It’s the economy: The grapes look to China

Kingston-based Shawangunk Wine Trail enthusiasts visited Robibero Family Vineyards in New Paltz for their Wine and Pasta event last weekend. Pictured are: Avery and Jenn Heath, Nick Segura, Andrea Sotela Segura, Antonia Segura and LaVern Brodhead served by wine enthusiast Kevin Young. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Representatives of a handful of Hudson Valley wineries sat in a brightly lit classroom in Kingston this month, listening to a pitch that could help them reach the biggest market on the planet. New York has cachet in China, according to Yaxin Zhang, United States representative for the New York State Wine Outlet.

The state initiative, sponsored by the Small Business Development Center, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation and the state departments of economic development and agriculture, seeks to connect the state’s wineries with 400 million middle-class Chinese — what it describes as the fastest-growing middle class in the world.


The Kingston presentation introduced area wineries to the project. For $3000 a year, the wineries get exposure at four national trading events in China, with free extensions to the membership if no sales result from the first exhibit. The wine outlet currently occupies a 3600-square-foot storage space in Shanghai’s free-trade zone. Membership is touted as giving wineries access to what presenters described as “the door to China.”

An individual winery pursuing these connections and trade shows on its own can expect to spend over $8000 a week, the experts estimated.

“The taste of wine from New York State appeals better to Chinese people,” Yaxin Zhang of the wine outlet said. “California started early in exporting wine to China. However, New York State wines are developing unique, incomparable brands such as the Riesling series, and the Chinese government has always supported opening up the Chinese wine market to the world.”

America’s oldest winery, Brotherhood in Washingtonville, is considering the proposition. “It’s a huge market. We’ve been making our own contacts in China,” said Colleen Hughes, creative director at Brotherhood. “It’s a huge market and there’s a lot of interest not only in New York wine, but in visiting this region. The state wine outlet is an alternative we’re looking at as well.”

Brotherhood, established in 1839, is completing a major expansion and renovation project. Hughes said the recession hasn’t hurt the business. The combination of reasonable prices, easy access from the New York metropolitan area, and the side business of packaging wines for other vineyards has kept Brotherhood thriving.

Lisa Berger at Ulster County Tourism said it appears that the area’s wineries are “remarkably resistant” to economic cycles. They have been “nearly recession proof.”

“Twenty-five to thirty percent of our year-round visitation numbers involve our eleven vineyards,” said Berger. “Ulster County offers something very different from the Finger Lakes region. Here, visitors get that farm experience they’re craving. More and more people are just dying for that connection to the land.”

Clever marketing helps. Berger said the annual Wreath Fineries at the Wineries event (travel from winery to winery collecting wreath ornaments and sipping wine) sells out every year. Other events, like Around the World in Eighty Miles, the Bounty of the Hudson and April’s Pasta Primo Vino, which benefits the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, continue to bring people to the vineyards.

Berger attends an annual travel show in July where she reported she’s finding more international interest in Hudson Valley tour packages.

“We’re trying to cultivate the Asian tourism market, and more and more tour operators are interested in our region,” Berger said. “They’re especially interested in Hudson Valley fruit. Everybody loves to eat!”

This year’s regional dining guide will be expanded to include wineries and farms. “We’re trying to create a comprehensive guide from farm to table,” Berger said. “They all connect.”