Vinexpo—the world’s leading show for wine and spirits professionals—was held in Bordeaux, France, from June 16–20. Just shy of 50,000 people attended the 17th annual show, representing 148 countries. Mirroring an increase in global consumption of wine, attendance spiked by about 3 percent.
Naturally, the highest percentage of visitors came from France, yet Americans’ attendance recorded an all-time high.
“One of every 10 of our foreign visitors came from North America, mainly the United States. It’s a signal that people are looking for new things,” says Robert Beynat, chief executive of Vinexpo, adding that appearances from East Coast sommeliers, restaurant owners, and wine buyers were particularly strong. Most American exhibitors hailed from the West Coast, representing wineries.
According to Vinexpo, the U.S. is the world’s leading wine-consuming nation (both in volume and value). It’s predicted that wine consumption in the U.S. will grow by an extra 40.5 million cases by 2016.
But what Beynat is most concerned about is that the country’s demand will outpace the current domestic production. The U.S. is the fourth-largest producer of wine in the world, with financially “strong companies,” he notes, like Constellation Brands, E. & J. Gallo Winery, and Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates.
“Exports of American-made wines are increasing, but you don’t have enough wines for your own market, including Canadians,” says Beynat. Comparatively, the French drink 50 liters per capita each year, the British 23, and—from that perspective, the U.S. is the fourth-largest consumer with around 12 liters consumed per capita each year.
Of the 85 sessions at this year’s Vinexpo, “Union Bordeaux les Crus Classifes” was the most popular, hosting 1,900 people for the two-day event. (Most of the other events attracted an average of 1,500 to 1,800 attendees.)
New this year was a selection of Chinese wines included in “Tasting by Vinexpo.” While not yet available for export to the U.S., tastings proved that they have the potential to be award-winning wines.
“We are happy that the Chinese are producing more and more wine,” says Beynat. Within the wine industry, trade shows such as this aren’t as flashy—with new products, gadgets, and more—as in other industries. Yet that’s the beauty of wine, an industry that thrives on brand and product loyalty.
“Tradition is one of the values in this market. On the contrary, in the spirits business they make new products every year, like ready-made cocktails,” says Beynat. Still, self-dispensing wine machines are skyrocketing in popularity, and while they used to be at only a handful of spots nationwide, the concept is slowly expanding to country clubs, wine bars, and restaurants alike. What customers recognize is increased value: For the price of an 8-ounce glass of wine they can sample two or three smaller pours, or experience many different varietals.
For restaurants, the potential to push new wines onto customers’ sipping radar—by encouraging them to reach outside of their comfort zones to try new varietals or regions—is limitless. Staffing a restaurant with wine professionals that can tell stories about a winery, especially as a result of personal travel, is a valuable tool. That wineries and restaurants can turn to social-media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest broadens the conversation. “There is more ability to interact with consumers via the Internet as well as via consumers with consumers,” says Beynat.
One tendency is to beef up a wine list as proof of a restaurant’s wine expertise. “Stop the big wine lists,” cautions Beynat. “Even with the iPad (wine list) it’s too large. When you are seated you have to be able to see the bottles. Today you have some restaurants that have understood that, with special lights and behind a wall of glass. This is very important.”
One of the best, he says, is at the Grand Hyatt Singapore and another is the Radisson Blu inside London’s Stansted Airport. “They have thousands of bottles and you see the bottles. It’s a tower of bottles in a tower of glass that’s 40 meters high in the middle of the hotel,” says Beynat. “Restaurants have to reinvent the way they present the wine and reinvent the job of sommeliers. You have to give the dream and let the consumer dream, helping him with his choice.”
By Kristine Hansen