James Busby

Fear and loathing in east London


The British wine trade seems to have lost some of its taste for travel. In the 1830s, James Busby trawled the vineyards of Europe in search of vine cuttings, before embarking on a perilous five-month voyage to Australia, where his experimental ardour means he is now revered as the father of Australian viticulture.

Tony Laithwaite, perhaps the world’s most successful wine merchant, spent his formative years schlepping to Bordeaux in a van before making an about-turn to London and hand-selling what he’d lugged back home, then repeating the process.

Hugh Ryman, one of the original flying winemakers, spent much of the 1990s jetting to remote outposts of Europe and South America in pursuit of pure fruit flavours. The port industry might not exist at all were it not for the gruelling sea miles clocked up by enterprising 17th century English wine merchants.

Set against such epoch-making itineraries, a short hop on the Docklands Light Railway ought not to present too daunting a prospect, especially for those who are seemingly content to accept the torture of Heathrow and an 80-minute flight to Dusseldorf for ProWein. Yet once again familiar voices are calling for the London wine fair to relocate, on the grounds that Docklands is simply too remote, and “not even in London”.

Nobody – and certainly not Brintex – pretends that the journey to and from central London is always a pleasant one, especially on days when the Jubilee Line is melting, and sweaty DLR travellers are held for so long at Shadwell or Mudchute that they almost become liable for Tower Hamlets council tax. But with a bit of planning, is the trek to ExCeL really so irksome, or unprofitable? And is Olympia, with its soon-to-be-closed Tube station and glass roof, a more inviting venue, especially in the 27-degree heat we experienced on May 23?

For independents, a trip to any event – in east, west or central London – is a serious drain on time and money. Some decide it’s just not feasible. But this does not make them clamour for a switch to Olympia or the NEC. Move the show a street away from their shop and many of the issues would be the same: a day out of work is a day out of work, whatever the venue.

On Twitter, Just Drinks editor Olly Wehring hit back at those complaining about the location of the fair. “Your bellyaching’s boring,” he said, urging moaners to “save your energy for the real battles we face”. It’s a message that James Busby would have endorsed, and possibly retweeted.

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