Gemba Wine: A Lean Geek Visits Wineries, Part 3


IMG_4461Following up on my previous posts (here and here) on a recent visit to the Northern California Wine Country, I'm going to share a few more ideas and thoughts based on what I saw during the trip (when I wasn't tasting wine with my wife).

What's the Right Pricing?

As in any industry, a winery should sell at a price the market can bear (prices are determined by the market). Just because you have higher production costs in a given year or compared to other wineries doesn't mean you can charge a higher price.

One winemaker said that their winery's relatively small production sells out each year. He  could  charge a higher price and probably still sell out, but he feels loyal to his customers and wants to try to keep prices relatively stable from year to year. The winery owner clearly isn't trying to maximize each year's profit (or he's rich enough that he doesn't have to maximize profits).

A commonly told story in the wine country is “A great way to make a little money in the winemaking business is to start with a lot of money.” To many winery owners, this is a second “early retirement” business or a sideline. I'm sure the dynamics are different for a winery that IS the family business.

Creativity Over Capital

One winery showed us the tanks they used to do their initial fermentation as grapes are brought it from harvest (which is happening to start this time of year).

“Because we didn't have any money” at the time, they repurposed some old dairy tanks that used to be used to transport milk (in the days before they used tanker trucks).


They didn't have the traditional winery tanks. But, these work, so they keep using them. The tanks are double walled, so they can run water in there to help keep the temperature of the grapes and the “pre-wine” at the right levels.

It's sort of “Kaizen-y” of them to have done something clever and creative in lieu of having money.

Cleanliness and Bacteria-Free Environments Matter

At a few wineries, they talked about how maniacal the winemakers are about making sure the production facilities are spotless clean and free of bacteria.

Seems like something that would be familiar to people in healthcare.


Unlike many healthcare organizations, the winemaker at one winery comes out once a month (if not more) to the production floor (pictured above) and checks every nook and cranny for dirt or bacteria-laden conditions.

They say that once bacteria sets hold in a winery, it's hard to get rid of it.

Does your department director, yet alone your VP, COO, or CEO) come to your department to check for cleanliness on a monthly basis or more often. If they did, they might avoid situations like the one where the Cleveland Clinic CEO was surprised to hear about dirt and dust bunnies under the beds in patient rooms.

My wife is a leader in an aerospace facility. She's up and there at 6 am once a month for a “FOD walk,” a common practice in that industry. Clearly, the mechanics and front-line supervisors are supposed to be checking every day. But, my wife and the other leaders going out on their own (and coming in a bit earlier than normal) sends a powerful message about that being an important issue… just like the winemakers… and hopefully like an increasing number of healthcare leaders.

Visual Management and Checklists

One winery had a visual management board (that Kevin Meyer would love). It was just a whiteboard… and it worked just fine.

They also had a “Quality Control” checklist that was being used to verify key steps being done during the production process. See it  on the clipboard at the base of the whiteboard. Unlike some healthcare checklists, it was actually being used. The winery name has been airbrushed out of the picture.

IMG_4450 - Version 2


I'd be curious to see if there are studies that show if hand washing compliance rates are higher in wineries than in healthcare.



Nobody was wearing a button that said, “Ask me if we washed our hands” or “Ask me if we're sure our winery is bacteria free” (ala my “” website).



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  1. Patrick Anderson says

    I see, Mark, like me, that you can’t go anywhere without critiquing from a lean perspective. I love the insights. Thanks. The last time I visited a winery was Pre lean. Now I have to go again.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Sounds like a great reason to me! :-)

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