The Annual North Coast Wine Industry Expo (WIN Expo) is the largest trade show and conference focused exclusively on Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and is the second largest wine industry show in North America.
By Barbara Barielle
When I approached Wine Industry Network President & CEO George Christie for a story about the 10-year anniversary of WIN Expo, I asked about exhibitors that have been involved in the event. He replied, “The industry’s best suppliers exhibit year after year and they have been since the beginning.”
That, in a nutshell, demonstrates the success of the North Coast exhibition, which brings industry suppliers together with winery and vineyard professionals during the down time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still intimate (but not small, by any means), this one-day event in the heart of Wine Country is now the second largest wine trade show in the country. It’s also become a reunion of sorts for folks across all facets of buying and selling, technology and machinery, and production, vineyard, winemaking and wine distribution industries.
A great and crazy idea
WIN Expo was born, says Christie, partially from the frustration of some vendors looking for more access to winery and vineyard operations in the North Coast. “Other regions had dedicated trade shows and conferences, but there was nothing specific to this area. Launching a new industry event just felt like the right thing to do,” says Christie
But despite the best intentions, Christie admits, this was not a well thought out venture. “In June 2012, the idea formed through a conversation with an industry colleague. In July we launched it,” he says. “That first year, we had more than 200 exhibitor sign-ups within a few weeks. Then we thought, ‘Will anyone show up?’ Luckily, more than 2,500 attended in year one.”
Clearly, there was pent up demand and WIN Expo filled a need. That first exhibitor hall at the fairgrounds has since expanded to several halls with more than 350 booths and upwards of 300 exhibitors.
Developing the sessions
Amanda Diefenderfer, self-described proprietress of Big Red Marketing in San Luis Obispo, Calif., has been with Wine Industry Network since the inception of WIN Expo, first in a marketing capacity and now overseeing the day’s educational programming. According to Christie, this is the area of the conference that has most grown and changed over the years. “The conference portion of the show was an area that we learned immediately deserved the lion’s share of attention, from a planning perspective. The opportunity to listen to and learn from colleagues is a key component to propelling the North Coast Wine Industry forward” says Christie.
“Kudos to George and his team for WIN Expo’s growth,” says Diefenderfer. “They learned logistics quickly and I moved on to making the education sessions top quality and value. I make sure that we survey and respond to what the industry wants.”
“Our submissions for educational offerings are top-notch; we have access to industry leaders because of WIN,” continues Diefendorfer. “Sessions are split into four distinct channels: Winemaking [Heads up! A lot of opportunities to taste this year]; Strategy & Leadership, which will include how to introduce more technology into sustainability; Sales & Marketing, which will focus this time on nontraditional packaging; and Vineyard Operations, where there’s an emphasis on technology and sustainability as well.”
Sometimes seminar ideas and collaborations can spin off to even more exploration of the industry. Diefendorfer cites, as an example, when WIN Expo brought leaders of the cannabis industry and wine industry together to discuss how the then-upcoming legalization of cannabis could potentially affect vineyards and wineries. That session led the WIN team to found another successful event, Wine & Weed.
“Other sessions that have stood out to me over the years include Winemaker Pet Project, when we explored what happens when winemakers venture into beer, cider and distilling,” says Diefendorfer. “I also have appreciated some of the cutting-edge sessions about nontraditional packaging topics covering canned and keg wine, for example. This year, we’ll cover packaging driven by eco-responsibility.”
Exhibitors weigh in
Ed Barr, president of P&L Specialties and the Tom Beard Company, was an exhibitor that first year and will be back again in December 2022. “It was well thought out, in terms of its timing relative to the Unified Symposium [typically in January or early February], which provides a more casual venue that’s less ‘sales-like’ and more of a customer/supplier relationship opportunity.” says Barr. “I think WIN Expo is a perfect opportunity to say ‘Thank you’ to our customers and see what they’re up to in an environment that isn’t a sales [meeting]. The WIN crew has consistently innovated the exposition over the past 10 years to really dial in the benefits for all involved.”
Neil Foster, president of M.A. Silva, agrees. “WIN Expo has grown from a small show that focused on the very local West County companies and vineyards into a staple in our industry for the entire West Coast,” says Foster. “It gives M.A. Silva a unique opportunity to present our materials to a wide variety of potential partners. But equally as important, it lets us bring a full complement of support staff to the event so they can see the depth and variety that our industry has to offer. It really brings our entire community together to share information, knowledge and best practices gained over the year.”
A gathering place
Christie is probably most excited about how WIN Expo has grown to be a yearly reunion, of sorts, for the North Coast wine industry and beyond. “The event is so successful because of its location — it’s easy for people to get here — and it’s the perfect industry social event between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Foster agrees. “Certainly, it is a great chance to see all of our partners, prospective partners and new faces in a more local/communal setting. It gives us all a chance to share information, learn of comings and goings, and it sets a flag in the ground for an excellent year to come in the wine and spirits industry.”
This year’s WIN Expo will take place December 1 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif. Information about exhibition and attendance can be found at www.wineindustryexpo.com.
Barbara Barrielle was a longtime publicist in sports and wine before going to the other side as a wine, travel and entertainment writer. She also produces films and has a documentary “Crushed: Climate Change and the Wine Country Fires” releasing in 2021. Current publications Barbara writes for are AARP Magazine, Northwest Travel & Life, East Hampton Star, Napa Valley Register, Oregon Wine Press as well as Wine Industry Advisor. She lives in Healdsburg, travels extensively and studies wine and languages.