On the (very) positive side, there were over 350 exhibiting producers, many represented by a winemaker or a representative from the winery. This was particularly welcome as the number of these men and women who have taken the trouble to come to the UK has shrunk over recent years.
There were great tri-nation themed tables with names such as “Red Blends” and Chardonnays over £10″ which showcased some fascinating wines, and trends across the three countries.
There were well-attended seminars on subjects including climate change.
(Perversely, I found this an admirable physical representation of the wine trade’s attitude to communication generally: “if you’re not bright enough/haven’t done enough homework to find us, you don’t deserve to be here” is very like “ifyou’re not enough of a wine buff/haven’t done enough homework to know how this wine is likely to taste, you don’t deserve to buy it).
Once inside the hall, the same tight budgets had evidently also ruled out dressing a large hall that looked and felt like a warehouse. An extra £5 or £10 rental from each of the tables would probably have more than covered projection equipment that might have conveyed some of the flavour of the three countries. Whatever else it was, the Beautiful South was not beautiful to look at.
I’m sure that, for many people, this was a major positive quality of the Beautiful South. And I’m equally sure that many exhibitors appreciated the low price of renting a trestle table for a couple of days rather than the huge costs of building a stand at the London Wine Trade Fair.
But what it meant was that the factor that the wine industry so often bangs on about – the “story behind the wine” – was totally absent. This was essentially wine-as-commodity. Flavour+Packaging+Price=Saleability. It was a brilliant environment in which to present a well-made, well-presented, attractively-priced wine, but not one in which to foster aspiration.
I suspect/expect the Beautiful South to go on to become a successful annual fixture on the UK wine calendar as an invaluable opportunity to taste a very large number of samples from three very important wine producing countries. But I doubt that it will do much to address the fact that, in the year ending June 2013, fewer than six bottles out of every hundred purchased to drink at home in the UK cost over £8. Looked at from the other end of the telescope, 84% sold for under £6. Those figures will have gone up since then. But not by much. They’ll accommodate the rise in duty rates.
I really do hope that Beautiful South will help the best producers of South Africa, Chile and Argentina to increase their 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.5% respective shares of the >£10 UK market. Maybe they’ll steal some of New Zealand’s astonishing 15.1% share. Or France’s 45.9%. (All statistics from Nielsen). But I’m far from sure that the event will do much to help increase aspiration for wine in Britain, or the readiness among UK consumers to spend over £7 or £8 for a bottle.