Pinot Partners

NW wines score some attention from Hong Kong

By Kasey Cordell July 15, 2010 Published in the August 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

"A CUP OF WINE, under the flowering trees;/ I drink alone, for no friend is near,” wrote eighth-century Chinese poet Li Bai in Drinking Alone by Moonlight. “Raising my cup I beckon the bright moon,/ For her, with my shadow, will make three people.”

Thanks to a recent agreement, Li’s descendants could soon be sipping more Northwest wines: in May, Governor Kulongoski announced a partnership with the Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to promote Oregon and Washington vintages in China.

“The whole southern China region is poised to take off,” says Patrick Mayer, a global trade and compliance manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “So we’re trying to do as much as we can to encourage Oregon products there.”

That means targeting Hong Kong—which, in China, is the tastemaking equivalent of New York City. Should Hong Kong’s savvy wine connoisseurs take a shine to our wines, the wider Chinese population will follow.

Just how that will be accomplished, though, remains a bit unclear: the memorandum of understanding—which follows President Obama’s pledge to double US exports worldwide by 2015—outlines few specific measures, other than lessening regulations to help expedite the flow of goods between Hong Kong and mainland China.

But even if the agreement amounts to little more than a four-star Yelp review for Oregon wines, we’ll take it. Despite the removal of Hong Kong’s wine import tax in 2008, only 1,000 cases of Oregon wines made their way to Hong Kong last year, most of them pinots from a dozen vineyards, including Willamette Valley Vineyards, King Estate, and Sokol Blosser. (Compare that to Canada, the No. 1 export country for Oregon wine, where 13,719 cases of our vino landed in 2009.)

But the recent “gentlemen’s agreement,” as Mayer calls it, is at least a start to upping those numbers—and in China, formal handshakes often count. All that’s missing now is a toast, which we’re happy to leave to Li Bai, who concluded, “May we long share our eternal friendship.”

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