Tag Archives: Unified Symposium

Planning for Unified

Courtesy of unifiedsymposium.org

This week the entire country decends upon Sacramento, CA for the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. This is, by far, the largest wine focused trade show in the US. All the suppliers for anything having to do with grapes or wine are in attendance and one can easily just attend the exhibit halls and not see the entire show space. I like to attend the talks though. It starts on Tuesday with the Keynote luncheon. These talks are separate from the show itself which starts Wednesday but it never fails to be inspiring and full of good information. Tomorrow’s speaker is Gina Gallo of the winemaking giant Gallo. Gina is known to have been one of the driving forces behind repositioning the company towards higher end wines so her insight into the industry I’m sure will be interesting. After last year’s luncheon with wine writer Eric Asimov, I walked away with close to 10 pages of notes. To save my hand, I’ve brought my SurfacePro this year and fully anticipate getting some good information again.

Another one of my favorite highlights is the “State of the Industry” talk which kicks off the main part of the symposium on Wednesday morning. Having any one of the speakers present their information to you would cost you well beyond the price of an admission ticket but the panel of people that they assemble for this gives a very detailed look at the state of the industry in California. Although global issues are touched on it is a CA driven talk but there are always good parallels to be gleaned. Since CA makes up 90% of the wine industry in this country, knowing where CA is going gives good insight into where the market is going.

The rest of the day is split into “tracks” with multiple sessions being held at the same time for viticulture, winemaking, and marketing. It never fails that I end up wanting to go to two or three talks the happen at the same time and need to make a game day decision.

Thursday tends to be a lighter talk day with less in depth subjects so that usually ends up being my trade show day. You MUST go to the trade show with a plan. Inevitably, one will run into a bunch of friends and colleagues and it will take three times as long as you expect to cruise down each aisle as you find people to catch up with you haven’t seen in years.

The social aspect of the show cannot be discounted either. Planning one’s dinner and after party schedule is almost as hectic as planning what you want to see at the show itself. The bars at the two main hotels, The Sheraton Grand and the Hyatt Regency, are guaranteed hang out spots for after late night activities. I have often wondered if they prepare for this week like generals preparing for battle. Getting a room at one of these hotels is a feat in itself since they are snapped up within seconds of being released. I felt it was a major accomplishment to have gotten a room at the Hyatt for this year’s show. I’ve never been on top of it enough to have booked one of these rooms before without being a speaker.

However you look at it, Unified is one of the key meeting of the minds of the US wine industry. Regardless of your geographic location, there is a wealth of information here for anyone who wants it.

Photo from UnifiedSymposium.org

Is Wine Losing its Prestige Image?

While I was at Unified two weeks ago, during the State of the Industry talk, Jon Fredrickson of Gomberg, Frederickson, and Associates was giving his Wine Market Update.  I wrote down one sentence that didn’t really strike a chord with me until I was typing up all my notes from the sessions I had attended, earlier last week.  There, buried as the fifth and last bullet point under the justifications as to why wine is dropping placements on- premise was this sentence…

  • Wine is losing its prestige image.

As I retyped this sentence into my document, the MW student side of my brain took over.  This would be a great Contemporary Issues question for the MW theory exam when changed to this…

  • Wine is losing its prestige image. Discuss.

Now obviously this is not a question since there is no question mark.  That is the tricky thing about MW exam questions. There is often what I like to call “hidden questions”.  Questions within questions and unless one can figure out how many questions you are REALLY answering one does not have a chance at passing.  There are three hidden questions in the statement above.

  1. What is a Prestige Image?
  2. Does wine have a Prestige Image?
  3. Is wine losing whatever Prestige Image it does have?

One could also add a fourth question to answer as well.  4) Is this a bad thing for the wine industry?  The general opinion I gathered is that Frederickson seemed to think it was.  Now customers going to restaurants and bars have other options to choose from such as craft beers and spirits.  Wine listings by the bottle are down 16% year over year and by the glass options are down 12% according to research done by Charles Gill of Winemetrics in Fairfield, CT. However, later in his talk Frederikson eludes that the decline seems to be focused on the low end of the market (wines below $9.00) and that above that, the premium category is still growing.

Which brings me back to the questions above.

  1. What is a Prestige Image?

There are two definitions that one must consider here both from Webster’s Dictionary.

Prestige = Widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality.

Image = a representation of the external form of a person or thing.

Therefore it is safe to conclude that a Prestige Image is defined as widespread respect and admiration felt for a representation of something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality

        2. Does wine have a Prestige Image?

Among wine industry folks I would have to say that it does.  However, we are not the majority of the population that we would like to think that we are.  Again, according to Frederikson’s talk 40% of the population of the US doesn’t drink any alcohol, at all.  I would venture a guess that among the 60% that ARE drinkers the predominant drink of choice is likely to be beer or spirits just based on the cultural significance of these beverages which is greater in the US than the cultural significance of wine.  Now there is plenty of evidence that wine DOES have a prestige image in our culture if one looks at wine’s placement in movies, television, and books.  In these Medias, it is generally highlighted as the drink of choice for the influential and wealthy. In turn, this makes it an aspirational drink for those who may not live the lives that are highlighted in these vignettes.  It turns wine into the drink for special occasions and celebrations rather than the everyday luxury that wine marketers would love.

3.  Is wine losing whatever Prestige Image it does have?

Wait? Isn’t this what marketers have been wanting for years?  For customers to become more comfortable choosing wine off of a wine list for their casual date night or to bring home for dinner with friends.  The picnic wines or wines at the beach meant for wide accessibility with creative packaging that are meant to compete against beer and wine coolers.  Now we are surprised when craft beers and ciders have decided to use the wine model but position themselves at a more budget friendly price point?  The very fact that sales of wines above $9.00 continue to grow is evidence that wine is NOT losing the prestige image that it holds in the minds of consumers.  The issue is that craft beers and ciders have been able to also don the cloak of a prestige image and have ended up being far more accessible to the everyday consumer.  Budweiser even took aim at this philosophy during their Super Bowl commercial recently (See it Here if you missed it) trying to distance themselves from the craft beer movement by positioning craft beers in a “snobbish” light.  Paste Magazine breaks down this ad in spectacular fashion here if you are interested including pointing out that AB-Inbev actually owns craft breweries.

Awkward…

Anyway, the underlying issue is not that wine in general is losing a prestige image.  It is that wines sub $9.00 are losing market share by customers are turning to other beverages in the same price points that are perceived as slightly more prestigious.

     4.  Is this a bad thing for the wine industry?

Not really.

For makers and marketers of wines above $9.00/ 750mL, congratulations!  According to Charles Caleb Colton , imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so continue doing what you’re doing but just be aware that other beverages are starting to imitate your “terroir” focused marketing and authentic story by highlighting the people behind the “craft” so to speak.  Don’t get comfortable.  It’s only a matter of time, particularly at the lower end of this price zone, before craft takes aim at you if it hasn’t already.

For makers and marketers of wines below $9.00/ 750mL, consider this your warning shot!  You can no longer think of your competitive set as wines only.  You are making a beverage.  You have consumers that consider if they should have a casual glass of wine, a craft beer, or a cocktail with dinner.  However, this shouldn’t be depressing.  It is an opportunity to embrace new technologies, innovative packaging, and a history of an industry that was the “Original craft beverage”.  So interlace your fingers, crack your knuckles, and get a nose to the creative grindstone.  This segment of the market just got a whole lot bigger so these brands are going to have to fight harder for attention.

This is just my two cents…  I would love to get other opinions on this!

  • Wine is losing its prestige image. Discuss…

 

Unified Symposium 2015: It’s All About Strategy

This Tuesday, the world of wine in the US all converges on Sacramento, CA for the annual Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. I haven’t personally been to Unified in several years. It, for some reason, ended up conflicting directly with the Master of Wine Residential seminar and (for those of you who have followed my journey through the MW) I’m sure you can guess what won. That being said if you plan to attend Unified this year, even if it is just the trade show portion I recommend coming with a strategy for navigating the show. It’s all about strategy.

I’m excited about this year’s programming. I’ve signed up for the entire show starting with the Keynote Speaker Luncheon on Tuesday given by the President of Jackson Family Wines, Rick Tigner. It looks like an incredibly fun talk going over important issues such as constraints of label growth, foreign market opportunities, and sustainability challenges and costs. After that I am torn between a Marketing/ PR session entitled “Content is King” and a Winemaking session focused on achieving quality in “Lower-Brix” wines. I sense that will be a game day decision.
Tuesday is the easy day to plan since the talks are not competing with the trade show. This by itself would take up the entirety of the remaining two days if you really needed to talk to a lot of the vendors who come to pedal there wares. It’s very much like an industry Bazar with unexpected treasures lurking around every corner. Need a new barrel washer? Why yes, maybe I do? A discounted subscription to Wine Business Monthly? Sign me up! A T-shirt that proclaims “I like to Wine” in sparkly rhinestones that would make any 80s bedazzler fan proud? They have that too. Tackling the trade show is all about strategy. Who do you want to see really? What are your top 2 things you need to look for? Add at least an hour and a half for talking with people you randomly run into and haven’t seen in years because that WILL happen.

Wednesday morning is dominated by the State of the Industry address. It is a not to be missed panel featuring what’s hot and what’s not in the industry right now. The afternoon is broken up into a series of very tempting talks and the ever present hum of the Trade Show ( You know, I really would like to see that Shaker Table!) after which comes a Regional Wine tasting because up until this point there really hasn’t been enough wine at this wine industry event. After that, of course, comes the ever popular Alumni and “Friends” gatherings of Fresno State and UC Davis. Oh, Cal Poly has joined the party as well! (Mental note to see if we can organize something for Cornell next year…)
Thursday tends to be more low key. Many of the suppliers start packing up early so if you want to go check out the latest in Stainless contraptions it’s best to go early but if you got all that done yesterday perhaps you want to listen to how to “Future Proof” your buisness. With a great panel of speakers covering a dire set of predictions (no water, no labor, high energy costs, earthquakes, fires, floods, freezes, locusts, plagues… Ok I added those last two) this could be very interesting.

After lunch I’m torn again between another marketing session focused on “Craft” and opportunities for the wine industry ( I sense an MW exam question in the making here) and Sustainability Certifications in a Global Market. (Darn you organizers! Why must you put so many intriguing topics all at the same time!!! Oh look, a new optical sorter! Shiny!!!)

You get the picture. It’s madness. It’s crowded. It’s fun. It’s educational. It’s where anyone remotely interested in wine should be this week. Just make sure you have a game plan, bring a back pack for all the random papers and pamphlets you’ll pick up and don’t get distracted by the shiny objects.

See you there!