Washington wine industry gets new connection to China

By on August 10, 2015
Hand sorting at Reininger Winery during 2013 wine grape harvest

Wine grapes harvested in Washington now have an easier path into Hong Kong and mainland China, thanks to a new relationship in the heart of Washington wine country. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

KENNEWICK, Wash. – The Washington wine industry and the world’s fastest-growing wine-loving region have a new connection.

On Friday morning, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC) signed a memorandum of understanding that will open new opportunities in the heart of Washington wine country.

“It’s going to affect things a lot (in the wine industry),” said Gary White, TRIDEC’s director of business retention and expansion. “If we can get some wine buyers from Hong Kong and China to come over here and meet with our wineries, that would be very cool. Or get some of our wineries to visit over there and meet with their buyers.”

The memorandum of understanding is meant to promote trade and business relations between the Columbia Basin and Hong Kong. The Columbia Basin is considered one of the major bread baskets in the United States, growing more than 300 crops. And the United States accounts for 24 percent of the agricultural imports into China.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Ralph Chow, regional director of the Americas for HKTDC, and Carl Adrian, CEO of TRIDEC.

In recent years, China has developed into one of the fastest-growing importers of U.S. wine while also developing its own wine industry. Hong Kong is considered the gateway to mainland China, as well as much of the rest of eastern Asia.

“This agreement will provide more cooperation opportunities between Hong Kong and the Tri-City region,” Chow told the audience. “We will organize more U.S. missions to Hong Kong to open doors to the huge consumer demand on the Chinese mainland and throughout Asia for U.S. food products.”

Benton County, where TRIDEC is located, is the No. 1 wine-producing county in Washington, thanks to such producers as Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste. Michelle, 14 Hands, Hogue, Pacific Rim, Hedges, Kiona and Barnard Griffin.

Hong Kong opens doors for Washington wine

Hong Kong is considered the economic gateway to Asia and is building a strong wine import market. (Photo via Flickr/click for credit)

Hong Kong is considered the economic gateway to Asia and is building a strong wine import market. (Photo via Flickr)

In June, TRIDEC put on its inaugural FABREO (Food and Beverage Retention & Expansion Opportunities) conference, which White organized. He said it was a huge success, attracting twice as many exhibitors as expected and three times as many sponsorship sales. He thinks the second annual FABREO in 2016 could be even more important for the wine industry and the new agreement with Hong Kong.

“We had close to a dozen wineries involved (at FABREO),” White told Great Northwest Wine. “We want to grow that, and I think we will, especially with the agreement with now have with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Asia could be the next ripe opportunity for Washington wines. Without a doubt in my mind, Hong Kong is that soft landing to get into China.”

Congressman Dan Newhouse, who represents the agriculture-heavy Fourth District, attended Friday’s event and was bullish on what it means for part of the future of Washington wine. He noted that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has 150 million people in its middle class – and China’s growing middle class is at least as large as the entire population of the United States.

“That tells me that there are a lot of potential consumers of quality wine in income brackets that can afford to buy wine,” Newhouse told Great Northwest Wine. “We’ve already seen some of the benefits of marketing over there, but agreements like this I think will really foster increased trade between our country and Asian countries. I see a lot of positive potential.”

Newhouse is the former director of Washington state’s department of agriculture. He’s also a hop farmer in the Yakima Valley whose family grows hundreds of acres of wine grapes on Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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