By Marcel Michelson BORDEAUX, France, June 20 (Reuters Life!) - The 30th international wine and spirits fair in Bordeaux opened this week with participants hoping for much better order books than the relative wash-out of two years ago in the midst of economic crisis.
While financial turmoil in Europe and other regions still depresses consumer sentiment, wine-makers expect much from the rising demand of emerging market economies and in particular countries such as China as buyers and trade representatives walk the long halls of the Vinexpo trade fair, held every two years.
"If it goes like last time round, we will no longer have a Vinexpo but Vinaigrexpo," joked Daniel-Etienne Defaix, a wine-maker from the Chablis area, making a play on the French words for wine and vinegar.
"Last time I left the show with zero orders," he added, as he poured his 2002 vintage that is coming to the market this year and has been judged favourably by the wine press. Defaix releases his wines later to the market than many other makers of the white Burgundy wine of the area around the town of Chablis.
Vinexpo has turned into a high mass of the wine industry, full with pageants such as the Jurade dinner of Saint-Emilion or the Flower Party evening where the big names of the world wine industry, and especially those of Bordeaux, meet for small talk and big business.
NEW INSERT "We have gone through an unprecedented crisis but are in a substantial market," said Xavier de Eizaguirre, chairman of Vinexpo at the opening ceremony.
"We see good prospects, especially in the fast-growing economies of Asia and in particular in China," he added.
French agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire urged French growers to continually improve the quality of the wines to stay ahead in the competition with big producer countries like Chile and Argentina. He also called on more unity in the sector.
"A French disease is too much squabbling, too much multiplication, too many umbrella organisations. What we need is a common front," he said, referring to a Chinese wine buyer he recently met who had said he needed big quantities of wines of a common quality and taste for the Chinese market.
These quantities are often larger than a single wine-maker can provide.
French foreign affairs minister, and Bordeaux city mayor, Alain Juppe underlined the importance of the wine industry for his town, region and the country where it is the second-biggest exporter after the aeronautics sector.
The city of Bordeaux throws in a back-drop of the River Party with popular parties and free live music and a giant fireworks on Saturday evening. But in the end, buyers determine the success of the event. Bordeaux, and the rest of the French wine industry, suffers from a split personality with an expensive luxury sector of top wines that lure billionaires, to the more mundane supermarket class of wines that compete with themselves and the rest of the world. Those winemakers are also at the show with stands from Italy, South Africa, Australia, and Austria to name but a few. According to Vinexpo studies, world wine consumption will rise between 2009 and 2014 by 3.18 percent to 2.729 billion cases. This is a slower rate than the 10-year average of 8.6 percent. Between 2010 and 2014, consumption of still, light wines is seen rising by 72.9 million cases of nine litres -- or just below three percent. Some three quarters of the growth will come from the 'old' market of the United States that will take an extra 26.94 million cases, China with 20.76 million cases and Russia with 5.53 million cases. One out of four bottles of wines consumed in the world is an imported bottle, at 25.55 percent in 2009, and by 2014 this is seen at 26.44 percent.
At Vinexpo this year, there are 2,400 exhibitors from 47 countries and an expected 40-45,000 visitors. Some 60,000 to 70,000 bottles will be opened, and mostly spit out after tasting. France is the largest exhibitor.
Expected trends on the show are a continued rise in so-called 'varietal' wines made with one dominant grape variety for easier identification by international consumers, lower alcohol products and new marketing techniques to seduce female and younger clients. (Edited by Paul Casciato)