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VinExpo Asia has been in hibernation since its last staging in Hong Kong from May 29-31, 2018, which I had attended. The reason for the four-year absence was the COVID-19 pandemic — 2020 VinExpo Asia could not take place due to the pandemic, and the 2022 edition was canceled because of the strict rules imposed by the Hong Kong government, including the unpopular mandatory one-week hotel quarantine for arriving travelers which would affect exhibitors and visitors attending the VinExpo event.
All this prompted VinExpo Asia to move to Southeast Asia and they chose Singapore to host the region’s largest bi-annual wine and spirits event.
Singapore was a great choice, as it had, in 2018, already staged ProWine (changed from its original spelling of Prowein, this is an annual global wine show held in Düsseldorf, Germany since the 1990s). German based event organizer Prowein is the French-run VinExpo’s only competition when it comes to international wine and spirits events. Singapore hosted ProWine again in 2022 and a 3rd time this year from April 25-28, just a month ahead of VinExpo Singapore.
VinExpo actually started in 1981 in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is still considered the world’s preeminent wine-growing region by far. The concept from the onset was to create a wine and spirits fair in an international stage for the industry professionals — purely a trade show that connects wine and spirits producers who would be the exhibitors, to buyers and media people, who would be the visitors.
VinExpo is certainly not the oldest wine and spirits fair in the world. VinItaly, Italy’s version, started as early as1967, while the London Wine Fair started in 1980, still ahead of VinExpo.
Personally, I still feel ProWein in Düsseldorf is probably the best international wine event, as it has a more ‘neutral feel’ given that Bordeaux and France always cast a huge shadow on wine events, given their strong wine reputation worldwide.
The VinExpo strength however is in Asia, which began with their first staging of VinExpo Asia Pacific in Hong Kong in 1998, and bi-annually on even years since then, with exception of 2004, and the pandemic years. The 1998 expo was a pioneering fair that helped unlock the vast potential of liquor products in Asia.
VinExpo currently runs regular wine fairs in six locations: Bordeaux, Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris and has now added a seventh location in Singapore. The organizers already announced a follow-up VinExpo Singapore, scheduled for 2025, while also keeping VinExpo Hong Kong next year, scheduled from May 28- 30, 2024.
I really do not know if making VinExpo Asia an annual event is a good idea, but VinExpo certainly does not want to lose out to ProWine Asia.
Thus far, I have attended eight of the 11 VinExpo Asia fairs since 1998.
A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW
It was almost unfair to compare this year’s VinExpo Singapore to the last VinExpo Hong Kong of 2018. For one, the VinExpo Hong Kong was a pre-COVID pandemic event and Singapore was more like a last-minute replacement for Hong Kong.
In fact, Hong Kong was still supposed to be the original location this year, with Feb. 23-25 being the dates, also at the same HK Convention & Exhibition Center (HKCEC). But with so much uncertainty waiting for Hong Kong to lift their strict quarantine and self-isolation rules for visitors, the VinExpo organizer had to choose another country to host this event, otherwise postponement after postponement might just drive stakeholders, especially exhibitors, away.
That was why VinExpo Asia was moved to Singapore. This also happens to be the first odd-numbered year to have a VinExpo Asia since its start in 1998.
Hong Kong eventually lifted the quarantine rules on travelers last April — a bit too late to salvage what could have been VinExpo Hong Kong this year.
The last VinExpo Asia Hong Kong in 2018 was able to receive attract 17,500 visitors, with a record high 1,465 exhibitors against the more modest numbers registered in this year’s VinExpo Asia Singapore of slightly less than 10,000 visitors (the exact number being 9,989) and 1,000 exhibitors. Both numbers were substantial declines from the last VinExpo Asia: -43% and -32% respectively vs 2018 figures.
But one area where VinExpo Singapore exceeded the last VinExpo Hong Kong was that visitors in Singapore came from 64 countries, 14 countries or 28% more than the 50 countries registered in the 2018 VinExpo Asia.
SMALLER IN SCALE BUT NICER VENUE
From the initial eye test, VinExpo Asia Singapore already looked smaller than its Hong Kong counterpart. The queueing to get the expo badge alone took longer than at Hong Kong, but it was still very Singapore-like, meaning very organized, orderly, and efficient — it just took longer because of smaller registration space, and not for any other reason.
The Marina Bay Sands also offered better charm and style points than the HKCEC. The Marina Bay Sands is already a landmark in Singapore since its opening in 2010, with its unique architecture of three high-rise buildings with a huge boat-shaped structure on top. Alongside the Supertree Grove of the Gardens by the Bay and the Merlion from the Merlion Park, the Marina Bay Sands backdrop is among the most photographed sights in social media by visitors to Singapore.
While all exhibition centers look the same from the inside — with high ceilings, huge spaces, and necessary amenities like toilets and trash bins — this exhibition center just happened to be housed inside the luxurious Marina Bay Sands complex, with dining and shopping galore, plus much more.
The dining part is quite important. In Hong Kong, there are a limited number of restaurants within the HKCEC so going for lunch was always a challenge. At Marina Bay Sands, even the Food Court is already quite a foodie’s treat.
But with regards taxi queues — it was as bad as Hong Kong. While both exhibition centers, HKCEC and Marina Bay Sands, have easy access to their respective MRT, if you are tired and especially sweaty (the minute you get out of the venue, its back to humid and uncomfortable heat) you want to take a taxi and get back to your hotel to shower and relax.
This was also the first time in Singapore, after over 30 years of visiting, that I encountered taxi drivers refusing passengers. We took a taxi that was contracting his service for S$20 for an Orchard Road hotel trip fare that was usually just S$8. I thought this was a nefarious Manila taxi scheme only — but it did happen in Singapore, even if there were so many signs in every taxi queue station that say it is illegal to contract fares.
Singapore is nearly at par with Hong Kong as far as hotel accommodation and food costs are concern.
QUALITATIVE OVER QUANTITATIVE?
VinExpo Asia Singapore had one floor dedicated to the exhibitors at Level 2, while all symposiums, seminars, master classes and special tastings were done at the Basement 2. In HKCEC, there were at least two floors dedicated to the exhibitors, one floor for all of the countries, and another floor for the French Pavilion which featured only French wineries.
While several of top wine countries were well represented this year in Singapore, with France, Italy, Australia, the USA and Spain rounding up the top five wine producing countries, several countries were less visible, like New Zealand and South Africa to name a few.
The Top 5 countries that visitors came from according to VinExpo were home-based Singapore, China (surprisingly it had the second largest contingent), neighbor Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. I believed the Philippines also had a big contingent as I saw several wine industry colleagues from Manila.
Like all previous VinExpos, seminars and tastings were very key for visitors. This year, I attended only two tastings: the Union of Grand Crus of Bordeaux (UGCB) featuring the very good 2020 vintage, and the Tre Bicchieri tasting event. Tre Bicchieri — which means three glasses — is the highest wine rating given by Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso.
The UGBC tasting was amazing, with several topnotch 2020 Bordeaux including those from Chateau Lascombes, Chateau Cantenac-Brown, Chateau Kirwan, Chateau Lagrange, Chateau Leoville-Barton, and Chateau Guiraud. The Tre Bicchieri tasting was, however, not as impressive as I was expecting it to be. Visibly missing were Barolo and Barbaresco wines, which are my favorites from Italy.
According to several people I spoke to, especially exhibitors I know personally, the three-day event was very productive, and the quality of visitors was better than at previous VinExpo events. The meetings, according to my sources, were done with key decision makers from the import companies, including owners or CEOs themselves.
Overall, this fair was not as busy as I thought it would be, but if the exhibitors were happy, that mattered the most.
I am looking forward to more VinExo Asia to come, whether it be Hong Kong or Singapore. I will write about my wine discoveries from this VinExpo in my future wine column.
The author is the first Filipino wine writer member of both Bordeaux-based Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux (FIJEV) and the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check his wine training website https://thewinetrainingcamp.wordpress.com/services.