Blog post

The greatest show on earth...

Well, the show is over, the post-event hangover has worn off and I have just about summoned up the energy to drag my weary carcass back to my computer. Imbibe Live 2011 was many things, but relaxing was not one of them.

I’m not normally big on positive, ‘well done everybody’ blogs.

As you may have noticed during the last few years my default setting is normally somewhere between ‘sarcastic’ and ‘curmudgeonly’. In fact, one of our own team recently described me as ‘like the Charlie Brooker of the wine world,’ which is both a huge compliment (I think he’s very funny) and also (since he is a professional miserabilist) rather worrying.

Anyway – grumpiness can just go and take a back seat for the next couple of hundred words. I’ve got nothing but praise for what I saw over Tuesday and Wednesday at Earls Court.

The guys who organised it at our end and made sure that the dozens of seminars, tastings etc took place on time, and that everyone had what they needed, did a frankly awesome job.

But actually I was also terrifically impressed with the visitors and the exhibitors too.

It was inspiring to see so many of you, our readers, in one place (over 7,000 at the last count). And perhaps because not every mouthful of drink made it into a spit-bucket, I thought that the overall atmosphere was terrific.

Lively, yes. Fun, yes. But also engaged and interested. Which probably explains why every single seminar and tasting was full (and heavily oversubscribed in some cases).

I’ve always thought that Imbibe’s reader had a healthy attitude to the business: namely, take it seriously, but have fun where you can. And I think that was demonstrated by the buzz.

It just goes to show that an event with mountains of free alcohol doesn’t have to degenerate into an orgy, any more than a ‘serious’ one that offers plenty of education needs to be desperately stuffy and dull.

I can think of competitors that fit both those descriptions, but I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.

I have to give a big shout-out to the exhibitors, too. The bar, beer and spirits guys were legendary yet again. And again, I think they got the balance right, being engaging and lively, but never irresponsible.

But the revelation for me was the wine guys. I gave you a real hard time last year in various columns and blogs for being unimaginative and (in some cases) sneering and snotty.

Well, I saw none of that this year. Stands were open, inclusive and much better focused. You bought into the idea that this was a hospitality show and your stands needed to be, well, more hospitable. The result: better buzz, more visitors, and, I’m sure, more business on the back of it. So good on ya!

Being me, I can’t let this column go without a minor quibble. There were a couple of companies (both wines and spirits) who weren’t there this year who I think most visitors would have expected to see. Not small companies, but big ones who do a lot of business with the on-trade.

You know who you are... and quite why you would choose not to be here is frankly beyond me.

Perhaps you were waiting to see whether an on-trade only show could be made to work.

Well, I think if last year gave us a cautious ‘probably’, this year smashed any doubt into a million pieces. I lost count of the number of exhibitors (again, wines and spirits) who told me that it was the ‘best trade show they’d been to’. And you know what? It’ll just keep on getting better.

So, newbies and veterans, book yourself up for next year and I’ll see you there in 2012. I’ll be the sarcastic one in the corner...

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