The trade show continues to be a popular component of the Oregon Wine Symposium.

Symposium Time

Conference growing with and for a brimming industry

Wanna Go?

What: Oregon Wine Symposium
Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. MLK Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR 97232
When: February 23–24, 2016
Who: Those wanting to learn more about the business of wine with seminars on production, growing, marketing, etc.
Register: Buy tickets online by Feb. 15 — cost depends on OWA membership. Tickets for trade show only available.

By Mark Stock

Catering to an ever-expanding industry, the Oregon Wine Symposium will set up shop this Feb. 23 and 24 at the Convention Center in Portland. The event, organized by the Oregon Wine Board, includes many facets of the sprawling industry, from farming to marketing to chemistry. Themes of climate change, regional branding and vineyard philosophy round out a busy 2016 symposium.

Once a relatively small, more research-oriented gathering called Grape Day, the Symposium has now draws more than 200 exhibitors and some 1,500 attendees. It outgrew the Eugene Hilton in 2012 and has been in the Rose City since. According to Michelle Kaufmann, communications manager for OWB, ticket sales are ahead of where they were this time last year. Part of the popularity, she suggests, is due to the content as well as the responsive nature of the event itself.

“Every year, we ask attendees to tell us what they’d like to hear the next year, and this is largely how we shape the sessions,” said Kaufmann. “We also have an education committee comprised of members of the industry from all over the state. This committee reviews attendee feedback but also looks to current trends, advancements and technologies.”

Major names like Dr. Greg Jones and Jerry Lohr appear on this year’s roster. The former, a world-respected climatologist and professor of environmental science and policy at Southern Oregon University, will lead a seminar on our changing climate and the adaptation strategies for wineries. Lohr, a California winemaker and founder of the National Grape & Wine Initiative, will lead a discussion on the importance of research and advancement within the industry. Speakers from around the globe share the soapbox over the two-day span and include scientists, marketers, business owners and sommeliers.

“The symposium is the premiere educational event in the Pacific Northwest,” added Kaufmann. “It’s a time for everyone who works in our industry to come together and learn from experts and network with peers. Educational opportunities like [this] are the only way our industry will continue to advance and grow, and the only way to do that is educate the entire team, from tasting room staff to vineyard managers, to winemakers and owners.”

A summit on marketing and the prominence of a brand’s story will inform attendees on how best to present their labels. An examination of oxygen management in the cellar will offer wisdom to those handling the fruit every harvest. A business portion will teach salespeople the necessary means to grow a label through distributor relationships in a competitive market.

Oregonians will recognize many of the Symposium’s main speakers. Dr. Scott Burns of Portland State University will co-lead a session on the geological history of regional AVAs and how it affects the resident wines. Ken Wright is set to moderate a panel on yeast, with special attention focused on spontaneous fermentations. Dick Shea, among others, will speak on grapegrowing methods and sustaining demand for estate fruit.

The prominence of Oregon industry leaders reflects both the immense surge in winemaking statewide as well as the tremendous regard the industry at large feels for Oregon wine country and its many players.

The Oregon wine industry rakes in close to $3.5 billion in revenue annually, according to a recent Full Glass Research report. There are approximately 1,000 grapegrowers and more than 700 labels within state lines. The amount of fruit processed every year in the name of wine sets a record with every succeeding vintage. It may be a drop in the bucket when set alongside a state like California, but Oregon wine is no longer a secret and hasn’t been for some time. The same report estimates that wine-related tourism contributes well over $200 million to the state’s economy.

That said, it’s no surprise that the Symposium has experienced such a growth spurt in recent years. Many contend this is the golden era of American wine, in which Oregon plays an Oscar-nominated role. Attendance has increased by roughly 50 percent each year over the last four. This is the first conference in which OWB hired an event management company to help orchestrate the gathering. Tickets start around $200, with the fees going toward operation costs and select presenters.

For more info about the 2016 Oregon Wine Symposium, including registration information, please visit

Mark Stock, a Gonzaga grad, is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer with a knack for all things Oregon. He currently works at Vista Hills Winery.

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