And so the second annual Virginia Wine Expo has come and gone. I drank, I ate, I drank some more. This year’s expo was another great experience, and I think a lot of that has to do with the organizers, including Alex Papajohn.
With an estimated 6,300 attendees across all three days of the event, which is up from the 5,500 that attended last year, this year was an even bigger success than last year. In light of the down-turning economy, and the terrible winter weather that was rolling into the area, the fact that the event grew as much as it did over last year is a testament to the popularity of Virginia’s wine, and next year the VA Wine Expo is expecting more than 8,000 attendees.
Now, all that being said, there were some highs and lows for the event. Here are the things that I think they did right, and some things that need to be improved upon for next year.
- Extra space in the hall – last year, the VA Wine Expo used roughly 40,000 sq. ft. of the hall. This year, they moved up to 120,000 sq. ft., which allowed for more vendors and more attendees.
- Wider Aisles – the space of the aisles was increased to 40 ft, an improvement on the 10 ft they had last year. This made the event much more handicap accessible (which I appreciated since my mother was there with me and was in a wheel-chair following foot surgery), and kept the congestion down even when lines formed at certain vineyards.
- Plenty of Tables – There was an increase in seating both in the concession area, and within the aisles, a result of the increase in aisle size. This meant that whether you needed to take a load off or were sitting to enjoy some food, there was no problem finding a place to sit down and relax.
- Multiple Lines for Entry – last year there was really only one line, and it took quite a while to get into the actual event. This year, the staff began to pre-card attendees and had multiple lines to check tickets. This increased the rate at which people were able to get into the event and start having a good time.
- Coat Check – it was nice not having to carry jackets around given that it was February, and while a nice day, it still called for a coat of some sort.
- Increased Vineyards/Wineries/Vendors – more booths helped to spread out the crowds and offered a wider selection of wines. I anticipate more vendors next year too.
- Wine Will-Call – Last year you had to carry your wine with you as soon as you bought it, and I felt it deterred a number of people from making large purchases. In talking with several vineyards, they said that the wine will-call was encouraging people (such as myself) to purchase wine by the case as soon as they tasted it, and then pick it up later when they were ready to leave. It also encouraged people to stay later as they didn’t have to lug their wine around with them through the day.
- Improved Floor Layout – The layout last year, coupled with less space, created traffic jams at every turn. This year, the layout allowed for easy passage around the hall and meant you didn’t have to fight your way from booth to booth.
- No ATM in the Hall – There are three ways to fix this problem: place an ATM within the hall, allow re-entry when going to the ATM (which is about 10 feet outside the entrance), or force all vendors to accept credit cards. This is a small thing, and all of the vineyards I went to accepted credit, but a couple of the smaller vendors selling wine-related products didn’t accept credit.
- Wine Will-Call Organization – The wine will-call was organized by vendor name as opposed to purchaser name. Organizing the wine will-call area by name as oppposed to vendor would save a lot of time at the end of the event.
- No Separation of Wine Will-Call and Coat Check – The area for wine will-call and coat check were one in the same. This created extra confusion and added time to an already long process for getting your wine.
- Sales Area for Vendors – not all of the blame for this falls on the vendors, but having them have a better defined area for sales would help move things along at the tasting area of the tables, allowing more people to filter through the vendors while those purchasing wine can take their time and fill out their will-call tickets without feeling in the way.
All in all, this was an excellent event, and if you didn’t make it this year, you missed a great time. Next years event is going to be on the last weekend in February as well (Feb. 26, 27, 28), so mark your calendar. My kudos to Alex Papajohn and all of the organizers of the 2009 Virginia Wine Expo.