At the end of May, the organizers of Hospice du Rhône announced the end of the big annual event in Paso Robles. Predictably, the announcement prompted expressions of sadness and angst over the cancellation of what was a long-running, successful and popular international celebration of wines made from Rhône varieties.
In reading through these reactions, I was struck by the similarity between incidental comments by two professional wine writers. Stephen Eliot of CGCW commented: “[i]t has been some years since I made my way to Paso Robles for the festivities…” and Steve Heimhoff said:”…I haven’t been to HdR for a couple years (I keep meaning to go, but something always comes up)…”
These comments are telling—that an event with the repute and record of success of HdR has ceased to be a draw for some in the trade. The organizers acknowledge that ticket sales for HdR were good, and that financial considerations were not the reason for discontinuing the big event in Paso. So what is up? I think we are in the middle of a paradigm shift…
Inside the trade, the luster is off of big wine events.
The HdR organizers say they plan to “…seek out new audiences through smaller events in more accessible locations.” Along similar lines, a couple months ago I expounded on the position that the large wine festival is a singular waste of time and resources for small wineries trying to build a brand and a loyal customer base. In the comment thread on that article I said:
“I would rather fly all over the country every week pouring for private groups of 30 or less, where I have motivated, interested potential customers all to myself (or sharing them with one or two other producers) than waste another dollar on a regional association’s festival event.”
Becky Tyner and Ramon Sandoval, aka “Small Lots Big Wines” (among others) are pursuing a great idea for offering in-home wine tastings. It does not take much extrapolation to predict that, soon, winemakers will be coming to a home near you.