365WineTrade Technology Talks: Episode 8 with Debra Knotek from Western Computer

Tony Castellano:

Hello and welcome to another 365WineTrade Technology Talks. I'm your host, Tony Castellano, and in just a few minutes we'll be bringing on our guest for today. Debra Knotek, our 365WineTrade Specialist, who just returned from Washington in a big woman sales leadership conference that she'll be sharing with us. But before we get started, I did want to introduce our co-host for the 365WineTrade technology talks, Jacklyn O'Brien. Jackie, how are you doing today?

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Hey, Tony. Doing great, thanks.

Tony Castellano:

Well, I heard you were in Washington too. Hope you guys had a great conference and looking forward to hearing about all the great stuff that you learned. For those of you joining us for the first time, there are many podcasts out there about wine and the making of wine, but we wanted to focus on the business of wine and the technology that's moving the wine and spirits industry. Let's kick off today's podcast with our through the grapevine segment, where we highlight relevant wine and spirits industry news from local and national writers. Jackie, I know you were hitting the streets there and of course, you're always brushing up on topics. What caught your eye this week?

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Yeah, absolutely, Tony. I'm excited to share this article, specifically. I feel on some of our previous episodes, we really talk about some of the challenges and the pivots that the wine industry is currently facing. I was reading on decanter.com by Jonathan Cristaldi, that California wines are actually set right now for increased global market share. A collection of buyers and importers from even beyond the US, recently attended the Global Buyers Market held in Napa Valley. Everyone was really eyeing the opportunities for the growth that's in the California wine exports.

Tony Castellano:

Obviously they've had tough times, but now we're seeing some great numbers coming out of that area. Couple of things that article caught your eye that you wanted to share with us.

Jacklyn O'Brien:

I think it's unique to see the bounce back. There were some tough times with the weather, with covid going on, so to see that California is still growing and is grabbing that global reach. On top of that, the fact that the demand is so strong at the premium level, it's refreshing to see some articles like that.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, I agree with you. Of course as we head into the holiday season, we're seeing quite an uptick in various sectors. The winery producers, also in the distributors, demand is going up as we get into the holidays, getting past some of those post covid items and hoping for a great holiday season. Looking forward to doing one more podcast before the year ends out, and hopefully we'll have a little holiday flare there so we can all enjoy our hard work from this year. Jackie, I know you got a chance to attend a big seminar there, Woman's Leadership Conference. I wanted to introduce your cohort down there, Debra Knotek. She's our 365WineTrade sales specialist. Debra, how are you doing today?

Debra Knotek:

Very well, thank you, Tony. Good morning.

Tony Castellano:

Well, Debra, it's so great to have you on the show. Of course, you've been working with us, gosh, going on a year now in the 365WineTrade, working with the wineries, working with the distributors and importers. It's great to have you on the show for the first time.

Debra Knotek:

Thank you. Great to be here.

Tony Castellano:

So Debra, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Debra Knotek:

Well, my career's been twofold. First of all, it was in software and technology working for startup companies out of Silicon Valley. Then after that, I decided that I had enough with the software component and wanted to follow my passion. I started studying for the wine industry under the Master of wine program, specifically WSET. Where I studied in Boston, as well as London, and got my level three certification in wine. Follow that, of course, I was in the wine business.

Tony Castellano:

That's amazing. Did you get to do a lot of travel through that certification process?

Debra Knotek:

Somewhat. During the certification process, I went to several companies. I got accepted into doing a special program in the north of Spain and the Penedes region. I was the first student from the United States accepted for that. Then a fair amount in London, also Bordeaux and some Italy. Certainly, got a taste for the world of wine, for sure.

Tony Castellano:

Oh, that's so amazing. Of course that global market, there's so many quaint areas across the world now trying to capture that piece of the wine puzzle. Debra, it's been great to work with you and get to know you. Of course, I know you and Jackie just went to the WSWA Women's Leadership Conference there in Washington. Can you tell me a little bit about the event?

Debra Knotek:

The event was a two day conference for women in leadership roles in the wine and spirits industry, specifically as it relates to the three tier system. It's the distributor network of wine and spirits professionals. It was all women in attendance, about 70 attendees from 17 different companies that were represented from throughout the United States. People from all over the United States were able to join. That was my first time attending this event and they just had some phenomenal speakers. It was a really great synergy at the event.

Tony Castellano:

That's fantastic. Jackie, some feedback on your side.

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and just totally agree with everything Debra said. It was awesome, the in-person events are back in full force and just to have a room filled with so many powerful and positive women, I think really just made the event incredible.

Tony Castellano:

Oh, that is so nice to hear. I know that there's a lot of sponsorship where they're actually doing reach out programs to these colleges that are doing viticulture. Getting people into the vineyards early and helping them grow into a very prosperous industry. I believe there's lots of opportunity within that industry, whether it's technology based or more on the agriculture side. It's exciting to see and be a part of. Debra, I know you're talking to a lot of people out there about their needs, helping them with software solutions. What are some of the top requirements that you're hearing from folks today?

Debra Knotek:

A lot of it really is just being able to have more sophisticated software. A common denominator just because of its lower cost of entry, is folks using QuickBooks. I talk to a lot of people where they're kind of hitting their head on the ceiling per se, in that it's been working for this and it's maybe been working for some other areas, but all of a sudden they just can't do what they need it to. They're looking for things that are a little bit more complex and can take them to the next level, as far as what they need to do for their business, as well as what they're looking to do for their growth.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, I agree.

Now Debra, I heard you live in a rough town up there. Is that Sonoma County up there?

Debra Knotek:

Yeah, I live right in the heart of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa.

Tony Castellano:

So excited to come see you out there for another wine event, but tell us a little bit about living in that area, growing up. Of course, everyone has a rivalry, right?

Debra Knotek:

Yeah. I guess to a certain degree there in the wine business, there is a Sonoma versus Napa. There's in Sonoma a comment or phrase is said about, "Oh, what did you say, Napa? Isn't that an auto parts store?" Certainly, good-hearted rivalry between Napa and Sonoma, but a lot of great wineries and a lot of people leveraging each other's experience. All good in the end.

Tony Castellano:

Too funny, too funny. When you're in Sonoma, is it all about the wine or do you get out there and do a little hiking? What do you like to do in your free time up there?

Debra Knotek:

Oh, wine. Actually, for being somewhat of a rural area, the restaurants are phenomenal. Of course, I did do some wine tasting this past weekend at an event, which was terrific. But I've got five state parks within eight miles of me. Certainly, get out there and do hiking or go out to the coast, that kind of thing.

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Debra, I love that you brought up restaurants. I was going to ask, what are your top two that we would have to try?

Debra Knotek:

Now you're putting me on the spot. Well, I just went out, had a good friend in town from Colorado a few weeks ago, and there's a new restaurant in Healdsburg called, The Matheson. Did their chef's tasting course, which is six courses and then you have the option of doing the wine pairing. You get a small, two ounce pour of wine that's perfectly paired to that course and it was amazing. It was one of the best restaurant experiences that I've had in quite a while. Having been trained in wine, I understand at a compound level of pairing food and wine together. I will analyze it maybe more than I should for being out for dinner. But some of them I questioned up first and then as I dived into some more of the flavors of the dish, it was just perfect. It was really pretty amazing.

Jacklyn O'Brien:

That sounds delicious.

Debra Knotek:

It was. A must do.

Jacklyn O'Brien:

I was just going to say, Debra, one last question on my end, and this is always one of my favorite questions to ask when we have people join us on the show. That's going to be, what is your favorite drink?

Debra Knotek:

Oh, that's no fair. I guess that in my younger days before I had a technology career, I was actually a waitress and a bartender, of course. So in doing that, you get bored with whatever you're drinking. I found myself drinking all kinds of different cocktails and of course having been educated in wine, wine from all over the world. So, it depends on my mood and depends on time of day and whether I'm eating or not eating. Based on all those different scenarios, I could have at least a dozen different answers for you.

Tony Castellano:

Okay, we're not going to let you off the hook. You have to pick one. It's November now, the leaves are turning, it's getting a little cooler. It's not quite winter, but you're going to have a?

Debra Knotek:

Here in Sonoma County it's about 9:30 in the morning, so I'll take a Bloody Mary, thank you.

Tony Castellano:

All right, well you didn't have to have it now, don't worry. Well, great. Let's take a break and hear a word from our sponsor.

Jacklyn O'Brien:

This edition of 365WineTrade Technology talks is brought to you by 365WineTrade by Western Computer. 365WineTrade is the ultimate cloud solution for wine and spirits distributors. Built specifically for your industry, it supports embedded multi-state compliance, inventory and 3PL management, a three tier compliant pricing engine, purchase consolidation, direct imports and more, to help you run as smoothly as the wine you enjoy. 365WineTrade takes advantage of the Microsoft Cloud as your environment so you can be assured your company's data is safe. To learn more about 365WineTrade, please visit www.threesixtyfivewinetrade.com/techtalks. That's T-E-C-H-T-A-L-K-S. And now, back to you Tony.

Tony Castellano:

Welcome back. This is Tony Castellano 365WineTrade Technology Talks. I'm here with Jackie O'Brien, my co-host, and our guest today is Debra Knotek, our 365WineTrade sales specialist, who resides up there in Sonoma County. Now Debra, I know we're going to be attending a great event up there and will actually have to head into Napa. Tell us a little bit about the event that's upcoming.

Debra Knotek:

Yeah, this is a real different slant. With most of the wine events, they're really all encompassing in the fact that, you'll see everything from barrels, to steel tanks, to corks, to capsules that go over the bottles, all the different labels, wine accessories, just a whole host of things. You get a whole host of different people that are, and for us, really selling a financial business software solution where our main target and the folks that we spend a lot of time from with the business is the finance folks. The financial symposium that's taking place in Napa is going to be just our people, if you want to say. Usually, there's about 100 attendees. Also, when it gets into sponsorship, there's a lot of banks and people that do compliance law in that. A whole different set of sponsors and type of folks that are involved with it. It's our first event, so we're super excited about it.

Tony Castellano:

I assume, Debra, this may have not have happened the last couple of years. When's the last time they had an event for this one?

Debra Knotek:

Yeah, actually it was two years ago. They tried to do it virtually, but of course it was really limited. This is the first time, everyone's super excited about it and it will give us the option of attending the sessions with the different attendees from wineries located throughout Northern California. A lot of insight as to what's going on with their current issues, concerns, thoughts, et cetera, in wine and finance.

Tony Castellano:

Very exciting. Of course, look for me, I'll have my phone and all of my reports on my phone. I won't be tethered to a laptop. I really want to show where technology is taking the business. We've done some amazing things with some wineries recently, Power BI and Data Lake, and super excited to share that with people because I think there's a technology revolution that's happening within the industry. Jackie, I know we're turning the page here, we'll be having our holiday special podcast, more to come on that. We have some announcements about 365WineTrade. But what is something you're looking for to, as we head into the holiday season?

Jacklyn O'Brien:

The camaraderie around wine and spirits goes hand in hand with the holiday season. I will be looking forward to hearing from our team on different recipes and family traditions. Things that remind them of their Christmas traditions.

Tony Castellano:

Agreed. I think everyone is ready for that. I think we can put most of the Covid stuff behind and look ahead towards a brighter future. Debra, how about for you? I'm sure the wineries are getting their things to market. I know distributors are starting to heat up for the holidays. What are you looking forward most to towards the holidays?

Debra Knotek:

For the holidays, what I'm really most looking forward to is, last year around this time we did have another one of the infamous surges with Covid. I'm looking forward to just seeing a lot more family and friends and catching up in a way that we haven't been able to in a couple years.

Tony Castellano:

From what you've told me, you do tend to put on a big dinner party or I think it's a group of girls that maybe do it at their houses. Tell us a little bit about that.

Debra Knotek:

Actually, my really big dinner party that happens this time of the year is for my very favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. A group that's been gathering together for just this beautiful, beautiful Thanksgiving meal that we've been getting together for about 15 years. Actually, some folks from Napa and some people from Silicon Valley, so a whole bunch of people that gather for the holiday. Do Turkey and prime rib. We've got one woman who is a food artist for William Sonoma catalogs and she makes these beautiful, beautiful pies right out of a magazine, of course. Super amazing and always a highlight for the end of the year for me.

Tony Castellano:

That sounds amazing. I think cooking for, I think you said 10 or 15 people, you must be a pretty good chef there, Debra?

Debra Knotek:

Yeah, we try.

Tony Castellano:

Debra, as you talk to people and you look in your crystal ball, what do you think we'll be talking about next year? What are going to be the hot topics in the wine and spirits industry?

Debra Knotek:

I think there's so much going on and I had a conversation with you earlier this week, Tony, where there's just so many moving pieces. I think that some of the interesting trends that I'm seeing in wine and spirits is people really opening up their definition of what kind of company they are. Before it was very niche and that's what they do, that's all that they do. Now you're seeing really large companies, even beer companies that are changing their name to being a beverage company, instead of a brewery or a winery or whatever. They're just completely expanding what their definition is. So as it relates to RTDs or the ready to drink beverages that can either be wine based or spirits based, non-alcoholic beverages. A whole host of new beverages that people are creating. The other big thing is when it gets into laws around this. A bunch of laws at the state level, at the federal level and the TTB. All kinds of people are pretty active right now and there's a whole lot going on.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, I would agree. It just seems like there is so many different products that are coming to market in different segments. I think the governments around the world are trying to keep up. It's not just the typical wine and spirits, there's so many different flavors and they're coming in different containers. I read something about you better get used to keg wine. That just struck me as odd, but that's what's happening in the marketplace, amazing things. Jackie, for you, some things you think we'll be talking about next year on the podcast?

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Debra mentioned it briefly, but there's really this new wave coming into the industry that is non-alcoholic alternatives, is what they're calling them. I've seen some branding going as, better than alcohol alternatives. These are going to be the drinks that you see that have the CBD in them, the THC. There's a huge mushroom push right now, some of the mushroom euphoric drinks that are RTDs. I was at a farmer's market last weekend and there was a pop-up bar or what I thought was a bar. They had probably almost 100 different alcohol free alternatives. So it's going to be really interesting to see how the market competes with them.

Tony Castellano:

Absolutely. There's a lot of competition for that market. I was noticing that the retailers are really trying to splurge here for Christmas. Of course last year's Christmas, the end of Covid, they had a big 15% jump last year. But with some of the other fears this year, they're hoping that they can get those kind of results, just reading that on the 750 daily blog. For me personally, I do think we're going to talk a lot about supply chain and the ability to bring products to market, the speed in which you can do that. I think that's very important because what I see with so many brands, some of them peak very early. Some of them have longevity and it really depends on have they hit their segment of the market? They really need to know who they're selling to. Well Jackie, looking ahead, we've got our Napa Valley event, we are going to have our podcast. Any other events that we want to highlight before the end of the year?

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Debra and I just got back from Washington, DC where we were a sponsor for WSWA, the Woman's Leadership event. Man, did we hear a ton about Access Live, which was formally known as the WSWA Annual Convention at Exposition. That is going to be April 2023 down here in Orlando. From what I have heard, that is definitely one of the industry's premier events and really looking forward to attending that one.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, that sounds fantastic. Of course, already looking into 2023. Debra, can you believe it? We're already on the precipice of the end of the year.

Debra Knotek:

Yeah, definitely not. It's flown by so quickly. For us, just before we close out the year, we have another event coming up on December 1st where we're going to be at the Win Expo that's taking place in my hometown here of Santa Rosa in Sonoma. This will be one of those events where you're going to see all the tanks and labels and corks and everything else. We're going to be sponsoring an antipasto bar that's going to be taking place in the afternoon. So make sure to stop by and have antipasto and say hello. Hopefully we'll get to see some of the folks at that event, because I know it's super well attended.

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, really looking forward to getting out there and doing a little traveling here, enjoying the end of the year. It's been a fantastic year. Debra, want to thank you for coming on the podcast. I know you've been working hard, building the brand, so we appreciate all your hard work and wish you a very happy holiday season.

Debra Knotek:

Thank you. You're welcome, Tony. It's great to be here.

Tony Castellano:

Jackie, of course, thank you for being my co-host and keeping us going here. The lights are still on, but we're looking forward to having a nice year end celebration here in December, as we have our year-end holiday podcast. Any last words to share, Jackie?

Jacklyn O'Brien:

No. Thanks for having me cohost and definitely excited to be together in December.

Tony Castellano:

Absolutely. We're all going to raise a glass to celebrate this year. We wish you and yours a very happy holiday season. This is Tony Castellano, for Jackie O'Brien and Debra Knotek, at the 365WineTrade Technology Talks, happy holiday season. Thank you for listening.

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