London Wine Fair 2014: A Dispatch from the Frontlines

It was a year of change, transition and revamp. The clinically sterile and marooned Excel exhibition centre gave way to the more intimate Kensington Olympia. Opulent, over the top kiosks were replaced by more austere and cost-efficient stalls. Pompous plans for achieving global outreach shifted to a more pragmatic focus on the UK market. The trade’s infamous -and less than sparkling- navel-gazing bubble seems to have burst and the event reached out to actual drinkers through the London Wine Week taking place simultaneously across the city. Most of the usual suspects were present but the addition of enclaves like ‘Esoterica’ finally provided a platform for smaller UK based companies to showcase their product.

There was also a sleek booklet given away at the entrance alongside the schedule. Adorned with icons of the hipster cohort such as converse shoes, funky shades, smartphones and social media symbols, it was titled Carpe Vinum and it came packed with stats and analysis for that ever elusive millennial demographic. It was about time.

Haemorrhaging exhibitor numbers for years and reaching its nadir in 2013, the event was in many ways a reflection of the uninspiring state of the wine industry in the UK. Posting flat total volume growth for 2013- a fact that is actually masking the chronic declines faced by the dominant red segment and are merely mitigated by the solid growth in casual and approachable rosé variants- the industry itself is in desperate need of some soul searching in the country.

It is also in desperate need of finding fresh, innovative ways to communicate with millenials in their own language. Acknowledging their existence is surely a step in the right direction but walking through the busy corridors I failed to spot many companies actually taking risks or the eventual plunge.

There was, admittedly, a small corner, half lost at the edge of a cavernous hall that seemed to attract disproportionate attention from overly excited, younger drinkers. There were queues and there was genuine curiosity. Alas, it was a small selection of craft brewers.