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As the London International Wine & Spirits Fair fast approaches, Adam Withrington prepares for a show which could well be a daunting...

As the London International Wine & Spirits Fair fast approaches, Adam Withrington prepares for a show which could well be a daunting prospect.

Going to trade shows can be a daunting prospect. Row upon row of people are ready to be your best friend for the sum total of four minutes as they try and sell their wares to you. It soon becomes crucial to quickly learn the art of avoiding eye contact with the guy selling "an entirely new generation of refrigeration".

However, trade shows can be even worse if you don't really know what you are looking for. It is easy to waste hours idly wandering round thinking "I really should be back in my pub".

The London International Wine & Spirits Fair (LIWSF), which runs from May 17 to May 19, fits into this bracket for many people. It is the biggest trade show for wine and spirits in the UK (last year there were over 13,000 visitors to the fair) and so can be a pretty intimidating place.

As you walk around for the first five minutes open-mouthed, the questions start running through your mind: "Where do I start? Should I plump for a random stand and start tasting? Do I really have to make tasting notes? What should I write then? Do I really have to spit out the wine into that? What do I do now?"

And none of those questions are as important as the ones that really have an impact on your business, such as: "Which are the best stands to visit and how can I use the fair to improve my wine and spirits offer?"

There is a huge amount you can get from a day out at the LIWSF and here are a few tips from The Publican on how to best tackle it:

  • Look for the sections that are targeted at you

This year there is a special on-trade zone at the show. It is situated at the eastern side of the ExCel Centre (through entrance S8) and contains areas set aside for seminars (see below) and tastings.

Perhaps the best thing about the on-trade tastings is that they are unstaffed, leaving you free to taste wines without any pressure from suppliers trying to sell you their wares. This is too good an opportunity to miss.

Use the seminars

A whole range of seminars are being run throughout the fair. On the Tuesday, Beringer Blass will try to help you work out the unique characteristics of and the differences between Californian, Australian and New Zealand wines (definitely a useful skill to possess). Wednesday morning will see the annual Wine Intelligence seminar - which this year is expressly focused on how the wine trade can best work together with the on-trade.

There will also be industry forums - if you feel like getting another perspective on the smoking and licensing debates then go along to the LIWSF industry briefing at 11am on Tuesday morning.

Target the generic stands

With hundreds of exhibitors at the show, you may not have a clue where to start. So why not look for exhibitors that actually represent the wine-making countries, rather than brand owners? Sopexa: Wines of France, the Australian Wine Bureau, the Californian Wine Institute, Wines of Chile, Wines of South Africa, Wines of Argentina and Wines of Germany are all exhibiting there.

Or you could apply the knowledge gained from The Publican's Grape Expectations series and focus on stands advertising grape varietals.

For example, go to the Wines of Germany stand to see the International Riesling Review or visit the New Zealand wine growers stand where you can see Sam Harrop MW giving a talk on New Zealand pinot noir.

Something special...

If you are looking for something a bit special to add to your wine list then go along to the 25th anniversary tasting feature. It is a quarter of a century since the fair first started and to celebrate some of the country's top wine writers, such as Chris Orr and Andrew Jefford, have selected some of the leading wines from the top 10 wine-producing nations.

James Murray, director of the LIWSF:Top tips on how to make the most of a visit to the fair

The LIWSF is quite simply the best and biggest opportunity to taste wines and spirits from all around the world - and all under one roof.

  • An on-trade specific seminar programme will run throughout the fair. The focus will be on education, with constructive advice on increasing your sales, learning about food and wine pairing and discovering more about key grape varieties. These are hosted by Beringer Blass and McLaren Vale from Australia, among others.
  • Adjacent to the on-trade seminars, there will be a table-top tasting area for exhibitors showcasing their on-trade specific ranges, including Enotria Winecellars, Louis Latour, Brown Forman Wines International and Cordoniu UK. This will act as a "one stop shop" for the on-trade and is perfect for those who have only a couple of hours at the show or who want to taste away from exhibitor stands.
  • To celebrate our 25th anniversary we have created a tasting feature to showcase the top 100 wines, as chosen by five UK wine writers. The feature is broken down into the 10 key producing countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the US), and is a great way to get to grips with the different styles of wine from German riesling to Australian shiraz.
  • The LIWSF is an opportunity to meet the wine-makers behind the wines you are already pouring for your customers, to ask them any burning questions and pass on your "from the horse's mouth" knowledge to your customers.
  • The latest spirits brands will be launching at the fair, from Spektor vodka to Welsh whisky. Visiting the dedicated Spirits Zone, always one of the buzziest areas of the show, is a must. The LIWSF is not just about wine.
  • Pick up a free show catalogue when you arrive and plan your day. The LIWSF is a massive exhibition, so decide which companies you want to visit and plan your route accordingly.
  • And, finally, we hope you enjoy the fair. If you have any feedback we would appreciate your comments - we aim to improve the show each year, so if you have any suggestions on what you would like to see at the fair as a publican, then we want to hear from you.

How to get to the LIWSF (May 17 to 19)

It is being held at ExCel Centre in London's Docklands.

  • Via the Underground: Go to Canary Wharf station (the Jubilee line) or travel to the Prince Regent tube stop at the east end entrance to ExCel - which is where the on-trade area is located. This will ensure you avoid the crowds at the Custom House entrance
  • Via the Docklands Light Railway: You can travel from Bank in central London direct to Custom House, the purpose-built station for ExCel.

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