Washington wines gain ground

Updated: 2013-11-21 08:30

By YU WEI in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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As California winemakers are fighting tooth and nail to export more product to the lucrative Chinese market, their counterparts in nearby Washington State are doing the same.

Brian Carter, owner of Brian Carter Cellars and one of the top winemakers in Washington State, just returned home from ProWine China, a three-day international trade fair for wines and spirits in Shanghai that had 570 exhibitors from 30 countries.

"Our hope was to try to find more regional distribution," said Carter, adding that the other goals for his trip were to teach buyers and the press about Washington State and it's wines as well as do a little self-educating about the China market.

Carter's winery has so far shipped three orders to China. "One was not a Brian Carter Cellars label but a custom project. The other two were within the last year with our current importer GIYA," Carter said.

"China is our most successful and promising export market at this time," he added.

About 14 wineries from Washington State showcased their vintages to more than 7,000 trade visitors at the Shanghai fair, all hoping to increase awareness of Washington State wines and build relationships with key importers and buyers in China.

Steve Griessel, owner of Washington-based Betz Family Winery, said the event was productive. "We were able to meet many excellent wholesalers and we were excited about the reception our wines received," Griessel said.

Currently, his company sells wines in seven international markets and this was his first time venturing into China.

"We believe China will become a very important export market for Washington wines and Betz Family wines in the future," he said. "It is exciting to see how Chinese consumers are embracing wines from around the world."

As the nation's second largest premium wine producer after California, Washington wine exports to China totaled an estimated 14,051 cases in 2012-13, a 175 percent increase from 2008-09, when exports to the market were 5,094 cases, according to Seattle-based Washington State Wine Commission.

"While the Washington State Wine Commission's export program has existed for 15 years, focus on the Chinese mainland as a key export market did not begin until 2008," said Michaela Baltasar, spokesman for the commission. "Emphasis on the market continues to grow, and the Chinese mainland currently ranks 5th for reported Washington State wine exports in 2012-13 — behind Canada, Japan, Germany and Denmark."

US wine exports, 90 percent of which come from California, reached a record $1.43 billion in sales last year. The Golden State has also enjoyed a more established presence in China. However, Baltasar said California's export presence is partly due in large part to the export of value wine — lower-priced product from large wine companies.

"Washington, on the other hand, is characterized far more by its small, family-run, boutique producers," Baltasar explained. "Our goal is not to equal California's imports in terms of numbers, but to increase awareness of and demand for Washington State wines, particularly among buyers who are interested in premium products from exciting, up-and-coming regions."

Toward that goal, Baltasar said the state has participated in several wine shows in China, conducted seminars and tastings in a few Chinese cities and invited Chinese importers to visit Washington wine country.

"Education is essential," she said. "Many Chinese buyers and certainly consumers are not aware of Washington State wine. The more we can increase awareness of the high-quality, critically acclaimed wines from Washington, our unique territory and the stories of the dedicated, down-to-earth people who make our wines, the more success we will see in the Chinese market."

"China is a relatively new market for Washington State, but one that is very important to us," She added.

As Washington's largest export market, China imported a record $14.2 billion worth of goods from the "Rainland" last year, making Washington the number one exporter to China of all US states.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, who is on his first trade mission to China through Nov 19, is also making sure that promoting the state wine would be one of the major focuses of his trip.

"This was a successful trip for Washington wineries," said Joe Bippert, management analyst at Washington State Department of Agriculture who led the delegation to Shanghai.

"Washington wineries have provided wine for several events, including a reception at Ambassador Gary Locke's residence, a reception at the House of Roosevelt on the Bund which featured Washington wine and agriculture, a lunch briefing with USDA Agricultural Trade Office that had briefings from Web2Asia and TMall, and also a reception at the ASC wine residence," Bippert said.

"All of these events had importers, traders, and government trade officials from both the United States and China," he said. "This provided great exposure and networking for Washington wineries."

Contact the writer at yuwei12@chinadailyusa.com