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Gastronomy and Wine Portal

Exclusive Interview with Hannah Tovey, Event Director of London Wine Fair: Innovations and Highlights of the Upcoming LWF


One of the most significant expo events in Europe is approaching — it is the London Wine Fair. Just before this important event Hannah Tovey, Event Director of London Wine Fair, despite the incredible amount of organizational tasks, found time to talk to the head of the Drinks+ Media Group. After all, despite the fact that the British market has historically attracted all those who are concerned with wine sales, this year the LWF organizers are introducing a number of innovations that will enhance the presentation capabilities of this expo hub and attract an additional audience of traders from around the world.

In 2024, the London Wine Fair, as the largest event in the beverage trade sector in the UK, is introducing a range of new features. Could you please name 3–5 of the most significant new options for exhibitors, in your opinion?

We have a host of new features for 2024, as well as several first time and returning exhibitors, so the Fair will have a real sense of “newness”.  One of the most significant new features is Judgement of London.  And we have a brand-new exhibitor area: The Discovery Zone, a dedicated section which will host non-wine drinks, including No and Lo.  Another first for 2024 is the Hosted Buyer Programme which will be available for all exhibitors and visitors as well as a full Concierge Service for 50 of the UK’s top buyers.

As it is known, the British market is one of the leading arenas for wine traders, always having unique advantages for wine trading. However, how does LWF additionally attract leading trading companies? Could you please elaborate on the motivation and services? Perhaps the Wine Buyers Awards play a significant role — what’s new in this project this year, and how does the motivational mechanism work?

LWF has an enviable reputation as an event for drinks professionals from the UK and beyond.  This is based on three key elements: business; education; and networking.  We are very much a platform for our exhibitors, be they distributors, wine brands, generic bodies, boutique distillers to show their portfolios to the UK’s top buyers from supermarkets to independent merchants to sommeliers.  It is this happy marriage of our exhibitor and visitor audiences which makes the LWF such an attractive proposition.

Who among the new participants this year would you particularly like to highlight — new ones or those who have returned after the break?

Several of the UK’s leading agents, importers and logistics companies are returning this year. Mentzendorff will take a stand for the first time in 12 years and will host a series of unmissable masterclasses; Buckingham Schenk; Freixenet Copestick; Hillebrand Gori UK; Lanchester Wines; and Origin Wine are also all returning.  We will also host Japan with a generic pavilion for the first time and we have four Chinese producers attending.

Wines of South Africa will return with a large Pop-Up Tasting on the Tuesday.  The tasting will bring together some of South Africa’s best producers and highlight a wide spectrum of wines on offer, from well-known names such as Spier, DGB, Waterkloof and Springfield to less well-known producers and those seeking representation. Groupings for Cap Classique (South Africa’s traditional method sparkling wines) and the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective highlight how important these two categories are for South Africa in the UK market.

We will also see many of our long-standing exhibitors at the show: Hatch Mansfield, Awin Barratt Siegel, Richmond Wine Agencies, Ellis Wines, EWGA, Felix Solis, H2Vin, Marcato Direct, Beyond Wine and Friarwood Fine Wines., to name just a few.

The most important aspect, perhaps, of organizing such global forums as LWF is meeting planning. Is there any statistics on how visitors and participants utilize the communication opportunities provided by you through the online platform? In this regard, what advice could you give to wine producers who would like to attract the attention of effective traders/buyers, etc.?

Our searchable database of exhibitor products at the show, which is managed by Bottlebooks, is invaluable for visitors who wish to create a personalised tasting sheet to maximise their time at the show.  This is very widely used, and last year we saw 7,000 unique users of the product list.  The Hosted Buyers Programme will give visitors and exhibitors access to London Wine Fair’s digital networking and show planner platform, where they can book sessions and invite other attendees to meetings, all based on bespoke searches.  VIP buyers have specifically requested a bespoke service, and this has resulted in a dedicated space for meetings “The Hosted Buyers Lounge”.

Could you please explain in more detail for potential users how the integration of a resource like Bottlebooks into your services is planned?

The Fair’s official digital directory is run by Bottlebooks; a now universally used platform for wine data capture, which launched with the LWF back in 2016.  Bottlebooks is a tool  that gives the wine industry one place to host and exchange comprehensive, producer-entered product information including product information, photography, maps, controlled by the source – the producer.  As such it really enhances the visitor – and exhibitor – LWF experience.

Perhaps, it would be worthwhile to provide more information about the exhibition layout on the eve of the event. As for me, the following sections sound particularly appealing: DRINKS BRITANNIA, ESOTERICA, TRADING FLOOR, WINES UNEARTHED… What exactly will visitors find there, and who are they intended for?

Drinks Britannia celebrates our English and Welsh producers; we have a record number – 18 – signed up this year, some of which are exhibiting under WineGB.  Esoterica is always one of the busiest sections; it hosts boutique, independent importers mainly targeting the premium on-trade and independent merchants. The Trading Floor is the main area of the show and hosts the larger UK agents distributors and generic bodies.  And Wines Unearthed hosts non-domestic producers seeking a UK agent for the first time.

DISCOVERY ZONE — I suggest delving into this in more detail. Do we already know which startups and innovative technologies will be presented here?

The Discovery Zone has been moved to the heart of the exhibition. The idea is that the products and services that are hosted in this zone, are really at the centre of future-proofing our industry. Whether that’s a sustainability agency, an App, or a logistics company.”

Are there any new venues or sections in your exhibition this year that will appear for the first time? What prompted their introduction?

For the first time we have a large, hosted meetings lounge. This was prompted by a conversation last summer with two key buyers. They explained that meetings on stand are often great for tasting, but sometimes they need a more private location to have in-depth meetings with suppliers.

I can’t stay aside and not ask you about the JUDGMENT OF LONDON — who exactly came up with the incredible idea to recreate the famous tasting in Paris now in London? The media group Drinks+ has already outlined the principles of the upcoming tasting on its resources in general terms. And we hope to have the opportunity to cover its results. But I would also like to clarify — how were the wine analogs from the Old and New Worlds selected, do you personally have any forecasts or premonitions?

I first dreamt up Judgement of London in 2019, with the intention to launch it at the 2020 show but that was scuppered by Covid-19 and the subsequent UK Lockdown.  Logistically, it has been quite a significant addition to the show, but we felt this year we were in a perfect place to revisit the original idea. Judgement of London will pay homage to Steven Spurrier’s ground-breaking Judgement of Paris but will have a broader remit.

Instead of a France vs California blind tasting,  Judgement of London will feature pairs of wines from Europe and the Rest of the World; eight white, and eight red. These have been selected to be comparable in terms of style and readiness for drinking.  Two of the UK wine industry’s most experienced professionals, Ronan Sayburn MS and CEO of The Court of Master Sommeliers, and high respected wine writer and tasting judge, Sarah Abbot MW, will be selecting the wines and curating the tasting and we have a panel of 20 of the UKS most impressive palates to judge,  Judging will take place on the first day of the show, and we will announce the results on the Tuesday on Centre Stage.

I have no preconceptions of how this will pan out, but whatever the results are it will be an incredibly interesting exercise.

It’s logical to continue the topic with global trends, which JUDGMENT OF LONDON will undoubtedly demonstrate through its results. Could you please name the main directions in which the wine world is moving, and which ones do you personally observe from the perspective of your own experience and years of activity in general? Which of them will have a critical impact on the industry? For example, could you comment on a phenomenon that LWF focuses on — such as regenerative.

Sustainability is the number one issue for wine right now and The Fair gives an opportunity to shine a spotlight on this and create an environment to instigate change.  2023 was the most sustainable show to date, and we have strengthened that focus for 2024, with more seminars and masterclasses on the key challenges our industry faces such as climate change and carbon emissions.  We will also report back on our Bottle Collection Initiative which we platformed for Sustainable Wine Solutions and The Porto Protocol last year.  The LWF is very much a showcase for future trends in the wine industry and 2024 is no exception: the use of Artificial Intelligence for example.

Perhaps, it’s worth focusing separately on the designated zone at LWF — MINDFUL DRINKING EXPERIENCE. How is this segment growing, and are wines with low alcohol content or even zero capable of regaining some lost audience of wine lovers — as global statistics, as far as known, indicate a decrease in demand for wine in almost all segments? Could you please detail the initiatives of an association like Club Soda?

No and Lo remains one of the fastest growing sectors within the drinks industry and also one of the most innovative and exciting.  We will be hosting 16 exhibitors / brands in the Mindful Drinking Experience this year, 7 for the first time.

According to observations by Drinks+ observers, competition between exhibitions — the world leaders in the professional wine community — has sharply intensified after the pandemic. Does London feel the pressure? What are your strongest positions that allow you to stay in the top league? What are the plans — if not a secret — for the coming years?

Having an event the scale of London Wine Fair which serves the UK market – one of the most diverse in the world – has never been more needed.  Having a platform which raises the most pertinent issues and challenges – as well as opportunities – is absolutely essential.  The impact of Brexit, the looming changes to duty, falling wine consumption, our carbon emissions all need to be debated and solutions implemented and LWF provides the space to do this, alongside doing business and identifying trends for the future.