The Winemaker’s Bookshelf: Establishing a Digital Library (Part I)

Looking to consolidate your massive pile of books and literature related to wine and winemaking so that you can find things when you want them?  The following post helps you get started!

The following is a guest post by Gary Strachan, an international vineyard and winery consultant specializing in the start up of vineyards and wineries. Please see his complete bio at the end of this post!

I didn’t really start this project on purpose.  I’m changing my office around and so my walls full of books have been placed in boxes and most of them are stored in the barn.   I hope the mice aren’t too hungry.  I’ve always prided myself on knowing where to look things up when I need to augment my (quite fallible) memory.  Now it’s me, my computer, and the internet.  It’s that or nothing.

Photo By Ramchand Bruce Phagoo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By Ramchand Bruce Phagoo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nancy, my wife, accuses me of being a pack rat, and I suppose she’s right.  My computer is no exception.  I have many files that have moved through several generations of computers during the past twenty five years and never been opened. Their file format precedes Windows, and I may not be able to open them because the file format is obsolete.  If you’re going to start a digital library, choose a file format such as Adobe’s searchable portable document file (PDF) that isn’t as likely to change during subsequent upgrades.  Adobe provides a free reader and so far, files written with the earliest versions of this utility are backward compatible and can be opened and viewed.  The down side is that you may require a fairly expensive programme if you want to revise PDF files.  Most word processors such as WORD or WordPerfect can convert documents to PDF but they suck at editing them.  The nice thing about PDF is that things stay put.  The font, spacing, and graphics don’t move around in a PDF, the way they can when you open and close a text document.  I like that.

Technical stuff on the internet typically comes and goes.  If it’s important to you, it’s a good idea to save it.  The logical idea would be to create a bookmark so that you can find your way back to the site.  Going back often doesn’t work because the site has changed or you forgot what you called the bookmark.  You can also try to save the material just as it appears on the site.  In this case it will usually be transferred to your computer either as a PDF file or as an HTML file (Hypertext Markup Language).  HTML looks a little weird when you try to access it later.  It will appear as a folder full of Adobe_PDF_Icon_The_Academic_Winoseveral files, and when you open it, it typically looks nothing like the site you downloaded.  Web pages have panels. Usually the left panel has links to other parts of the website and the right side of the page has links to advertisements.  The good stuff is in the middle.  When you open the previously saved material, these parts are no longer side by side but are generally stacked one on top of the other in a messy, spaced-out file that makes it hard to remember the reason you saved that file.  The solution is to print the file to a PDF writer before you save it.  This is a programme that you’ll have to buy, unless it comes with your scanner (I’ll talk about the scanner in a minute).  The PDF writer will save the page in a format that looks just like the Website you visited.  The writer will be listed like your printer and fax as a print option, and you treat it like a printer.  It creates a digital file instead of a paper copy.

Every digital library should have a scanner and it should have a document feeder.  The least expensive and most versatile of these are the multifunction printer, scanner, and fax.  They come with PDF editing software and they mostly work, right out of the box.  It blows me away that they cost not much more than your first set of ink replacement cartridges.   I have a separate high speed printer, so I almost never buy (expensive) ink for my scanner.

The next best way to build up material in your digital library is to scan it yourself.  A flat bed scanner (as opposed to a document feeder) is a waste of time if you scan many documents.  Most document feeders accommodate up to 25 double sided sheets and will scan and insert the second side when you flip the stack over and run it through again.

The tricky bit is how to organize your new library so that you can find these valuable documents after you store them.   Once upon a time we used to keep all documents in a filing cabinet.   If we estimate that a typical file cabinet has 400 files, we could estimate the file cabinet at (say) 10 megabytes.  A gigabytre would hold 100 file cabinets and a terabyte would hold 100,000 file cabinets.  That’s lot of organizing and searching for each unique file.  Imagine looking for one file in a warehouse with 100,000 file cabinets.   Now you can hide it under your desk.


Gary Strachan is an international vineyard and winery consultant who lives in Summerland, British Columbia.  He is a former Agriculture Canada research scientist who studied cool climate grape varieties and and winemaking.  He taught viticulture and enology courses at Okanagan College and Vancouver Island University for over 25 years.  He is the former Canadian delegate to the O.I.V. and is current Chairman of BC’s Sustainable Practices Committee.  Much of his professional practice is centered on the design and start up of vineyards and wineries.

Gary Strachan is listed on LinkedIn and can also be reached at