Vinexpo opened yesterday amid chaos for the South African contingent, whose entire delivery of sample wines had been stopped on the French Belgian border.

Nearly 2,000 bottles for Wines of South Africa (WOSA), Fosters, Gallo, Distel and Cape Legends were stopped as they made their way from Antwerp to Bordeaux. It is unlikely that the shipment will be released before the end of the trade fair.

‘This makes the whole exhibition a complete waste of time and money,’ Dalene Styen of WOSA told decanter.com.

Styen said it was still unclear exactly why the wines had been stopped and according to WOSA, three different explanations had been given to them.

Following the breakdown of air conditioning breakdown in 2003, Styan said it ‘feels right now like there is always some problem at Vinexpo.’

The official opening ceremony, held this morning, was attended by the new French agricultural minister, Christine Lagarde, and Timothy Tong, Hong Kong’s Commissioner of Customs and Excise, reflecting the growing importance of the Asian market. Both gave positive news about rises in sales and consumption.

‘At Vinexpo 2005, French wines had experienced six years of falling export sales,’ said Lagarde, who took over from former agricultural minister Dominique Bussereau a month ago. ‘2006 saw a reversal of that trend; with exports up 11.4%, and export profits currently standing at €7.7b, equivalent to 150 Airbuses.’

Tong had similarly positive figures, saying that wine consumption in China had grown, from 2001 to 2005, 3.55m to 4.36 hectolitres. The trend is set to continue, reaching 5.89m hectolitres by 2010.

‘Today, imported wines account for just 5.6% of that figure, giving a huge potential for growth,’ he said.

Since Hong Kong reduced its import duties on wine from 80 to 40% in February 2007, provisional figures have shown a rise of 30% in sales. Tong also said that he would be granting duty exemptions on all wines to be imported for samples during the Vinexpo 2008 trade fair in Hong Kong.

This year’s Bordeaux show covers 41,000 square metres, the biggest since it started in 1981 with 6,885 square metres. Local hotels and restaurants are preparing to cash in on the 2,400 exhibitors and 45,000 visitors from 144 different countries.

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux