The Tasting Panel magazine

January / February 2018

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Page 45 of 124

january/february 2018  /  the tasting panel  /  45 or all the technological innovation and new brands coming online in the alcoholic beverage industry, it remains a business of relationships. That's especially true when it comes to suppliers forging connections with wholesalers serving as brand builders and marketing experts for their products in markets across the country. One of the industry's marquee events for this type of face-to-face networking is the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America Annual Convention & Exposition, which began just ten years after the end of Prohibition and continues today as a dynamic, must-attend annual gathering for suppliers, distributors, and business leaders from around the world. Despite many dramatic changes in the beverage sphere over the years, the convention all but solidified its unrivaled reputation decades ago as "the industry's leading event in uniting wholesalers and suppliers under one roof," said Craig Wolf, WSWA's President and CEO. With that said, it's not difficult to fathom how the 75th year's tagline— "The Big Deal"—practically wrote itself. Cindy Nachman-Senders, who serves as WSWA's Senior Consultant for Meetings and Conventions, says that while some fads have left less memorable impressions, "the cur- rent craft trend has resulted in an uptick in the number of companies that turn to the WSWA Convention & Exposition as the launch pad for their new brands." "In a brief three days, brands are able to be seen by the top decision makers representing distribution in all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada," she continues. "Networking with WSWA members also often results in valuable insight and guidance for those new to the industry, but existing brands find value in their participation as well." Planned for April 30 through May 3 in Caesars Palace Las Vegas, this year's convention will not only feature an engag- ing slate of speakers, exhibit halls, and competitions, but a few new additions and improvements as well. "I often refer to it as a six-ring circus," Nachman-Senders says. "There is something for everyone: If you are a wholesaler and want to seek out new brands or meet with established portfolio partners, we offer that, and if you are a supplier and want to launch a new brand or brand extension, expand distribu- tion, or just have private meetings with current partners, we offer that, too." The Tasting Panel, The SOMM Journal, and The Clever Root will also return as sponsors of the Wine & Spirits Tasting Competitions. "We encourage suppliers to enter their brands into our popular competitions as a means to elevate their exposure," Nachman-Senders says. "We also encourage entry into our action-packed Call for Cocktails competition, in which 12 original cocktails are pre-selected to compete live on our competition stage. To increase the odds of being one of the finalists selected, we recommend brands work with a professional mixologist to craft their entry. Mixologists are a key component to brands' success, and we feel it is important to promote their value." The convention and exposition will also feature the tenth anniversary of the Wholesaler Iron Mixologist Competition, in which up to eight wholesalers' top mixologists must create innovative cocktails in a timed contest with a secret ingredient unveiled right before the event begins. Nachman-Senders describes it one of the "most interactive and exciting" attractions of the week for spectators: "We offer a viewing and tasting gallery during the competitions for those who wish to watch the action unfold, cheer on their favorite brands or competitors, or sample the innova- tive creations." As for new events, a "rotating stage" named the Diamond Ring will make its debut in the Augustus Ballroom Exhibit Hall, with various programming that includes tastings of the Double Gold and Best in Show winners of both the 2017 and 2018 Wine and Spirits Tasting Competitions. Selected entrants for the third annual Brand Battle—a Shark Tank– inspired program that challenges new brands to promote their product and story to a panel of industry experts in front of a live audience—will also make a pre-competition appearance in the ring. Brand Battle will unfold during what Nachman-Senders calls the "information-packed" U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum (USBAF) held the final morning of the convention. In previous years, keynote speakers for the convention's general sessions—planned for the mornings of May 1–2 this year—have included General Stanley McChrystal, Terry Bradshaw, Nando Parrado, and Frank Abagnale. While the 2018 speakers have yet to be announced, they'll undoubt- edly provide a thought-provoking pause in the action; a new wholesaler-only session, meanwhile, will create yet another opportunity for discussion and engagement. Nachman-Senders says she encourages both first-time and returning attendees to visit the convention's website at for the current schedule of events, as well as details on convention registration, hotel accom- modations, exhibit options, sponsorship opportunities, and entry instructions for Brand Battle as well as for the tasting and mixology competitions. "The Convention & Exposition is packed with opportunities to network, learn, and watch trends in the making," she continues. "When you put all of that opportunity together under one roof— it's a pretty 'big deal.'" PHOTO COURTESY OF WINE & SPIRITS WHOLESALERS OF AMERICA WSWA TO HOST ANNUAL CONVENTION AND EXPOSITION APRIL 30–MAY 3 IN LAS VEGAS by Kate Newton

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