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Vinexpo 2011: An independent merchant's view

Published:  27 June, 2011

Karl Walton, the manager of Hennings Wine Merchants in Petworth, West Sussex gives his views of his trip to Vinexpo

I'd heard about it, I'd read about it, I'd even seen the video and then, finally, I was about to be hit head on by the wine juggernaut that is Vinexpo. My first ever visit to Vinexpo started with the inevitable delayed flight out of Gatwick to Bordeaux. Looking around the dreary, characterless departure lounge at the excited, expectant wine professionals you could have been mistaken for thinking you were in the middle of a trade tasting, the only thing missing was the wine although there would be plenty of time for that over the next three days.

Eventually arriving at the small but perfectly formed Bordeaux airport late on Sunday night myself and my host headed past the tiny plot of vines planted outside the airport, vines of which produce those two classic Bordeaux grape varieties, Merlot and erm... Chardonnay. Shhh, don't tell the Burgundians. A short taxi ride later, a spot of French cuisine, a glass or two of the local plonk and it was time for a good night sleep in our resplendent city centre hotel.

After the obligatory morning croissant and a cup or two of sweetly smelling fresh coffee and it was time to head for the half hourly shuttle to the exhibition halls. On board the ambience was similar to some sort of UN conference, not that I claim to have ever been so important as to be part of such an event but I think you get the picture. After registering and collecting my shiny new name badge it was time to enter the Vinexpo cauldron, not before noticing however that a ticket for the exhibition was priced at forty Euros, quite reasonable I thought, the price of the programme was a heady thirty Euros so I could pay forty Euros and taste some of the World's greatest wines all day or for a mere ten Euros less I could just look at them written down in a book. "No thanks, I'll give the programme a miss I think!"

The entrance to Vinexpo is via a floating bridge that dissects a large lake which itself provides a wonderful backdrop to many a photograph. Initially the most striking aspect is the sheer size of the place. Apparently it's about a kilometre long. A kilometre of wine! I was the proverbial kid in a sweet shop. The next three days provided me with a journey through the world of wine and everything in it but there were one or two notable exceptions that I shall come onto later in the piece. During those three days I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to visit the numerous tasting labs and/or tasting lounges that were effectively a showcase or tutored tasting on a specific region, country or grape variety.

Vinexpo is incredibly well organised, so much so it's as if the Germans have been involved, however this is a distinctly French affair meticulously planned and executed yet able to retain it's 'joie de vivre' as the French would call it. It almost has a sense of theatre about it, perhaps it's the red carpets that adorn the footpaths, walkways and even the floating bridge. My only criticism about Vinexpo is that there appeared to be stands dedicated to every part of the wine stratosphere; wines of Croatia, Brazil, Chile, Hungary etc. Yet there were very few wines from Australia and New Zealand. Admittedly Vinexpo is staged in France and so the focus is on French and European wines but then this is the world's biggest wine fair and if it is to be seen as a global event then it needs to address this void. It may of course be down to the Antipodeans themselves, it is a long way to travel after all.

So that was it, my first and hopefully not last experience of Vinexpo. Bordeaux is a beautiful city, home to beautiful people and beautiful wines where meetings are made, deals are done, backs are scratched and the Chinese are worshipped.  It was truly memorable.

Karl Walton, is the manager of Hennings Wine Merchants in Petworth, West Sussex