Wine bottles are displayed at a wine shopping event in October at the E-mart discount store in Yongsan, Seoul. (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)
But with the nationwide stay-at-home policies this year, combined with the coronavirus blues, more people are seeking the kind of excitement that the fruity alcoholic drinks can offer.
With the growing popularity of imported wine — mostly affordable wines from ever-diversifying regions, including Eastern Europe — a major shift in Koreans’ wine consumption pattern is underway. And the coronavirus-triggered stay-at-home culture is accelerating its arrival.
“Wine consumption in Korea has been picking up speed in light of the coronavirus,” Ko Jae-yoon, a professor of food and beverage management at Kyung Hee University, told The Korea Herald.
“People had to make their own dishes at home, while they get greater access to wines to pair them with homemade dishes as low-cost wines became all the rage in the market.”
Korean wine imports are expected to hit a new high this year. Wine imports came to $220.6 million for the first three quarters of 2020, up 15.3 percent on-year, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association. The figure amounts to more than 85 percent of all wine imports in 2019, which at $259.3 million holds the record so far.
By volume, Korea imported more than 37 million kilograms of bottled wine in the January-September period, up 13.7 percent on-year.
Even before the pandemic hit the world, prospects for the wine consumer market in Korea were rosy. According to ProWein, organizer of an international wine trade fair in Duesseldorf, Germany, in 2019, Korea was on its way to becoming the most attractive market for wine producers and exporters by 2022. It was followed by China, Hong Kong and Brazil.
Luxury no more
A myriad of choices — in terms of the grape and soil differences as well as the regional and climatic varieties — have often left aspiring wine buyers and learners frustrated. As each choice carried a hefty price tag, Korean consumers were inhibited from taking the first step.
But now, wine is at its most accessible since 1987, when the country opened its doors to wine imports. A bottle of wine can even be cheaper than a cup of coffee since new varieties began to hit the shelves of Korea’s supermarkets, warehouse shops and even convenience stores.
However, consumer awareness of wines did not happen overnight.
Customers line up to buy wine bottles at a wine shopping event in October at the E-mart discount store in Yongsan, Seoul. (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)