ASIA offers Western Australian winemakers a market ripe with potential, particularly for top-end produce, according to renowned wine critic James Halliday. Mr Halliday recently returned from an Austrade-sponsored visit to the region, during which WA's top drops were spruiked to potential distributors and wine writers from Taiwan and neighbouring China. "Clearly there are real opportunities even in the fairly gloomy, and exceedingly gloomy, times we're in for the niche marketing of top end wines across the whole jurisdiction of the whole of Asia," Mr Halliday told WA Business News. He believes now is the time for WA winemakers to take advantage of Asian markets in a manner similar to that used by Australian wines in the late 1980s when they took the UK by storm. "But no-one should think that all it's waiting for is a prince in gleaming armour to come thundering out on a horse, out of the forest and hey presto, you're going to have a wonderful market opening up for you; it's going to be hard work," Mr Halliday said. Export marketing manager for Constellation Wines Australia, James Wilson, agrees there are fantastic opportunities in the growing markets of Asia. "Asia is a huge place with a lot of different markets, some of which are a lot easier to sell to than others," Mr Wilson said. Constellation Wines owns five of WA's best-known wineries - Goundrey, Moondah Brook, Brookland Valley, Amberley Estate and Houghton. Houghton was among the wines Mr Halliday promoted during his trip. "China is the market that's on everyone's lips at the moment, but it's a very interesting market," Mr Wilson said. "Yes, there's a great opportunity but it's not easy. There are not a lot of good distributors there who have experience with premium wines." Mr Wilson believes that, as conditions get tougher as a result of the economic slowdown, he'll be looking more closely at these and other opportunities. "Australia's core export markets are outside of Asia and they're really suffering at the moment," Mr Wilson said. "The UK has shown negative growth for the first time in a long time and the US is not performing particularly well for Australian wine, so really, Asia is a region that I think everyone has got their eyes on to get more involved." In 2008, Asia accounted for 7 per cent of Australia's total wine export sales, but more importantly it was 11 per cent of the total value. And while all markets experienced a decline in volume, Asia recorded an 8 per cent value growth. Blair Hall, Asian export manager for the Fogarty Wine Group, which owns Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale and Deep Woods Estate in Margaret River, has already been knocking on doors. "We are considered up there as a very ultra premium product and they know they need to pay more for WA wines," Mr Hall said. "So we've got a good reputation but it's still about education, getting up there telling people who we are, where we're from and what we do."
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