Returning to Olympia for its 39th showing this month, the London Wine Fair, the largest annual trade event for the UK wine industry, will see no fewer than 14,000 wines from 40 countries present at the three-day expo from 20-22 May.
This year sees a series of small but significant shifts, from more wineries attending from further afield, to a new focus on the ways brands can, and should, take a stand on today’s important issues.
There are always challenges with events such as these, but the London Wine Fair’s own tribulations are unique. Head of the fair, Hannah Tovey, has had to shepherd this year’s planning through two Brexit deadlines. The situation is so unusual, during our interview at the start of the month, we joke that we may need to call her back a week later just to make sure her answers are the same. “It’s either going to be the last day of the London Wine Fair or the end of the year,” she says.
Fortunately, at the time of writing, it looks like the latter, so at the moment “we’re assuming we’re not going to fall off the face of the earth”.
When the EU divorce deadline was scheduled for the first half of April, the immediate worries were about stock arriving for the three-day event, but now that a no-deal is off the cards for at least a few more months, Tovey’s second Brexit priority is managing the concerns of the exhibitors themselves. “It’s very difficult to plan your marketing activity when exchange-rate fluctuations are off the scale, and there’s so much uncertainty about how to transport wine across borders,” she says.
What is more telling still, she adds, is the lack of consensus about how to address these issues. “Some people are saying they’re not worried,” she says, but others, importers for example, have spent so much money on stockpiling they “have nothing left. It’s been very diverse, which makes it difficult to manage.” With so much dissonance in the wine industry, and so much at stake, Tovey’s team have made sure that exhibitors and their clients are able to talk about Brexit as much as necessary.
When the fair held its official launch party in February, it also hosted a roundtable with the Wine and Spirits Trade Association that was focused on businesses’ EU-related concerns. This, she says, meant they were able to get as much up-to-date information as possible in the run-up to the fair, while the event itself will open with a Brexit briefing session for the third consecutive year.
Although Tovey says that some “significant” exhibitors have had to pull out of London Wine Fair this year, the overall numbers haven’t been affected. The losses have been offset by new entrants, and, perhaps surprisingly, “the most notable growth has come from the European sector”. Indeed, this year’s event will see the launch of new pavillions focusing on European businesses, the largest of which is dedicated to wines from Greece. There will also be a large showing from ViniPortugal, with 34 producers, as well as a number of Basque wineries.
The organisers have also given even more space to Prosecco producers this year, with The Consorzio bringing a large group of producers to showcase the best of the northern Italian region. Old Favourites One of the most popular sections – Esoterica, which showcases the portfolios of niche and micro-importers – has been kept on, and its capacity bolstered
. A number of quirky products will be on show from boutique sellers. Returning after its LWF debut last year, English winery Black Chalk will unveil its second vintage, focusing on traditional method sparkling with a generous amount of Pinot Meunier in the blend. Another exhibition space set to return is Wines Unearthed, dedicated to discovery and finding exciting wines that have yet to be seen in the UK. This year, the space has been updated to also include a section devoted to organic wines.