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Local wine hits shelves in Japan

Starting Tuesday, a taste of the Rogue Valley will be available in Japan.

Wines from Valley View Winery will be sold in all 20 Costco locations in Japan, the result of a fortuitous meeting between Valley View Winery co-owner Michael Wisnovsky and Masahiko Chonan, the general merchandiser for Costco Japan.

Chonan saw Valley View's display of Rogue Red when Wisnovsky was signing bottles at an event at Costco's headquarters in Issaquah, Wash., and he asked Wisnovsky whether he would consider selling in Japan.

A few months later, 616 cases of Valley View wine, including 300 cases of Rogue Red, were on their way to Japan.

Wisnovsky will travel to Japan on Tuesday for six days and visit two Costco stores, including the Japanese headquarters in Kawasaki.

Wisnovsky said the unique branding of Rogue Red, which initially caught Chonan's eye, sets the wine apart.

"We wanted to have a little bit of a tie-in (to Valley View Winery), but we wanted to create a brand in and of itself that is unique from Valley View," he said.

The name of the winery appears on the back of the bottle rather than the front, and they used outside designers who had never worked on their wine labels in the past.

"Designing the label is probably the hardest thing we do," Wisnovsky said.

Valley View began marketing Rogue Red in earnest last year as an inexpensive red wine. The wine, which has its own website, rogueredwine.com, sells at Costco for about $10 a bottle.

Wisnovsky hopes to expand to the state of Washington and more of Asia. The trip to Washington where he met Chonan was one of many he has made to sign bottles, advertise Rogue Red and encourage merchandisers and customers to visit Southern Oregon.

"I have all my pamphlets out for bread, Shakespeare, wine and all that," he said of the table he sets up at bottle-signing events. "I'm like a walking travel person."

Wisnovsky used his new contacts in Japan to find contact information for other Costco merchandisers in Asia.

"We've tried to leverage the relationships we have," he said.

Valley View Winery builds a relationship with merchandisers by selling directly to retailers instead of using a wholesaler. Some states restrict or limit the direct sale of wine, including Utah and Montana, he said.

However, there are no direct-sale restrictions in Japan.

"The irony of the whole thing is that it's easier to ship to Japan than California," Wisnovsky said.

Reach Mail Tribune news intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368.