WALLA WALLA — Wineries, business owners and politicians learned about the lucrative Chinese market for wine Tuesday afternoon, thanks to a presentation by the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Offices.
Hong Kong was touted as the gateway to the growing Asian wine market by Subrina Chow, director of the trade office in San Francisco. She pointed out that Hong Kong imports more than $37 billion in U.S. goods each year, while the United States imports just $5.4 billion in Hong Kong goods.
"We buy a lot more from the U.S. than we're selling," she said.
The presentation hit home with Annette Bergevin, owner of Bergevin Lane Vineyards in Walla Walla.
"I think they brought a great group of folks into the room," she said. "It got us thinking about how we can take that next step."
Bergevin Lane produces about 8,500 cases, of which 40 percent is sold directly to consumers. Bergevin said she already exports some wine to Canada and Sweden, and she now has her eye on Asia.
"We're absolutely going to start the process," she said.
Thanks to the removal of wine tariffs in 2008, Hong Kong has quickly emerged as a regional wine trade and distribution hub for Asia, Chow said. The total value of wine exports to Hong Kong has jumped 200 percent since the tariffs were removed, and the United States is now the fourth-largest wine exporter to Hong Kong, after France, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Overall, Hong Kong imports more than $1 billion in wine from around the world. And it's not just for distribution in other Asian countries. Hong Kong's 7 million residents drank 3.48 million cases of wine last year.
Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, said the top 10 to 15 producers in the valley probably are large enough to think about exporting wine to Asia. Of the more than 125 wineries in and around Walla Walla, 80 percent make 2,500 cases or less, which probably is too small to think about international exports, Wollmuth said.
But the opportunity is there for some, he added.
"I think the key thing is that Hong Kong has broken down a lot of the international barriers," he said. "They make it very easy to get into the country."
Washington is the second-largest wine-producing state in the country, though California the No. 1 state makes 90 percent of the wine in the United States. Chow said 90 percent of the U.S. wine exported to Asia is from California and 90 percent of California's exports are from Napa Valley.
Benjamin Lee, chairman of Washington Export Group in Seattle, said the Chinese market in particular has an unquenchable thirst for high-end U.S. wines, and such top-rated wineries as Leonetti Cellar in Walla Walla and Quilceda Creek Vintners in Snohomish are highly sought after by wine collectors and wealthy consumers.
About 70 people attended the presentation, including representatives for U.S. Representatives Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers. It was held at Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology & Viticulture.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.