Thursday, June 13, 2024

Careful Planning—and Worry—Behind Spring Fairs

Wine fair

Fairs and festivals offer wine lovers an opportunity to explore new tastes, and wine makers a chance to educate and attract new customers. After cancellations throughout summer, fall and winter of 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, wine fair organizers are optimistic that they can abide by regulations and keep exhibitors and attendees safe this spring. But as the level of new Covid-19 infections continues to fluctuate, they still worry that the best course of action might be to cancel.

Tasting wine in open air

Wine fair before Covid
That was then: the Salon of Sparkling Wines in January of 2020, held in a hotel event space. This year it is planned for the hotel terrace, outdoors. Photo: Julio Frangen (cropped)

Last year the Salon of Sparkling Wines in Zagreb took place indoors in January. It was one of the last wine fairs held before the onset of the pandemic cast doubt on the safety of group events. This year the fair will be held in June, so it can be outdoors. 

Marija Vukelić, general manager of the fair, explains, “We are going to have fewer winemakers, and we will see how many people will be allowed in the open air. From the beginning we had about 40 winemakers, because our salon is not a massive event. We have a special public, special wine makers. I asked them whether they are interested in coming, and they are. I will have maybe 30 winemakers [this year].”

Vukelić rejected the idea of tents, “because you have no air in there.” Instead there will be umbrellas over the tables, and a rain date just in case. Still, she says, “I’m not sure anyone could give you an answer how it will be, what kind of event it will be.” Simply, no one knows what the restrictions will be in June.

A warning shot for big fairs

It may pay to be small in the new world of event planning. Vinitaly, one of the biggest wine trade fairs in Europe, was scheduled for late June. Its cancellation on March 16 has given pause to many who would hold other such large wine events this year. 

Vinistra, held each year (except 2020) in Poreč, attracts 60 to 70 wine makers, 50 to 60 nonwine exhibitors, and some 10,000 visitors over three days. Vinistra usually takes place in the indoor sports arena Žatika, but Nikola Benvenuti, who is president of the fair, says, “We are thinking about another Vinistra this year, trying to organize it outside. We are checking two different locations, both in Poreč.” The plan is to have open canopies with two or three exhibitors beneath each one. 

Wine fair
In the past, Vinistra has accommodated its 10,000 visitors in the indoor sports arena in Poreč. This year the fair may move outdoors. Photo: Udruga Vinistra

Benvenuti seems far from certain the show will go on. “Of course, it’s a very attractive fair every year and there are many people coming—fortunately—but this year…” He trails off. “We are preparing everything for now, and then there will be a date when we must say, okay, this is going to be—or not.”

Caution is the catchword

Željko Garmaz is founder and organizer of the Traminer Festival in Ilok. He has heard of the alternative plans for Vinistra, “but I’m not sure it’s a smart decision,” he says. “It’s better to do like Vinitaly … it’s canceled.” 

Wine fair
Photo: courtesy Festival Traminca

Asked about his own much smaller event in May, he says, “Believe me, I’m not sure. Everything is prepared, the program is fantastic, with wine makers from France, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Serbia. But the last 10 days I started to think about maybe canceling.” He is worried that people, even now, are not wearing masks, not distancing.

“I’ve made contact with the wine makers to be prepared for a possible cancellation. I told them to prepare to make a PCR test coming here, and I organized a place here to make PCR tests for them going back to their countries. But who knows.”

For now, he is downsizing dramatically. Only 120 people will attend the gala dinner, in a tent that holds more than 500. Five people will sit at each 10-top. The second day of the festival, the master classes and workshops will be in the same space, with a maximum of 60 people. “I think that almost every person will have his own table,” says Garmaz. The open tasting for the public will be outdoors.

A new direction for wine fairs?

In the international wine world there is now talk of how to reconfigure large events like trade fairs and festivals for the Covid age. Vinitaly has, in the past few years, supplemented its trade fairs with Italian wine certification and B2B programs held throughout the year and around the world. 

Željko Garmaz has another idea. “I think the future of wine festivals is not to look like each other. I think the future is the one variety, specializing.” This could help to keep events small, but as Marija Vukelić notes of her Salon of Sparkling Wine, sponsors may not be as interested in supporting small events.

While she waits to see what will happen in June, Vukelić is holding the sparkling wine seminars that are part of her salon lineup this spring, with a limit of 25 attendees as currently required. She is optimistic about her sparkling breakfasts, too, which she held last year with guests and wine makers gathering in the vineyards for food and drink. “Everyone was wherever they wanted to be … in the vineyards, in the grass. And it was safe!”

Fairs and festivals currently scheduled for spring:

Zadar Wine Festival / 23 – 24 April / Zadar /
Vinart Grand Tasting / 30 April – 1 May / Zagreb /
Vinistra / 7 – 9 May / Poreč /
Festival Pušipela / 14-16 May / Štrigova /
Vina od Davnina / 18 – 19 May / Zagreb /
Festival Traminca / 21 – 22 May / Ilok /
Pink Day Zagreb / 29 May / Zagreb /
Wine Experience / 10 – 12 June / Zagreb /
Salon of Sparkling Wines / 11 June / Zagreb /

[Title photo: courtesy Festival Traminca]

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