to refresh skills?
    3. Have you changed protocols that need retraining?
    4. Are there any start up risks like equipment that hasn’t been running for a length of time, restarting machinery etc

Other:

  1. Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents and undue hazard. If employer can’t resolve the issue the employer must call WorksafeBC.
  2. Workers and employers with questions should call 1-888-621-SAFE to speak to WorksafeBC’s Prevention Information Line
  3. There are resources for protecting mental health
    1. COVID-19 Psychological First Aid Service: Information and Signup (British Columbia Psychological Association) – Free virtual counseling provided by registered psychologists.
    2. COVID-19: Staying Well In Uncertain Times (Canadian Mental Health Association – B.C.) – Tips and information on how to reduce and manage anxiety in the workplace due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
    3. Managing COVID-19 Stress, Anxiety and Depression (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions) – Tips and resources on things we can do as individuals and collectively to deal with stress and support one another during these challenging times.
    4. Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak (World Health Organization) – These mental health considerations were developed by the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use as messages targeting different groups to support for mental and psychosocial well-being during COVID-19 outbreak.
    5. Mental Health and COVID-10 (Conference Board of Canada) – Videos on different aspects of mental health, including coping with anxiety, job loss, and dealing with isolation.
    6. Taking Care of Your Mental Health (COVID-19) (Public Health Agency of Canada) – Tips and resources for taking care of your mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

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Donning Masks and Such Things

I spoke with a WorksafeBC inspector this week and he told me how impressed he was that winery owners are very concerned about COVID-19 precautions–how to keep their employees healthy, how to sanitize surfaces, wearing proper face masks and gloves and following strict distancing guidelines.  I thought to myself how great this is to hear–the wine industry has stepped up and is taking this seriously. Then he said that at one such winery, during an inspection, a worker got on a tractor to spray the vineyard without any protective suit, gloves, respirator or other PPE.

I thought, there seems to be a disconnect between how we are approaching health and safety during this crisis and permanently thinking about it year-round, every day and for every worker.

A couple weeks ago, I posted on facebook letting wineries know that I can work with them to put in place more comprehensive health and safety programs, but I immediately got schooled on how to clean and sterilize surfaces.  It’s almost like people think health and safety protocols, PPE, and procedures began with COVID and will end with COVID.

I am less concerned that employers are going to be able to find information right now on how to socially distance or disinfect a countertop and more concerned how they figure out how to do regular workplace inspections that are meaningful.  When WorksafeBC comes in with a list of deficiencies for a small business to work on, I approach it as an opportunity to look at your operations and integrate these changes with ways to make you more efficient, open up lines of communications between employees and management and build a stronger company culture.

Employees want employers to care about their well being, not just during these times but at all times. They don’t see it as unnecessary paperwork if they feel there is substance, real change and empathy behind it.

When we migrate to the “new norm” it would be great to see everyone take off their COVID masks and head out to spray their vineyards with fit-tested respirators.  Cellar workers will go back to standing shoulder to shoulder but what if they now feel comfortable to report that corner of the barrel room where four people have slipped in the past month?  Tasting Room workers will put away the “wine drive through” signs and maybe put up the “wet floor” signs, not just for the public, but because their first concern is for their co-workers.  Management will stop regular checks on people working from home once they return to work, but wouldn’t it be great if they instituted regular checks on the employee working alone in the vineyard or the warehouse all day?

What if we never go back to our old ways but instead take the care and attention to detail we have used during isolation and made our businesses pivot in that direction permanently? I believe employees will be expecting this to happen and I hope all small businesses are ready to meet those expectations.

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8 Years and Counting–I’m Talking to You Ontario and Quebec

June 6 this year will mark the eighth anniversary of the passing of Bill C-311 which set to rectify the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act of 1928 by allowing interprovincial importation of wine for personal use.  Yes I said PASSING.  It passed.  But nothing has changed.

Since then a couple of milestones have occurred. First, just weeks after the passing of Bill C-311 in 2012 it became clear its passing was not going to clarify the situation for wineries. Instead this issue would be kicked down to the provinces to make their own rules. In an act of good faith, British Columbia changed its laws to allow for wines made in other Canadian provinces to flow freely direct to the consumer.  This meant that the fledgeling Nova Scotia and Quebec wine industries had a new market open to them immediately. It also meant that the well-established Ontario wine industry could now sell wine club memberships and ship cases direct to consumers in BC.  This legislative act was only done because the province of BC had it on good authority that the other provinces were going to reciprocate.  Since then, the only wine producing province to do so has been Nova Scotia, and that was 3 years later in 2015.  Quebec and Ontario wineries can still send their wines to consumers in BC but British Columbia wineries still cannot legally do the same.

8 years later.

The second milestone that occurred was the Supreme Court case R v. Comeau in 2018 which reversed a lower court ruling from New Brunswick that found that restricting possession of alcohol from outside the province was was unconstitutional.  In other words, the 1928 act would stand–prohibition era laws are alive and thriving in Canada.

So to recap, the pathway for any winery in British Columbia to ship its wine direct to consumer is closed federally–both legislatively and legally.  It remains open only through action taken by individual provinces.  BC has opened its doors to all provinces but the other two provinces that produce wine in Canada have not–Ontario and Quebec.

In this time of COVID-19 one thing is clear–things had better change to help small businesses because this might not be the last pandemic the world will see.  BC wineries, like wineries all over the world, have seen a total shut down of three important channels: tasting rooms–the lifeblood of most small wineries–restaurants and international export. Only the retail and wine club channels have been keeping most wineries from closing their doors permanently.  BC wineries need more options not fewer.  That is what the fight for “Free My Grapes” was all about.  Options. Legal options.

It has been whispered that relaxation of the alcohol regulations to aid businesses in the short term might become precedent setting and permanent, and governments do not want that to happen.  God forbid if a 92 year old law is amended to allow for farmers and small businesses to have options.  God forbid if our country pivots to fundamentally supporting local–not only in words but in actions and deeds.

Ontario and Quebec, as provinces with your own wine industries, we are expecting you to reciprocate and allow BC wineries to legally ship wine to your consumers.  We are not asking anything more of you than our province is already giving you.  Show you care more for raising the profile of a fledgling Canadian wine industry over promoting international brands which dominate your monopolistic stores. Our liquor board has not collapsed (save that topic for another blog post) and yours won’t either. You local wineries will not collapse.  Nova Scotia is a great example for this.  Since they have opened their doors to direct to consumer shipments of wine, their industry has grown, both in number of wineries, planted acreage, tourism and investment. BC has been open for shipments direct to consumer for 8 years and our wine industry is growing, innovating and increasing in market share.

Let’s be real, most BC wineries are shipping to your consumers anyways, even though it is not legal.  But BC wineries should realize in the wake of this virus how fleeting things can be. You cannot build a consumer base, market, advertise and promote what you make if it has to be done quietly and hidden under the table in an environment of illegality.

So we’re asking you nicely, Quebec and Ontario, to please reciprocate. We hope you’ll change your laws out of common decency in the wake of this disaster.  But if we can’t appeal to you on a humanitarian-small farmer-support local-sustainability basis–we’ll change our strategy.

But we’ll never stop so get used to us.

We’ll never stop trying to get Canada to have access to its own home grown products. We’ll never apologize for trying to give Canadian farmers more options. We’ll never back away from small businesses being on the receiving end of changes that will allow them greater flexibility. We’ll never stop trying to #freemydamngrapes.

And right now, you two are standing in our way.

 

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What BC Wineries Should be Doing During the COVID-19 Crisis

It occurred to me that many BC wineries were not in existence since our last major crisis–not the month long disruption caused by forest fires, SARS and Alberta boycotts but September 11, 2001. Even for wineries that were in business 19 years ago many may have forgotten how that impacted our industry. When tourism was disrupted as it was post 911, it not only resulted in fewer people walking into cellar doors but it also had a big impact on sales in the Lower mainland and beyond. People ate out less in restaurants, retail sales were mostly flat (in some cases slightly up) and events were non-existent.

With the COVID-19 virus the same thing is happening but on a much larger scale. We have been rather isolated where most wineries are located, the Okanagan Valley, because as I write this, the outbreak has not yet taken a foothold here–but it is only a matter of time. Tourism will be impacted to an even greater extent because during this crisis, even locals may start staying away from wine touring. In contrast, after 911 the locals seemed to still support our industry and it was mainly the international tourists that stayed away.

The other phenomenon that happened after 911 was the huge rebound that happened 9 months later when the crisis was over. Pent up demand to get back to traveling and spending took over and British Columbia had its largest tourism year still to date in the summer of 2002. Having just attended the BC Tourism Industry Conference in Victoria last week this was confirmed by Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California, who discussed the bounce back that happened after the multiple natural disasters that state has been plagued with. After the crises were over, there was an inevitable increase in visitations. BC wineries also need to be prepared for that once the COVID-19 virus fades away.

Below are my ideas for what wineries should be doing right now—and I mean now—to prepare for the crisis that is upon us:

  1. Find A Buddy Winery

If there is one thing that many BC wineries are good at, it’s their ability to isolate themselves from the rest of the industry. Now is not the time to do that. I suggest every winery seek out a buddy winery—one in their area—that can help them weather this storm. This can be a winery that you already have a relationship with or one you may have always wished to have a relationship with. It doesn’t matter if you’re the same size or not. It doesn’t matter if you are new to the industry and they have been around for decades. You can always learn from one another.

Buddying up with another winery will allow you to combine information that you are hearing from the marketplace, coming up with strategies on how to handle sick employees or ones that want to work from home and even to begin conversations on how you can share part time employees during this time. There are many part time employees that may not survive this crisis because they may be the first to go with cost savings measures. Before you tell that part time person that you don’t have hours for them, talk with your buddy winery to see if between the two of you there is capacity to share employment to keep that person in our industry. Once they are gone they may be gone forever so it’s time to start getting more flexible and creative and employee sharing is one strategy to do that.

  1. Do an Employee Inventory

If every employee, both part time and full time, seasonal and permanent, had to work from home, could they do that? The answer is probably “no” but often wineries stop there. “No, cellar, vineyard and hospitality employees cannot work from home” I can hear you say. Don’t discount this idea out of hand. Every employee has work that must be done at the winery, there is no doubt about that, but almost every employee also has work that can be done at home.

Your tasting room employee, if underutilized because the tourists aren’t walking in the door in their usual numbers, can update mailing lists from home. They an update credit card information for your wine club and they can look for innovative items for sale in your tasting room for when the flow of customers surge again. Cellar employees can get caught up on paperwork, inventory, bid equalization, capital purchases, packaging decisions and procedure writing from home. When they have to come in to do cellar work, they don’t necessarily need to be at the winery for a complete day. Vineyard employees may not be able to do much work from home but it is a great time to begin implementing a more rigorous health and safety program and maybe that can be done for a few hours in the afternoon once fieldwork is complete. Get good at using Google hangouts or Zoom or any of the various programs out there that help with video meetings. If you’ve never held a management meeting virtually, now is your time to learn. If you don’t learn now, you won’t be ready for the next crisis—and there will always be a next one.

Work from home will also help general managers and winery owners get better at another skill they often lack—trust in their employees. It’s hard to micromanage someone who’s not in the building, but learning how to better trust employees working off site is a skill that this industry needs to get much better at.

  1. Time to Up Your Game

A possible slow down in business allows every person who works at a winery to do those activities that they often put off during the year because they are running at breakneck speed. When was the last time you took a look at your updating your business plan? When was the last time you had a strategic planning session? What was the last innovation you put in action? Right now the BC wine industry is launching the new sustainability certification program—is that something you can now tackle? Do you have all the human resource programs in place at your winery? Have you renewed your marketing plan? Do you have a social media-planning calendar? Have you put in place a preventative maintenance program or updated your WHMIS sheets or started Health and Safety workplace inspections? When was the last time that you had heart to heart conversations with your employees outside of a performance review? Do you even do performance reviews?

When times are tough it is not time to pull back and withdraw. It’s time to leap frog over your old self and reinvent your new self. Grow the pie. Up your game. I can guarantee that your smart competitors will be doing this.

  1. Find Efficiencies

There are two ways to make money—increase your revenues and decrease your expenses. Now is the time to figure out ways to do the later. At the winery I used to run we called this a “rock list”.  In other words, what rocks could we look under and find cost savings. You may be thinking you are already running lean, and that may be true, but this time get all your employees in a room and brainstorm. They are the ones working the front lines and often know areas of fat that can be reduced without an appreciable loss to your image or business. The very last place to look for cost savings, in my opinion, should be with your employees but often wineries start there. In 2001 after 911 happened our winery was in the middle of digging a huge pit for our barrel cellar. We knew there would be a big disruption to tourism and revenues and we started looking at ways to save significant money. We opted to order flat bottom glass rather than the deep punted glass that we usually used and at our volumes, that was a $40,000 savings in that one year. Because of that decision, we did not have to let one of our employees go. I can say in all of the 23 years we ran our winery, we never one time let an employee go for cost saving reasons. A statistic I am most proud of to this day.

Get your employees in a room and come up with ways to shave costs. Put a dollar amount next to each and you will be surprised how small savings add up. Remember, there are two ways to make money and raising your prices or expecting bigger sales during the time of COVID-19 is just not a logical expectation. Do it by finding efficiencies and who knows, you may get into the habit making a “rock list” even when times get better.

  1. Prepare for Growth

As stated at the beginning, a period of increased tourism and growth will follow this downturn and you want to make sure your winery is positioned properly for when that comes. You will need to ramp up tasting room employees—where are you going to find them? Are you keeping prospective employees in the loop as to when you will need them again? If you aren’t, your neighbor winery might be, and you will be struggling to get people in place at the same time that many other wineries will be looking to do the same thing. Have you planned for events that can be rolled out at any time of the year to take advantage of this increase in travelers? Are you producing marketing materials for your sales agents to utilize when restaurant orders pick up? There are a million ways to get your business ready for growth but you need to know that growth will inevitably come.

Is your winery going to be ready to pivot and be prepared to capitalize on the increased sales opportunities or is it going to be caught flat-footed?

I hope this has given you some things to think about in preparation for this upcoming drop in business. Imagine in a few months your winery has formed a new friendship with another winery, has learned to trust employees and given them the flexibility they need to thrive, become more innovative and efficient and become more proactive rather than reactive. Can your winery take the challenges and make them into something meaningful? It is not the crisis that defines us but how we deal with it.

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Defining

We are defined by others and ourselves out of convenience, the love of categorizing and maybe just out because it makes relationships easier.  For years I made wine so I was a winemaker and for many, that was not only what I did but who I was.  Then I became a CEO and it took a long time for people to fully understand that, yes, I was a winemaker but now a winemaker that ran a company.  Media would get confused or find it quaint that I was now a CEO, like I couldn’t be that if I was a previously defined as a winemaker–but I was both–and much more.

A year and a half ago I became a consultant to the BC beverage industries from ciders to spirits, beer and yes, wine.  I am not the same person I was when I made wine or ran a company but I am still as complex a person as I was back then. Complexity is what we like to shorthand for others.  We strip away their many loves, layers, hangups, hobbies, desires and fears and replace them with words like “winemaker” and “CEO” or “divorced”, “single”, “real estate agent”, “retired”, “accountant”, “widow”, “father” (insert any overly simplistic term here). Our world wants to make every one and every thing simplified, to be defined by their job or their status, but I yearn for more complexity, not less.

In June I will explore a love I’ve had for many years, the American Civil War.  I can hear you asking “Seriously? How can that be?” (spoiler alert: humans are complex). I’ll wander through history from Arlington to Bull Run, across the Shenandoah Valley campaign to Charlottesville and Lexington.  Around Richmond to the siege of Petersburg and the Seven Days battles, then up to Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. North again to Ball’s Bluff,  Harper’s Ferry and Antietam and finish with a five-day civil war course at Gettysburg college.

A dream vacation for me that will also include plenty of art, photography, food, drink and poetry because how can I leave behind that which is a part of me?

My days of defining myself are over.  It has always been a job for those around me anyway so carry on.  I’m just not going to make it so easy for you from here on out.

Posted in Personal Sandra | 1 Comment

Women and BC Wineries

Recently I was sitting across the table from a young, energetic and impassioned female who wanted to work at a BC winery and asked me if the wine industry is male dominated or is it an industry that she could break into and have success? I didn’t know what to say to her. Should I tell her to go “all in” and pursue her dreams? Should I tell her to step carefully and make sure she works for the “right” winery, one that has a good hiring record and develops their employees? Or should I tell her to run the other way? A few years ago I would have told that her gender wouldn’t matter at all and just to do what she wanted to, go for anything that appealed to her. Today, I found myself not able to answer her question.

If you own a winery or are someone in senior management, how would you answer her question at your winery? Let’s say she wanted to work in the vineyard at floor level doing pruning, suckering, harvesting and general operations. How about if she’s worked many years in vineyards and has taken viticulture classes and is looking for a vineyard manager job, would you consider her? Let’s say she is looking for a cellar job, or is qualified to be an assistant winemaker or winemaker. Would you consider her?   How about if she wants to be a hospitality worker or a hospitality manager? How about if she runs your tasting room already—would you ever consider grooming her for taking over sales and marketing? Now let’s say you’re growing large enough in production that you need someone to be your company’s CFO, CEO, GM or Director of Sales. Would you consider hiring or promoting a female? What about if you’re looking for another board member? Have you considered women?

I bet a lot of you, if not all of you have said “Yes! Of course I’d hire a female for all of those positions—as long as she’s experienced, was in the right salary range and was a good fit for our winery”. So now let me ask you, HAVE you hired women in those positions?

What percentage of the people who work at your winery are women? How many are in senior positions? If you have a board of directors, how what is the male/female ratio (the same question for your investors)? If you calculate your total payroll, how much goes to men versus women employees?  Have you ever calculated the average salary for a woman at your winery versus the same number for a man? Are there certain areas of your winery that are male dominated or female dominated? If yours is a small winery you don’t escape these questions. With over 300 wineries in BC and the overwhelming majority of them being under 5,000 cases you may not hire more than 2-4 people a year but the same questions apply. If you have never asked any of these questions then this topic is not front-of-mind for you. I would also say that you may tend to fall back to the easy, old ways of hiring. “Men are physically stronger” therefore they get more vineyard and cellar positions. “Women are good with people” so they get more tasting room and administration positions but often will never move up from these roles. Senior management at BC wineries is male dominated. If, however, you have made an effort to promote and hire women in this industry and you do care about pay equity, you think about how you personally can give women a leg-up in this industry then why aren’t you tooting your horn more? There are seriously talented women out there who want to work at your winery but they need to know you exist, that you care about such things.

The day is fast approaching, if it is not here already, when BC winery owners will not have enough skilled labour to fill positions. Competition for the really tuned-in workers will be fierce and you cannot afford to ignore more than half of the population. More importantly, the workers already know about this shortage and they will not take the first job offered to them but they will be in the driver’s seat. They will be asking you at interviews what your turnover rate is. What is your record for gender pay equity? They will ask you how many women have senior positions at your winery? They will ask you what your board or ownership or investor gender mix is. As a winery owner or GM you are going to have to know the answer to these questions or that person will move on to the next winery who will have the answers. The wineries that can answer these questions may not have parity but they are way ahead of those wineries that never think about it at all.

And why is it so important that we think about women in this industry, their roles, their salaries, and their seniority other than just because it’s the right thing to do? It’s because the most successful businesses foster diversity. Diversity in thought allows for a truly dynamic work environment—one with innovation, high revenues, engagement with the consumer and empathy. The biggest tool you have in your toolbox as a winery owner to get you closer to a diverse and dynamic workforce is gender, in my opinion.   This is not just having more women overall but in particular, hiring more women in senior and management positions and hiring more women in traditionally male dominated areas of your winery.

I ask you–if you were sitting across from this young, promising talented woman the way I was, how would you have answered her? Is the BC wine industry one she should throw herself into whole-heartedly, should she step cautiously or should she run in the other direction?

What is the answer at your winery?

Posted in BC Wine Industry | 4 Comments

Photographer’s Statement

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One Picture. Two Scraps of Paper.

One Picture

The Kind and Gentle Souls of Tinhorn Creek

I took this picture of Tinhorn Creek employees on Monday, September 11, 2017 at 9:00AM. It was the hardest and the greatest picture I have ever taken.  The shutter clicked just before I shared the news with them that Andrew Peller Limited had purchased the winery. I share it today with you because it has come to embody everything that is at the centre of Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro as well. Yes we grow great grapes on great land, make exceptional premium wines, host concerts and events, offer an exceptional dining experience and sell our wine in fine retail outlets and restaurants. But found in this picture is why the grapes are great, why the wines have a sense of place, why the bills get paid on time, how the visitors are welcomed, how the cases sell out year after year, and how the food is prepared with love. THIS is Tinhorn Creek. It was Tinhorn Creek when I took the picture and it is still Tinhorn Creek today.

Andrew Peller has taken on big things when it purchased Tinhorn Creek. Their leadership has conveyed to me that they will keep the culture we have built, its sense of place, what makes it unique, its innovation and fierce independence and above all complete flexibility during the transition. I know Andrew Peller will do these things because these are the qualities that attracted them to us in the first place.  Tinhorn Creek can do nothing but continue to be those things because they are inherent in its DNA. These qualities are inherent in Tinhorn Creek’s DNA because they are inherent in every single employee that works there.

Every single employee.

I would suggest Andrew Peller purchased Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro for one more quality that is elusive but gets to the core of who every person is in the picture. A collective sense of Empathy. Empathy for coworkers, for customers and community. It is a shared sense of Empathy that has blossomed at Tinhorn Creek over these past 23 years. The people of Tinhorn Creek will help show Andrew Peller their unique brand of Empathy. I know they will because they are all exceptional mentors in this field and their Empathy is infectious.

Having spent the last 31 waking hours since the announcement meeting with 31 employees, I can say that Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro have a large number of Kind and Gentle Souls on staff. In fact there are a disproportionate number of Kind and Gentle Souls on this hill.  Compassion for their coworkers comes before wine or food because they know that anyone can go to a job every day but some get to go to a place that they love and are loved in return.  This has instilled a great sense of pride and ownership.  Person after person has sat down with me since Monday and intimated that they feel like THEY own Tinhorn Creek.

Andrew Peller must be prepared to share their new ownership with those who feel it is already theirs—the employees.

In the end what are people really remembered for? Winemakers are never memorialized for that one stellar wine they made. Viticulturalists never for that time they averted frost. CEOs never for that big sale or acquisition. We are remembered for the way we treated one another. How we empathize with one another, or tell a humorous joke that breaks the tension or give an extra long hug at the end of a very long day. The PEOPLE of Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro don’t just work there, they ARE Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro and they cannot be any other way. That is why this company was so attractive to Andrew Peller. That is why these people now need to get on with what they were hired to do. Grow great grapes. Make exceptional wines. Treat visitors like they’ve walked into their home. Welcome diners with a warm smile and an unparalleled food experience. Treat suppliers with respect. Hand-sell each case in the marketplace with care and dedication–whether it’s by a Tinhorn Creek employee or by one of our amazing, dedicated partners at Trialto. Get on with being Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro.

When you fall in love with a company, the way Kenn and I did many years ago, you can only pass that baton on to someone else when you know that they will sustain what you built, care for the resources you have amassed and then take those resources–people being top on the list–and grow from there to reach even bigger and better heights. With a foundation like Tinhorn Creek, Andrew Peller cannot do anything but soar.  From vineyard to cellar to hospitality to administration to sales and marketing, every last person has told me they are dedicated to seeing Tinhorn Creek and Andrew Peller thrive because they are so heavily invested in the culture we have built and don’t want to lose this collective sense of Empathy.  Remember, these are Kind and Gentle Souls.

Two Scraps of Paper

I kept two scraps of paper near my desk for the last seven years as Tinhorn Creek’s CEO. One was a long acronym written on paper and stuck to the base of my computer monitor—like some kind of daily devotional mantra it reads:

HCIHTCVEDTJB?

(How Can I Help TCV Employees Do Their Job Better?)

It was there to remind me each time I turned on my computer and throughout the day that my role as CEO was to support them. Not for them to support me. Less leading, more assisting. The mantra also emphasizes how each employee does THEIR job. It was not my role to micromanage them but to give them the right tools, and enough encouragement so they could excel. In the end they take responsibility for what they do, they grow and evolve into new roles, they cross-train in other’s areas and they drive Tinhorn Creek to success. I was good at mentoring, but they were much better at learning and executing and what more could a CEO ask for?

This is why I am positive that the arrangement we have made with Andrew Peller for transition will end in success for everyone. I will no longer be working at Tinhorn Creek by the time this post goes out. My husband will be advising Andrew Peller for one year to ensure a smooth transition and to ensure that what we have built, and what they have purchased, is sustained into the future. If I did not feel that employees could already run their jobs with commitment and autonomy it would be very hard to leave.

Of course I am sad but I am also filled with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that I can hand over this company with a high-functioning and caring team to a Canadian company that will go to great places with them. If the winery wants to keep my legacy going forward  then maybe each employee who reads this can put HCIHTCVEDTJB? on some prominent place that they look at each day. That would warm my heart immensely.

The second scrap of paper came from my daughter in 2011, who was then six years old. I was new in my CEO role and still the Winemaker so I was abnormally busy. One afternoon she was in my office and frustrated because I had promised I would do something with her but instead I kept yapping on the phone and putting her off. Visibly frustrated, she grabbed a scrap of paper and a black Sharpie pen. After she carefully drew something she put it on my desk and waited for me to respond. It was this:

After years of desperately wanting a child, there she was–right in front of me telling me to go home and spend more time with  her. I later taped the paper to my desk, where only I could see it, in the hopes that it would remind me of what is really important in life. It worked. Many, many days since then I have glanced down at that drawing, turned off my computer and gone home. The problem, paperwork, calculation, phone call, repair job etc. would still be there waiting for me tomorrow. That piece of paper also taught me that each of our employees needed the exact same work-life balance and so it was always visible to me during conversations with them.

But the last couple of weeks when I have looked down on it, this scrap of paper has taken on a different meaning. Home for me now is wherever my husband and daughter are. I want and need to claim back some time with them that I feel I’ve earned. If you are a loyal Tinhorn Creek customer who is expecting me to be there when you come to visit, attend an event or be the “face” of Tinhorn–you need to give me permission to go home now. Tinhorn Creek, as already said, is still Tinhorn Creek because all the people who made it that way are still there—but I want to go home now.

 

This post would not be complete if I failed to mention what the future holds for me. Here is a list of what is NOT in my near, distant  or far off future:

1) Retirement

2) Own another winery

3) Politics

The comments on social media that I will be missed are not necessary because I am not going anywhere. In fact, if you thought I tweeted a lot before… (!) In the next year I will probably figure out what I want to be when I grow up, but here is a list of what I KNOW it will involve:

1) Champion BC and Canadian wines because why would I stop doing that now?

2) Shake things up.  Not for the sake of shaking things up but because they truly need to be

3) Kick some ass. See Point 2 above

Yes, I will still host #BCWineChat every Wednesday at 8pm on twitter (but will not do so again until October 11 as I will be on vacation between now and then). Yes, I will still chair the BCWGC Health and Safety Committee, still take part in the industry-changing initiatives driven by UBC-Kedge, still sit on the advisory panel for the CEO Safety Charter through the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC, still be an advisory panel of the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan and it is my hope to still remain on the board of the Tourism Industry Association of BC.

You may even spot me volunteering at some of my favourite wineries around British Columbia this year. I love them because I understand them and they have always been a big reason why I am a proud Canadian and why I love this place.

It’s not about the grapes, it’s about the people and until this industry gets that into its collective head its going to be a long, hard journey.

In summary, what are I going to be doing now? I will still live vicariously through me.

Posted in Personal Sandra, TInhorn Creek | 43 Comments

Sonnet 73 Reworked

A recent poetry class asked me to find a famous rhyming poem, keep all rhyming words from the end of the lines and rewrite a new poem of my own using those rhyming words in the same order.

I chose Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 and have remained true to its form–3 quatrains and a couplet in iambic pentameter.

Past

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Poem

Poem

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Free Wine to Nova Scotia Wine Lover

In the spirit of the announcement today that Nova Scotia has opened up its borders to allow for sales and shipments of BC wine to its province, I will do the following:

  1. Draw a name from interested twitter followers for a free case of wine from our winery, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
  2. The 12 bottles and the shipping cost will be free to the winner
  3. In order to quality you must:
    1. Be of legal drinking age
    2. Love BC wine
    3. Live in Nova Scotia
    4. Follow me on twitter
    5. Direct message me on twitter that you are interested in entering the draw by Sunday, June 28 at 9AM Pacific standard time

Go!

 

 

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Moving Taxi NYC

IMG_4178IMG_4173IMG_4175IMG_4174IMG_4169

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How Happy is the Little Stone

How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn’t care about careers,
And exigencies never fears;
Whose coat of elemental brown
A passing universe put on;
And independent as the sun,
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute decree
In casual simplicity.

~Emily Dickinson

Tinhorn Creek on the Golden Mile Bench

Tinhorn Creek Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench

 

It is a time of great change in the British Columbia wine industry.  Talk of retail prices, channel implications,  markup structure, international blended wines and grocery stores dominates our conversations.

And yet, decades from now, these debates will not be remembered.  They will be only dim memories in the minds of a few industry insiders who conjure them up while reminiscing in some futuristic bar.

But today will be remembered even so.

Because today is the day that we set in motion something new that will tell a story of our BC wine industry in meaningful and positive ways.  It is something as elemental as the brown given to vineyard stones by a passing universe.  In casual simplicity, I toast to you, the Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia’s first sub appellation.

Posted in Grapes and Wine, Local, TInhorn Creek | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grow the Pie

It has been a very long time since I have blogged.  I no longer feel guilt for that.  Turns out I can’t do it all.  Today was the kind of day that changed that.  I need to get something out there–more of a vent, not a rant.

I have spent so many of my waking hours  since January discussing, fretting, planning. conferencing and lamenting the new BC liquor laws that are just 20 days from enactment.  I’m sick of it all.  Things are going to happen on April 1st and all of us in the wine, beer and spirits industries are going to sit back and watch events unfold.  That being said…

The last 24 hours have been very telling for me.

Yesterday a case of wine arrived from Marquis Wine Cellars  filled with wine I had purchased from fellow wineries who poured at the in-person #BCWineChat two weeks ago.  Right to my doorstep, hand-picked by a knowledgable person from the store with guidance from me.  The staff at Marquis Wine Cellars are some of the best in BC.  They know everything there is to know about what’s on their shelves.  Marquis Wine Cellars is a Private Wine Store.

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening with  BC Winery Owners at a British Columbia Wine Institute meeting.  We discussed the industry’s strategic plan for 2015 and reviewed, surprise surprise, some of the changes that will be forthcoming in our industry starting in April.  Every person in that room contributes to this province’s economy–over $40 to BC’s economy for every $1 of BC wine sold in the province.  These people are my friends.  My best friends.  And I want them all to thrive and succeed.

Today at lunch (at our own Miradoro Restaurant) I met with four passionate VQA Store Owners.  They have struggled to get traction for years and now that they have built up loyal customers they feel the ground shifting beneath them.  There are no bigger advocates for BC wine than these store owners.  They send customers straight to the winery doors.  They promote our concerts, events, new releases and the uniqueness that is found within each BC winery.  They do it because they love BC Wine and believe in what we do.

After lunch I realized I was hosting #BCWineChat tonight but am out of BC bubbly (the theme) and yes, I know, how can that be?  Don’t I just drink all day long?  Anyway, a quick stop in at Desert Country Liquor Store a Licensed Retail Store (LRS) and I remedied my situation.  Not only does this store carry some of the best microbrews in BC but they also carry a massive selection of BC and local Oliver/Osoyoos wines.  $34 later I had a bottle of Brut Rosé from Blue Mountain in my hand (and some sake!) and was on my way to…

…pick up my case of wine from the Oliver Government Liquor Store (GLS).  I had purchased a case of wine at the on site store during the Vancouver International Wine Festival a couple of weeks back.  Greatest service ever– buy on site and they ship to your local store anywhere in the province for free.  One case, filled with amazing Imported Wine from all over the world.

In 24 hours I interacted with, purchased from or supported every wine channel in BC and bought BC wine, imported wine and sake.  What does this prove? Certainly it proves I am well on my way to having a drinking problem, but the other thing it proves is that we need EVERY channel in BC to be strong.  They must survive–no, thrive–if we are going to be successful.  We cannot afford to sacrifice  anyone.  We all have too much riding on these channels, these wineries and these restaurants.  And so does the BC government.  If we all grow,  they grow.

Unlike the government’s mandate with these changes to “modernize but stay revenue neutral” I say strive for revenue enhancement.  I want the government to make more money because that means that we all are making more money.

It means we are not just carving up the pie so some win and some lose.  It means we are making the pie bigger.  That’s the trick, folks. It’s not about you getting one thing and this guy over there getting a different thing.  It’s about making the pie bigger.

And do you know where I did not visit today?  A grocery store. But I leave that for another blog, and for my husband, who does the shopping.

Posted in Grapes and Wine | 9 Comments

Thar She…Is!

Humpback Whales IMG_0138

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Wine Sayings of My Uncle, 1839

Old_book_bindings

In a scan of primary sources tonight I came across this gem of a book from the European Library.  From “Every Man His Own Butler” by Cyrus Redding, 1839 which is so wonderful my new goal is to own a copy. The entire book is fascinating, but at the end the author lists pages of sayings from his uncle about wine.  Progress sometimes means listening to the past.  Here is a sampling:

1. Bad wine is never worth good water.

2. Never believe the wine good because the owner tells you so.

3. Red wine poisons oysters.

4. Repentance is a home-made wine of our own brewing.

5. Never drink bad wine out of compliment; self-preservation is the first law.

6. Wine makes the soul go naked.

7. Of wine and love the first taste is the best; no second sip equals it.

8. Take care of the bung, and the wine will mind itself.

9. If you find your wine go too fast, put a second lock on your cellar and keep the key.

10. Good wine should drink smooth, like liquified velvet.

11. The best wine of all kinds is not that which costs the least,but that which costs nothing.

12. The bouquet of wine comes like a sunbeam, and must be enjoyed at the moment.

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Thoughts of Dad on His Birthday–In No Particular Order

Dad 2012

Walking close next to me on a snow-covered sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake City.  In front of me my husband carrying our newborn in her little carry car seat.

Outburst of uncontrollable laughter  in the bedroom next door every time Mad Mad Mad Mad World would air on TV.

Calmly, methodically sending the brush on its long pole carefully down the side of the pool.  Working his way slowly around its circumference.

The inevitable, yet always expected, “Hoooome Sweet Home” as we crossed into our driveway returning from a family trip.

Dancing in the winery amphitheater for his anniversary party.

Holding my mother’s hand in the church pews during service.

Standing beside me, walking me through the backyard he had cleaned meticulously on my way to be married.

The spontaneous hug for my Mother at the sink after dinner.

“I’m really proud of you” or “Your Mother and I are so proud of you” after graduation from UC Davis.  No doubt from Sacramento State, Santa Rosa Junior College and Marin Catholic High School as well— but I don’t remember those.

Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline blasting from the stereo

Fixing everything. Everything.

Sitting back, stirring his coffee and taking in the Christmas dinner conversation around him. Catching my eye and sending a laser wink in my direction.

“How’s my girlfriend?” asking about our daughter, across the miles.

Washing, scrubbing car grease off his hands before meals.

Fishing off the dock.  Feeding the ducks. Relaxing on the deck. Putting the boat into Clear Lake.  Taking the boat out of Clear Lake.

Teaching me how to water ski.  Circling. Circling. Circling the boat until I popped up out of the water…or gave up for another day.

Letting me drive the boat on his lap.  The yellow floaty boat key swaying, jingling as we bounced along the surface.

Year after year, as we both grew older, the back of his head, the right side of his face, from my vantage point in the back seat of the car.

Quickly, quietly pressing some money in my hand after a visit before returning to college.

Sitting on the back of a red Honda motorbike, hanging onto his middle on a winding road to church.

Lifting the storage door, De Soto peeking out from below, “Do you want it?” sheepish grin he could barely contain.

Easy chairs throughout the years, Scarlett or Kelly on his lap.  Reclined.

The now-frequent, not forced, often preceding mine, “I love you” that he drops at the end of a conversation.

Lingering images like dust specks.  Definable with shape.  Tiny wisps of fleeting moments.  Swept together from all corners and across the floors of my mind into one discernible pile of overriding feelings of Love, Gratitude, Honour, Respect and Awe.

Happy 87 years of living Dad.

Posted in Personal Sandra | 2 Comments

10 Reasons to Free My Grapes

I wrote this article, Top 10 Reasons to Free My Grapes, for the September edition of Orchard and Vine magazine.  All views are my own, of course.

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