The United Kingdom looks like the most promising marketSeptember 28, 2010 6:00 AM
by Jim Raper
Christopher Parker has proved that it is possible to have a second career in the Virginia wine industry without growing grapes or making wine. In 2008, he founded New Horizon Wines in Reston, a company dedicated to exporting Virginia wine to the United Kingdom and perhaps someday to continental Europe.
Already he has persuaded the Whole Foods Market in Kensington, London, to create a Virginia wine section and to sell 15 of the state’s better wines. “I was told this selection is larger than any range of Virginia wines in any of the Whole Foods Markets in the U.S.” He also has placed Virginia wines at shops in Oxfordshire, Kent and Kew. He expects big results from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s summer trade mission to England, which promoted Virginia products, including wine.
Parker, who was born in England but has spent the last two decades living in Virginia, had a successful first career in software development. Along the way he picked up a taste for fine wine. As a young man, he briefly ran a small business that imported wines into the U.K. from New Zealand and other countries with up-and-coming viticulture regions. “Wine exports from New Zealand in the late 1970s were relatively insignificant. In recent years that country has been exporting wine annually worth $760 million.”
At this time Virginia pales in comparison. Last year, 399,744 cases of Virginia wines sold for a total of about $70 million, with only a small amount of that, less than $100,000, coming from export sales. However, Virginia appears poised for an export boom, and the U.K. is likely to be the biggest customer, Parker asserts. Williamsburg Winery began sales to the U.K. three years ago, with exports this year expected in the range of 350 to 450 cases. The winery also has a regular customer in Denmark. Still, the U.K. looks to be the most promising market for these reasons:
- The U.K. produces very little wine of its own and imports more wine than any other nation, about $8 billion worth annually. This thirst means consumers are eager to discover the “next new thing in wine.”
- Many Brits feel a connection to Virginia. They know that Virginia’s English settlers were this country’s winemaking pioneers.
- The British are familiar with the varietals that make Virginia’s best wines: Viognier among the whites; and Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, two red varieties used to make the Bordeaux wines so popular in the U.K.
- Virginia Viogniers represent good values compared with French Viognier-based wines of comparable quality; the same can be said for blended reds from Virginia compared with Bordeaux reds.
- Virginia wines tend to be more European in style than wines from California.
(Parker has selected wines from these Virginia producers to distribute in the U.K.: Barboursville Vineyards; Boxwood Winery; Breaux Vineyards; Keswick Vineyards; Pearmund Cellars; Rappahannock Cellars; Veramar Vineyard; Veritas Vineyard and Winery; White Hall Vineyards; and Williamsburg Winery.)