Over the years, software developers have created many tools for solving problems in the wine industry. As the first part of an ongoing series, this article will provide an overview of the scope of program types, the goals of the software and a synopsis of the major players in this arena. Subsequent articles will look at the workings of different aspects of winery software and provide insights into the solutions that these businesses have developed for the industry. The goal is to describe the software available in detail so that grapegrowers, winemakers and winery owners can find the appropriate software to help their businesses grow.
Software for the wine industry can be broken down into three types: accounting, production and sales/marketing. Accounting software is certainly important, but this type of software does not need as much special programming for the wine industry as the other types.
A company in the wine industry can potentially be in the grape- or fruit-growing business, the wine production business and the wine- and/or fruit-selling business. The wine- and fruit-selling businesses can be further expanded into both retail and wholesale sales, on-premise and off-premise sales, the entertainment business and (in many places) the restaurant and event business.
Finding one set of software tools that can handle all of these niches is a rather daunting task, which is one reason there are so many software providers for the wine industry. The Wines & Vines Buyer’s Guide contains 277 providers of information technology for the wine business.
Some winery software is intended for data collection and management of winery and vineyard operations, while another type offers the legal forms necessary to comply with regulatory requirements and the transfer of production assets into the business side for tracking sales and marketing of wine products produced. Business software developers often provide data hook procedures that include a way to import financial information in an orderly manner. The laboratory data collection similarly provides data hooks to populate the winery- or vineyard-specific software.
There are 24 different software programs containing a variety of modules listed in the Wines & Vines’ Buyer’s Guide. Of the 24, nine are not wine-industry centric. They are suites of programs that cover financial duties, general marketing or customer relationship management (CRM). These programs can provide value to the winery, but don’t expect them to understand particulars about the industry. You can usually identify those that have a wine industry emphasis by the name of the software or their URL.
The Winemaker’s Database is one of the longest running suites of wine-production software in our industry. It is a robust program that has stood the test of time and provided much guidance to those that have used it. While this program is constructed to handle grape production information to hand off to wine production, it does not delve into vineyard operations—nor does it extend into marketing and sales.
There are several other companies in this group that cover a broad range of the industry’s segments. For example, Orion has Blend for wine production and WiMS (Wine Inventory Management Systems) for point-of-sale, marketing and non-production functions of the wine and grape industry. In another example, while Microworks Technologies handles only sales, marketing and other non-production functions, it contains a wide array of modules for these functions.
Most of the 20 companies listed in the Buyer’s Guide as offering wine production software handle the record keeping necessary for wine production. However, Acrolon Technologies is limited to one very specific aspect of production: the control of tanks and the data management of that function. Their software can be linked to other providers of production-management systems. Similarly, Foss software is limited to a specific piece of laboratory equipment for wine analysis, and that can be linked to other vendors’ software. Wine Management Systems is one of the first to offer SaaS (software as a service), and it’s one of the complete suites to include wine production as one of its core technologies. The company’s target market is small- to mid-sized wineries.
For the smallest wineries, there is Fermsoft’s Amphora Wine Log. For less than $100, a winery can obtain basic digital wine-production functions.
Breckenridge Software Technologies has a suite of modules that is specific to the wine industry, but the company has developed a range of programs and services for other industries as well.
As with wine production, there are software companies that focus on elements of farming and vineyard management. For example, Davis Instruments takes care of weather stations; Mapshots Inc. uses imaging techniques for crop management, and Brixmark handles grape harvesting and contract management. The bulk of vineyard software developers such as AgCode are full-service vendors for the vineyard. They cover everything from payroll to pest control to grower management and other elements of what it takes to grow grapes efficiently.
Advanced Management is unique in that their software includes many of the vineyard-specific management elements that can be covered by software. Their softw are is integrated with other modules that work with wine production and management through to selling wine to the final customer.
Compliance software covers a wide range of needs in this industry. Talk to a winemaker and the meaning of “compliance” will center on the TTB, which regulates alcohol levels, labeling requirements and taxes. Speak with a grapegrower and the answer will focus on MSDS (material safety data sheets) and pesticide compliance; while on the retail side of the business you will hear about the perils of selling wine to underage consumers or tracking bottles from one state to another. There are several companies such as Compli and Crush Logic that service interstate sales. Some software (such as that from Idology) helps with age verification for online sales. In addition, there are vineyard and wine-production programs that deal with sector-specific issues by writing their own software to integrate with their programs (one example being what Vintegrate has done in their suite).
ShipCompliant is one of the compliance software companies that partners with other vendors such as Orion. As a result, wineries can use their software without straying from their main software provider.
This sector has a high preponderance of general applications that help with setting up and maintaining a sales force, tracking customers and the relationships between them. Many provide forecasting models. Market research firm IRI is an example of this type of company: It has modules for product location, business performance and information-tracking services.
While these general programs are functional, they do not target the special sales needs of the wine and grape industry. Programs such as those offered by Napa Valley POS and Innovative Vinology Information Systems (IVIS) will be of more value. These programs contain modules that include discount structures based on industry norms, cash drawers that are set up out of the box for tasting rooms, and marketing and sales tools organized around the regulated industry in which we operate.
The industry-targeted programs also will have the same hooks to get information into your current financial software, such as Quickbooks.
The depletion rates of a winery’s products in the sales arena are an important tool for communicating product sales rates for re-order planning. This is not generally a stand-alone product but one that exists as part of a larger product group. Most of the suite programs include a module for depletion reports. There are other program suites that focus on analytics of the beverage industry such as GreatVines Beverage Selling Solutions. Their target is the alcohol industry in general, and they have tools to help in depletions, market analytics and more.
Direct-to-consumer, e-commerce, wine club and POS
The direct-to-consumer section is further divided into two subsections: e-commerce and wine club/point-of-sale (POS). These sections are interrelated in that there are 76 companies that provide direct-to-consumer software, with 54 offering e-commerce solutions and 50 that manage wine club/POS transactions and relationships. In the area of direct sales to wine industry consumers, it would be best to pick one of the 25 companies that can handle all three sales channels.
DTC is the section where the winery manages sales and marketing directly to customers. The e-commerce section handles the transactions that happen via winery websites with respect to sales and marketing, while the wine club and POS areas handle sales activities at winery retail stores and the management of the various wine clubs. The companies that offer all three tend to have a complete suite of modules like Orion and Microworks.
With 114 companies offering web software for the wine industry, these software providers far outnumber those in any of the other sections. The reason for this is that many website builders can build a website for a winery, but they don’t need to be incredibly familiar with the industry to do a good job. Functionality and personal preference for the design are really all that wineries need in this area.
When it comes to software, wineries have a lot to choose from as they improve digital information management. Many times what works for a winery’s scale of operation today will not scale to the next level. As a winery’s business grows, planning for the digital future of the business will become as important as planning to purchase the next wine press. Future articles in this series will delve into the workings of several of software companies to provide an understanding of the functionality of their products and what wineries can expect to get out of the software.
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