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Vinexpo Gambles on America

By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 4 November 2002 - Some 600 exhibitors from 28 countries attracted an estimated 10,000 wine and spirits professionals to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center recently for the first edition of Vinexpo Americas. Importers, wholesalers, retailers, sommeliers, restaurateurs and the press clinked glasses, tasted and spat in silver buckets on well-designed stands with smartly dressed sales reps and export managers from some of the world's finest vineyards.

Held in Bordeaux every two years, the twenty-year-old Vinexpo is a rather sumptuous affair that not only showcases more than 90 percent of the world's wine production, but also enjoys the complicity of one of France's most revered gastronomic regions. Celebrity chefs, caterers, and local restaurateurs dazzle industry visitors with the sensual and traditional harmony of food and wine as well as the Gallic refinement of les arts de la table. The gastronomic and festive elements of the Bordeaux Vinexpo have long made it a hot ticket worldwide—the 2001 event attracted 54,000 visitors from 141 countries.

Lacking these extra dimensions, Vinexpo's New York incarnation was nonetheless better-organized and more visually appealing than typical convention center fare, and retained the global reach of the original (whose idea was it, though, to offer a sushi bar as the primary lunch option?). In addition to the activity in the aisles of New York's crystal convention palace, Vinexpo Americas featured over 30 seminars and tastings, including a heavily-attended tasting of the splendid 2000 vintage of Bordeaux Grands Crus, a California wine and French food pairing, a tasting of premium Australian Shiraz, and seminars on the versatility of port wine and the future of the American wine market. Wine experts such as critic Robert Parker, Michel Rolland, Gina Gallo, Master sommelier Andrea Immer, Michel Bettane of the Revue du Vin de France and Howard G. Goldberg of The New York Times brought sparkle to the programme.

Robert Beynat, CEO of Vinexpo, appeared satisfied with the results of their first foray into the market of the Americas (and most notably that of the United States). "While not profitable for Vinexpo as a company, North America is clearly a worthwhile investment", Beynat concluded on the last day of the fair. The organizers reported that the event attracted a pan-American audience: while 80% of the visitors were from the United States (55% from New York State; 45% from other states, including 10% from the Western U.S.), 20% came from Canada, Latin America and the Carribean.

While the American market is quite competitive, Beynat sees real opportunities here for the producers represented by Vinexpo. In 2000, the United States became the 4th largest wine producer in the world, with 24.6 million hectoliters. Production increased by 64% over the last 6 years and represents 8.95% of the world's wine. "The more a country produces wine the more the people will drink wine", says Beynat. Currently Americans consume 11 liters per capita per year, a number expected to increase to 14 liters per capita by the year 2006. Moreover, wine consumption in America has been changing for some time, with red wine representing 50.6% of wine consumption in 2000 vs. 24.8 % in 1985.

Still, only 10% of Americans drink wine on a regular basis and when they do they tend towards American vintages. "American wines represent 80% of the wine drunk in the United States", notes the French trade fair executive—a healthy market share figure that probably explains the conspicuous absence of many California wine producers as exhibitors, however many of them sent representatives to the exposition and seminars (no need to promote their wines on their domestic market). Penetrating the wine markets of the Americas will require sustained marketing and promotion efforts. But Vinexpo America's first effort surely represents a promising start.

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