July 2015 Issue of Wines & Vines
 
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Choosing Winery Production Software

A review of the best software products, and how to weigh their pluses and minuses

 
by Richard Carey
 
 
Winery Software
 
With many software options available, find the one that best meets your business needs.

Everyone in the wine industry organizes how they keep track of their work in ways that are unique, and virtually everyone now keeps some digital records. Furthermore, in the digital information age, government regulations require that we keep records to support tax payments, consumer protection information and statutory information that prove a business is in compliance with government regulations. Software developers have created a wide range of choices to achieve those goals.

Reasons for choosing wine production software
At the risk of repetition from the previous article (see “Choosing Vineyard Management Software” from January 2015), selecting your software provider is akin to choosing your life partner. The process is very personal in that you will be working with the company you choose for a very long time, and with important decisions that can affect the ease of how you do business. At least one of the software companies mentioned in this article has been serving some of their clients for more than 30 years. There must be a comfort level that the company you choose can provide support and service when a computer crashes in the middle of harvest, or if a software glitch brings down your system. These are horrific scenarios, but ones you need to think about before they happen.

    KEY POINTS
     

     
  • Having tested many varieties of winery production software over the years, the author looked again at the major products for this comprehensive review of winery-specific solutions.
     
  • When it’s time to upgrade from Excel spreadsheets to more cellar-specific software, the products described here keep a winery business under control with little effort over and above daily record keeping.
     
  • An explosion of new functionality—and the coming trend of cloud-based software—means that winery software is better than ever and easier to use.
     

To the smaller wineries that are using Excel spreadsheets as their primary digital record keeping methods—or know enough to have a rudimentary Access database—you are advised to start with any one of these packages to save yourself grief and expense in the long run.

The importance of this type of software can elude some who are new to the industry, where the web of complexity is often not realized until too late. Software keeps the business under control with little effort beyond daily recordkeeping. The software stores critical data that can be recalled when needed (such as when a regulator visits and asks you to justify the number of bottles you sold with a label, plus all the other places that varietal was sold during the past two years). Situations like this make you understand the cost-benefit analysis of making a mistake in your personally created software

Amphora publishes an introductory software package that can get you started if the scale of your business does not demand one of the more costly alternatives. The most important action is to begin the process of data collection so that it is preserved and in searchable form. As your needs progress, you can expand to more powerful programs that have more error protections and audit controls.

Whether your entry to this industry is at the level of a large home winemaker or a corporate-level entity, consider one of these packages to guide your business so you don’t go afoul of reporting requirements. For example: Do you understand the calculations necessary for amelioration, chapitalization and sweetening wine such that you are in compliance with the TTB on filing your 5120.17 (old 702) report? Each of these changes the volume of the wine in varying degrees. If you are performing any of these functions at your winery, you need to know exactly how and where to plug numbers to get the proper number of gallons produced. If the program you are using doesn’t perform such calculations for you, your records could be out of compliance.

The major companies
Seven companies have commercial software for wine production that I have reviewed for this article. All of the companies continue to develop new functions, reports and user-interface improvements. The industry has a robust set of software choices from which to choose.

At the time of the vineyard management software article printed in January, only two companies were fully integrated from vineyard to bottle: IVIS Software and AMS. Other wine-production companies do have vineyard models, but they are written more from the winery perspective than from the true operation of the vineyard. Those companies with integrated modules include Amphora, Vintners Advantage, Vintegrate and Orion.

Wine production is the most complex part of the wine industry—and the place where you must get it right. This software type is the basis of your compliance with regulatory agencies, and it is the link between receiving the fruit and handing a finished bottle to sales representatives. If you can only afford one industry-specific package, this is the one to purchase first.

To make sense out of this complex array of software companies, and to try to simplify the comparison of the products, the table “What Leading Vendors Offer” details the functions each offering can perform as well as its versatility.

OPERATING SYSTEM AND SYSTEM ACCESS

Most of the available operating systems are Windows-based and operate in a client/server arrangement. Amphora is the only one that indicates it is compliant with Mac OS X or later. Vintners Advantage offers access to Mac Work Station, but it must be through Vintners Advantage cloud-based software.

The newest trends for enterprise software are cloud-based systems and ones accessed by tablets and smartphones. IVIS, Vintegrate, Orion and Breckenridge have or will soon have all three. Vintners Advantage has cloud access only. Winemakers Database’s new Scion release, coming later this year, will contain these features.

Time investment
Winery software takes a considerable time investment to set up right. If the winery already is using data software, some of the companies (such as IVIS, Breckinridge and Vintners Advantage) are able to directly import your data into their operating system. This is not as easy as it might first seem. A lot of time will be spent mapping your data fields to similar locations on the new system, so the information you try to retrieve will be found in the correct location after the import of your data. An important consideration when choosing winery software is how much change you will need to make converting your current data to the new system. Can you maintain your current tank-naming system, or must it change to keep track of them? With respect to wine lot numbers, how will that change and will you need to maintain a historic mapping of changes so that archival data will not be lost? Most of the time the new software will increase your access to information.

Structural modules vs. purchase modules
Many segments make up the overall process of making wine. Each of these software companies has a different approach to what is essential and/or within their economic model of price vs. feature. In some sense, each business software module can be freestanding or integrated into an overall design of the product. Therefore, some modules are part of the core of a company’s offering, and you must buy this core product and then add on as needed. The more a company uses the modular design, it can reduce your program cost by allowing you to purchase only what you need when you need it.

If, for example, your winery doesn’t have a work order system, Orion offers a work order module. You might not need to purchase that module now, but Orion allows that module to be purchased later. In general, be sure that any module you might like to add can be added on at a later date. At the other end of the module spectrum is IVIS. They indicate that they have two modules, Vineyard and Winery, where each stands alone. Amphora has seven structural modules that are all linked into one program package. These two companies look at their internal “modules” as structural elements of the program itself and not individual purchase elements. Meanwhile, Orion, Breckenridge, Vintners Advantage, Vintegrate and Winemaker’s Database allow you to select the modules you want to use. Breckenridge and Vintegrate have the most modular selections in pricing.

WHAT LEADING VENDORS OFFER
Amphora
 

Modules Included:

Batch Management, Bottle Inventory Management, Container Managment, General Inventory Management, Task Management, Vineyard Management and Winery Reports.

The minimum setup includes all modules.

Modules are linked so that, for example, vineyard events can be linked to finished wine.

Cost:

One-time fee including all modules, free updates for one year with option to purchase updates after that period.

Breckenridge
 

Modules Included:

Inventory Management, Production Management, Lot Tracking, Statistics Analysis, Lot Blending for Product, Container Management, QA Lab, Government Reporting, Sales Order Management and Accounts Receivable.

Cost:

One-time purchase fee pus maintenance and preferred billing rates. Month-to-month payment includes updates when released. Yearly payment offers 10% discount over month to month.

IVIS
 

Modules Included:

Vineyard Module and Winemaking Module.

Cost:

Installation cost plus annual maintenance fee (includes updates).

Orion
  Modules Included:

The Blend core offering is a collection of modules including Production, Vineyard and Packaging.

Additional modules are offered, including: Work Order, Barrel Scanning and Tirage.

Cost:

Installation fee includes training. Annual subscription fee includes unlimited telephone support and upgrades.

Vintners Advantage
 

Modules Included:

Winery Operations includes: Vineyard Information, Grape Receipts, Cellar Work Orders, Barrel Tracking, Laboratory, Trial Blending, Compliance Reporting, Composition, Costing and Bulk Shipping.

Casegood Sales and Distribution includes: Order Entry, Inventory Management, Pricing, Invoicing, Accounts Receivable, Sales Analysis, Purchasing, Allocations, Compliance and Reporting.

Bottling includes: Bills of Material, Bottling, Purchasing, Inventory Control, Product Specifications, Physical Inventory, Compliance and Costing. Offers unlimited inventory locations and warehouses. Integrates to Winery Operations and Sales & Distribution.

Cost:

Per module SaaS (software as a service) monthly fee. Training free. Installation fee.
 

Vintegrate
 

Modules Included:

Can have minimum system with Chart of Accounts, Database and Inventory modules. Wine Production would require more modules.

Cost:

One-time fee for Server Edition plus annual licenses and monthly maintenance fee.

Winemaker's Database
 

Modules Included:

Twenty different modules currently available in the core program. The basic version of The Winemaker’s Database includes all of the tools necessary for most wineries to get started without adding any modules. The only module that can currently operate independently is the Vineyard Management module.

Cost:

No setup cost—monthly service fee only.

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Data setup
Making the transition from your current data-management system to your new winery-specific software is going to take time and thought. Interview each software provider and evaluate the flexibility of their ID system and how you will use that information in your workflow. For those just entering the wine industry, you will need to develop logical coding systems that are expandable to encompass a larger array of inputs and outputs than you might be currently using. Effort in this area can minimize the chance of needing to change your coding system later because you cannot make unique IDs for the particular data set you are creating.

When designing an ID system for wine lots, tank IDs, barrels, etc., judgments are needed to determine whether the ID will be sortable for the data you want to enter. These software companies use the simplest, most accurate system for tracking IDs in the background, which is a unique numeric ID. When you want to retrieve data, it is not a good idea to use a numeric number only for a lot ID or tank ID. If an alphanumeric ID coding system is not used, then a natural language search must be used to give order to the data set to be retrieved. The search must rely on the software to find and order your data. This is not generally the best way to retrieve data, since this system does not force uniformity of data entry. For example, a series of records searching for Cabernet Sauvignon could include CS, CAB, CAB S and Cabernet, creating a difficult record set to order.

An alphanumeric structured ID is better at returning and ordering your data. Encoding within the ID validates the important data in the unique ID code. This code then needs to be flexible enough for the winery to have enough lot numbers available to capture anything it could bring in during one year.

For example, a small winery might choose to identify wine lots with a code of vintage, varietal/blend type and a sequence number such as 14SA01, which describes a wine that could be referencing 2014 as the vintage, Sauvignon Blanc as the varietal and that it was the first iteration for that year. This ID is simple to understand and to determine what that item is. However, if in coming years you add a varietal such as Sangiovese, then is this code for Sauvignon Blanc or Sangiovese? Technically, mapping of letter assignments for this particular code design can provide any vintage or non-vintage wine with up to 676 letter combinations for varietals and/or blends. But the design doesn’t have the flexibility to identify enough different varietals that one can remember what they are from looking at the code. By adding on one more letter, the variety of character options allows for enough combinations that you can understand what the ID is coding for without having to look up the answer in a table. 14SAB001 is clearly Sauvignon Blanc not 14SAN001 for Sangiovese, and a sequence number of three digits can account for 1,000 iterations for each year. Software owners need to think about flexibility to clearly define the code segment as well as how it will be ordered in a report.

Each of the software vendors has its own set up for the initial entry information. Many come with pre-configured reference sets such as varietal lists, AVA and other important information. The winery needs to input fixed information such as barrel numbers, tank numbers and all current bulk wine codes.

Going live
With the assurance that your coding system is robust enough to handle data input for medium- to long-term plans, the entry of all your fixed data sources (such as lot numbers, tanks etc.) can begin. It is then time to “go live.”

Some vendors have a practice set up where you can get familiar with the operations before committing to real-world data entry. Most will suggest that you begin at the start of a data period for TTB reporting or a physical inventory period. In that manner, you have a validation point coinciding with a financial data point. This becomes the foundation of your new data-input system. This point must be as accurate a reference point as possible.

Most of the vendors will suggest that you carry on a dual set of books for one or two reporting periods to cross-check the old system with the new system and catch systematic errors.

Help when you need it
One of the most critical parts of a software vendor’s services in this business is their support desk. You are going to need their help on many occasions, so it is critical that you call and ask questions to see how the help desk solves problems. Many of the vendors have embraced remote access to your computer. That way you both are looking at the issue at hand on your device, and you will not have to describe something or miss an important point that could be staring you right in the face.

Historic data
Most companies can import some form of data from a previous digital system. The most common data import is from Excel spreadsheets. Once the data is imported from a database, the ability to import data becomes more difficult, especially if the imported data is based on transactional records. Therefore, when switching from one vendor to another, it may be difficult to import prior data as a bulk transfer without a lot of custom programming effort.

That said, Vintners Advantage, Winemaker’s Database, IVIS, Vintegrate and Breckenridge all have import service functions that can take various levels of historic data and upload them into the appropriate places in the database. Orion and Amphora require customers to enter data manually.

One strategy is to enter historic data in a more global manner than the transactional level (i.e., by day, month, quarter or year). In this way, a lot of the trends can be captured, at some expense of detail. Then at a later date, the more granular level of detail can be entered into the database.

Updates
All vendors offer some form of updates to their software. Amphora offers free updates for one year after purchase, and then you must pay for additional updates. Although, given the cost of Amphora’s software, it is still a very good deal at whatever price they are charging. IVIS includes regular updates as part of their license. Orion, Breckenridge, Winemaker’s Database, Vintegrate and Vintners Advantage also offer updates several times per year.

Data integrity
The data stream is the lifeblood of your business, and so it must be protected in every way possible. Orion, Winemaker’s Database and Vintners Advantage recommend that customers arrange to back up to their own local server and will help them in this process. IVIS and Amphora offer a backup utility to the client’s chosen location. Vintegrate and Breckenridge offer backup services for any desired time period on- or offsite.

Customization
Wine production software is a small business in the overall tech industry, so all of these software companies have included custom functions in their software. For each special circumstance where a winery needs customized functions to generate a report, or a special data entry form, you can be sure the vendor will be able to produce it for you. It’s only a matter of cost vs. benefit. Amphora will only integrate changes into their standard software version, while other vendors will provide custom solutions for wineries.

Multiple wineries/businesses
If your winery performs alternate premise functions or custom crush—or if you have multiple locations either remotely or within your existing operation—all of these vendors can keep track of each bonded operation individually.

Special compliance functions
It is best to check out for yourself in the process of selecting a vendor how well their software handles compliance issues for filing your 5120.17 (702) forms. This is especially true if you perform any number of additional processes such as chaptalization, amelioration, spirit additions, vinegar, sugar additions or concentrates. There are special formulas for defining the number of wine gallons that increase or decrease due to these operations.

If you perform a large percentage of your production volume with chaptalization or amelioration, then these operations can be particularly important for you. Be sure to talk with your chosen vendor about how well their reporting scheme computes these values. It could be an issue that throws your reports off from a regulatory perspective.

Laboratory testing
The only vendor that has a functional limit is Amphora, whose limit is 24 with 14 pre-defined and 10 custom analyses. Orion and Breckenridge list 20 per page (or top 20 analysis), but you can create any additional number of tests. Vintegrate, IVIS and Vintners Advantage indicate that they have no practical limit on number of analytical procedures, but Vintners Advantage has the “hooks” so data can be directly imported from several instrument types into their software, and they retain data indefinitely.

Reports
The hardest part of software development is data retrieval. This is one place where you need to be very specific about what your business needs. For most of these vendors I doubt there will be much of a problem, since the standard reports provided by these vendors range from more than 100 with Orion to 750 standard reports by Vintners Advantage. All of the vendors will create a special report if you can’t find one that does exactly what you want.

Each vendor offers multiple levels of sorting and grouping of data as well as how data can be formatted for printing. Breckenridge and Winemaker’s Database offer a service of exporting data into an Excel or Access database for further manipulation in either presentation or extraction.

Audit trail
An important factor in database management is assuring regulatory agencies that the data is a true set and has not been externally manipulated. The only software that does not provide true audit trail functionality is Amphora. The rest have varying levels of audit trail functions, since they run transaction-based record keeping. This method keeps a log of all transactions; therefore, if or when a record needs to be corrected, the user has the ability to step through all transactions permanently embedded in the database so an auditor can track the updates to any given transaction. Winemaker’s Database has a one-click function to backtrack to primary records of a wine lot.

Error correction
As important as the audit trail is for compliance, users do not want the method of undoing and correction of erroneous results to be cumbersome. All of the vendors have various ways of undoing and correcting data. An important difficulty happens when errors occur across reporting periods. In such cases the reporting period needs to be re-opened, corrected and then closed to ensure data integrity. Orion has functions that allow this to happen in a straightforward manner. Winemaker’s Database and Vintegrate implement an error-correction function that does not require backing out the erroneous data and then inserting the corrected data; the software then updates all the related fields that are impacted by the change in the data records and permanently notes the changes in the database.

Vendors pay particular attention to data integrity. You can imagine the cascade of corrections that could be needed in the course of repairing a record. The system must guard against the possibility of a wine being moved into a tank that already contained a different wine. This function requires a great deal of expertise from your software vendor.

Vendors also build in access controls so that only users with sufficient authority can change records.

Going forward
Some of these software providers have been in the business for more than 30 years. The software they started with those many years ago pales in comparison to the offerings available today. If anything, the change and expansion of functions is accelerating.

Innovation in digital tools keeps on driving these companies to increase functionality. It probably won’t be much longer before the majority of wineries discontinue use of the client/server model of software in favor of cloud-based data storage. For rural wineries this may become an issue of access to the services needed, but even that problem will most likely be solved as the digital infrastructure grows into the fabric of business life.

To be sure this change is driving all of these vendors’ innovation and capability. Most of them are working on significant changes to their software packages. If a winery signs up with one of the cloud-based SaaS products, it won’t require drastic upgrades. Changes will “automatically” appear, providing new functionalities from one day to the next.


Dr. Richard Carey is president of Vitis Wine Center and winemaker for Tamanend Winery in Lancaster, Pa. He has written numerous articles about new technologies for the grape and wine industry as well as a series of articles on laboratory analyses.
 
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