Cuyahoga Falls wine guy Joe Zaucha has uncorked the Chinese market, selling 84 cases of one of his popular vintages to an exporter.
But Zaucha has no vineyards — locally or anywhere — from which to supply what could become a big customer base.
So what gives?
Zaucha, who operates as JZ Wine Co., is a wine negociant. That means he cuts deals with vineyards and winemakers on the West Coast and elsewhere to get his wines.
“This can potentially be big,” said Zaucha, whose company is a one-man operation. “This potentially is the biggest wine market in the world. And they do like sweet wines.”
The JZ wine being sold in China — via a California company that exports wine — is a sweet “ice wine style” wine. Zaucha can’t call the Frost Bitten Ice Riesling an “ice wine” because that term refers to grapes picked when they are frozen on the vine. He uses grapes that are frozen after they are picked.
At $11.99 a bottle, it sells for considerably less than many traditional ice wines.
Zaucha said the wine may fetch $40 to $50 a bottle in China — less than what traditional U.S. ice wines go for in that country.
A representative of Vinodine of California — which says it provides “American wine for a modern China” — contacted Zaucha after a Google search.
Zaucha suspects that Vinodine was attracted to the Frost Bitten Ice Riesling because it scored 90 points of 100 points in Wine Spectator magazine and is relatively inexpensive.
“Even if this comes in at $40 to $50 a bottle — that’s still less that what they are paying for regular ice wine in China.”
Confidentiality agreements prevent Zaucha from revealing the companies that make his wine. Winemakers have their own labels and “don’t want to compete against themselves,” Zaucha said.
His other selections include Pizza Vino Pinot Noir and Pizza Vino Cabernet Sauvignon, which sell for $9.99.
He also offers the pricier JZ Selections Lot No. 1, a Pinot Noir, which goes for $17.99. Zaucha is quick to point out that this is roughly half what the same wine goes for under the winemaker’s label.
Zaucha started his company in 2005. That was after the wine import company where he worked cut back its staff. He was a regional manager.
Zaucha, whose wine is sold in Ohio and several other states, thought his first out-of-country sale would be to Canada. Distributors there “were actually not very receptive to the Frost Bitten Ice Riesling since they’re known for their true ice wine.”
The Chinese deal came with lots of paperwork and other hurdles.
That’s where Vinodine’s experience came in handy, Zaucha said.
“I said I’d be willing to help with the paperwork, but some of this is way over my pay grade,” Zaucha said, chuckling.
So was it worth it to sell fewer than 90 cases?
“If this is the only sale to China, then the answer is probably no,” Zaucha said. “But with the opportunity to sell more ... this could be big.”
Zaucha said that Frost Bitten Ice Riesling fans in Ohio, meanwhile, have said “Don’t sell it all to China.”
Not to worry, he said, “Ohio will get its allocation first” of the 2012 vintage, and he’s planning to release a 2013 vintage.
Locally, JZ wines are sold at Acme, Giant Eagle, Heinen’s, Krieger’s Market in Cuyahoga Falls and Kirbie’s Family Meats & Catering in Stow, among other stores.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.