A Conversation with Ian Swanson

By Rebecca Lam

Mon, 22 Oct 2018

Ian Swanson, CFO of Delicato Family Vineyards, will be attending Ag 4.0 next month. Today he speaks to us about his experience at Delicato, challenges that face wine and grape growers, and the adoption of big data within agriculture. 

Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you ended up at Delicato Family Vineyards?

I joined Delicato in 2012.  After having spent most of my career in Fortune 500 companies in the Spirits & Wine and Pharmaceutical industries, and going through several M&A transactions, I had started working with small to medium sized companies helping them manage growth, and that led to a conversation with Delicato.  Originally from Scotland, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Ernst & Young and transferred to the U.S. in 1988 and never quite found my way back to Scotland.


Can you tell us more about Delicato Family Vineyards, and the grapes you grow today?

Delicato Family Vineyards is a fourth generation family-owned company founded in 1924. One of the fastest growing top-10 wine companies, Delicato produces a unique range of California wines including Bota Box, Gnarly Head, Noble Vines, Black Stallion Estate Winery, Z. Alexander Brown, Diora, Brazin, Irony, and Earth Wise, and is the importer for Santa Rita wines from Chile. Delicato’s portfolio also includes the V2 luxury wines from top wine-growing regions such as Napa’s Merryvale and Starmont Wineries, Sonoma’s Toad Hollow Vineyards, Paso Robles’ Donati Family Vineyards, Oregon’s Wine by Joe, Provence’s Coeur Clementine, and Torbreck Vintners of the Barossa Valley.

We farm today 7,000 acres of vineyards, and produce all the varietals that you might expect, including Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The family’s heritage is probably most closely associated with the family’s Italian roots and Zinfandel, which is genetically related to the Primitivo varietal grown in Italy.   We also work with many growers around the state to secure the fruit we need, and annually crush approximately 175,000 tons of fruit each year. 

What main challenges are currently facing grape and wine growers?

The biggest challenges are the same as the agricultural industry as a whole; water and labor.  Water is always a challenge and has been compounded by recent drought and the addition of more acreage devoted to nuts. Labor, both availability and cost, is getting significantly more challenging in the current climate.


You will be on the Big Data in Modern Agriculture panel at Ag 4.0. How do you think Big Data will bring tangible value to agriculture?

I think that used the right way, data has the ability to both reduce cost and improve yields and quality.  The ability to be more precise in the use of water and pesticides, and monitor plant and soil health can have significant benefits.


Are you looking forward to any other panels or speakers at the workshop?

I’m very much looking forward to several presentations on the application of the technology and data within the farming environment, an example being ‘The importance of technology in everyday farming and understanding how to get ROI on agtech’.  The cost of these investments is not small and so it is good to see how to measure the ROI.


Do you think there will be any barriers for new adopters of big data? How would you suggest overcoming those challenges?

No matter who you are, you have more data at your disposal today than ever before, and you will have even more tomorrow.  The barriers are how best to use that data, and therefore the data governance process around it; what data is important, how should it be defined, and what format is the best way to report it.  As the saying goes, ‘50% of the data is valuable and 50% is not, I just don’t know which 50%’.


Where do you see Delicato Family Vineyards in ten years?

I think we will be true to our mission statement, to be a leading family-owned winery lead by a portfolio of powerful brands.


Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?

Related to data, we have instituted our own Data Governance Council at Delicato.  Like everyone, we have the challenges of big data and we are putting in place the right oversight and governance to ensure we define, capture and share the right data in usable formats.  We are also expanding and modernizing our bottling and distribution operations to meet the growth we have seen.  This represents the biggest investment the company has made to date, and will provide a strong foundation for future growth.


Ag 4.0 Workshop

Join Ian Swanson and leading industry experts at Ag 4.0, a workshop aimed at improving the understanding of modern agriculture practices and creating interoperable solutions. Ian will be speaking on the panel: Providing invaluable insights for farmers with big data.

Be part of a workshop where farmers will be given the opportunity to tell AgTech companies what they need, rather than the other way around. If you are a farmer or grower – secure your FREE ticket here.

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Rebecca Lam


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