London Wine Fair case study: How Wines of Hungary made its mark

As a first time exhibitor at London Wine Fair how do you go about catching people’s attention? With so many stands, masterclasses and debates taking place many visitors only have time to go and see existing partners never mind find something new. But for Wines of Hungary’s Lilla O’Connor careful planning and understanding what UK buyers are looking for really helped its producers stand out.

As a first time exhibitor at London Wine Fair how do you go about catching people’s attention? With so many stands, masterclasses and debates taking place many visitors only have time to go and see existing partners never mind find something new. But for Wines of Hungary’s Lilla O’Connor careful planning and understanding what UK buyers are looking for really helped its producers stand out.

mm By June 8, 2017

There is no point taking a stand at the London Wine Fair and waiting for buyers to come to you. To make it a success you have to work the room, plan, and make sure your name is on buyers list to see, says Wines of Hungary’s Lilla O’Connor.

How did you find the London Wine Fair?

It wasn’t our first trade exhibition, neither was it in any way different in terms of the usual industry representatives and participants we got to see, yet, we can truly say that the 2017 LWF has given us more than any other wine fair we have ever done so far. This year we have been working with the Hungarian Tourism Agency to plan some masterclasses, who have done an incredible job hosting the big Hungarian stand downstairs at LWF and put on a great deal of wine education.

In what way?

We thought long and hard whilst planning the masterclasses and to ensure we had a wine selection on offer that would really help showcase what our producers are doing.

Caroline Gilby MW presenting one of the carefully targeted masterclasses at LWF
Caroline Gilby MW presenting one of the carefully targeted masterclasses on the Hungarian Tourism Agency stand at LWF.

It was, of course, a massive bonus to have the tireless support of three world-famous MWs, Caroline Gilby, Elizabeth Gabay and Peter McCombie and the work they did presenting masterclasses both at the Hungarian Tourism Agency’s stand and the Wines of Hungary stand upstairs.

We are also very grateful to John Szabo MS for his support at the show and for his ingenious  #Volcanicwines research and relentless support for the #Govolcanic project. John held two fascinating masterclasses at the Hungarian Tourism Agency’s stand downstairs.

It was an unbelievably intense and inspiring three days, but well worth it for as well as seeing great friends such as Steven Spurrier we were also able to talk to big and small importers, and saw a number of key buyers, particularly from the on-trade including the Ritz, Selfridges, Boutinot, Corney & Barrow, Alliance Wine.

What specifically did you learn from the trade reaction to your wines?

It was so good to see the response from sommeliers who all highlighted the food-matching possibilities of Hungarian wines. It really helped reinforce to our prouducers that the UK is a key export market. So thanks to everyone you gave us your support and time to come to the stand.

Which particular wines did you focus on and how were they received?
We took quite a selection of Furmint from obvious places like Tokaj, but also from the not so obvious and not so technically Hungarian Transylvania. The variety is attracting a lot of attention and proved so at the show. We also looked to highlight other different styles of wine from Hungary like Harslevelu, some spicy Kekfrankos from Eger or the fiery Cabernet Francs or Cabernet Franc based blends from Villany.

How do you follow up such an event?

We met hundreds of people over the three days, so have a lot of following up to do! The fair, though, was also an opportunity to consolidate some existing contacts as well as meet some very interesting new trade and press visitors. But yes it is one thing having a successful show, the key part is how we follow up with all those that expressed a real interest in our wines. That will be our focus in the coming weeks.

What do you hope commercially to come out of it?

Ultimately it is all about selling more Hungarian wines and to do that we need to find good homes for all the producers that were exhibiting at LWF. Once we have done that we can start to work with the producers who are on my waiting list to come to the UK.  

What would be a good success for you in terms of listings and sales?

Steven Spurrier was one of many leading wine critics that Lilla O'Connor personally invited to come and taste
Steven Spurrier was one of many leading wine critics that Lilla O’Connor personally invited to come and taste

Well, we did a deal for 100,000 bottles before the fair for one of the wineries. I am hoping to find good importers and on-trade sales for all seven growers we work with. Based on the positive feedback we received I am confident we can achieve that.

I see selling wine like building a house: brick by brick. It is about having the right products and finding the right place for them in the trade. I like to think that with my three years experience working in the UK, the trade and press now see me as a  key reference for Hungarian wines. Therefore my continued support is always part of the deals I make with customers who buy from the producers I represent. Beyond that education about our native grapes and our regions is a big part of my job.

Elizabeth Gabay MW, Hungarian wine consultant, shares her thoughts on the fair

Elizabeth Gabay MW is one of three MWs working with Wines of Hungary including Peter McCombie and Caroline Gilby
Elizabeth Gabay MW is one of three MWs working with Wines of Hungary including Peter McCombie and Caroline Gilby

What response did you see for the Hungarian wines on show?

The thing that struck me most about the Hungarian presence at the London Wine Fair, was not just that there was the main Hungarian wine stand, but that the were were a number of Hungarian wines cropping up on other stands all over the fair from the beautifully crafted small estates upstairs on the Esoterica to the large I Heart Hungarian wine range from Copestick Murray.

This reflects not only the large variety of price points from entry level to top end cru wines, but also the range of styles from crisp summery whites and rosés, to more complex whites, reds and sillers to, of course, the amazing sweet wines of Tokaj. Sweet Tokaj is still the main attraction, but perseverance to show the range of quality wines in other styles and from other regions is paying off.

I was really impressed with the range of rosés in the masterclass – as was the full house audience. Crisp, fresh, fruity with good terroir character – really high quality. The aromatic whites also seemed a surprise to many who tasted it – not as aromatic as some wines which made them very approachable – and delightfully different for summer drinking. Kékfrankos and Kadarka continued to star amongst the red wines.

And the fair as a whole? 

The London Wine Fair was a lot smaller than in past years – but for me it had an amazing atmosphere which maybe is something to work on further. The vast international fairs are just so big it is impossible to do everything – but this fair had a wonderfully friendly atmosphere with a great mix of big shippers, independents and masterclasses with a rich variety of countries and wine styles. My biggest criticism was the far end of the hall – both upstairs and downstairs was dead – everything focused near the front and middle and I think a better integration of big and little producers would have been good.

If you would like to know more about Wines of Hungary and importing Hungarian wines then contact Lilla O’Connor at lilla@winehungary.co.uk.

  • Main picture the Hungarian Tourism Agency and Wines of Hungary teams at LWF.

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