SIMEI and WBWE Wrap Up a Very Different Year of Wine Fairs

After two years of pandemic, 2022 will be remembered as the year when, like other sectors, the wine industry had to come to terms with a very different world.

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Many changes when planning a trade fair (Photo: WBWE)
Many changes when planning a trade fair (Photo: WBWE)

Unless they are interrupted by wars, natural disasters or pandemics or falling numbers of exhibitors or visitors, trade fairs in every sector generally take place, bringing together buyers and sellers in the exhibition halls and the restaurants and bars that surround them. Apart from being places where - hopefully at least - business is done, they also offer the opportunity to take the temperature of the industry as a whole.
 

No Return to Normal

Of course 2022 was bound to be a very different year from any that went before. As it began, fears of Covid were still widespread and many wondered whether Wine Paris would open its doors in February. ProWein reacted to the challenge by postponing to a far later date than the fair organisers would ever have wished or imagined.

These two events, along with the more nationally-specialised Vinitaly, always attract industry attention. For obvious reasons, the SIMEI equipment fair in Milan and the WBWE, bulk wine far in Amsterdam which brought 2022’s exhibition calendar to a close, are the focus of far less discussion, but they offer just as revealing - arguably more stark - an insight into the general mood. 

In mid February, everyone attending Wine Paris was aware of the risk to Ukraine of an imminent invasion by Russia. Few, however, imagined a war that would still be raging in the weeks leading up to Christmas, or the impact that it would have on energy prices and the cost of buying empty bottles or shipping full ones. In May, at least some optimistic visitors to ProWein in Dusseldorf were still talking about a ‘Roaring Twenties’ recovery from lockdown.

To see a wide range of equipment (Photo: SMEI)
To see a wide range of equipment (Photo: SMEI)

Reality Bites in Milan

By November, optimism was harder to find in Milan. With nearly 500 exhibitors, it offered thousands of local producers and groups of buyers from 50 countries the chance to see and touch a wide range of equipment and to attend conference sessions covering a similarly diverse set of topics. Talking to participants, it was clear that big private companies and cooperatives with deep pockets and long term strategies were still in the market for new tanks and presses, and smaller concerns were ready to think about spending a few thousand euros on an egg or an amphora, but the mood was certainly subdued.

China was still locked down, with a wine market that has gone into reverse. In the US wine consumption has also plateaued and, in any case, American buyers are often still nervous of travelling overseas to countries where masks are still mandatory on trains. Given the volumes of unsold wine in their tanks following their country’s trade spat with China, Australian buyers were similarly unlikely to be looking to invest in new equipment. Europeans, for their part, worried about recession.
 

Dutch Auction

All of these factors were just as relevant to Amsterdam a few days later at WBWE. But here, there were other factors. Australia may be the worst hit nation when it comes to a surplus of wine, but other countries have plenty. So, in stark contrast to 2021, when visitors went from stand to stand trying to source the styles they needed, often at prices they didn’t want to pay, this year the event really was a ‘Dutch Auction’ where everyone wondered just how cheaply a wine can be sold. On one Australian stand, the exhibitor poured a high quality Shiraz, telling a prospective Danish customer that he could have it for $1.50 a litre - a dollar less than in 2021. And even that price might be negotiable. The buyer questioned how far that flexibility might go. “We offered a supermarket a wine at $1.80, and they responded that they would only pay $1.20” he said.

And even that price might be negotiable. The buyer questioned how far that flexibility might go. “We offered a supermarket a wine at $1.80, and they responded that they would only pay $1.20” he said.

If retailers are worried about the impact inflations may have on their customers’ wine buying, they are also thinking about the additional cost of bottles and shipping. As another producer said, “Our energy and other costs are going up, but our customers are trying to strip the 20 or 30 extra cents they’re paying for bottlers, bottling and shipping out of what they will give us.”

Cheap but Good

Another factor was quality. Wine professionals who have not attended WBWE - a description that would apply to many who should have done so, if only out of curiosity - would struggle to imagine the standard of wines on offer from countries ranging from North Macedonia to Chile at $0.70-$1.50. Or the commercially acceptability of wines selling for even less. The average price for Spanish bulk wine is just $0.44/litre. 

Today, especially in a year like 2022, anyone with wines that are not of at least a basic standard shouldn’t waste their money on a - quite costly - exhibition stand at WBWE. And the ones who are planning to show their wines need to consider whether they are organic, or at least sustainable. A growing number of the most attractive-priced wines now have at least some kind of green certification.

At the bulk end of the market, alcoholic strength is also going to be of increasing importance. In Norway, 14% is already a ceiling for the monopoly while, in the UK, there are firm plans - widely opposed by British professionals - to levy excise duty according to alcoholic degree. If some buyers will be looking for lighter-bodied, less alcoholic wines. Others will want the bigger, richer stuff that suits dealcoholisation.

Finally, to judge by the standing-room-only audience for the canned-wine session at WBWE, interest in alternative packaging is only going to grow.

 

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