It is unusual to be from the French countryside and not grow up surrounded by vineyards. Yet, Guillaume Deglise hails from Nancy near France’s border with Germany, and a region that does not cork a single bottle.

“I was interested in business and events,” notes the CEO of the world’s biggest fair devoted to wine and spirits.

Vinexpo was founded in 1980 by Deglise’s predecessor Robert Beynat, who stepped down in 2013 to hand over the reigns to his young disciple. Deglise has a degree in economics from École Supérieure de Commerce de Dijon, yet he found he developed a passion for wine while he was in school.

“My first taste of wine was a Riesling,” Deglise recalls. “My family travelled a lot throughout Europe when I was growing up, and I developed a love for languages. I speak six: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. I knew that I wanted a career that involved travel.”

Upon graduation, he worked for Champagne Bollinger as its export manager for five years before moving to Champagne Laurent-Perrier Group, eventually becoming its managing director of a Laurent-Perrier subsidiary in Switzerland.

“The two companies are both family owned businesses and provided great training,” Deglise says. “I exhibited at Vinexpo and have always considered it a special event. It’s where the planets of wine and spirits connect. It’s nice to see everything in one place over one week. Now that I am its organiser, I love Vinexpo even more.”

Deglise was in Hong Kong on 9 March to present the latest Vinexpo commissioned International Wine and Spirit Research survey to industry insiders such as Hong Kong-based Masters of Wine Debra Meiburg and Jeannie Cho Lee.

While Hong Kong is consuming a respectable five litres of wine per head annually, it falls short of Americans consuming 12 litres per head and far below that of France and Italy’s 42 litres per head.

There is still ample room for growth in Asia, with sparkling wines leading an international trend and expected to grow another 21% over the next five years. As for spirits, while mainland China’s massive consumption of baijiu tops the charts, niche spirits such as tequila, rum and gin are seeing significant growth in the region, led by sales in Hong Kong.

“The 2016 edition of Vinexpo in Hong Kong will be our biggest; we are fully booked,” Deglise says.

“We will see wine from the Czech Republic and Georgia represented for the first time. While there will be all the big names present, visitors can still discover new labels. For the first time, we are organising one-to-one meetings as a platform to connect producers with buyers.”

In the run up to Vinexpo, Deglise has been travelling throughout Asia to learn first-hand what people are buying, drinking and cellaring.

“While Shanghai is a place where you can try a lot of new things, Vinexpo Hong Kong reflects the entire Asian market,” he says.

“Hong Kong is a wine hub. It’s an easy place to visit and the experience here is always great. It has an international touch. We are seeing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc big here, as well as wine from the Rhone Valley and Burgundy.
“It’s not just about Bordeaux anymore. Whisky is also big in Hong Kong. Mixologists are very important here; people want concept and Millennials are especially keen to discover innovation.

“The spirit category can offer a lot of innovation. And we are hoping to build up Italian wine. It’s the first time a French company like Vinexpo is bringing forward Italy this way. It shows that we are truly an international fair.”

The Grapeful Eight
For the seventh edition of Vinexpo in Hong Kong, expect the following:

1. 90,000 Lucaris glasses in use
2. 16,700 trade visitors
3. 1,300 international exhibitors
4. 520 invited media
5. 60 talks, tastings and master classes
6. 34 wine producing countries represented
7. 1 featured grape: Shiraz/Syrah
8. 1 featured country: Italy