New Trade Group to Help California Wines Cross the Pacific

West Coast wines have a robust reputation in most corners of the globe, but one market they haven’t successfully penetrated is Asia. The new California Wine Association is stepping in to help the state’s wineries go truly global.

Napa Valley has a well-documented history of producing award-winning vintages of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and a variety of other fine wines. California wines most notably caught the French by surprise nearly four decades ago when they took top honors in a blind-tasting event that has come to be known as the Judgment of Paris.

“There’s a large cultural difference, so you can’t take what you know to be common sense in the U.S. and try to apply it to business practices in Asia.”

Despite the success of California wines at home and abroad, one market remains difficult to conquer: Asia. The California Wine Association, a new Hong Kong-based trade organization, plans to change that.

“I’ve sold a ton of wine all throughout the U.S. for a long time, and I’m used to all sorts of rejoinders on why people don’t want to put California wines in their stores,” said Alexis Bell, cofounder and executive director of CWA. “Some say they don’t have a spot on the list or it’s too expensive, but it was never that California wines are not good, they’re not premium wines, or they’re not specialty wines. That’s what people in Asia were saying—and these are people who are going for their Master of Wine [certification] and who own large distributors. I was just blown away.”

CWA plans to focus on helping premium California wineries get their product overseas and show the Asian market what they’ve been missing.

“While Asia is already the biggest market for wine, the appreciation and appetite for great wines from around the world is still in its early stages and is rapidly developing and growing,” Charles Lam, a member of CWA’s board of advisors, said in a statement.

To get the job done, CWA will do more than market the wines, Bell said. The organization will help members get set up to do business in Asia, providing advice on legal and accounting matters and helping them set up basic office space. “I think if we can get people those tools ahead of time, they can take advantage of our boots on the ground and grow a lot more easily and without all of those roadblocks that can be really expensive,” she said.

Bell said one of the biggest keys to success for getting the organization off the ground was keeping an open mind—an approach she recommends for any organization looking to expand across the Pacific.

“There’s a large cultural difference, so you can’t take what you know to be common sense in the U.S. and try to apply it to business practices in Asia,” she said. “But be open-minded and know that it works both ways. Work through those differences and stay focused on the fact that there’s a lot of opportunity in the global market.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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