The Buyer
Why the noise around Wine Paris is just getting louder & louder 

Why the noise around Wine Paris is just getting louder & louder 

There was very much the sense of being in the right place at the right time at last week’s Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris. An event that has, in the last two years, fast tracked its way into the hearts and minds of even the most jaded wine trade producer, or buyer, beaten down by years of trudging to and from international trade fairs. There was a collective excitement about being part of a show on the up. In a city that simply does not care there is a major wine event going on. But that is also part of Wine Paris’ appeal. The chance to experience and enjoy one of the world’s greatest cities whilst getting down to the business of buying and selling wine and spirits. Richard Siddle reports back from the buzz of Wine Paris and examines what it is the show is doing right, and will need to do more of in order to keep its momentum going.

Richard Siddle
19th February 2024by Richard Siddle
posted in Insight,

Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris has already grown to be the biggest B2B trade event held in centralParis. Richard Siddle examines what has made it such a success.

Rodolphe Lameyse can be a frustrating business leader to interview. Just when you want to pin him down on facts, figures and soundbites he is off talking about the “emotions” and the “experiences” of people being at a major trade fair and all coming together with some sort of shared spirit. Alright, chief, but can we get down to the business of the show!?

But looking back on Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris 2024 he is absolutely right. This was not your normal plodding trade show where everyone just has to be there, whether they want to or not.

No this was different. This was an event that everyone was happy to be at. Rather than reluctantly trudge through the opening doors, there was a noticeable change in atmosphere. Particularly amongst those, and there were many, who were visiting Wine Paris for the first time.

The queues trying to get into Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris reflected the buzz of the show that people found inside. Photo: Phiippe Labeguerie.

This, very quickly, felt like a show that had a real buzz and personality to it. Even for those that had been there four times before.

It does not happen very often. Those of us who regularly travel to international trade events do so, no doubt, with the same obligation that political journalists do fretting from one party political conference to another. Dates on the trade diary calendar we all tick off: ProWein in March, Vinitaly in April, London Wine Fair in May, the World Bulk Wine Exhibition in November.

When Covid struck and we were all confined to our homes, you did not hear too many people wishing they were trudging around miles of exhibition floors, or wading through never ending wine dinners, looking to do business.

Right, time right place

We have been here before though. That moment when you feel you are in the right place at the right time. The London Wine Fair had it, for a bit, when it was all international with double decker stands over at ExCel. Where major players had to fly in from all over the world to be there.

Then ProWein had its moment when around 2013 to 2015 it became “Planet Prowein” and you could easily book out a large AirBnB, with two or three spare rooms, knowing you could cherry pick which band of wine trade folk to hang out with. The show is still by far the biggest but it is living off those times to this day.

The French halls still dominate at Wine Paris but there was a whole hall given over to Italy and dedicated international hall with major pavilions from Portugal, Germany, Austria, California and smaller areas for countries including Lebanon, Moldova, Georgia, Slovenia, Uruguay, Argentina and Australia.

So what made last week’s Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris such a special event? Well, it has not happened over night. This was the culmination of what has now been five versions of the show. With each year listening, learning, improving and moving on from the next.

The key words here are “listening, learning and improving”. It’s a great credit to Lameyse and his team that they are always open to listen. He talks a lot about travelling the world, talking and listening to what producers have to say about the shows they want to attend. And he clearly takes notice. “It has paid off,” he said.

It is a very far cry from the days when a request to visit the chief executive of Vinexpo, high up in their office overlooking the trade floor of Vinexpo in Bordeaux, was like a confrontation with a James Bond villain. Where the one skill they did not have was to listen. That’s what resulted in so many of the non-European producers, in particular, and big names from the US and across the New World turning their back on the show, fed up with their concerns and complaints being dismissed and not listened to.

Follow the leader

Vinexposium’s chief executive Rodolphe Lamyese was in “bullish” mood talking to the UK trade press at last week’s Wine Paris

Which brings us back to Lameyse. He is growing to be one of the most important and influential figures in the global wine industry. Crucially he is also an outsider. Not born and bred into wine. He cut his cloth running major international trade fairs across multiple industry sectors for decades. He knows what it takes to make a trade show successful. He knows how to deal with powerful business egos. But most of all, he knows the success of a major trade show is actually all about making your visitors happy. Creating the platform for buyers to come and do business and meet the producers they need to see.

He is also refreshingly outspoken on wine trade matters that normally someone in his position would not go near. Not that he is trying to be controversial. It’s just what he thinks. But, interestingly, they are not what wine trade journalists want to report on. It’s what he says about how international trade shows should be run and what they should offer that really matters. For that is what he is an expert in. That’s what he should be respected for and judged on.

He is, for example, already thinking about Wine Paris 2026 and 2027 and no doubt beyond that. He won’t share his exact ambitions and targets for those events, only to say he has them. But in 2025 we can expect to see at least two more halls, and even bigger hall for Italy and even more space for spirits which could eventually turn into an event on its own. “We have to make plans two years in in advance,” he says.

Lameyse was in particularly “bullish” mood at last week’s Wine Paris as he was confident the show would hit the target visitor numbers, particularly from overseas, that he, and his board, had set two to three years ago. Which considering the show was then at least half the size it is now shows some ambition – and vision.

Rodolphe Lameyse says Wine Paris is exactly at the stage and size where he planned the show to be at this time

“Where we are today is exactly where I wanted to be,” he said last week. “We are on track to where we have been planning.”

Lameyse also knows any future success will be based on the extraordinary big step forward taken in 2024 which saw a doubling (53%) in international visitors to 41% of the show – an unprecedented number for any trade show to achieve in just one year, he stresses.

He is also quick to stress that such momentum can’t be achieved for ever more and whilst he expects growth for Wine Paris to continue at a similar, but slightly slowing pace in the coming five to six years, there will be a time around 2030 when it hits its peak and the challenge then – as it is for ProWein now – will be to maintain that.

Central role

Part of that challenge will be making Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris more than just a three day trade show, but having a real, active part to play in the overall wine industry. Which is why he is keen to put so much emphasis on all the content that is also available at the show, with a number of high profile trade debates – including a focus on the UK industry post-Brexit – seminars and a full masterclass and tasting programme.

The content at Wine Paris is one of its strengths with a number of high calibre debates and seminars including this debate on doing business in the UK post-Brexit

He says Vinexpoium as a whole is “politically committed” to standing up for and representing the wine industry’s best interests, be it directly with the French government – a number of relevant French ministers visited Wine Paris last week along with 40 ambassadors from around the world – or working with key trade bodies such as the OIV.

Lameyse understands the role major trade shows can play, and that its “voice” needs to be heard in the most relevant way – talking and “making alliances” mostly behind the scenes.

The other key numbers from the 2024 show are:

  • Exhibitor numbers rose to 4,074 from 48 producer countries compared to 3,387 exhibitors in 2023 from 42 countries and 2,864 exhibitors in 2022 of which 13% were international.
  • Overall visitor numbers were up 14% on the previous exhibition to 41,253 compared to 25,739 visitors in 2022 and 36,000 in 2023. Buyers came from 137 countries to attend compared to 149 last year.
  • There was a 30% rise in attendance by buyers from its five key target markets after France: Italy; Belgium; the UK; the US; and Germany.
  • The Be Spirits section of the show needed 47% extra floor space to accommodate nearly 200 exhibitors from 26 countries, 54% of which were new. International attendee numbers in the BeSpirits section jumped by 92%.

He is reluctant to be drawn into a competitive position with ProWein, but it is clear there is now a very distinct line being drawn between those producers, importers and buyers who will now have to decide which show they will go to. Wine Paris clearly won a lot of hearts and votes at last week’s event with numerous buyers and producers saying they will now prioritise Paris over Dusseldorf in the future. There was also noticeably small, but strategic stands from the likes of Wine Australia and Wines of Argentina to test the waters of Wine Paris, and generic representatives from the other major New World countries scouting the halls to see what potential there could be for their producers.

There was also the added bonus of coming across a Hollywood director – Ridley Scott – at Wine Paris. There to show some light on his own vineyard and wines in the Luberon – Mas des Infermières

Equally many of the southern hemisphere producers that were there also stressed how important ProWein would be for them and the buyers they need to see there.

Lameyse repeated his message that “there is room for everybody” and “one size does not fit all” when pressed on where he sees the tussle between Wine Paris and ProWein. “I am interested in what we do and why are we doing it,” he added.

He also appreciates what he calls the “transfer cost” there will be in persuading more New World producers to come to Wine Paris. He likened it to the reluctance to change bank accounts once you are set with one bank. “Shifting from one show to another is not so easy. But we have already come a long way and people are having to make a decision,” he said.

We’ll always have Paris

The opportunity to enjoy Paris, its nightlife, restaurants, bars and the whole Paris experience is a major plus for the Wine Paris show

Then there is the Paris factor. People are simply happy being in Paris. It’s a good place for any trade show to start. For Paris, with all due respect, does not give a flying fig that there is a major wine trade fair going on in the city. Its hotels, taxis, restaurants and bars are the same price regardless. As a major global city, it’s also incredibly easy to get to.

Time again the talk at Wine Paris was not necessarily what was going on at the show, but what people had done the night before, where they had gone to eat. The shared experiences of enjoying Paris’ unbeatable nightlife is also the beating heart of what makes Wine Paris such a great trade show to go to.

Scrolling through wine Twitter or Instagram last week and you could see wine trade groups coming together to enjoy that Paris nightlife together. How about this from @michael_merchantduvin who describes one of the meals he enjoyed during Wine Paris (at Le Gran Pan) as: “If it had been my final meal I would have walked into that long night with a smile on my face. Content.”

It’s hard to replicate that experience at many trade shows around the world. Helped by Wine Paris’ OFF programme, compiled by Paris locals, to pick out 200 of the best restaurant, eating and drinking experiences in the city.

But for those that were lucky enough to be there last week you could feel the buzz, the excitement, the chatter in the aisles. All of it positive. Unless you were caught in the suitcase rush in the first hour of the show opening.

Lameyse says the trick of knowing if a trade show is a success or not is to stand at the entrance to any of the halls and stop and listen. “It’s all about the sound of the hall,” he said. If you can hear the noise of people talking and laughing then you know you have cracked it – and that was the noise to be heard at Wine Paris last week.