San Francisco Vintner's Market: A new kind of wine event

Wine industry eventholder Cornelius Geary has made his name with cutting-edge gatherings. As a founder of Wine 2.0, he’s been a leader in connecting the world of wine with the realm of technology and social media. Wine 2.0 events feature smart tech on all sides: Online social networks fuel the crowds, the winemakers featured are typically innovators in the field, and participants even learn about wine-oriented iPhone apps (a typical one is Nirvino, which aggregates wine reviews and lets users communicate about them—connecting wine-lovers even further).

In short, Geary is all about coming up with new ways to present wine and bring together people who love it. All the more reason that when he spotted a gap in his own events, he sought an inventive fix. The issue? “We looked at our core technology events and realized there was no formal process for customers to buy wine at the end,” he says. It got him thinking: What’s the model of an event where customers wander around sampling a broad slate of items, then can instantly snap up the ones they like? That’d be a classic farmer’s market. And so the concept of San Francisco Vintner’s Market was born. On April 10-11, at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center, a slew of wineries—ranging from obscure 500-case producers to sought-after luxury brands to household names—will set up shop for a combined tasting (and buying) extravaganza. Think the Ferry Building farmer’s market, only with local Cab’s and Zin’s instead of peaches and plums.

Attracting top partners

But a great event idea has a lot going on behind the scenes. For starters, Geary got smart about what winemakers would really want. He capitalized on the fact that the winter is, in his words “a dead season”—a time producers have trouble attracting people out to their winery tasting rooms, and so are eager for a boost. This made it easier for him to get big names involved. Locating such market gaps can be a great way for expo holders to get star partners. In the recession, he found producers even more eager to bring their bottles to a venue full of pre-filtered buyers. “Winemakers are always interested in getting in front of customers,” he says, and that can be harder for them than you’d think. In the future, he says he’d love to have Vintner’s Market events twice yearly, held when winemakers would be most interested: in the spring, when they can highlight new releases, and in the fall, when they have excess inventory.

Choosing the venue

Some of Geary’s other keys to a great expo-style event? First, get a great venue on board. For Geary, San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center was a dream space: a huge, open area in a beautiful setting. Just as crucially, Geary showed them he would be an ideal eventholder: someone with a unique idea, and with a clear vision of how to make it repeatable. “We want to really be an anchor event,” he says, and he made that clear to the venue.

Smart pricing

He also put a lot of thought into pricing—an absolutely critical component for this type of event, especially given all the vino that will be flowing. At $15, the event is priced low enough to get plenty of people in the door, but hopefully high enough to filter out those more interested in boozing than buying. Wanting to cater to the serious connoisseurs as well as the citizen wine-lovers, he also created a special VIP ticket category, which offers entrance to a special high-end wine zone. The winemakers love this part, too, because they can give tastings of their best wines, but only to the most serious buyers.

Sponsors

As for collecting sponsors, Geary gives the classic advice: figure out which other interests overlap with your target group. (With wine aficionados, the shorthand would be: fancy stuff.) And get connected to a local marketing council. In Geary’s case, the Luxury Marketing Council of San Francisco helped him pair with brands that would be best-suited to the wine world.

Effective promotion

Last, says Geary: get promoting. Not surprisingly, given his Wine 2.0 work, he not only sees social media as a promotion tool—he sees it as the tool, with sites like Twitter and Facebook the very best means of spreading the word among the people who most want to hear it. “It’s just the easiest way.”