“You need at least a year and a half to put together a conference. But you should really consider two years as a minimum”.

That was the one piece of advice we heard time and time again after beginning our labour of organizing MUST – Fermenting Ideas, a new archetype for a wine summit created to discuss the future while bringing together the whole wine industry. People were very sceptical that we could organize such an event, invite such prominent speakers, convince sponsors and sell out a new, 500-person conference in less than a year.

At one moment someone very influent in the wine trade told me that he would be impressed if I could get three of the intended speakers on the list I showed him before we went live. In the end he was humble enough to acknowledge our accomplishment when he realized we had managed to enrol all twenty speakers we were aiming for at our very first 2017 wine summit.

It’s refreshing to look back on how it all started almost as a joke, sharing a bottle of Madeira wine with my partner. Oh well, to be absolutely honest we ended up sharing two bottles of Madeira: a lovely 10 years old Sercial followed by an inspiring 20 years old Malmsey to wrap up our thoughts and fearless ideas. Both I and my partner, Paulo Salvador, wanted to come up with something new and engaging, a get together of the wine industry that would go beyond the usual staple of wine presentations and innocuous lectures.

We wanted MUST-Fermenting Ideas to be much more than just an international wine summit that would attract professionals and wine enthusiasts from all over the world. We wanted to discuss the wine industry in a variety of different perspectives on topics that we see as critical to the future of the wine world. Since the very first time we wanted to cover a broad range of the industry activity including wine marketing and market development, wine e-commerce, business management and strategic planning, climate change issues, emerging wine countries, natural wines, wine tourism, and viticulture.

In our busy schedules we, as wine professionals, don’t always have the opportunity and often forget the importance of being in a live face-to-face setting with others from the international wine scene. We know that debating ideas always results in better knowledge and more skilful decisions. MUST – Fermenting Ideas would offer this opportunity to share new ideas and discuss new wine trends with fellow professionals.

That is why we were adamant to guarantee that topics of presentations were satisfactorily eclectic, covering to a large degree the international wine business métiers. No matter your interests in wine, being it Natural wine or the status of English sparkling wines; what tourism does to wine regions or how to adjust to wine tourism, the key point was that all of these questions could be answered and debated at MUST – Fermenting Ideas.

We wanted to place our wine summit at the forefront of the wine industry so that MUST – Fermenting Ideas could become way more than just another event. We wanted it to become inspirational and enlightening, while also promoting it as an ‘experience’. We wanted visitors and speakers to come and instigate thoughts, develop ideas while taking time to grab an abundance of networking and building business opportunities. And that they would also leave having had a fun yet productive three jam-packed days.

At the end, even with less than nine months to organize and build such a complex event from scratch, with more than a few late nights and the support of a lot of people to whom we are eternally grateful, we succeeded – not without making a few mistakes along the way. We know a few other will happen as we are setting MUST – Fermenting Ideas 2018 – but hopefully we will be committing new missteps while we forge ahead, not repeating same mistakes.

Rui Falcão and Paulo Salvador speaking at the opening ceremony of MUST – Fermenting Ideas 2017

The logic behind MUST – Fermenting Ideas

From the early days, we envisioned our summit as a strategic way to bring different perspectives within a system to talk about the big picture and the big questions. We invited a group of mission-critical people to the summit for a mountaintop experience that in time will change our industry in significant ways.

We felt the wine world needed to discuss complex issues and understand some of the major changes lying ahead. We wanted to convene the leaders of our industry as well as internal and external stakeholders to offer provocative and multidisciplinary perspectives. Above all, we wanted to instigate ideas, brainstorm and set off discussions. That’s why we set aside a minimum of 15 minutes of Q&A per presentation so that attendees could ask questions and stir up discussions.

Every presentation had more of a workshop feel rather than just a muted listening to someone else’s perspective.

While summits create a shared sense of the opportunities for leadership and change, they are more likely to open up issues than resolve them. A good summit generates new thinking and many next steps. A successful one can produce a range of outcomes. That is our main goal. That is why we invite provocative ideas, facilitate dialogue, encourage breakthrough thinking and celebrate a shared vision for new opportunities.

We gathered experts that could cover all angles and most of the challenges facing the wine sector – scientific researchers, viticulture theorists, master sommeliers, editors, producers, marketers, critics, and winegrowers to hold forth on the future of the wine world.

At our wine summit we had presentations on all sorts of trends, from the rise of China as a wine-drinking culture and a wine-producing nation to the new ways that Millennials are communicating with each other about what they’re drinking; from a debate on whether English bubbly will ever win out over Champagne, to the burgeoning fashion for natural wines; from the craze and opportunity for online sales to the obsession with obscure grape varieties.

For instance, José Vouillamoz, one of the leading grape scientists involved in research of the DNA of individual grape varieties, submitted an amazing presentation on how we are missing old but unknown varieties that might come back in the near future. Who knows, maybe we can even understand how some of these varieties could change the world wine scene in both the short and the long-term.

Or Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, who is a strong proponent of wines made from typically unknown indigenous grape varieties reporting on their potential for the success of wine regions. Also, Geoff Kruth MS who, as president of GuildSomm (with nearly 12,000 members and the most visited website for MS and MW student programme), knows exactly where the difficulties and the demands of the professional wine community lie.

Not to mention Decanter “man of the year” Paul Symington, natural wine’s champion Alice Feiring or scientific author Jamie Goode, both coming up with captivating presentations with different perspectives on the natural wine movement.

Michelle Bouffard gave us a different view on Canada as a wine country, an emerging wine nation that is mostly recognized by its Ice Wine but that goes way beyond that old cliché. Felicity Carter (Meininger’s Wine Business editor), Natalia Velikova (Associate Professor at Texas Tech University) and Mariette du Toit-Helmbold (one of most relevant authorities on Wine Tourism and mentor of South Africa’s Cape Town wine tourism strategy) did analyse the effects of tourism on wine producing regions: its good side and its dangerous side effects. Lulie Halstead expounded upon on how to address Millennial demands, whilst the always striking and educated Victor de la Serna delivered a welcome back presentation to indigenous varieties after the imminent danger with loss of character from international grape varieties.

Stephen Li gave the attendees a thorough account of the impressive variety of terroirs to be found in the winegrowing regions of China whereas Huiqin Ma (professor at China Agricultural University) gave an inspiring and eye-opening lecture on why and how is Asia redefining wine styles in the world. Cathy Huyghe (founder of Enolytics) focused on wine marketing, innovative ways to promote and sell wines online along with Nicholas Oakes (Wine-Searcher) presentation on data mining. Matthew Jukes gave us a measure of the importance of English sparkling wine comparing it with Champagne in a showdown of how climate change can change the game to classical wine regions. Paz Levinson talked about what it takes to win at sommelier competitions while Rui Falcão made his presentation on Madeira wine, something truly something out of this world.

What we can expect from MUST – Fermenting Ideas 2018

What we will be drinking in the year 2050 is not only dependent upon the dictates of fashion but also determined at least as much by climate change, globalization and technical innovations. Climatic changes are already stirring up the world of wine, demanding that adjustments be made in matters of viticulture and winemaking. How might the character of certain winegrowing regions change, and will the familiar identities of some wine production areas undergo significant metamorphoses? Trends change more quickly than ever nowadays, constantly vying for attention. Which ones ought we to follow? This is a significant question for wine merchants and sommeliers – and for winegrowers one of existential importance.

MUST – Fermenting Ideas questions some of these and other serious issues our industry faces. You will find issues and discussions as diverse as wine counterfeit, clay amphora wines of the Alentejo, high altitude vineyards, wine education organisations, wine tourism, traditional media, wine and internet data or wine communication.

Just as last year we are very aware that if MUST – Fermenting Ideas is going to be successful we have to secure top-notch speakers. That’s why we came up with such an amazing line-up of speakers as Alberto Antonini, Charles Spence, Debra Meiburg, Felicity Carter, Frank Cornelissen, Gerard Basset, Heini Zachariassen, Laura Catena, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, Maureen Downey, Michel Bettane, Robert Joseph, Rui Falcão and Willi Klinger, along with three more names to be announced soon.

MUST – Fermenting Ideas lounge area in 2017

An interesting and central aspect of the organisation we want to keep for 2018 is a huge living room carved out of the vast area as one enters the venue. The huge area with a carefully selected and exquisite decor has a fair amount of tables, sofas and chill out spaces to serve lunch and two coffee breaks throughout the day with plenty of space to sit down comfortably during both the shorter and longer breaks. All participants gather in this space, including speakers, press and attendees.

Different settings and atmospheres were created in our living room so that participants can engage in a private meeting, a louder chat, a convivial conversation or a hassle-free meal. In this common space, we will have eight wine stands by our sponsors pouring multiple wines for the participants to taste at anytime from 9am to 6pm during the breaks.

After 6pm, our guests are invited to a sunset tasting by the sea at an ancient fort overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The construction of this Fortress dates back to the 17th century. The Fort was part of the coastal line defence fortifications built to defend Lisbon from invasions. Its romantic sighting and view of the ocean makes it the perfect spot for our sunset tasting. From 6pm up to 9pm, our guests can taste wines from nearly 80 producers at an outstanding venue.

To check the programme, enrol and learn more about MUST – Fermenting Ideas please consult our website at www.mustfermentingideas.com.

Rui Falcão