December 2008 Issue of Wines & Vines

What to Expect At Unified

The industry's biggest annual event Jan. 27-30 will focus on the bottom line

by Tim Patterson
Unified Symposium
Every January, the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif., pivots around a Wednesday morning session on the state of the industry. With a torrent of PowerPoint slides full of charts and numbers--acreage totals, import volumes, the rise and fall of this or that grape variety--a recurring cast of characters dissects the business of wine: Nat DiBuduo of Allied Grape Growers on the ups and downs of grapegrowing, Jon Fredrikson on world wine trends, and so on.

That session (see Wines & Vines article) is the wine industry's annual economic self-examination, and this coming January, with the economy reeking like a stuck fermentation, the show promises to be more riveting than usual. That economic focus, in fact, pervades much of the rest of the program for the four days of sessions, Jan. 27-30, connecting the dots from every aspect of grapegrowing and winemaking to the bottom line.

Tuesday will be devoted to a full-day examination of the business impact of the movement toward sustainable practices. In a business climate in which sheer altruism may not be affordable, the morning plenary and afternoon breakouts will examine the ways in which environmentally sound methods can be bankable.

"Our growers say they're not sustainable if the bottom line doesn't work," says Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, which co-sponsors Unified with the American Society for Enology and Viticulture. "But we can see many practices being embraced by business for green purposes that also reduce costs--sound environmental practices that help the balance sheet."

Unified Symposium
Breakout sessions Jan. 28 will examine how adopting sustainable business practices affects the bottom line--especially for small businesses (above right), meanwhile Jan. 29 sessions address the specific concerns of small wineries, such as Shelburne, Vt.-based Shelburne Vineyards (above left).
The morning session will include speakers on the current economic climate and consumer research regarding the appeal of sustainability. Gene Kahn, vice president for global sustainable development for General Mills, will provide some perspective from outside the wine industry. Afternoon breakout sessions will include a focus on carbon and nitrogen management in vineyards; fertility and weed management; winery retrofitting; communications and marketing; and the varying definitions of "green." A session on risk reduction through sustainable winegrowing will examine tools and techniques for managing legal and financial exposure in everything from wastewater to human relations.

Small wineries

On Wednesday, after everyone has had a chance to digest the State of the Industry fact-a-thon, one of the afternoon breakout sessions will center around small winery issues. Organizer and moderator Kiley Evans, winemaker for Agate Ridge in Oregon's Rogue River wine country, says, "As part of the work of the program committee, we review all the surveys that get filled out every year. A lot of attendees felt the focus was skewed too much toward medium-sized wineries--more than 25,000 cases--and there were a lot of requests for presentations aimed at small wineries. After all, there are a lot more wineries with less than 25,000 cases than more."

Tim Mondavi
Mike Trought of New Zealand's Marlborough Wine Research Centre, will discuss the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Project in a talk titled "Grape to Glass" during the Aroma Symposium.
For small producers, every economic decision is a big deal. "Bottling lines, for example, are very capital intensive," Evans says, "and a lot of small producers have to choose between sending the kids to college and buying a bottling line." The panel, with representation from both inside and outside California, will try to offer some economically useful analysis of the costs and benefits of various alternatives--doing your own lab work versus sending it out, mobile filtration and bottling versus owning your own, and so on.

Other sessions Wednesday look at maximizing vineyard productivity, guiding tasting rooms through a bumpy economic period (see Wines & Vines article), and gauging the next 10 years of the direct-to-consumer shipping market. Thursday sessions include a look at consumer demographics, especially the potential of the millennial generation, and a number of panels looking at how to maximize marketing and communications channels.

From grape to glass

An additional all-day Aroma Symposium on Friday (requiring separate registration) presents the most technical material of the week (see Wines & Vines article). This series of presentations from a varied international cast of researchers zeroes in on how a range of vineyard practices and decisions--irrigation, crop load and ripeness level--show up in the glass. What this has to do with the economic bottom line is simple: If you and your winery are going to invest a lot of time and money in revamping your vineyards, implementing all the systems and techniques everybody is buzzing about, you had better know they will produce results as advertised.
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