The just-drinks interview – Jean-Marie Chadronnier
Despite being only a few days into 2007, attention is already turning towards the summer and the exhibition season. Earlier this month, the team that organises the biennial Bordeaux extravaganza Vinexpo came to London to discuss this year's show. Olly Wehring met with Vinexpo president Jean-Marie Chadronnier to find out what attendees can look forward to.
Every odd year since 1981, the great and the good of the global wine industry have headed to France for Vinexpo. The event has grown from 524 exhibitors at the inaugural show in 1981 to around 2,400 - and an estimated 50,000 visitors - when the exhibition comes around next in June.
This year's show is being heralded with much hoopla by Vinexpo's organisors. Indeed, already in the last six months, just-drinks has been invited to meet with the team behind the event twice. At the second time around, a coffee with Vinexpo president Jean-Marie Chadronnier gave me the chance to ask him what Vinexpo offered that other trade fairs didn't.
"The main difference between our show and LIWSF, Frankfurt and Milan is that many producers are represented by their agents or importers at the other shows," he says. "London, for example, is mainly a local show designed for the UK market. Vinexpo is something totally international - it is not designed for the French market. People come to Vinexpo to meet the key actors in the wine and spirit industry. The exhibitors are only the producers and the producers' managements. It's really the best representation possible."
Problems at the last two events, however, have somewhat taken the shine off the event. In 2003 - a year in which temperatures in Bordeaux were even hotter than usual - the failure of the air conditioning in a hall housing mostly New World wine producers led to unpleasantness all round. So much so that two years later, New Zealand's representation was almost non-existent and only two or three companies from South Africa made the journey. California's E&J Gallo also boycotted Vinexpo. Chadronnier is hopeful, however, that this year will see any ill will surrounding the exhibition dispelled.
"There will be a good representation of South Africa," he says, "not only Distell but also a group of producers under the banner of Wines of South Africa. I went to see them in November, and the president was really very reluctant. But I think she was sensitive to the fact that they should come, so they decided to come."
Wines of New Zealand, however, will not be there again, Chadronnier admits. "Except for New Zealand," he says, "I can say that the rest of the wine world will be largely present at Vinexpo. Gallo is back, and strongly. We will have companies from new wine countries, like Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova. We keep talking about New World, but there are newcomers also from other areas who might be very important in the future."
The event has sold out completely, Chadronnier points out, suggesting that the situation is as good as Vinexpo can expect it to be.
Jean-Marie Chadronnier, president of Vinexpo
Turning to the New World wine producers, I ask Chadronnier how important it is, not only for them that they attend Vinexpo, but for the event itself that they are there. "Generally speaking, it's important for Vinexpo to have the best possible representation of the wine world - New or Old," he says. "If there is a light or an incomplete representation of Australia and South Africa, there is a huge representation of Chile and Argentina - they are extremely important." Whilst he is disappointed at New Zealand's absence, Chadronnier is keen to play this down. "It's too bad that New Zealand is not there, but, excuse me to say this, it is extremely small in the wine world production. We like them - except for rugby, however - but they have made their choice. Australia is a bit light in terms of representation, but it's not because they have anything against Vinexpo; it's because they have serious economic problems, there are no subsidies to come, they have production problems. For them, life is tough. But, generally speaking, I really think that we're going to have a very good representation of this industry."
And so, the stage is set for Vinexpo 2007 from 17 to 21 June. Chadronnier is confident that the exhibition will run smoothly - considering the upheaval of the last two events, let's hope his confidence is well placed.
Before we wind up, however, I can't resist asking this Frenchman for his views on his country's wine industry. France has been in the wine headlines for so many reasons in the last few years, so what does Chadronnier think the future holds for his compatriots?
French wine producers have only in recent years reached the conclusion that they are in competition with the New World, he says. "The change is going on and the change was necessary," Chadronnier notes. "At the same time, I can say that it is taking too long, it is too slow. Many changes should have been done more quickly - many decisions should have been taken before, and there are still things which are discussed which shouldn't be discussed any longer. So we keep taking too much time, but we are definitely on the right track.
"I have been aware of our mistakes and weaknesses for a long time," he continues. "I have been one of the first to shout about it. It's frustrating to know that you have the essentials to be successful - we have something that basically exists nowhere else, which is our terroir. But a poor grower will still make a poor wine. But we now have a lot of good new growers - that's the generation of success, I think."
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