Wine producers and US importers delay price increases

On 18 October, the US goverment imposed tariffs of 25% on French, German, Spanish and UK wines under 14% abv. Leslie Gevirtz discovers that wine producers and US wine importers won't raise their prices until after the New Year.

Wines from the PFV/Geert Teuwen Photography
Wines from the PFV/Geert Teuwen Photography

Weingut Egon Müller’s owner and winemaker was more concerned about the harvest that was underway than he was about the 25% tariffs that the US imposed on the vast majority of wines from Germany, France, and Spain earlier this month.
“My vineyards are in the Sarr in Germany and this is actually the middle of the harvest,” Egon Müller IV said at a gathering of the Primum Familiae Vini (PFV), in New York, called to introduce members of the PFV’s younger generation. The tariffs won’t apply to his celebrated Rieslings – at least not yet. 
“My ‘18s are already here,” he said. “They arrived in September. My ‘19s are being harvested and won’t be ready for another two years, and by then, who knows what will be?”
Fellow PFV member, Albiera Antinori smiled when she noted Italian wines were exempt from the tariffs – “but, of course, the cheesemakers are up in arms.” All of Italy’s cheeses from Grana Padano and Parmigiano-Reggiano to Gorgonzola and Mozzarella are subject to the additional duty.
Hubert de Billy, head of Champagne Pol Roger and the PFV, was positively joyful as his 2002 Sir Winston Churchill was poured for the 40 or so guests at Le Bernardin. Champagne, as well as other sparkling wines, is exempt from the tariffs.
And that exemption remains vital to at least one US importer’s success. Alice Loubaton of Loubaton Imports runs a small, New York-based firm that specialises in family-run French domaines. Her whole book is France.
“Luckily, Champagne is not affected by the tariffs—that would have been a disaster for me,” said Loubaton, who has more than 30 years in the wine business. She’s just hoping “the hype around ‘French wines getting more expensive’ will not make consumers think all French wines are too expensive and thus hurt holiday sales.”
She is not changing her prices “this holiday season…If the tariffs are still in place, I will probably have to take a price increase as of January 1st on the affected wines, but probably not for the full 25% - that would make my wines un-competitive and hurt sales.”
Good timing also smiled on less illustrious producers such as Cellier des Dauphins, the largest cooperative in the Rhône. The duties are crafted so they will not apply to wines over 14% abv, which means that Chateauneuf du Pape, Hermitage, and Gigondas will escape tariffs. But much of the Rhône will still face them. 
Fate smiled on Cellier des Dauphins’ winemaker, Laurent Paré who had arranged for the Rhône cooperative’s newest line to arrive in September, long before the tariffs were announced.
Like Loubaton, Victor Owen Schwartz of VOS Selections expects to hold prices through the year-end. Until then, he’ll be talking to his producers. Schwartz, who imports wines from 14 countries, estimated that “more than 50% of his products are affected” by the tariffs.

Leslie Gevritz

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