Wednesday, February 10, 2021

From Conference Fatigue to A Great Big Conversation: Will WineFuture 2021 Be Like TED for Wine?

A year ago, we knew not of Covid. Nor did we predict an economic crisis. Trump's misdeeds dominated the world stage, and wine growers were wringing their hands over the overplanting and oversupply of bulk wine. Climate change might cause them to grow different grapes, but that wasn't the end of the world.

No, it was only later that we saw there could be an end of the world scenario. First it was Covid. And The Economy. Then it was Yet Another Drought. But then it was The End of Wine Travel As We Know It and The Worst Fires Ever, that decimated the North Coast wine growers and growers in other regions. While we bemoaned Mr. Orange Hair, we freaked out even more when we saw The Orange Skies. Grapes were ruined as was wine tourism. Due to the fires and the smoke, the wine industry lost a lot. How much? $3.7 billion. 

And it wasn't just here in the US that the suffering grew. Economic disruption accelerated across the globe. Chinese wine markets dried up. The world changed seemingly at breakneck speed. 

So did the ways wine communicated as an industry. Though we lost travel, we gained Zoom and suddenly everyone was accessible in a way they had not been before. I, for one, am grateful for the 67 Pall Mall webinars which brought world class wine leaders to my laptop. And as much as I enjoyed those summer time Zooms, by now I, like many of others, suffer on occasion from Zoom fatigue and can be said to be "conferenced out."

And yet, suddenly on the horizon, a new conference promises to be a bigger, broader stage for the wine world's international conversation about all of these hot topics. Wine Future 2021 has a star-studded cast of wine's leading lights. 

This will be the third time the conference is being held. The first, in 2009 in Rioja, was in response to the 2008 economic crisis. The second, in 2011, was in Hong Kong. This third will take place online Feb. 23-26. Its location? The Central European Time zone. (And replays, I assume).

The topics are a grab bag of pressing challenges, any one of which would be a topic for a conference of its own. But because we are running out of time - virus not vanishing, carbon emissions not declining and money not sloshing around any more for many wineries - this uber conference offers a Big Stackup to Tackle It All. The lineup sounds like Unified on steroids. I used to attend TEDMed. Will WineFuture be like a TED conference that decided to go all in on wine? Without the incomparable Richard Saul Wurman?


As a former health journalist and editor of major health websites, I am looking forward to the Covid conversation on Day 1 with panelist Elvis Garcia of the Harvard School of Public Health, who has a specialty in designing architecture with Covid in mind.

On the financial front, I am interested in hearing from Stephen Rannekleiv, head of food and ag research for Rabobank. I wonder how research can attempt to predict market movements in these chaotic times.

Jessica Baum from Fetzer's sustainability group is one of the speakers on a panel about learning from other industries. I am curious what her background in sustainable skin care products will bring to the conversation. (Fetzer is one of the conference sponsors).

Napa's super salesman Jean-Charles Boisset will also be on hand to share his strategies for selling in a market dominated by off premise. 

On the final day, a grand panel on "sustainability" manages to lump everything under the sun into this immensely stretchable umbrella term. I've not heard Nigel Greening from Felton Road Winery speak before, but I am looking forward to it. This panel is moderated by Elin McCoy, one of the grande dames of wine writing (Bloomberg), so that holds promise. 

Plus Coppola is going to be the show opener and will be screening a personal film about his experience of these multiple crises, as he lived them - first hand. 

In addition to this cast, there are dozens of other panelists. Because wine is so eclectic as well as so international, there are sure to be a lot of people who are new to me to hear from. I look forward to New Discoveries.

Tickets are $150 for all four days worth of sessions. See the conference website here to see if this is something you should attend.

In the meantime, I'll let Paul Mabray, one of our best wine thinkers, tell you why he thinks you should attend:

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