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Tony Keys: Live from the London International Wine Fair

Quiet start to the first day…those cruising the floor were mainly exhibitors and what a mixed crew they were. Wines from everywhere — Uruguay, Switzerland, Slovenia and Brazil, wines of every description — Kosher, low alcohol, sparkling, still, fortified and rosé of every hue. Sitting roughly in the centre of the hall is the Australian contingent. There are the posh company stands such as Constellation Brands, Foster’s, Australian Vintage (under the McGuigan banner) and a little further away, Pernod Ricard. De Bortoli, Brown Brothers and Negociants UK are all within cooee. Then there are the agents’ stands — Stratford’s, which represent Taylors (Clare Valley), Hope Estate (Hunter Valley), Pirie (Tasmania) plus own label Australian brands and other wines from France, Spain, New Zealand and Chile. It’s all very grand except for the large green shoe box that sits in the middle representing Wine of Australia; ‘utilitarian’ is a kind descriptor.

The goings on in the surrounding rooms are of great interest: Andrew Caillard MW from Langton’s presented the ‘Great Wines of Western Australia’ to a packed house who not only enjoyed the event but also left the room knowing much more about the complexities and diversities that Australian wine has to offer. Again it’s worth noting that we are not alone — there are over 20 master classes or industry briefings throughout the fair.

In the evening there are dinners with agents and customers — the oil that helps the wheels turn, entertainment to show off wines and have a little fun as well. Well-known wine writer Matthew Jukes released his Top 100 Australian wines; for those on the list it will be a boost to sales within the UK, for others, there is always next year.

The big question this year is, just how much of an effect is the recession or global financial crisis having? The answer appears to be that it is not as bad as many people expected. People are cautious about debt, trying harder to live within means and have been scared about what could happen. Bars, restaurants and independent merchants appear to be trading successfully again, albeit cautiously.

How is it going for Australian companies?

Vicki Arnold is the general manager of Glaetzer Wines: "It's been (first day) very busy with quality local customers, I’ve also seen importers from Canada and Sweden. Yes, a good first day."

Next door Matt Fowles and Sam Plunket are pressing the flesh and very pleased with the response they are receiving. A gold medal from the International Wine Challenge for their ‘Ladies who Shoot their Lunch’ Strathbogie Ranges Shiraz 2007 has helped boost confidence.

It’s the first time Bill and son Andrew Calabria of Griffith-based Westend Wines have attended and they cannot quite believe the quality of people visiting their stand. “We have had a lot of on-trade interest in the UK plus people from Germany, Sweden and Ireland looking and tasting. Plenty to follow up on,” said Andrew.

It appears that the general impression in the UK is that the bushfires in the Yarra Valley caused a total wipeout of the region. Over here, reassuring everyone that the region is alive and the wines are great are Tony Jordan and Phil Sexton with help from other Yarra Valley people pouring close to 30 wines.

As is the norm, Australia has been awarded a huge number of medals (591) in the International Wine Challenge including 43 golds out of a total of 304 awarded.

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WID 2017