The team behind this year’s Vinexpo Bordeaux has declared it a success. But they are also planning big changes. The wine industry trade show delivered a strong program, with a more focused list of distributors and a symposium on climate change that drew positive reviews.
But there were fewer exhibitors and attendance was down 30 percent from 2017, a sign of increasing competition from other events. Vinexpo is working to address that, with a new show scheduled for Paris in 2020, and potentially bigger fixes for Bordeaux in the future.
Building on Bordeaux
"We've been very busy throughout. I found this edition of Vinexpo particularly comfortable," Allan Sichel, CEO of Maison Sichel and president of the Bordeaux wine trade group CIVB, told Wine Spectator. "It's a nice atmosphere. We've had a world climate symposium and all sorts of masterclasses and tastings. It makes the experience more complete and gives it more depth."
This edition of Vinexpo Bordeaux was marked by a smaller scale, with fewer spirits and Champagne producers and hardly any American producers. But that was calculated—the idea was to make the event less daunting and more focused. Christian Wylie, general manager of Bodegas Garzón in Uruguay, thought that was a good change. "The top people are here and we had the time for serious tastings and good conversations."
Other key players agreed. "It's been a more relaxed experience," said Abigail Friedman, senior buyer for Cru World Wine. "You don't have to book up all of your visits in advance. You can take the time to wander around and catch up with people. And the benefit is that you get to go to châteaus in the evenings, and that's unique."
Those additional events, such as lavish dinners at châteaus and the region's booming restaurant scene, were a major draw. So was the symposium, Act for Change. Organized in partnership with Wine Spectator and moderated by CNN's John Bittermann, the symposium gave the wine trade a rare opportunity to listen to a multi-disciplinary panel—international experts in viticulture, winemaking, cork production, politics, science, economics and geography—presenting recent research as well as action strategies. The focus was—How and where will the world grow grapes in 50 years?
Facing the change
But Vinexpo's new CEO, Rodolphe Lemayse, a trade show veteran, believes Vinexpo and its Bordeaux edition require further changes. "We need to revisit what is the value proposition at Vinexpo Bordeaux. Bordeaux should not be just an exhibition space. It's over."
Vinexpo was once the premier opportunity for the global wine industry to meet. Now there are numerous rivals, from Vinitaly in Verona, to the German trade show ProWein, held every March in Dusseldorf. Many blame the attendance drop on the other events.
"All of the wine people absolutely love to come to Vinexpo Bordeaux. In terms of the city, the glamor, and the good life, it's unique. But in terms of participation, our buyers choose not to come," said Martin Navesi, head of marketing for Argentine powerhouse Grupo Peñaflor. "ProWein is becoming bigger, more relevant, more important."
But others say Vinexpo Bordeaux delivers something different. From Asia, Great Wall wines and e-commerce giant Alibaba/T-Mall had two of the largest stands at this year’s show. Alibaba executives spoke at an e-commerce conference, drawing a packed audience. Japanese Sake and Shochu Makers Association, with 1,700 members, also had a large stand at Vinexpo—a plus in favor of Bordeaux, as those producers can't get the same kind of space at ProWein.
Bodegas Garzón's Wylie has attended Vinexpo since 1999. He attends ProWein, but it’s a different fair, with faster visits and less time to get to know customers. "At ProWein, it’s ‘Hello. Goodbye.’"
A question of timing
Vinexpo has been adding additional shows in other locations, in recent years, including Shanghai, and has revived their New York event. On the last day of this year's show, Lemayse announced a new twist: Vinexpo Paris, previously planned for January, will merge with rival trade show Wine Paris for a fair in the French capital in February 2020.
"We're very happy to announce that Vinexpo Paris and Wine Paris have decided to join forces to create one single event together," Lemayse told Wine Spectator. He described the discussion with Wine Paris as "short and efficient."
Some exhibitors reacted with enthusiasm to the idea of a larger French fair. "I’ll do Paris, that’s for sure. It’s a good idea, and will probably attract many buyers," said Stephane Dupuch, owner of Château Ste.-Marie in Entre-Deux-Mers, who exports 65 percent of his production.
Navesi said Grupo Peñaflor would go to both Vinexpo-Wine Paris and ProWein for now, but wonders if most exhibitors would choose between ProWein and Vinexpo-Wine Paris once the pricing and format is announced.
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As for Bordeaux, Lemayse plans further changes to the format. And some have proposed shifting the event to correspond with the annual en primeur tastings, when many buyers come to Bordeaux to sample the new vintage.
Despite the challenges, many feel the event still has great potential. "This is my first Vinexpo Bordeaux. It’s fantastic! I think it would be crazy to shut down this event. Everybody loves to come here. They just need to promote it better," said Italian wine producer Bibi Graetz, who now sells his top wines, Colore and Testamatta, through Bordeaux négociants. "We had customers from all over the world. I go to ProWein, because I have to. I love Vinitaly—it’s the most beautiful wine fair in the world. But I love to come to Bordeaux."
—With reporting by Thomas Matthews