Europeans see big wine market in Vietnam

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France, Italy and Spain, the world's largest wine producers, are holding the first wine fair in Vietnam this month to familiarize the "growing market" with their top vineyards.

"Why went Vietnam? Because we feel that it is time, when the market is growing, and before it's too late to explain how to drink wine and let them know why they drink our quality and traditional wine," Jean-Louis Poli, Commercial Counselor of the French Embassy in Vietnam, told a press briefing at French Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City Thursday .

Poli said so-called "New World Wines" from the US, South America, Australia and South Africa had entered Vietnam "quickly" with "simple products."

He said they and his Spain, Italy counterparts have to educate people. "And we've decided that we have the same interest in this pedagogy."

The Wine Festival on June 18 at Sofitel Saigon Hotel is the first of several activities the three big players have planned together with the common goal of explaining why their wines are different from those from the New World, Poli said.

"We have to be distinguished."

Alberto Cerdán, Economic and Commercial Counselor from the Embassy of Spain, told the briefing: "We want to promote wine culture."

The event will introduce 11 producers who have never been to Vietnam: six from France, four from Italy and one from Spain.

Vietnamese wine experts have been invited to the event and there will be a dinner and wine tasting for 70 brands of wine available in Vietnam for the first time.

"The idea is to highlight the geographical area where wine was invented and has been developed since, maybe for more than two thousand years," Marco Saladini, director of Italian Trade Commission from the Italian Embassy in Vietnam, said at the briefing.

Saladini said Vietnam could be an experiment for the tripartite cooperation, as all three countries want to spread awareness of their wines in other countries in the region as well.

"[Vietnam] is still a market in the making, so it's still an open ground for competition. We feel the heat, of course, of the competition, so we want to react to that," he said.

All three representatives, whose countries produce around half of the wine in the world, said they see big potentials for the wine market in Vietnam.

Not many Vietnamese people are drinking wine right now but they are giving wine as gifts "because it's special," Poli said.

"When you're looking at District 1, District 2, District 7 in Ho Chi Minh City, you see a lot of wine bars, wine shops opening in the last year or so. It is amazing, the pace of this opening," he said. "In 25 years...obviously [Vietnam] will drink a lot of wine."

But Poli said the winemakers did not want to change the country's drinking habits by pitting wine against other beverages that dominate the Vietnamese market.

"95-96 percent of what you drink every day is beer. So wine will not substitute beer. And you are making a lot of beer here, you're not making a lot of wine, so we're not competing. We are putting something new, on top."

According to the latest figures from Italian Trade Commission, France saw them highest wine export turnover in Vietnam in 2008, exporting nearly US$8.5 million worth of wine, or 27 percent of the market share. Italy accounted for 4 percent and Spain 2.6 percent.

"We feel that the situation is picking up and we are pretty satisfied with the results so far," Saladini said.

The representatives said that the fair will leave out "table wine" and focus on high quality wine only. He said the three countries  plan to expand the range of products in Vietnam after people get used to wine and raise the demand for high-quality bottle.

Poli said "Old World" producers initially lost market share to others that offered simple products. But he said consumers have begun to raise their quality demands.

"The whole of Asia is a new country for wine, new territory. What we see is that people are asking very quickly for quality.

"The implications are very good: Once you are used to drinking wine, you can determine, you can see the difference, and you ask for better quality," he said.

Saladini said "Consumers [in Vietnam] think that European wines are top of the line, which is true. But of course, we are the largest wine producers in general, in volume. Basically, there is everything, from super cheap to super expensive, and everything in between.

"So we are looking at enhancing the range a little bit here, so that our producers can compete in different segments of the market."

The major wine exporters also said they are not planning to produce wine in Vietnam.

"It's very difficult to grow wine here. Even in Da Lat is a bit difficult as well ["¦]  It's not the place for wine to grow," said Poli.

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