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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2020 North Bay Business Journal 7

Help beyond what a Wine business worries about

smoke taint as harvest continues
guide dog can do By JEFF QUACKENBUSH
The North Bay Business Journal
than in 2018,” Shannon said.
His team has sent in grape samples to
By SUSAN WOOD testing labs to check for key chemical
The North Bay Business Journal The Rowan family’s vineyard and home markers to suggest the ashtray and other

was spared from the massive Walbridge odors and flavors connected to “smoke
or visually impaired people, their Fire that approached the property in the taint” will show up later in the wine. But
guide dogs have their backs. But western reaches of Sonoma County’s with long turnaround times for results
what’s missing sometimes is the Dry Creek Valley, but their wine grapes quoted from major local labs, Shannon
vision to see beyond what a dog can won’t be harvested this year over vintner is employing a technique that seemed to
provide. concerns of smoke damage. line up with reality with the 4,000 tons of
That’s why Guide Dogs for the Blind Their 18 acres of grapes — 75% cabernet rejected Lake County fruit he purchased
in San Rafael joined forces on Sept. 14 sauvignon and the rest merlot — were in 2018: whether he smells fresh fruit or
with Be My Eyes, a software platform under contract with a large Sonoma smoke as grapes are dumped into the
firm founded in 2012 by Denmark native County winery crushpad hopper.
Hans Jorgen Wiberg, a furniture crafts- But a clause in that document added St. Helena-based ETS Laboratories, a
man who is also visually impaired. four years ago after the 2015 Lake County key go-to tester that acquired Vinquiry’s
The company began operating in San analytics group in July, has posted on its
blazes gave the vintner the option to reject
Francisco in 2018. affected fruit. Mike Rowan, whose four-de- website that grape samples received in
“If only I had another pair of eyes…I cade industry career includes stints with late August wouldn’t have results until
wouldn’t have to ask family and friends Napa and Sonoma wineries, understands early November, and microferments of
for help,” Wiberg said with whimsy, why the winery took the option. suspect wine would have results until
explaining the app during “Up until five or six years ago, some- late October. The lab has been running
the TED talk. thing that was not considered was crop testing equipment around the clock
The app connects sighted insurance, because come hell or high wa- to keep up with the demand and is in-
volunteers with Guide ter you’d work to get the crop picked,” he stalling more equipment, according to
Dogs for the Blind clients said. “What’s unique about smoke taint is co-owner and technical director Gordon
with a video and audio it’s so hard to predict the outcome. That’sBurns.
service on the mobile com- maddening because it puts wineries in “The current fires cover a very wide
puter app that the user can the position of accepting grapes and then area, but only a tiny fraction of that area
tap and ask for help identi- have it show up in fermentation or show is planted to wine grapes,” he wrote in an
fying little unknowns they Will up in the bottle.” email to the Journal. “Every location is
encounter through the day. Butler After pushback from trade buyers on different, and degraded air quality may
Four million volunteers the 2017 vintage because of the wildfires be transitory and as little as none at all.”
have signed up with Be My that year in Sonoma and Napa counties, One of the testing labs ETS is refer-
Eyes to provide real-time a number of wineries aren’t taking a ring business to is K Prime, operating
assistance. chance of that happening with the 2020 near Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County
Think of it as a spe- vintage with three major conflagrations Airport for 24 years. The lab has food and
cialized, advanced cross this year in rural areas on the west, east beverage business as well as testing of
between Siri, a telephone and north sides of the North Coast’s air quality for environmental remedi-
switchboard and the PHOTO COURTESY OF GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND prime wine regions. The North Coast ation and real estate transactions. But
Yellow Pages combined Guide Dogs for the Blind users may tap into grape crop last year was valued at $1.7 the work it does with makers of oak
for those with a visual volunteers to help pick out the right dog food or billion. barrel alternatives is transferrable to
determine whether their canine helpers are in
disability. For example, Stern
distress. “I’m getting rejection letters that are the smoke-taint question, because key
clients may need to know being sent out on a weekly basis,” said chemical markers looked for in the
how to negotiate knots in their dogs’ when the blind want to talk to a person. Brian Clements, partner in Turrentine proper toasting of oak powders, chips
harnesses and would point the device It creates a connection.” Brokerage, a Novato firm that helps and barrels are the ones being examined
to the objects they need help untying. Be My Eyes has gained partnerships growers and vintners strike grape and for taint, according to Richard Kagel,
The volunteers on the other end of the with computer industry giants such bulk-wine deals. “Wineries are trying to laboratory director.
mobile device may help with that or as Google and Microsoft, which pay do the best thing for quality.” The lab is receiving 300–700 samples of
with reading labels of the clients’ dog monthly fees for listings that offer tech Such a move prompted Somerton Wine grapes and microferments daily and is
food. service. Proctor & Gamble lists brand Co. in eastern Napa County last week to turning them around in 20 business days.
Be My Eyes’ clients, like Guide Dogs profiles with video-calling capability for announce it wouldn’t make 2020 wine “We’re seeing everything from samples
for the Blind, are able to tap into volun- fees as well. The company declined to because of smoke in its estate vineyards that are heavily impacted to those that do
teers recruited by the tech firm. Those reveal what those fees are. from the Hennessey Fire. not show any impact,” he said.
start-up volunteers serve as the eyes During the COVID-19 crisis, Be My Clay Shannon, who farms several
and ears for app users and their canine Eyes executives have waived the month- thousand acres of grapes in Mendocino Jeff Quackenbush covers
companions faced with tasks such as ly fees to nonprofits such as Guide Dogs and Lake counties, has been through wine, construction and real
reading labels and gauging the guide for the Blind for philanthropic reasons, several recent vintages with smoke estate. Before the Business
dog’s physical condition. Butler added. concerns, particularly in 2018. But this Journal, he wrote for Bay
“For many visually impaired people, “We’re donating software solutions year, he plans to pick all the fruit, and City News Service in San
the app is a lifeline,” Be My Eyes Vice to these nonprofits during these has started taking cab off the vine last Francisco. He has a degree from Walla
President Will Butler told the Business week. Walla University. Reach him at jquack-
Journal. “We’re about human support, See DOG page 30 “We think we’re in much better shape or 707-521-4256.

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