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Trade Event: Wine Tourism Conference Highlights

Wineries + Lodging + Activities + Food + Events + Transportation + Education = Success.


This month I attended the second Wine Tourism Conference in Santa Rosa, California, at the Flamingo Resort and Spa. This was my first time attending this conference and my first time visiting Sonoma Wine Country. Sigh, the weather was gorgeous. Next year, the third Wine Tourism Conference will be held in beautiful Portland, Oregon on November 14-15, 2013.

What is the Wine Tourism Conference?

The main emphasis of the Wine Tourism Conference is about improving wine tourism traffic, making lasting connections with customers, educating consumers and creating a culture of wine. 

With 236 people in attendance this year, the target audience for this conference included: wineries, wine and tourism promotion agencies and chambers of commerce, tour operators, travel agencies, transportation companies, event planners, hotels, and restaurants, public relations professionals and other consultants to the wine and tourism industries, academics and students from university wine tourism programs, and finally, media and bloggers who write about wine and tourism – that would be my bailiwick.

Conference attendees were encouraged to ask questions.

I wasn't sure if I made the correct decision to attend this conference. Tourism is not my business, at least not directly, and I no longer work for a winery. After some reflection, I'm beginning to connect the dots and feel it was worthwhile to travel to Santa Rosa.

This conference was also an opportunity to meet and network with the people directly responsible for wine Tourism in North America. Attendees hailed from Idaho, Colorado, Texas, New York, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, California and Canada. There was a brief window to taste wines from these regions, certainly something I am comfortable doing.

Discussion panel with Steve Warner and Annette Ringwood Boyd.
With an impressive list of presenters, this was my first opportunity to meet and listen to Steve Warner, our new President and CEO of the Washington State Wine Commission. I had the pleasure to again visit with Annette Ringwood Boyd, director for the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. And I was delighted to re-connect with Moya Shatz Dolsby, formerly of the Washington State Wine Commission. Moya is the Executive Director of the Idaho Wine Commission, she's doing great things for the Idaho wine industry – Idaho is fortunate to have such wonderful talent working for them.

Guest Speakers

Day One:

The opening Keynote was by Jean-Charles Boisset of Boisset Family Estates. Mr. Boisset was a wonderful speaker, with poise, style, and a sophisticated French accent, he spoke without notes. Here are some of the concepts which connected with me.

Jean-Charles Boisset, opening Keynote.

Emphasizing “Historical Tourism” he discussed the concept of discovering all the places to discover in our own wine regions. That there were amazing individuals who lived, created and grew these places. He was talking about the American spirit of discovery and exploration. These explorers took us here, to this country, to this region and this place. That tourism is going beyond what we know today and we should be willing to go beyond.

“Our future is in our past.”

There is a wealth of culture in the United States. Experience and emotions are powerful and there is a "magnetic strength of history." Each place can create its own magic, and has a local presence.

One can be mesmerized by charismatic, local wines. Focusing on the dinner table, he said we must "take time for time, and wine." As wine and winery professionals, we should speak of place; the heritage and history. With comfort comes learning, experience, and reflection. This is the catalyst to conversation.

Of course I'm paraphrasing what Mr. Boisset said over almost an hour. But, I was genuinely moved by what he imparted. I feel his message beginning to influence my writing.

Breakout Sessions

There were three two-hour industry breakout sessions. The 236 people attending the conference split into these groups: Wineries, Wine and Tourism Associations, Tour Operators, and Other Wine Tourism Related Businesses.

Wine and Tourism Associations

The session I attended was considered by attendees, “One of the most fascinating sessions.” Our moderator was Donniella Winchell of Ohio Wine. Donniella struck me as dynamic, engaging, very sharp, a pleasure to learn from and someone who knows how to get things done. Alan Wright of Zephyr Adventures was also in attendance and very engaged in the discussions.

Donniella Winchell of Ohio Wine.
We began by introducing ourselves to the room, this was our moment to tell our personal story, what we do related to wine and to describe our individual wine tourism regions. Thankfully, I was not the only Wine Blogger in attendance. The lovely ladies of Luscious Lushes kept me company and provided valuable insight from another perspective.

Morgen McLaughlin, president and CEO of Finger Lakes Wine Country shares.

Part of my contribution to the discussion at this breakout session, included mention of two of my favorite examples of winery and customer engagement.

Wendi Warner of Col Solare.

1. Awesome Customer Service:
Col Solare Tasting Room Manager Wendi Warner. I use Wendi as an exemplary representative of customer service. She comes from a hospitality background and it shows. Wendi is always welcoming. From the first time my wife and I met her, she warmly welcomed us to the winery. And she remembered us the next time we visited. Every time we visit the winery, she remains warm and welcoming. She genuinely cares that we have a positive experience – every time.

Neil Cooper of Cooper Wines.

2. Engaging with Customers via Social Media:
My other example was Neil Cooper of Cooper Wines. He engages daily with his customers. His winery is the newest on Red Mountain, though you'd never know that based on the buzz he's generated. He has quickly grown his wine club and fan base. Neil knows how to leverage twitter and facebook to connect with customers. He promptly thanks individuals and groups for visiting. He rewards his wine club members with discounts, opportunities to attend special dinners and private parties at the winery. Customers respond to his genuine and friendly personality.

Tweet : For my comments, I received a nice tweet from Washington State Wine Commission President Steve Warner: ‏@WaWineSteve “Nice shout out by @wild4wawine to Wendi Warner @colsolare at #winetourismconf breakout session as an example of awesome customer service!”

As a group, we agreed that all the regions should work together more to grow wine tourism as a whole country, which will help each region individually. There will be more on this to come. Exciting developments!

Wine Reception

As I mentioned at the top of this post, there was an evening wine reception. I had the pleasure of sampling wines from Idaho, Colorado, New York, Virginia, Canada, Oregon, California and Washington. Again, quality was strong and I'm eager to visit some of these wine regions.

Wine Reception.

Winery Dinner - Lancaster Estate

That evening I attended an optional Winery dinner at Lancaster Estate. Wow! Did I mention this was my first time visiting California wine country? So, it was also my first time visiting Sonoma wine country.

Greeted at Lancaster Estate with a lovely Sauvignon Blanc.

Named as one of the “Top 10 Winery Tours while in Sonoma Wine Country” by Food and Wine Magazine, Lancaster Estate is along the roads less traveled of the Alexander Valley on the outskirts of Healdsburg.

Some of the wonderful Lancaster Estate wines.

Lancaster Estate treated us royally. Dinner was going to be served in their wine caves, however, due to a surplus of fruit flies we were moved to the winery residence overlooking the winery. Dinner was sensational, as were the wines. Their Sauvignon Blanc was impressive in its elegance and was such a lovely way to start the evening. The Lancaster Cabernet Sauvignon served with dinner was also impressive. It was a beautiful pairing. Of course I had seconds and thirds of the Cabernet. The winery is not open to the public, contact the winery in advance if you wish to visit. Their modern home on the hill is also available to rent by the day. A fantastic venue for corporate events or retreats.

Visiting the Lancaster Estate Wine Caves.
Lancaster Estate was named Fodor's Stop #3 on their Best of the Best One Day Tasting Tour in Sonoma County. Tours and Tastings are available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. seven days per week*. Reservations are required. *Beginning Sunday, November 25, 2012, availability changes to Monday through Saturday.

Day Two.

My favorite breakout session on the second day was “Up and Coming Wine Tourism Destinations.” This session featured speakers from Texas, Idaho and Washington State. Topics discussed included: challenges of growth, improving regional and national brand awareness, economic drivers, methods for seeking money for tourism advertising and how to create long-term relationships. For the developing wine destinations, one of the biggest hurdles - restaurants must have regional wines on their menu.

Moya Shatz Dolsby sharing some lessons learned.

Moya Shatz Dolsby, Executive Director of the Idaho Wine Commission, shared valuable information on the challenges of developing relationships and marketing wine tourism in an up and coming wine region. She took the position in Idaho after working for the Washington State Wine Commission. When she started working in Idaho, there were 20 Idaho wineries, today there are 50 and counting. She's been very successful in creating brand recognition for Idaho wines.

"I want people to drink Idaho wine.”  
"People don't come to Idaho to go wine tasting - yet." 
"You must wine and dine the local media."
Quotes of: Moya Shatz Dolsby

Closing Keynote

The closing Keynote was by Amir Eylon of “Brand USA.” The mission of Brand USA is to encourage increased international visitation to the United States and to grow America's share of the global travel market. In doing so, to bring millions of new international visitors who spend billions of dollars to the United States, creating tens of thousands of new American jobs.

Amir Eylon of Brand USA delivering closing Keynote.

This is not a domestic marketing program. It is an international marketing program. Visit the related official USA travel site "Discover America USA Travel Guides and Photos" to see how Brand USA is marketing internationally. Below is one of the slides shared with us.

Slide - Seize the Moment.

Wine Tourism is about being more than just a wine destination. Customers want an experience where they create memories and have stories to share. It is also about working together in unity and partnership, at the national, state, regional and local levels.

Wineries + Lodging + Activities + Food + Events + Transportation + Education = Success.

Zephyr Adventures

The Wine Tourism Conference is organized by Zephyr Adventures, which has provided adventure travel tour vacations around the world since 1997 and specializes in trekking, bicycling, inline skating, and active wine, food, and beer tours. Recognizing an unfulfilled need for real-life gatherings for those involved in online social media, Zephyr Adventures also owns and operates a series of conferences for wine, beer, food, and fitness and health bloggers.

Alan Wright, owner of Zephyr Adventures.

Both Alan Wright and Reno Walsh of Zephyr Adventures were intimately engaged with the Wine Tourism Conference. They introduced the speakers, attended all of the sessions and continually asked driving questions of the moderators and the audience. After all, their main business is Tourism, with a capital “T”. They genuinely care.

I know what a terrific job Zephyr Adventures does, I have attended the last three Wine Bloggers Conferences, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Zephyr Adventures always over-delivers on these conferences.

I enjoyed meeting and connecting with a different group of wine focused businesses at the Wine Tourism Conference. If you are involved with the Wine Tourism industry, or a related industry, I encourage you to consider attending next years conference in Portland, Oregon. A wealth of ideas and industry information were shared, this post only skims the surface.


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