Symposium Sets Record


By Karl Klooster

Every year since 2004, the Oregon wine industry has staged its annual symposium at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Eugene. And every year, more attendees and vendors have swelled the ranks of participants.

In 2007, the event drew 743 people. That number increased to 871 in 2008. This year, 990 registrants showed up between Feb. 21 and 23 to peruse the wares and services of 117 vendors, filling the hotel and adjoining conference center to overflowing.

For the first time ever, organizers had to put vendor booths in the adjacent Hult Center. Previously, the well-known performing arts facility, which is separated from the hotel by a handsome plaza, had been used strictly for seminars.

Like all trade shows, the annual Oregon Wine Industry Symposium attracts vendors of every stripe, giving winery and vineyard  personnel the opportunity to view and discuss the very latest in supplies, equipment and services all in one place.

The diversity of supporting businesses on hand made for a fascinating and colorful collection of trade show booths displaying and presenting products and services in compellingly creative ways.

Manufacturers and distributors of bottles, barrels, tanks, corks and other closures, labels, packaging, refrigeration, tractors and mechanical harvesters stood next to nurseries, vineyard materials suppliers, building contractors and an excavator.

The advantages of storage, shipping and direct delivery services were set forth. High-tech reps demonstrated specialty software and other office applications. Vineyard and winery consultants, bankers, attorneys and insurance agents touted their expertise. 

An equally important component of each year’s symposium is a series of seminars focusing on different aspects of the industry from overcoming technical problems in winemaking and grapegrowing to strategies for dealing with marketplace challenges.

 This year’s overarching theme centered around the future. Where we are and where we’re going to go from here. Newly introduced this year was a three and one half hour long viticulture session of

Current economic condition are of course, of great concern to the Oregon wine industry. The Monday morning session kicked off with an hour and a quarter-long session addressing that subject in frank and unvarnished terms.

Titled “Charting Our Course In Challenging Times...and Beyond,” the seminar was moderated by Ted Farthing, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board and Oregon Winegrowers Association, which sponsor the annual symposium.

Three speakers, Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank, Chris Welch, partner in the Ciatti Company, a bulk wine and grape brokerage firm, and Christian Miller, owner of Full Glass Research shared their expertise in wine finance, market research and the business in general.

A litany of detailed data verified that rentrenching on the part of affluent consumers has impacted premium wines and, though wine consumption has not diminished, cost per bottle has become a prime motivator in purchasing decisions.

McMillan, who founded Silicon Bank’s wine division could not stress strongly enough the need for Oregon to focus it energies on joining forces and resources to create greater awareness and identity for the state’s industry as a whole.

“Building Brand Oregon should be their number one priority,” he said.

Using the formula Value = Perceived Quality (brand strength) over price he postulated that perception of the experience is the key to success. As long as the price is competitive, consumers will consider it a deal if they are getting quality.

Dubbing it “Business Darwinianism,” McMillan acknowledged that with tight credit and continued pricing pressures, more fallout is on the horizon for Oregon. But, despite inevitable damage, the industry will ultimately emerge stronger for the experience.

Consensus among the speakers was that improvements, although slow, will continue through 2010. but the turn will not regain significant momentum until 2011. In the interim, Oregon will have to contend with inventory surpluses and new vineyard plantings will remain stagnant.

The event fosters camaraderie, one of the Oregon wine industry’s most admirable attributes. The opportunity to see and interact with old friends and close business acquaintances may be an intangible, but nonetheless invaluable, benefit of such a gathering.


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