A few weeks ago I attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, this time not as an exhibitor. 2003 was my first Unified show and that year started a run of six in a row, all as an exhibitor for software and service vendor eSkye (now Orion Wine Software). I missed last year’s show due to my big move to Napa from Jupiter, FL (trading one paradise for another). The importance of Unified increased since ASEV stopped having an annual trade show in 2008. It is a good place for wineries to evaluate vendors for everything from packaging and barrels to farm equipment and root stock. The show attracts wine producers, small and large from the four corners of the US and beyond, along with networkers of all stripes.
The highlight for me was running into many old colleagues, a large number of whom have changed companies within the wine industry. A great many small wineries come to Unified to evaluate technology in addition to basic winery infrastructure. I reconnected with Morten Hallgren, owner and winemaker of Ravines Winery in the Finger Lakes. Morten was a customer of mine when he was head winemaker at Dr. Frank’s Vinifera, one of the oldest and most well known wineries in NY. IMHO he is making some of the best Riesling wines in the world at Ravines. He and his wife and partner, Lisa were here visiting Sonoma and shopping for a POS / Wine Club software package.
At VinTank we like to stay abreast of the latest and best technology and strategic opportunities available to the industry. This year I was excited to see what was new. It may be partially related to the 2 year wait list for exhibit space, or maybe it is the emergence of WITS (annual technology conference that delivers relevant curriculum and panel discussion and far fewer vendors. WITS is produced in large part by my brother, Smoke Wallin), but I sensed a general lack of creativity. Of course it is no fun trying to market and differentiate corrugated packaging, but the absence of new content was deflating. I’d like to see modifications to the show to stimulate discussion around the rapid changes in technology and market dynamics. Perhaps a format change to establish a clear segregation of technology vendors could help wineries better evaluate the universe of options. Certainly Unified would benefit from some innovation around digital curriculum in the form of featured speakers and perhaps a panel discussion to investigate the digital trends relevant to small wineries. Given the growth and relevance of mobile internet, it might be interesting to hear from wine companies or digital agencies that are leveraging mobile already to more effectively market.
In retrospect, my biggest takeaways are that while not much has changed, it is a great place to reconnect with the wider industry and a good event to build vendor relationships for software, barrels, packaging, and the like. #justsayin’