California wines find growing market in Japan
Web posted at: 12:45 p.m. EST (1745 GMT)
TOKYO (CNN) -- While many U.S. exports are suffering from the tough economic times in Japan, imports of California wine to the country increased 242 percent in 1998.
The growing acceptance of California wines by Japanese has not been hindered by the country's economic woes -- and may have even been boosted by the financial doldrums.
Many California wineries are pushing moderately priced varieties, ranging from $8 to $25, to the Japanese market, making them affordable to price-conscious consumers.
"People don't eat out as much anymore," said one wine importer in Japan. "And when they eat at home, they're drinking wine."
The appetite for wine really took off in Japan in 1997, after a number of television shows played up the advantages of red wine. A new TV series called "Sommelier" features a teen-age heartthrob playing the lead role of a wine expert.
"We used to drink Japanese vodka with our friends," said one Japanese convert. "But we recently switched to wine -- especially red wine -- after we heard it's good for your health."
For years, California vintners have been marketing their products in Japan, and now their efforts appear to be paying off.
"In the past, French wine had a luxurious image, while Californian was thought to be cheap, in terms of price and taste. But people are looking at other labels now, including those from California," said one Japanese wine fan.
"Japan is a market we started targeting in 1980-81, so we've been working on it for 18 years in a major way," said Eric Wente of Wente Winery in California.
Wente said it has increased its exports to Japan from 7,000 cases in 1997 to more than 13,000 in 1998.
"People are becoming more and more comfortable with brand names on California wines and, as a result, as an industry we've seen our numbers increase to almost 5 percent of the total global wine market," said John Scwartz of Wente Winery.
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