September 24, 2022
Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator/English editor, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Advanced Cava Educator
I just got my "save the date" e-mail from Vinitaly for 2023. Wow! I'm still kind of buzzing from Vinitaly 2022! It was an amazing event and yes, I'm planning to go next year.
So, what are wine fairs all about? Are they just a bunch of people drinking wine all day, getting giggly? You'd think so, given the number of producers, called "exhibitors," who set up their booths (some are very elaborate) and pour free wine to anyone who extends a glass.
The reality is that there is a lot of spitting going on! If you're shy about spitting in public, get over it. At a trade fair, the spitoons are communal, even after the pandemic. Although VinExpo America in New York this past March gave a small reusable one to all the participants.
A trade fair is usually from 9:00 or 10:00 am to 5:00 or 6:00 pm, and then tastings, dinners, and other events are going on in the host city in the evenings. You MUST spit or you won't make it!
Why go? It depends on your role in the wine industry. If you're a buyer for retail, you go to taste as much wine as possible to see what you may want to bring into your store. Ditto if you're a distributor or an importer. Wine producers are there to sell their wines. They want to put the winery in the best light possible. They're there to make deals.
If you're a translator and educator, like me, you go to learn. There are countless presentations, tastings, discussions, and seminars on wine regions, market trends, viticulture, packaging, logistics, and the list goes on. There is so much, in fact, that you can't attend everything and taste too. Depending on the size of the fair, you may not even be able to taste everything in one hall.
At large fairs, like Vinitaly and Prowein, regions and countries have their own massive buildings. You could spend the entire four days of Vinitaly in just the Toscana or Piemonte buildings and still not see and taste everything. It's unbelievable!
For these fairs, you must prepare in advance what seminars you'll attend, which producers you want to meet and taste with, where the restrooms are, where the food is, etc. I'm serious! These places are so huge, you spend a crazy amount of time just trying to navigate. Luckily, the fairs' websites and apps can help. Although I wasn't too impressed with the Vinitaly app - lots of errors and not very user-friendly. And remember, there are A LOT of people attending these events. Just getting through the crowd can be challenging. At popular producers' booths, you may have to wait in order to taste. If there are some you're particularly interested in, you can make an appointment - again, they want to sell their wine, so if you're not in a position to place an order for your store/business, prepare to wait patiently.
Smaller fairs, like VinExpo, which has fairs in New York, Paris, India, and alternating cities in Asia at different times of the year, are more manageable. I was able to easily attend a lot of great seminars at the New York fair over the last couple of years. Producers also have more time to talk to you. You can really learn about the winery. Others include the Merano Wine Festival, Vellaterra, and La Dive Bouteille. Some medium-sized ones are Barcelona Wine Week (here's a post I did on BWW this spring) and Fenevin. Some of these are much more region-specific too, so if you want to dig deeper into a region or into "natural wine," these are great.
Wine trade fairs can be hectic and tiring, but they are very much worth the time and expense. I've tasted many wines that I would never have been able to taste on my own. I've met some wonderful people and the next year, we get to say, "nice to see you again!" I've learned about smaller regions, which are often overshadowed by famous ones. These discoveries are little treasures to me.
Oh, yeah, and I'm not shy about spitting!