What is Sonoma County to the global wine world? That's what dozens of top international wine buyers, distributors and media will learn around this time next year when they tour the county in the Vinexpo Explorer program that introduces up-and-coming regions.

Vinexpo Explorer was launched this year by Vinexpo, which puts on major annual wine and spirits trade shows in France’s Bordeaux wine region, Hong Kong, Tokyo and soon New York. It is intended to showcase some of the world’s most intriguing emerging wine regions with immersive tastings, tours and panel discussions. Ninety buyers from 31 countries and four journalists attended the first one, held on Sept. 11–12 in Austria. Ninety-five Austrian wineries participated.

“Quite a few deals were being closed in Austria yesterday,” Caroline Shaw, president of the Sonoma County Vintners board of directors and executive vice president of Santa Rosa-based Jackson Family Wines, told the Business Journal on Sept. 13. She observed the inaugural program in Austria.

What separates this program from vintners’ reaching out to buyers at a trade show or when a group visits the county for a tour is the “speed-dating” atmosphere designed into Vinexpo Explorer, Shaw said. And rather than a group coming from a specific country, invitees in this program come from all over the world. In Austria and saw trade buyers sample wines from various regions of the country the first day, then the second day producers and buyers met with those that interested them.

“While we may not think of Sonoma as an emerging market domestically, it is internationally,” Shaw said. The neighboring county to the east — Napa — already has global recognition, she said.

Vinexpo Explorer Sonoma County is set for Sept. 23–25, 2018. The goal is to take the international guests into the vineyard and to the wineries for in-depth education on the unique qualities of Sonoma County, from the key grape varieties, terroir, wine styles and commitment to sustainable practices. Winemakers, growers and trade professionals from the region will share ideas, best practices and personal experiences.

“Through Vinexpo Explorer, we aim to bring attention and focus to regions that have the potential to become international consumer trends,” said Guillaume Deglise, CEO, Vinexpo. “By complementing our established trade fairs in Bordeaux, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Vinexpo Explorer provides a new opportunity for networking and connection within the wine and spirits industry.”

Deglise is set to attend the Sonoma County Vintners annual meeting in January to talk about planning for the 2018 tour, Shaw said.

The inaugural Vinexpo Explorer was co‐organized in partnership with the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.