For wineries, getting ready for winter takes far more than buying a few snow shovels and loading up on rock salt.
Wineries are among the most complex businesses imaginable. They’re one part farm, one part manufacturer, one part entertainment complex and one part hospitality provider/retailer. That means they face multiple risks year-round, and those risk exposures compound each winter.
While agents and brokers should talk with their winery clients about proper winterization every year, the conversation heading into the winter of 2022-23 takes on added importance. Supply chain shortages, inflationary pressures and fluctuating business results mean some winery owners are looking to cut costs wherever possible.
Skimping on winterizing is a terrible idea. The few dollars winery owners will save by not properly winterizing often pales in comparison to the huge losses they could face if they experience major property damage or slip-and-fall claims due to improper winterization.
Let’s review the top six risks wineries face each winter.
1. Winemaking equipment
Wineries in milder climates often store harvesting equipment such as destemmers, presses and bottling lines outside. Come wintertime, it’s not enough just to leave this equipment outside. Instead, wineries should make sure their machinery is carefully wrapped or stored under a tarp to avoid damage from debris and safely stored out of the way of foot traffic.
Also, wineries that use outdoor glycol chillers must winterize them properly. Glycol lowers the freezing point of water. The colder it gets outside, the more glycol you should add to your chiller to protect your system. You can use this chart to educate winery owners on the proper glycol/water mix based on the expected winter temperatures in their region.
2. Roofs and rooftop HVAC units
Proper winterizing means scheduling and completing proper annual maintenance on shingles and flat roofs to ensure they’re ready to withstand a potential winter pounding. It’s equally important to get any above-ground HVAC units inspected so you can detect problems before they’re covered in snow. As a best practice, recommend that winery owners establish maintenance agreements with third-party roofing and HVAC contractors.
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3. Solar panels
For wineries that have rooftop solar panels, pre-winter inspections can happen simultaneously with roof shingle and HVAC maintenance checks. However, if a winery has a ground-mounted solar panel grid, it’s important to get it expected and make sure it hasn’t suffered any wind damage in the prior 12 months. This is especially true for wineries on the Pacific Coast, where wintertime comes right after the peak of wildfire season (September to November).
4. Outdoor spaces
This wintertime risk falls into two specific categories. First, wineries must be concerned about temporary outdoor entertainment spaces. Each year, insurers see costly claims related to the collapse of pop-up and seasonal tents. Many of these structures carry a high price tag ($25,000 to $30,000). Some include intricate lighting or misting systems. To protect their investment, wineries should take down these temporary structures well before the first frost.
Wineries also must winterize their permanent outdoor spaces, including seating areas, walkways and parking lots. In these areas, winery owners should pay particular attention to outdoor lighting. Just one burnt-out lightbulb on a sidewalk that leads to a taproom can create a costly trip-and-fall accident.
5. Water damage
Water damage can bring multiple wintertime risks for wineries, too. One of the best ways to mitigate this risk is to clean out your gutters annually. This is especially true in areas of the East Coast where leaves from deciduous trees collect in gutters every autumn. If they’re not cleaned out, it raises the risk for ice dams, which can bring your gutters crashing down and cause major property damage.
Another related problem occurs in cold regions when moisture builds up on the sidewalk at the entrance to a taproom. This happens as patrons wipe the snow and ice off their boots prior to stepping inside. The water they shake off can freeze and refreeze to the cement or asphalt, elevating the risk for slips, trips and falls. A good risk management tip: Ask your winery clients to place a mat or rug at their taproom entrance.
6. Snow removal liability
Wineries located in areas prone to snowstorms should have documented snow- and ice-clearing practices on file. If your winery client hires a third-party contractor for ice and snow removal, recommend that the contractor sign a risk-transfer agreement that will indemnify the winery owner should one of the contractor’s employees inadvertently strike a vehicle, person or structure on the winery property. For an additional safeguard, winery owners should ask to be added as an additional insured on their contractor’s policy.
The location of the wineries you represent will play a role in which winterization steps they should take. Craft your risk management strategies to meet the specific winter weather patterns your clients face and encourage winery owners to make them an annual part of their maintenance routine.