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Survival guide to wine trade shows

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Trade shows can either prove to be the highlight of your year or a disastrous waste of time – it all depends on how well you prepare for them and how you behave when you arrive.  For every visitor suavely working the room, tying up big deals, smiling brightly and catching up with old friends, there is a flustered visitor with sore feet running late for meetings and wishing they had stayed at home!

We spoke to seasoned trade show visitors from across the wine trade – taking in organisers, exhibitors, buyers and the media – to get their top tips on how to ensure you are in the former group rather than the latter and not just survive but thrive at trade shows.


Trade show organisers are desperate for exhibitors and guests to get as much out of the event as possible to ensure the long-term health of the show. They are therefore often a great resource when it comes to gaining tips on how to succeed at a trade show. 

One of the biggest of the bunch is ProWein, a behemoth in Düsseldorf – with offshoots in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore– that can be incredibly daunting to first-time visitors due to its sheer size. “There are 6,300 exhibitors in nine halls to explore and the three days of ProWein will be very tough and intensive,” says Marius Berlemann, director at ProWein. “Usually you will have evening events too. So before coming to Düsseldorf, everybody should take the time to make a schedule or a certain structure for each day. Do your homework and arrange meetings in advance.”

ProWein veterans talk about using a pedometer to see how much ground they cover in a day at the show and are often agog to see it run north of eight miles (12.8km). Thus when asked what visitors should include in their toolkit, it is hardly surprising that the first thing Berlemann mentions is suitable shoes. He also advises a diary “Preparation and organisation are very important,” he says.

His sentiments are echoed by Harry Hertscheg DipWSET, Executive Director of the Vancouver Wine Festival: “put a plan and schedule together,” he says. “It’s valuable to taste lots of wines, especially if you’re a trade buyer, or have an upcoming WSET exam, but it’s vital to leverage the networking opportunities. The wine world is here, so take advantage of it. With clear objectives and a schedule or timeline, you can visualise how your day will unfold, which also serves to free you up to seize upon unexpected opportunities as you go, more so than if you just wing it. Keep an open mind and an adventurous palate.”


Performance at a trade show can make or break a supplier’s year, so preparation is crucial. Wine Australia runs stands at various trade shows, hosts its own events and works with its various producers to ensure they have the best chance of securing listings with buyers on the back of the shows. “When exhibiting at a trade show, organisation and advance planning are key to its success,” says Wine Australia’s Emma Symington MW. 

“Depending on the scale of the show, this may start from a few months beforehand to a year or more for larger events. This planning encompasses everything from stand design, logistics and travel arrangements to organising additional events at the show, such as masterclasses, feature tastings or focused events after the show closes. Targeted PR and communications around the event are important to announce our presence and attract attendees to our stand. A detailed events plan and timeline designed specifically for each trade show enables us to ensure we are fully prepared for each event and that everything runs smoothly on the day.”

It is an exhausting process, but Symington understands its importance: “Trade shows are always a highlight in our year,” she says. “They can be long and busy days as exhibitors, but they are always a great time for us to catch up with visiting winemakers and network with people from across the wine trade as well as focus on and promote our key messages of regionality and diversity of premium Australian wine.”

WSET exhibits at industry trade shows in at least seven countries each year. Depending on the show and location, objectives can vary from establishing a presence in a new market, engaging with graduates and alumni or driving student registrations to local course providers. “For new events we aim to work with the fair organiser to establish where we can best work to our mutual benefit,” says Jude Mullins DipWSET, WSET’s International Development Director. “We often look at how our expertise in education and global market experience can contribute to workshops, seminars and other activities, as well as our own stand presence. Planning and communicating our plans in advance with our existing stakeholders is crucial.”

Keep an open mind and an adventurous palate.



Bill Rolfe, Chairman of 10 International, is a trade show veteran and advises anyone attending one to do their homework beforehand. “Prepare well, try to make connections before you go for meetings and never forget the opportunity to just find something out of the blue or to come up with an idea when you are on the shuttle bus to the show,” he says.  

Rolfe continues, “On the way from the hotel to a recent trade show in France I met a distributor from Thailand and we discussed a new potential idea that could be exciting for the Asian market and we are looking to work together, and that’s just from a 15-minute bus ride. It’s not just meeting a potential supplier. There are potential customers everywhere. You have to be open to talk to strangers. You have to start with a casual, friendly approach and then you find common ground.”

Jean-Pierre Hourlier, of Hourlier Wines, says: “You have to know what you’re looking for. It’s very tiring, both physically and on the palate, and it’s very easy to get confused, so prepare well and make sure you are organised. Try not to be influenced by wine critics, medals, price, labels or what your neighbour says. Come in with an open mind to tasting. Know what your customers want, not just what you like.”

Not everyone is a fan of preparing in advance. Jimmy Lim, buyer for Cellar Door in Singapore, believes you get the most out of a show if you do not prepare too much. “If you read too much beforehand your decision will be influenced by wine writers and the media,” he says. “Sometimes wines that haven’t been discovered are the best wines. Consumers are tired of the mass brands so you need to find something a bit different. I just go along and see what I see.”

Media / PR

For journalists, a trade show can be a wonderful opportunity to source exclusive stories and gain quotes for features and analyses. It is a rare situation in that so many important and influential people in the wine and spirits trade are under one roof. Masterclasses can also be a great source of content.

“I always check what masterclasses are running in advance, pick out the most interesting ones and register for them,” says Holly Motion, news editor at Imbibe. “Then I book in meetings with key trade professionals and exhibitors relevant to any features I’m writing, and typically come away with plenty of stories. Preparation is really important, but it’s also good to leave some gaps in your diary to allow for spontaneity.”

Attendees at ProWein 2016

For a PR agency, a trade show can be a great place to network, get up to speed with industry news, secure media coverage for clients and gain new business leads.

“We plan a careful timetable which is a balance of client events, press interviews, new business meetings and time to explore and catch up with people,” says Emma Wellings, owner at EWPR. “Everyone is competing for the same press, so you have to be organised, you have to make it interesting and you have to secure your audience in advance. “With regards to client and new business meetings, if you don’t fix a specific time and location in advance, then the chances are your meeting won’t happen as it’s so easy to get side-tracked.”

Advice for WSET Students

Many WSET students are already working in the trade, and will be attending shows wearing two hats. For others, trade shows are a unique opportunity to experience the wine world in action.  “If you’re a WSET student you’ll want to use trade shows to taste, taste, taste!” says Victoria Burt MW, WSET’s Research and Development Manager. “Becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety is easily done, so focusing your tasting practice on a region or wine style is recommended. Take comprehensive notes using the Systematic Approach to Tasting and be disciplined about setting aside time to review your notes after the show.” 

She adds: “Masterclasses and hosted sessions are also a great way to broaden your knowledge so review the show programme early and book in advance if required. If trade shows are new to you don’t be shy – many of the people you speak to on the day will have, at some point, been WSET students themselves, and letting people know you’re a WSET student can be a great icebreaker and can open many doors.”

 If you can apply the advice above you’ll soon be negotiating your next trade show like a pro!

Article prepared for WSET by Martin Green, Editor of Off Licence News

Photo credits: Messe Düsseldorf, Constanze Tillmann.