Wine trade can be Britain's post-Brexit poster boy, says outgoing LWF boss

The wine trade can be the poster boy for international trade relations after Britain leaves the EU, according to the outgoing director of the London Wine Fair.

Ross Carter is leaving to run Hotelympia after presiding over five wine fairs at Brintex, and is sad to say goodbye to the trade.

But he believes it can thrive in future and can play a key role as Britain strives to secure trade deals with various countries across the world.

He told DRN: “The market has been challenging since 2008 and we continue to have challenges ahead of us, like Brexit and free trade negotiations. But there is so much opportunity for more interesting trading deals with countries around the world. The wine trade could be the poster boy for this country.

“With the amount of wine imported, it could be the most international of sectors. We have to reach out internationally. That’s a unique opportunity in terms of where we are economically.”

Carter says his proudest achievement at Brintex is making LWF more relevant to the UK trade by ditching the international aspect, returning it from Excel to Olympia and overhauling the content structure.  

“Bringing back that market relevance has been my proudest achievement,” he said. “That was lacking in the latter days at Excel. Prowein and Vinexpo are very corporate entities and I can understand why the wine trade globally loves them, but they don’t have the opportunity for creativity and collaboration. They have to be a standardised offer to many.

“We until 2013 similarly put forward quite a sterile business offer. It worked for many years while the event was seen as an international fair, but when it became a domestic fair it needed to be changed – the content, the seminars, the tastings, the whole lead-up to it, the visitors campaign, the whole culture. Because we are a smaller venue we have been able to do that. Prowein and Vinexpo will be the main forces internationally for many years to come, but the London Wine Fair can always be something unique and different.”

When he joined he was given a list of 15 things that were wrong with LWF and needed to be changed, but now he believes the fair perfectly caters to the trade and the only obstacle is the economy in general.

“There were a series of things that needed to be changed,” said Carter. “Now it’s all about the market and affordability. People might not be able to justify the spend, but when you know you are doing everything else right, it will be in a good position when the general economy improves. History shows it ebbs and flows and it is a challenging problem now, but it will come again and if LWF can be offering the best quality content and delivering a high value visitor audience, it’s in a good condition come an economic revival.

“We have seen the rise of independent retail, but as a population there is less money in the basket to spend on luxury goods, and expensive wine is one of them. But if we have the right trading agreements, when the market improves, it could be really exciting. We have to ride out these years of austerity before we get there.”

Carter said he might be interested in returning to the drinks trade one day, but right now is relishing the upcoming challenge at Hotelympia, where he will look after four exhibitions.

“I have mixed emotions,” he said. “I will be sad to say goodbye to the trade after 12 years. The first time I worked at the event, for James Murray, I didn’t feel like I was wine trade. Then I did the WSET and some vineyard work in New Zealand and then worked for PLB and now I am back at the event I feel like I am a part of the wine trade.

“But there is no one better qualified than Hannah [Tovey, the new LWF director] to be taking over. She is simply the best-qualified person for the job given her experiences.”

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