Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WINERIES UNLIMITED 2008: OFF THE BEATEN PATH



A wine trade show in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania? Yes, the largest east of the Mississippi, at the Valley Forge Convention Center. A bigger venue than in past years, with more room on the trade show floor, and in the hotel itself. This is where all the wineries from Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South and North Carolinas, etc. come to meet, greet, and learn. Not exactly what you would expect. You don't think Valley Forge and think, "Oh yeah, they have the largest wine rade show in the east there!"

There are two levels to attending Wineries Unlimited. First is the presented information download which is vast and most valuable. Second is the shared information download which is both vast and most valuable.

Richard Leahy and the staff plan a series of lectures and presentations which speak to the heart of the industry. There are workshops and panel discussions on everything from various winemaking techniques to vineyard management to accounting to marketing. Each program proves more and more interesting. The downloading of this in formation is incredible.

The viticulture sessions in 2008 included takes on challenges and opportunities in a changing climate, vineyard water management, total quality focus winemaking, studies of grape diseases, making chardonnay sur lie and in a stainless steel tanks, event planning at your winery, frost protection, purchasing non local fruit and juice, how to make apple wine, rose' winemaking, successful sales methods, and realizing your tourism potential.

And then the other information is also what makes it so fascinating - the buzz from the trade show floor, the dinners, and the breakfasts, and lunches. How with the economy affect the wineries, epically this summer? How can you grow your business while the economy is having an off year? The increases in pricing of vineyard trellis went up substantially due to the price of processing steel and shipping it. Indeed, how rising fuel costs are affecting prices of goods you're buying (shipping is going up) as well as those you are selling.

Big discussion was focused on costs of new French oak barrels which are now $1,000 each - which is due to the rise of the Euro and is helped along by rising fuel costs. In the face of increased costs, what are the best French oak alternatives? Adding extra stave or chips? Sending out for reconditioning? What are the best new hybrids coming from Cornell and Minnesota? Are there any new packaging options to choose from? What styles are working best for other wineries? What non-grape fruits are making the best and selling the best as wines? How do you get more people to come to your winery? Tasting room policies? Event ideas and planning? Advertising? Web strategy? How green is your winery? Are you solar powered? Is it cost effective? Is it reliable? These are the issues facing wineries today.

The trade show is great for two things - buying wine making equipment and buying merchandise for the tasting room. We found some great wine stoppers - both inexpensive and expensive. My favorite was a Big Bertha Driver wine stopper, and a Titlest Golf Ball wine stopper. Very cool. We found chocolates. Olive oils. Carton shippers. Cds with music written especially for wineries. Wine slushies mixes. Carry home boxes. Found a personalizing label maker for weddings. We took copious notes on trellising costs. We studied oak barrel alternatives. Hung out with a great, funny, and knowledgeable barrel salesman. We bought new bottles, corks, and packaging. We ordered more stainless hose clamps and hoses, and ball cock valves.

And then there's gossip. 'Did you hear that so-and-so has moved from one winery to another?' And who's selling their winery and for how much?

And of course it's about the wine. Who's making the best reds? Who's making the best whites? What are they doing? Have you tried this wine? That wine? Have you seen the most recent scores? How do I get my wines reviewed?

The industry is remarkably open in its discussions in a way that is refreshing. People trade secrets all the time. New winery owners are laughed at and then encouraged. A rising tide floats all boats.

And you heard it all at Valley Forge.