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December 26, 2010

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The world of wine looks to Asia for refreshment

RIESLING will rise. The market for wine in Asia will boom on. Customers will continue to hunt for vintage values. And the market for fine wine will continue to rumble back to life.

That is the sort of year industry observers say the world of wine will bring us in 2011.

In 2010, the economy remained a top issue for American high-end win makers. They saw sales of wines priced at US$30 or more a bottle slammed when consumer spending collapsed.

"Since so much of the economy of high-end wine is attached to a robust economy and wealth creation, we have clearly seen a difficult couple of years for Napa and other high-end growing areas," said Barry Schuler, proprietor of Meteor Vineyard in the Napa Valley.

Now, "the market's definitely coming back," which means producers have to decide what to do next, he says. "I think people are looking at Asia, where all of a sudden there's an interest in fine wine and high-end wine, both from collectors and young entrepreneurs who are acquiring some wealth for the first time."

One trend from 2010 that Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards, the Napa Valley producer of the highly regarded Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, expects to see continue in 2011 is restaurants teaming with wineries to sell wine under their own name. That trend got a boost from the recession, with premium grapes and wine becoming cheaper and more available.

Consumers used to getting good values in wines likely will continue that hunt. "There can be some really good finds out there," Shafer says.

Some consumers are going to be looking to imports for values, exploring the well-priced varietals of Argentina, Chile, Portugal, the Rhone in France, and Spain. "As the economy continues to rebound consumers will be looking for flavor and value, and these countries are providing them," say Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, award-winning authors of "What to Drink with What You Eat," now also available as an iPhone app.

In 2010, wine drinkers found bargains on websites such as and Lot 18, where wine is sold at a discount with usually a limited number of bottles available. This was another recession-fueled marketing shift; smaller wineries found traditional distribution channels narrowing as consumer spending dropped.

Paul Mabray of the Napa-based wine consulting firm VinTank expects that trend to continue, but he also expects wineries to start selling discounted wines via their own websites to regular customers.

"It's better than ever to be a member of a winery's e-mail list," he says.

Even when it comes to selling regular-priced wines, direct marketing to online consumers is becoming more prominent among wineries, says Mabray. "Consumer direct has always been a conversation piece. Everyone believes in it, but no one really spends the resources. But when they have no other channel, they've all shifted to, 'How do we do consumer direct?' Wine clubs, telemarketing and e-commerce are all huge."


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