Richard Siddle writes about London Wine Fair
Richard Siddle is an award-winning business editor with close to 30 years experience working across a number of fields including drinks, computing, grocery retail, convenience and travel. He is co-founder of The Buyer, along with Peter Dean, a new digital insights and trends platform for the premium drinks industry that looks to help buyers and producers work closer together and understand their needs.
The first time I reported on the London Wine Fair I did so without actually going to the show. Which is quite an achievement.
It was a few weeks after becoming editor of Harpers and with a press day to get through, in the middle of the fair, there was simply no time to attend. So all the interviews were done on the phone and I had to imagine just how “wonderful” “dynamic” and “exciting” it was for the various producers and suppliers to be there – none of whom I had ever actually met.
I wasn’t going to make that mistake again so the next year decided – rather innocently – to not just produce the magazine from the show, but to do a daily version for each of the three days. I’ve got the scars to prove it. And so too have all the other great members of the Harpers’ team who were willing to go where no wine and spirits magazine had gone before. [Thanks chiefs…!]
It was (I think) great fun, as well as bloody hard work. It meant you simply did not take ‘no’ for an answer. If a wine producer or distributor wanted to be in the next morning’s ‘Daily’ then even a Tesco buyer would have to wait their turn.
But such tales of derring do hopefully reflect just how important the London Wine Fair is for the industry it serves, from the importers, merchants and producers who exhibit, to the buyers who go looking to do business and the journalists that report on it.
It’s the glue that brings everyone together. We all, therefore, have a vested interest in its fortunes. It’s like the BBC. We all have our own opinion, or two, about it. Good, or, bad.
It’s fair to say the London Wine Fair has had its share of ups and downs along the way. But then so has the wine industry it supports. Long gone has the “International’ tag in its title and its move back to Olympia in 2014 from far away ExCel was done, to ensure its long term future in a more manageable central London home.
Thankfully its owners – exhibition organisers Brintex – have stuck with the show even when so many in the trade turned their backs on it. Preferring to run their own portfolio, or generic tastings instead. The assumption being the London Wine Fair, like our other great trade institutions – the WSTA, WSET etc – will always be there whether I turn up or not. When, in fact, it is run by an independent exhibitions business that is organising events across multiple sectors and questioning the commercial viability of each one.
That’s why we should all be raising a tasting glass to Brintex, and London Wine Fair, ahead of its show in June and the fact it has been able to adapt, change and come back ready to put on its first live show in three years.
It might sound strange to say so, but it is arguably in a stronger position because of lockdown. Its switch to running successful digital shows in 2020 and 2021 helped so many of the trade re-connect with the show and truly appreciate its worth and how much we would miss if it was not here.
It also demonstrated just how important independent trade fairs are for bringing producers and buyers together and, if done well, help provide a platform, be it in person, or online, for them to do business.
The fact the London Wine Fair was able to drive its share of that business during 2020 and 2021 when it was not possible to hold an in person event shows how in tune its team, headed up by the dynamic Hannah Tovey, are in knowing what the trade needs and wants from a trade show.
“The London Wine Fair is not all about doing business. It is about tasting, listening. learning and taking part in the full programme of masterclasses, seminars and debates.
Which is where I have to flag up my own involvement in helping to set up the Discovery Zone and hopefully offer challenging content that goes outside the wine industry for inspiration and look at the wider consumer trends and changes in technology and behaviour that we all need to be aware of.
There are now so many more trade shows, events and tastings, of all shapes and sizes, than when the London Wine Fair first opened its doors in 1981. The show has had to respond in kind and it will be noticeable, when it opens its doors in June, just how much of the show’s personality and energy now comes from the smaller stands in the Esoterica and Wines Unearthed sections, where smaller importers, merchants and producers looking for UK listings, are able to take part.”
That very much reflects how much more diverse the UK wine market now is. It is no longer dominated by a handful of major distributors, but is now home to a wide number of players that are finding ever more niche ways to buy, import and sell wines to different channels, increasingly online and direct to consumer. The fact they are welcome and able to be part of the London Wine Fair makes the show what it now is. A true hot bed of the best importers, merchants and producers looking to find the right buyers for their wines.
That’s what the London Wine Fair should be about. The place to do business. I look forward to seeing you there between June 7-9.
Registrations to the London Wine Fair are now open: https://www.londonwinefair.com