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California wines set for increased global market share

A collection of buyers and importers from beyond the US have attended the inaugural Global Buyers Marketplace held in Napa Valley, eyeing opportunities for growth in California wine exports.

California Wines launched the two-day event, which ran from 31 October, in order to pave the way for new export opportunities and give buyers and importers ‘unprecedented access’ to the state’s wines.

The event featured masterclasses led by two prominent wine educators, Elaine Chukan Brown and Kelli A. White, as well as walk-around wine tastings and networking sessions.

Buyers and importers from 26 countries were among a hand-selected group chosen for this first event. Those attending represented ‘an estimated $10 billion-plus in wine sales annually’, said Honore Comfort, vice president of international marketing at the California-based Wine Institute.

As wine sales skyrocketed during the global pandemic, California wines struggled to keep up with growing demand in foreign markets.

To that end, the Wine Institute has begun a new campaign to boost California wine exports. It’s part of the Institute’s 10-year strategy to increase US wine export sales to more than $2.5 billion by 2030.

California accounts for a significant majority of US wine exports at present. Yet with just 3% of California wines exported annually, representing $1.47 billion in export sales, there is plenty of room for growth.

Demand ‘very strong at the premium level’

In a post-pandemic marketplace, Keith Kirkpatrick, buyer for UK-based Roberson Wine – winner of the US specialist category in this year’s Decanter Retailer Awards – said demand for California wine is ‘very strong at the premium level for the perceived classic varieties from California, like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Syrah’.

There were also entry-level to mid-range wines available to taste during the event, held at Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa.

Richard Masterson, wine buyer for C&C Group, which includes UK-based suppliers Matthew Clark and Bibendum, said, ‘We’re looking to strengthen our California range and cover many different parts of the market.’

Masterson said he was impressed by what he had tasted. Compared to what he recalls from previous experience, ‘the wines are more restrained, have more freshness,’ he said, ‘which is exciting.’

Comfort said, ‘California is the fourth largest producing wine region in the world, but we export just 3% of our wines’, which she explained means ‘the world isn’t seeing an accurate snapshot of the range of quality wines available from California’.

Further emphasising the potential for California wines, Comfort noted, ‘France exports just over 17% of their annual production, and of that, less than 20% is sold in the US. That means they are selling 80% of their exports in markets all around the world, which, to me, shows there is a massive opportunity for California wines.’

One of the challenges facing the roughly 4,200 wine producers in California is local demand.

‘The vast majority are small to mid-size producers, and because we are in the largest wine-consuming marketplace in the world in California, there is more demand than can be satisfied. So, producers must choose to build their business internationally,’ Comfort said.

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