Wineries Unlimited 2010

By Posted on Jun 10 2010 | By


Take 1,600 winery employees, 221 industry exhibitors, a host of nationally known winemakers, viniculturalists and marketing mavens, blend them together for four days, and it becomes obvious why the largest east coast winery trade show is called Wineries Unlimited.

Sponsored by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, the conference successfully completed its thirty-fourth annual extravaganza on March 9-12 in King of Prussia, PA. If you are in the wine industry and did not attend, it’s called: Missed Opportunity.

The theme of this year’s show was Balancing Quality and Costs for Profit. And given the state of the nation’s economy, a more appropriate theme would be hard to conceive.

The annual meeting is actually two shows in one. The conference is a four-day cornucopia of seminars covering all aspects of growing, making, and selling wine.

The trade show serves as a counterpoint offering attendees a seemingly endless supply of equipment and services showcased by manufacturers’ reps. Nowhere else can so many wine folks examine so many products from so many vendors. They came. They saw. They purchased.

Perhaps one of the more impressive aspects of the show was the caliber of speakers arrayed before the attendees. Andy Beckstoffer, one of California’s most renown wine grape growers, was both the presenter at the viniculture seminar and keynote luncheon speaker on day two. At the luncheon, he gave an inspiring address saying that East Coast wineries could create an industry equal to that of Napa Valley if they fully commit to quality.

During his seminar session, he highlighted the importance of vineyard site selection, creation of targeted viniculture plans and the commitment to employing dedicated professionals to implement and closely monitor grape growing programs.

The conference theme of balancing quality and costs is one all wineries residing in the Continental climate of the eastern United States must constantly confront.

Unlike California’s mild Mediterranean environment, cold winters, humid summers and the relentless assault of fungi and mildews require serious money to produce quality fruit east of the Mississippi. Skimp on any aspect of wine production and your customers are going to melt away. Nonetheless, costs must be controlled or making a profit becomes an even greater challenge. Think tightrope.

All of the seminars were purpose driven. Experienced growers and winemakers shared strategies on what worked and what didn’t in 2009, focusing on combating fugal diseases, developing canopy management programs, implementing cost cutting cellar practices, employing effective distribution channels and more. This was the enlightened leading the eager to be informed. Attention deficit was not a problem.

One of the more popular seminar series focused on sales and marketing and was attended by standing room only crowds. Led by the marketing powerhouse duo of Paul Wagner, President, Balzac Communications & Marketing—and an instructor at Napa Valley College—and Elizabeth Slater, a marketing savant with extensive experience in the industry, they covered marketing theory, assessment of the current US market and the how-to of developing and implementing a marketing plan for boutique wineries.

Wagner & Slater had obviously worked together in the past given their humorous interaction. Both presenters offered a wealth of ideas on increasing wine sales in three story-filled sessions.

At the close of one session, Wagner emphasized consumers do not want to know about pH, acidity, and residual sugar levels in wine, “Your job is to make us fall in love with wine, not educate us about it,” he said. Slater suggested that, “Instead of pairing wine and food, present the food and let your guests pair it themselves. It’s just as interesting to find out what doesn’t go together as what does.”

Another fascinating observation from Slater was the exploding use of the web site Yelp. Social media is increasingly used by millennials—the population ranging in age from 18 to 30 years old—to critique shopping and dining experiences. She stated one of the first things she does when consulting for a winery is to see what the public is posting on the Internet about the hospitality and wines of a given establishment.

She underscored many wineries have no clue they are being so publicly evaluated in these open forums. The message was clear. Every encounter at a winery can go worldwide with a brief critique followed by a single “send” keystroke.

When not attending seminars, delegates roamed the exhibitor’s hall gathering sales literature and samples from the over the two hundred firms specializing in wine related products. The number of items available was staggering and ranged in size from multi–ton mechanical harvesters to almost weightless corks, and from 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks to tin capsules. If it could be employed in the growing of grapes or the making wine, you could buy it here.

And many did. A considerable amount of product disappeared off the floor as the show progressed, including purchased oak barrels being wheeled out of the convention hall and onto trucks headed back to wine cellars.

After observing this unusual trade show up close, one is struck by how much time, money and dedication is expended in producing quality wine in the eastern United States. And the commitment is catapulting the East Coast to the top tier of American wine.

Watch out Napa Valley.

Published in the Summer 2010 edition of the Virginia Wine Gazette.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES