London Wine Fair 2016: what you need to know

With pop-up stands showcasing unsung regions, the launch of a first-of-its-kind data platform and a tie-in with May’s International Cool Climate Symposium, the London Wine Fair taking place at the beginning of May will present its most diverse offering yet.

Esoterica_1It returned to Olympia two years ago with a new purpose and direction. This year, the London Wine Fair (LWF), the UK’s largest wine trade show, is keen to keep its appeal diverse.

“It is a year of building on the success of last year,” exhibition director Ross Carter told db. “We reinvented the wheel to a certain extent the year before last, and with the move to the Grand Hall last year there was a lot of further development. This year is about building on what we’ve created.”

Carter highlights the breadth and diversity of producers that will be on show, and points out the advantages of moving to the larger hall. It not only provided an extra 10% of space but also improved navigation, after the challenges presented by the “warren-like” layout of 2014.

The main stands at this year’s fair will be complemented by niche and boutique wines in the returning Esoterica section, premium and fine wine stand The View Tastings and Wines Unearthed, the space for producers seeking representation, which Carter says has gown “substantially” this year.

Returning exhibitors include Copestick Murray, Bibendum PLB, Myliko International Wines, Seckford Agencies, and The Lanchester Group. Treasury Wine Estates is also set to take a standalone stand again after several years’ absence.

LWF_from_gallery_1_convertedAn ‘excellent’ mix

The mix of exhibitors is “excellent”, Carter says, justifying the team’s efforts to broaden its base and better reflect the diversity of the industry.

“In terms of the show being representative of the UK wine market and also credibility with our visitors, we’ve never had it as good as we do now,” he says. This year’s show will see 160 UK wine businesses represented, significantly more than the 90 on show in 2008 (its biggest year to date) and the 40 that attended in 2013, the fair’s last outing in London’s Docklands.

“There was a perception when we were at Excel that we were predominantly furnishing the needs of big retail,” he explains. “When we moved to Olympia, we came up with a raft of changes – many of them back-office changes that wouldn’t be obvious to the exhibitor or visitor – and as a result we’ve seen a huge change in the perception of the show and in its appeal to the on-trade and independent retail sector.”

It seems to be working – the mix of visitors has evolved in the two years since the fair returned to Olympia. Although the number of international visitors has shrunk since 2008 to around 13% (a small but important element, Carter notes), on-trade visitor numbers have almost doubled, and those for independent retailers have grown by around 35%.

The show’s timing this year – two weeks earlier than usual and immediately following the Spring bank holiday – may also suit exhibitors and visitors better, as the Tuesday after a Bank Holiday is traditionally a quiet day for independents and the on-trade.

So what’s new to this year’s show? Exhibiting for the first time is Rhône AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which will host a tasting at the fair. There will also be a stand devoted to premium Cava.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.43.55Sake goodness

But it is Japan that is making the biggest noise, with a pavilion devoted to sake featuring for the first time at the LWF, reflecting the drink’s growing profile. The stands will feature a host of breweries, importers and exporter groups including Daishichi Brewery, Sekiya Brewery, five artisan sake producers from ENTER.Sake, the label set up by techno DJ Richie Hawtin, and distributors Tazaki Foods, Ueno Gourmet, Bibendum PLB and SAKE at UK.

The pavilion is being curated by Natsuki Kikuya of the Museum of Sake, who will also run a masterclass looking at whether the Japanese rice wine is ready to take off in London.

The WSET will also run a pop-up tasting focusing on sake.

“It is on the back of growing interest in sake in the UK – now is the time to make a noise about it at the LWF,” Carter says, admitting that, although he couldn’t pick a favourite exhibitor, “it’s really pleasing to have a product that creates as much interest as sake is at the moment”.

In this spirit of discovery, Wines Unearthed, the stand dedicated to winemakers seeking representation in the UK, has expanded “substantially”, with 20 more producers than last year, taking the total to around 80. Forty different regions will be represented at the fair, from Kazakhstan to the Balearic Islands.

“It’s not just the everyday wines that you’d get to see,” Carter notes.

Ten new smaller producers and importers of niche, boutique wines will be exhibiting on the Esoterica stand this year, including H2Vin, Grapes of Hungary, Borri CG Group Ltd, Le Verre Gourmand, Imperial Wine Company, S+O Wines, Tim North’s enterprise Joie de Vin, Ethical Edibles and Hungarian Food and Wine.

The newcomers take the place of those who have “graduated” to stands in the main show. This “natural progression” is in no small part a result of these producers having taken part in Esoterica, Carter notes, and although there is increasing interest in taking part, he is keen to keep the area to a “manageable” size of 65 producers, each showing no more than a dozen wines.

Niche limits

“We’re conscious we don’t want to grow Esoterica any larger than it has been – we want it to remain niche and keep the right balance with the rest of the show. But it shows the continuing growth of small agencies specialising in particular on the on-trade, independents and wholesale and the continued interest in those types of companies.”

The View, which was founded last year on the back of the extra space in the Grand Hall, is also set to return, dedicated to wines costing over £30. Similarly, bulk suppliers and service providers will again share a space at the top of the stairs of the Grand Hall.

However, there are a few changes to the line-up. Brewhouse – the specialist focus on craft beers that was launched in 2014 alongside its dedicated theatre, The Hop Sack, will not be returning to LWF 2016. Instead, organisers are hoping to launch it as an event in its own right.

“It will go on to be its own entity in the near future – so watch this space,” Carter confirmed.

View_Tastings_2Cool-climate focus

Last year’s concentration on specific grapes will be replaced with a focus on cool climate wines as part of LWF’s sponsorship of the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (IWCCS).

The symposium, held every four years, comes to Brighton in late May, and as a precursor, the IWCCS will be running classes throughout the LWF.

Carter says the show is keen to revisit the concept in future, however. “The grape variety focus was very well received last year and was a unique way of looking at wines in an exhibition environment, so we’re very keen to reconsider it again for 2017 – but we can only pick a certain amount of things to work on per year,” he said.

This year LWF is also introducing a pop-up tasting that provides an opportunity for non-exhibiting generics and businesses to present their wines to the trade in short sessions. There will be around 12 sessions over the three days, looking primarily at different regions. These include Wine Australia looking at the Riverland, the Great Southern region and McLaren Vale; Agrolaguna-Vina Laguna presenting a pop-up on Undiscovered Croatian Wines; Napa Valley Vintners looking at Cabernet terroir and Sogevinus showcasing colheitas.

These pop-ups highlight how much the content of the show has shifted towards education and away from more “overtly commercial” interests, Carter explains. “It is a big change – a few years ago we had wineries advertising only their own wines in the masterclasses, but we really wanted to get away from that.

“We’re looking for people to come away having learnt about an up-and-coming region, or a grape variety from a different region,” he says.

Both the masterclasses – which are application-only and given by recognised industry leaders, MWs and MSs – and Speakers Corner will be returning to the show, with informal soapbox-style presentations complementing the programme of larger industry briefings, which includes sessions on the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) and big data in the wine industry.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.44.21Data challenge

This is a big focus of this year’s fair and will look at how such a sizeable industry – in terms of the business operating in it and the number of SKUs they represents – manages data. It dovetails

neatly with the launch of Bottlebooks, the online wine data platform show organiser Brintex is bringing to the UK in partnership with the German company that developed the software.

“As an industry we’re very data-reliant, but we have very poor methods of sharing it – it’s all Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, Word documents and multiple emails. For an industry with multiple suppliers with multiple SKUs, with multiple wines related to different SKUs, you’re talking about hundreds of individual pieces of information – and we need to access best practice when it comes to data handling,” Carter explains. “Bottlebooks is a genuine revolution in wine sharing data.”

The system is acting as the wine producer, taste and search facility for the show, and Carter hopes it will become the wine platform for the UK trade “and beyond”. Using the software has marked a significant step up in the show’s organisation, Carter admits, with the result that its own platform will continue to be relevant after the LWF has closed its doors on 5 May.

A new proposition

“Before, the problem of offering an online platform was that it was only relevant to visitors for two weeks prior to the show and for the three days of the show itself,” Carter explained. “Bottlebooks is a whole different proposition – it will be relevant 365 days a year to all the wine trade.

“It is about more than just selling square metres,” he adds. “We want to engage with clients better, with more relevant content and services for the industry, and delivering content that is specific to different needs and channels.

“For example, there are more than 25 importers (excluding Esoterica) that are looking to supply premium wines in the on-trade and independent channel,” he points out. As a result, he argues, the show offers a commercial opportunity “like no other”.

“We go far beyond any other event in the world,” Carter continues, “organising seminars for importers looking for representation, offering niche importers a route to market through Esoterica, putting on thousands of tastings and seminars over the three days.

“Now we’re introducing software that allows visitors to filter down through thousands of wines we offer to find a specific wine for them.

“I’m confident you don’t find that mix regardless of size, at any other show.”

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