On one of Washington's warmest, driest, most beautiful weekends, they threw a wine show and the public chose to stay away. If the participants in the International Wine and Food Expo of April 23-25, or anyone thinking of organizing a similar tasting/seminar event, say that once again Washington has proved that it's a lousy venue for wine shows, I'd like to defend this city and you, its wine-drinking residents.

Did you know about the Expo early enough to fit it into your weekend plans? Judging by the turnout, few of you did. And of the few, many would have had to weigh the price of a ticket to each of the seminar and tasting sessions, $25 a throw, against the uncertainty as to whether it was going to be worth it. For all who missed the IWFE at the Sheraton-Washington, I'm sure your time and money were better spent on a picnic with the family.

In summary, the seminars were sloppily coordinated, with some speakers talking down to the audience, others requoting their own works, and one, Sen. Steve Symms (R- Idaho), making a personal political plug that might have sounded wonderful back in Boise, but didn't have a great deal to do with the advertised subject of "wine, trade and legislation." Big names such as Lichine, Waugh and Sichel came and went without being encouraged to stray from their 20 minute speeches and actually give the audience some real value for their $25. Peter Sichel, on "German wines: the original light wines," and Harriet Lembeck, a New York wine authority, on "Don't just swallow--How to taste like the pros," were enjoyable exceptions to the general tedium.

The tastings at the IWFE were better organized than the seminars, thanks in no small measure to the voluntary services of the local Sommelier Society. However, the exhibitors from 18 countries must have been disappointed in the turnout. The original asking fee for a booth was $1,000, to which were added handling costs, travel and accommodation. Was it worth it? Few to whom I spoke thought so.

What went wrong? First, it was organized by the same people who have built the Monterey Festival into a major annual wine event. But they tried to run the IWFE from Monterey, Calif., 3,000 miles away. Either they underestimated their potential audience, or they were badly advised as to who that audience was. No attempt was made to advertise directly to the serious wine drinkers of this city. The people who support wine seminars and tastings are not the congressmen nor the diplomats. They are the private collectors, the newly interested young professionals, the doctors and lawyers and the wine trade itself. If the leading retailers knew nothing about the Expo, it's unlikely that their regular customers would know either.

Perhaps it is the media's responsibility to promote a new event? We would have been delighted had we been better informed ourselves. There was no advance press conference. Press releases appeared the week of the show, too late for publication in many weekend editions of papers and magazines.

What a pity. The show could have been fun for Washington-- and a good promotion for the exhibitors. As it was, it would have been nicer to have been outdoors.