American wine consumers tend to be swayed by influential wine critics

American wine consumers tend to be swayed by influential wine critics
American wine consumers tend to be swayed by influential wine critics
  28.06.2018  |  14:30
Čas branja: 7 min
What kind of connections have Slovenian winemakers built in the American market?

The American market has been a traditional market for Slovenian wines since the days of the former Yugoslavia. In the 1980s the Coca Cola company established sales of Slovenian and other Yugoslavian wines in the American market and introduced them as one of the most famous varietal wines in the world. These were the words of Dušan Brejc, the President of the Vinska družba Slovenije, the oldest professionally organized group of winemakers and winegrowers in Slovenia.

“The company Slovenijavino, later renamed Slovin, annually exported around 450 thousand cartons of wine from the former Yugoslavia to the US, which was a huge business. It’s worth mentioning that back then Slovin was a very large company - on a global scale. It employed 6000 people across Yugoslavia. During its peak it even had a 2 percent market share of the entirety of European wine exports,” explained Brej.

According to Brejc, it was these past connections that proved crucial in the 90s, when consumers of simple, mass-produced wine disappeared, making room for Slovenian family winemakers who were flourishing at that time.

“The US, along with Great Britain and Germany, presented a market with the least prejudice. This means that wines from lesser known wine growing regions were being bought - in contrast to Italy, France and Portugal, where loyalty to their own wine is very strong. This is the beginning of the American story of a journey of winemakers from the wine growing region of Goriška Brda, led by Aleš Kristančič from Movia winery. They managed to spark great media interest through magazines such as the Wine Spectator, and through wine critics like, for example, Robert M. Parker jr.,” said Brejc.

Winemakers Aleks Simčič and Klet Brda have also joined forces and created the brand Giocato, to be presented in the American market.The American market has been a traditional market for Slovenian wines since the days of the former Yugoslavia. In the 1980s the Coca Cola company established sales of Slovenian and other Yugoslavian wines in the American market and introduced them as one of the most famous varietal wines in the world. These were the words of Dušan Brejc, the President of the Vinska družba Slovenije, the oldest professionally organized group of winemakers and winegrowers in Slovenia.

“The company Slovenijavino, later renamed Slovin, annually exported around 450 thousand cartons of wine from the former Yugoslavia to the US, which was a huge business. It’s worth mentioning that back then Slovin was a very large company - on a global scale. It employed 6000 people across Yugoslavia. During its peak it even had a 2 percent market share of the entirety of European wine exports,” explained Brej.

According to Brejc, it was these past connections that proved crucial in the 90s, when consumers of simple, mass-produced wine disappeared, making room for Slovenian family winemakers who were flourishing at that time.

“The US, along with Great Britain and Germany, presented a market with the least prejudice. This means that wines from lesser known wine growing regions were being bought - in contrast to Italy, France and Portugal, where loyalty to their own wine is very strong. This is the beginning of the American story of a journey of winemakers from the wine growing region of Goriška Brda, led by Aleš Kristančič from Movia winery. They managed to spark great media interest through magazines such as the Wine Spectator, and through wine critics like, for example, Robert M. Parker jr.,” said Brejc.

The US is the second largest export market

Slovenian winemakers today annually export a little over 5 million liters of wine, and for them the US market is the second most important foreign market after that of Italy. This means that they export a million and a half liters of wine to the US. An interesting fact which Dušan Brejc pointed out is that in the last 15 years, Slovenian winemakers have focused the supply of their wines almost exclusively on the catering sector and far less on retail, which used to predominate 20 years ago and more.

“This might not be unusual for family winemakers such as Movia or Marjan Simčič, but when selling 500 thousand liters of wine to the US, this is not self-evident anymore. Klet Brda, the largest exporter, exports mid and high-priced wines to the American market. This is connected with changes in the shopping habits of US Millennials, who drink less, but better and more expensive wine,” believes Brejc.

The chief oenologist of Klet Brda, Darinko Ribolica states that their annual exports to the US total just over 1.2 million liters of wine and sales are still growing, mainly due to the business connections that were established in the past.

A good example of this is the brand Avia, which was launched exclusively on the American market by the abovementioned company Slovin and was bought by Klet Brda in 2000. “Brici”, which is what the locals are called in Goriška Brda, use this brand to export white wine varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Italian Reisling, and red wine varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and a form of Cabernet and Merlot to the US. Sales of these wines are aimed mainly at supermarkets, whereas other brands are used more in catering.

Special assortment for the US market.

Colliano is the name of the special line offered by Klet Brda exclusively for the US (Collio is the Italian side of Goriška Brda). The line distributes to the market Rebula and Sauvignonasse variety wines (former Tokaj) and forms of white and red Krasno wine. Why Colliano? “Advisers in our company in the US have proposed that the name Colliano would be better than Krasno, which is otherwise the name of the line in other markets. These wines are intended for use exclusively in American restaurants,” answered Ribolica.

The chief oenologist at Klet Brda pointed out that American wine drinkers are very thrilled with their Pinot Gris, the export of which keeps growing every year. “Pinot Gris is a simple, easy-drinkable, fruit wine with a highly recognized name in the US. This might be due to the fact that American consumers are easily influenced by the opinion of renowned wine critics. It is also a fact that Pinot Gris from Brda carries structure, flavor and depth, whereas Pinot produced in the flat regions such as Pinot Grigio from the Italian region of Veneto is a sparse, flavor-lacking wine.”

How important the opinion of eminent wine critics is for Americans is also evident from the recent increase in the export of their Rebula wine. “Ever since a few positive articles were published about this traditional Brda variety, everyone’s been placing orders. From complex wines to simple and sparkling wines.”

Pinot Gris is our top seller

Klet Brda also has another “trump card” for the American market. Giocato is a project specifically adapted for the American market with the winemaker Aleks Simčič (Edi Simčič Wines). “For quite a few years I was selling my wine in the US through a distributor, who started doing business as an importer for small prestigious wineries. After the recession at the end of the previous decade, he realized his business would survive without the quantity. It was then that we started cooperating with Klet Brda and the Giocato brand was established.

The brand, owned by Simčič and the American importer, sells approximately 250 thousand bottles of wine annually. They currently sell Pinot Gris and Sauvignon. We also tried with Chardonnay, but weren’t successful, since the American drinkers are used to the Californian Chardonnay,” said Simčič.

“Together with oenologists from Klet Brda, we determine a wine’s profile and quality, whereas operative matters are taken care of at the largest Brda wine cellar,” Simčič pointed out.

Most of this wine is sold in the catering industry, per glass. “This wine is affordable, therefore it is often the first form of contact an American wine drinker has with Slovenian wine. Wine shops sell the wine for 10 to 12 dollars,” explains Simčič, who finds the US a very significant market. This can be attributed to two aspects – the first is that, other than China, the US is the only market allowing a large quantity of exports, and the second aspect is reputation.

Distributors are crucial for sales

Simčič exports 15 to 20 percent of his entire production to the US. The most popular white wines sent across the Atlantic are the variety wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Malvasia and their quantities slightly exceed the red wine varieties. “A specific of the US is the existence of very traditional markets within individual states, where everything is based on the Californian style and their varieties, although some better developed markets also exist, which seek diversity,” explained a co-spokesman.

In his opinion, becoming established in the American markets largely depends on the distributors. “In most states, the law still does not allow import and sale within the same company. The importer must engage a distributor in each individual state. Therefore, the distributors play a key role, since they are the ones selling the wine.”

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