The 31st edition of the California wine fair, which parades across the country, made its first stop at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, where it attracted restaurateurs, liquor board agents and media for a luncheon and several hundred more wine aficionados for the trade tasting later in the afternoon.
“This is a good time for the U.S. and Canada,” said Kevin Johnson, U.S. Consul General to Canada, in welcoming the crowd. He pointed to economic indicators such as the lowering of the unemployment rate. “Canada and the U.S. share the deepest trading relationship in the world. It’s impossible to do well without helping each other. While he talked about the fact that 2009 was a one of the most challenging years on record, he noted a 22-per-cent growth in exports in 2010, with California wines showing 21.5-per-cent growth across Canada and American wines overall showing a 12-per-cent increase.
LCBO chair Philip Osborne reiterated the good news. “Unlike last year, consumers are no longer trading down,” he said. “California wines sales are booming; it’s the bestselling category in Vintages, overtaking France and Italy.”
This year’s keynote speaker was Linsey Gallagher, the director of International Marketing for California Wines who oversees the organization’s marketing programs in more than 20 countries. Her address focused on the success of California wines globally and in Canada. According to Gallagher, California is the world’s fourth leading wine producer, exporting approximately 20 per cent of the state’s wine production. “Exports represent an increasingly important portion of our business, and due to our success in markets like Canada, more California wineries are pursuing exports than ever before.” Gallagher told the crowd of wine aficionados that California had a record year for wine exports in 2010. “U.S. wine exports, 90 per cent of which come from California, rebounded to a new record of $1.14-billion U.S. dollars in winery revenues in 2010, an increase of 26 per cent over 2009.”
Gallagher credited Canada as being a huge part of the overall success of California wines, finishing the year as the largest export country for the wines and representing 27 per cent of export sales last year. “The strong momentum is on track to continue,” she said, explaining California wine sales in Canada should reach the four-million case level in annual sales by this summer (compared with less than two-million cases in 2004).
California’s national growth in Canada in 2010 was up 12 per cent, said Gallagher, representing the fastest growth rate of any of the top seven countries exporting to Canada. By comparison, the overall wine market in Canada grew by four per cent in 2010. “California’s growth has been strong all across Canada, but our highest growth market is Quebec, where we increased by 28 per cent last year, propelling California into the number-3 spot behind France and Italy,” she said.
With greening top-of-mind, Gallagher also touched on the growing importance of sustainability. “The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance is making an important contribution to our overall success. Sustainable wine growing and winemaking includes practices such as: managing vineyards for sustainability and quality fruit; conserving water and energy; protecting air and water quality; maintaining healthy soil; reducing pesticide use; preserving local ecosystems and wildlife habitats; recycling natural resources; practising environmentally preferred purchasing; and enhancing relations with employees and communities.”