Wow! After months of planning and endless detail the U.S. Drinks Conference 2009 was a great success that exceeded even my optimistic hopes. We had SRO both days with some 151 attendees from 11 countries, 32 speakers on nine separate panel discussions. We’re still sorting through the eval forms and I’ll post pix next week, but the anecdotal feedback we got was “absolutely fantastic.”

Our goal was to focus the conference on practical information that attendees could put to use right away. Some folks came away with an improved understanding the complicated three-tier system from the mouths of the regulatory folks who write the rules, and some with new ideas on how to work with on and off premise operators. Wine folks got to hear some fascinating dialog and different perspectives from giant (Pernod Ricard…Jeanne Eliades), medium (Winebow…Leonardo LoCascio) and small/new (Darcy and Huber selections…Carlo Huber). The spirits panel provided an earful of great insights from two startups who are leveraging innovation and creativity to compete with big budget brands (St. Germain and Leblon). And the internet panel staffed by Paul Mabray, Derek Bromley and Peter Spande helped put perspecitive and flesh on the bones with practical examples of how social media marketing is being used in the industry.

We did of course start the morning off with some traditional presentations…John Beaudette on market entry options and economics, and Jeff Grindrod and Mike Ginley gave a data packed overview of the U.S. market structure for Wine, Beer and Spirits. And I gave a speech on budget allocations and Social Media Marketing that engendered a whole lot of interest, questions and follow up requests.

Interestingly, we also got requests from some country trade associations to see if we’re interested in reprising a shortened travel version of the conference to present to their producers…Madrid and Santiago look interesting.

We also had some meetings with prospective clients including a Turkish wine producer, a Dutch company interested in reintroducing a one time big volume brand, and a new-to-the-industry Peruvian Pisco producer introduced to us by my friend Johnny Schuler.

For those of you who attended…thanks, and for those on the fence, you definitely should plan on coming next year. Yes, we’re going to be holding it again in 2010, probably in NY, date TBD.