Reveling in the business of wine

Last week the largest gathering of the U.S. wine industry took
place at the Sacramento Convention Center. The Unified Grape and
Wine Symposium brought in more than 8,000 wine industry people to
hob knob with the competition in the friendly manner the wine
industry is noted for. Many wineries in the tri-county area attend
the symposium, as it has an established and well recognized history
of providing vintners and growers with the information they need to
remain competitive.
Last week the largest gathering of the U.S. wine industry took place at the Sacramento Convention Center. The Unified Grape and Wine Symposium brought in more than 8,000 wine industry people to hob knob with the competition in the friendly manner the wine industry is noted for. Many wineries in the tri-county area attend the symposium, as it has an established and well recognized history of providing vintners and growers with the information they need to remain competitive.

The symposium provides critical, practical information regarding global trends, challenges and issues facing the wine and grape industry. Over the last several months, the 32-member committee has created a program filled with solutions, new ideas and even some predictions of what might be in store for the industry. 2004 marked the symposium’s 10th anniversary and, in fitting form, the theme this year was “looking towards the future.”

Whether you grow grapes, buy grapes, harvest them or do research on them, this is the granddaddy of symposiums: the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

The focus this year was on the needs of small and mid-sized businesses. Marketing strategies, worker’s compensation issues, quality winemaking techniques, new markets for bulk wine, pest management and vineyard management were some of the topics covered.

This year there were more than 450 booths at the trade show exhibiting a smorgasbord of insurance and financing, irrigation, machinery, measurement needs, packaging, software, soil testing and analysis, and tasting room supplies.

On Wednesday night, the wineries set up booths on the convention room floor for an evening wine tasting event that rivals most tastings in the business.

More than that, the wine industry is looking at what’s ahead in wine sales. The growth in the wine business affects the economy much in the way housing starts to, so the topics the symposium addressed this year and the concerns on the minds of winemakers are important to economists as well as consumers.

And what does the future look like for the wine industry?

Wine in the U.S. is a $21.5 billion a year industry and is definitely reflective of the U.S. economy as a whole. In recent years, the industry has suffered from the downturn in the economy and the industry’s situation on the supply side. But industry insiders feel they are seeing positive signs that reflect broad trends, such as the current positive effect of a weak dollar and improvements in consumer confidence.

It seems the glut of grape is finally under control, the bulk wine supply is dwindling and after pulling out thousands of vines in the Central Valley, the 2003 harvest is closer to the supply and demand of the heady past. Does that mean the end of Two-Buck-Chuck and back to high-priced premium wine? Yes and no.

Even though, as consumers, we rushed to Trader Joe’s and Cost Plus for cases of the stuff, research shows that many of us who used to buy in the $10 to $15 a bottle range will continue to do so now that we may have more fun money to spend as the economy improves. However, we have come to expect premium quality for the mid-range price.

The message that came out of the symposium in Sacramento last week was that a leaner, meaner industry is necessary and healthy. Efficiency and quality in the vineyard and in the winery could make or break the small to mid-sized winery or grape grower. Times certainly have been difficult these last few years, but the general mood from both inside and outside the industry is cautiously optimistic.

Anyone can attend the Symposium, so you may want to put it on schedule for next year. Until then, as an educated consumer of wine, you will be helping to shape the economic trends for the future of one of our state’s largest industries.

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