The Drinks Trust interview Hannah Tovey

The Drinks Trust interview Hannah Tovey, the Event Director of London Wine Fair

Hannah, thanks for agreeing to feature in our newsletter. For those who might not know you, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?

Thank you for asking. Well, I have been running the London Wine Fair (LWF) since 2018 and in that time have produced three in-person events at Olympia and one fully digital edition of LWF in 2021 during the lockdown. In terms of background, I’m from Warwickshire originally. I studied French at Southampton University and took my year abroad in Bordeaux. A good place to start a lifetime’s love of wine. My first job post-uni was as an admin assistant at Decanter, where I stayed for about 4 years and grew a love of magazine publishing, along with wine. Having saved as much as I could, I secured quite a hefty loan, and I took a belated gap year in 2003 to backpack around the world. On my return I worked my way up through various commercial positions on wine trade titles at Wilmington and William Reed. In 2008 I moved to Monomax and launched Imbibe magazine, the website and shortly after that Imbibe Live. After 8 years running the portfolio I had the first of my children and after an intense, exhausting juggling period with a baby that didn’t like to sleep much at night, I opted for a more home-based role. I became self-employed and managed The Wine Gang consumer events and website and consulted on The Wine Merchant magazine for a few years. During this period my second child was born. A couple of years later the LWF role presented itself and now we are up to date.

You’re the Event Director of the London Wine Fair. Can you tell us more about London Wine Fair and what you hope to achieve with the 2023 edition?

I’m really passionate about the Fair, having never missed an edition since I joined the wine trade in 2000. I have exhibited a couple of times and more often attended as a visitor over the last 23 years. In those first visits in my early 20’s it never occurred to me that I would, in the future, be the event director. I do recall seeing James Murray, the then Event Director and thinking that it must be such a lot to organise.

What is the most exciting part of your current role? And the most challenging?

With the 2023 event just 5 weeks away, I am hugely excited that this will be the first in-person edition for four years to not be negatively affected, or cancelled, due to the pandemic. Myself and the team have really enjoyed getting back to what we love doing and organising this edition. Rather than making endless risk assesments, back-up plans, or major revisions. Having new businesses sign-up and masterclass sessions sell out and seeing growth in all the zones year on year has been terrific.
Our LWF23 launch party in February was so upbeat and extremely well attended. This is always a great success indicator for the main event. We anticpate in excess of ten thousand trade visitors and look on course to have over 300 exhibitors and sponsors. There will be more than 80 masterclass tastings and panel sessions onsite and lots of pop-ups and on-stand activations. We will also reveal the winners of our important Wine Buyers Awards on Centre Stage. Come along to help celebrate the best of wine buyers across all the buying sectors, plus find out the over-all winner of the competition. We learned so much about the art of wine buying from the hundreds of detailed entries we received at the beginning of the year, that the team of judges helped us to distill this information. We will deliver some of it ahead of the big awards reveal. Essential watching.

Last year in an article produced for our newsletter, Richard Siddle said that “London Wine Fair is the glue that brings everyone together. We all, therefore, have a vested interest in its fortunes.” What do you think of this, and what do you think LWF can provide industry members?

He’s spot on, as ususal! I strongly believe that the UK needs, and the wine industry benefits tremendously, from the existence of this event. It makes sense that once a year that all areas of the wine trade come together to do business, share ideas, network, learn and grow. The UK may be small but it represents a hugely significant market for wine. London is so well respected as a location for launches, trade and opportunity. The more companies to enage as exhibitors, the more comprehensive it becomes and the better the visitor experience. I would urge anyone in a wine selling role, or any services or related products to get in touch with the team and explore your options. LWF has evolved with the times and you will be surprised at the different opportunities to connect with our audience and the efficiencies we can offer via our various platforms.

LWF is also about learning and educational opportunities for participants through a varied programme of masterclasses, seminars and panel discussions. Can you tell us more about them?

Our content is the jewel in the LWF’s crown. I’m biased I guess, but I think we do it best.

We work hard with all our content providers to ensure collaboration where we might otherwise have repetition and we attract the best speakers who bring us fresh viewpoints and unmissiable information. We have teamed up with the WSET as headline sponsors of the Eductation Zone for another year. They never fail to provide great sessions that are always packed.

This year we have a new headline sponsor for the Discovery Zone. With so much content around the subject of Sustainability, it is exciting to have DNV, a global company who are launching in the UK this year. DNV help companies to actually measure their footprint and support them to improve their sustainability credentials.

What is your ambition for London Wine Fair?

I would like to see a return of some of the large and mid-size UK importer companies whose absence pre-dates my tenure. I am extremely confident that LWF has opportunities to support their business objectives and deliver great value for money. I would also like a greater number of UK producers to exhibit. As the UK will be their primary market and we know that ‘British wines’ was the number one search last year made by our visitors on the digital exhibitor list. Clearly there is a huge appetite at the Fair from our on-trade and retail visitors, for researching and buying British wines. Accordingly we have moved the Drinks Britannia Zone much further forward in the Hall to place it in line with Centre Stage.

More personal questions: desert island meal including drinks?

I truly love a glass of sparkling as an aperitif to set the tone for a special meal. Over the last few years I have fallen for English fizz, but I’ve always loved Champagne since my first ever sip. One of my fondest memories is getting engaged nearly two decades ago, sharing a bottle of 1999 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill. I’ve been vegetarian since I was a child and I particularly love Asian food. I have a lot of good food and drink memories, but one of the best was a really long lunch at Hakkasan (very special occaision) with a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne on arrival. Matching wise I remember a penny drop moment in my first years in the trade, when I tried a Fino Sherry with a tiny but intense nettle soup apetiser. Weird idea, but it really, really worked.