Have a distinctive theme. Many wine tastings are generic and feel like tasting by numbers, others have too narrow a focus. It is clear that this is an artisan fair, where you will meet farmers, growers and wine producers and taste authentic, low-intervention wine. The important thing is that this tasting is mainly about the farmer and the wine producer, not the export manager or the brand ambassador. You know that you have established the fair in the general consciousness if you can say: “See you at Real” and people actually know what you mean. Real Wine connects people from all over the globe and we attract visitors from many countries, who value the opportunity to meet the growers in person and taste such an incredible range of wines.
Decide on the size of the event. Quality always precedes quantity, but the Real Wine Fair is also a powerful statement about the global diversity of natural winemaking. Having around 170 growers present allows us to have a decent representation from most wine-producing countries (22 in the 2019 event) and regions in the world. We are not trying to cram them into a small space. There is plenty of room and the scale of the fair is not intimidating at all. Ideally, one would like the average visitor to spend a minimum of four hours at the fair, and to be able to taste twenty or thirty growers’ wines at their leisure and also have time to attend a seminar, buy a bottle or two of wine as a memento and generally soak up the atmosphere.
Choose the best venue. This is more difficult than that glib piece makes it sound. You can hold tastings anywhere from a blimp to a crypt, or in a swanky art gallery. The peculiarity of the venue is less important than the space; it should flow (i.e. there should be no logjams), have plenty of room between the aisles, have access to natural light the better to show off the wines and also for the sanity of the growers and also have quiet spaces where you can relax. There should be room for food stalls and it should be easy to get people in and out swiftly.
If you have worked with the venue before, you can sort out the logistics well in advance, but there always need to be site meetings to sort out potential problems.
Publicise the date of the event as early as possible and get it into the trade diaries. And give the growers even longer notice as they tend plan their (limited) budget for travel abroad and events a year in advance.
There is no ideal date for a wine fair. If too early, you will find yourself in conflict with the big natural wine fairs in the Loire and South of France. In April, Vinitaly and its associated salons, occupies many dozens of the growers. Then one has to consider Easter and the various bank holidays. Tobacco Dock, meanwhile, is also on the London Marathon route. If you decide to have the fair in March or early-April, you will probably only be showing old vintages of wines, and the odd very-unready tank sample. During mid-late April, there is the potential for the last frost of the year; certain growers get very twitchy being away from the vineyard at this sensitive time. Come May, and the new season’s wines are just being bottled. Many of the growers, however, would prefer to be in their vineyards, pruning, shoot-thinning, and generally setting up the vines for the summer ahead. You also have to contend with different cycles in the southern hemisphere. Again, timing is critical, but, because there are so many unknowable factors, there is no way to ensure that everyone will be available to attend your event.
Hence, we make a very long list of invitees. The criteria for inclusion is that vignerons farm organically or biodynamically, ferment with native yeasts and make the wines without chemical additions other than a little sulphur. We contact wine importers who have been previously involved in the fair to alert them to the date, and to allocate them a provisional number of slots for their respective growers. We are contacted by individual growers throughout the year, requesting a table to show their wines at Real Wine. If we have space, we get in touch with them. In 2019, we had a waiting list of around thirty growers, which demonstrates the reputation of the event.
Devise the logo for the fair with a save the date invite. There is plenty of artwork – from the logo with a range of designs for the catalogue cover, Real Wine Fair event posters, flyers, footers for e-mails, save the date invites and Drink Real Wine posters.
Over the years, we have created template forms and spreadsheets which we send to growers and suppliers with a summary of the fair’s ideals and practicalities.
The Real Wine Fair web site is “dusted off” and tidied up. The ticket goes live and we direct people to it on links in our e-mail footers and encourage people to buy in advance or to register in order to save time. A visitor who has to wait a lengthy time in a queue, invariably starts his/her experience of the tasting on the wrong foot.
As soon as we have enough confirmations, we populate the growers’ page, and, in time, all the other pages on the web site become live, when we have sufficient information to make it worthwhile to direct people to them.
Dial up the PR slowly. The PR starts in earnest with announcements on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Personalised mails are sent out to our customers, friends, asking them to spread the word. We announce the dates of the fair in mid-December, and, from early January, send out weekly press releases, mixing overviews with items of special interest. People in the trade are constantly being bombarded with information about events and promotions; there is really no substitute for talking to people directly, or inviting them to be involved in the fair in some form.
Communication, communication, communication (with the growers). The most time-consuming task for the next three months is contacting the growers and acquiring from them a definitive list of wines that they would like to show at the fair. With tank samples or new vintages being bottled, all at different times, how we get the growers to send us the wine is a complex procedure with infinite variables! Co-ordinating the efforts of, and communication with 170 growers, is a heroic undertaking. Every case is different!
Make the event truly enjoyable at every level. Meanwhile, the other fair-related activities and subsidiary events are being organised. The Real Wine Fair always has a mixture of hot and cold food stalls, catering for all tastes. We have a few regulars, but also like to involve different suppliers. Coffee fuels growers, organisers and fair-goers alike, and good beer is another prerequisite of a successful event. We always set aside a few tables at the fair, so that visitors can make a little picnic with a glass of wine and some delicious street food.
Seminars and masterclass tastings are a significant feature of Real Wine Fair. It takes about a couple of months to pin down speakers, agree a theme, format and time, and a selection of wines to taste. We have no budget for this, so it is very much down to the goodwill and enthusiasm of the speaker in question. We then put a link on the web site, so that people can reserve spots. We also organise a fair photographer, and someone to do filmed interviews or video blogs, which we can then post on YouTube.
Maximise the impact of the event with a nationwide promotion. Another huge challenge is to bring as many restaurants, retailers and wholesalers on board for Real Wine Month. For us, the Real Wine Month is much more than a two-day tasting. Real Wine is everything to do with the culture of drinking and enjoying wine. We try to make the promotion as wide-ranging and inclusive as possible, in order to instil a culture of opening and pouring exciting naturally-made wines by the glass. On top of this, we liaise with various accounts, and Real Wine partners to organise pop-up events, takeovers, growers’ masterclasses, which in turn helps to increase its presence on social media. Around 250 establishments take part in Real Wine Month (300 in a good year) and we support them with preferential pricing, listing them in press releases, on the web site, in the catalogue and advertise their events on social media. A virtuous circle!
In the last six weeks, we complete the catalogue and post a pdf on the web site, so that potential visitors can plan their day (or days). We send out weekly reminders to our customers and ask the attending growers to send out invites to their agents and importers throughout Europe to come and visit them. Publicity for the Real Wine Month and its associated events is updated daily. The massive process of collating all the wine in London City Bond commences. A team from the office will go and start to label the boxes.
At The Fair:
A team of people from Les Caves de Pyrene arrives at Tobacco Dock, to help unload the many deliveries and start to set up the venue. This involves positioning the tables and putting cloths on them and protecting spill-proof covering paper, assembling the spittoons (oh joy), creating the pop-up shop, organising the seminar room, the front desk and cloakroom, and then receiving and distributing several pallets of wine. A well-trained crew—and Amy and Vanessa—are brilliant in co-ordinating the manifold activities and can break the back of the work in around five hours.
Many of the growers fly in on Saturday and go to Terroirs for an eve-of-fair party. Whilst, it is wonderful to see them all in one venue, relaxed and enjoying themselves, the Cavistes know that they need to be at Tobacco Dock for the final tweaks. They also know that the growers will not be arriving bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!
Sunday is where the trade and public mingle. The front desk has a minimum of three people to ensure the swift processing of visitors. They have become expert in this, and are unfailingly polite and efficient at the same time. The catalogue is a model of clarity with a short blurb about the artisan credentials of each of the growers, pricing where applicable and a helpful map to allow visitors to plot their tasting routes/orient themselves. A few hours into the fai and, the shop becomes incredibly busy and, as well as Nini, Danny, and Peter various reps may be drafted in to help.
One for all and all for one. For the rest of the Cavistes it is all about being aware of the needs and the enjoyment of others. Helping to pour on tables when growers go walkabout, clearing up broken glass, or seeing that dirty glasses go to the glasswasher, directing customers to tables, doing the odd stint on the front desk, ferrying coffee and food to the producers. Answering any question that any visitor may have. And so on! The secret of a successful wine tasting event is that you don’t see how much work people do to make it run smoothly.
That’s not the end of it. On Monday evening, the venue has to be broken down and everything needs to be collected. The left-over stock has to be counted and entered onto the system. Real Wine Month events continue apace. Over in Ireland their Real Wine Fair is about to begin.
Remember what it’s all about. So many people make the Real Wine Fair happen, and make it a happy and memorable event. We are always delighted with the positive feedback from goers and growers alike. The other wine importers recognise that we are in this together and, in a sense, the best wine fairs are about taking care in ensuring that people fall in love with wine all over again. The Real Wine is an unrivalled chance to get up-close-and-personal with many of the heroes of the artisan wine world and it is our privilege to host them in London, to bring them to the trade and the public (and the other way around!). And it should be fun, not pompous, or overly serious. Wine is what brings us together.
Those who make it happen: Amy Morgan (organiser-extraordinary); Vanessa Woodfine, who does the monstrous job of co-ordinating to get the wines from all the growers; Vicky Riddell, who brings the Real Wine Month together; Elliott Gemmell, who works on the website and the press releases and Christina Pickard, who juggles the various social media so expertly. The PR team also cover each other and are the smiling faces on the front desk.
Nini, Danny, Peter and Anthony and the shop elves perform a storming service at the fair.
Without the growers there would be no fair. It is their interaction with customers that gives the Real Wine Fair its unique and friendly atmosphere.
And the trade visitors and public generate their own energy. To witness their engagement is what leaves the long-lasting impression on us of the fair.
Here’s to 2019!