Using technology to gain more control over the winemaking process has increased in recent years, including in Free SO₂ management. When reviewing new options for your Free SO₂ testing practice, you probably have read through many pieces that deep dive into each method's technology, science, and specifications. While these are important, assessing them from the workflow perspective is essential when exploring new tech.
In this article, we'll take a break from the technicalities and focus on the workflow aspect, in which automation plays a significant role, and how it can aid your assessment.
1. Day-to-day workflow significantly impacts the bottom line
Workflow defines processes and team interactions to get the job done. A well-designed workflow keeps your team efficient, makes the task and resource planning predictable, and upholds the work quality to desired standards — and vice versa. It can be either a major contributor or a silent killer of profitability and wine quality.
2. Free SO₂ tech improves workflow at varying degrees, but is frequently subject to flawed comparisons
Routine Free SO₂ testing of barrels, tanks and other vessels can be labor-intensive and frustrating for all teams involved. Cellar usually need to wait on lab and winemakers before they can complete their work, with multiple visits to the barrels and long walk to the lab. In many cases, especially wet chemistry lab, it also requires highly-trained technicians and undivided attention. This creates a massive opportunity for technology to step in, and to no surprise, most Free SO₂ testing technologies strive to streamline this workflow.
For this reason, it has become tricky to compare these technologies, and requires to look beyond equipment brochures and spec sheets to thoroughly assess the potential changes that each can bring to your workflow.
Where to start
1. Use automation as a compass to navigate
Automation is an excellent place to start looking since all instruments that aim to improve workflow do it by automating or eliminating certain steps. With most manufacturers describing their products as auto-, automated, or automatic analyzers with similar time-per-sample stats, you will need to understand exactly which part of the workflow is automated, to compare the specs and know the implications correctly.
2. Start with a simplified workflow and visually map the automated steps
The process differs among wineries but can be simplified to the below steps:
1. Sample Collection:
a. Access barrels
b. Collect & label samples
c. Send samples to the labs
2. Sample Analysis:
a. Maintain and set up equipment
b. Prepare samples
c. Run analysis
3. Data Sync: Enter data into the database that is accessible by all teams
4. Decisions: Review data and decide on the next actions
5. Follow-up Actions: These include SO₂ additions, post-addition checks, investigating questionable barrels, tanks and other vessels
Next, we visualize which steps are automated (indicated by grey blocks) and which team handles each step (color-coded). Most currently available tech can be mapped to the 4 groups below.
3. Focus on the differences
To compare more easily, the common unautomated steps are removed (see the below figure), and the focus is now on those that are done differently across the methods. Three categories start to reveal, including No Automation, Partial Automation, and Full Automation. From here, you can start interpreting the per-sample time and further implications.
THE PER-SAMPLE TIME
The per-sample time from each method’s spec sheet is represented by the grey blocks. Now, you can see more clearly how the "60 seconds per sample" in Options B, C, and D means very different things, especially when the colored blocks (unautomated steps) take days to complete or tend to slow down during peak times.
With a quick observation of FIGURE 2, you can have a general idea of how each method will improve your current workflow:
- More continuous grey parts mean your team spends less time and experiences less room for errors, delays, and miscommunications.
- A less colorful map means fewer teams are involved, resulting in less chance for back-and-forths or being subject to a team’s backlog (for example, lab during harvest).
More detailed implications are discussed in the section below.
4. Start analyzing the implications of each method to your case
After making a visual map of your options, let it guide you in reviewing the questions below and answering them. Highlight the issues you set out to solve and see which options can deliver. This is an important step, especially if your winery has a large production scale or very high-valued wine.
Speed of Results
- How fast can you get the results? Now that the throughput and time-per-sample is correctly mapped and compared, you can better estimate the lead time each method can deliver. Faster speed allows more samples to be tested.
- How consistent is this lead time through peak times and tight deadlines? Look at the tasks that are left not automated - will those get a long wait time during harvest or be chaotic during bottling? An inconsistent lead time affects the time and resource planning, and pushes the Free SO2 managing tasks down on the priority list when the effort to prevent wine spoilage should always remain the same.
- Is it a smooth process? Are all teams properly utilized? The lab can sometimes be overflooded with requests while the cellar team is underutilized and has to wait and unstack barrels, leading to time waste. At-barrel testing workflow is now possible, empowering your cellar team to take charge of the testing execution so the lab and winemakers can focus on the potential problem areas and quality issues.
- How reliable are the measurements? Each colored block on the map indicates room for errors - sample handling, data handling, and labeling. It depends on how big your team is and how strong the procedure and practice are, but generally, it’s always best to close off the room for errors.
- What resource is needed if you want to increase the number of samples? Winemakers might want to sample more barrels for a growing production scale or a more accurate picture of a barrel lot’s health. For example, between Aeration-Oxidation (No Automation) and BarrelWise FS1 (Full Automation), if 20 more samples are needed, Aeration-Oxidation will require at least 5 hours of lab tech (15 minutes/sample in perfect conditions) with cellar time to collect samples, and Full Automation will require about over 20 minutes of cellar team (about 65 seconds/sample when queuing and running samples consecutively).
- Is the data well-organized and well-displayed for analysis? As more samples are being tested, does the tool provide a user-friendly way to interact and analyze data? Some visualization can go a long way in identifying and monitoring potential issues, compared to a CSV file full of numbers.
What’s right for you?
- How much different can your quality control program become? If you currently use a method in the B category (lab-based analyzers), you will need more than switching within the same category to improve your overall workflow.
- How much control do you want over wine quality? Quality-conscious wineries appreciate new capabilities such as a 100% sampling rate in premium lots, thorough post-addition checks, and flagging and monitoring outlier barrels. Look to see whether your current method or new options can deliver that.
- How flexible are the pricing model and upgrade opportunity? Once technology starts to take off in an area, it happens and evolves fast. Therefore, a flexible pricing model like hardware-as-a-service (HaaS) with an annual commitment term will ensure your wineries have the best chance to thoroughly evaluate the tool while keeping up with tech advancement.
Choosing the Free SO₂ testing method is a fairly complex decision that has a long-lasting impact on your winery operations, so you will want to get it right. Looking and analyzing from the workflow perspective is crucial and will enable a deeper understanding of each method's impact on your day-to-day workflow and future resource planning. This will lead to a more meaningful comparison later during the financial comparison.
To understand more how the FS1 System can benefit your winery operations, book a demo with us: