OK, I admit that I sort of swore we’d never do this again.
Last year Dare, Cy, and I had a table at the Washington Wine and Food Show. We went into it with pretty high expectations. We thought we’d absorbed the lesson from our distributor friends who exhibited once and said it was a bust for them. They said that they didn’t get much trade visits during the show, and as distributors they couldn’t sell to the majority of people who came through — members of the general public not in the wine business.
But as the only retailer at the show, I thought we’d get people who would order wine, especially since they could try it and then place an order right there. Although we couldn’t sell bottles for them to take home, we did have order forms. And since most of the people attending the show live in the area, we’d be able to sell and deliver to them within a few days (unless they live in Maryland). I knew it would be crowded, but I also figured that at the very least we’d get more names for the mailing list.
It didn’t work out that way. It was so crowded that we’d have needed two more people just to have someone asking people to sign up for the list — and there wasn’t really even room for the three of us behind the table. It was a mob scene — people had to be more than a bit pushy to get up to the table, and behind them there were just a bunch of arms holding glasses out. The noise level was extreme, so we couldn’t even converse with people who wanted to talk about the wines. (And there were plenty of people who clearly weren’t there to talk at all — they just held out their glasses and pointed to a bottle when they got to the table.) The really smart (or drunk) ones waited until the very last moment of the last day. Under DC law, we can’t take open bottles away from the show, and those in the know were only too happy to take them off our hands. Not that we could object, since we couldn’t take the bottles with us. Still, in the end, it was just an expensive, exhausting experiment with no payoff.
So this year I was approached again about exhibiting, and I wasn’t too thrilled. But I had a nagging glimmer of hope for a better outcome — there were plenty of people last year who had been eager to buy bottles on the spot. The trouble was that the show didn’t permit it. The Reagan Building, where the show is held, has an on-premesis consumption license, which means that if you purchase alcohol there, it must be consumed on site, and can’t be taken away.
However, there is a little-known provision of DC law that allows off-premesis consumption retailers (like First Vine) to sell unopened bottles of wine or beer at sites that have on-premesis consumption licenses (like restaurants, bars, clubs, and the Reagan Building), as long as you have the endorsement of the establishment where you want to sell. So I said that the only way we’d be exhibitors is if we could sell our wine on site. I explained the process to them, and to be honest, I was thinking there would be no way they’d go for it. Or that even if they agreed, the Reagan Building management wouldn’t. Or that even if those people agreed, we might not get permission from DC to do it.
I was wrong on all counts. They went for it, we made the arrangements, and we’ll be selling bottles of wine at the show. Not only our wine, but wine for any of the exhibitors who wants to participate (lots of rules about that, as you can imagine). We’ll be in a lovely and spacious booth called “The Gallery,” right by the exit (easier for you to buy wine that way and not have to carry it around). The Grand Tasting is Saturday, February 13, and Sunday, February 14, from 2-6 pm in the atrium at the Reagan Building (1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW). Check the festival website for ticket information. (If you’re in the alcohol business or a journalist, you can get a free trade registration for 12-2 pm either day.)
We’re not sure how much wine we’ll sell, and no doubt it will be another exhausting and (we hope somewhat less) expensive experiment, but we’re happy to give it a go.
The show is being organized by a local committee this year. In past years, a firm in Boston was in charge (and also ran the shows in Boston and New York). But with more local connections, the management has concentrated on bringing more local talent to the fore, there will be a lot of demonstrations and chats, and we’re all hoping it will be a better show than in years past.
So come down and check it out. If you don’t have Valentine’s Day plans, it is a fun way to spend a few hours, drink some wine, sample some food, and see lots of neat stuff. Oh, and of course, come by and say hello to your friends at First Vine!