Is China the next frontier for New York wines?

Gwen Chamberlain
Anthony Road Wine Co. winemaker Johannes Reinhardt (left) discusses his wine with (from left) Ming Ng, Justin Ang and Jack Chan from Hong Kong.

The new frontier for New York wine sales just might be half-way around the world in Hong Kong, and the doors could be opened by three men who visited the area last week.

Wine importer Justin Ang and Sommeliers Ming Ng and Jack Chan began their week-long visit to New York wine country on Long Island and finished it with three days in the Finger Lakes  region.

Along the way, they were introduced to scores of wines which, if logistical issues can be wrangled, just might capture the attention of consumers in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

The three men praised the New York white wines, in particular the rieslings.

Ng said he found the wines in New York to be a nice surprise. “I never knew New York had the variety. Their white wine — the riesling — is unbelievable,” he said.

Chan agreed, saying, the New York wines are totally different from those he’s had from Western U.S. “We thought it would be similar to other American wine,” he said.

Chan said he is looking for new products for his customers. “New York State is one of the new wine growing regions in the world and I’m working to find something new for the customers. The customers are getting smart and they are looking for new things,” he said, adding that Chinese wineries are making dry red wines. “So that’s the hint for the (winery) owners that the Chinese are not going to take the sweet wines. The sweet wines may be for fun, but they really want other wines.” He thinks the white wines they tasted last week would be perfect, but New York state winemakers and owners are “not that into the Chinese market. They think the Chinese are drinking the sweet wine.”

Comparing New York to the only other U.S. wine region he’s visited is mind-boggling, said Ang, explaining, “You have a lot of interesting winemakers. You have a lot of interesting terroirs and a lot of  interesting micro-climates.”

With the per capita wine consumption in Hong Kong increasing by 95 percent and China’s increased by more than 15 percent between 2007 and 2010 (according to the Wine Institute, a California based wine industry organization) it’s no wonder there’s interest in finding something new for consumers to talk about.

Ang says one of the key issues is pricing. “Once they (consumers) look at price, they’ll try it. Then they will realize that this wine is worth more than that because everyone is fighting on price there.”

After trying the new product, consumers will begin noticing the label and the new region.

On the other hand, there are high-end consumers who look at branded products, something that might favor wines from Napa or other California wine regions.

The three men were hosted in New York by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.  Vice President Susan Spence said the goal of the Foundation’s export program is to increase awareness of New York State wines in the world market. “And Hong Kong is an incredibly exciting market to everyone around the world because they have lower tariffs. It’s a good market for our wines, price wise, and we think it would be a good fit.”

Ang says making New York wines available for Hong Kong consumers will take a team effort with producers and importers working together, which could take some convincing. “It’s a long process, but it has to be a team thing. It will be a hard cookie to break,” he said. But that cookie is beginning to crumble, it appears.

While in the Long Island region, the men visited with Leslie Alexander, owner of the Houston Rockets, who also owns vineyards on Long Island.

Leslie Wines grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and produces wines that are sold in China, according to the Rockets website biography of Alexander.

Finger Lakes area wineries the men visited were Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Fox Run Vineyards, Ravines, Casa Larga Vineyards, Sheldrake Point Winery, Damiani Wine Cellars, Hazlitt 1842 Vineyards, Lamoreaux Landing, Anthony Road Wine Company, Lakewood Vineyards and Wagner Vineyards.

They also tasted wines from the Hudson Valley wine region while on Long Island.

From left, Sommelier Jack Chan, Importer Justin Ang, Anthony Road Winemaker Johannes Reinhardt, Sommelier Ming Ng and Alan Lefko of Anthony Road, gather for a photo.