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Unified Symposium's diverse program reaches every sector of industry

by Patricia M. Roth
February 02, 2009
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Nearly 12,000 visitors from every wine-producing country in the world attended the 2009 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium last week. Industry professionals jammed seminars, the tradeshow floor and local businesses, contributing $3 million to the Sacramento downtown economy.

"Ultimately, it's the information that's presented at the Unified Symposium that draws an ever-increasing audience to this annual show," said the event's managing committee in their welcoming statement. "By drawing on nearly 100 experts from all corners of the globe, the program committee has put together a diverse program with far-reaching applications for every sector of the industry."

Here's what some industry professionals learned at the 15th annual Unified Symposium.

Carbon and Nitrogen Management
Sustainability, simply defined as meeting humanity's needs without harming future generations, is becoming a core value for businesses throughout the world. Seminars brought it home to the wine industry with a full day devoted to business, winemaking, grape growing and marketing. 

Howie Steinbeck, owner of Steinbeck Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles, was among those attending a seminar on carbon and nitrogen management in the vineyard. His family moved to Paso Robles in 1884. Today Steinbeck Vineyards owns and farms 500 acres and manages 800 acres of premium winegrapes. Two years ago they launched their own label and produce 1,000 cases of wine annually.

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Steinbeck said that keeping up with government regulations is costly. "The government is requiring us to clean up our diesel engines. It keeps increasing standards for cleaner emissions. Each tractor that we upgrade costs us $5,000 per unit. We pump with all natural gas."

But what Steinbeck and others learned was that fossil fuel combustion from the operation of tractors, irrigation pumps and other farm equipment is just one of three emissions that make up greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture--and future regulations could be, as another small winegrape grower stated, "very onerous."

UC Davis viticulture and enology associate professor David Smart defined greenhouse gas and showed how the wine industry can self-assess its greenhouse gas footprint.

For viticulture, carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the most understood and easily controlled greenhouse gas emission. Less understood is nitrous oxide, produced by nitrogen fertilization activities. Potential nitrogen sources include synthetic and organic fertilizers and even tillage because breaking up soil mobilizes carbon and nitrogen in the soil.

Nitrous oxide is on regulatory agencies' radars because it has about 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, reported Smart. California's Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2006, requires businesses to bring down emissions to 1990 levels. Reductions in agriculture, however, are currently on a voluntary basis.
Smart encouraged growers to be "good citizens," to use nitrogen conservatively and to start using voluntary greenhouse gas assessment tools, such as the International Wine Industry Greenhouse Gas Protocol and Accounting Tool (located on the Wine Institute's website

Hal Huffsmith, Trinchero Family Estates senior vice president and American Vineyard Foundation chairman, discussed carbon markets and what it would take to eventually aggregate carbon credits from sustainable California vineyard soils and sell them on the carbon market.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities
Getting beyond economic 'doom and gloom' was a key theme throughout Unified. But speakers pointed out that every downside has an upside. The session "Getting Tasting Rooms Through a Changing Economy" offered attendees what Craig Root of Craig Root & Associates called "a set of wrenches" in the form of viable ideas to take back with them.

"Business is definitely off. I'm hearing figures of 10 to 20 percent. What can we do to overcome that? Get more creative and work harder," he said.

Clovis Point general manager Carmela Paciullo said she's a firm believer in customer service. "When you come into a wine tasting, it's all about you. Yes, it's challenging times. However, people still have money. If you treat them special, they'll come back. If you don't have that in your business plan or tasting room, it almost doesn't matter how great your wine is," said Paciullo. "That seems to be the biggest message I'm getting here. Maybe they won't buy the case, but they'll buy six bottles and tell their friends."

Located on the north fork of Long Island, Clovis Point winery and vineyard produces "a nice wine at a decent price" at nearby custom crush facility Premium Wine Group. Its tasting room is located in a renovated 1920s potato barn. Clovis Point has signed up 350 wine club members since it opened in July of 2007.

Wine Trends and Value
The "Changing Trends in Changing Time"s session examined the shifting demographics of the U.S. wine market. Speakers talked about the continued rise of the millennials' interest in wine and use of social media, how a foodie culture is sweeping the country, and how cooking at home and living within your means is hip. It's all about "value, value, value," said Courtney Cochran of Your Personal Sommelier.

Wine writer and educator Paul Lukacs said, "The mantra today has to be value for money." He also stressed that it's the industry's job to get wine on the dinner table. "For thousands of years in western culture, wine has been part of our food, part of eating, part of the meal, the best beverage to have when you eat."

John Gillespie of Wine Colleagues pointed out: "One thing is certain: 2009 will be a year of wine values."

This theme was echoed further during the state of the industry general session when Gomberg-Frederikson & Associates principal Jon Frederikson said the main growth brands of 2008 were mainly those in the under-$7, everyday wine segments, which account for 61 percent of the market for California wine by volume. He named E&J Gallo Winery as 2008 winery of the year, noting their Barefoot brand achieved the largest revenue and volume increases of all brands in food stores. "Last year, it was a tremendous achievement in tough times. They hit it out of the park," Frederikson said.

Professor Paul Durand with Etablissement National d'Enseignement Supérieur Agronomique de Dijon (ENESAD said he was generally surprised by the quality and value of wines he had seen during tours of Paso Robles, Lodi and Sacramento wineries. He came to the Unified Symposium to learn more about the relationship between wine price and quality. "Now, prices are lower and quality is much better. California is more competitive in the global market," he said.

Trade Show
The biggest wine trade show in the western hemisphere drew more than 575 exhibitors and showcased the latest supplies and services related to research, data and products. Deaver Ranch owner Ken Deaver, whose great grandfather came to the Sierra Foothills to make money on gold and planted the first Zinfandel vines at Deaver Vineyards, said he came to see what was new. "There's always something. Also, you renew old acquaintances and see vendors you don't deal with daily. "

Deaver said he's bringing home "things for our tasting room to make it more consumer-friendly and, on the viticulture side, I have some literature on foliar fertilizer."

The Unified Symposium is presented by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. CAWG president Karen Ross said she would remember this year's event for "how full and interesting the sessions were. Going in, there was real uncertainty about the attendance and the mood. But the program committee did a great job on content. They hit it right on the button."

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