Virginia Wines Now In Europe
Representatives of five Virginia wineries accompanied Governor Bob McDonnell on his first European trade mission last week in the hopes of increasing their export business. Craig Carper reports.
The United Kingdom is the largest importer of wine in the world. The estimated market for wine there is 8 billion dollars annually.
The group of Virginia vintners, who traveled at their own expense, made sales calls with wholesalers, distributors, retailers and executives, introducing many to Virginia wines for the first time and showing new items to existing customers. First Lady Maureen McDonnell accompanied the group, hosting 6 wine events in England, drawing crowds of over a hundred people at some.
Chris Blosser is the General Manager of Breaux Vinyards in Loudon County. He says he and his colleagues initially approached selling wine to Europeans with some trepidation.
Blosser: Within minutes of having people taste our wines over there, we knew we were in the right place. We knew that we could step up to pour wines with the best in the rest of the world. That’s really where Virginia is going. We’re really stepping up to the plate and playing on a global scale. Europeans, from my perspective, seem to have a bit more open and more adventurous appreciation for wine regions, the soils and climates that go into that wine. The story behind the wine is really important for Europeans.
Blosser says right now the amount of wine his company exports is limited, though he's hoping this trip and others like it in the future will change that.
Blosser: We’ve only been at this for just over a year now; we’re really encouraged by the volume so far. Given the economic conditions, I don’t think we could ask for anything more, really.
Blosser says at the moment his sales focus is on fine dining and specialty retailers and distributors. He describes an event with Oz Clarke, one of the most renowned wine critics in Europe.
Blosser: He’s tasted our wines over the past two years, sequential vintages, making sure that what he tasted first, it was so good it had to be a fluke, and that wasn’t it. We are consistently producing outstanding world-class wines: Viognier, Cab Franc, Nebbiolo, Petite Bordeaux, he’s really truly a fan of Virginia wines. He really was able to relay that to the press.
Luca Paschina is a lifelong winemaker from Italy. He moved to Virginia 20 years ago and now works as the general manager of Barboursville Vineyard in Monticello and is a member of the Virginia Wine Board. Paschina says when selling wine to Europeans, it is important to show only the finest wines and vintages.
Paschina: It’s a very competitive market when you talk about wine because nowadays it’s very easy to ship that kind of product, and there’s more and more regions around the world that produce wine. There are two ways you can really enter the market; either with extremely low prices and very common grade wine, or in our case in Virginia, we have a very high quality product.
Paschina says after the tasting events, many of the British consumers became excited about Virginia as a new region for high quality wines.
Paschina: Our wines from Virginia are much like the wines from Europe, like from Italy, from France. Virginia wines are seen more as a bit more assertive, a bit more aggressive, that is actually the style favored more in Europe, especially when you have wine and food. Europeans prefer wines that are more understood when you have them at the table with the right food and they are matched really well. It’s not as much determined by us preferring that but by the climatic conditions. We are a lot more continental region like Europe than the west coast in California.
Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Todd Haymore, who was also on the trip, says he believes there will be more success stories that these wineries can celebrate in the coming weeks. He says he used the wine events as a conversation starter to talk about everything Virginia has to offer.
Haymore: Everything that we did was designed around not only purchasing Virginia wines in the United Kingdom, but also the whole idea that it’s a total package and you should be interested in not only tasting these wines but you should be interested in coming here to Barboursville or Kluge or Breaux or whatever winery is of your choice and view Virginia as sort of a, not only just a wine destination, but a complete place to come and visit and learn more about, and obviously the wine makes it easier to build that connection.
But there's, you know, literally 400 years of history between the United Kingdom and Virginia that you can really play upon as you're talking about the great wines that we’re making and selling.
One of the standout achievements of the trip was that Whole Foods in England agreed to establish a Virginia wine section and to stock Virginia peanuts.
Virginia’s wine industry is now the fifth largest in the United States.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square