ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems are indispensable for enterprise businesses, including the wine industry. Finding a suitable ERP is essential for these operations but doesn’t stop there. ERP applications are often paired with front-of-house software and winery production software to build holistic views of customers, increase efficiencies and provide end-to-end insights across an enterprise-level winery operation.
“Those segments are the agricultural aspect, which includes the farming and sourcing fruit, then there is the manufacturing process, which is from fruit to finish good, and then the sales process. All of these segments have to be well integrated. You need to have best-in-class software providers do each of those segments well. InnoVint’s winery production software is a perfect complement to an ERP, sitting on top of it as a sub-ledger,” continues Leonard.
“But wineries are also asking for more than seamless experiences between software products. They want more functionality and holistically manage everything to help drive their business towards growth and more business value.”
Ashley Leonard has been in the wine industry for over 20 years, merging her technical experience with the socialization in winemaking to start InnoVint in 2013. She was recently featured on the Western Computer podcast 365WineTrade Technology Talks with Tony Castellano. She discussed the story behind InnoVint’s leading winery operations software, industry trends, and the importance of pairing an ERP with a best-in-class winery operations solution.
Listen to the podcast using the video link, on Spotify, or check out the highlights below:
From Winemaker to Technologist | Western Computer Interviews Ashley Leonard, CEO of InnoVint
Tony Castellano: I got the chance to research you and your company InnoVint, and what an amazing story! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey into creating your own wine technology company.
Ashley: I started in the wine industry at the ripe young age of 19, almost 20 years ago. I went to school and studied viticulture (grape growing) and enology (wine making) at UC Davis.
I began working in the industry at the bottom of the ladder, lugging hoses around the cellar and doing manual punch downs. I worked my way up over ten years through operations and winery management, and I had the opportunity to start and grow wine businesses. This opportunity exposed me to the whole landscape of starting, running, and developing a wine business.
In my mid-twenties, I was working in the Santa Cruz mountains, and I had exposure to Silicon Valley and high tech, a lot of the fascinating trends that were coming out of the Bay Area at that time. I thought, How exciting is this space? I want to see what that’s all about in the software space, this technology space.
So I left winemaking and winery operations and worked for an IT consulting firm for a few years. It gave me exposure to a lot of the emerging enterprise technology trends that were up and coming. A lot of those trends encompassed around allowing employees, for a firm, to get access to a lot of their work information from wherever they were. The employees might be working from home more often. They may be out and about.
So I started InnoVint, partnered with a great modern software team, and brought pretty cutting-edge technology to the market about ten years ago.
Tony: That was probably when people weren’t ready for that radical transition to have phones and people walking into the vineyards with that. Did you get a lot of funny looks and “what are you thinking about” type of faces?
Ashley: You are spot on! I was early to the game. Today, many of our power users were the naysayers back in 2013. They said, “I’m not letting my vineyard or cellar staff carry mobile devices to conduct their work; that sounds crazy!” Today it’s a lifesaver for them. So it’s come full circle in those 9-10 years.
Tony: That is amazing, and being a winemaker so early in your career and switching to technology, which one did you have a love for first? Did one blend into the other at some point?
Ashley: I was always science geared. I was technical, so I knew I wanted to enter a technical profession. Still, I also had this social element to my personality, leading me to winemaking.
I said, What a beautiful marriage of someone that is technical and someone that is also social. So I guess you could say the technical part started first, but winemaking seemed the right fit to round me out as an individual.
Tony: That’s great. In your experience, starting on the ground floor, it seems like you’ve done every aspect of the winery. I saw somewhere that you were a forklift operator. Are you a good forklift operator?
Ashley: Ha! I would not jump on one of those today. Absolutely not. I’m not prepared for that anymore, but I was great back in the day! I could stack many bins and roll a barrel across the cellar in a generally straight line. I think those are all pretty important cellar management skills, but I also was running QuickBooks at a winery and was doing all the counting reconciliation.
I got a lot of exposure to many different facets outside of production early on, which paved a nice path for InnoVint to understand and build value for some of the struggles I had when I was in those positions.
Tony: Getting a chance to look over your software, the functionality is so deep, but the fact that you’re able to see these analyses forecasting things ahead while it’s been a very tumultuous few years for planning, whether it was the fires or Covid. Tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing in your customers and how they’re advancing their business with InnoVint.
Ashley: It’s been a tough few seasons. It’s a seasonal industry, so the grape harvest, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, is in the fall. It’s obviously the opposite for the southern hemisphere. Still, many of those climactic events significantly impact the year or two, or three or four years ahead, regarding what’s available for sale and what’s available to produce.
All those daily activities that happen at a winery happen in InnoVint, and we can integrate into other business essential software platforms to drive value, such as ERPs and accounting software and sales and distribution platforms as well.
We’re trying to drive value back into InnoVint, to help give wineries that insight to make better decisions based on what’s happened in years past and what could happen in years going.
Tony: The nice part is you do have that financial background because the ability to tie that to a general ledger, whether it’s 365WineTrade or another solution, is key because you want a best-of-breed system, your system on the production side, and then your accounting system on the back end.
Ashley: Absolutely, and we’re a perfect complement to an ERP. We sit on top of it as a sub-ledger. Wineries today are asking for the strongest IT ecosystem to help them run their business. So underlying all that, of course, is a strong ERP, and then on top of that are these three different segments, as I view the industry. Those segments are the agricultural aspect, farming, and sourcing fruit, then the manufacturing process, which is from fruit to finish good, and then the sales process. It has to be well integrated, and the wine industry is so nuanced, especially that middle manufacturing.
So you need best-in-class software providers to do each of those segments well. It’s tough, if not impossible, to find someone that can truly capture that entire landscape in a single solution.
Tony: Yeah, I would agree. And the industry as a whole they don’t adopt technology as much as they love to grow wine. So you have to make an effective solution that’s very easy to use, and that’s the key that I’ve seen be successful. So love what you guys are doing.
Future of Wine & Industry Trends
Tony: The industry has had to roll with the punches these last few years, and we’re hoping things get a little bit easier in the months ahead. What are some of the things you’re seeing that might be trends we’re going to see in 6-12 months?
Ashley: Yeah, it’s a fascinating time in the industry. They not only adapt to but embrace technology for possibly the first time in their professional lives. We’ve seen a lot of advancement in our personal lives lately with the introduction of more accessible, more intuitive, cloud-based software. That’s a huge deal. Now we can log on anywhere and get whatever information we want. We’ve taken it a step further. Now it’s mobile-driven, so we can be on our phones and do all that. It’s an exciting time.
Everyone wants to maximize profits. They want to get continued brand recognition in the market. They want to find new consumers. So that’s all been interesting to follow and reflect on. In the last few years, we’ve also seen more cross-pollination across different beverage alcohol products. You have wine, beer, and spirits that, when I started InnoVint, were very separate channels.
You would have a beer producer, a different company making wine, a separate company making spirits, and now they’re merging, and that’s based on what the consumer’s asking for. We find more producers than ever are making products that blur those lines. They’re making hard seltzers. They’re making RTDs; they’re making aperitifs.
We’ll see more of that happening here as the consumer requests continue to change and producers are trying to be respectful and try and accommodate.
Tony: Yeah, and you’re just spot on there, Ashley. From everything that I’m reading, the consumers are really driving this change, and the competition is so tough. You have liquor on one side, as you said, the RTDs. Everyone is trying to vie for that piece of the puzzle. Now you have the millennials and the younger generation asking for zero carbon footprint, so many things to consider. It’s very eclectic and it’s fascinating to watch everything that’s happening in the industry.
So, Ashley, we’ve covered quite a few subjects, but I did want to ask you, as I read through your background, you being an entrepreneur, there’s always something radical about entrepreneurs, right? There are trailblazers. Can you tell me, did you always feel that or was there a mentor or two that helped you along the way?
Ashley: Interestingly, I was not an entrepreneurial child. I didn’t see myself starting and running a business. I think a lot of entrepreneurs did from day one. I didn’t. It took me identifying, solving a real problem for real people, where I got that itch, that bug where, I can do this, I can solve this, I’m going to tackle it.
I’ve always been competitive, and I think that’s helped as well. So yeah, it’s been a beautiful experience, starting a company, growing a company, and working in an industry I care so much about.
Tony: That is fantastic. I noticed that you’re also up in Portland, Oregon. I’ve got a lot of family up there. So I was curious, what do you love to do with your free time up there?
Ashley: I have the luxury of living about a mile and a half from the Willamette River, and my favorite pastime right now is taking my kayak or my paddleboard down to the river and launching it first thing in the morning at the break of dawn and just paddling around and reflecting and, and getting in the right head space to tackle the day.
Tony: That sounds amazing. I do enjoy doing that here at our local lake in Arizona, and of course, so much has been talked about that work-life balance through this pandemic. I really hope that people continue to have that. I know people are returning to work right on premises coming back, but that balance is so key as we come out of this pandemic, would you agree?
Ashley: Absolutely. It’s something that I take pride in at InnoVint as a company. We have a distributed model allowing our team to work where they’re most comfortable. We’ve embraced it where we have a lot of flexibility within InnoVint to ensure everyone has the right work-life balance.
It’s important not only to preach that but also to practice it as leadership and demonstrate why and how that’s so important.
What’s Next at InnoVint?
Tony: I couldn’t agree more. So I was doing a little bit of research on your newest offerings, and I love what you’re doing here with the interactive 3D tanks and the mapping. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Ashley: Yeah, sure. We just introduced some amazing technology in terms of tank mapping. So most wineries have one or several whiteboards sitting in the winery where they draw a bunch of circles, and especially during harvest, it gets a lot of use. They’re marking up what tanks are full and empty. They’re marking up the recent activities, and it’s this ever-changing, ever-evolving physical whiteboard.
We’re always trying to meet folks where they are. So we’re trying to meet ’em on the cellar floor. We’re trying to provide true value, and we built these 3D interactive maps that illustrate that floorplan for our customers. They can add the types of tanks they have, they can add different types of tanks, they can add bins, and we have all sorts of variety there. But then they can drive work through this map as well. So when you’re monitoring dozens, hundreds, fermentations at a time, depending on how large the producer is, to have a single pane of glass, a single interface that visually shows you your winery in the state of your winery in real-time. There’s a lot of compelling value there.
Tony: Absolutely. And my son and a lot of these folks, they get into the drawings and it’s so fascinating what you can do with your technology. You’re really taking that information and making it visual and as you know, some people prefer to learn one way or the other. So it really helps to give that visual impact of the data.
So as you forecast your business moving forward, trends in the marketplace we talked about, but where do you see InnoVint in a few years? Do you have like a vision that you’re trying to align to?
Ashley: We do have a vision. We have a moonshot we call it, which is by the year 2030, we want over half the world’s wine production to have been managed by InnoVint. That’s a lofty goal, and we feel it’s achievable, so we’re excited about our path. In the last two years or so, we’ve gone upmarket. We have been adding value to many of the largest producers in the world to help them streamline their operations, get better quality out of their products, and see greater profitability.
That’s been exciting for us. This cross-pollination across different beverage alcohol types is exciting as well. So we initially entered just to support wine. We’re exploring because we have a lot of wineries that are now also making spirits, and they’re also making hard seltzer, and they’re also making some RTDs. We should allow them to manage their production under a single software roof.
We’ll keep listening and taking market signals while continuing to add value where we see the value.
Tony: Yeah, and I think you have really the right footprint to do that. Your technology is just so sharp, and as you said, there’s always opportunities in this business to continue to help customers. But I’ll tell you, I am a goal setter. I love your goal. Go get it!
So is there any upcoming events or interesting, features that you wanted to highlight?
Ashley: We have a couple of events coming up. So we’re here in August recording this it’s right now and Harvest in the northern hemisphere is right around the corner. So we’re conducting a lot of harvest training.
We’ll have more in-market educational opportunities for wineries after the harvest season. Other than that, we are consistently delivering new features. You mentioned the tank mapping feature, which is really exciting, and we have some new modules coming out in the coming months around spirits management and some other new, exciting things, so perhaps stay tuned for that online.
Portland Food and Wine Recommendations
Tony: Yeah, definitely want to hear about the spirits features. Of course, we’re wine lovers, but of course a good spirit is excellent now and then, so with that said, we’ve gotten to know you on a business level, so give us a little personal, What restaurant would you recommend in Portland? Which one’s your favorite?
Ashley: It’s almost an impossible question to answer because it’s such a foodie town. There’s so many options. I’m gonna go polar ends here so for a good taco, Por Que No and I recommend the barbacoa!
For those that have dined in Portland, you probably know Le Pigeon, the chef there, Gabriel Rucker, I like him a lot. He has a sister restaurant called Canard, and they just opened in a town by me in Oregon City. He does fun experiments with really high-end food. Like he’ll do a Foie Gras burger, but then offer chicken fingers and fries for kids. So as a parent of two young boys, it helps to find family-friendly restaurants these days.
Tony: Absolutely! And the chefs are getting smarter. They know the consumers too, right? Just like the wine industry. So you’re at your favorite restaurant. What are you having for a drink there? Do you have a specific wine or appellation that you enjoy?
Ashley: Well, of course, it depends on what I’m eating, but generally speaking, if I’m going to go for a pure wine experience, it’ll probably be a Washington red these days. I’m interested in wines I don’t have instant access to through my local providers. So while Willamette Pinot is excellent, I have been drawn to the heavier reds of the Walla Walla region and some Central Washington regions.
Tony: Yeah, that’s so funny you say that because we were just talking to House Smith last week up in Walla Walla and just some of the amazing brands that they’ve created up there. There seems to be a significant influx in the Washington wines.
Ashley: Definitely. I love what House Smith is doing. They make some incredible wines. I’m just excited for Washington and Oregon in general. The whole Northwest is coming on the map and being recognized globally as quality producers, so I’m proud to be a Northwestern.
Tony: Gotta wear that badge of honor. Well, Ashley, I can just tell you, it is been a pleasure having you on this show.
I love your story, love your technology, appreciate your time, and I’d love to invite you back maybe in six to eight months and see how you’re doing. Would that be okay?
Ashley: That sounds great. I’d love that.
InnoVint has been revolutionizing vineyard and winery operations across the globe since 2013. Today, we empower over 5,000 winemakers with approachable, powerful technology. We take a consultative approach with our customers, given the breadth of our production experience and an inherent understanding of what the industry needs. InnoVint is the optimal daily workflow solution for winemakers across the globe. Schedule a conversation with their team today.
365WineTrade by Western Computer is a unified ERP solution fully optimized with the features and customizations wine distributors need. Powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, 365Winetrade gives wineries a competitive edge and helps meet today’s demands for speed, accuracy, and mobility.