SHOW REPORT: Vinexpo 2003
Vinexpo has already declared the 2003 show a triumph. While admitting visitor numbers were down, show organisers claim the quality was up. But the continued boycott on all things French by sections of the US trade, blistering hot weather and the rising costs of attending all combined to question those sentiments.
Reports that New World wine makers were spontaneously self-combusting on the first day of the international wine fair Vinexpo in Bordeaux were seriously exaggerated. However, news that more than one Australian wine producer blew a fuse as the show officials fiddled ineffectively with broken air conditioning while Hall 3 – a new addition to the show - burned in the heat of the hottest day in Bordeaux for 50 years was more accurate. Curious visitors who walked into the hall to find little difference between it and the Kalahari-like temperatures outside promptly retreated to the safety of the main hall.
In all fairness, no one really could have foreseen temperatures into the forties (Celsius) on Sunday 22 June. However, the Australians – in particular – the New Zealanders and South Africans felt aggrieved that they had effectively lost a day’s business at the show, situated as they were in a temporary tent with an overloaded air conditioning system while the French were in the altogether more permanent, and substantially cooler, Hall 2.
Crisis meetings were held with the directors of the fair and a number of exhibitors threatened to pull out if the indoor temperature remained in the thirties. It must have seemed as if God was smiling on Vinexpo’s operators as the temperature plummeted back down into the twenties on the Monday. Most of the exhibitors in Hall 3 just looked relieved that the corks were not being pushed out of their sample bottles as the wines boiled.
By the Tuesday morning, additional air-conditioning systems had arrived to appease the New World producers. However, the blistering temperatures had already become a little more bearable and the threats to pull out melted away. Talk of suing the organisers for compensation also ran out of steam – however, there may still have been a few secret smiles when reports came in that 6,000ha of Bordeaux vineyard land was levelled by a tornado-style storm a week later.
But if the wineries in Hall 3 were questioning the wisdom of their investment – A$13,500 for a spot on the Australian Wine Bureau stand, with air fares and accommodation on top of that – those outside in the exclusive Club des Marques were really wondering if it was all worth it. Some estimates for the cost of the tent, getting everyone to Bordeaux and putting them up came in at around £250,000 for five days. And though the regal, tented accommodation looked as impressive as ever, the outdoor temperatures acted as much as a deterrent to would be visitors as the door staff on each tent who checked off names of guests on a clip board.
A number of the Club de Marques members would probably welcome the chance to get back in the main hall if the option were ever extended. Certainly, the likes of Pernod Ricard and Constellation, were probably quite relieved to be indoors in the main hall, where their double-decker stands dominated the end of the room where the whisky exhibitors were largely located.
Spirits exhibitors were out in force at Vinexpo, but tended to be scattered loosely across all the arenas, meaning a lot of worn shoe leather and shoving for anyone who wanted to visit Cognac producers and Scotch whisky bottlers in the one day.
Of the generic groupings, the best placed seemed to be the Bordelais, in the relative airiness and wide-open space of Hall 2. But the area most in need of updating was Spain. Its generic offering is looking a bit lame and rather tired when compared with other regions.
Meanwhile, perhaps predictably, those thinnest on the ground were the Californians, with a few big producers and few small ones present but not much in between. Even the Pacific Northwest seemed to muster a more enthusiastic effort and a warmer welcome than the sunshine state. There is no doubt that there was a politically tinged backlash to the US absence, sparked by France’s opposition to the Iraq war. Sales of French wine to the US have suffered in recent months and Gallic overtones to woo back its US market, including plans for a PR campaign featuring Woody Allen with a tagline "Let's Fall In Love Again" and plans in Paris to decorate the Champs Elysées with stars and stripes on 4th July, have so far fallen on deaf ears.
There were genuine concerns that far from being another blip in a long love/hate relationship, this current crisis may result in some permanent damage to the French wine trade. French wines never fully recovered their position in the Scandinavian market after a 1995 boycott there to protest France's nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific that year. And, in an ever increasingly competitive market, the chance for France’s competitors to steal a march on it during these times may have long term significance.
At the end of the week, Vinexpo was declared a run away success, by none other than Vinexpo itself. Overall visitor numbers dipped by 11%, which Vinexpo declared an exercise in quality over quantity. However, this was a little at odds with what exhibitors actually saw and felt. Buyers from a number of major multiples were absent – particularly from the UK as they had achieved all they needed at the London fair some four weeks previously. Of the 48,000 visitors estimated over the five days, 65% were French. And of the rest of the visitors, only 1,400 came from the US, down 100 on the 2001 fair.
Some exhibitors were notable in their absence. Brown-Forman didn’t make the trip, neither did Spain’s Codorniu, who are somewhat closer. On the one hand, it started gossip as to the financial health or otherwise of the groups. On the other, it provoked small feelings of envy by those who wish they hadn’t made the effort.
Vinexpo has gone on to announce the second edition of Vinexpo Americas for June 2004 in Chicago – perhaps choosing that location as an attempt to appease the Californians who didn’t want to travel all the way to New York again. It has already axed its Asian show, at least for now. And though this last show still drew the crowds, as the traffic jams in and out of Bordeaux ably demonstrate, you can’t but help question whether Vinexpo is the great must attend event it once was.
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