German winemakers eye bigger Vietnam market share

Hanoi- Germany's winemakers are stepping up efforts to promote their wines in the booming Vietnamese wine market, as the country's grape lovers still overwhelmingly opt for French or New World wines.

Vintners Ullrich Langguth and Hans Lang of Mo-Rhe-Na Wine Export Association, a private German company based in the Mosel, Rhine and Nahe regions visited Vietnam recently to promote their products.

"This is very much of a beginning. We only exported 2,000 to 3,000 bottles last year," company president Langguth said. "We're testing the market." Mo-Rhe-Na started exports to Vietnam only a year ago.

Langguth and Lang travelled to the former imperial city of Hue, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City in Hanoi, holding training sessions and wine tastings at luxury hotels such as Hanoi's Horison Hotel and La Residence in Hue.

The Asian country's wine market is rapidly expanding. "Last year there was a 100-per-cent growth (of my imports)," said Donald Berger of the Vine Group, a wine importer who runs a restaurant in Hanoi, with an award-winning wine list.

Most Vietnamese, however, still plump for French reds and, increasingly, New World wines, predominantly from Australia and Chile. Berger's company imported only 200 cases of German wine last year. Most sold to the expatriate community.

"I think a lot of New World countries are taking up a market share. People here prefer a Sauvignon Blanc to a Riesling or Chardonnay," Berger said.

Germany's market share was minute, Roger Gaffney, General Manager of Warehouse, a wine import company, agreed.

French reds would continued to dominate, he said.

"Red wine leads the market, and most of that is French. The most popular is Bordeaux, Gaffney said. "The French have been here so long that they've instilled into people that wine is red, and Bordeaux."

France was ousted from its former colony Vietnam in 1954, but some vestiges of its rule lingered. French coffee remains popular, and baguettes continue to be sold in wide parts of the country.

Despite the popularity of reds, many acknowledge that white wines, especially versatile German Rieslings, are in fact a better match for Vietnamese food.

"The best white wines to have with Vietnamese food are those dry to semi-dry white wines because they compliment the food so well. Red is the worst thing you can have," Gaffney said.

"German wines go very well with Vietnamese food. It's a grape variety that has so much potential for this market," Berger added.

Wild Lotus restaurant manager, Nguyen Tuan Ngoc, however, prefers to pair reds with Vietnamese fare.

"The Vietnamese prefer red wine," he said. "And Vietnamese food matches red wine quite well. We only sell white wine to foreigners."

But things are moving. In February, the restaurant held a reception for the German embassy. "They brought some German wine to the restaurant and it was really very nice," Ngoc said. So nice that it convinced him to include one German Riesling on the wine list, but ordering only six bottles to start with.

Even the Hanoi Goethe Institute's restaurant, has only one German wine on its menu.

Despite increased knowledge of wine in Vietnam, the push to increase the German market share will take time.

"German wines have not been available before," a cautiously optimistic Langguth said. "It is a new venture." (dpa)