California Promotes Wine Exports in Europe

Contingent joins other New World countries for first joint efforts at ProWein fair

by Jim Gordon
Winemakers from five New World countries addressed the Sustainability program at the ProWein fair: (left to right) Bruce Jack of Constellation in South Africa; Californian Paul Dolan, Parducci, Mendocino; Rudy Bauer, Quartz Reef Winery, New Zealand; Walter Carol, La Riojana Winery, Argentina; Cristian Rodriguez, Viñedos Emiliana, Chile; moderator Pancho Campo, Spain.
Düsseldorf, Germany  -- Wineries from Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa compete fiercely with California vintners to sell more wine in the U.S. market. Yet here at the annual international wine fair, ProWein, these competitors called a truce to jointly promote their wines to export markets around the world. The fair provided plenty of exposure this year, as record numbers of exhibitors (3,300) and participants (estimated at 36,000) attended.

California’s Wine Institute cooperated with four other New World countries to stage a series of seminars for the wine trade and international journalists about subjects including signature varietals, sustainability, sense of place and cool-climate winegrowing. The five partners shared conference space in Hall 6 of the massive Messe Düsseldorf exhibition grounds, drawing good crowds for many of their 13 panel discussions and tastings March 21-23.

Joel Peterson, founder of Sonoma County’s Ravenswood Winery, removed his cowboy hat to speak about Zinfandel during a signature varietals tasting, where the other presenters discoursed about Pinotage, Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenère and Malbec. Wearing a coat and bow tie, Larry Stone, manager of Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley, spoke about the terroir of Rutherford and poured wines from the historic property there, owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Paul Dolan of Mendocino’s Parducci Wine Cellars explained during the sustainability panel that a grower’s costs increase for the first few years when converting to organic or Biodynamic methods, but eventually they go back down, because of increased health of the soil and the vines.

In the seats, writers and wine buyers from Russia, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, India, the UK and other potential markets for California sipped the wines, took notes, flashed photos and asked questions. Would they have taken those seats if the programs were presented solely by California?

Cooperation pays off

Not necessarily. The five New World countries took the unusual step to market jointly at ProWein partly because of frustration with their lack of clout at VinExpo in Bordeaux, according to Californian and Chilean industry sources. They decided more than a year ago to join forces at this German show to gain more attention.

Paul Molleman, Wine Institute’s European director, spoke to Wines & Vines a few yards away from the conference space, near the California Showkitchen, where visitors packed the aisle to watch and taste. “Our opinion is that ProWein is the best and most important international trade show,” Mollemen said.

“We want to show what the New World has in common, but more importantly, what is different,” he added. For example, in one seminar California presented Pinot Grigio, a hot variety in California vineyards but not yet one for which the state is known widely. In another seminar on cool-climate wines, winemaker Gale Sysock of Delicato Family Vineyards countered the misperception in some international circles that all California Chardonnay is soft and oak-soaked by pouring cool-climate Chardonnay.

The 35 California wineries participating paid $1,000-$2,000 each for their exhibition spaces, and Wine Institute handled the wine shipping. “Just $600 for your dues gets you access to all this,” Molleman said, gesturing at the crowd of avid tasters bustling through the California section of the hall.

The spirit of cooperation at ProWein also applied to entities within the U.S. Three California winery associations that don’t often appear together publicly --  ZAP, Napa Valley Vintners and Sonoma County Vintners -- worked together in the California pavilion and on the Down to Earth programs. Three New York wineries and one from Washington state also exhibited. Canada sent six exhibitors.

ProWein reported that every third attendee was from outside of Germany. More visitors were registered this year from Eastern Europe and Asia -- particularly from China and Japan. Trade visitor quality was also high, with two-thirds holding executive titles.

Jean-Charles Boisset of Boisset Family Estates in California called ProWein one of the most important trade fairs anywhere. “It has high strategic importance for us. This year we got many leads, especially from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and have fully met our goal.”

The ProWein ancillary program included more than 250 seminars, tastings and lectures -- more than ever in ProWein’s history. Famous sommeliers, international trade journalists as well as leading industry experts shared their knowledge.

The next ProWein will be held from March 27 - 29, 2011, in Düsseldorf, Germany. For further information on visiting or exhibiting at ProWein 2011, contact Messe Düsseldorf North America, 150 North Michigan Ave., Ste. 2920, Chicago, IL 60601. Telephone: (312) 781-5180; Fax: (312) 781-5188; website: mdna.com.
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