It’s becoming a tradition. Come June, the summer arrives in Cascais and so do hundreds of wine experts from all over who flock to the sunny town west of Lisbon. The reason? MUST – Fermenting Ideas, a gathering of the industry’s top minds to discuss the future of wine over the course of three days.

Six months away from another edition, we caught up with MUST co-founder Rui Falcão who took us on a journey behind the scenes, detailing what goes into curating a world-class wine summit.

MUST – Fermenting Ideas became a top wine industry conference from the get-go. As you plan the 3rd edition, could you share how you’ve accomplished that? Is there a secret formula?

Rui Falcão: I’ve come to realize there are three keys to success with organizing a conference – agenda, curation and experience. It’s about speakers and content overall, and getting someone who is a subject matter expert. How you curate and position them is also important, in addition to how you put the agenda together. We structure our agenda to make sure it flows as one product. It’s not just a list full of all-star speakers. Orchestrating the whole thing takes quite a bit of planning.
The last part is creating the experience as one event. It’s not about expensive venues, or impressing people with décor or fancy food. We try to set it up so there are smaller events and experiences within the larger event where people can gather, network and talk.

So those are the best practices. What about what not to do?

RF: For large-scale events, like wine conferences, it’s hard to find speakers without a particular theme. When sourcing content, my personal no-gos are: company and marketing presentations. One should aim to find speakers who are passionate about a certain topic and are able to transmit that passion to others.

How do you get such an exclusive line-up of speakers?

RF: I start with a theme and define a mindset for that. Then I define a broad spectrum and generate an A-list of speakers and a back-up list. Finally, I contact them. In the end it comes down to research, research, research. The process is made up of 3 steps: (1) I follow trends in technology, science and trade, and look for social, environmental or other kind of problems that are arising. (2) I get ideas from our community and (3) I try to never forget the WOW factor (it is as much theatrics as it is intellectual); I look for something or someone from outside the wine sector that will challenge people’s mind.

I imagine it’s not an easy task…

RF: It’s a tough process and sometimes a very slow one, so we have to be prepared not to see results right away. But sometimes one hour spent on a single Skype call and deep conversation brings so much more to the event than one hour multitasking on so many different small things at once. We try to create relationships, making sure we co-curate with people outside of our team who are in tune with new ideas. We always start with a topic, then a speaker. The speaker has always been the last step.

What have you learned from the speaker selection process at MUST?

RF: What I have learned from the speaker selection process is that we need to take chances. Insist on benchmarks being met: outlines, complete talks, slides. A big name does not guarantee a great talk. You need to have a clear idea of what you want your speaker to talk about and guide them through the draft of their talk. Usually, a “newbie” speaker will give a great talk as they are paying attention to the feedback given to them. We have strict criteria for speakers. They must be active practitioners, they must be engaging, and they must be recognized leaders in their own field of expertise. It needs to be someone who has done something in the past so we can learn from their case studies. I need to know the content they bring in will be great.

Can someone volunteer to be a speaker?

RF: I get requests almost daily, mostly from PR agents helping someone become a professional keynote speaker. That’s not someone I really want at my conference. A word of advice: if you’re trying to pitch yourself as a conference speaker, don’t just ask “Are you still accepting speakers at your conference?” I get that all the time. Instead, say something like “I was a speaker at X conference and my video was rated top three.” A pitch along those lines will at least spark some interest. Give the organizer some content to work with because it’ll make you stand out.

MUST – Fermenting Ideas 2019 will take place in Cascais, Portugal on June 26th through 28th. The list of speakers confirmed so far includes Eric Asimov (chief wine critic at The New York Times), Gaia Gaja (Gaja Winery brand ambassador), Isabelle Legeron (RAW Wine, consultant, wine journalist and MW), Rodrigo Sepúlveda-Schulz (co-founder & managing partner at Expon Capital), Pedro Parra (wine terroir consultant) and Felicity Carter (editor in chief of Meininger’s WIB). To join them at the wine summit, purchase your ticket here.

Pictured in the cover photo: André Magalhães, Felicity Carter, Debra Meiburg, Robert Joseph and Willi Klinger in a discussion panel at MUST – Fermenting Ideas 2018.