Spring is on its way, and an exciting new season of wine trade expositions is about to commence. With the launch of Vinexpo New York on March 5, followed by ProWein, Vinitaly, and others throughout the year, these events will offer extraordinary opportunities to taste and learn about many of the world’s finest wines. But with back-to-back scheduling over just a few days and as many as several thousand exhibitors, these events can be overwhelming.
With so many competing priorities, how can you get the most out of your experience? SevenFifty Daily asked veteran attendees, winemakers, and event producers for their tips on how to optimize time spent at a wine trade exposition.
1. Do Your Homework
Event organizers provide highly detailed tools to help you maximize efficiency, including phone apps and other program-navigating services. Event websites also include information on supplemental workshops, seminars, and other networking events. These often fill up quickly, so it helps to do your research and plan ahead.
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights. Sign up for our award-winning Daily Dispatch newsletter—delivered to your inbox every week.
“You get lost if you don’t do your homework in advance,” says Marius Berlemann, the global head of wine and spirits for the annual ProWein International Trade Fair in Düsseldorf, Germany, which features more than 6,000 exhibitors. One helpful tool offered by ProWein is the Route USA badge—all exhibitors interested in finding partners to import and distribute their products in the U.S. are marked with a logo at the front of their stands.
Making efficient use of their time is a high priority for attendees, says Mary Larkin, the executive vice president of Diversified Communications, the Maine-based company jointly organizing Vinexpo New York with Vinexpo based in Bordeaux. “Attending a trade event is all about maximizing your value for time and money,” she says. “Planning is key, especially at an event where you’re employing so many of your senses.”
2. Balance the Old and the New
It’s natural to want to visit the producers you already know and love—and that’s not a bad thing. There are always new vintages and upcoming releases to learn about. “It’s all about discovery—from rediscovering old classics to exploring new flavors,” says Lynn Rittenband, the senior vice president of event marketing for M. Shanken Communications, Inc., the New York–based publisher of Wine Spectator and the organizer of the Wine Spectator Grand Tour. “Take advantage of the opportunity to interact with the luminaries behind their favorite selections; ask questions and gain a deeper understanding of the flavors and essence behind their favorite vintages.”
But with so much to explore at these events, you’ll want to allocate some time to taste new things. “Schedule enough extra time to look around,” says Enore Ceola, the managing director and CEO of Mionetto USA, a Prosecco brand and New York-based wine importer. “I typically take the second half of the last day to wander and discover new things.”
3. Network with Industry Experts
Whether you’re new to the wine industry or a veteran, trade shows provide a terrific opportunity to network within different areas of expertise. With a vast range of experts available to you at these events, you can obtain meaningful insight into the industry while further developing your career.
“Regardless of what your interest of the moment is, or what you are curious about, [trade shows] are a great opportunity to connect with someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about the topic,” says Alberto Arizu, the president of Wines of Argentina, a Mendoza-based organization that promotes Argentinian wines in the U.S. Organizations like these often feature a range of experts in their booths who can speak on topics from sustainability to winemaking trends.
Networking isn’t limited to the wine expositions themselves, as there are affiliated off-site events throughout the events. You can also increase your chances of meeting the experts by booking a hotel in the city center and dining at wine-focused restaurants where you’ll run into many of them. “It’s more expensive,” says Ceola, “but it’s worth it.”
4. Pace Your Palate
The age-old debate on the best order in which to taste wines often has experts using various techniques to avoid palate fatigue. But the one thing many seem to agree on is the notion of starting with reds and mixing it up thereafter.
“A good trick is to focus on red wines earlier in the day, then do whites and bubbles,” says Jim Clarke, the marketing manager of Wines of South Africa USA, a New York–based organization that promotes South African wines. “It means that after a morning of powerful Cabernets, you can enjoy refreshing Chenins later in the day when you need a wine that will perk you up.”
Another tactic is to refresh your palate by alternating between reds and whites, says Robert Morrison, the president of Authentic Wine Selections, an importer and distributor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Don’t taste all whites and then all reds, or palate fatigue will immediately set in,” Morrison says. “And a midday palate shower of beer is always beneficial!”
General fatigue is a real risk, as wine trade shows are physically challenging, admits Gérard Bertrand, the proprietor of 14 winemaking estates throughout Languedoc-Roussillon and a biodynamic pioneer in the region. “I always make time to go running and meditate,” he says. “This really helps me have the energy and focus I need to get through an intense and exciting trade show week.”
Julie Albin is a wine and spirits journalist based in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in The Press (San Francisco Chronicle), Whisky Advocate, Liquor.com, Drink Me magazine, SOMA magazine, Grape Collective, and more. She holds the WSET Diploma certification and has produced spirits events, wine courses, and on-premise programming. In her spare time, she loves to volunteer at the San Francisco SPCA.