Welcome, Wine Connoisseurs
The American Wine Society (AWS) is holding its 47th annual national conference this month – from October 30 through November 1 – and Concord has been chosen as the host city.
Founded in 1967 and based in Ohio, the AWS is a non-profit organization whose goal is to educate the consumer – grape growers, winemakers and wine drinkers alike – about all facets of the industry. Today, there are more than 4,300 members in 130 chapters across the U.S. and Canada. And some six new AWS chapters have been established in North Carolina over the last three years.
But why Concord as host? John Hames is executive director of the American Wine Society. He says, “Cabarrus County representatives showed us all the things there are to do and see besides the speedway. They helped with providing contacts and leads as well as providing items to give attendees as part of their registration. The financial support they provided was very helpful and was definitely a factor in making the overall proposal attractive to AWS.
“We looked at a variety of cities and states in our search and received a number of very attractive proposals. Our ‘short list’ of finalists included St. Louis, MO, and Arlington, VA. After visiting the hotels at each location, we knew the Embassy Suites in Concord was the best fit for our conference.”
Each year, after its Board of Directors reviews various regions in the U.S. as possible conference hosts, the AWS approaches those cities’ hotels and CVBs. They look at hotel room fees; food and beverage capabilities; conference space; parking; and the city’s responsiveness in working with the AWS to pull it all together.
“AWS is a consumer wine education society, so most attendees can’t write the cost off as a business expense,” Hames adds. “We have to keep the overall conference cost as low as possible or some people won’t be able to afford it.”
Embassy Suites Golf Resort & Spa on Bruton Smith Boulevard will serve as both the venue for this year’s conference as well as accommodate its overnight attendees; the Cabarrus County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) worked in conjunction with the AWS to nail down the particulars. Additionally, “The CVB’s Destination Services team will provide welcome bags for attendees and other services that add our ‘Where Racing Lives’ flair to the event, including having the Bureau’s show car on-site inside the Embassy Suites,” Donna Carpenter, CVB president and CEO, says. “Our goal is to offer unmatched hospitality to the group while educating them about our area’s motorsports history.”
On Friday, the 30th, Embassy Suites will open the conference with a North Carolina BBQ and Local Wines Reception, which will be preceded by Wine Judge Certification training – “the only in the world,” according to the AWS website – and a First-timers Orientation. Meals over the course of the event will include wine pairings, and AWS commercial and amateur wine competitions.
Attendees to the conference will also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of what are referred to as sessions: 75-minute educational classes over two days that have such titles as Bubbles & Bacon!, Oxygen As a Winemaking Tool, Port: It’s Not Just for Chocolate Anymore and Two Stinkers in a Winery.
This last session is described by AWS as, “Don’t give your son an accusing look or blame the horse – that fragrance assaulting your olfactory nerve was brought to you by yeast gone awry! This presentation will give you the lowdown on two of the most common winery offenders, Hydrogen Sulfide and Brettanomyces – how they happen and what to do about them. You will have the pleasure of experiencing several examples up close and personal, so remember to bring your own copper penny.”
Exhibits (many featuring local crafts and products), a silent auction, showcase of wines, hospitality suite, music and dancing complete the event, which will see some 550 people from 20 to 25 states attending. “Some will travel from California and I know we have several from our Las Vegas chapter coming,” Hames says. “This is the largest number of attendees we’ve had in the last ten years!”
Hames says that about half of the conference-goers are regulars. They enjoy seeing friends at the annual event and the hospitality suite allows them to visit at the end of each day as well as taste some of the wines they might have missed while attending educational sessions.
“The other half are people who decide to attend conferences when they are close to their homes. This is why we move the conference around the country, to give all members an opportunity to attend our National Conference,” Hames adds.
Visitors will also have some down time. “We invite and encourage attendees to spend their free time exploring Cabarrus County in hopes they’ll make new memories here and want to return with their families and friends,” Carpenter says.
The CVB has developed a “winetinerary” for just such an occasion, with six stops at various points in the county.
Stop 1 is Cougar Run Winery, on Church Street in Concord, owned and operated by Tom and Deb Filkins. As a retailer of winemaking equipment and supplies, it also makes wines in small batches and offers tours for up to ten people at a time.
Stop 2 is Chocolatier Barrucand, at the corner of Union Street and Cabarrus Avenue. Chefs Jean Luc and Ann Marie Barrucand are well known for their more than 100 varieties of quality chocolate, pastries, desserts and cakes. They also offer various wines by the glass, bottle or flight (“wine samples intended to be tasted together for the purpose of comparison”).
Stop 3 is Union Street Bistro, in downtown Concord. Conference visitors are invited to enjoy a drink from the Bistro’s wine bar to accompany a meal of filet mignon, cedar plank grilled salmon or Tuscan chicken, among others. They’ll find the atmosphere both elegant and relaxing.
Stop 4 is Rocky River Vineyards, located on rural and picturesque Reed Mine Road in Midland. Growing Muscadine grapes on its 45 acres since 2003, visitors may indulge in a tasting of wines that include – besides several Muscadine varieties – Chardonnay, Riesling, Moscato and Niagara.
Stop 5 is Reed Gold Mine, also located on Reed Mine Road in Midland. Visitors are welcome to check out the underground mine tunnels where the first U.S. gold was discovered, and pan for gold themselves.
Stop 6, and the last stop on the winetinerary, is BREW. Owner Tina Hanson renovated an old home near the corner of Main Street and Dale Earnhardt Boulevard in Kannapolis, pairing entree´s like prime rib, shrimp scampi or smothered chicken with boutique wines. Its retail store – Vino Hops – is now housed within BREW, offering wine tastings and a wide variety of labels for sale.
While the economic impact of the AWS Conference won’t be known fully until after the event, expenditures on hotel rooms, food, and visits to Cabarrus County wineries and attractions are expected to total more than $300,000. As the CVB points out, visitor spending in the community totaled $371.87 million in 2013 and generated $27.36 million in state and local tax revenues.
“Attendees will get an appreciation for what the area offers, and a number of them will return on their own or with friends for future visits,” Hames adds. “It’s important for the local area to make a good impression and this is one of the things the Cabarrus County CVB has helped us with. We want people to go home impressed by the hospitality and friendliness of the local people and businesses so they are glad we located a conference there and want to come back.”
Cabarrus Concord Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau Reed Gold Mine American Wine Society Bruton Smith Boulevard Cougar Run Winery Embassy Suites Golf Resort & Spa John Hames North Carolina BBQ Rocky River Vineyards Where Racing Lives winetinerary