If China isn't soon drinking Oakland wines, don't blame it on Jean Quan.
By all accounts, Oakland's mayor turned into a sales dynamo during the last leg of a jam-packed trade mission to China with Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin, City Council President Larry Reid and other port officials.
After meetings and tours of seaports and airports in Beijing and Shenzhen, during which Quan did her best to promote the port for exports to China and to market Chinese investment in Oakland's airport, seaport and hotels, the group took the ferry to Hong Kong. That's where Quan really made good on her promise to promote the small boutique wineries that have come to favor Oakland's urban vibe.
First she visited the Hong Kong Convention and Exposition Centre in Hong Kong where Oakland's Dashe Cellars had a booth at the wine and spirits HOFEX 2011 food and hospitality trade show.
Next the group stopped at the new California Vintage wine bar on Wyndham Street in Hong Kong. California Vintage is a business launched by a group of California wineries, including a couple from Alameda, but none from Oakland.
Quan, Oakland booster that she is, did everything she could to change that. By prior arrangement with the wine bar's managers, Quan had a case or two of wine donated by JC Cellars, Dashe and Urban Legend, shipped ahead, and those bottles were uncorked at a private event for Hong Kong businesses and investors last Thursday. She was coy about which wines went over best.
"They really liked the red wines," Quan said. "It was very clear that those red wines were the favorites."
China is the largest client for U.S. agriculture, and the Port of Oakland handles about 90 percent of the California wine exports to China, which is a growing market for red wines. Quan said her group was able to order California red wines in restaurants on the trip, but there is fierce competition from Australia, Chile and France, which already have a foothold.
Quan said she was impressed by how organized the other countries were in uniting their exhibits at the trade show to make a larger marketing impact. By contrast, the few California wine and produce exhibitors were spaced out individually, and harder to find and identify. Quan said she plans to bring that up at the International Retail and Trade show in Las Vegas and other meetings.
"What struck me is that California agriculture and wines don't market like other countries," she said. "They should have marketed themselves collectively instead of one booth here and one booth there."
For the small Oakland wineries that are trying to crack the international market, the mayor's offer to promote their wines was a dream come true.
"We think it's great, and we're very pleased that (the mayor) is aware there are wineries in Oakland and very pleased that we could help out and showcase Oakland's potential for export business," said Steve Shaffer, who with Marilee Shaffer is a partner in Urban Legend Cellars on Fourth Street in Oakland. They sent a selection of seven wines, white and red.
"I happen to be prejudice and think we have the world's best grapes," he said.
"We're hoping to get some pictures back from the trip. I'd love to see some dignitaries in China drinking our wine."
Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars also thinks discerning Chinese wine lovers will be impressed with his offerings of Smoke and Mirrors blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and petite Syrah grapes, and appreciates the mayor's efforts to promote Oakland wineries.
"I'm excited to be part of it," he said.
Contact Cecily Burt at 510 208-6441.
Follow her on Twitter.com/csburt.