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Wineries Unlimited Takes Richmond

Hope Merletti Moffett

Hope Merletti, co-founder of Vineyard and Winery Management Magazine, arrives at the Best of the East Gala followed by her husband and magazine co-founder, Bill Moffett (right).


The 35th annual trade show and conference Wineries Unlimited took place in a new venue this year: The Greater Richmond Convention Center in downtown Richmond, VA, from March 29 through April 1. Leading experts from both the East Coast and California were heard, and vendors from across the country showed the latest in winemaking equipment and accessories.

Howard Bursen, frequent presenter at WU, consultant and winemaker at Sharpe Hill Vineyard, CT, expressed the sentiments of many in attendance: “It’s been a great satisfaction watching the growth of Wineries Unlimited from its humble beginnings in the late 70s to its current magnificence. Only Sacramento’s Unified Symposium is bigger.”

The two-day trade show is organized by Vineyard and Winery Management magazine, and was preceded by a full Newcomers Day program. The conference itself consisted of 15 seminars broken into three tracks: Marketing, Viticulture and Enology.

The convention center floor held over 300 vendors, including Wine Gazette supporters Agro-K, CorkTec, E. Beaver and PJM Business Systems, and was open to buyers all day on Wednesday and Thursday. Following the main show, California wine marketing experts Paul Wagner, of Balzac Communications, and Elizabeth Slater, of In Short Direct Marketing, extended the program with a half day Public Relations Intensive.

Andy Beckstoffer spoke at the opening session of the conference proper. In addition to being a preeminent grapegrower and pioneer of single-vineyard wines in California, Andy is a native son of Richmond and still carries a distinct Virginia accent.

He gave the early morning audience of around 300 an in-depth look at the growth of the modern wine industry in California. He left listeners to draw their own parallels to the rise of grapegrowing and vinification in other regions. He did say that the average size of a vineyard in Napa is 24 acres, by way of encouraging the many farm winery owners in attendance.

The Best of the East Gala was a glittering affair on Wednesday evening, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Convention Center. The wines presented at the reception were medalists of the International Eastern Wine Competition sponsored annually by Vineyard and Winery Management, and were also poured at dinner.

VWM founders Hope Merletti and Bill Moffett made a grand entrance at the Gala. With management of the event in the hands of Hope’s son Rob Merletti, Hope and Bill were free to enjoy meeting old friends and to have a fantastic evening. Vineyard and Winery Management is a bi-monthly publication founded in 1976 in upstate New York. In 1998, their main offices were relocated to Sonoma, CA.

The traditional live auction to benefit the ASEV/ES scholarship fund was reformatted into a silent auction this year, in order to keep the spotlight on Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. The governor warmly welcomed everyone to the Commonwealth, and Secretary Todd Haymore made a presentation designed to encourage the further development of Virginia’s wine industry. McDonnell, assisted by First Lady Maureen, has been a strong proponent for the wines of Virginia, introducing legislation and raising awareness of the industry’s economic importance.

The speaker for the Keynote Luncheon, which took place on Day 2, was Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, who shared The Wine Marketing Council’s research on wine-drinking habits among Americans.

An abundance of useful information was presented at the seminars over the four-day conference. A hard-hitting look at setting up a new winery was the topic chosen by John Levenberg of Nueva Vista Consulting in New York for the Newcomers Workshop.

Immediately following, the concept of custom crush, relayed by Michael Shaps of Virginia WineWorks, and alternating proprietorship as explained by Russ Hearn of Premium Wine Group in Long Island, proved interesting to many in the audience.

Karen Gale, a vineyard owner in Ocean View, NJ, was particularly intrigued by the idea. “I will definitely look into custom crush facilities that might serve our area,” she commented.

Many speakers made the point succinctly voiced by Australian native Russ Hearn, who now works on Long Island’s North Fork: “Always remember your customer is availing himself of any other wine in the world.”

Journalists/educators Michael Franz and Paul Lukacs of Baltimore echoed the critics’ point of view that quality is a given, and in order to stand out, a wine needs more than to be without flaws. Steve Madey of Virginia’s Northern Neck inserted some humor amidst all the earnestness: “Kinda making something, sorta, and getting better over time doesn’t work,” he told the audience. “And learning by doing, or learning AFTER doing gets expensive!”

Another strong message among speakers is that storytelling, that is, getting the consumer interested and involved in the winery, is critical to success. Brian Roeder of Barrel Oak Winery in Fauquier County, VA, brought approving nods from the panel as he declared he doesn’t mention the wine in newsletters to his customers. “I talk about how I love my wife, I talk about my dog, and I talk about what we’re throwing on the grill this weekend,” he said. Paul Wagner explicates, “We’re selling a dream.”

The viticulture and enology panels moderated by Dr. Bruce Zoecklein, VA Tech professor emeritus, were packed with information. Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm spoke on terroir and the future of vine husbandry. Clark Smith, of California’s WineSmith, presented perhaps the most advanced concepts, addressing “Post-Modern Winemaking Revolutions.”

French winemaker Sebastien Marquet, currently of Doukenie Winery in Loudoun, VA, took strong exception to Clark’s characterization of the French exploiting old growth forests for wine barrels. Marquet explains, “In France, we are very aware of what a treasure our forests are. For decades, even centuries, we’ve practiced responsible forestry and make sure we plant and replant for generations to come. Oak trees are a renewable resource when properly managed.”

The trade show was well attended, and many vintners had positive comments. John Delmare of Rappahannock Cellars, VA, was very happy to have the show so close, while Rob Deford, who came down from Boordy in Maryland, stated, “The location of WU is not an issue as long as it doesn’t require a pack mule to get there!”

Here are a few shots of revelers, prior to being addressed by Governor Bob McDonnell and VA Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore at the Gala Dinner.


Annette Ringwood Boyd

VA Wine Board Marketing Office's Annette Ringwood Boyd welcomes the show to Richmond.

Wineries Unlimited Best of the East Gala

At Wineries Unlimited Best of the East Gala

Pandit and Sudha Patil of Narmada

Pandit and Sudha Patil of Narmada Winery enjoy the Best of the East Gala

Diane Flynt and Marcie Siegel

Diane Flynt and Marcie Siegel arrive, following the Virginia Wineries Assoc. Board Meeting prior to the Gala.

Kristin Heydt of Barrel Oak

Kristin Heydt of Barrel Oak Winery gets specifics on tanks at WU trade show.

Bernd Jung and Brad McCarthy

Winemakers Bernd Jung and Brad McCarthy discuss new finds on the tradeshow floor.

Fred Wickham and John Keeler,

East Coast Crush and Co-Pack's Fred Wickham and John Keeler are regular WU exhibitors.

Lisa Airey French Wine Society

Lisa Airey of the French Wine Society sits in on a seminar before doing her presentation on the importance of education to a region's marketing plan.


Frequent contributor John Hagarty has posted a related video on his blog: