When Gervasi Vineyard launched in 2009, the target volume for the Ohio-based winery was around 2,000 cases. As a winemaker, Andrew Codispoti was the only full-time employee. That meant being tasked with the responsibilities for all aspects of the operation including laboratory work while cellar activities and bottling were supported by part-time help.
The staffing needs in lab work and quality assurance were not based on a production volume formula, instead, it was based on the winery’s business model, along with production volumes and product mix.
“Quality is a guiding principle at Gervasi,” said Codispoti, the Director of Winemaking and Distilling Operations for Gervasi. “It steers our approach to everything we do, such as processes, methods, techniques, and raw materials.
‘Winemaking by Design’ is our philosophy. This means that all aspects of the operation have deliberate strategic goals and our daily tasks are directed at their fulfillment. This philosophy drives thoughtful quality-oriented actions at every step of process.”
Gervasi bottles 23 different brands with around 9,000 cases per year while maintaining five acres of vineyard and self-distribution with a production staff of five full-time employees and one in a part-time role.
After several years, Codispoti said that laboratory work for Gervasi was incorporated into the new role of Cellar Leader.
“This approach kept laboratory tasks integrated with other winemaking duties,” he said. “We do not have a dedicated laboratory technician.
“In our experience, careful cross-tasking has created a broader more fulfilling role and elevated proficiency.”
Codispoti feels that startup wineries will need to determine the makeup of its staff and the type of equipment purchased.
“Proficiencies of the startup team and available capital will play key roles in this decision,” he said. “A knowledgeable staff is indispensable to understanding and executing winemaking best practices. But even the most expert person will be handicapped by the lack of proper tools and equipment.”
Codispoti said that Gervasi purchased the right tools and equipment for each stage of growth and learned how to use them.
“As the business grew, so did staff and equipment sophistication,” he said. The winery’s lab is equipped to perform the core analysis needed to support daily operations.
“The laboratory is in a discrete room with the spaces dedicated to essential equipment,” Codispoti said. “This is very important to an efficient and productive lab.”
He also said that they will outsource the occasional specialized analysis to certified commercial labs for further quality checks as well.
Gervasi Winery Manager David Smith added that the company’s quality assurance program incorporates several tasks and protocols. Basic practice in the cellar is to maintain tank headspace under an inert gas environment.
“The wine in this zone is the most susceptible to spoilage organisms and oxygen exclusion reduces the risks,” Smith said. “An associated practice is a weekly visual and sensory inspection of the headspace in every tank. If there are any problems, they can be detected at a very early stage when they are easy to correct.”
Smith said a sensory evaluation of every wine is conducted regularly, be it every few days, weekly or longer as required and acceptable.
“Sensory evaluations along with FSO2 analysis are part of all major winemaking events such as racking, filtering, topping, blending, and such,” he said.
“In addition, we conduct a monthly FSO2 check of all wines and as may be dictated by other factors.”
Measuring wine pH is a critical component in determining the effectiveness of FSO2 levels and is monitored at landmark events.
“Our cellar crew is trained to recognize wine profiles and faults,” Smith said. “In this manner, they serve as sensory scouts reporting back anything in question. For wines that are barrel matured, sensory and FSO2 evaluations are incorporated with every barrel topping.
“We conduct cold and heat stability processing of our wines and follow up with lab analysis to confirm satisfactory results.”
Smith said that ongoing quality assurance in the vineyard is a complimentary program that sets the stage for grape quality and ultimately the quality of the wine.
Smith and Codispoti collaborate on assuring that wine profiles stay true to targets from vintage to vintage.
“This is vital to the consistency of not only quality but of character,” Codispoti said.
They have also assembled a five-person sensory panel.
At major crossroads or decision points on a wine, the panel conducts a blind tasting to more broadly understand the wine’s profile and potential paths.
“Quality Assurance is designed to guard and maintain the level of quality to which wines are produced,” Codispoti said.
“The processes and protocols for vineyard and winery must be thoughtfully designed and robustly executed. Defined and scheduled monitoring and control is critical to wine quality assurance.“
To assure quality in daily work, Gervasi staff members use written daily work instructions and record-keeping which contains the information and guidance needed for clear execution of daily tasks and to deliver uniform and consistent results.
Photos courtesy Gervasi Vineyard