Japanese consumers are loyal fans of Washington State wines, with annual sales to Japan totaling more than $2.6 million last year. Helping to open the doors to this international marketplace are the hardworking efforts of a handful of winery owners and representatives, led by the Washington State Wine Commission who each year come together in Japan for Taste Washington trade and consumer tasting events.
On March 15, just days after the magnitude 8.9-9.0 earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan, the Washington Wine Commission and their entourage successfully completed the Taste Washington Japan 2011 trade event held at the Ritz Carlton in Osaka. Osaka is Japan’s third largest city and is located about 190 miles southwest of Tokyo. Due to the situation caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami however, the sold-out Taste Washington consumer tasting event in Tokyo planned for March 17th has been postponed.
Ryan Pennington, Public Relations Director for the Washington State Wine Commission commented to Tasting Room Magazine late yesterday, “A small contingent of winery representatives will be making their way home from Osaka this evening and tomorrow morning. The Taste Washington consumer event in Tokyo that was originally scheduled for this Thursday has been postponed to May 24th, due to conditions on the ground there.”
Tom Hedges of Hedges Family Estates was among the small group that participated at the Osaka trade show. After landing safely in Seattle today with his wife Anne-Marie, Tom Hedges told Tasting Room Magazine, “It was a good turnout at the trade show and the seminars were sold out.” He mentioned that a couple members of their group did head on to Tokyo in spite of the canceled event to conduct other business, but most others in their party returned home. Hedges said that while in Osaka he saw little visible disruption from the disaster, but did notice somebody monitoring “a radiation detector in the airport when we landed in Seattle.”
The Taste Washington event in Tokyo was scheduled to have 34 wineries represented. Among the winemakers/owners who traveled to Japan were Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges from Hedges Family Estate, Shannon Jones from Hestia Cellars and Butch Milbrandt and Gordon Hill from Milbrandt Vineyards, along with representatives from Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41 and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
Orca International, a distributor for Northwest wines in Japan who sold tickets for the event had this to say in a publicized letter a couple days ago: “With every passing day we are getting more news about the tragedy in Sendai and all of the affected areas. Our hearts go out to all those who have lost friends or family and we hope that the worst of this is over. We are all working hard to retain some sense of normalcy amid this horrible situation, however not all events will continue as planned. In accordance with the power conservation measures imposed by the Japanese government, we have received word that the Tokyo American Club will be closing at 6pm daily until further notice. Unfortunately this has forced the Washington Wine Commission to reschedule the Taste Washington consumer tasting schedule for Thursday, March 17th to Tuesday May 24, 2011.”