This years Expo held on May 6-8th was smaller in size than last year and was dominated by maekgolli, soju and whiskey. Since 2009 the Seoul Wine Expo has become primarily a consumer event but it is also a chance for wineries to enter the Korean market.
This year the Australian government supported over 20 people to attend and they had a significant presence. The Italian Trade Commission, as always, was active in supporting Italian wineries and there were were some interesting new wines from Italy. Smaller countries like South Africia were present, as were Sud de France representing the Languedoc-Roussillion region of southern France. The South Africans are pushing hard with World Cup fever to lift the profile of their wines worldwide and held a tasting event for public at the expo. I was expecting a mix of what South Africa can offer, great pinotage, admirable chablis and intelligent pinotage blends. Sadly this turned into a sloppy offering of old and new world varietals with a trip to the Soccer event as an incentive to trawl through 30 unremarkable wines without a spittoon in sight.
Nine domestic Korean wine importers were present, most of these being small operations. A sad turn out considering there are over 300 wine importers in Korea. Kiljin, Vintage Korea and Asia Pacific Wine Group had the largest presence, generated buzz and pouring their main labels throughout the three days. Smaller importers with a good selection of wines were sadly under-represented. Despite an overall recovery in Korea, the Korean wine market has taken longer to bounce back after the financial crisis. Hong Kong and China by comparision have had record orders of en primeur 2009 with VinExpo generating a lot of business and excitement.
A handful of wine publications were present. ‘Wine’ magazine by wine79.com is the new kid on the block and made a valid attempt to grab market share from Wine and City and Wine Review. There were plenty of accessories on offer: wine fridges , aroma kits, decanters and plenty of wine glass bling bling.
COEX was flooded with people looking to get drunk on Friday and Saturday. Great for consumers but tough for wineries. Wine Expos are expensive especially for small family run operations and many wineries were taken by surprize that Friday was also a public tasting day. There were high school kids in uniform attending on Friday and Saturday. (Age restrictions are less strictly reinforced in Asia.) One vineyard owner commented “There are a lot of consumers that just wanna get drunk. I feel like I’m working at a bar.” Another vineyard had better luck and told me, “I was lucky. I managed to secure a Korean importer.”
For those new to wine the Seoul Wine Expo offers some buzz, cheap drinks, and a chance to purchase discounted accessories. However for serious wine lovers and winieries looking to connect with local companies the Expo fell short of expectations. In the post financial crisis environment the Seoul International Wine Expo may need to re-engineer itself as a truly international wine event that is reflective of current trends.
By Joshua Hall