By Bruce Pokarney • Bruce Pokarney • 

Koreans snap up 27,000 bottles of pinot

Filling an order for Shinsegae stores, which controls almost 40 percent of the retail market in South Korea, the shipment of Oregon pinot noir signals a potentially bright future for export to a growing Asian market.

“We’ve enjoyed the export of many Oregon products to Korea for decades, but this particular sale of wine is extraordinary,” said Gary Roth, marketing director with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “What’s unusual is the size of the retailer making the purchase and how quickly it happened.

“Korean buyers who visited our wineries last month committed to purchasing 2,200 cases almost on the spot. We don’t see those kinds of large purchase decisions made so quickly. They obviously like our wines.”

In late January, buyers from Shinsegae toured 20 Oregon wineries. They selected four to take part in the sale — Domaine Drouhin Oregon of Dundee, Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards of Dundee, WillaKenzie Estate of Yamhill and Union Wine Company of Sherwood.

Shinsegae is marking the first anniversary of the Korean Free Trade Agreement by staging a special promotion of selected U.S. products. Oregon wine is among them.

The Oregon pinot is destined for expensive hotels and department stores, discount mega-stores modeled after Walmart and Costco, and a chain of seafood restaurants. In a Shinsegae promotion launching in March, it is expected to catch the attention of other Korean retailers, who may end up knocking on Oregon’s door in the near future.

“The Oregon name in Korea is gaining a lot of momentum,” said ODA Trade Manager Amanda Welker, who helped facilitate the transaction.

“We have done well there with our berry products, cherries and seafood. The name ‘Oregon’ represents quality, clean and green, and it does well in the Korean market. Oregon wine can be the latest to make a splash.”

Pinot noir dominates the massive shipment, as Korean customers have traditionally associated red wine with good health. But white wines like pinot gris are beginning to increase in popularity, partly because they pair well with the often-spicy Korean food.

“This is an excellent growth opportunity,” Welker said. “Wine consumption in South Korea is trending up.

“Young people are drinking wines and learning how to pair wines with their food. Wine is now the preferred alcoholic drink of women in Korea, again because of the perceived health benefits.”

The buying trip was the result of teamwork.

A Korean wine expert, asked to assist with the Shinsegae promotion, contacted the ODA through the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Seoul. ODA contacted the Oregon Wine Board in turn, and it arranged meetings and tours.

Last year’s free trade agreement paved the way by eliminating a 15 percent tariff on U.S. wines. That enabled them to better compete with wines from Chile, Australia, New Zealand and other countries already enjoyng free-trade agreements with South Korea.

“There have been Oregon wines in South Korea for a few years now, but the free trade agreement makes this even more exciting,” says David Millman, managing director of Domaine Drouhin Oregon. “We’ve been interested in Korea for years, so when this opportunity came up, we were thrilled to be a part of it.

“Shinsegae is a very strong company with a great reputation. Part of their mandate has been to include Oregon wine in their assortment of products. Several years ago, the idea that people from Korea would be determined to buy Oregon wine would be mind blowing.”

For more information, contact Amanda Welker of the ODA at 503-872-6600 or Charles Humble of the Oregon Wine Board at 503-228-8336.

Bruce Pokarney heads up the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

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