Korea Times: ‘Wine boom turns to gloom’
Bae Yong Joon may be one of the few oenophiles still living in Korea based on wine’s dropping popularity on the peninsula. (Photo courtesy of Arnaldo Bassini)
The Korea Customs Service told the Times that 2009 (at least the first 10 months) was the first year they noticed a decline in wine sales in Korea since the Asian financial crisis reached its zenith in 1998.
However, the South Korean government expect wine imports from Europe and South America to improve after recently signed free-trade agreements with the European Union and Chile start kicking in.
The Times listed the most popular wine imports in South Korea in 2009:
- France ($30.3 million)
- Chile ($20.3 million)
- Italy ($14.6 million)
- U.S. ($9 million)
- Australia ($6.53 million)
- Spain ($5.26 million)
- Germany ($2.34 million)
The rising popularity of wine over the past five years is partly because of the popularity of a Japanese manga called Kami no Shizuku, or Drops of God. This manga follows two brothers in search of the best wines in the world to fulfill their late father’s last will and testament.
Wines featured in this manga have sold well in Japan and other parts of Asia. (See stories in Decanter in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the London Times in 2008, The Korea Times in 2007, The Daily Telegraph in 2008, The Japan Times in 2008 and Reuters in 2007.) The U.S. fine-wine market can’t afford to wait until Bae Yong Joon releases his Korean drama version of this hit manga to recapture Korean affection for wine.
As a Californian, the U.S.’s low rank concerns me. California makes some of the best wines in the world, yet many Koreans can’t afford to buy them because of high tariffs. The U.S. signed the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement in June 2007, but Congress has yet to approve it. If it were, the agreement would help U.S. winemakers regain their popularity and competitive edge in South Korea’s growing wine market and help the U.S. economy during a time of recession by opening an important market for American-made goods.
By the U.S. Commerce Department’s accounting, South Korea was the ninth-largest global market for U.S. wine — 95 percent exported from California — in 2008, ahead of Singapore and behind Austria, according to the San Francisco-based trade group Wine Institute. The Land of the Morning Calm also was the eighth-largest market for all U.S. goods last year, according to the U.S. Trade Representative.
Wine shipments to South Korea in 2008 totaled $12.8 million, a 29 percent decrease from 2007, according to the institute. The amount of wine exported to the country decreased by an equal proportion in that time frame.
Comparatively, Japan, the No. 3 U.S. wine market last year, imported $61.1 million, a 3 percent decrease from 2007.