Many wine drinkers in India, the latest target of the Washington State Wine Commission's marketing efforts, can't find Washington on a map. But spokesman Ryan Pennington says the state's growers aren't daunted by potential fans' weak grasp of geography.
"To be honest, that's sometimes the case in the U.S. as well," Pennington says.
Winemakers next month will travel to Mumbai and Delhi to host a series of trade tastings and wine dinners featuring 75 Washington wines. According to a commission release, the event is "the largest showcase of any single region to come to India this year."
According to Pennington, the goal of the trip is to spark long-term relationships "so when instead of 700 wineries, we're 2,000 wineries, and people need to find a home for their products outside the Northwest," winemakers can look to India.
Canada is currently the state's leading export market, but Washington wines are well-established in Japan and northern Europe. The commission hopes to emulate its success in India, projected to be the world's most populous country within the next two decades.
"India is one of the most exciting emerging markets for wine globally," Pennington says. "The market there has developed very quickly, based on the rapid expansion of luxury resorts for travelers and the growing middle-class."
While the current rage for red wine in China has captured much of the press devoted to overseas wine markets, Pennington says orthodox tastes there make it hard for new world winemakers to develop a following. Chinese drinkers are devoted to Bordeaux, annually downing more than 18 million bottles of the pricy French wine.
"The landscape in India is much more open-minded," Pennington says.
India presents a different set of challenges. More than 13 percent of Indians are members of the Muslim faith, which observes a prohibition on alcohol.
"That's certainly a factor," Pennington concedes. "But when the travel market is growing, it somewhat mitigates local cultural concerns."
Although commission representatives will spend only five days in India, the marketing initiative will continue after the Washington winemakers return home, Pennington says.