UK agents that shun the London Wine Fair deserve to be questioned by the brands they represent about a missed opportunity, according to Patrick McGrath MW.

The Hatch Mansfield managing director said his agency enjoyed its best wine fair in years this week, but was saddened by notable absentees.

He urged more of the trade to support the fair, and said producers have every right to ask why their brands were not represented.

“For us, as a premium wine merchant, we have to be at the wine fair,” he told DRN. “I can’t get my head around other companies, brand agency companies, that aren’t at the fair. We had the best fair we have had in a long time. The atmosphere was great. It was well-organised and all the exhibitors around us were busy. It distresses me that a lot of the trade don’t support the wine fair. If they don’t, we won’t have a viable wine fair.

“If I was a brand owner and I had appointed and I had appointed an agent to look after my brand I would be questioning them, why aren’t you at the wine fair? If you are representing me in the UK, why aren’t you at the wine fair because it’s the most important event of the year?”

McGrath said the fair was “rammed” and attracted a good cross-section of wholesalers, retailers, other buyers and journalists, even with Bordeaux en primeur in full swing.

“We certainly procured some good new business and followed up a lot of existing things,” he added. “We had all our principals there and they all seem to be very happy.

“We believe we account for 15% of all wines sold above £8 in the UK. We are one of the leading premium wine distributors in the country and that’s why we need to be at the fair.

“That’s why Fells, Louis Latour, Walker & Wodehouse, Hallgarten and so on were there, but there were some notable absentees and I don’t understand why.

“It has been great for three years and it was even better this year. It needs people to support it but I think it still has a healthy future. There is a strong moral duty for major wine importers to support the fair, and I think it’s inexcusable for people not to take a stand but to come and use it as a meeting venue to come and meet customers. That’s not supporting the industry. It’s like people that aren’t members of the WSTA and get a free lunch. Everyone should be members of the WSTA.”

Paul Letheren, owner of Off-Piste Wines, was similarly pleased by the calibre of visitors to his stand, with a lot of interest in its cans of sparkling Pinot Grigio.

He said: “We have always supported it. If at the end of the fair you think nothing has come of it, you wouldn’t bother. But every year since we started 10 years ago, we have thought of business that we wouldn’t have got if we weren’t at the fair. It’s disappointing that some people seem to have given up on it. I don’t understand why there’s this apathy.

“It has been a good fair. The benchmark is whether you have those meetings you would not otherwise have. I love seeing all my normal customers, but it’s great to make new contacts. We had people from travel retail, small cash and carries, people with 60 shops.”

But he added: “The more my competitors aren’t here, the better for me.”