California wineries eye Cuba for new business

Posted: 15-Feb-16 14:52

California wineries hope to capitalize off Cuba in the latest sign of economic reform between the two countries. Recently around 100 wine exporters, distributors and producers from California visited the country, hoping to reintroduce a product to area restaurants that hasn't been imported in more than a decade.

California wineries eye Cuba for new business

Just 90 miles off the U.S. coast, some California wine distributors, producers and exporters are hoping to cash in with future sales. Recently, around 100 of them visited Cuba as part of an effort to originate new interest in California wines in the region.

When the two countries agreed to scale back on economic restrictions at the end of 2014 it opened the door to new possibilities. With more and more Americans traveling to Cuba the country has seen a boost in certain businesses, particularly thousands of new restaurants catering towards an American clientele. While once the country mostly served up locally brewed beer and sweet rum, some Californians hope to supplement that with California cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and zinfandel.

The California Wine Institute was the force behind the recently held California Wine Symposium in Cuba. The two-day event included meetings between Cuban restaurant owners, state officials and U.S. businessmen, as well as talks and wine tastings. It also brought in around 50 local owners, plus state-run restaurant sommeliers and buyers.

Currently, Cuba imports in excess of 350,000 cases of wine each year from other countries that allow for sales on credit. Until recently that was against the law for Americans. In 2005 the island nation stopped bringing tin California wine because a U.S. trade embargo prevented Cubans from buying it from American producers on credit.

Just within the past week or so President Obama made an executive action allowing sales on credit for most goods to Cuba but it will be up to Congress to lift the credit ban on farm products. Right now, just a handful of Cuban government agencies can import goods, making it difficult for private businesses to purchase large quantities. There is not a legal wholesale market for wine in the country as of yet.

Despite this, Cuban business owners and representatives remain hopeful for the future. Julio Valdes of Five Corners Trattoria tells the Associated Press,

“It doesn’t matter to me if a private person or the state does the importing. What matters is that there’s somewhere to buy this wine. It’s important for us to have a variety for our clients. Right now we have Chilean, Italian and Spanish wine that we buy in stores bit by bit.”

Meanwhile, a 76-percent increase in U.S. tourism to Cuba in 2015 alone could drive the demand for products such as California wine even higher.


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