Vinexpo in world’s wine capital

Vinexpo is one of the major wine marketing events around the world. For publication in week starting 3 July 2017.

Bordeaux describes itself as the “world capital of wine”. Vinexpo is held every two years in Bordeaux and late last month attracted more than 2,300 exhibitors from 40 countries, and about 45,000 attendees from 150 countries.

This year is the tenth anniversary of UNESCO naming Bordeaux a world heritage site. The region is famous for the number of magnificent chateaux. Lonely Planet and the Los Angeles Times recently ranked Bordeaux as the number one place to visit in 2017.

Vinexpo is an international wine marketing brand. The main Vinexpo alternates each year between Bordeaux in France and Hong Kong. Other Vinexpos are scheduled for Japan, New York and Austria next year.

The venue on the northern edge of the city is one of the few that can accommodate so many people and events. The walk from one end of the show to the other is about 1.6km. The logistics are formidable: 22,048 glasses, 56 tastings and debates, and hundreds of public and private tastings, dinners and parties.

Major debate topics included the impact of climate change on the wine industry, the use of data in tracking consumer choice, the impact of Brexit on the world wine industry, and the influence of e-commerce on future wine sales.

World wine research group IWSR and Vinexpo released data that showed China will become the world’s second largest wine drinking country within about four years. Imports are expected to leap 80 per cent, to reach the equivalent of almost 95 million 12-bottle cases, and create a market worth USD 22,000 million. Last year the Chinese market consumed almost 53 million cases. China will represent almost three quarters of all worldwide wine growth over the next three years.

The relationship between Bordeaux and China has always been strong. A quarter of all wine sold in Bordeaux last year went to China. The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), which translates as the Bordeaux Wine Bureau, reported that exports to China last year rose 16 per cent compared with 2015 and exceeded the previous best sales year (2012). Bordeaux sold 6 million 12-bottle cases to China in 2012, while in 2016 the volume was 6.25 million cases.

Thomas Julien, CIVB’s China market director, described exports to China as “healthy”. “With new consumers coming into the wine category, wine is becoming an even more fundamental part of urban life. Imported wines are becoming a status symbol among affluent young people,” the June edition of the IWSR Journal quoted him as saying.

Bordeaux is the largest single AOC in France and makes the equivalent of 667 million bottles a year from about 112,000 hectares of vines. Nine in 10 bottles are red or rose, with the rest white or sparkling.

People from 150 countries visited Vinexpo this year, an indication of the increasingly global nature of the wine business. It is a trade-only event. About three in five of the attendees came from France, with China and the USA the next most represented nations.

Lei Zhao is general manager of the Chinese online wine company Tmall, which offers its services to French companies seeking to sell in China. One in four of all bottles of wine sold in China go through Tmall, which is part of the huge Alibaba Group. The company’s wine sales in 2015 totalled 10,000 million RMB (about USD 1.46 million) and were expected to be worth 60,000 million RMB this year (about USD 8.78 million), Lei Zhao said through a translator.

China was “enchanted by wine” with younger generations becoming more sophisticated, he said. The Alibaba Group controls all aspects of the social media spectrum in China, owning the equivalent of Facebook, YouTube and Amazon. “We are a data company,” Lei Zhao said. “We know who comes to our site and we are able to profile our consumers.”

Vinexpo’s new president, Christophe Navarre, advised attendees to “keep an eye” on China’s emerging NingXia region. About 20 producers attended the show. Younger consumers were eager to know more about wine and needed greater access to information, Navarre said. “That is why digitalisation presents challenges and opportunities for our industry.”

Tmall have used technology intelligently to reach younger consumers. They employ virtual reality and augmented reality tools to show people the beauty of vineyards, and apps like FaceTime to connect consumers with winemakers. The company also makes extensive connections with customers through its WeChat and WhatsApp apps, plus the Chinese equivalents of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

They also organise the 9/9 Festival on September 9 each year. Last year’s inaugural event saw one month’s average wine sales achieved on that one day. Alibaba owner Jack Ma said he wants to a build a “new global silk road” using wine as a link between China and the world.

Next week’s column will discuss more about Bordeaux. Some highlights of this year’s event included an inaugural Riesling day organised by the German Wine Institute, DWI, to focus on a white wine that is under-appreciated. They organised a picnic by the lake outside Vinexpo. Sadly, the event coincided with one of the hottest June days on record. DWI’s managing director Monika Reule said the idea of a Riesling Day was to focus the world’s attention on the outstanding quality of German Riesling.

Vinexpo had a special section for 150 organic and bio-dynamic wines for the first time. WOW!, or World of Organic Wines, was a response to what organisers said was “growing demand” for organic wines.

A highlight of a visit to Bordeaux is a chance to visit La Cite du Vin, a magnificent wine museum that opened in June last year. It has won numerous design awards. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux and a former French prime minister, said it was paradoxical that the city, which had been made very wealthy on the back of the wine industry for centuries, did not have a museum devoted to wine. Finally the situation had been rectified, and he hoped the museum would become an “essential component” of any trip to the city.

  • Vinexpo next year will be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 29-31 May 2018. Australia will be the featured country, just as Spain was the featured nation at Vinexpo in Bordeaux this year.

Words: 1,023

Categories: Bordeaux, France, Not home, wine

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