The Buyer
How Wines Unearthed is a business partner for small producers

How Wines Unearthed is a business partner for small producers

A visit to the London Wine Fair is not complete without some time in the Wines Unearthed section - the part of the show that is dedicated to giving a platform to smaller producers who have yet to find a distribution partner in the UK. But how is this vital part of the event put together and what impact does it have on the wineries taking part? Janet Harrison goes behind the scenes, not just at the show, but at the crucial pre-event conference that has made Wines Unearthed such an invaluable business and marketing partner.

Janet Harrison
18th June 2024by Janet Harrison
posted in Insight,

People have come to expect exciting things from the Wines Unearthed section of the London Wine Fair, yet don’t fully realise what goes on behind the scenes to make this happen.The sheer amount of hand-holding and support given to each individual producer is impressive and feels ‘personal’.There’s a sort of joy about it.

It is the eighth year the award-winning pair, Judy Kendrick and Ana Sofia de Oliveira, have organised this section of the show, arguably one of the main reasons to visit the fair.This year hosting more than 40 exhibitors from 13 different countries, all carefully curated by the founders and organisers.

Wines Unearthed: Bringing producers and importers together

The preparation takes place way before the event itself and begins with a very comprehensive 120+ page WU Road Map, detailing everything from how the overall UK market works, including what we drink in the UK and where we buy, through to very practical help in calculating prices incorporating duty and tax.Nothing is left to chance or assumption, particularly as English is usually not the first language of the producers who come along.

“The Road Map is sent in advance of the fair so that producers can arrange meetings with buyers and interested parties,” says Judy Kendrick, once a wine importer herself and creator of the SITT tastings and Esoterica. “Whilst WU is an iconic part of the London Wine Fair, exhibitors can’t purely rely on buyers turning up to taste their wines on the days of the event.”

It is this practicality and personal match-making that sets the concept apart from other forms of drinks marketing and support and is quite rare in the drinks trade.

Dedicated conference

In fact, a lot of the activity at the London Wine Fair takes place before the event even happens with an invaluable day’s conference taking place the day before it starts designed to give the exhibiting producers insights into how the UK wine industry works. Followed by a networking winemaker’ dinner, this year held at The Brackenbury Wine Rooms.

The aim of this pre-fair session is for the exhibitors to meet each other and for the Road Map to be brought to life – not line by line, but via a lineup of useful speakers giving their valuable time and experience to help those trying to find UK distribution.

Ana Sofia de Oliveira and Judy Kendrick are looking to take the Wines Unearthed concept to more trade shows and events around the world

Kendrick opened the 2024 conference by giving the headlines on changes to UK legislation since last year, particularly highlighting the variable duty rates and, as a result, how producers should be thinking about lower alcohol wines in order to take advantage of lower duty rates below 11.5% abv.

Alistair Morrell, founder of Cider is Wine presented, via video link, a useful session on how to sell to the UK wine market. It was, in essence, about putting together a targeted approach to potential UK buyers and importers.Whilst producers are always being reminded to establish their USPs, Morell argued it was even more relevant now, due to intense competition and rising costs.

He asked producers to question why they wanted to enter the UK market and to sharpen their strategic goal.“Ask yourself, is it the right time to do this and how and where you plan to expand?”

He explained the current move was towards more drinking and entertaining at home with consumers preferring to treat themselves with a better quality of wine, rather than always going out.This obviously has relevance with which importer, or distributor to target and how you focus your brand marketing and communication.

He also urged the audience to think more about the experiential nature of selling wine and the message behind the label. “People love a good story with a glass in hand”.

He summarised by underlining the necessity of establishing good networks, something which fits neatly within the Wines Unearthed ethos – educating, supporting and making personal introductions every step of the way.

Independent view

Daniel Issley of Theatre of Wine was able to talk about how to target the independent wine merchant sector

Daniel Illsley from Theatre of Wine gave his personal take with a presentation on how to ‘Win Friends and Influence the Independent Sector’ after 22 years in the wine business, his experience was valuable and relevant to the audience.Aptly for a Sunday, Daniel stepped to the podium to deliver something akin to a sermon and with great aplomb – perhaps not surprising as he was originally an actor, switching to the wine trade in 2002.Direct, opinionated in a positive way and hugely engaging, he used his time wisely to give some great advice in the time he had available.

His main message, not unlike that of Morrell, was around strategy; who producers should work with and what was realistic and manageable for the winery to produce.His view was that small independents prefer to work with smaller importers which are authentic and that share the same values.And that producers shouldn’t be tempted to oversell and under deliver to supermarkets and larger retailers.This might sound obvious, but for those entering the UK market for the first time, it is sage advice.

Keeping things simple was also a big theme of the presentation with messages he could have printed onto T-shirts such as, “make less wine, make better wine,” or “the cheaper the bottle, the more money you should spend on the label,” to “don’t have too many ranges”. My favourites were “stay away from high alcohol” and “no more heavy bottles”.

It really couldn’t have been clearer. He also warned of the misleading messaging around natural wines and had a thing or two to say about those who “swoon at the altar of terroir”.We were all gripped – a great performance worthy of an encore.

Maximising social media

Beyond Wines' Sarah Turner says it's key to get a personal connection with your target buyers and customers

Sarah Turner, marketing manager at importer, Beyond Wines, gave a whistle-stop tour of ‘How You can Reach Buyers and Opinion Leaders with Social Media – even if you are a small to medium sized winery’.She encouraged the producers to be bold and take the lead even in low budget campaigns and to “ask for forgiveness, rather than permission”.

Her key messaging was around encouraging conversations and ‘humanising’ brands.Turner said she tries to be on first name terms with buyers and generally sends over a video or voice message, rather than an e-mail or text. It is this personal approach which really seems to make the difference for their business.

“Being kind and being social is all completely free and achievable even for the smallest producers with no or low budgets,” she stressed.

In terms of consumer awareness, they tend to favour selling the lifestyle and creating memories through wine moments.She argued the best marketing ideas come from studying your consumers, not your competitors - a strong message that resonated with the audience.

Networking

The producers then have the chance to network and the evening’s winemaker dinner. All WU exhibitors are encouraged to buy a ticket (at cost price), bring a bottle of each of their wines and pour to the other producers, whilst enjoying a three-course meal.It is a great opportunity to get to know each other before the first day of the wine fair, but also to share stories and best practice ideas.

Andreas Frank from the Weixelbaum Winery at the networking dinner

Elisabeth Finkbeiner from Fürstlich Castell´sches Domänenamt was showing her wines at London Wine Fair for the first time

Two Austrian producers, Andreas Frank from the Weixelbaum Winery, Kamptal, who was at the show to try and find contacts in the premium on trade and Elisabeth Finkbeiner from Fürstlich Castell´sches Domänenamt were there for the first time. WhilstAndrej Rozumovsky from Alpamanta estate in Mendoza, Argentina was at Wines Unearthed for his third time - once before in London and earlier this year at Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris -looking for a new importer.

“Whilst I like to go to the larger wine fairs, WU provides some great prospects and buyers are coming to this part of the show looking for something different,” said Rozumovsky.The UK is still a very important market for these producers and he likes the approach Kendrick and Oliviera take in being very generous with their time and contacts.

The dinner truly encapsulates what the Wines Unearthed concept is all about even before the hard work begins at the exhibition. It’s not surprising the organisers of Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris have re-booked Wines Unearthed as a key part of its 2025 fair.

“Earlier this year we took 43 producers to Paris from 19 different countries and it was such a great success” said Ana Sofia de Oliveira, a wine marketeer for over 20 years and founder of The Wine Agency, representing Wines of Portugal.The key difference at the Paris show is producers have to be looking for distribution in at least three of the countries where the majority of visitors come from, and this is clearly indicated online and in all the promotional material.

Both Kendrick and Oliveira have plans to expand their concept to other parts of the world, including potentially Miami and Singapore. The framework is in place and the idea is very ‘portable’ in nature.All success to them.This very specific kind of support is much appreciated by all the producers who come along to be part of the event as well as visitors looking to expand their portfolio with new and exciting wines.Careful global expansion will mean the organisers have even more valuable connections to share with their network – but then that’s a lot of hands to hold!

* To find out more about Wines Unearthed go to its website here.