Ways for small wineries to attend big trade fairs

Recently, I wrote an article about the cost of trade fairs and how those can affect the price of wine you buy.

This is an article about how small wineries can find ways to present their wines at trade fairs without paying too much (and without increasing the final price of their wine).

Lowering costs

Judging by the costs mentioned in the previous article, it’s hard to see how small or medium sized wineries can afford to go to fairs. It’s obvious that the trade fair is a marketing strategy that significantly advantages economies of scale (the more bottles you produce, the easier it is to amortize a trade fair).

So let’s explore some ways that small wineries can attend trade fairs and accomplish some of the same goals of attendance, all while keeping costs down.

Goal of a small winery at a trade fair

  • make new relationships (to generate sales)
  • sustain existing relationships (to generate sales)
  • attract press attention (to generate sales)

I’m probably oversimplifying things, but these are the three things that participants vocalize the most often around me. You want to meet new people, say hello to the people you already know, and get a couple journalists to notice you.

To best acheive these goals, you have to do a lot of work in advance. Set up appointments ahead of time. Let everybody know you’ll be at the fair. Let everybody know why they should be interested in meeting you or coming to your stand. And naturally, you want to have the most significant impact possible with the smallest cost.

Off events after the fair

Many winemakers organize “Off” events similar to how musicians will play on an “off” stage during a major festival.  Hosting an off event can sometimes be an alternative to the fair, but it is very frequently done in addition to participating in the fair.  If it’s done in addition to getting a conventional stand, then it’s not cheaper at all.  It’s actually even more expensive.

However, if you’re clever, you can attend the fair without a stand and organize an off event which draws a crowd.  Off events should offer something juicy for journalists and other people in the trade.  It has to be fun or novel.

Sometimes, off events can seem like they’re competing with the main event.  I try to avoid doing this.  Schedule the off event after hours to avoid competing with the actual trade fair.

Sometimes, an off event can be a refreshing counterpoint to a trade fair.  Imagine holding a beer tasting after a wine conference.  After a long three days of tasting wine, a lot of wine writers love nothing more than to switch drinks.  Or if you’re at a fair that showcases mostly red wines, hold an event at night that’s just about your whites.  After Millesime Bio, a conference focused on organic wine, Louise Hurren’s Languedoc Outsiders held an event where we tasted regional wines (mostly not organic).  We all respected the ethics of the Millesime Bio producers and many of us attended that fair.  But at night, after the fair was closed, we held an off event that allowed people to taste something a bit different.   And we love organic wines, but a lot of people mentioned it was nice to take a break from all the vin naturel talk.

Grouping winemakers at trade shows

Grouping with other winemakers or with trade bodies can be an efficient way to reduce costs and increase visibility.  Last time I participated at ViniSud, I went with Les Vins de la Cité de Carcassonne (my IGP).  While the conference normally forces you to take a minimum amount of space for a single stand (I think ViniSud is like 9 square meters), we could take 70 square meters and split it 12 ways.  With some creative ideas for how the stand was set up, we managed to get by with almost half the space.  Additionally, the stand was much more visible when we were grouped.   And we got to join forces to hire caterers, glass washers, signage, etc.

Another similar option is renting space from trade bodies.  This can have all the advantages of an indie group of winemakers and some other perks.  I know Sud de France and the CIVL/ CIVR (interprofessions) do collective stands at certain events.  Typically, the trade body will charge the same amount per square meter that they are paying (so there’s no extra cost).  And you can potentially benefit from the work that the trade body does to attract potential contacts, increase brand awareness, organize direct appointments with buyers, logistical stuff like glassware and recycling empties, etc.

Public Speaking to the trade

I insist that public speaking is one of the most cost effective ways to attend conferences.  A good speaker with something smart to say can be invited to a conference.  Often times the organizers are prepared to compensate the speaker for travel, accomodations, or at least the cost of entry to the fair.  Speakers have a pre-arranged audience organized by the folks running the conference.  If you have a stand, a good speech can draw a lot of interest to your wine later.

Wine producers are very very common.  Good speakers are somewhat less common.  When you see how conferences treat exhibitors compared to how they treat speakers, it becomes clear that you should be both. 😀

Don’t be just another wine producer

Taking the last point to it’s logical conclusion, you should do anything you can to avoid being just another wine producer.  Think outside the box.   In 2010, I attended the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) as a speaker in The Access Zone (a wifi space hosted by Vrazon). Instead of spending 2000+ Euros on a small stand, I worked out a deal with the folks running the access zone which allowed me to pour wines between presentations. It cost me nothing. And it’s a really nice, big stand with WIFI. 🙂

And I didn’t even have to arrange appointments.  There was a steady flow of traffic to that space because people wanted to use the wireless connection or see presentations.  That’s where I met Rowan and Derek from Naked Wines who now import my wine into the UK. A stand that cost me nothing brought me one of my strongest clients.  A really good tradeoff!


How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing

North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Best by GPS.
    Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.