Salud! Chilean wines topping Korea’s tables

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Salud! Chilean wines topping Korea’s tables

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Aficionados of fine wines in Korea are in debt to Douglas Murray for at least one thing: He’s one of a few vintners who broke the hold on Korea’s newly-emerging market by Old World wines, most of which were French.
Due to the Korean government’s policy of protectionism, the wine market was closed until 1987, when a quota system was established for a two-year trial basis. The market fully opened on Jan. 1, 1990, and the government issued licenses to 10 local companies allowing them to import wine.
By that time, Mr. Murray had already been rushing around Asia for years promoting Chilean wines. Thailand was one of the first markets in Asia to open its market to import wines. Japan quickly followed suit, but a nuclear test in 1995 by the French government provoked a backlash from many Japanese, who stopped drinking French wine in protest.
“That was when non-French wines really entered the Japanese market,” Mr. Murray said. The change appears to be irreversible.
His company has also been active in China for a long time now, selling 8,000 cases per year in major cities such as Shanghai, Schenzen and Beijing.
Korea is a relatively new market for wine, but Mr. Murray said he is proud that Montes has established a reputation among wine drinkers here.
“We want to be there early because the first brand to arrive in the market tends to lead the market when it matures. By the time all want to go in, it’s too late,” said Mr. Murray, who visited Seoul last week for the Korean launching of premium Montes wines ― the 2003 Purple Angel and the 2003 Montes Alpha M ―at the Grand Hyatt hotel in central Seoul.
Mr. Murray came to Seoul in 1997 as part of a Chilean trading event. It was then that he formed a business partnership with Nara Food Co. Ltd., which was founded the same year.
Mr. Murray, a native of Antofagasta in central Chile, comes from a family of copper miners. He learned about wines when he went to Spain in the 1970s, and trained himself to be an oenologist. He returned to Chile and established Montes wines in 1989 with three other partners: Aurelio Montes, Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand.
Mr. Murray’s name is virtually synonymous worldwide with Chilean wines; his work is largely responsible for the global reputation of Chilean wines, and for Montes as the producer of one of the country’s finest wines. The Chilean government has taken note ― last year it awarded him the National Prize for Innovation.
Chile’s tradition of viticulture goes back to the 18th century, when French grape varieties ― Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Riesling ― were transplanted by French settlers, one reason why Chilean wines are similar to French wines.
Before Montes wines appeared in 1989, Chilean wines, most of which were made by centuries-old wineries, were considered to be of the supermarket variety. Mr. Murray and his partners wanted to prove that Chile could produce and export high-quality wines. In 1989, sales of Chilean wines took in $10 million, but the figure rose to $1 billion last year. Mr. Murray said he exports 93 percent of his wine. Montes’s business has certainly exploded: It sold meager a 7,000 cases in its first year; last year, it sold 550,000.
Nara Food, which has represented Montes wines in Korea, is now the fourth-largest wine importer in terms of sales turn-over, which hit the $10 million mark last year. The company carries 60 different wine brands from the United States, France, Italy, Chile and Australia, according to Johnathan Yi, the director of Nara Food Co. Ltd.
Mr. Murray attributes the relatively rapid success of Chilean wines to its competitive price in Europe, as the price of New World wines is less likely to fluctuate than that of Old World wines, and the increasing number of hotel food and beverage managers prefer New World wines for their taste and price.
At the Special Montes Day event at the Hyatt, Mr. Murray announced that one of the premium Montes Wines, the 2004 Villa Montes, will be bearing a special Korean label on the bottle next year ― another step in its courting of the Korean market.


by Ines Cho
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