Vinexpo 2019: A turning point for Europe's fairs

Vinexpo’s visitor numbers plummeted by 30% this year. Felicity Carter asks how the fallout will affect other fairs.

Vinexpo/Philippe Labeguerie
Vinexpo/Philippe Labeguerie

No region can rival Bordeaux for pomp and grandeur. The Vinexpo press dinner at Château d’Yquem, for example, was a masterpiece of theatre, with timpanists announcing the arrival of each course with a roll of drums.

But it was smaller than in previous years, as was Vinexpo itself. The number of exhibitors and visitors had both plunged and while the organisers did their best to make everything look normal by filling the hall with book stalls and restaurants, there was no disguising the near-empty car park.

Joining forces

In recent years, Vinexpo has been expanding, including heading to New York in 2018. Another milestone on its calendar was meant to be its debut in Paris in January 2020. This would have made it a direct competitor of Wine Paris, the fair resulting from the marriage of Vinisud and Vinovision, which launched in February this year. Wine Paris was well attended; despite the normal teething problems, visitors and exhibitors were generally impressed. 

Wine Paris sold itself as something different because, instead of going after the big exhibitors, it wanted to attract the little guys; the ones who can’t afford the big fairs, or who would be well served by being placed in front of Paris’s wine buyer and sommelier community, given that Paris has the highest per capita wine consumption of any city in the world. As it happened, some of the big companies from Languedoc and Champagne were happy to exhibit. In other words, Vinexpo Paris would have become a direct competitor to Wine Paris, forcing exhibitors to choose between them.

Then came the announcement that Vinexpo had cancelled its planned January fair, and will instead join forces with Wine Paris. The two organisations will now share the facilities at Porte de Versailles in February. It seems to make sense: exhibitors can simply choose the exhibition company that suits them best, and the two organisations can presumably share the costs. It’s a decision that certainly works for visitors, as February is a good time in both the northern and southern hemispheres. 
The new fair might even encourage New World producers to come back: they left in droves after the great Vinexpo Air Conditioning Debacle of 2003, when rising temperatures cooked their wines. To this day, some Australians believe the air conditioning breakdown was a calculated attempt to make the New World look bad.

But how will a fair operated by two different companies work?

Tectonic shift

Can two separate organisations which have a vested interest in poaching each other’s customers really work together? Will they be forced to create a third company structure – or will one simply eat the other?

And if a super fair arises in Paris, what will this mean for ProWein in March? ProWein is, far and away, the most business-oriented, best-organised wine fair. Yet despite the best efforts of ProWein management, Düsseldorf hotels keep raising their prices, squeezing every drop out of fair visitors. Once an affordable city, Düsseldorf is now expensive. 

Paris will never be a cheap option, but February is, at least, off-season. And, of course, it’s Paris, with endless wine bars, stores and restaurants to explore. It’s easy to imagine buyers and importers doing everything they can to convince management to send them to Paris, including talking up the value of the fairs. If Vinexpo and Wine Paris can work together, they have a real opportunity to change the dynamics of the wine fair business.

Finally, where does this leave Bordeaux? Rodolphe Lameyse, the new CEO of Vinexpo, has said publicly that Vinexpo Bordeaux will have to become a regional show, more like Vinitaly.

One thing that’s certain is that the Bordeaux Gironde Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the majority shareholder, will not let Bordeaux go. Whether the Chamber does something like reschedules it to coincide with En Primeur, or something else, organisers will use all their prestige and might to bring people to the region’s door. And given the level of glamour and hospitality on offer, it’s hard to see people saying no. 

Felicity Carter

This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2019 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine.

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