The LIWSF review
There's nothing else like it in the just-drinks calendar. Three days, one venue and almost all our contacts, clients and collaborators under one roof. This year's London International Wine & Spirit Fair was exceptional once again. Chris Brook-Carter and Olly Wehring reflect on an exhausting but fruitful show.
A huge thank you must go to all those who popped by our stand to visit, use our internet service or pick up a copy of the wine briefing. We caught up with many old friends and made some good new ones.
In between manning our Internet centre, attending tastings and seminars and filing news for the site directly from the show, I managed to spend a few hours getting to as many of the stands as possible. The atmosphere was relaxed but businesslike and I sensed a quiet confidence that the UK market continues to move in the right direction - albeit generally.
My own table talk revolved around the three Cs: consolidation; closures and cost (of wine in the supermarket). Without going into too much detail now, the smattering of quotes below sum it up nicely.
"Will Foster's make it (the Southcorp takeover) work? They should do. In the US, Southcorp's substantial size will drag Foster's wine business into the next horizon - no doubt." Franklin Tate, CEO Evans & Tate.
"There is tremendous pressure on pricing and cost and it will, in the long term, drive quality down. There will not be a surplus forever into the market and it is impossible to supply quality wine at three bottles for £10. This is a phenomenon driven by the oversupply. The quality is OK as long as the supply is there, but it does not encourage the initiative to develop vineyards. This downward cycle will lead us all into trouble sooner or later." Dr Willem Barnard CEO KWV.
"Any talk of a new paradigm in the wine closure industry is misplaced. The truth is that the perfect closure does not yet exist, but winemakers today have the widest selection in history and good quality synthetic closures can be engineered to offer different levels of permeability." Simon Wallah of Supremecorq at Skalli & Rein's Closure Debate.
"The defeat of TCA within the three or four leading cork companies that account for the vast majority of the market, coupled with the scientific and market demonstration that screw caps have their own share of serious problems, simply reset the debate about closure performance. Fact is, today we are in a situation where the problem curve for cork is going down, while the problem curve for screw caps is going up," Carlos de Jesus, Amorim.
As for the show itself, it felt to me like the most rounded LIWSF yet. The services on offer from the on-trade tastings, the new restaurants and the seminars that ran across the three days reflected the diversity and professionalism of the UK wine industry.
The positioning, too, of many of these features helped to draw traffic away from the centre of the show towards the stands on the fringes, which in the past have suffered in terms of passing trade.
More could still be done on this front though, and one can't help but wonder what a boost the LIWSF would get if it could somehow persuade the large spirits companies to exhibit alongside their niche competitors and wine counterparts.
Of the generic stands, South Africa once again stood out - its vibrancy perhaps reflecting its continuing buoyancy in this market - and was it my imagination or was there more urgency from the French presence this year? I was also pleasantly surprised to see the traffic that the considerably smaller Uruguayan stand generated. Although I didn't get a chance to taste them myself, it looks like these are wines to watch out for in the future.
It was disappointing to see a lack of activity from some of the generics - Italy and Spain in particular seemed quiet this year - but overall my hat goes off to all those who exhibited, organised and attended, I look forward to seeing everyone again in 2006.
Chris Brook-Carter - Managing Editor
Being my second Wine and Spirit Fair at ExCel, I can certainly say that it was a vast improvement on last year for me personally. Perhaps I was struck by "bright lights, big city" syndrome last year, but this time round was a far more comfortable affair, armed as I was by the knowledge that I knew what I was talking about more than half the time, and would have the opportunity to catch up with so many familiar faces at various stands.
Like several folk that I bumped into, the irony of the close proximity of Southcorp's stand to Beringer Blass' was not wasted. "Next year, they could build a bridge between the two," one attendee suggested. "They could even model it on the Sydney Harbour Bridge." Reports of Beringer staff waving at Southcorp folk and beckoning them over could not be confirmed. Sadly.
Impressive though the size of the 'Wines of Europe' stand was, I couldn't help feeling slightly duped. 'Wines of Europe' was, sure enough, a moniker for a collection of wine companies. And these companies certainly were European. However, when you counted the number of nationalities represented…well, there's Portugal… and that's it. When I asked at the stand why the seven companies didn't call themselves 'Wines of Portugal,' I was told that, because the European Union was co-financing the umbrella set-up, "We have to call it 'Wines of Europe.'" Those Brussels Eurocrats don't do themselves any favours, do they?
On a slightly more serious note, one exhibitor complained to me that the spirits sector of the event was getting smaller each year. Whether the actual size of their corner is decreasing is debatable, but it must be said that the absence of the big spirits companies is a shame, even if it isn't worth their while to attend this event. Calling itself the London International Wine & Spirit Fair would suggest, at least, a healthy smattering of spirits companies.
Quote of the show must go to the sales director of a certain digestif who, when discussing his product, told me: "You don't drink it for the taste, you drink it for the effect." I'd wager he was referring to alcoholic drinks per se, perhaps.
A final shout must go out to Wines of Argentina who provided the heartiest chuckle of my three days at the fair. An impressively-turned out stand was complemented by the glorious livery, boasting not only of "Our wine," but also "Our people," and, best of all, "Our Soul."
Here's to next year.
Olly Wehring - Deputy Editor
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