An Oregon Winery That’s Experimenting After the Calamity of Wildfires
My wife and I, in normal times, love visiting wineries. The Willamette Valley of Oregon is one of our favorite places to visit and we love the wines from that region.
My wife recently got an email update from a winery we get shipments from, Native Flora in Newberg, Oregon. We have visited there before and it's a gorgeous place. Here is a photo I took about three years ago:
And here is a photo of their vineyard… and yes, those are sheep:
I'm sure you are aware of the severe wildfires that the west coast, including Oregon, have been suffering through recently. My sympathies go out to all of those who have been affected and to those whose loved ones have been lost.
Among other harm and damage, many winery properties have been threatened by the fires — one in southern Oregon was destroyed, sadly. Many have also been directly impacted in northern California, with vineyards or winery buildings being damaged or destroyed by fire.
Native Flora has faced the effects of smoke in the air affecting the grapes on the vine. We have had California wines from years when wildfires were bad. Sometimes you can taste smoke in the glass — a little bit might make the wine a bit more interesting, but too much smoke can ruin the product.
Scott and Denise Flora, owners of Native Flora shared:
“The big wine story of 2020 is the massive fires endured by the western states this summer. We were not spared. The nearest major fire stopped about 3 miles from us, but we were engulfed in heavy smoke for 8 days. The smoke has had an impact.”
They then needed to determine what the impact would be. They aren't explicitly practicing Lean thinking, but I see some parallels.
They have what my Toyota mentors call “a big vague concern.” The next step is to investigate the situation to learn more to see if it's really a meaningful problem or something minor.
The Floras continue:
“We ran micro-ferments last week to test, and there is smoke impact both in aromatics and flavor, but we are pressing ahead.”
They aren't giving up on the 2020 vintage yet. There is still more to learn. It's not good to give up or leap to a conclusion too quickly in any problem solving efforts.
“This crop was nothing short of stellar coming into the fires, and still has superb natural chemistry hanging on the vine. Our intention is to harvest a good portion and learn.”
They don't know the answer. They have to work to figure things out. That's often the case in our own workplaces, healthcare or otherwise.
They aren't going to spend time right now on the “root cause” of the fires (that's for others to learn from and remove preventable causes). But Native Flora is going to try and evaluate what I would call countermeasures.
“We have the opportunity to try numerous remediation strategies before, during and after ferment. They might all end in failure, but the knowledge gain will be tremendous.”
I appreciate that they are focusing on learning. Yes, they want to save the crop because they face a huge financial loss if they can't have a 2020 vintage.
“Bottom line – if the finished wine doesn't measure up to our standards – our label will never go on the bottle.”
I appreciate that they won't let their quality standards suffer, even in the face of a potential disaster like this for their business. If they released a bad wine in a few years with the 2020 grapes, the damage to their reputation and name might be greater than the damage of not having a release.
Short-term pain can be survivable, perhaps, while the long-term pain of losing your reputation might be deadly.
Principle #1 of “The Toyota Way” focuses on the long term:
“Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.”
Native Flora seems to take this approach and they might have to be even more creative with their countermeasures and action plan, as they say:
“If all else fails, we are one of the few Oregon wineries who also holds a distillery license (surprise!) – can you spell “brandy” and “port”?”
One other challenge of wine making (or whiskey making) is that experiments and cycles of learning are often, by nature, very slow.
“For fun and the future, we're planting Chenin Blanc and Malbec this Fall! Madness or prescience? We'll know in 4 years!”
I really hope things work out for the Floras and Native Flora… fingers crossed.
Comments from Scott Flora
Here are some thoughts from email exchange, shared with permission:
“I think the ideas and philosophies you're promoting are spot on. Our decline in manufacturing and corporate leadership, I think, is directly tied to the growth in shareholder return management. When you stop looking at the end consumer and market needs, instead focusing on rewarding yourself and shareholders with quick returns, you lose your competitive and efficiency edge.
Manufacturing moves away, technical innovation dies, companies are broken up for their pieces, a dead end cycle ensues. I fought it furiously in the corporate world for 20 years, with companies that no longer exist.
I think it's exceptionally fun to run a tiny business exactly the way we want — focus on product quality and consumer desires, run efficiently and innovate. We understand our operational and fiscal parameters, price accordingly, run sustainably, are growing steadily and remain highly profitable.
Ironically, we're regarded as a complete rebel business model for our industry, are underpriced according to our competitive set, and might be, on a percentage basis, the most profitable winery in Oregon. And, we have a lot of fun with our customers doing what we do.
If I'm wrong, I like being wrong.”