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Super Seconds

Published:  23 July, 2008

ne example was the small but very busy stand which promoted Oregon wine at the London International Wine & Spirits Fair this past May. Staff from the Oregon Wine Board and individual wineries such as Firesteed and Elk Cove poured 20 brands for a remarkably receptive audience.

Mike Coveney of Hilltop Wines, the export-marketing consultancy firm hired by the Oregon Wine Board in March to

help secure a foothold in Britain, was very pleased with the level of interest and the follow-up.

Traffic at the stand exceeded our expectations,' Coveney says. And we're all delighted with what we've achieved

for Oregon wine during the months since the Trade Fair. There are six brands now completing their negotiations with importers to come on stream during 2007. Obviously, that's not rocketing, but we are sowing seeds with businesses that want to differentiate themselves by the diversity of their portfolios. These are the people who are showing active interest in Oregon.'

Mark Savage MW is one person with such an interest. Savage has been importing and selling small quantities of Oregon wine since the early 1980s, and he believes they have something distinctive to offer the UK market. Compared to most New World wine regions, Oregon excels at delicacy and finesse,' he says. The wines are not about alcohol and extraction that blow your socks off. They are refreshing - even polite - and that works well here.'

What doesn't work so well, according to Savage, is the pricing. Most Oregon wineries are small operations with no economies of scale, but with significant local demand. These factors translate into relatively high prices for even entry-level wines in the UK. [Oregon wines] are very difficult to sell for under 10,' says Savage. So, in a restaurant, that's going to be at least 30. At that level many people will tend to go for something more familiar.'

Familiarity is very important to wine sales at higher price points, and Oregon has made little real impression in Britain

up to now. But Savage says there is a key reason for this anonymity. Oregon has always lacked a spokesman of the scale of, for example, Robert Mondavi. Mondavi

did a huge amount of good for California over here because he made both good wine and a great deal of noise. Oregon has never had a Mondavi. In fact, industry pioneers such as David Lett [of Eyrie Vineyards] are very quiet people. They

don't shout from the rooftops because it's not in their nature.'

Coveney says this reticence needs to be addressed. We almost do have to start shouting about it. Nobody has really told the Oregon story here, despite it having a very clear message: Oregon and Pinot Noir are almost synonymous.