Adelaide Convention Centre’s decision to rebrand and ratchet up the visitor experience has paid off in more than one way.

The event drew 180 exhibitors and nearly 10,000 visitors over the two-and-a-half days (February 26 – 28). Both tallies were records, although they represented only a moderate, calculated increase in each group.

“The Festival is now a mature event and a fixture for local and interstate wine and food lovers, but we can’t afford for it to become ‘aged’,” the Centre’s Chief Executive, Alec Gilbert, said this week.

“We’re very attuned to the feedback we seek at, and after, each event. It’s clear that our main market – serious wine drinkers and foodies – want to learn from the producers, try new things and deepen their knowledge.

“So we gave them more immersive experiences – upped the number of ‘long table’ degustation lunches from two to five – and they all sold out. It was pretty much the same story with our seven master classes.”

The rebranding not only resulted in a tweaked name and fresh logo but a move away from what Alec described as ‘an earthy, country feel’ to ‘a more urban, arty style’.

Unlike the exhibitors, who this year travelled from 15 distinct wine regions to show their wares, most of the guests are city people, whether they’re from Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane or cities overseas.

“The rebranding also reflects the fact that we now promote all producers – of wine, beer and specialist food,” said Alec. “This year we had 11 breweries, so we built them a beer garden.”

The event didn’t spill into the new West Building because other conference business took precedence, but the exhibitions team is satisfied it has reached capacity anyway. More growth at this stage might compromise the visitor experience.

“It’s clear that Friday attracts the corporates and after-work crowd, Saturday’s audience tends to be younger, and Sunday is more the preserve of the slightly older, more serious imbibers who come to talk to the producers, learn and buy” Alec said.

“Interestingly, because Friday has traditionally been our quietest day, we decided to drop the entrance price from $33 to $25, and we doubled our traffic.”

In 2015, the event, then known as the Cellar Door Wine Festival, was elevated to the SA Tourism Hall of Fame, having won the Festivals and Events category for three consecutive years.

“Promoting tourism to the regions is still one of its raisons d’etre,” said Alec. “One couple from Canada saw our website, built their trip to Adelaide around the festival, came for the three days, booked for just about everything, and then extended their stay in South Australia for two weeks so they could head out to the regions. How good would that story sound in a tourism award submission?

“The festival is six years old. It’s a half-million-dollar event and these days we treat it like a regular conference and exhibition – except that it’s ours and it’s making a valuable contribution to one of our key industries.

“To think that in 2011 it was just an experiment in a trough period…”