Out damn spot! It ain’t easy running a China wine fair

Ai ya. The white tablecloth has red wine stains.

Correction: nearly 100 tablecloths, with sponsor logos, feature stains. Pure white tinged Aglianico red.

This is a problem. Vendors used the tablecloths for the first day of the Wine to Asia fair in Shenzhen — and they must be reused tomorrow for the final day. Then again, this is just one of about a thousand or so problems on the minds of the organizers as they stand with staff from the hotel hosting the event and consider the stains.

What to do? What to do? wHaT tO dO!?

Maybe there is a print shop or factory still open that can produce more? (Messages are fired off to check availability.)

Maybe the hotel laundry service can get the stains out? (A test run is underway.)

Maybe the tablecloths can be folded like this? (Someone tries, for the tenth time, to arrange one to hide the stains.)

Even the ballroom’s security guards, eavesdropping until now, get in on the action. One has a friend of a friend that might be able to do the cleaning.

(On a positive note, all those stains are a testament to how much wine was poured and how many people showed up on that first day.)

This is the type of problem fair attendees rarely know about but organizers constantly face, as I saw while hanging out with the Wine to Asia team last November. (I was officially at the fair to help with a class on Marselan.)

What struck me most is how quickly things came together. I arrived in Shenzhen the evening before the fair, checked into the hotel and headed to the ballroom.

At 9:04 PM, just 13 hours before Wine to Asia was set to launch, the ballroom and hall outside still had the remains of a high-tech event held earlier that day. Promotional materials were scattered around. And the leftovers of a buffet stood in the ballroom’s center, with shrimp chilling out on melting ice.

Twelve hours later, after a long night by a crew armed with screwdrivers, hammers, ladders and more, Wine to Asia was ready to go and would soon be full of attendees — in the ballroom tasting wines at individual tables, in the hallway at pavilions for Rioja and for natural wine and in the seminar rooms where a steady stream of classes was scheduled. On the surface, it looked easy. Beneath the surface, it took a resilient team to make it happen.

Think of all the issues that can arise. Vendors unhappy with booth placement. VIPs unhappy about whatever VIPs get unhappy about. A glitchy sound system. A typo on promotional materials that upsets a sponsor. A speaker, or even wines, late for a class. (Should we start now? Let’s pour the wines we already have and then the rest when they arrive.) A fistfight over the importance of Nero d’Avola as a grape. (Kidding). People, some tipsy, some wasted, complaining that the room is too hot, too cold, too humid, too dry, too crowded, too [fill in the blank]. Etc.

Meanwhile, in the staff room, a team of a dozen-plus people quietly efficiently steadfastly kept the trade fair machine oiled, even if it skipped a beat here and there. It’s a bit eerie entering that room from the hustle and bustle of the wine fair itself.

I guess that resilience isn’t surprising when you consider that overcoming hurdles is a lifestyle for these people. Think about how many things had to go right just to reach this point.

From deciding to even hold a fair, including what city and venue, to finding the vendors and sponsors to support it, to creating a vendor map to satisfy as many of those people as possible, to getting all of them and their wines to a room that needed to be converted overnight from another fair, which included putting a nice fresh white tablecloth on each table — wait, what to do about those tablecloths? wHat tO dO!?

Let’s take the cleanest ones and just fold them this way and that way until you can barely see the stain. An hour into the show tomorrow, they will have brand new stains anyway, right? Okay, what’s the next problem to be solved?

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