Home Wine Business Editorial Wish You Were Here: 11th WIN Expo Delivers Education, Access and Entertainment

Wish You Were Here: 11th WIN Expo Delivers Education, Access and Entertainment

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If you didn’t attend the 11th annual WIN Expo last week, expect to hear from clients and colleagues over the coming weeks about what you missed. On November 30, 2023, nearly 3,000 attendees gathered in Santa Rosa, Calif., for wine’s largest trade show of the year focused on Northern California (and beyond). The show featured a packed vendor exhibition, across two separate buildings and an expanded outdoor area, where all aspects of the wine business and its support industries were available for conversation, demonstrations and deals.

Greg Heyes, of Heyes Filters Inc., said, “This is a great show for both sales and contacts. We always make new contacts for longer term sales. In other cases, people we know or work with come by the booth and say, ‘Let’s get this done.’ Seeing us in person reminds them to follow through.” 

Learning opportunities

Beyond the sales/exhibition floor, WIN Expo has also become known for its educational element. Throughout the day, 13 sessions across four learning tracks advanced knowledge and facilitated meaningful conversations. Many speakers are considered thought leaders in their respective fields, so expectations were high. Feedback across the day was positive. 

Among the day’s hot topics was “Using AI in Marketing: Real-World Applications You Can Implement Today.” As promised, moderator Jennifer Warrington (WISE) and speakers Nathan Westfall (founder of Vine Valley Analytics & Strategy) and Justin Norland (senior director of DTC marketing and e-commerce at Treasury Wine Estates) demystified the role artificial intelligence (AI) can play in marketing and analytics. 

I’ve used AI for blogs — for framing out the basics, for ideas and angles,” said Dave Messerli of Meadowcroft wines, who attended the session with colleague Kylie Brown. “But I haven’t used AI for analysis at all. [Now, after] listening to the way it can be applied to market research and analysis, I realize I never thought to ask AI for simple answers to things I’m perplexed by.”

Brown, who admitted to being  wary of using AI, became convinced of its benefit. “[The session] opened my eyes to possible uses that hadn’t occurred to me,” she said. “AI can save days’ worth of research and brainstorming. It can be used as a work tool and to offer fresh voices and ideas for emails, texts and blogs. It can free you up to do more important things.”

Challenges and inspiration

Important conversations were taking place all across the venue. Following the session “Restoring Soil Health: Tracking Data to Prove the Impact,” during which panelists overviewed their efforts to improve the land under their care, Maya Samaniego of Deep Planet AI (which sponsored the session), summarized, “It’s hard to transition from things like irrigation and traditional farming into regenerative and sustainable farming.

“Once you’re stuck in one way [of doing things], it can be hard to move away.” But, as the speakers emphasized, “We should be mixing traditional methods with modern technology — not working against nature but working for it.”

New winemaking directions

Another session that spotlighted a future trend was “Low Alc, Low Cal & Vegan Winemaking Solutions: Meeting New Consumer Demands,” which featured a trial tasting component along with its panel presentations. 

Speakers Chris Barrett (winemaker for Pezzi King Estate and Saint Anne’s Crossing), Casey Di Cesare (winemaker at Scheid Family Wines) and Samantha Taylor (assistant winemaker for Hope Family Wines) and moderator Lorenza Allen (technical marketing specialist with Enartis USA), broke down the market trends that are driving these new winemaking directions. 

As the demographic shift in wine consumers continues, these new production categories are presenting solid growth opportunities. Wineries must respond if they’re to capture new market share. But it’s not always an easy task to deliver expected wine flavors and textures (especially, it seems, mouthfeel and mid-palate body) when reducing integral elements. 

The winemakers talked about their successes and challenges when approaching these new wine styles. An appreciative and curious audience asked pointed questions about techniques and expectations, while sampling the results of these trials.

Moving forward

Many of the sessions focused on how to capture the loyalty of younger consumers. Messaging surrounding climate interventions and farming reforms, shifts in wine styles and production techniques, and the rapid-fire advancement of technology in marketing were all intended to appeal to this elusive customer demographic.

The panel “Ease Over Exclusivity: Redefining the Direct-to-Consumer Experience” emphasized the speed of these changes (and the necessity of keeping pace to meet consumer demands). “It’s about putting yourself in the mind of the customer,” said Trentadue Winery’s Cailtlin Payne after the session. “We need to reevaluate the ease of our [online] shopping experience, putting more emphasis on transparency and making sure everything is optimized.”

Melissa Coté of Francis Ford Coppola Wines added “I appreciated the reminder to experience your site’s shopping experience as a first-time customer [to monitor what’s good and bad]. That’s always a good litmus test to see where you are as opposed to where you want to be.”

Where you want to be. That could just be a new tagline for WIN Expo, which returns to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif., on December 5, 2024.

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