The biggest news to come out of Vinexpo 2019 was not what was happening in Bordeaux last week, but what it intends to do in the future to keep it fresh, relevant and dynamic for ever demanding producers, brands owners and buyers. Based on the reduced size of its latest Bordeaux edition it is going to be a long process. But the announcement it is to merge and hold a joint fair with Wine Paris in February, rather than sticking with doing one on its own, was warmly welcomed as the first step in the right direction. Richard Siddle reports back from Vinexpo on why its new chief executive Rudolphe Lameyse was in bullish mood and confident about its future.
Vinexpo is most definitely at a crossroads in its near 40 year history. But with five shows around the world in 12 months it is certainly doing what it can to re-invent itself for the modern wine and spirits industry.
It was all change at last week’s Vinexpo exhibition in Bordeaux – arguably its most important show out of all the previous 18 editions that had gone before it, since it was first launched in 1981.
It might seem strange to be questioning an event that is about to enter its fourth decade, but there is no denying that Vinexpo – at least its Bordeaux show – is under great pressure to change and re-invent itself if it is to keep its position as one of the blue riband events in the wine calendar. Well it’s certainly trying.
This was, after all, the first time the show has been held in May, and early May at that, rather than its traditional home in the middle of June. The 2017 heat wave that made the last show, at times, close to unbearable, was enough to convince the then Vinexpo chief executive, Guillaume Deglise, to move the entire event a month earlier. That was the first change in 2019.
The second was Deglise himself. Following his departure from Vinexpo last year he was back as an exhibitor in 2019 in his new role heading up Bichot in Burgundy. Showing support for a show that he himself had such a big positive influence over during the five years he was in charge. Particularly around the strategic alliances it has forged with businesses like China’s online giant, Alibaba, and the big uplift in the quality of the content, conferences, seminars and debates there are now at the show.
In his place was Rodolphe Lameyse, the first Vinexpo chief executive, to be recruited from outside the wine and spirits industry. Instead Lameyse’s experience comes directly from running international trade shows. Which considering the job in hand is to steer a global wine show through the most turbulent times in its history has to be another step in the the right decision.
The fact one of the first big decisions he has made is to agree a collaboration with Wine Paris to host a joint show in Paris in February 2020, rather than do a separate Vinexpo in the same city in January could well turn out to be one of his most important during his tenure. It was certainly hugely welcomed by exhibitors and visitors alike in Bordeaux.
What was particularly important to the producers and buyers I spoke to was that it was a big step in demonstrating the powers that be at Vinexpo are listening, and are willing to change their business model and strategy to suit the needs of their customers. Lameyse was at pains to point out all week that as a newcomer to the sector he is well placed to take more of a neutral, independent view of what needs to be done. To be open, frank and honest about some of its past failings, and realise it needs to dramatically change and fast.
As he told The Buyer before the show: “The market is no more waiting for Vinexpo only, they have many alternatives and many ‘direct-to-market events’. Vinexpo needs to expand its footprint and its capability to bring our clients and partners closer to their client needs.”
He said it was not just a case of hosting trade shows any more but “disrupting the traditional meeting point between producers and buyers” Which is why we can expect to see more events like its Vinexpo Explorer initiative that invites 100 key buyers around the world to visit key wine regions – like Beaujolais in September. Lameyse sees this as a “perfect example” of what the new Vinexpo should be doing to “bring people together”.
Crucially Lameyse’s trade show experience has not been too far away from wine and spirits in that he has most recently been in charge of Food & Hotel Asia for the last six years. A job that was based in Singapore giving him on the ground experience of running trade shows across Asia and into China. All key factors in the turnaround story for Vinexpo.
Up for the challenge
He might be from outside wine, but he is very aware of what Vinexpo’s key challenges are. Particularly in Europe where ProWein has emerged over the last five to seven years as strategically the most important trade fair – arguably in the world.
As he told The Buyer: “Devising a new strategy is one thing, ensuring its delivery is the real challenge. This was probably what attracted me the most to the role – because it’s a very big challenge.
There was arguably not a lot that Vinexpo could have done to stop the rise of ProWein. Or at least before it was too late. ProWein is simply in the right place at the right time. March is when a lot of the world of wine is ready and open for doing business. The European harvests for the year before have all bedded in and the New World is either in or just coming out of their vintage with a whole year’s volume of wine to sell. ProWein also has the infrastructure at Messe Dusseldorf to expand and grow across its 20 plus modern exhibition halls.
Vinexpo in the early summer, in the restricted confines of the ageing exhibition centre in Bordeaux, has always had a different feel and purpose. For years it had been able to play off its reputation as an exhibition that was more for show, fine wine and flag waving, in the world capital of wine in Bordeaux. Particularly at a time when ProWein was operating far more at the commercial, mainstream end of the market.
We now live in a very different international wine market. It has in the last 10 years become a true global industry now that Asia, China, the US and to some degree, Russia have all opened their doors for imported wine.
With it has come the enormous quality improvements in shipping wine in bulk and bottling it in market. Not only saving money, but crucially it has, in international trade show terms, switched the balance of power away from a trade show that was predominantly about French, Bordeaux and Old World fine wine, to the big commercial all rounder with already a proven track record as the show to do business at and shift large volumes of commercially priced wine.
Now Lameyse is not going to stop that momentum or change the way the world of wine now does business. But he can make sure Vinexpo is doing all it can do to remain relevant and important to all the producers and buyers that still see it as a vital show to attend. After all there were said to be close to 50,000 visitors at this week’s show with buyers and exhibitors coming from 40 plus countries.
How to remain relevant
It appears he is looking to do this in a number of ways:
- firstly build on what Deglise was getting right. Make Vinexpo the centre of wine debate with a series of agenda setting conferences and symposiums. Last week saw two days of the show dedicated to climate change and e-commerce featuring illustrious speakers from all over the world. We can expect future shows to have an even bigger focus on the conference, symposium side, an area it can certainly steal a march on ProWein.
- Make Vinexpo even more of a global brand. The Wine Paris deal is definitely a step in the right direction and the next 12 months will see it host events in New York, Shanghai, Paris and Hong Kong. Lameyse again stressed last week that the way forward might be for smaller, more focused events in the countries and cities rather than the world of rely to up sticks and always come to Bordeaux.
- Put the focus on quality, excellence and offering a trade show experience that no-one else can match. Lameyse has talked about introducing a bigger focus on data, research, the consumer and tourism at future Vinexpo events. Tourism, in particular, looks to be an area with big potential, but does that mean making the show more relevant to the travel industry and tour operators?
- All areas where Vinexpo can go to for different exhibitors and not just rely on what is clearly declining revenues from straight producer stands.
There are clearly a number of other factors at play. One of which is when Vinexpo Bordeaux is actually held. Lameyse, rather surprisingly, was openly critical of the decision to move the show to May, calling it out for not being brave enough. There has been a lot of talk about moving the show to in and around the en primeurs in Bordeaux in the spring, which certainly would be brave. But would it be wise moving it even closer to ProWein and only a matter of weeks after Wine Paris?
Vinexpo has always had its own sense of confidence, that in its pre-Deglise days had more than bordered on arrogance. Which was responsible for losing a lot of support from both producers and buyers, particularly the major New World countries of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. It is only natural that it is going to take a while to get its own rejuvenated mojo back. But the signs from Bordeaux last week were certainly positive that this is a show that knows it has to change, adapt and move fast to survive and is intent on doing so.
- This is an adapted article to one that appeared on VINEX, the online trading site for bottled and bulk wine.