ProWein 2014 Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Wine Enthusiast sits down with Michael Degen, the mastermind behind the massive annual wine and spirits event set to attract some 40,000 visitors.


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The city of Düsseldorf, Germany, once again rolls out the red carpet for attendees of ProWein—the international wine and spirits trade fair being held on March 23–25.

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, more than 40,000 visitors are expected to flood the fairgrounds, which will feature 4,800 exhibitors from more than 50 countries, as well as an extensive ancillary program of events. At this year’s Tasting Zone, tables will be teeming with premium wines in a range of low prices, while at the Fizzz Lounge you’ll find live demonstrations by behind-the-bar professionals.

But that’s not all guests can expect from the 2014 affair, according to Michael Degen, division director at Messe Düsseldorf and ProWein organizer. We caught up with him to get the behind-the-scenes scoop.

Wine Enthusiast: In its 20-year history, Prowein has experienced major growth: The number of exhibitors is 15 times higher than at the first event. What makes this annual event so appealing?
Michael Degen: Several things, actually. It’s only open to the trade visitors, and this makes it very professional. At the same time, it’s not a German show. It’s an international show with a very bright and large offering. Our ambition is to have every country of the world exhibiting. Right now there are 82 percent international exhibitors and 18 percent German exhibitors… It’s effective for importers because they are in direct contact without any consumer influence. And it’s a very intense three days, so it’s important that you prepare your visit. With 4,800 exhibitors, you cannot simply go there and say, ‘Oh, I have an interest in Italian wine.’ Some people say if you go to other trade shows, there are lots of parties and dinners—but ProWein is very efficient, with very good infrastructure.

WE: Last year there were more than 300 events held during the trade fair, ranging from guided tastings to lectures. What can attendees of this year’s event expect?
MD: There are several hundred events that take place, but the Tasting Zone is the most important event we have, and this year’s theme is ‘Premium Wines—Best Quality, Best Price.’ It’s a discussion around how much you have to pay in order to get a good wine, and it’s quite interesting to me because, personally, I think you can get good wines without spending too much money. This event is a tasting of 800 and 1,000 wines without moderation. You get all the information and you can judge for yourself.

WE: ProWein is a platform to showcase emerging trends. What are some that consumers can expect to see?
MD: We ask the industry which trends we should promote, and it’s always difficult to answer. When we ask, though, which markets will develop over the next year, everybody it talking about China, China, China. That’s why we created ProWein China, which was successful in October. But we always stress that when talking about Asia, don’t forget the traditional markets like Japan or Korea because there you’ll find consumers who are competent and educated… They know how to deal with a Riesling and Pinot Noir.

WE: Would you say that China is the next best investment target for the wine industry?
MD: Yes, it certainly is, it’s being seen now as a huge consumer market and it will be interesting as an investment for producers as well as the corporations… We should look out for Chinese production, too, and we should all remember that 30 years ago everyone was saying, ‘Ah, Australian wine, you cannot drink that.’ There will be time when the Chinese will be able to create good wines, too. If you meet people from the wine industry in China, you’ll see that a lot of young people in the winemaking process—all educated in Europe and have very good knowledge about the winemaking.

WE: ProWein conducted a survey about the major areas of growth in the wine industry, which you plan to reveal at the event. Can you give us a sneak-peek at what the survey says?
MD: The retail store will keep its position. It’s easy to say that the online markets will have huge growth, but don’t underestimate the function of a good shop to get your wine.

The second thing is, and this is also a Chinese thing, the packaging of wines. We usually don’t think about packaging, but when it comes to labeling, you will find yourself thinking, ‘Yes, that influences me,’ and begin to think about if your preferences are modern or traditional. When you look at China, they are dedicated to labeling. So what each producer who goes to China should think about is the necessity of changing the label. I know this is a sensitive topic for some winemakers because it’s their heart and soul we are talking about, but if you want to make business in China, you have to keep that in mind.

WE: Can you give us an example of alternative packaging that will become a trend?
MD: At ProWein China, we had one good example: An Australian winemaker worked with a Chinese painter, and this painter created picture of the horse for the label because the name of the winery in Chinese translated to ‘Heavenly Horse.’ As funny as it sounds, you could stand beside this Australian winemaker and literally see all the Chinese recognizing this label from 10 meters away and say, ‘This is a good wine.’ They do buy the whole package, not only the content.

WE: What is the biggest challenge for producers over the next five years?
MD: It’s getting more and more important to tell a story in connection with your wine. It’s the same thing with the label. In Germany, you would meet people who say, ‘Oh, I don’t need any major marketing because the quality of my wine speaks for itself,’ and I believe you’d find those people everywhere in the world. It’s most respectable to say that, but that the same time, everybody has to bear in mind that nowadays you have to have a good story to tell in connection with your product. 

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