2023 could go down as a pivotal year in the long history of Vinexpo, and the still very short story of Wine Paris – for there is now no doubt this has come a must attend trade show for a growing number of wine producers and major wine buyers, distributors and wine merchants from across Europe and around the world. The lure of Paris, combined with a super efficient and organised wine exhibition, means Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris is ticking more boxes every year as it attracts more producers and buyers from outside France eager to do business in the country’s capital city. Richard Siddle gets feedback from producers, buyers and importers and gives his personal take on this year’s show.
Last week’s Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris attracted over 36,000 people from 149 countries who had the chance to visit 3,387 exhibitors from 42 countries. Chances are next year’s show will be even bigger. Richard Siddle reports back.
They talk a lot in elite sport about “changes in momentum” in matches of cricket, rugby or football. How quickly one team can go from looking dead and buried to suddenly being brought back to life with a moment of genius or inspiration. The so called “change in momentum”.
But even Rodolphe Lameyse, chief executive of Vinexposium, the umbrella company behind Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris, says he could not have imagined when looking at the rows of quiet halls at the last Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 2019 that the show, and the Vinexpo brand, would be re-invented as an exciting, thriving, dynamic trade fair full of personality, purpose and possibility hundreds of miles away in the heart of Paris.
Looking back it now seems such an obvious, easy decision to move Vinexpo from an unpopular, unsuitable and impractical exhibition centre in the outskirts of Bordeaux and give it a new life in Paris – one the world’s most loved and visited capital cities. That’s until you throw all the politics of French wine and the power of the Bordelais into the mix and appreciate just how hard it was to move such an institution as Vinexpo away from the world’s capital for wine to a city that might sell a lot of wine, but does not have the same level of wine heritage of its own.
But then four years is a long time in the world of trade exhibitions and as the famous movie line goes – “If you build it they will come”.
Yes, the majority of the show is made up of generic bodies and producers from the major French wine regions and that is where the spirit and personality of the show really comes to life. But this was the year when there was a much bigger representation of producers from around the world, with only South Africa, Australia and New Zealand noticeable by their absence.
Lameyse told The Buyer at the end of last year that the clear objective of the 2023 show was to make it “firmly international”. It was clear from visiting this year’s event that it succeeded in that goal. This was the year that international wine bodies and producers were prepared to give Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris “a go” for themselves. To test the waters and see what the growing fuss is all about. How the event went for them will be pivotal in how many come back next year and attract some of their producer peers to come with them.
Hall 5 was the place to be for international wine with big and small contingents depending on the country but with noticeable pavilions for Argentina, Chile, Turkey, Lebanon, Japan, Mexico amongst others. California was probably the most noticeable New World country with its “barn style’ pavilion featuring producers from across the state.
Chuck Cramer, European manager for Terlato Wines, said it was the right time to give Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris a go. He told The Buyer: “I was pleasantly surprised. We had 10 pre-scheduled meetings and several walk ups throughout each day. These represented potential new country markets for us. I’ll consider the show a success if we open one to two new markets as a result.”
Closer to home the biggest non-French contingents came from Portugal and Italy, with the latter taking over most of its own hall.
From a UK perspective there was a noticeably larger number of buyers of all shapes and sizes present, from independent wine merchants, regional wholesalers, major distributors to most of the big supermarket retailers. The overwhelming response from buyers was very positive.
Many, particularly independent merchants, said they would now prioritise this show over ProWein as it allowed them to see their key partners, not surprisingly from France, in an environment that is “less hectic and manic” and they have time to taste and talk with suppliers.
Hal Wilson, founder of Cambridge Wine Merchants, said: “I like coming here. I like how it is set up. It’s become a really vibrant show. There are actually surprisingly more of my suppliers here than I thought which is been great to see.”
Michael Awin, partner of ABS Wine Agencies, was very enthusiastic: “It’s a great show for us as we can see all our French suppliers and can spend a good hour with them tasting their wines. It makes ProWein less hectic as we know a lot of those suppliers are not going there. It’s a really good show with a great atmosphere.”
Daniel Lambert, founder of Daniel Lambert Wines, who moved to France last year to run his UK and European wine importer business, found the show very helpful. He said: “As ever it was very good. I had the chance to meet a lot of my suppliers and customers. It is proving to be more effective – and cheaper – than ProWein.”
Noel Reid, founder of Rediscover Wines, took to Instagram to say: “Fabulous event – Wine Paris. Hope it grows annually. I’m sure it will become the most important event in the European calendar in five years.”
Others see the emergence of Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris as an opportunity to use it as “double whammy” with ProWein where it can hold initial, potentially longer more detailed meetings with customers in February in Paris and then follow up with them in Dusseldorf in March.
“It’s great we can now meet producers from France, Italy, Spain and South America here now which means we can now use the time much better between Paris and ProWein,” said Richard Leaver, owner of The Station Drinks Company. “We can now use Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris and ProWein as a double act,” he added.
He said he was there for two key reasons. One to launch his new wine brand, Savvy Pair, a personality-driven, bright, fresh fruit forward range of wines sourced from multiple countries with his business partner Domingo Miguel. But as well as hosting meetings with potential buyers and customers for his new brand – which comes in lightweight glass and the new Frugalpac paper bottle format targeting the £6.99 to £8.99 major multiple price point – he was also able to visit existing and potential suppliers from around the world for the other bespoke projects he and Miguel work on for major retail and on-trade customers.
“Fairs like this, for people like us, are invaluable,” he said. “Distributors were there from the European markets, which was good for me. Producers were there from our target sourcing countries, which was great. We had really positive meetings with journalists, distributors, agents and brand owners. A chance for us to taste and understand more about sourcing countries where we had some good knowledge but always room to improve.”
He added: “I really liked the interactive map on the webpage, showing linked restaurants and cafes by specific arrondissment.”
In terms of areas to improve on, Leaver said he would liked to have seen more of a focus on alternative packaging and what is being done around cans and lightweight glass. It would also be good for producers and brand owners to have more ways to shout out about new launches, he said.
“If you’re competing with ProWein then is it better to find ways to distinguish the fair rather than compete head on? There were some who were wondering whether they needed to attend both. But overall it was really good for us.”
Leaver said it was also noticeable just how many more key players and buyers were at the show. “It is definitely more international and people are taking the decision that they need to be here in Paris.”
One stop shop for France
Its bread and butter, though, remains France and it was noticeable just how many more producers, both big and small, were packing out the generic and regional pavilions.
InterLoire, for example, had 270 producers on its own stand and another 50 had taken out their own spaces and pavilions, said Hélène Kermorvant, InterLoire’s export manager.
“It is important for us to be here and we are seeing buyers and customers from all our key markets including the UK, Germany, Switzerland and any more. More international buyers are coming.”
InterLoire was able to launch its new “Go On! Bloom Big” trade and consumer marketing campaign at the show with a series of masterclasses. The campaign will come to the UK in June with the first ‘Bloom Big Festival’ with two days for consumers, June 10 and 11 and one day for the trade, June 12, at a new venue near London Bridge. A chance, said Kermorvant, to showcase the bright, fresh, fruity Loire wines in a fun, relaxed environment with link ups with London restaurants and bars that will have their own sampling and pop ups at the festival to complement the tastings and interactive masterclasses taking place.
“It’s the first time we have had a festival for Loire wines. It will be a chance to show the diversity of our fresh wines,” she added.
Caroline Santoyo, export manager for Inter Beaujolais, said she had also seen an increase in the number of buyers from markets around the world visiting the show. It clearly makes great economic sense for its producers to attend as it is so close they could potentially commute from home every day, she added.
Santoyo said it was good to be back in front of its key customers again, particularly in mature markets like the UK and the US, Canada and Japan where there is such a “thirst” to find out more about the region, and its diversity and to know more about its soils, its geology and their impact on the styles of wines. “It is important for us to keep communicating with these premium, dynamic markets that want a more focused, in depth approach.”
Tim Ford, co-founder of Domaine Gayda in the Languedoc, said the show is now vital both for him and his team to meet so many of its French customers – particularly local cavistes, wine merchants and restaurant customers – but to also have in depth meetings with his core international customers too, particularly from the UK. Nysa, the growing French and now UK independent wine merchant chain, was doing an extensive tasting on the Domaine Gayda stand during The Buyer’s visit.
“None of my English clients say they are going to ProWein, but are concentrating their efforts here in Paris.” He adds: “I have been flat out since 9.30am and am already losing my voice. It’s just constant. It’s a great way to be celebrating 20 years of Domaine Gayda here.”
Chris Davies, UK sales director for Les Grands Chais de France in the UK, said this was the biggest presence the company has had at the fair. “It’s a double whammy as we have customers coming here who are also going to ProWein, so you can do far more with the two shows. We have customers here from all over the world including Japan, the US and Canada. And we are seeing a lot of our UK regional wine merchants here like Cambridge Wine and Oxford Wine Merchants.”
Nicole Sierra-Rolet of Chêne Bleu also took to Instagram to post: “Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris is just big enough to bring everyone from everywhere together and facilitate big business, but just small enough to give a voice to small wineries a place in the sun.”
A key part of Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris’ future personality will centre around the dramatic growth in its Be Spirits section with a dedicated hall for spirits producers from around the world, on the back of a 40% increase in exhibitors and stands. Its Infinity Bar, featuring top bartenders from award winning bars and venues from across Paris, France and the world, that are there to make you a personal cocktail based on the spirits brands on show was a real breakthrough at the show in 2022 and was once again a real standalone feature at this year’s show.
As was the content with a large number of masterclasses, specialist seminars and in-depth analysis of what impact technology is increasingly going to have on the wine and drinks industry in the La Wine Tech section of the show. Stand out seminars included a detailed breakdown of what it is like for wine producers to become B Corp certified with strong representatives from major Champagne houses. There was also high profile presentations and masterclasses from leading sommeliers including a so called Battle of Female Sommeliers, featuring Paz Levinson, Heidi Mäkinen, Véronique Rivest, who analysed the influence of the various vessels used for winemaking and maturation whilst former Best Sommeliers in the world, Arvid Rosengren and Marc Almert, showed how to hone your blind tasting skills in a specialist masterclass.
Providing the drinks industry with relevant on-going content throughout the year is a key part of Vinexposium’s strategy so it was important for it to demonstrate it can provide a good mixed programme at Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris without it becoming distracted by too many sponsored sessions.
Then there is the Paris factor and the fact that Paris does not care there is a wine trade fair going on. It just carries on as normal, with no inflated hotel or taxi rates, where it is easy to get accommodation and as a major international travel hub it is easy to get in and out of.
With trading costs increasing across the sector the amount of money needed to attend a trade show has become an even more important factor in which shows buyers and producers are now willing to invest in.
It will be interesting to see how Vinexposium manages stand and pavilion prices as and when the event grows in demand, and if whether a reported £1,500 for a producer’s space on generic stand is feasible in the long term. But, for now, it is certainly convincing producers to give it a go.
Wine buyers, merchants, importers, retailers and distributors from around the world seem to be already convinced.