Elizabeth Gabay MW
Mar 2017

Wine fair war in Montpellier

Montpellier has the good fortune to be home to two international wine trade fairs: Vinisud and Millésime Bio. Such fairs are big business, with many producers and buyers coming, often from far away to meet under one roof. With many producers present, buyers can taste many wines quickly and negotiate with producers directly. January saw the play-out of a major dispute between the two fairs, which was a major topic of conversation at this year’s fairs. Vinisud bills itself as the major trade fair for Mediterranean wine. A majority of the 922 exhibitors were from France, with 17% from other countries. Almost 21000 visitors came, of whom 31% were international. Millésime Bio says it is “the only international fair devoted to organic wine” (bio in French). This year 4850 visitors visited the 902 exhibitors, of whom 22% were from abroad. Until this year, Millésime Bio was always held in Montpellier, where it was started in 1993 by Sudvinbio, the Trade Association of Organic Wines in Occitanie. The shows are very different.

Millésime Bio has always taken place annually, near the end of January. Up to and including last year Vinisud took place every two years, in mid-February, but from 2016 has been annual, as “In a highly competitive environment, it is important to mobilize more and more international buyers and specifiers, to keep in touch with the markets, to be able to present each vintage, but also new products, marketing innovations …”. Last year, organisers of Vinisud announced they would hold Vinisud 2017 at the same time as Millesime Bio, seeking to “create synergies between two complementary fairs, organized in the same place, serving all the professionals of the sector”. This was not well received by members of Sudvinbio. When polled for their view, of the 374 replies, 77% opposed sharing dates. As a result, “to guarantee the autonomy of the event and preserving its identity and organization”, Millesime Bio chose to relocate to Marseille, rather than share the Montpellier exhibition site Their fair this year was held 30 January - 1 February, a day out of sync with Vinisud. WIth Marseille over a couple of hours from Montpellier, this was a major complication, but did allow visitors to Vinisud to spend the day after Vinisud at Millésime Bio. The choice was more difficult for producers, as many could only exhibit at one fair or the other. After a very public dispute between organisers of the two fairs will revert to being very separate dates. Sudvinbio very determinedly does not want to link in any way with Vinisud. It will return to Montpellier, with “(guaranteed) exclusivity for the dates of Millésime Bio, with no rival wine fair, either for the trade or the general public, taking place during the trade fair period (3 days), during installation (5 days) or during dismantling (2 days). In return, Sudvinbio undertakes to maintain Millésime Bio at Montpellier Exhibition Centre for at least five years, from 2018 to 2022.” Until this year the Forum International d’Affaires (FIA), a regional event sponsored by the Occitanie region, was held together with Millésime Bio. This year, with Millésime Bio at Marseille – outside Occitanie – it was held with Vinisud in Montpellier, Vinisud has announced that next year the FIA will be held in conjunction with it “to further enhance opportunities for face-to-face commercial meetings between exhibitors and international buyers”. Independent of the direct financial implications, by increasing the scale of Vinisud, this serves to boost its attractiveness. For the FIA, producers in Occitanie can submit wines to the event for a small fee. Key overseas buyers are invited to attend, with travel and accommodation costs paid for them. These make their selection of local producers they would like to meet, using the search engine and the tasting organized the day before the meeting sessions. Producers see information on the buyers, then accept or decline the meeting requests. Over the 2 days, more than 2000 appointments result. Next year 2018, Millésime Bio will be held in Montpellier from 29 to 31 January, with Vinisud following there from 18 to 20 February. With size a key way to keep abreast of competition, the effects of these changes remain to be seen and will be closely watched.

David Bernheim