Unified Debuts Keynote, Tours

Large crowd expected at 2014 symposium in Sacramento, where guides will point out best innovations on trade show floor

by Andrew Adams
This year the tasting session is being held Tuesday rather than the final day of the symposium.
Sacramento, Calif.—Organizers of this year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium are expecting a larger than ever crowd and have made some significant changes to the weekly schedule.

The biggest wine industry symposium and trade show in North America will be held Jan. 28-30, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif., and will feature a keynote speaker luncheon Jan. 28 and tours of the tradeshow floor led by experts pointing out new viticulture and winemaking equipment.

Unified 2013 featured more than 650 exhibitors at the trade show and drew nearly 13,500 attendees. The event is organized by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

New events at Unified 2014
ASEV executive director Lyndie Bolton told Wines & Vines that organizers expect a larger turnout this year due to the strength of the wine industry and the slowly improving economy. “We have added some booth space in the second level balcony of the (Sacramento) Convention Center, which will include an espresso bar and Internet zone.”

The big change early in the symposium week is the addition of a keynote speaker luncheon on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Bolton said the speaker has yet to be confirmed, so she couldn’t release details about who it is. The luncheon costs an additional $85 for ASEV members or exhibitors and is $135 for non-members, but Bolton said the event is not an effort to capitalize on the expected strong turnout this year. “Frankly, this luncheon is not a big revenue increase for us…our registration fee mostly covers the meal and wine.”

Instead, she described the luncheon as the signature event of Unified’s first day. “We believe that a late-morning start with a crowd-drawing speaker while enjoying a lunch with wine is the ultimate networking opportunity in a pleasurable setting.” she said. The event is a departure from Unified’s typical setup of a panel of speakers discussing industry topics before a large audience. The day’s events end with a welcome reception starting at 5 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel.

Attendees at this year’s Unified also will have the chance to participate in a guided tour of the exhibit floor. The tours will stop by the booths of exhibitors who are demonstrating or unveiling new and innovative equipment in both the winemaking and vineyard arenas.

Charles “Chik” Brenneman, the winemaker and manager of the teaching winery at the University of California, Davis, will be leading the winemaking equipment tour. Brenneman said he was reviewing the list of suppliers attending the show to see what may be new and cutting edge, but he had not made any decisions yet. The vineyard equipment tour will focus on pest and disease management according to information at unifiedsymposium.org. Both tours are limited to 25 people on a first-registered, first-enrolled basis, and companies are limited to sending two employees per tour. The tours are available in Spanish and English.

Grapegrowing and winemaking
Nick Frey, who recently retired from his post as executive director of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, chaired the committee charged with setting session topics and lining up speakers for the upcoming symposium. He said the goal, as in previous years, was to offer sessions that cover the latest trends in the industry and also look ahead through the rest of 2014.

One of the current trends in the sector is the popularity of wine blends, which often don’t conform to tradition such as a Bordeaux blend. “It’s a trend that is happening with a number of new blends that are on the market, and they’re doing well,” Frey said.

The moderator and panel for the session were not confirmed at press time, but Frey said the 2 p.m. session on Jan. 28 features a tasting of blended wines. Unified’s tasting session typically has been held on the last day of the symposium.  

Frey said the session will focus on the popularity of red blends and how they depart from varietal-focused wines, which have dominated the American market since the 1970s. He said speakers will include winemakers and vineyard managers, and he’s hoping to bring in a winemaker from the eastern United States—or at least from outside California. “I think that’s something that’s emerged in the past couple of years and caught everyone’s attention,” he said.

One unfortunate trend that has caught the industry’s attention is the emergence of red blotch disease in vineyards from several different growing regions throughout the United States. The sickness and the associated red blotch virus, GRBaV, will be covered in a breakout session at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Alison Crowe, director of winemaking and partner of Plata Wine Partners in Napa, Calif., will lead a discussion about current red blotch research as well as identifying and coping with the disorder. Joining Crowe in the session will be Pete Opatz, vice president and senior viticulturist for Silverado Premium Properties in Napa, and Lise Asimont, the director of grower relations at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, Calif.

Red blotch was first identified in the Napa Valley in 2008. The disease symptoms generally appear in August through September as irregular blotches on leaf blades or basal portions of shoots. In February, researchers announced they had identified the virus, known as GRBaV, which they believe is responsible for the sickness. The virus has been found in all the major red wine cultivars and in nearly all of the major wine growing regions in North America. One of the few confirmed symptoms of the disease is that it can reduce the potential Brix of grapes by as much as 5°F.

Crowe said she is on the winemaking and viticulturist committee setting topics and red blotch was definitely one of the issues that everyone agreed needed to be discussed. She said the recent discoveries about how widespread the disease is and how similar it is to leafroll make her think it’s something that has actually been affecting the industry for some time. “I think we’re all dealing with it at some level but we just don’t realize it,” she said.

To give the session a bit of a new focus, Crowe said she hopes the conversation will look at the issue from the winemaking perspective. She said the disease can leave winemakers waiting for grapes to ripen and that can mean logistical problems especially in large harvests like 2012 and 2013. The disease can also diminish color, and if winemakers are forced to wait for sugar they risk losing grape acidity and boosting pH.

She said Opatz is one of the most skilled and respected viticulturists in California who also owns his own small winery Route 128 in Geyserville, Calif., while Asimont covers a wide-ranging territory and works with several growers. Crowe is also hopeful that a winemaker with years of experience and data about making wine with red blotch grapes will agree to join the panel as well.

Crowe said she also hopes to give Unified attendees a “take home tool box” on how to identify red blotch and deal with it when the grapes arrive on the crush pad.

As researchers learn more about the disease including what causes it and what spreads it, people in winemaking and grape growing need good information on dealing with the sickness. “I don’t think it’s a panic situation,” she said. “This is a longer term play, I think it’s going to be identifying it, targeted replacement and vineyard rehabilitation.”

Business sessions
This year’s schedule also includes a variety of sessions on marketing, making more informed financial and business decisions and seeking out innovative ways to overcome challenges. “Essentially anybody from a company that attends should have something relevant for their day-to-day operations,” Frey said.

Michael Veseth is an economics professor at the University of Puget Sound and the author of “The Wine Economist” blog. Veseth participated in some of the sessions at Unified 2013 and will be moderating a session and sitting on the panel for the State of the Industry session on Jan. 29.

He told Wines & Vines that he’ll be taking a look at how recent vintage variation in the world’s winegrowing regions (good in California, bad in France) may affect bulk shipments, and also he may touch on America’s opportunities in the export sector. “We keep waiting for the dollar to fall, which would give us a better chance for exports, but it just hasn’t done it,” he said.

On Jan. 28 Veseth will moderate a session in which a panel of experts will offer tips about how winemakers, vineyard managers and winery owners could use data and financial analysis to make better business decisions. He said winemakers and growers can typically offer a wealth of data on things like degree-days, grape maturity and wine analysis but can struggle in other areas of the wine business. “I think there are parts of the wine business where there is a great attention to detail and benchmarking,” he said. “But there are other areas where it’s not as vigorous.”

The Spanish sessions will include an overview of wine and winemaking in Spanish speaking cultures as well as a practical look at the growth and ripening stages of grapes.

Laura Diaz Munoz, the winemaker for Jackson Family Wines’ Galerie, Cardinale, Lokoya and La Jota will discuss the wines and winemaking practices of Spain while other speakers, yet to be confirmed, will delve into the wines of Chile and Argentina.

The growing session will cover the basics of grape ripening including physiological and chemical changes that occur during ripening and how the weather and vineyard practices can effect grape maturity.

Unified wraps up in the afternoon of Jan. 30, with sessions on packaging and innovation. The packaging session will cover how packaging can make a product more attractive to consumers and what are some of the legal issues with packaging design and what the future may hold for how wine is packaged and marketed.

At the same time on Thursday, another session will explore how innovation and technology can spur explosive growth for a company. The panel includes Patrick DeLong, the COO and CFO of the Crimson Wine Group in Napa, John Denzel, the CEO of FlowVision, a firm specializing in lean manufacturing and flow manufacturing, Kurt Gollnick, COO of Scheid Vineyards Inc., in Salinas, Calif., and Kevin Zollinger, the executive vice president of winegrowing operations at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, Calif.

Registration for Unified is open and pre-registration prices are in effect until Jan. 21, 2014.

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