If California were a nation, it would constitute the fourth-largest wine producing country on Earth, right behind France, Italy and Spain.
In fact, the most populous state in the United States and third-largest in terms of geography produces nearly two billion liters of wine each year, accounting for more than 90 percent of that country’s annual output.
And about 25 percent of California’s viticulture output is sold overseas, particularly in Europe, Asia and Canada.
But California wines in Mexico are not nearly as popular as in other parts of the world.
It’s not that Mexicans don’t consume imported wines.
They just don’t consume much California wine.
Last year, of the four million cases of wine sold in Mexico, about a third was from domestic production and the balance was from foreign imports.
About two-thirds of those imports were from Europe and the balance from other wine producing regions, especially Chile, Argentina and Australia.
Per capita wine consumption in Mexico is also low, about .4 gallons per year, compared to two gallons in the United States and 15 gallons in France.
While California sold more than $1.6 billion in wine exports in 2016, Mexico accounted for barely $26 million of that total.
So, in order to help boost sales in Mexico, the Golden State’s Wine Institute (CWI) last month hosted a one-day Grand Tasting symposium of California wines showcasing more than 25 premium estates and representing nearly 100 labels, at the Centro Asturiano in Colonia Condesa.
Mexican buyers, restauranteurs, sommeliers and trade media were invited to sample and explore wines from across 138 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) during the trade show, and the overall response was positive.
But exactly how much difference it will make in helping to increase sales of Californian wines in Mexico remains to be seen.
The California Wine Institute has been hosting these types of symposiums for the nearly a decade now, and sales of the state’s wines in Mexico have shown a small uptick in the last few years.
Meanwhile, overall wine sales in Mexico has doubled in the last decade and wine has become the aspirational beverage of Mexico’s growing middle class.
But, at present, the California share of the Mexican market is woefully low, about 4 percent, according to CWI figures.
(Spanish wines represent the largest share of imported wines in Mexico in terms of value, although in terms of volume, Chilean wines are ranked number one.)
Part of the reason for the dismal Mexican sales is a 20-percent retaliatory tariff that the Mexican government slapped on U.S. wines in 2009 because of a trucking dispute.
And while that tariff was rescinded two years later, the stigma of the grueling tax negatively affected sales of U.S. wines in Mexico long after it was lifted.
But there is also a lack of awareness and appreciation of California wines in Mexico.
Mexicans are accustomed to drinking Spanish, French and Chilean wines, but Californian and other U.S. wines are still unfairly disparaged by many local consumers.
Moreover, because California’s export wines tend to be premium, they are usually more expensive than their European or South American counterparts, making them less attractive to beginner wine aficionados.
But CWI officials insist that as Mexican wine consumers are becoming more sophisticated, they are beginning to turn more to Californian wines.
“It is just a matter of getting people in Mexico to know more about wines from California,” said Geoff Kruth, president of the U.S. Guild of Sommeliers, who offered a guided tasting seminar during the symposium.
“Once people taste them, they are usually impressed, and they keep coming back for more.”
Still, with bilateral relations between the United States and Mexico at an all-time low with Donald J. Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto duking it out over immigrants, trade and a proposed border wall, there is no guarantee that that is going to happen.
Moreover, Mexico’s own wine industry is booming, and the urge to “comprar nacional” has taken a bite out of imports in a slew of sectors, including wine.
Consequently, Californian wineries may have to wait a while longer to win back their terroir in the Mexican market.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]