Food & Drink

Plenty of products to see, deals to be made at bustling wine symposium

Spokeswoman Sarah Shymkiw explains the Rapidfil automated barrel filler to a visitor during the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium at the Sacramento Convention Center in Sacramento on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016.
Spokeswoman Sarah Shymkiw explains the Rapidfil automated barrel filler to a visitor during the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium at the Sacramento Convention Center in Sacramento on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. rbenton@sacbee.com

When 14,000 wine industry folks at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium weren’t talking shop about water management, online marketing and vineyard farming practices, many of them were browsing a main exhibit hall the size of three football fields.

As the three-day symposium wrapped up Thursday, hundreds of vendors were hawking barrels, bottles, corks, labels and all kinds of heavy equipment. Being on the floor of the largest wine industry trade show in North America – and Sacramento’s largest annual convention – is a key part of doing business, whether a company is new and looking to make connections or established and eager to attract repeat customers.

Smart Fog, which was hissing like a dragon as it automatically shot fog into the air, sells for $3,000 to $100,000, depending on the size of the winery.

“This machine is used for making humidity for the barrel room,” said vendor Gad Goldstein. “It saves the winery the cost of the wine evaporating from the barrel.”

At the Atago U.S.A. booth, Diana Swenson was talking up the benefits of the new and improved refractometer, which measures the sugar content of wine. This $350 hand-held device is now Bluetooth-equipped.

“It’s really important for our company,” Swenson said about the symposium. “Repeat business is incredible to our company. And, exposure, getting our brand out there, getting to see all these other great companies.”

Trends come and go in the California wine industry, but it was easy to see what’s hot and happening simply by strolling up and down the rows of 700 vendors, where wine in boxes, on tap and in traditional bottles were scattered across the 170,000-square-foot hall. And water conservation equipment, given the drought that only now seems to be subsiding, is more crucial than ever.

On the more timeless end of the spectrum were exhibitors such as Dan Pina, co-owner of a company that makes wood wine boxes, Wine Country Cases. He’s been exhibiting it for 24 years.

“This area is pretty central to where all of our clients are located,” he said. “Because we’ve exhibited for quite a few years, we don’t get as much new business now, but it’s a very good area to refresh contacts.”

Some companies sold tanks for making wine – as well as equipment for cleaning tanks. Plenty of exhibits touted their oak barrels, some made in America, others hailing from France.

One well-known company, Stelvin, sells twist-off caps, once a radical packaging concept in the wine industry but now relatively mainstream. Stelvin’s wall display showed dozens of options in a wide spectrum of colors.

Though money doesn’t necessarily change hands on the exhibit floor, the bustling industry hall is about talking up features, meeting potential customers and, in a nod to high-tech efficiency, scanning the barcode of the person’s symposium pass, which contains contact information for a follow-up sales call.

Those were the kinds of contacts Neil Hankin of Rancho Cordova-based Hankin Specialty Elevators was seeking as he and employee Skip Marrell demonstrated a mechanized device that uses suction to lift wine cases, one after the other. It’s designed to ease the backs of winery workers and, as Marrell pointed out, the device never gets injured and never calls in sick.

“I was in Chicago and saw it being used in another industry, and I thought it would work well with wineries,” Hankin said.

With that, Marrell triggered the machine and gave a demonstration, one of dozens throughout the long day.

“It’s literally effortless – lighter than lifting up an envelope,” he said, reeling off his pitch.

A few hours later, the vendors were packing up and heading home.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob

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