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Washington State tries to crack UK market

Published:  23 July, 2008

Washington State got its strategy wrong last time it tried to break into the UK market, according to the returning executive director, Steve Burns, but it is back to try again.

Burns was speaking at the state's generic tasting on Wednesday last week at The White Horse in Parsons Green, London. We approached the UK market, maybe rather naively, as we did New York - showing our best first. But we were told: "Too expensive, not relevant - goodbye".

Whereas we did the same in Tokyo and hit a home run. Three years ago, it was our third export market and by 2006, it will be number one,' said Burns.

The Australians and the Californians took the UK model of going in with entry-level wines and they're in the toilet as far as Japan is concerned,' he said.

Burns, who returned to the Washington Wine Commission last year when his successor did not work out, said that he reckoned the state has a portfolio of wines from 6 to 35, which he hopes will appeal to UK buyers.

Asked about issues troubling Washington State vintners, Burns said that the collapse of the domestic apple industry has meant apple growers have been looking to grub up orchards and switch to grapes. We had to say to these farmers: "How do you feel about a 23-year-old French girl telling you how to grow your grapes and when to pick them?" That was enough. We have 32,000 acres under vine; it could have been 132,000 with the apple farmers.'

Burns, who steps down again to resume his marketing consultancy in Sonoma, California, with new executive director, Robin Pollard, starting in July, said that despite the number of wineries having grown now to 350 and the industry being as big as Napa or New Zealand, it was still focused and working together.