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New software boosts productivity.

There are some winery managers who run screaming out of the barrel room at the thought of sitting down at a computer keyboard, but like it or not, wineries are increasingly going digital.

As Craig Scarborough, Associated Vintage Group's general manager, says, "virtual winery management" is the future, and with it comes more computers and electronic communication.

The work smarter and faster ethic is being embraced by modern-thinking winery managers who are using computers to implement organizational and communication changes.

Wineries are gradually converting more management and information systems to computer based operations. Their goal is to fatten the profit margin by becoming more efficient.

Associated Vintage Group is a good example of a wine business that is integrating technology deeper into its operating structure. The two-year-old company, founded by Allan Hemphill, Kerry Damskey and Dick Godwin, specializes in custom crushing, winemaking, bottling and labeling for its winery clients. AVG now has production facilities at five sites in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, with more planned.

Hemphill and Scarborough are beginning a long range plan to convert AVG to virtual winery management by linking its sites through e-mail and a networked information system. Eventually, AVG managers will be able to talk to each other via desktop workstations and to access and download information via a WAN, or wide area network. At present, key managers exchange e-mail and data files using Internet access provided by America Online.

"It can really cut costs by helping managers to organize, analyze and communicate better and faster," says Scarborough.

For computerphobes, Scarborough notes that the transition from analog to digital can be quite painless. It really is easy to learn a software program, Scarborough says. He uses Microsoft OfficePro on a Gateway 2000 laptop to design computer models of harvest staffing needs, activity-based cost analyses and other data-based management tools.

"You cannot run a winery efficiently without relying more and more on technology," he declares.

Many types of winery workers are hired without having computer skills. At AVG, the company is investing in its Technology future by offering computer training for its employees.

Custom software for wineries

Production and compliance are two areas in which wineries are relying more on computers for storing and tracking information.

Examples of innovative winery software packages are Gulson and Associates' wireless communication system for tracking bar coded barrels, and Sara Schorske's "Shipshape[C]," a proprietary compliance program leased to wineries and spirits suppliers.

Wireless tracking

During the Gulf War, hand-held, radio frequency (RF) communication devices were used by the military to control artillery and field units.

A distinct advantage of these devices was their encryption capability. That meant, when a soldier sent a code signal to a radio receiver on a rocket, it recognized that RF unit and deployed the missile. The hand-held units' ability to be distinguishable from each other on the airwaves was critical to the U.S. offensive.

In peacetime the RF technology has moved into manufacturing and production activities. Gulson and Associates, a software developer based in Sonoma, has adapted the RF devices for use in tracking bar coded barrels.

Gulson's hand-held units are nifty devices that look like a large telephone. A barrel room worker never has to get off the forklift while using the unit which works as a two-way communications device: it receives work orders to move certain numbered barrels and it records the movement of the barrels when completed. A mini-screen on the unit displays information.

The unit also has a keypad which enables a worker to key in information and send it back to the host computer, explains Gulson.

Using a wand, the winery worker scans the bar coded barrels. The numbers of the barrels which have been moved are fed back to the host computer, using radio frequencies to transmit the data.

Gulson's bar code devices enable wineries to keep track of their barrel inventory, to facilitate placement and most importantly, Gulson says, to get realtime feedback.

"When things are really busy, during the crush, for example, the hand-held units can be invaluable in making sense of the use of thousands of barrels," says Gulson, "and they allow people to work faster and more efficiently."

For large volume operations the payback is considerable. There is, however, a front end investment of about $3,000 for each hand-held unit and expenses for buying a base radio and controllers to link the base radio to the host computer.

Gulson estimates the buy-in to be about $40,000 for a five-unit system, with payback estimated in 6-18 months.

The wireless tracking units are part of an overall package of winery productivity software Gulson markets under the name WiPS, the Winery Production System. Inquiries can be made to Gulson and Associates, 585 First Street West, Sonoma, Calif. 95476; (707) 996-9754.

Compliance for Windows[C]

The nightmare of complying with schizophrenic state laws on registration and shipping is attacked head on by Sara Schorske's Shipshape[C], a software program which saves wineries countless hours in recording and filing compliance data.

This month Schorske is releasing the Windows version of Shipshape[C]. The Macintosh version has been on the market since 1989 and has been installed in dozens of wineries.

Schorske developed the software program after beginning her own career filling out compliance paperwork for winery employers. "I found myself typing the same forms over and over again." She knew there had to be a better way.

Shipshape[C] works in four basic arenas: It allows wineries to record complete product and shipping data. It records each state's requirements in its memory. Then, through the magic of relational databasing, it cross references products with states shipped to. And last, with one point and click, Shipshape[C] tells the printer to spit out the reams of idiosyncratic paperwork each state requires for shipping, all completely filled in by the computer.

Since state regulations do change, Shipshape[C] is updated 4-S times a year to keep the program current. "The rejection rate for wineries using Shipshape[C] is almost at the zero level," says Schorske.

There are also note boxes on the screens to alert compliance managers to the peculiarities of a specific state's compliance laws and to reporting deadlines.

The program gives winery or spirits suppliers an easy means of inputting changes in product lines, labeling or pricing, all changes state governments demand to know about.

Schorske says Shipshape[C] is user-friendly and can be learned in one day. Wineries pay a monthly lease fee for the program; it is licensed and not sold.

Inquiries about Shipshape[C] can be made to Sara Schorske, 1325 College Avenue, Santa Rosa, Calif. 95404, (707) 578-9432.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sexton, Jean Dietz
Publication:Wines & Vines
Date:Nov 1, 1995
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