Meet the Organizer Extraordinaire of the Boston Wine Expo
Reta Martin makes sure hundreds of international winemakers (and their wines) arrive every year to Boston's largest wine show at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center.
On President’s Day weekend, ten thousand attendees will surge into Boston’s Seaport District for the Boston Wine Expo, now in its 25th year at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. Enthusiasts and members of the wine trade go to sniff, swirl and taste nearly 1,800 wines, poured by more than 200 wineries from all over the globe. They also drop by to catch demos by celebrity chefs and take a seminar or two, with proceeds benefitting Tufts Medical Center’s summer camp for children with disabilities.
Producing Boston’s largest annual wine event is no small feat, but Reta Martin makes it look easy. Her secret is building one relationship at a time.
If you were to walk into the cavernous exhibit hall that houses the Expo’s Grand Tasting, you would see Martin, senior sales manager at the hotel, greeting exhibitors as they set up. She knows them all. “My job is to build and create relationships with wineries and other exhibitors,” she explains, saying it’s a year-round endeavor that brings hundreds of vintners, vendors and their wares to the event. It’s a job she has done since 2008.
Martin loves to meet winemakers face to face, especially those who travel to the event from afar. “It’s fun to meet each other, especially if we only talked by phone or email,” she enthuses. With producers coming from 15 countries, her international roster of contacts is always growing. In the spring, she’ll visit Verona to check out Vinitaly, one of the world’s largest conventions for the international wine trade. She also maintains a busy domestic travel schedule, attending wine shows, wineries and trade events in other states.
Being in this role — part-ringmaster, part-liaison to Old World and New World winemakers — was not something that Martin anticipated when she took cooking courses in high school, and later attended culinary school in Danvers. But this Lexington native had a notion she would continue working in food, even after realizing she wanted a change from working in restaurant kitchens.
“I grew up in a family where we talked about what we were going to eat for lunch and dinner at breakfast,” she says. She remembers her mother’s baking, and loves her father’s signature recipe for pork chops with vinegar-marinated peppers, a condiment from his part-Italian heritage. He kept those pickles in a special crock. Appreciating wine came later.
“Nobody was into wine or winemaking,” she says of family members, although she remembers old-school jugs of Chianti nestled in wicker baskets and occasional bottles of Asti spumante. She did coursework at the Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center at Boston University, undertook a program offered by a local wine distributor, then earned a CSW, a Certified Specialist of Wine. Nowadays, you can find her at wine tastings around town, keeping her palate sharp, and making more contacts in the process.
With the Expo about a month away, it’s a time of “many balls in the air,” as she likes to say. Some wineries are still deciding whether to exhibit at the show. Recently, she chatted with winery reps in Romania. If they decide to participate and eventually market their wines in Massachusetts, they will have Martin to thank for helping them get in front of importers and distributors interested in their pours.
Martin likes to share behind-the-scenes insights. For example, if you imagine that the Seaport Hotel’s warehouse is currently filling up with crates and pallets of wine, Martin will correct that notion. “Just about all of the wine arrives on the Friday before the show,” she says, made possible by the Seaport’s “well-oiled machine,” which utilizes state distributors for domestic wines and a logistics partner for wines coming from abroad.
Asked what gives her the greatest satisfaction, Martin doesn’t hesitate. “It’s the people I meet, all from different backgrounds,” she says. “People are really passionate about their wine and really want to tell you what their wine is all about. I’ve developed a lot of really great friendships.”
The Boston Wine Expo 2016 will be held on President’s Day weekend, Feb. 13 and 14, at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. For event information and grand tasting tickets ($99 per person for Saturday, $89 for Sunday, $149 for a weekend pass), visit wine-expos.com.