From barrels to bottles to lip balm, anything – everything – a person might desire for a winery, vineyard or tasting room was on display at the 37th Wineries Unlimited Trade Show & Conference, held in Richmond, Va., March 12-15.
I tried to see it all, from the Aaqua Tools barrel and tank washers to the Zemplén Hungarian oak barrels. There was so much to take in, so many new as well as familiar objects to scrutinize that I may have missed a few exhibits. Did I somehow drift by the Tenax display of deer fencing and bird netting? Did I miss Picnic Plus’ wine bags, cheese boards and totes? Well, there was no time for additional perusing now: Gary Finnan’s “10 for 1” session on Tasting Room Design was about to begin.
Short of cloning oneself there’s no way to see, listen to and participate in every one of the overlapping conference sessions. Most attendees approach the conference with focused interests and needs, but from a writer’s, rather than a vintner’s, point of view many topics were tempting. For me, it was like sampling a smorgasbord of educational, informative and thought-provoking issues relating to enology, viticulture and marketing.
At the “10 Steps to Better PR” session Paul Wagner provided an abundance of practical advice which ranged from relatively simple suggestions – put your winery phone number on your label – to more subtle recommendations such as: Know where the market is going and aim your programs at the future, not the past.
In another session, PR yielded to, well, yields as Dr. Sara Spayd addressed the provocative question of whether the popular belief that lower yields make for better wine is always true. Acknowledging that growers and winemakers have traditionally held differing views on the matter, Spayd tackled the debate by sharing research results from a project that examined (among many other things) the effect of row spacing on cabernet sauvignon yield by comparing 6-, 8-, 10- and 12-foot row spacing; yield and fruit consequences of very high shoot density; and undesirable effects of deep shade. “Next time you enjoy a truly superb wine,” she concluded, “you know you are drinking wine made from well-cared-for grapes of very low yield (1.5 – 2.5 tons/acre).”
Elizabeth Slater’s discussion on social media was a wakeup call to those of us who haven’t been as diligent as we should about keeping up with the multitude of online professional opportunities available to us. But instead of making us feel guiltier than we already do about our neglectful relationship with the time-devouring demands of Facebook, Twitter and their kin, this session was encouraging rather than dispiriting. Slater clarified some of the differences between the various options, among them the fact that Twitter is mainly used by older adults (more male than female) and is widely used in the wine industry; that the most popular pins in Pinterest (where female users dominate) are about food and drink; that Skype can be used very effectively by wineries to conduct wine tastings. While she acknowledged that social media is constantly changing, and that keeping up with it demands endless amounts of time, Slater laid out various strategies for capitalizing on its potential. She stressed that “savvy use of social media can help you sell more wine and bring people to your winery. Social media is a big deal!”
In Gary Finnan’s informal round-table session on tasting room design, a Virginia vintner sought advice about the best way to refurbish the space his winery had outgrown over the past decade. The owners of a relatively new winery in Florida were looking for design suggestions, while a family from Georgia needed advice on expanding their tasting room to better accommodate the growing number of people visiting the winery. Along with much helpful input from some of the attendees, Finnan’s advice was generally creative and practical. His list of 20 specific recommendations covered everything from “Hide the dishwasher/sink/storage” to “Review your message, product, people and place annually.”
The keynote speaker at the Wine & Dine Gala was Eric Trump, executive vice president of development acquisitions for Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia. In his upbeat address, Trump emphasized that Virginia wine country is blessed in a number of ways. “We have the best location in the world,” he said. “We have the quality and the incredible history. We have diversity, and we have consumers who are smarter than they’ve ever been in history.” It was a confident and optimistic message – a fitting finale, perhaps, to Wineries Unlimited 2013.