Exporting US Wines

Despite my general predilection for old world wines (I think my sister dating a French sommelier when I was in my formative early 20s has something to do with such favoritism), it seems there’s never been a better time to enjoy domestic wine. So many thoughtful producers up-and-down the west coast turning out soulful wines, and while I’m far less familiar with happenings out East, I’m sure there’s plenty to be discovered as well.

This has me wondering whether there could ever be a world in which a significant percentage (say ~30%, a la France) of American fine wine is exported for a global audience. I’d expect obstacles in countries with a storied history of domestic production (esp. France and Italy), but anecdotal evidence suggests many Europeans (esp. Scandinavians) are genuinely interested in what’s happening in places like WV, Sonoma Coast, etc.

I understand that most high-end producers admired on this board realize the best economics via a DTC model - no middlemen after all. But, I’m curious 1) whether there’s an appetite amongst this group to seek a more global audience despite a potential haircut in margin, and 2) what other obstacles may stand in the way of a more fruitful exportation business.

Just food for thought… as a kid raised between Northern California and Portland Oregon, I am passionate about turning others on to the dynamic world of US wine beyond the OG Napa Valley cabs of yesteryear (not that there’s anything wrong with those, per se).

Since this subform is far less trafficked than WINE TALK, I hope it’s OK that I’m tagging several folks here to hopefully weigh in. Thanks in advance!

@Marcus_Goodfellow @Megan_Joy
@Ken_Pahlow @Erica_Landon
@Erin_Di_Costanzo
@Jim_Anderson
@Adam_Frisch
@Frank_Ingriselli
@Seth_M_Long
@larry_schaffer
@Fred_Scherrer
@William_Kelley
@Otto_Forsberg (as someone who appears to enjoy and seek US wine in Finland!)

I see more Oregon wines in the UK, including @Marcus_Goodfellow

on a recent visit to Drake at Whitcraft, he noted the Nordics had more demand for his wine than he had wine

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Thanks, Shan - I’ve heard similar stories from producers about demand from the Nordics.

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The state of California has a huge governmental program to assist CA producers in their exporting efforts, EU included.

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Do you think the potential market is being met through these government programs, or is there an opportunity to aid from the private side? It remains surprising to me that there are several successful, broad importing businesses, yet nothing comparable for exporting (at least that I’m aware of… could be simple ignorance).

I have not worked with the CA governmental agency, but I am under the impression that they provide consulting and guidance to those domestic producers wishing to export. They help in paperwork, logistics, etc. My limited experience with CA exports has been situations where a foreign buyer has made inquiry, or the producer has already designated a market it wants to be in and seeks assistance in starting the ball rolling. So, the generally answer your question, I think the private side has plenty of opportunity and less be bureaucracy. More often than not, private enterprise finds better solutions, quicker and more economically.

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Appreciate the thoughtful response, thanks Ari!

I’m not experienced with any CA gov’t program for export assistance. However, I have found some interest in Norway and UK for our wines. Aside from some paperwork obligations on our part, it is not a huge issue for us to send wines off across the Atlantic. I suspect the real headaches and impediments come up on the importer’s side of the equation depending on the country.

F

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There are a number of CA wineries that have decent export business to Japan. There are also at least a few people who live in Japan and come to CA to make wine during harvest, mostly for sales in Japan.

-Al

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I’ve focused quite heavily on exports and have importers in UK, Sweden, Denmark and Canada. All of these countries are reasonably open to US wines, but I think it’s much harder in other parts of Europe. Germany, Austria and Switzerland perhaps are quite benign, but I think it’s hard to get much volume from France, Spain and Italy etc (for obvious reasons).

Another problem we have here with US wines is that we’re just not very competitive price-wise. We have a little bubbly ecosystem here where people are willing to pay more for wines than anywhere else in the world, with the exception of maybe Asia. It’s very hard to come with a US wine at $30, when South Africa and Chile can produce qualitatively similar product for half the price, even excluding low wages in these countries. Australia for instance, is much more competitive than the US on price, despite having higher labor costs. We’ve simply become little bit too comfortable in our own pricing bracket. That said, I feel like there is a quality stamp to US wines in place that I think will only increase with time, but maybe I’m misreading that and simply too close to it.

Anecdotally, my Euro importers can’t get enough of the wines with a long history here - they want the Mission, the White Zin, the red Zin, the Flame Tokay etc. They have zero interest in the Syrah, Riesling etc. It’s like everything else - you gotta have a story to tell and a POV - and we do when it comes to those. When you think Zinfandel, you think US wine. We should capitalize on that and not be ashamed of our Zins like we have been for way too long in the international markets. They are intrigued by them and want them.

My commitment to the CA heritage varieties is greater than ever.

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Totally this. People simply aren’t willing to pay the prices - and you have to take into account how customs and VAT raise the prices noticeably higher from the levels in the US.

I think this basically relates to the above point. You can get as good or even better local (ie. European) Syrah, Riesling, Chardonnay or Cab for half the price or even less. The thing is entirely different for all the Missions, Zinfandels, Flame Tokays etc. - we don’t have competing counterparts for them here.

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I would qualify that remark a little bit by saying that there seems to be a market and some interest for Napa cabs abroad, still, despite the ridiculous pricing. The Mondavis et al have done a good job marketing that the last 50 years. To the point where I think it’s the case that even the most hardcore Bdx fanatic would consider at least trying a Napa cab. Not sure they’d extend the same to a Chilean or Australian Cab.

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Happy to chime in. Di Costanzo has been sharing a small allotment of wines with export partners in the UK and Switzerland and in some years, Sweden, Germany and/or South Korea. It’s not a huge amount of wine, however the partnerships have all been long and reliable. And more romantically, for Di Costanzo it means a lot when our wines are appreciated by a global audience. We do care about making wines that are a part of the greater worldwide community, so when a snapshot of our bottles on a tabletop in Seoul or in London makes it back to us, it’s definitely gratifying.

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We export to the UK and to Denmark, and I would consider exporting to other countries as well. But primarily on the condition of finding a good partner to work with.

Small producers almost always wear too many hats, so complicated scenarios for export are almost always a non-starter for us. Our UK importer, AB Vintners are excellent to work with and nice people as well. They also work with our top tier wines, and do well with them.

Where we’re able to keep the hoops to jump through at a minimum, I am happy to export and would love for great US wines to become known in other places.

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I own a winery in Oregon and have been to the international shows for the past 4 years. Oregon Pinot Noir is hot right now and definitely opens the door for us. If you are interested in some of the shows there is Vinexpo in Paris, Provien in Dusseldorf. Oregon and Washington do yearly stops in Northern European cities. We go to the countries that do not have a lot of domestic production. Taxes are high as well as tarriffs right now. Asia makes more sense for us to Export however we did not get in on TPP so our wines are much more on the retail shelves then wines from TPP countries.

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@Fred_Scherrer who carries your wines in the UK? I’ve been interested in trying them, but the logistics of muling them back from the US are prohibitive for me.

There’s a ton of interest in Brazil, and a little in Uruguay.

Brazil so much to the point I’ve considered figuring out how to broker exports alongside importing from them. Price is the biggest pain point though, as well as the regulatory hurdles since we don’t have a viticultural trade agreement with them.

We send Walter Scott to the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and South Korea at this time. Through our importer in the UK, they also send our wines to Singapore.