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UK market is still the place to be seen after Wines Unearthed "inundated" by applicants

Published:  07 April, 2016

The current reputation of the UK wine market is that it has reached saturation point.

However, the number of producers applying to appear at Wines Unearthed at the London Wine Fair next month, seems to indicate that UK is more attractive than ever before to foreign producers.

An incredible 94 winemakers from 22 countries are due to be presented at the second edition of the producers-to-buyers section of the fair next month.

This is an increase of 34% on the previous year. 

And that's just the ones that were successful.

According to Judy Kendrick one of the curators of Wines Unearthed, they were 'inundated' with applications from producers wanting to get a foothold in the UK market.

So why is the UK still so appealing to international winemakers, at a time when margins are squeezed and producers are facing considerable competition on shelves and in restaurants?

Nik Darlington, of agent and supplier Red Squirrel Wines, believes that the issue is twofold.

Firstly, he says that the UK is still seen as the Carnegie Hall of the wine world - if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Secondly, he believes the sheer number of wines trying to "make it" in the UK is because of the availability of investment in up and coming markets in previously obscure regions.

He said: "There are interesting things being made all over the world where there's suddenly money for investment. In the last three to five years there's been a lot of wines with unusual origins. Often there's already a wine culture in their countries, but it's only over the last a few years that there's been the money to export it.

"What we've thought of as second world countries like Brazil and India are now moving into the premiere league of the world economy and they're making premium wines which they're now able to export.

"However, while there's intrigue in these wines from unusual places, it will take quite a long time for consumers to take to them.  With somewhere like Turkey however, which is producing fantastic wines, UK consumers have much more of a connection to the country because of its proximity and popularity as a holiday destination. It's familiar in many ways, which puts them in a much more promising position." 

On the subject of these brands targeting the UK market, Darlington added: "People are very quick to downplay opportunities for producers in UK at the moment. New restaurants and importers are setting up all the time. The UK seems to still be a very attractive place for winemakers.

"Some of Europe's economies are not doing well at the moment, so domestic wines are having to sell elsewhere. A few years ago, one Piemonte producer we work with were selling 60% of its product in the domestic market and today that's down to 40%, so export producers are looking elsewhere where they wouldn't have done before.

"In the UK there is an over supply of wine but there is a market for it if you can stand out."

Some of the New World producers making the trip to London in May for the fair include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, the USA and even the far-flung island of Madagascar.

Doug Wregg, of Cave de Pyrenes, is hosting the Real Wine Fair over April 17 and 18 at Tobacco Docks, when buyers will be able to browse organic wines from 17 countries.

And although he says the wines coming from emerging markets can be exciting, he has a word of warning about jumping on the bandwagon with new trends.

He said: "There is a saturation of stuff out there at the moment. No retailer can have all the trends out there because they change so often, which can be a good and a bad thing.

"So many places are producing wines, which don't have a wine culture - like China for example. I would advise buyers to stick to wines where the strength and consistency of the wine really comes across. Somewhere which is exciting for this as an emerging market is Austria. Buyers need to be selective and be critical. Just because it's got an unusual label doesn't mean it's any good."

And although he says the UK is no longer the number one market for wine producers to target, it is still the place to be seen.

He said: "London is still the show place. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. However, I would say that places like Copenhagen and New York are more dynamic at the moment. In the UK, we're too worried about intellectualising wine, whereas over there, they think, 'if the wine is great, then we'll find someone to drink it'."

Wines Unearthed will be situated on the balcony at the Olympia opposite Esoterica at the fair from 3 to the 5 May.

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