Thursday, March 05, 2009

Six Quick Questions for Richard Leahy of Wineries Unlimited

Wineries Unlimited is approaching. It's next week. And I'm hearing of more and more poeple who are attending this year. It seems winemakers and winery owners are more curious than ever to chat with their colleagues and discuss the economy and trends that are happening in their business. Wineries Unlimited gives east coast winery professioanls that one event where they can congregate, attend lectures, and just a importantly, talk with each other.

ECW: How's registration for Wineries Unlimitedso far...are you expecting more or less people? It seems I've been talking to a lot more people who are going.

RL: Yes, I've spoken to many people who are also jazzed about the program this year, some who frankly admitted they don't attend sessions usually but who will this year. Registration is pretty much where it was this time last year. Some categories are up and some are down, but the best change is we're up 20% for full registration, which shows we're attracting a crowd who are serious about their business and making a success of it.

ECW: What's the general mood of the industry going into the event?

RL: That's hard to generalize, but fortunately I anticipated (even before last fall) that our attendees would be focusing on bottom-line issues, and fortunately there's a great compatibility with sustainability environmentally and economically. I think that they understand that we get it about what's necessary to stay in business and thrive in this industry and economy.

ECW: Are there any courses or lectures that especially drew poeple right away?

RL: I heard some people say that this year the newcomer sessions were tempting even though they were long-time regulars. I also think our workshop on Friday, also for seasoned veterans on red wine quality and processing issues, designed and moderated by Christian Butzke of Purdue, was impressive, as were the sessions on organic/biodynamic viticulture.

ECW: What are some things people should really be seeking out...anything new? Important?

RL: Overall, the theme of sustainability, whether in the vineyard, winery or business office, is the mega-trend for our industry as a whole and we're going into it in great depth, starting with the plenary session (3 speakers addressing how it plays out in all 3 tracks), then going into specific detail in separate sessions. Karen Ross of the CA Winegrape Growers will give the keynote address on sustainability and neighbor/customer relations.

ECW: Are there any new trends you seeing growing in the industry that you think will be big?

RL: I think wineries have a great advantage as a business in that they can act as destinations and not just vendors, so for profits in lean times, events will become more important. We have a workshop on "private winery events: quality over quantity" that I think will draw a lot of interest. Also there's a lot of generational change in ownership so we have a session on succession planning.

ECW: Anything else?

RL: Relationship marketing is the future for wineries; without that, your brand is just a commodity fronting for a commodity. We have a whole morning (Thursday) going into details on relationship marketing.

For the "big picture", this 2009 Wineries Unlimited program sums up what I've been building on since 1997, my first year of designing the program full-time; relevant, timely, priceless information donated by outstanding industry speakers who selflessly donate their time and expertise to help their colleagues thrive in difficult times. It's frankly the best program I've done and I've had lots of feedback from people who tell me they're attending that validates that. So, I hope your readers are planning on attending; this is not the year to miss.