Battle of the Wine Fairs: Prowein vs. Vinexpo

2 Jul. 2018

In March, Prowein, the international trade show bringing together wine professionals from around the world, was held in Dusseldorf. Just a few years back, Vinexpo, held in Bordeaux, was considered the most important wine fair in the world. The turnaround has been almost shocking. Prowein has stolen the spotlight with the 2017 show attracting some 60,000 buyers and 6,870 exhibitors from 300 wine-producing regions compared with 45,000 buyers and nearly 2,300 exhibitors for VinexpoThere is even a waiting list to rent space at the 2019 Prowein event! 

 

Italian and French wine producers were the most prevalent at the Dusseldorf event with 1,700 and 1,550 exhibitors, respectively.

Prowein’s professional visitors (i.e., buyers) tend to be more international than in Bordeaux where the vast majority are French (followed by the Chinese).

In recent years, criticism of Vinexpo and praise for Prowein and so-called ‘Bordeaux bashing’ has proliferated. According to Laura Jewell (a Master of Wine), the success of Prowein is justified:

Unlike Vinexpo Bordeaux, which is a lot about Bordeaux wines and the various châteaux, Prowein showcases other wineries including wines from the New World.

Another oft-repeated argument in favor of Prowein is the event’s accessibility. Dusseldorf has a major airport and direct transportation to the city center; and wine professionals say they tend to make more contacts in Dusseldorf than in Bordeaux.

Prowein has been the subject of criticism, too; the same Laura Jewell who was quoted above said in another article in Vitisphère:

Prowein just keeps getting bigger and more expensive. In response to calls for a fourth day to be added to the event, she retorts: “Three days is already quite a lot for the professionals who rent space at Prowein, not to mention the travel and hotel expenses; you’ve always got to keep return on investment in the back of your head”.

While Prowein continues to expand “Prowein is starting to price its exhibitors out of the event”, says Virginie Philippot, the head of sales at Bernard Remy champagne.

Bordeaux has a few advantages, however. In fact, Master of Wine Jeannie Cho Lee asked rhetorically:

While Vinexpo is held in Bordeaux or Hong Kong in alternating years, Prowein is in Dusseldorf. If you had a choice, which city would you like to spend a week in? Others point to the friendliness of the French city.

Returning to the subject of the cost of renting a booth, both Prowein and Vinexpo are, for about the same surface area, on par: 6m2 at Vinexpo went for €3,300 in 2017 whereas you needed to spend €3,815 for a 7m2 exhibition space at Prowein. The war is on. And each event is dreaming up new strategies to attract buyers and exhibitors alike.

 

Prowein sees itself as a platform, a reflection of market trends. This year, light wines were featured as were countries, such as Denmark, where growing grapes had been impossible before global warming. Prowein also features wines from the New World (some 700 exhibitors!) including unusual countries like Japan. A big space was available for buyers to try sake, for instance.

Digital technology has also been on display to help everyone stay connected. One such solution was the “Matchmaking Tool”, which helps exhibitors and buyers connect.

There is a lot going on at both events: some 500 events were organized during Prowein and a “Champagne lounge” was created. It was even possible to taste Volloreaux champagne, which is aged at the bottom of the ocean!

At both events, experts were on hand (Masters of Wines and Meilleurs Sommeliers du monde) to generate visibility and underscore the event’s credibility. In 2017, 10 Meilleurs Sommeliers du Monde attended Vinexpo. 

Both Prowein and Vinexpo try to cater to organic and biodynamic wines, which is a growing segment that is particularly attractive to international clients.

At Prowein, there were 300 organic wine producers on hand and many events were held on the subject. However, many of them were in German with no simultaneous interpretation available. Given the sheer volume of exhibitors at Prowein, the space dedicated to organic and biodynamic wine producers remains marginal. Prowein and Vinexpo are – after all is said and done – events geared in large part to the major brands. Wine companies that have made the decision to go organic or biodynamic are smaller and produce volumes that are – by design –  miniscule in comparison to the majors. For this type of producer, it is more onerous to rent a booth at this kind of large event.

Regarding Vinexpo 2017, 150 organic or biodynamic producers from eight different countries set up shop…a mere fraction of the 2,300 total exhibitors! Also in Bordeaux – but well removed from the limelight of Vinexpo – the “Renaissance des Appellations” event, featuring biodynamic wines, was being held. The event has become a reference in its category and Lalou Bise Leroy (Domaine Leroy) has even attended.

Global warming was a trend that was also discussed. I had the priviledge of attending a conference/tasting on wines from Alentejo, a hot and dry region in Portugal. The talk focused on how to approach water-related stress, wine varietals that can cope with such arid conditions, the importance of biodiversity and its impact on grape growing practices. The idea was interesting but remains at the fringe. Few events are organized to discuss this important topic.

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Both Prowein and Vinexpo are aware of the importance of their economic development and their international visibility.

Prowein’s development tends to be more vertical (as the Dusseldorf event continues to mushroom in size) whereas Vinexpo’s approach has been more horizontal. In fact, Vinexpo has expanded to Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Paris. In addition to Dusseldorf, Prowein is now also held in Shanghai.

Reflecting these events’ ability to respond quickly to the competition’s moves, Vinexpo decided to move up its 2019 event to May. In fact, a new event is slated for January in Paris, making Vinexpo the first international trade show to be held each year. This move aims to bolster the Vinexpo brand. In another proactive move, it inked a partnership agreement with Tmal, Ali Baba’s e-platform, to carry out various marketing and communication initiatives.

Just as wine tends to be a highly-competitive, fast-growth market the wine show market is just as cut-throat. The energy spent on these events to gain in visibility should be seen in a positive light. The wide range of shows packed into the calendar enables exhibitors to pick the best location and shape targeted marketing and sales strategies. After all, Prowein and Vinexpo do not attract the same exact buyer profile, which allows exhibitors to attend the event that best reflects their target market.

 

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Mr Gildas L'Hostis
About the author

Gildas L'Hostis is a Senior Lecturer Practical Arts delivering courses in oenology (the knowledge of wine, wine service, production, economics, and tasting) at EHL.

Coming from a background in the hotel industry, he gained experience managing catering units, food and beverage outlets, and in wine service (sommelier). He spent two years in Australia continuing his studies and working in the wine trade industry.

As a teacher, he is specialized in subjects relating to food & beverage management, and particularly wine training, and he has taught in Polynesia and France. In his classes, Gildas shares his deep interest in the field of wine consumption and trade world-wide, and he examines the impact of cultural backgrounds on wine tasting.

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