Wine Opinion: Trade expos
To those of us who don't attend them for a living, the concept of a wine fair must seem like the impossible dream - an entire hall full of people encouraging you to visit their booths and imbibe at your leisure (gratis, no less).
And yet, as our fellow trade attendees will attest, not all fairs are created equal: some do approach the bacchanals envisaged by wine hobbyists, but others are sterner, and interlopers are liable to find themselves thrown out faster than they can say "pinot grigio".
The most consumer-friendly is the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival in the first week of November. With an atmosphere more akin to a street carnival than a trade fair, it brings conviviality and vim to the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade. Over only four days, it attracts more than 100,000 fans, plus international gastronomic luminaries such as Anthony Bourdain.
But the sharp consumer knows the trade is often privy to treats not squandered on the public. The good stuff, they suspect, is reserved for sequestered halls where the pros sip and spit in peace. However, even the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair has a Consumer Day. Although less rowdy than some European fairs, where bottles don't stop popping until well after dark, the scene does become rather lively towards closing time.
With a broad array of seminars, industry conferences and receptions, this show draws the who's who of the Asian wine world from as far afield as South Korea, Singapore and India, with a vast amount of foot traffic. Another option the thirsty consumer might consider is the Bordeaux/Hong Kong biannual exhibition Vinexpo, held in Hong Kong at the end of May in even-numbered years. While theoretically trade only, the wine zealot will always find a way in, trade or not (especially since the zero per cent tax means nearly everyone in Hong Kong has a friend in the business).
This fair attracts the luminaries of the European wine world, in turn drawing hordes of Asian trade, fascinated as ever with all things French. The Vinexpo Academy, a certificate programme run during the fair's three days, is a highlight. Students must attend each of a number of courses selected to give a well-rounded overview of contemporary wine issues.
For the technically minded (or obsessive), it's an opportunity worth taking.
Other Hong Kong fairs, such as September's Restaurant and Bar, are a treat for the trade. They enjoy the familial atmosphere and relative calm of Hong Kong, and the efficiency that arises from having the region's top food and beverages in one spot for a few days. Tight security keeps them that way.
For those keen enough on their vino to trek across the border, be warned that despite the proliferation of fairs on the mainland, they are quite different from our relatively tame affairs. As always in China, attendees and exhibitors are encouraged to keep valuables cemented to their person, if not nailed. Anything that could be considered a "sample" (brochures, wine accessories, laptops) will be generously sampled.
From another standpoint, if you're curious about the business of wine in China, there's no better place to watch it in action: the ubiquitous models in slinky black dresses, periodic parades through the halls by inflatable costumed characters and general spectacle all speak eloquently of a market in flux. To top it off, actual wine samples are more than generous.
Debra Meiburg is a Master of Wine