Tuesday, March 31, 2009

News from the front

After two days in the cavernous Prowein exhibition halls in Dusseldorf, I am left with a set of varied impressions.
First, the mood is much, much less gloomy than the one I encountered at tastings in London last week. The UK wine trade is suffering from the triple whammy of a) being arguably the worst-affected recession victim, b) having a currency that buys 20% less European wine than it did a year ago and c) facing a fresh duty hike in a few weeks time.
Second, there´s Bordeaux. The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux ran a tasting here on Sunday and then headed home to ready themselves for the annual en primeur circus. If the buzz here is anything to go by, attendance will be thinner than usual - I´m certainly not going - and unless 08 prices plummet, there won´t be any buying. Several negociants are reported to be on the point of collapse and producers are openly suggesting that way Bordeaux sells its wines will have to change. As the always perceptive Thibaut Despagne said "we´re seeing the end of a 30 year era".
The busiest areas of the fair are the German halls (especially the VDP) which is not surprising, and the Austrians who have just overtaken Australia in their exports to Germany.
The Australian stands are not the cheeriest, and, according to visiting Aussie drinks writer James Wells, there´s much grumbling about the closure of the Wines of Australia European office. Sales to Germany are dropping and there is a feeling that Europe is being abandoned in favour of Asia. But since Aussie sales are growing fast there, maybe the Aussie powers-that-be feel justified in their decision to shift focus.
There´s much talk of lower alcohol wine, but no great evidence. Indeed, there are plenty of 14% plus German wines on show...
Next stops for at least some of this travelling circus are London for the London Wine Trade Fair in May and Bordeaux for the Vinexpo Fair in June. Rumours abound about the latter event which is said to have contracted from two halls to one...