Although it costs U.S. consumers more now to buy European wine due to the dollar's decline, U.S. wineries find the currency-exchange rate is an advantage with their exports to Europe.
PHILADELPHIA — For eight years, Moore Bros. Wine did a brisk business selling a 12-bottle mixed case of French, German and Italian wines for $100.
That price is history. A 35 percent decline in the value of the dollar vs. the euro since 2002 made the promotion unsustainable, said Gregory Moore, president of the Pennsauken, N.J., wine retailer.
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“You can’t lose a little bit on every sale and make it up on volume,” he said.
The price for the mixed case, which comes in a special box with tasting notes and anecdotes about the wine-makers, increased to $125 at the end of January; Moore Bros. sold 1,200 of them at $100 in December.
Yet while the dollar’s decline has contributed to an increase in the price of imported wines here, it also has created a window of opportunity for domestic wineries, by making U.S. wines more affordable overseas.
California, which produces 90 percent of U.S. wine, exported an estimated 39.2 million cases last year, a 22 percent increase from 2003, said Gladys Horiuchi, spokeswoman for the Wine Institute in San Francisco.
The favorable exchange rate was a big factor. “We also had some terrific vintages in 2001 and 2002,” Horiuchi said.
California is by far the biggest wine producer in the United States and its production of 3 million tons of wine grapes put it well ahead of second-place Washington, which produced 100,000 tons, and third-place New York, which produced 41,000 tons, according to 2001 figures compiled by the Washington Wine Commission.
Tomasello’s Winery in Hammonton, N.J., typically exports 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year of its cranberry, blueberry and other specialty wines, mainly to South Korea and Taiwan, and has not yet boosted that number. Asian currencies have held fairly steady vs. the dollar.
But the weakness of the dollar versus the euro spurred Jack Tomasello, who operates the winery with his brother Charlie, to visit potential customers in Britain recently.
“It’s probably the best time ever to try to export to the EU or the U.K.,” Tomasello said.
The 33 wineries in New Jersey sold a total of $36 million worth of wine — nearly all of it in the United States — in 2003, according to the National Association of American Wineries. Pennsylvania’s 99 wineries produced $25 million worth of wine that year.
Despite the dollar’s weakness, the U.S. trade deficit in wine has continued to increase, although the rate slowed to a virtual standstill last year: In 2004, as in 2003, the United States imported $2.6 billion worth of wine more than it exported.
European wine producers have partly offset the dollar’s impact by eating some of the difference. At a time when there is an oversupply of wine on the market, they fear accelerating their losses in market share, caused in recent years by rising competition and a shift in tastes toward easy-drinking bargain wines.
So while the dollar’s value fell by about a third, the price of that case of imports at Moore Bros. went up by only 25 percent.
“Many suppliers are not taking their prices up and are selling at break-even to stay in the game,” said Jonathan Newman, chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which uses its clout as one of the world’s largest wine buyers to get good deals.
The upper limit is $15 for what most people will spend on a bottle of wine, according to Jim Weinrott, president of Sussex Wine Merchants. His company used to have 60 to 70 products in that range that sold well, but the weak dollar has changed that.
“Our business has grown, but we’re selling more of fewer products,” Weinrott said.
Some wine-makers are redesigning products to keep them under the $15 barrier.
Moore said a French wine-maker he had worked with since starting Moore Bros. in 1996 had done that with one of its wines — using a less expensive production process — to be able to sell it for $14 instead.
Such maneuvers have helped keep wine flowing to the United States from the fabled vineyards of France, but the country is losing ground in the U.S. market — in part because of lingering resentment over the country’s refusal to back the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Seattle Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this report.