Vinisud, the fair for wines from the Mediterranean, and VinoVision, for cool climate French wines, have joined together, this year launching Wine Paris, held in the second week of February. This was a decision backed by 13 wine marketing boards, all of which came on board as partners.
It makes sense to hold the event in Paris, the city with the highest per capita wine consumption of any urban area in the world, because it makes it easy for sommeliers, wine shop owners and others to sample a wide range of French wines at one time. It’s also a more convenient destination than Montpellier, Vinisud’s former location.
Like that event, Wine Paris seems resolutely French in spirit, with the signage all in French, although there were some masterclasses and talks given in English. And while there was a smattering of stands from other southern countries – Spain, Portugal and Italy – the overwhelming number of exhibitors was French.
“We want more foreign wineries,” said Pascale Ferranti, head of Wine Paris, pointing out that about 16% of the exhibitors were foreign. Acknowledging the absence of larger French companies like AdVini and Castel, Ferranti said this was part of the plan. “We do not want to have the big wine brands or wine merchants,” she said. “We want to welcome small wineries. I think buyers are attracted by the possibility to taste small producers, to have exclusivity for wines not yet represented in their market.” The problem that smaller wineries are facing, as she said, is that they are getting lost in the big trade fairs. Without the money for flashy stands and marketing, it’s getting harder for them to attract the attention of buyers. “We are hearing that buyers do not have time to discover wineries,” said Ferranti. “They just have the time to see their suppliers.”
As it happens, there were also larger companies present at Wine Paris, such as Gérard Bertrand, Boisset and Chapoutier, so evidently some of the bigger players also think the fair is worth their while.
What Wine Paris may also have in its favour is Paris itself. Although German buyers may not be tempted by the prospect of driving long distances to attend yet another trade show, the city should appeal to buyers from countries such as the US and Canada. It’s easy to imagine an importer trying to convince his or her boss that Wine Paris is a must-attend show, just for the chance to spend some time in one of the great wine capitals of the world.
Another advantage is the timing. While February is a little early to taste red wines from the latest Northern Hemisphere vintage, it’s an ideal time for many buyers to be filling their portfolios for the rest of the year.
Ferranti says there are also plans to enhance the visitor experience, through evening events and other activities.
Will it work?
Still, does the wine world really need yet another trade fair, especially when France already has the biannual Vinexpo?
The answer is a cautious ‘yes’, depending on how the fair develops. A straw poll done of producers from around the halls produced a mostly positive response, with attendees saying that the visitors were high quality.
It’s possible the model to aim for is Vinitaly, one of the liveliest fairs on the European calendar, where buyers can sample wines from the entire country in one spot. Under managing director Stevie Kim, the fair has become an ambassador for Italian wines, doing international roadshows, producing educational material, and running its prestigious Italian Wine Ambassador Certification Course.
Vinitaly, however, does not have to compete with other major events within the same country. Wine Paris not only has to stand up against Vinexpo Bordeaux, but next year, it will also have to contend with Vinexpo Paris, which will be held just a few weeks earlier.
Whichever event triumphs – and few people see a need for two big Paris fairs – the smaller French appellations certainly need better exposure. While export figures show rises in volume and value, this is largely thanks to expanded sales of Cognac and prestige wines. Exporters worry about the impact of the free trade agreement between China and Australia, while many producers who have historically relied on sales to the UK are concerned by the possible impact of Brexit.
If Wine Paris can help, it will have found a place for itself.