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The Article I Wish I Had Written

I recently saw the article, “Events: Great PR or Waste of Cash?”, written by Sara Cummings and published in Wines & Vines (January 2013). Since I attend many large wine events, I have wrestled with the impression that wineries are simply not getting much benefit (meaning wine sales) from their participation. I just don’t think the events often give a fair return on cost for the brand or winery related to desired goals, as Cummings points out in her article.

In recent years, I have seen a decreasing participation of boutique wineries in large tasting events because their wine is simply drowned out by more famous winery names and the competition from the sheer number of wineries pouring. This, combined with the inability to sell wine on premises at most events, leads to disappointment. My informal poll of wineries finds that at these events consumers may sign up for mailing lists, but when contacted by the winery after the event, rarely commit to buying wine or join the winery’s wine club.

For large events, wineries must pay a significant fee to participate, pay expenses to attend the event, and commit to pouring a case of wine or more. The organizers of the events want as many participating wineries as possible to create a buzz and increase their profitability, which only tends to dilute the visibility of the small, lesser-known wineries. It would appear that those who benefit most from many large privately sponsored wine events are the organizers who operate on the falsely perceived premise that wineries benefit.

Cummings points out that these events fail to generate significant public relations buzz from invited media. Referring to an event in Miami she said, “Everyone who attended enjoyed the event, but what was the whole outcome. No feature articles, no splashy coverage - and as far as I know, the reputation of the wines remained the same.” I challenge anyone to show me a significant major news release after an event such as World of Pinot Noir or Pinot Days. Even the major wine publications give these events little mention. Large events are not very attractive to many serious wine writers because walk-around tastings at large venues populated with large, boisterous crowds are not conducive to meaningful conversations with winemakers and winery owners or to the serious tasting of wines. In addition, as profit margins shrink for large events, media are being offered less payment for expenses needed to attend.

There is no hard data to show the value of participation in major wine events for wineries, and few wineries even try to keep track. Wineries seem to shrug it off, feeling that there just aren’t any preferable options. I have asked several wineries off the cuff and they have said that many people seem to attend these events to drink (often in excess) and socialize, with no intent of connecting with the wineries.

The solution, if there is any, escapes me. I believe there is merit in smaller, more focused events that offer interest to both consumers and media. An example would be the upcoming In Pursuit of Balance events in San Francisco and Los Angeles (www.inpursuitofbalance.com), the Garagiste Festivals (www.californiagaragistes.com), and Pinot in the City events where a manageable number of Oregon wineries travel to a city to pour for media and consumers at a relatively small venue (www.willamettewines.com).

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