The selection of wines available to American consumers at their local supermarkets and bottle shops has become more diversified in recent years thanks to the run-away popularity of New Zealand wines. In mid-April, 2016, New Zealand’s Villa Maria became the only sauvignon blanc to be featured on Starbuck’s “Starbucks Evenings” menu in North America. That very same week New Zealand’s Tutu Cider, which is made by a company specializing in Maori food and beverages, debuted in California.
Such market access is a boon for New Zealand, as the United States is the largest consumer of wine in the world. In 2015, the United States surpassed Australia and became the most valuable wine export market for New Zealand, accounting for a quarter of all New Zealand’s wine exports. In the past five years the amount of wine that New Zealand has exported to the United States has doubled to 5.88 million cases.
Ms. Ranit Librach, Promotions Manager USA for New Zealand Winegrowers, told Asia Matters for America that while only 100 of New Zealand’s 700 wineries currently export to the United States, that number is expected to keep growing as more expand their distribution centers. Many wineries in New Zealand are family-owned and operated and do not always have the infrastructure in place to take full advantage of increasing online sales of wine, although this is changing. Furthermore, the United States’ “Three Tier System,” which requires wine exporters to sell to licensed importers who then, working with US state and federal governments, sell to licensed retailers who finally get the product to the consumer, is also an obstacle that all foreign wines must contend with. However, when looking at just how much the US market access for New Zealand wines has grown in recent years, these obstacles are clearly not insurmountable.
The strength of the US economy and high demand for quality New Zealand wines has contributed to the growth of GDP in the Marlborough region of New Zealand in 2015. Known for producing fine wines and high quality sauvignon blanc in particular, Marlborough is home to the popular Villa Maria of “Starbucks Evenings” fame. Wine producers in this region are also leading the charge for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in New Zealand, as the wine industry stands to benefit from the reduction of tariffs included in that agreement.
Sarah Wang is the Event Coordinator and a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington