Italian winemakers build brands, raise awareness

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Italian winemakers build brands, raise awareness

Italian wine producers are increasingly traveling to Korea looking to entice and educate new consumers as wine sales start to take off.

Spurred in part by the recent Korea-European Union free trade agreement that reduced tariffs on wine, among other products, big names in the Italian wine business have come to the country recently in an effort to differentiate themselves from other top wine-producing nations.

Winegrower associations from Puglia and Friuli visited Seoul this month, showcasing their wines and looking for import partners.

Italian winemaker Angelo Gaja also came to promote his estate.

“For us, it’s important to be there and be recognized,” Gaja said.

Although Italy trailed France and Chile in terms of market share in 2010, the country is quickly gaining ground in Korea. Imports of Italian wines were worth $16.37 million in 2010 and have already surpassed this figure in the first nine months of 2011, with $16.8 million in imports. Between January 2009 and September 2011, imports have increased 20.8 percent in value. Seoul has over 600 Italian restaurants.

But most Koreans still have scant knowledge of different types of wine and wine-growing areas. In hopes of raising the profile of Italian wines, Gambero Rosso, an Italian media company, brought its Top Italian Wines Asia Road Show to Seoul on Oct. 31, the first time the trade fair has stopped in the country.

The company was motivated by numerous requests from wineries interested in the local market, said Marco Sabellico, editor-in-chief of the Vin d’Italia, a guide book that ranks Italian wine according to a three-glass system, unlike the point scale used in other countries.

“People here really want to work. Korea’s strong economy is very encouraging,” Sabellico said. “One reason for coming here is to develop partnerships with Korean television and media companies.”

Partnerships in Asia are becoming more common in the wine and food industry as wine consumption grows in the region. Britain’s Decanter magazine launched a Chinese-language Web site this year. Gambero Rosso also launched a Chinese version of their guide to Italian wines on Nov. 2 in Hong Kong. They hope to launch a Korean version in the next couple of years.

And local restaurant owners are eager to learn more, including Jeemi Nam, the 36-year-old owner of a restaurant and wine bar.

“A Korean version would be very helpful because Gambero Rosso also teaches people about varieties and how to age wines,” Nam said.

Italy’s culture and image have already captivated many Koreans.

“I associate [European wine] with the history and royalty of Europe,” said Summer Park, 39, an office worker in Seoul.


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