This year, the London International Wine Fair has had even more knockers

This year, the London International Wine Fair has had even more knockers

As the third and final day of the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) draws to a close and my footsteps fall heavier in the aisles of ExCel, it's time to assess what it's all been for. The visitor numbers look like coming in at about the same level as last year, give or take 100 or so. It's clear that some high profile names are missing - Pernod Ricard, E&J Gallo, PLB - and the show itself feels a bit smaller than it was seven years ago, when I started coming.

However, I'm inclined not to dwell on these things for too long. It's becoming quite trendy to knock the LIWF. Some people hate ExCel, while some people think that LIWF has lost sight of where it's going. 

There is some serious concern about its future direction. Michael Cox, who heads up the UK division of Wines of Chile, told me today (23 May) that LIWF needs “root and branch reform”. He is genuinely concerned that it will be difficult to persuade Chilean winemakers to come back next year, when the event will be sandwiched between Prowein in Germany and Vinexpo in Bordeaux.

This really reflects a tough situation in the UK wine market, where high taxes and recession are conspiring to prevent most people from making any money; or, at least, not as much money as they might get in, say, Scandinavia or China. 

Others in the trade think that LIWF serves little purpose, because it is just the trade talking to itself. Is Vermentino the next Pinot Grigio, or is everyone at LIWF telling each other that it is? 

I certainly don't ignore these criticisms, but I don't think LIWF is as broken as it is sometimes made out to be.

Yes, the industry needs to get better at talking to consumers. Goodness knows, the trade has been talking to itself about doing this for a lifetime. But, is LIWF the right environment? I think probably not. I think there is definitely a place for consumer wine events, but I like the way LIWF is an opportunity for the industry to natter among its own. As a journalist, I clearly enjoy the gossip, but it's important for the trade to step back and think.

Will Broadfoot, who is marketing director at LIWF organiser Brintex, is naturally defensive of the fair. “We've worked hard to come up with new features,” he told just-drinks. “This is still a big show.” This year, Brintex has offered GBP50 ($78) travel bursaries to independent retailers to enable them to attend. Okay, it potentially bumps up the numbers, but it also shows an effort to reach out. 

There has been a wealth of seminars, masterclasses and business briefings at this year's show. Let's take advantage of it.

At the least, let's hear more about what else the fair could do, rather than what it presently doesn't do.