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Can wine learn from gin's Meet the Maker approach?

Published:  02 June, 2016

The team behind next week's Junipalooza gin extravaganza is demanding that the producers and distillers physically attend the fair - otherwise they're not coming in.

In its third year, Junipalooza will continue to take a hardline approach at their Meet the Maker event at Tobacco Docks next week which is open to both consumer and trade.

It may seem draconian, but what if this commitment to being customer-facing is what is driving the gin boom - and can wine take a leaf out of Junipalooza and others' books?

Olivier Ward, co-founder of Juniopalooza and the Gin Foundry, said: "The philosophy that underpins the event is that it's a platform to celebrate gin and to facilitate people to find the perfect gin. The craft resurgence has been lead by a desire to find out who made the gin and the story behind it, and we don't think you can get that true insight unless you have the driving force behind the brand there."

"That's not to discredit what the events team contribute," he adds. "But we think it's important to have the makers there - and that goes for trade and consumer events. There's nothing more annoying than going to an event and finding that you know more than the person behind the stand."

Junipalooza has 43 distillers flying in from abroad and travelling from across the UK next week. 

But can wine replicate this model, factoring in the fact that wine brands often don't have the budget that spirits do?

Additionally, a vast majority are up against squeezed margins in the UK, trading in a market where still wine sales fell by 0.8% in the year to February 2016 (IRI figures analysing the major supermarkets).

Robin Davis, founder of South African wine specialists, Swig, disagrees that having the maker there is paramount.

"I don't think it's important [to have the producer or the owner present] for trade fairs," he said. "The key thing is the wine, the price, and someone personable who speaks languages.

"For consumer fairs - it's fine without the owner or winemaker. But with small gatherings I think it can make quite an impact having the owner or winemaker - especially at the higher end of the market. However, if the sales or marketing person is really good and charming, not too corporate and really know their stuff it can work well."

Ward adds that having the makers and owners there makes the experience for both visitors and exhibitors more authentic - and that this has contributed to creating gin's "authentic" reputation.

"If you meet Fairfax Hall from Sipsmith or Lance Winters from St George's, they're so charismatic - and even if you're not a big character, just being there really helps to cut the bullshit.

"No one person can speak to everyone at a 4,000 people festival, but the minute you have the maker there you have the authentic story. It makes the whole experience more transparent and honest. There's a real sense of community. At Junipalooza a lot of the distillers end up going out for dinner afterwards and collaborating, which adds to the approachability of gin in general."

Junipalooza runs from 11 to 12 June.