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Visitors From China More Than Double At Vinexpo, To Lead All Foreign Attendees

June 28, 2011

Some 48,000 members of the wine and spirits industry gathered last week for Vinexpo, the wine world’s biannual trade fair in Bordeaux. During five days of tastings, networking, deal making, seminars and lavish parties at Vinexpo, Asian buyers were a commanding presence—comprising one third of all foreign visitors. While the highest number of visitors came from France, China ranked first among foreign attendees—outpacing traditional markets like the U.S. and the U.K.

“Attendance from China doubled compared the last show,” said Vinexpo chairman Xavier de Eizaguirre. “We expected that to some extent, but we were still surprised by the size of the delegation.” He said the decision to bring Vinexpo to Hong Kong—starting with the first of four such events to date in 1998—has paid off, helping attract people to Vinexpo Bordeaux rather than cannibalizing it. Buyers came not only from China and Japan (whose attendance was down due to the tsunami) but also countries such as India, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.

Organizers estimated, pending final figures—an uptick of about 3% from the 2009 event. The show featured 2,400 exhibitors, representing 47 countries. In the three exhibition halls, traffic was livelier than two years ago, if not jam-packed. “Coming out of the trough of the economy, there’s a lot of energy and hope; everyone’s in the mood to build their wines,” said Gary Clayton, vice president at Pasternak Wine Imports in Harrison, N.Y.

A newly expanded series of walk-around themed tastings and sit-down seminars, held in private rooms throughout the exhibition venues, attracted some 13,000 people to explore Italian wine history across different regions, compare Bordeaux’s 2010 vintage with 2008 or 2005, discover wines from organic and sustainable producers, and the like. “The exhibitor stands are increasingly geared to meetings and serious discussions because we started our Tastings concept in another hall,” said Eizaguirre. “The concept is that anyone can assemble a tasting and do it on neutral ground, with no pressure from the producer. There’s been a lot interest, and we expect this component to grow.”

Among the efforts to court the Asian market were several seminars, including “Argentinean Wines for China” and a master class pairing a range of Sichuan cuisine with young and mature vintages of the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. At the lavish closing Fête de la Fleur dinner for 1,500 guests, held at Château Lascombes in Margaux, Chinese Terracotta statues flanked the dining pavilions, the menu was written in French, English and Chinese, and the classic red Bordeaux pairing of lamb was accented with a nori crust.

Louis-Fabrice Latour, chairman of Burgundy’s Maison Louis Latour, felt that Bordeaux was perhaps focusing too much on Asia, which isn’t yet demonstrating major demand for Burgundy or wines from other regions besides Bordeaux. He noted, “We must be careful not to take away from the U.S. market,” which remains the largest globally in terms of consumption. Indeed, much talk at the show centered around on whether Bordeaux would lose U.S. customers due to the ehigh futures prices for the 2010 vintage, as many châteaus taking substantial increases over the record prices for the young 2009 wines.

The United States and United Kingdom, respectively, followed China in the number of visitors at Vinexpo and, combined, accounted for more than 15 percent of the attendance from outside France. Close to 4 percent more came from Canada. De Eizaguirre said U.S. attendance was up after a slowdown in recent years.

Expanding in the United States remained a priority for many wineries at the event. “I’m putting all my chips on the U.S. this year,” said Miguel Roquette of Quinta do Crasto, one of more than two dozen Douro producers who held a joint tasting of their dry reds at a Portuguese dinner at Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron. The Pauillac estate is owned by AXA Millésimes, which also owns renowned Port producer Quinta do Noval, and managing director Christian Seely said the evening was a way for Bordeaux to recognize the growing importance of wine regions outside France.

That dinner was just one of many elaborate affairs hosted by châteaus, which typically showcase the best of Bordeaux and France, starting with the opening night “nine star” Grand Crus Classés en 1855 banquet at first-growth Château Haut-Brion, which brought together three Michelin three-star French chefs—Alain Passard, Anne-Sophie Pic and Yannick Alleno—and featured Haut-Brion 1975 in double magnum and 1990 Yquem. Newly unveiled château buildings broke away from Bordeaux’s formal 18th century architecture to showcase cutting-edge design and ultramodern feel. A highlight was a dinner to toast the newly built chateau at Clerc Milon, the Pauillac fifth growth of Baron Philippe de Rothschild. The spectacular 38,566-square-foot chateau was designed by architect Bernard Mazieres, with interiors by renowned scenographer Richard Peduzzi. It’s made of wood and has a modern, temple-like design with a broad terrace overlooking the Pauillac vineyards.

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