By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT
Arriving in Milan in 1970, it became apparent to Neil and Maria Empson that few, if any, of Italy’s wonderful wines they were discovering ever reached the merchants abroad.
Much of Italy’s finest wine did not even get beyond the border. The Italians were insular, they observed, content with a market sufficient to eventually absorb their production.
Consequently, Neil Empson Selections was formed and many small scale producers persuaded to part with some of their vinous gems. In so doing, Neil and Maria established a rapport with their growers of mutual esteem and trust, which with time, blossomed into friendship.
Twenty-five years later, the company is at the forefront of adding new producers to their portfolio.
To cater to an ever increasing demand for quality wines in America, Empson (U.S.A.), Inc. was formed in 1992, in Alexandria, VA. With warehouses in both New Jersey and California. Empson (U.S.A.), through its network of the distributors, delivers wine to any corner of the market within days.
The Empson aim, as stated on the company website, has been and always will be, to provide first-class service, supreme quality of product, with emphasis on maximizing the product/value ratio and continuity of supply to clients worldwide.
The Empson story certainly depicts how personal the wine business can be. But wine is big biggues, and Italy is the largest source of imported wine to the United States followed by Australia, Chile, then France.
In fact, statistics gathered by the National Association of Beverage Importers (NABI) in Washington, D.C., indicate that between April 1 and June 30, 2010, the United States imported 60,917,000 proof liters of wine from Italy, compared to 49,271,000 proof liters from Australia, 29,263,000 proof liters from Chile, and 20,524,000 proof liters from France.
One year earlier at that same time period, Australia took the lead with 60,057,000 proof liters compared to 50,454,000 proof liters from Italy. Chile weighed in at 33,861,000 proof liters, and France, 33,861,000 proof liters.
In the sparkling wine category, which includes champagne, Italy also takes the lead. From April 1 to June 30, 2010, the United States imported 4,253,000 proof liters of sparkling wine from Italy compared to 3,893,000 proof liters from France, and 2,564,000 proof liters from Spain. A year earlier at that same time, Italy also had the lead at 3,467,000 proof liters; France, second, at 2,614,000 proof liters; followed by Spain at 2,103,000 proof liters.
“Sparkling wines, particularly the Proseccos, are growing in popularity in the United States, whereas champagne out of France is steady or even at a decline,” says Geoff Giovanetti, managing director of the Wine and Spirits Shippers Association (WSSA), based in Reston, VA. “At one time there was a big market for Asti Spumantes and other sparkling wines in the Midwest, not to say that they are not sold on the East Coast.”
Italian Wine Logistics
Wine comes from a host of regions all over Italy, particularly those north of Rome as well as Sicily.
Given the high price of airfreight, most of the wine is transported by steamship lines with the rare exception of special promotions/orders.
While some of the wine still is transported to the United States in bulk, today the majority comes in palletized containers.
Steamship lines that call on Mediterranean ports include China Shipping, CMA-CGM, Hapag Lloyd, Evergreen, K-Line, Maersk, MSC, Yang Ming, and Zim. Zim’s Mediterranean Gulf Express (MGX), for example, calls at the Italian ports of Cagliari, Livorno, Genoa, and the U.S. ports of Savannah, Port Everglades, and Houston.
The ships that carry goods loaded from Italy’s major seaports generally call on the U.S. seaports servicing the biggest population centers. Hence, the Port of New York/New Jersey handles the largest number of Italian wine imports – somewhere around 40 percent, estimates Giovanet