Free trade opens up wine sales for Korea

SEOUL, South Korea

The president hopes the free deal with South Korea will help sell Chevy's in Seoul, but in the Napa Valley, another possible economic boom is seen in wine sales. California farms and vineyards already ship $280 million in exports to South Korea, and UC Davis predicts that could double.

The agreement between the two countries brings the price of Napa Valley wine down for 50 million potential customers.

One impressive Napa Valley wine collection is located in the Podo Plaza Winetime store in Seoul, South Korea. ABC7 went to the store was given a tour by Johnathan Yi and Sean Shin, who work with Dana Estates in both the Napa Valley and at the Vinga wine bar located inside the Podo Plaza wine resource center in Seoul.

Their company is one of the largest distributor importers of American wines in the world, especially Napa Valley wine. Koreans generally want California wines, but the tariffs for such wines are 65 percent.

A bottle of Duckhorn Merlot costs $160 in Seoul; in California, the same bottle goes for $65.

The owner of the company commutes between Napa and Korea, and said his passion for California wine led him to create his own Napa winery called Dana Estates. His 2007 vintage cabernet soared 100 points from wine expert Robert Parker. He's using that Napa Valley expertise to create a brand-new market in South Korea.

Korea has come a long way since the war ended in 1953. Chairman Lee's father owned a flour and rice milling company that helped feed Koreans after the war.

Now the company feels the modern, wealthy South Korea is ready for wine time.

"In order to introduce a new need to educate the public," Yi said.

So Lee's company built the wine resource center in Seoul, complete with guest lectures from wine experts and cooking classes. There, they learn about how to order food with certain wines and how that food is prepared.

"California could be, in the U.S. the largest state in terms of exports and trade," Lee said.

Former Prime Minister and Ambassador Dr. Lee Hong-Koo believes California would benefit quickly from the free trade agreement.

"I think the reputation of California wine is really great here, and the Koreans in the last 10 years or so really developed a taste," Hong-Koo said.

The International Trade Commission estimates that cuts in tariffs between the United States and South Korea will increase exports by $10 billion to $11 billion every year.

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