A Behind the Scenes Look at ZAP With Rebecca Robinson

IMG_2431At the end of January the California wine world comes together for the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers festival, affectionately known as ZAP or the Zin Fest. Zinfandel is one of my favorite varietals and I look forward to attending ZAP every year. The 2013 festival kicks off tonight with the must-not-miss (this will be my 7th year going. I plan on attending every year until I die!) Epicuria Night. 50 wineries team up with 50 restaurants and event goers get to go walk around and find the best food and wine pairings. It’s awesome!

Since I love throwing parties, I thought it would be fun to get a better understanding of what it takes to put on ZAP. Today I spoke with Rebecca Robinson, the Executive Director of ZAP and mastermind behind the successful event. Here’s how our conversation went down:

How many years have you planned ZAP?
I’ve been the Executive Director of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers since 1997. The festival has been going on for 22 years, so if my math is correct, I’ve been at it for 16 years!

How has it changed over the years?
The entire wine community has evolved. There are so many different factors: the level of appreciation for wine, the whole country has exploded with an interest in food and wine pairing and wine appreciation and wine eduction. People are much more savvy now and want to learn more. This has made a more interesting and diverse event. Technology has played an incredible role, too. When we first started, we took orders over the phone! We didn’t have a computerized ticketing system, people got tickets in the mail or over the phone. Now, of course, people can purchase tickets online and find all the information online. A challenge for the festival is to provide people with the proper pathway to find what it is they are looking for and customize their experience.  

What is your favorite thing about the event?
The chance to connect with people! It’s the only time of year where we all come together in one place under one umbrella to achieve a common purpose and serve the mission of the organization. ZAP is a non-profit, so we have hundreds of people who work throughout the year and the event brings everyone together. Also, the happiness and enjoyment it brings people as we learn and celebrate the culture and artistry of wine.

What is the most challenging thing about planning an annual event at this capacity?
The bigness of it. The scope is massive. We’ve devised the festival to be four distinct events over three days and there are just layer and layers and layers of details.  

What do you think makes an event successful?
The heart of the event makes it successful. The people who are passionate about the mission of ZAP successfully recognizing the legacy of Zinfandel. You have the winemakers that are committed to the grape and producing world class wines and the public who are very impassioned about that effort and we bring the two sides together.

Last year was the first year ZAP was at the Concourse. Why did you change the location from Fort Mason?
Fort Mason campus is a wonderful location. You walk outside and you see the view, but we had to divide the event into two buildings. The buildings were extrememly drafty and noisy and that’s a challenge when trying to present the story of Zinfandel. We had a great fondness for Fort Mason and didn’t take the move lightly, but at the time we didn’t have a choice. According to Fort Mason, last year they were going to do a renovation, so we had to move. San Francisco is somewhat challenged for live event space, but the Concourse ended up being a great spot. We were able to bring all the wineries into one building, the event is carpeted, and there’s extra space that allows us to enrich the over all experience of the attendee. We’ve developed the Zin kitchen cooking demo area and this is the first year there’s a heritage club in the members lounge where our exclusive members can enjoy wines that are not on the floor.

Tell me a crazy story that happened when planning ZAP.
Well, there have been some stories, but as the event planner, I don’t feel at liberty to talk about them. To be a true genius in event planning is sort of like being a duck that is swimming in a lake. He’s paddling furiously underneath the water, but on top you can’t tell — everything is smooth above the water. That’s all I can say. But we have a great team that works together and that’s the magic of what we do: the logistics of it all and the funny things that happen, you just make adjustments and work as a team and we achieve a really a fantastic result.  

What advice do you give to people who want to host wine events at home?
Wine is approachable and you should look at it as something to have fun with! It’s about learning and sharing and the exploration. It shouldn’t be about this person said that this is the best find, you should find what you love and embrace that.

Do you have any routines or rituals that relate to ZAP?
I have a post-event ritual and it’s something that really brings joy to my heart. It makes it worth while. On Saturday night, I sneak away to a quiet restaurant with some very good friends and have a wonderful, wonderful time drinking wine and eating. We are doing it again this weekend and I am looking very much forward to it.

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