When Germany meets France on a football pitch in a serious tournament, one can expect high levels of competition. And that’s what many in the wine industry are looking forward to at the beginning of next year when the giant wine trade fairs, ProWein and Wine Paris/Vinexpo, square up against each in February and March.
Looking at the two events in 2019, there seemed to be no contest. The Paris show lacked international credibility, while the one in Dusseldorf still seemed big enough to warrant the addition of a fourth day.
This year, the picture is somewhat different. Paris attracted 25,000 visitors at a time when fears of Covid were far higher and, just weeks before it opened its doors, many questioned whether the exhibition would even take place. As we reported, the event was generally considered to be a success. To be fair: It was certainly also in Paris' favor that they were the first of its kind after a long pause whereas ProWein had to struggle with the late date.
By postponing its dates, ProWein was held in a less pandemic-driven atmosphere, but after many buying decisions had already been made. With just 38,000 visitors, compared to 2019’s 61,500, it was bound to feel quieter than previous events. This was accentuated, however, by the far wider aisles and two extra halls that were added as a measure against the pandemic.
Many areas in Dusseldorf felt empty at times, especially on the first day – a Sunday - and there were none of the traditional long queues at the hot dog stands.
There were 5,700 exhibitors - an impressive figure for any trade fair, but here too, there was a fall of 17% compared to 2019, and even historically stalwart supporters such as some VDP producers failed to show up.
It is important to note that the exhibitors who did attend had already paid for the space two years ago. Any who decided not to come were avoiding the cost of hotel rooms and travel. After doing good business for two years without the expense of a trade fair, will some of them think twice before booking the same size stand next year?
Some, of course, may return in greater force. The ProWein organisers were delightedly spreading word that Grands Chais de France (GCF) had reserved a stand 100 square metres larger than their already-sizeable one, before the fair even opened.
Time to be Pragmatic - or Patriotic?
Signing up GCF was important for ProWein, because it will give their sales team useful ammunition when talking to French producers split between exhibiting in Dusseldorf or Paris next year. Much may depend on whether the German market and East European markets are as important to them as they are to GCF, but they are likely to feel the pressure to support their ‘own’ fair. Italian producers like Andrea Lonardi of Bertani acknowledge that for his compatriots, the idea of not exhibiting at Vinitaly, is hard to imagine, but, as he says, “we only need one other fair in Europe, and one in Asia.”
The Italian hall at ProWein, like the French one, seemed to be among the most lightly attended, but Italians noted that the German fair was certainly handicapped in being held , for the first time, after Vinitaly.
Austria, seemed to have settled into its new hall and Chris Yorke, managing director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) echoed many in saying that, ‘the right people’ had turned up, even if the overall numbers were not impressive.
Many German exhibitors felt similarly, but several noted a lesser tights at the VDP area compared to previous years when visitors eagerly crowded round stands to taste the latest vintages.
The New World exhibitors in Hall 12, by contrast, said they had done good business, and this will certainly be relevant to the Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans as they consider whether to return to the kinds of large generic stands they had before the pandemic. Laura Jewell, of Wine Australia acknowledged that she was looking carefully at the event and listening to the Australian exhibitors’ comments.
Exhibitors in Hall 11 - a wild mixture of spirits, French producers like Paul Mas and Gimonnet Champagne, generic organizations and joint stands from ‘other wine-growing regions’, such as Eastern Europe, Israel, Lebanon or China - were at least partly satisfied. The Central and Eastern European stands in particular saw a fairly constant flow of visitors, and many were interested in tasting the wines from the Shabo winery which single-handedly represented Ukraine at the fair.
Among the positive comments that were heard at the fair, some exhibitors noted that the wider aisles made the stands more striking visually, while visitors said it was certainly easier, quicker and less stressful to get around the fair.
Visitors often also reported that, with less crowded booths, it was comparatively easy to spend time tasting and in discussion. Exhibitors who had sensibly filled their agenda with meetings before the event were also often quite satisfied with the event.
Fewer Disruptive Factors
One of the rumours that was being discussed was the possibility that ProWein might follow the example of Vinitaly in having a public day – most likely at the weekend. The idea was not generally popular and Messe Düsseldorf was applauded for not having tried to take this step in 2022 to make up for the decline in visitors. In fact, by contrast, the organisers were even stricter than usual in application of the admission restrictions more strictly than in the past. Thus, among those who did not come to ProWein were precisely those whose visit to the stand otherwise tended to distract from the trade fair.
While there were almost no consumers to be seen at the fair, there were, certainly ‘exhibiting visitors’ who did not have a stand, but who met a selected - especially international - contacts at the fair. There were also stories of companies hosting events off-site, in hotels and restaurants, rather than pay for an exhibition stand.
The clock is already ticking down to February 13th 2023 when Wine Paris/Vinexpo opens its doors – and to March 19, when ProWein will do the same. Both events have highly experienced, well-resourced organisers who know how much depends on the success of those events. The chances are that the result will be a draw rather than an outright win for either team. Time will tell.