Nosh Pit

Nosh Pit: Is Unified starting to outgrow Sacramento?

Vincent Tofanelli and Arminée Chahbazian of Tofanelli Wines in Calistoga pick out bottles for their wine from exhibitor TricorBraun WinePak during the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium’s at Convention Center Wednesday January 29, 2014 in Sacramento.
Vincent Tofanelli and Arminée Chahbazian of Tofanelli Wines in Calistoga pick out bottles for their wine from exhibitor TricorBraun WinePak during the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium’s at Convention Center Wednesday January 29, 2014 in Sacramento.

It’s shaping up to be a packed week at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, which runs Tuesday through Thursday at the Sacramento Convention Center and the nearby Sheraton and Hyatt Regency hotels.

Organizers are expecting a record crowd of more than 14,000 to attend Unified, the annual wine industry conference and trade show that doubles as the largest convention hosted in Sacramento each year. Almost every square inch of the Sacramento Convention Center is being scrutinized in an effort to best accommodate all the attendees and trade-show vendors. And good luck finding a hotel room within a walkable distance, or a dinner reservation on Tuesday or Wednesday at Ella Dining Room & Bar or Grange.

A question that keeps popping up: Is Unified starting to outgrow Sacramento?

Nearly 700 exhibitors are on board for Unified’s trade show, touted as the wine industry’s largest in the Western Hemisphere, with its showcases of the latest farming equipment, bottling lines, pest-control technology and more. The waiting list stretches to 100 would-be exhibitors, and a new tented area above 15th Street will be used to squeeze in a few more vendors.

“There’s not a corner of the building that’s not being used for this event,” said Mike Testa, a spokesman for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Housing remains a hurdle for some Unified attendees. They come from all over the country, and various parts of the world, to hear the anticipated “state of the industry” session with the latest numbers on wine shipments, which markets are especially hot and other trends. Breakout workshops are geared for many facets of the wine world, including marketing sessions and advancements in viticulture technology.

After a day devoted to wine, many attendees want to head to a hotel room within walking distance. But rooms close to the Sacramento Convention Center sell out quickly, often within minutes of Unified opening its registration. According to organizers, 3,200 rooms are contracted for Unified attendees to purchase with group rates and other discounts. Any rooms that are left over are often offered at a premium. Right now, such downtown hotels as the Hyatt Regency, Sheraton Grand and the Citizen are booked.

That’s left longtime Unified attendees like Rusty Eddy, a veteran wine industry public relations specialist, scouring for a hotel room. He’s made the trip to Unified since it was founded in 1995, when the symposium hosted just a few hundred attendees at the Radisson Hotel. This week, he’ll be staying at a hotel in Natomas.

“It’s the farthest out I’ve stayed,” said Eddy. “It would be so nice to stay at the Hyatt. All the restaurants are down there and you don’t have to drive. With all the parties, it makes a big difference. I’m a P.R. guy, so not only do I want to see my clients but I want to schmooze and say ‘hi’ to people.”

Unified is contracted to stay in Sacramento through 2019. If the symposium opted for another city in the future, the loss would be significant for Sacramento. Unified generates more than $3 million in economic activity annually, from hotel bookings, meals and more. Unified week ranks among the busiest times of the year for many central city restaurants, which often see wine-related companies reserving large portions of a dining room to entertain clients.

“This is a crowd that knows food and drinks nice wine,” said Testa. “It’s a huge benefit for restaurants.”

In terms of exhibitors, some relief may be found in the downtown Sacramento arena, which is scheduled to open in 2016. There’s talk of moving the trade show’s large farming equipment to the arena, which could free up space in the Sacramento Convention Center for more vendors. There are a couple of new hotels scheduled to open downtown as well.

Meanwhile, there’s a new crop of regional wine conferences that could possibly compete for some of Unified’s audience. In March, Wine Business Monthly will present its third WiVi Central Coast Wine Industry Conference & Tradeshow in Paso Robles, which in 2014 attracted 125 exhibitors and 1,400 attendees. The North Coast Wine Industry Expo, held in December in Santa Rosa, was touted as the wine industry’s second-largest trade shows with a crowd of 3,000.

But officials at the Convention Center said they are committed to finding ways to keep Unified happy and healthy in Sacramento.

“Unified has not outgrown the city,” said Testa. “We need to try and find solutions if it’s getting bigger. It’s on us as a city that it continues to return.”

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.