Oregon wine in China?

Wine Press Northwest Reports

First container of Oregon wine arrives in China

By The Associated Press

Published Thursday, December 9th, 2004

PORTLAND – The first container of premium Oregon Pinot Noir arrived in Beijing last week, marking the opening of a new frontier for the state’s cadre of vintners.

It began as a chance encounter between Henry Estate Winery’s Doyle Hinman and a wine-savvy Chinese businessman at a red-wine tasting in Bordeaux, France, last year. It finished with the arrival in China of 1,250 cases of Oregon’s signature wine.

“When people talk about China’s booming economy, they aren’t lying,” said Hinman, the Roseburg-based winery’s sales and marketing director. “If we can get just a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of their 1.3 billion people to buy our wines, it will be huge business for us.”

American Pacific Group, a Portland trade and export company, is playing a pivotal role in the arrangement. Using its expertise in trade with Chinese companies, it buys the wine and then ships it to ports near Beijing and Shanghai. The company then oversees distribution and sales to high-end restaurants and luxury hotels around the country.

“No question there’s a big learning curve involved,” Terry Protto, one of the company’s four partners, told The Oregonian newspaper. “But our knowledge of the business landscape in China means we can get it in, get it paid for and get it sold, no matter what the product is.”

Last year, international exports amounted to only 3.5 percent of the state’s $200 million in wine sales, according to the Oregon Wine Board. Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and France claimed the bulk of that business. China, by contrast, didn’t buy enough wine to merit its own listing on year-end export reports.

Meeting the goal of one cargo container per month would likely propel China to No. 1 among Oregon’s international export customers, said Katie Stoll, who manages the wine board’s export program.

A single monthly container would propel total yearly sales in China to 15,000 cases, surpassing the 13,908 sold to Japan last year, she said. Canada, Oregon’s second-largest buyer of exported wine, bought 11,269 cases in 2003. The United Kingdom and France combined to buy 5,356 cases.

The first container, which arrived in China last week, carried Pinot Noir produced by Henry Estate, King Estate and Amity Vineyards. All three were among 14 Oregon producers who traveled in May with Protto and other American Pacific Group executives to attend wine tastings in Beijing.

Plans are for the next container, expected to leave Jan. 15, to carry Pinot Noir from all 14 participating wineries, Protto said.

If their efforts meet with continued success, other Oregon vintners will benefit, said Henry Estate’s Hinman.

“As far as we know, no one else is blazing this trail,” he said. “Not California, not Washington, not anybody. Once we establish Oregon as the preferred brand for high-end Pinot Noir, we believe a lot of others will be able to follow.”


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