LONDON – An era ended at the 2001 London International Wine & Spirit Fair when it was held for the last time at the Olympia Hall in Kensington. But it is certainly on a very high note that the focus will now move to an exciting new venue – the Fair was seen by many, including organisers Brintex Exhibitions, to be of the most successful yet.

The air-cooling system brought temperatures down to a comfortable level as more than 11 000 potential buyers explored and enjoyed the largest selection of wine and spirits ever displayed in the 21-year history of the event. Andrew Evans, Event Director, commented, “We are delighted that our final show at Olympia has been so well received.”

The new era will now see the LIWSF making itself comfortable at Europe’s newest exhibition venue, ExCeL, situated in London’s Docklands. “For the past 11 years Olympia has provided a first class home for the LIWSF,” explains Evans. “During this time we have seen the Fair double in size and we are now operating at full capacity within the halls. Working closely with the wine and spirits industry, we have reached the conclusion that we must move the Fair to an alternative venue if we are to allow the event to progress in future years.”

The total number of visitors over the three days was a record 11 009, with 20% from abroad and 1 100 exhibiting companies, the largest yet, from 30 countries worldwide.

The South African representation also reached an all time high with 86 exhibitors in the colourful South African pavillion, prominently near the entrance to the main hall – in fact dominating the scene with colourful flags, logos and events like ethnic dancing. In addition to these, 20 other exhibitors from the Cape were spread out at their own stands or with their agents.

“Compared to other New World wine countries, this number was very favourable for South Africa,” said Su Birch, Chief Executive Officer of Wines of South Africa (WOSA). “In fact, we were the biggest on the Fair, not only among the New World wine countries.”

This is not surprising, however, seeing that the UK is still the world’s biggest – and South Africa’s single most biggest – export market. “Another market that is also fast growing is Ireland,” explains Sue. “And then, of course, Germany. That is the market we really want to and need to crack.”

Unfortunately, unhappiness among some South Africans was evident because some were placed in the upper hall and others in the main hall. Most exhibitors upstairs felt that the main rush was downstairs and that everything was happening around the WOSA stand. Some, however, clearly preferred the more quiet quarters in the upper hall.

Sue explained that the venue was too small to accommodate all the SA exhibitors downstairs and that space was allocated on a first come (or rather first pay) first serve basis. “This will, however, not be a problem next year, seeing that we are moving to a bigger exhibition centre.”

The overall feeling, however, was positive. Said Boets Nel of Die Krans, “This is the chance to meet agents of all over Europe and also the most cost effective way to renew and keep existing ties healthy. Exposure to products and trends are vital, because it keeps you in the big picture on what’s going on in the world.”

Another leading Cape wine producer, Beyers Truter of Kanonkop, agrees saying, “You can’t miss this. This is the event where big buyers get the opportunity to taste your wine and this doesn’t happen very often.”

For newcomer George de Ridder of Ridder’s Creek at the Myliko stand, the reaction he got was “spot on”. This was the first time his range of wines was seen in any market. “We are here to introduce our wines to the buyers and are also on the outlook for agents. Feedback was mostly positive, especially on the packaging. It’s trendy, modern and catchy.”

The Fair was characterised by many firsts. Brintex embarked on a joint venture with Harpers in organising the Wine Trade Forum, a first ever for the Fair. The event was designed to focus on the key issues affecting the wine trade today and in future. According to Evans, this will ultimately help to unsure that the Fair is reflecting the needs of today’s buyers and suppliers.

With this said, it is not surprising that a number of brand new initiatives were launched this year. The E-zone attracted a lot of attention. It reflected the very latest trends in online wine activity around the world and has been developed to meet the demands of both visitors and technical exhibitors. It provided a focused snapshot into the latest web developments and was, according to the organisers, a buzz of activity.

“The List”, also an on-trade feature, provided a tasting trail with a difference. Anyone could follow a trail around five exhibitors tasting specific wines at each stand, giving descriptions and grading the wines. Lucrative prizes were awarded for the descriptions, which most closely matched the winemakers’ own tasting notes.

The Off Licence News Wine Trail was similar to The List, but specially designed for front-line retail managers who wanted to put their knowledge to the test.

Another feature was the Spirits Award ceremony where the national and international spirits trophies of the International Wine and Spirit Challenge were announced. Following the announcements, a tasting of all the gold medal and trophy winning spirits were up for tasting.

Other features included The International Restaurants (different national restaurants offering cuisine from specific countries), the Spirits Trade Pavilion, as well as industry seminars and briefings.

Dates for the 2002 London Wine and Spirit Fair are scheduled for May 21 – 23.

Hot and trendy
New trends at the Fair were e-commerce and the influence of youth-targeted packaging.

The E-Zone, on the National Hall gallery level, comprised several e-commerce companies. The Zone was divided in two with a traditional booth style section, allowing the exhibiting companies the chance to display the latest in technology and their services. The futuristic seminar theatre offered different presentations on how the Internet can benefit existing business, opportunities etc.

Packaging in general was very trendy and modern – definitely aimed at the youth. Some new products were also launched. A good example was the Cactus Jack Tequila, sour slammers and mixed doubles cocktail cans. They came in six flavours: raspberry, blackcurrant, kiwi, lime, apple and the Cactus Jack. The cocktail flavours included names such as Love Bite and Blue Movie.

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