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U.S.-China trade war hitting Colorado wine growers

Xinhua by Peter Mertz23/08/2019  

Perhaps Colorado's best-kept secret is the North Fork River Valley (FRV), located in a remote central part of western Colorado, a place perfect for growing wine grapes.

With its natural irrigation, rich bottomlands and mild climate, the verdant river valley is perfect for growing quality wine grapes, where Colorado vineyards win national awards.

Even though the Rocky Mountain State produces a tiny volume of wine compared to industry giant California, growers are feeling the trade war pinch and seem to stand in unison supporting their embattled west coast comrades.

"Totally backwards and destructive to the industry," said Colorado wine grower Alfred Peterson, of the trade war's impact on American vineyards.

According to WineAmerica, a Washington D.C.-based group that represents wineries across America, the industry's total contribution to the U.S. economy in 2017 was around 220 billion U.S. dollars. California produces about 85 percent of the wine made in America.

The United States, the fourth largest wine producer in the world, exported 1.46 billion dollars' worth of wine last year, over 90 percent of which is from California.

With China only the fifth-largest importer of American vino, industry insiders told Xinhua that producers are missing out on untold sales to China's burgeoning, thirsty middle class of 300 million people.

Since last April, growers from Australia and Chile have been licking their chops and seen China sales skyrocket as buyers in the world's most populous nation turn to more affordable brands.

"It hasn't affected smaller wineries, but it has hit the industry hard," said Colorado wine grower Ty Gillespie. "They're very worried," he told Xinhua.

U.S. global exporters view China as a barely tapped opportunity -- one that now is slipping from their grasp.

The Colorado wineries may be small and the distance far, but China and the remote Rockies have been connected by the tariff tat.

"Totally prohibitive," Peterson said of the Sept. 1 expected tariff hike that will "eventually hit us as well."

On the southwestern foothills of Grand Mesa, the largest "flat-top" mountain in the world, Peterson and his wife Pam ran the Puesta del Sol vineyard in 1995 and in 1998.

Today, his operation produces 2,000 cases a year of high-quality Pinot Noir as well as "Syrah & Bordeaux style blends," the Alfred Eames Cellars website said.

As a state, Colorado is one of the fastest-growing wine areas in the country, and most of its wineries are situated at around 6,500 feet in the foothills of Grand Mesa, on the state's "Western Slope."

"Our volume has jumped to 12,000 a year -- up 3,000 cases in just the past two years," said Carlson Vineyard co-owner Cailin Portra, whose vineyard is located to the north of Grand Mesa near the Utah border city of Grand Junction.

Portra told Xinhua that Colorado's Western Slope wineries have recently seen great growth and recognition, especially ones surrounding Grand Mesa.

Now, Peterson has to pay an additional 800-dollar "tariff tax" on his glass bottle order from China.

"I tried to order bottles from a U.S. manufacturer, but they were twice as expansive and the quality was not good," he said.