This is a post about the price of participating in wine fairs (especially expensive trade fairs) and its effect on the cost of wine. I look specifically at participation in the London International Wine Fair. I think the costs of these fairs makes conventional participation too expensive for small independent producers, but the fair does make sense for larger producers or grouped producers.
What is a trade fair?
A trade fair is a large exhibition of wine producers intended for a professional audience (as opposed to a salon or foire which is generally open to the public). Trade Fairs can feature some public speakers, but they tend to center around the wine exhibition (as opposed to conferences which tend to be more about speakers). You don’t really sell bottles at a trade show. The hope is more to make deals for larger quantities.
note: this photo is of Millesime Bio which is actually one of the most reasonably priced and scaled trade fairs. Instead of hiring a stand, you get a table. And everybody has the exact same table and table cloth. No massive two story buildings for the bigger wineries. Just the same plain white table. An interesting twist.
Throughout the year, there are many trade fairs such as the LIWF (London), VinExpo/ViniSud (alternating years in Bordeaux/Montpellier), and ProWein (Düsseldorf). These are massive wine fairs full of stands (hundreds or even thousands of them) intended largely for professional audiences consisting of retailers, importers, negociants, journalists, etc.
You pay a pretty penny for your stand (thousands of euros for a small stand at an event that lasts a few days) and you hope to rack up as many business meetings and journalist sightings as possible.
How much does a trade fair cost?
The short of it is that trade fairs cost a lot. There is the basic cost of getting a stand. Then there are all sorts of ancillary costs like travel, lodging, and stand furniture. In the best case scenario, a fair like ViniSud might cost just over 1,000 Euros for the small stands. In the more extravagant scenarios, shows like VineExpo and the LIWF can cost thousands just to get in the door. And then you still have to furnish the stand and make it look different than the hundreds of other stands within line sight of yours. And if you want electricity, lighting, ice to chill your whites, or really anything other than a carpeted stand, you’ll probably have to pay for it.
I don’t want to be purely theoretical, so let’s grab some real numbers from the official trade fair websites.
LIWF - costs-booking
– Shell package at £346/per sq.m.
– Space only at £291/per sq.m
Shell Package is a pre-built stand with walls, lights, name-plates, shelving and a counter, which you just need to ‘dress’.
Space only is the name given to an area with nothing whatsoever on it. You are literally renting an empty ‘space’ on which you must build your own stand.
I’m not sure what the minimum space is at LIWF, and they’re not answering my emails (probably busy organizing the event which is just around the corner). But, from memory, the smallest stands still seemed to be at least 6 square meters. You might think thrifty winemakers always choose to self-furnish, but it’s not that simple. We can’t generally bring furniture on the RyanAir flight to Stansted. It often comes out cheaper to rent the conference’s furnishings. So you come out to 2400 Euros for a tiny stand. That doesn’t include the cost of shipping wine over, travel, lodging, etc.
VinExpo - costs-registration
270 Euros / square meter with a minimum 16 square metre space (4320 Euro minimum). And that’s for the cheap spaces that are only exposed on one side. There is separate pricing for the stands that are exposed on two, three and four sides. And that is just the stand price. There are additional registration fees just to open an dossier or to gain the right to be an indirect exhibitor (600 to 740 Euros).
To give you an idea of what exhibitors spend, VinExpo now has a clef en main offer where you really get a furnished stand where all the work has been done for you.. it’s 16 square meters and costs 9,920 euro. It includes “moquette, cloisons mitoyennes, 1 fronton avec logo de l’exposant, 1 bar comptoir avec évier et branchement eau, 1 vitrine, 1 réserve avec étagères de rangement, 1 patère, du mobilier (1 table ronde, 3 chaises, 2 tabourets hauts, 1 frigo, 1 poubelle), de la décoration florale, électricité (2 prises 24H/24H éclairage), le nettoyage journalier, l’assurance.”
ProWein - costs-registration
126 E / square meter
ProWein is one of the most reasonably priced trade fairs which probably explains why it’s gaining so much popularity as an International event. Every year, they get more and more International visitors, apparently. I actually haven’t been so I can’t talk much about it. But even a less expensive fair is still going to end up costing the thriftiest exhibitor 1000+ Euros.
How do trade fairs affect cost of wine?
Well, it really depends on what kind of winemaker you are.
Some of my favorite producers like Domaine Revelh have barely 2 hectares of vines. They’re producing just a few thousand bottles of wine each year. Participation in a single trade show can easily raise the price of a bottle of their wine by 20-50 cents!
On the other hand, producers who put out 3 million bottles each year can amortize the cost of all the major wine fairs over 3 million bottles. In that case, the expense of a much larger stand at each of these fairs, and employees to occupy said stand only add fractions of a cent to each bottle.
It’s hard to generalize, but for your average boutique wine (where production tends to be less than 100,000 bottles per year) attending several trade fairs can mean a significant increase in cost on the wine (several cents per bottle).
I should note that there are a lot of strategies to mitigate trade fair costs.
What makes trade fairs worth it?
As a winery, you’re hoping to generate long term sales. Even if you only make a couple one pallet sales, there’s a chance those merchants reorder your wine again in a few months and again after that. Alternatively, you can meet up with everybody who already buys your wine and taste the new vintage with them. Or you can get some press attention while all the journalists are in town (and again, hopefully this leads to sales).
As a wine drinker though… you have to feel a bit cheated. The cost of the trade fair gets incorporated into the overhead of running a winery and it gets tacked on to the final bottle price. It’s a cost that doen’t improve the quality of the wine.
Additionally, you won’t even benefit from the experience of the the trade show since it isn’t even intended for consumers. Whereas participation in events like Le Grand Tasting can at least be enjoyed by the general wine-drinking public, participation in trade shows is never meant to trickle down to consumers. The only potential benefit to the consumer is that a trade show can create a better supply chain making the product available in your market. But generally speaking, trade shows represent a cost that does not improve the end user’s experience of the wine. So is it worth it? Hmmm..
My UK importer, Naked Wines, strongly discourages its winemakers from expensive trade shows like this. Their philosophy is that all the money we spend should go into making the wine better. However they are pretty keen on some of my low-cost shenanigans which I talk about elsewhere.
What do you think? Are trade fairs a necessary means of finding supply chains? Or are they a bit of bloat that inflates wine prices unnecessarily?