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Sars: Chinese fair called off but no change at Vinexpo

A major Chinese trade fair has been postponed due to the fear of Sars – while Vinexpo carries on as normal and Americans honour their bookings.

The organisers of the 2003 China Guangzhou Wines & Spirits Trade Fair, originally scheduled for 10-12 July in Guangzhou city, say their decision was prompted by the worries of industry organisations, exhibitors and visitors.

Business development director Mandy Lo said they have postponed until further notice ‘to protect the interests of our partners and customers.’

All registrations and reserved booths would continue to be valid, the organisers said.

Meanwhile the Vinexpo organisation is downplaying fear of the virus, saying it is taking its lead from the Cannes Film Festival, whose organisers are confident visitors will have been sufficiently screened by the time they arrive in Cannes.

A spokeswoman told decanter.com, ‘Vinexpo is aware of the Sars virus but does not think it is its responsibility to prevent anyone coming. Organisers are confident of controls at all French international airports and at visitors’ countries of origin.’

She added there would be full-time medical staff on duty under the auspices of international medical organisation Medecins Sans Frontiers. There will also be isolation rooms for anyone showing signs of the virus, from which they will be taken immediately to Bordeaux Central Hospital.

American visitors to Vinexpo have not been put off by Sars. None of the exhibitors contacted by decanter.com had changed their plans either for Vinexpo, or next week’s London International Wine and Spirits Fair.

Michael Mondavi, chairman of the Robert Mondavi Family of Wineries said the epidemic had affected the company’s travel in China and Hong Kong but ‘we have reviewed the potential concerns relative to the Sars epidemic, and it has not impacted what we will be doing at either show directly.’

Exhibitors were adamant they would not be in the least worried about dealing with their Asian contacts. It was central to their business, Mike Benziger of the Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma said. ‘Last week I entertained eight people from Taiwan.’

Eva Bertran, executive vice president of Gloria Ferrer, a Sonoma sparkling-wine house owned by Freixenet, says Sars has been overblown. ‘I’m not going to worry about dealing with Asians in Bordeaux, she said.

Michael Houlihan, president of Barefoot Cellars, in Sonoma, said, ‘we are not going to wear masks. It is important to let customers know that they are important for us to meet face-to-face.’

Vinexpo spokeswoman Catherine Rabanier said there had been no cancellations from American or Asian visitors.

In April major American distributor Brown-Forman pulled out of the event, claiming it had become ‘irrelevant.’ There was no suggestion the move had anything to do with the then situation in Iraq, or Sars.

Written by Adam Lechmere, Howard G Goldberg in New York, and Tracey Barker14 May 2003

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