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West Coast Wineries Take on Europe

Three states combine efforts to promote wines in UK, Denmark, Sweden and Germany

by Peter Mitham
Shannon Jones of Hestia Cellars talks with Rufus Gifford, U.S. ambassador to Denmark, in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen, Denmark—A two-year-old bid to build markets in Europe took another step forward this week as wineries from Washington state, Oregon and California banded together in advance of ProWein, being held March 23-25 in Germany.

Upwards of 100 wine brands from the three states called on London before making what Alex Sokol Blosser of Oregon’s Sokol Blosser Winery called a “lap across Lapland,” with stops in Copenhagen as well as the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg.

“All was wonderful and great for all our wine regions and great for business,” Sokol Blosser told Wines & Vines from his hotel room in Oslo, where he traveled following the tastings earlier in the week.

The trip was a first in many ways.

Sokol Blosser said it marked the first time (in recent memory, anyway) that the three major wine regions on the West Coast had collaborated on a tasting event for the trade and consumers.

“Go West!” brought the three states together to tell attendees more about the United States’ diverse West Coast wine regions.

The first event was held March 17 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center in London, which Washington State Wine Commission communications manager Erica Waliser said attracted “several hundred media, sommeliers, wine buyers and importers.” A seminar informed participants about AVAs in Washington state and Oregon.

This event was followed by a March 20 tasting in Copenhagen, where California highlighted wines from Napa and Washington state featured wines from its top-produced grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Oregon highlighted Pinot Noir.

The events were the first international marketing initiative by the three states.

Northwest collaboration
Meanwhile, representatives from Oregon and Washington took time between the tastings in London and Copenhagen to spread the word about their wines at events in Stockholm and Gothenburg. While the two states have made in-roads in Scandinavia in the past, this marked the first time the two regions approached the region together.

The event was much anticipated by the industry in both states, not only as a marketing opportunity but as an efficient use of marketing dollars. The collaboration also reflects the ties Steve Warner and Tom Danowski have sought to build between the industries in the two states during the two years since they took the reins of the Washington State Wine Commission and Oregon Wine Board, respectively.

“Our efforts in Northern Europe kicked off in 2012, as Washington State Wine and Oregon began participating in ProWein and holding small events in Stockholm and Copenhagen,” Waliser told Wines & Vines last fall.

This year, Washington State and Oregon are collaborating on all efforts in Europe, with a greater percentage of the two states’ overseas marketing budget dedicated to promotions in Northern Europe.

“Our wineries are pursuing demand in Scandinavia and other regions that are embracing New World wines yet desire the quality and focus on sustainability that Oregon has to offer,” Kaufmann said.

Trade agreement possible?
Canada and the European Union announced a tentative free trade agreement last October. The deal isn’t expected to be ratified until 2015, but the prospect of a similar deal between Europe and the United States is something West Coast vintners would like to see.

“We’ve seen free trade agreements bring new interest in our wines and would expect the same should a deal become realized with the EU,” Kaufmann said last fall.

Waliser expressed similar sentiments at the time, telling Wines & Vines, “As much interest as we currently see in the UK, Swedish and Danish markets for more Washington wine, taxes and tariffs are a barrier to increased sales. A free trade agreement would put us on more equal footing with EU winemaking countries and would potentially drive increased interest and sales in those target markets.”

U.S. wine exports
The United States exported 244.6 million liters of wine to the EU in 2013, or 56.2% of the total wine volume exported. Those shipments were worth $617.25 million, or 39.7% of the value of export sales.

Waliser was pleased with attendance and responses, and that Washington looks forward to future partnerships with California for international trade events.

A highlight of the trip for Sokol Blosser was the support the U.S. ambassador in Denmark, Rufus Gifford, gave the industry.

He “showed up and not only gave a speech but went around and tasted the wines,” Sokol Blosser said.

For Janna Rinker, international sales director with Charles Smith Wines, the attention wineries received showed that the West Coast is a strong region, and one in which individual success reflects well on other segments of the industry.

“The collaboration between California, Oregon and Washington brought more customers and importers and helped expand the knowledge and awareness of Washington state as a premium wine region that offers great value,” she said. “We’ll definitely be back in 2015 and hope to expand our collaborative efforts.”

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