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Richard Siddle: Why we should all get behind LIWF

Published:  30 May, 2012

So another London International Wine Fair has been and gone and as ever there are many in the trade who have been keen to perform their own post mortem on the show. Well here's mine.

So another London International Wine Fair has been and gone and as ever there are many in the trade who have been keen to perform their own post mortem on the show. Well here's mine.

The fact so many people care enough to have genuine interest in the future of LIWF shows just how important the event is in the UK wine trade's calendar.

But can we please move on from the tired, rehashed, frankly lazy complaints that surface at this time every year.

The LIWF is the only show of its scale and stature in the UK. It has a strong international reputation as a showcase for all that is great about the UK wine and spirits industry and attracts not only producers, but major buyers from all over the world.

It is not run by a charity, but a professional events organiser that sees the commercial opportunity in providing a show for our sector. If it does not make money out of the show it will move on and find another sector that wants to support an event of this kind.

There has been the usual round of disparaging comments about the quality of wines on offer by some, oh so hard to please, wine writers. There have even been complaints that the show is too corporate. Mmm. An international business trade event too corporate? It is difficult to take such complaints seriously.

Then there are the clichéd complaints about the fact we have to go to ExCel every day. Get over it. Do the organisers of the all the other year round events held at ExCel get lambasted by their industries for forcing them to trek half an hour outside central London?

It is a wonder they are ever able to sell out the O2 arena just over the river. All those thousands of people who trek bravely to the ends of the earth to watch Michael MacIntyre prance around are clearly made of sterner stuff.

Pity poor old Lord Coe and his team when they realise they should have built their Olympic park around Earls Court rather than expect half the world to make two tube changes and get on the DLR to go out to East London.

But we do like a moan don't we.

Onwards and upwards

Let's for once concentrate on all the good things there are about the LIWF. Where else can you hear our trade's most dynamic and trend setting personalities, retailers, consultants and commentators publicly debate the key issues of the day.

Where can you attend masterclasses for free from some of the world's leading MWs and wine critics? Where can you pick out hundreds of undiscovered wines not in the UK as part of the IWC's Discovery Zone.

Our own Harpers debate on what the wine trade needs to do to better understand how consumers talk about wine, was, in my humble opinion, a case in point.

Delegates could hear first hand what Sainsbury's head of BWS, Andy Phelps, thinks we should be doing to better engage the consumer. We had shopper insights from Accolade Wines' Ian Anderson and bloggers and consultants Joe Wadsack, Christina Pickard and Helen McGinn gave their unique insights on how they connect with consumers through live tastings, events and through social media.

Their call for the wine trade to take itself a little less seriously and realise to the average Joe wine is actually something just to enjoy rather than pontificate might have been a bit lost if you went upstairs to the Moët UK Sommelier of the Year 2012.

But what a treat if you did. Super talented - and very brave - young men and women prepared to put every fibre of their talents up to scrutiny in front of a live audience and a judging panel of seemingly every other past winner of the competition. If you missed it make time next year for the best theatre outside of Stratford.

Talking of live performances there was also the sight of winemakers pitching live to a panel of on and off-trade buyers as part of the new WineStars competition to win a listing in the UK for the first time.

The LIWF organisers should give an open pass to Catherine Monahan of Clink! Wines for next year's fair after coming up with what has to be one of the most interesting and exciting new wine competitions to be held anywhere in the world never mind the Access Zone at the back of their fair.

For those grumbling about heading out of south west London to go to ExCel should look at the those winemakers who were prepared to jump on a plane from all over the world with less than a week's notice to take part in the live pitches at the fair.

It made for electric viewing and it was also so pleasing to see the vast majority of them rewarded with listings from the oh so generous panel of judges.

Hats off to the powers that be at Waitrose, Direct Wines, Mitchells & Butlers, Swig, Hatch Mansfield and Stranger & Stranger and also to WineStars chair, Robert Joseph, for giving up their time to take part in such an exciting initiative, but crucially supporting it by taking on so many of their wines.

Interestingly some of the most enthusiastic visitors to LIWF were the major international buyers from some of the world's leading retail chains. Jacqueline Snoeker, senior European sourcing manager for Ahold, one of the world's largest retailers, told me she had, as usual, brought a large team of its buyers to the show.

After all, she said, if they find producers that have the capabilities of satisfying the UK wine market, then they should also have the capacity to with Ahold.
Other international contacts could not understand why there are those in the UK so intent on running down the show at any given opportunity. "We would never do that kind of thing back home," said one.

It sometimes takes people outside our day to day industry to help us appreciate what we have got.

It might be nearly a week since LIWF finished for another year. And now that I have had few good nights' sleep I would hop and skip back there again tomorrow.