Over the years London Wine Fair has gained and lost more letters than anyone cares to remember LWF – LIWF – LIWSF – LIWF and finally back to LWF. It’s almost as if the fair went on an international journey but decided that home was best after all. And it’s true, for many reasons, partly geographical, LWF failed to capture the international market. But the real issue was that it wasn’t quick enough to recognize its failure.
For me, London Wine Fair’s well documented decline is no different to a struggling brand that has lost its way and failed to connect with its audience. Think of Pringle and how its fusty golf course image turned into catwalk cool. Cue Ross Carter, the new show director to shakes things up.
At this point, let me declare an interest. No, I am not married to Ross Carter but I have met him on numerous occasions and been impressed with his drive and vision. My interest is simply that I have a huge will for the LWF to succeed; borne partly from a guiding principle that any market is best served locally but also from a firmly held belief that the UK wine market has a bright future.
So has LWF reached catwalk cool yet? In some ways, yes. It invented Esoterica to bring in new boutique importers and interesting wines. Esoterica created a much missed buzz and excitement and was probably the main reason that on trade visitors were up by 25%. But did LWF please everyone? Of course not. The layout was confusing and some larger exhibitors who pay the big bucks complained that Esoterica was so successful that they felt sidelined.
But let’s put this in context – the floor space was a sell out and visitors were up by 11%. And if the key problem is now about how to please the niche and the mainstream players, all within the same fair, then I think that in itself defines a certain kind of success. Beyond doubt, the UK needs its own wine trade event (clearly we shouldn’t devolve all our powers to Europe) and it looks to me as if LWF has finally worked out what it needs to be and is hell bent on getting there.