FENAVIN 2009 – Reflections on 5 Wine Fair Cycles in Spain | Catavino
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FENAVIN 2009 – Reflections on 5 Wine Fair Cycles in Spain


Four and half years ago, we moved to Spain with a small dream of working in a vineyard, and possibly one day, making a little wine with our own small vineyard. In those first few months, after we arrived, I struggled to figure out how I was going to make this dream come true, while Gabriella trekked diligently day by day to English classes throughout Madrid in hopes of keeping us clothed and fed. I had a small writing gig with a site called Mad about Madrid, and with this thin credential, I somehow weaseled my way as accredited press the the wine fair FENAVIN.

In truth, I had no clue why I was there. I think at that point, I was still hoping that someone would see me wandering around the fair lost and wide eyed and say to themselves, “Yeah that guy should sell my wine…”, which would put me directly in the heart of the wine trade. The reality was in the end a 2 day stint of me walking around, tasting a few random wines, mentioning that I might write about them on this new thing called a “blog” and leaving with too many crappy pamphlets in my pocket. That and a new appreciation for wearing comfortable shoes at wine fairs!

After having returned last year, where a friend and I manned a “social media stand”, and this year, where I had a continuous stream of meetings. It felt odd to see how far I’ve come, and how far FENAVIN has not, or rather wine fairs in general. The fair is essentially identical as when I first visited in 2005. Rows and rows of producers, crappy overpriced food, no stable or open (free) wifi, and rows and rows of bored export managers.

I know most wine fairs are similar in that they are not the most innovative affairs, and I expect to see many of the same problems when we head to London this week, but I will say this, THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE. They do succeed at allowing meetings to happen, but with today’s online tools such as skype allowing people to do this for free, the wine fairs better change their methods, or possible suffer when web savy wineries wake up to the money being thrown away on expensive stands.

Take our story. In 2005, we started a simple run of the mill blog. But then, as time passed, we began to see the emergence of online video, photo sharing and social tasting note sites. Twitter began to overtake the whole social media landscape mid last year, adding verbs to our dictionary that would confuse a canary: tweet, twit, twitted, tweeting. Today what I can do with my cell phone, from live streaming video to uploading almost any content I can imagine directly from my phone, makes my mind struggle to grasp the speed of change in the world at large. The world has changed, let’s see if we can offer up some changes for the wine fairs.

I offer a list of things that I think any 2.0 or forward thinking fair better embrace:

  1. FREE WIFI – Today business gets done online. You’re holding a fair to give businesses the opportunity to get work done. With live streaming video, twitter, and social networks quickly becoming a business must, and not an optional extra, I have no clue why WIFI is not a #1 Priority. The social media traffic alone that will be directed to your event is priceless. Not to mention the possibility for creative minds to produce content on the spot with your wine fair brand as the background!
  2. Power outlets everywhere. Can you even be a wine export manager and not have a computer? Seriously, how do you do business with out it? So why is it that finding a place to plug in is about as hard as finding an empty spittoon? These are two things that you can’t be without!
  3. Video Conferencing. This might be a bit advanced, but why not set up a space to do some tastings for those that are not able to come? Set up a simple PW protected page on your site, and offer the non-tech savvy wine makers a chance to try out Skype with video? Hell, this year FENAVIN dis-invited the Mexican contingent over something or another (oink), and didn’t even think to offer a video feed for those who could not make it, so that they could at least keep appointments. This is so simple in the end, I can’t understand why we haven’t seen it yet. Not to mention offer your seminars online with live video services like Ustream.
  4. A fair catalog that doesn’t weigh as much as my laptop(actually often more). Maybe a catalog on a USB drive? I seem to know someone else who is thinking this way. To print one catalog alone costs more than giving away cheap usb drives. Plus, you can brand them and provide 100 times the information – all indexable and searchable. This is truly amazing that we don’t have it yet. Better yet, just make this information available on your mobile website, so that I can check the location of my next appointment from my cellphone, or over your newly implemented WIFI network! 🙂
  5. Speakers who are from the 21st century. Every year we all encounter the exact same talks: Marketing 101, New Package Design, Wine Making Trends, Best Wine of the BS Committee, and on and on. Why not mention this amazing place called the internet? Or topics like Climate Change, Emerging markets? 5 years ago, I would give you a pass on that, but in today’s world, I think it’s criminally negligent to omit the internet as a  fundamental part of wines future.

I know some of these ideas are too geeky for the people who put on these events to grasp, and I also know that with time these things will become normal and not so “out there”. But I find it both disappointing and lamentable that after 5 years -where I myself have grown and developed in more ways that I could have imagined – that many a wine fair is still in the same place as it was then, and most likely many years before.

Well at least we know one conference that will be looking forward and not back. Tell us what you want to see at the next wine fair you attend, leave your thoughts in the comments as always!



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  • Andrea

    Thanks for the post Ryan, I do hope that wine expo people start getting a clue and modernize their marketing methods or at least have provide decent food samples (free or part of the admission price) that I can munch on while tasting so I don't end up “head drunk” within 30 mins!!! The wine fairs that I visited in Miami while I was living there were quite decent, especially the South Beach Wine and Food Festival http://www.sobewineandfoodfest.com/2009/index.php -it may be just as expensive as theirs but completely worth every penny! Maybe Euro wine fairs could learn something from them?

  • Bill

    Ryan,It is your job to bridge the gap between geekdom and event planning, and make some money to boot. Excellent suggestions and a niche waiting to be filled. Why not Catavino?BB

  • Jim White

    Whilst I agree with almost all the points you make here, I found that this year at Fenavin there was free wifi, the catalogue was online on the web site, and that I couldn't do on-line what I most go to wine fairs for: To actually meet the producers, export managers etc, and to taste the wine.I don't want to do business with someone who I have never met, and to actually get samples form every possible supplier, then taste them at home would just not be practical.So yes, certain seminars could be made available on-line, if I am at the fair, I can go along in person and actually take part.

  • Jim, good points, but first…the Wifi if it was free was not easy to find or to stay connected to. So as the last FENAVIN and this one both made this hard to do, I have to say I was not impressed. It should be a priority to make it work, as opposed to an afterthought. If the Catalog is online, then I'm sorry, but I didn't see it. When I go there now all I find is a list of exhibitors, with no contact info. So part of the Catalog is online, but not the useful part! :)Now I agree there is value in these fairs, but I would say that fairs of this size are not worth the time. In the end using the web to do “pre-screenings” that would give you the visitor a chance to be more productive at the fair. I think it needs to be a hybrid between online and offline so as to make the event more productive.

  • It was great being invited to FENAVIN and great bumping into you Ryan at LIWF on Tuesday.Some thoughts as I read in the Spanish press claims that FENAVIN was as good as LIWF. I am afraid it falls way behind on a few basics which are to me much more important than technology.1. The feedback form is on paper to be faxed. Well I receive faxes via email and can't send faxes. So this blog gets my comments before the organisers.2. Smoking and strong perfume were quite common at FENAVIN. OK there was a lot of Body Odour at LIWF so that evens things.3. There were no general large floor standing spitoons. The small table-top ones get filled quickly and generate un-hygenic splash-back. Also the exhibitors had to keep dashing off to empty the spitoons and leaving their stands empty.4. The toilets were dirty from from very first day.5 I thought women were using the men's toilets until i discovered that the red stains in the toilet bowls were a result of spitoons being emptied. Not very sound in terms of germ control.6. The glassware had to be taken to the cleaning stations by the exhibitors themselves. Is there full employment in Ciudad Real? 7. On arrival i was SOLD a catalogue. Hey I have been flown from London plus taxi Barajas to Atocha and then train to Ciudad Real and a coach to a paid up hotel and I have to BUY a show catalogue only to find a FREE catalogue (on paper) in the business centre.8. But I love Spain so forgive most things. But then at 15:00 on the last day Thursday most of the stands decided that they were going to pack up and go home including everybody in Las Canarias and most of Malaga. The show had been advertised as closing at 19:00 and I still had work to do and only a handful of exhibitors were still there at 19:00.

  • Have a look at what this buyer had to say about large trade fairs.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ypy1TPfwnaA Reinforces some of the points made here

  • Yes but yet you (wine importers) still support them and continue to go and then the next one as bad as the previous. Shouldn't you make the decision to stop going to these large trade events – that way organisers might wake up and find out why. Wineries are also guilty – they continue to pay Fenavin, Alimentaria et al money for what amounts to a small % of quality buyers while the remainder of buyers are there for a good party which of course they get.