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Wine bubble bursts on cost of imports

Apr 16,2009
A bad economy means less wine consumption, according to global figures recently indicated by the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine, or OIV.

Global wine consumption totaled 6.4 billion gallons last year, a 0.8 percent drop from 2007.

The Korean wine industry is in turn facing a decline after several years of growth. Wine sales for January and February this year decreased by as much as 5 percent at Lotte, 4 percent at Hyundai and 3 percent at Shinsegae, according to each department store, last month. It is the first decline in sales since 2000, when department stores opened their own wine cellars.

Before hitting a decline, wine sales at department stores had been rising. At Hyundai Department Store, for example, sales increased 49 percent on year in 2006, 44 percent in 2007 and 51 percent in 2008.The popularization of wine imbibing here came only after the millennium as Koreans were introduced to the so-called French paradox, the idea that drinking vino increases longevity.

The opening of the wine market here, however, dates back to the 1960s when the government encouraged the planting of wine grapes to accelerate exports. In terms of current wine consumption, however, the struggling economy is casting a pall.

Federico Castellucci, director general of the IOV, said early this month at a news conference in Paris that “it is obvious that the world economic crisis has played a role in lowering overall demand.”

The falling won has also caused a decline in wine imports. Imports in January totaled $11.8 million, around half the figure from last January, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

One after another, wine bars are shutting down in areas like Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul and Hongdae, northern Seoul.

“Many wine bars cannot afford to pay the rising costs of imported wines,” says Park Hye-yeon of Vin-ga, a wine bar located in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. She said Vin-ga, however, hasn’t been hit so hard by the struggling economy because of its loyal customer base of oenophiles. “At least two new wine bars used to open each month in the Gangnam area, but there haven’t been any new ones since the latter half of last year,” she said.

But Lee Chul-hyung, a representative of importer Winenara, isn’t that concerned. “The industry is following the right path - the bubble is bursting,” he said.



By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]



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