Meininger's: This has been a very interesting year.
Lameyse: It's a strange year because we don't have any wine and there's no demand. Thanks — ‘thanks’ — to climate change, we've had a year in which the volumes harvested are the lowest for 60 years, which is perhaps a godsend, to rebalance the market a little.Whether in France, Italy, Spain or the United States, it's very clear. Those who needed volumes, as in Burgundy, have volumes, those who had too much stock have a little less harvest. Except for the Australians.
Meininger’s: What are the main challenges facing the industry?
Lameyse: I think there are several:
- First, there’s climate change, which is a long-term issue. We have to live with it.
- Then, there’s the issue of falling global consumption, whatever it is — red, white or yellow. Or young or less young consumers.
- Finally, we also have the fact that wine is often held hostage by economic and political tensions between countries.
And the consequence of all this is that the wine business model is relatively fragile at the moment.
Meininger’s: What consequences do you see from all this?
Lameyse: In fact, the worst of what could happen is that ‘cash is king’. People who need cash to keep on living may sell — cheaply, causing a collapse in prices.
We're at a moment that’s interesting because it's a real crossroads. Something is going to happen. The industry is going to be radically transformed from an economic point of view. And it's going to be painful. Especially in Europe, because the fundamentals of the industry are based on economic structures that will be called into question.
People who need cash to keep on living may sell – cheaply, causing a collapse in prices.
Of course, I don't have a crystal ball, but I think it's going to be an opportunity for the industry to restructure. The very top-of-the-range products will become even more top-of-the-range. Mainstream products will either go up or down. Or disappear.
Meininger's: What does this mean for the market?
Lameyse: There's an expression: change or die. The value chain is going to change. It may be more like Champagne. Some will no longer make wine but will produce grapes to the specifications set by others who will supply markets under perhaps generic brands. As happens in the New World but not yet in Europe. When you look at Europe as a whole, there's a lot of producers delivering bottom-of-the-range wine to supermarkets and other outlets at price levels that are unsustainable.
Meininger’s: How do you see this through your perspective as organiser of a major wine exhibition?
Lameyse: I see these trends when I talk to our customers, the exhibitors, but I also talk a lot to importers from all over the world. I sense a concern and a search for solutions that is unlike anything I’ve seen since I arrived in this job.
Organisations in each of the countries are saying ‘we need one international reference’. Today you have the OIV for everything that has to do with regulations and wine production, but there’s a need to get together on everything economic.
The development model of many of these wine producers is debt, and today, interest rates are no longer the same as they were two or three years ago. Now, there is no such thing as free money. If you no longer have commercial outlets and you have the double penalty of the financial burden, you're out of luck. So, it's a real issue.
Meininger’s: But surely rising and falling interest rates are cyclical?
Lameyse: You can say the fall in consumption is due first and foremost to the increase in the cost of living, but spirits sales are rising and spirits are expensive. I've never seen such tension as in the last year. The anti-alcohol lobbies are pushing harder than ever. And it's not going to go down, it's going to go up.
We can take market share from our friends, but the cake continues to shrink.
There's a need, if you like, for the industry to come together. When I say the industry, I mean the wine world. The cake is shrinking. We can take market share from our friends, but the cake continues to shrink.
Meininger’s: So how does an organisation like Vinexposium fit into this?
Lameyse: We have to be less passive — and far more of a driving force behind this change. So how can we be the driving force?
Our job is to organise a trade show, but beyond that, we're community legislators, we bring the community together, we get the community to work to put buyers and sellers face to face, that's going to remain our core business. But more and more, we're saying ‘wait a minute, how can we get the entire global wine industry to work together and design the world of tomorrow as they would like it to be’?
We need to have a bit of ambition and to say to ourselves ‘how should we react to the consequences of climate change?’Wine producers are respectful of their land for the most part and we could tell that story. But our children want more. ‘Dad, I'd like the carbon footprint of wine to be more respectful of the environment’.
And ‘Dad, alcohol isn't good for your health, it's a drug, it's harmful…’Yes, alcohol isn't good for your health in high doses, but is eating fatty products good for your health? Is eating sugar all day long good for your health? Is TikTok good for your mental health? We need to look for a balanced approach.
Meininger’s: Will Wine Paris be Wine Paris in 10 years time?
Lameyse: We don't change because we want to change, we change because we have to change. That's the fundamental element. We'll never be dogmatic, in any case, as long as I'm here and we won't hesitate to be explorers.
The time has come when there is a need to get together to work on ways of repositioning wine in a different way.
But within wine, there's no solidarity. It's not because they don't stick together. It's that everyone is in their own lane, and the time has come when there is a need to get together to work on ways of repositioning wine in a different way. The wine world needs what the Anglo-Saxons call lobbying. And I think we have a role to play in this. Should it be done in big open conferences like Porto, or should it be done upstream ‘undercover?’ I think that's where it should happen first. Certainly, and especially in Brussels and at the WHO.
Moreover, I think wine can’t go on being a product that lives by itself. It is either seen as fitting into the same category as tobacco or a drug, or you make it a product linked with culture, humanity, conviviality and history. Let's do that and never forget that the first to make wine were the monks.
What I mean by that is that overall, you have to tip the scales, and the role of Vinexposium is to tip the scales with everyone's help. Is everyone going to follow us? No, but I can already tell you that we're not alone on this issue. So, to your question ’will Vinexposium be the same in 10 years?’ the answer is ‘no’. And I hope it won’t be.
Meininger’s: This year Wine Paris and ProWein are only a few weeks apart. Does it make sense to expect exhibitors or visitors to attend both?
Lameyse : If you like, these are two very different offers and they're also complementary in some ways. And where I want to take Vinexposium now is probably in an area that's quite different to our German colleagues and competitors. You go to Paris for one reason, you go to Düsseldorf for another.
You go to Paris for one reason, you go to Düsseldorf for another.
Meininger’s: The wine industry talks a lot about about climate change and heavy bottles. But, surely exhibitions are environmentally damaging by their very nature – with all the travel they involve. Might we see a future with more virtual meetings?
Lameyse: I don't think so, because we've finally had a crash test in the industry with COVID, yes, we all found ourselves obliged to do nothing but the virtual. And when the pandemic was over, people were very happy to meet in person, and we increased the number of events because we said to ourselves that we had to go out and conquer again. So we went to Seoul, and this year, 2024, it's Paris, and New York, Hong Kong, the Bulk fair in Amsterdam and India.
But, I agree that now, maybe, we do more zoom meetings and then, once a year, we get on a plane and we meet up in Paris or elsewhere, so we don't have to do 10 different flights. Before COVID, we used to get on a plane for 24 hours in Hong Kong. Well, there are still a few who do it, obviously, but in absolute terms, people do it a lot less. And the physical meetings are more dedicated, because in this sector, what's essential is sharing.
So, are trade fairs under threat? Yes. I don't think all trade shows will survive. Some will emerge stronger because they’re essential — a must — and some will disappear.