Both Spain and Portugal made their mark at the London International Wine Fair 2009 edition this past week. Spain has always had a knack for its dominating and stylish presence. Walk past the enormous stand representing the generic body promoting Spanish wines called ICEX and you rarely saw a square foot unoccupied. 13 autonomous communities were represented, including: Andalusia, Aragon, Castilla-La Mancha, , Catalonia, Valencia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and Basque Country. Even tiny Denominacion de Origines, representing only a handful of bodegas within these massive autonomous communities garnered some limelight, whereby providing importers the opportunity to taste wines that are generally difficult to discover in any other situation.
What made Spain so successful at the London Wine Fair? Maybe their success stemmed from their perpetual handout of Iberian Jamon, an immediate hit regardless of your carnivorous persuasion, or maybe it was a result of their constant line-up of guided tastings including: Spanish whites, Spanish reds, Cava and Rosé? Although both of these factors may have played a role, my sense is that Spanish wine, for better or for worst, has built a reputation as wine country that offers high quality wines as an affordable price. Having beat France last year in exports, Spain can rest assured that their wines, albeit a little regionally lopsided towards Rioja et al., have gained a healthy reputation for quality. Add this to the fact that they occupied prime real estate at the fair, smack dab in the middle of the fair during very a low traffic year, and relatively speaking, you have a good recipe for success.
But is the price, energy and time worth it to ICEX? According to María José Sevilla, the Wine and Food Director of Spain,Â “No, it isn’t”. She feels that fairs devoted exclusively to Spanish wines are considerably more successful than an international wine fair that requires an exorbanant amount of resources for little return. However, many Spanish bodegas would argue the contrary, with the caveat that all 3 days of the fair are packed with as many pre-scheduled appointments as you can muster. If, on the other hand, you’re hoping to garner business without any prior legwork, the chances of you going home with future prospects are slim to none.
As for Portugal, rather than conducting a series of back to back tastings, they chose a completely different route, and one they appear to be very satisfied with. Starting Tuesday, May 12th at 9:30 am through the closing of the Fair on the 14th, we along with our friends at Adegga.com, launched a webpage specifically for the London Wine Fair complete with a live video of the Viniportugal stand, a live blog recording various talks, and a visual twitter stream showing tweets made at the fair. By collating the information into one convenient location, everyone could follow along, regardless if you were physically at the fair. Not to say that technology didn’t have its sour moments, as WIFI was a continual issue – no free coverage!! – but overall, Viniportugal was able to grasp the attention and awe of both attendees and non attendees alike. Add regularly scheduled small burst sessions on Social Media and Blogging, Social Tasting Note Sites and the AVIN (an ISBN for wine), along with a tasting session about Madeira with Charles Metcalfe, a new Portuguese wine brand with Nick Oakley, an Alentejo tasting with Jamie Goode and a Portuguese Masters Class with Sarah Ahmed, and you have a really interesting educational series.
Viniportugal was not only able to capture the attention of the entire fair for its novel and innovative approach, but it also taught many of the Portuguese wineries about social media through proximity to their stands alone. Some winemakers would casually meander by and pick up on a conversation on social media, while others were astounded by the power of social tasting note sites – awakening to the fact that their consumers like you are building in influence and power over their sales each and everyday.
Where Spain and Portugal merged was in their united interest in learning more about how social media can be used effectively in promoting their wines. No longer can generics sit on their laurels waiting for consumers to magically stumble across their wineries or their wines. No longer can they dictate information through one directional monologues, giving zero options to the consumer to either participate or interact. Generics needs to enter a bi-directional conversation using a series of free tools that will allow the consumer to have an active role in the success of their wines. However, in order to accomplish this, they must not only lead by example, but also provide adequate education to help their wineries use these tools effectively.
The question being, will there be an opportunity for consumers to actively participate in a wine trade fair in the future? Can social media provide a bridge that could potentially link consumers with importers, sharing their own desire of wines they want to see in their region? Could wineries use social media tools like Facebook or Dopplr to connect with importers and distributors prior to the fair? Could a live blog be set up at each generic stand allowing consumers, importers and retailers to ask questions throughout the fair? How do you see social media becoming better integrated into wine trade fairs in the future?