For CNY Winemakers, The Challenge is Growing
Just in time for a global boom in wine consumption, Central New York has quietly become a major player in the US wine industry. While the California wine regions are famous for their French, and Italian varietals – Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir – Central New York Vineyards are emerging as a world-class terroir for semi-dry and sweet white wine production. The next few years will be crucial if New York wine producers are to take the next step from serious regional producers, to world-class wine supplier.
According to USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, The global demand for wine has nearly tripled from 220 million liters to 930 million liters over the past decade, which resulted in a record world wine trade in 2013. The US export of bulk wine has grown from 50 million liters to 175 million liters since 2003. That represents a 28% increase of exported wine all made possible due to decreased trade barriers, lower taxes, and simplification of import regulations.
In a recent story, France24 reported that China has overtaken France and Italy to become the world’s number one buyer of red wine. The Chinese consumed over 1.865 billion bottles of red wine in 2013. This consumption is the first significant growth within the market since 1982 and is driven by the rise of China’s rich, and their need to conspicuously live a luxurious and lavish lifestyle.
In 2013, Asian buyers purchased 62% of the European vintage and investment-grade wines at auction from Sotheby’s, and 32% from wine auctions in New York City.
While the interest in New York wines is increasing in China (as detailed in our story here), China’s wine connoisseurs still largely prefer French reds over American whites. That myopia troubles many sommeliers who believe the flavors of white wine pair better with Asian dishes.
“The one wine in the world that tastes good with most Asian food is German Riesling” says Chris Horn , the sommelier of Purple Café in Bellevue, Washington near Seattle.“ If you have spice, there’s no better foil than a little bit of sugar. If you have sweeter dishes, try to get a Riesling that is just a tad sweeter than the dish in question. Even if the preparations are a bit simpler, there is often a salt component enhancing flavors. Generally, sweeter wines will cancel out the perception of salt without negating its positive effect on a dish. Consequently, the salt will also diminish the perception of sweetness in the wine, making everything taste better.”
Explanations for the Chinese bias run the gamut from the mundane to the ridiculous. Many credit the long history of the French wine tradition for the bias. New wealth has always sought the traditional sources of prestige, and for a new wine enthusiast, names like Chateu Latour and Romanée-Conti are must haves. But there are other theories. The France24 story quoted Guillaume Deglise , CEO of VINEXPO saying, “Red [In Chinese culture] is the color of luck and good fortune and white is the color of death, so you don’t want to drink white—why would you?”
Alex Pomerantz, the general manager of Kivelstadt Cellars of Sonoma a boutique producer of premium wines, has seen a huge demand for premium wine in Asia, “The average male consumer views red wine as a more serious wine than whites and as such will spend more money on it.” However, the ever-increasing demand for wine of all kinds in China indicates that Asian consumers are beginning to expand their palate instead of focusing on a few status symbols.
The Global Wine Manufacturing Industry Report , identified Mainland China’s GDP as a key economic driver of the wine industry. The report continues, the 2014-2019 expected compounded growth of Mainland China is 7.2%, providing relatively stable economic conditions for a company considering the costs to entering a market.
While the cultural preference is for red wines, the favorable pairing of white wines, such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer, and Asian cuisine creates a natural market for CNY winemakers to penetrate.
There is a great deal of room for both improvement and expansion, for the CNY wine industry. Of the Top 100 Global Wineries, 37 are American and only Hermann J. Wiemer of Dundee is from the Empire State.
Oskar Bynke, Co-owner and manager at Hermann Wiemer, shared his insights regarding the growing white wine market in Asia, “We currently export our white wines to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan through a distributor. These wines are not usually available for consumers to buy from stores, but end up in luxury locations like hotels.”
While he acknowledged the importance of expanding internationally, the associated costs with selling internationally make it more fiscally sensible to continue to serve the US market. He explained that while these regions have a growing interest in white wines, Hermann J. Wiemer is at capacity in production.
Bynke dismissed the idea that Chinese consumers purchase based on superstition. In his experience, consumers choose red wines for their health benefits.
While reds continue to dominate the Asian market, Bynke also believes that white wines are a better, “The acidity and wonderful aromatics of white wines pair well with Asian cuisines and light food – specifically foods with stronger flavors, like cheeses and asparagus.”
Hermann J. Wiemer continues to grow, but Bynke is keeping the growth steady and sustainable, and so far his instincts have been dead on. When you’re the only New York winery on the Top 100 List, you are doing something right.