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Valley View extends reach in Asian markets

Valley View Winery established a foothold in the Far East a couple of years ago, selling its product in Costco warehouses in Japan.

Now the Wisnovsky family is extending Valley View's presence into Korea.

Mark Wisnovsky was part of a delegation from the Oregon and Washington wine commissions that called on Pacific Rim markets earlier this year. Eight Oregon vintners made the trip, backed with government dollars, but Valley View was the only one from outside the Willamette Valley.

During the trade mission Wisnovsky discovered younger Japanese consumers are moving away from traditional rice-based sake drinks.

"There is a dramatic moving away from sake to wine," he said. "I'd say about 80 percent is red wine, but on the surface red wine wouldn't match the cuisine as much as white."

While discerning palates might find white wines more appealing, demand has yet to follow, he said.

"Our viognier is the biggest hit with importers, restaurants and wine shops," Wisnovsky said. "They all say they wish they could carry it, but it's a tough sell."

Nonetheless, he said, it's much easier to sell into the Asian market than it was five years ago.

During a trade show, he discovered tempranillo was a hot commodity.

"By the last few hours of every trade show, I would be slammed," Wisnovsky said. "I had to allocate just a half-ounce per person. I think it would sell well, even though we don't have enough to export."

To this point, Costco, the warehouse membership store, has been the conduit, carrying Valley View's Rogue Red and cabernet. 

One of the key aims of the latest trip was to connect with importers to handle Valley View vintages.

Japanese restaurants serving Rogue Red or wine shops carrying the Ruch winery's offerings had to obtain them from Costco, he said. Just four days after he returned to Oregon, Costco ordered four pallets of Rogue Red for Japan.

"That would be awfully quick," he conceded. "Even if you were buying a case here and a case there. I know Costco responds quickly, but it takes time for the wine to get there."

A stronger dollar and tariffs present challenges.

A bottle of Rogue Red that costs $10 here sells for the equivalent of $13 at Japanese Costco warehouses, and in Korea, taxes and tariffs push the cost to $25.

How soon importers will make their move in the wake of the recent trip is anyone's guess, Wisnovsky said.

"I met with some major accounts and big importers, but you just never know," he said.

He takes notes on people's reactions, and after pouring for a wine club organizer last year, he didn't hear anything for five or six months.

"I sent four bottles, and he ordered 20 cases of each of the four wines — 80 cases," Wisnovsky said.

The Applegate winery produced 13,000 cases in 2015. The first order two years ago to Japan was for 800 cases.

"The way we look at it, more markets is good, but you never know when a major department store in Korea or a giant store in Japan will order," he said. "They might want 1,000 cases ... ."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31

Valley View Winery's Rogue Red wine is a popular seller in Japan and the company hopes to expand into more Asian markets. Mail Tribune / file photo