In 5 years, the world's top winemaker?

Updated: 2013-12-06 12:57

By Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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Although Chinese consumers didn't really develop a taste for Western wine until a couple of decades ago, China is predicted to become the biggest wine producer within five years, according to the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

Researcher Boris Petric, an anthropologist at CNRS, believes China will double its vineyard capacity in the next five years, which means China will produce more wine than any other country by 2018.

"China has become the fifth-largest wine producer in the world in a few years and its vineyards totaled almost 600,000 hectares in 2012. Given the number of projects in progress, we can reasonably think that China will be the first vineyard in the world in area and volume within five years," Petric told China Daily in an e-mail.

"China does have the potential to be the world's largest wine producer in the next five to seven years, as long as there is continued regional government support to plant new vineyards and expand winery operations," said Liz Thach, professor of wine business and management at Sonoma State University. "At this time, there does appear to be much support for this."

Thach points to the Ningxia wine region, which produced the wine that won the 2011 Decanter Red Bordeaux Varietal International Trophy and has just announced plans to expand from 38 wineries to 70 in the next few years.

Linsey Gallagher, international marketing director for the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, said the majority of wine consumed in China - 85-to-90 percent - is domestically produced, but, "as the domestic wine market grows in China, so too does the market for imported wine," she said.

"Therefore, as China increases its production, both in terms of quantity and quality, this bodes well for imported wines, particularly new world wines like those from California, as it expands the overall wine market in China," she added.

According to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, a delegation of 60 California wineries - representing 110 brands and 32 American Viticultural Areas - exhibited at the ProWine China 2013 Trade Fair in Shanghai last month. Gallagher said the response from the delegation was overwhelmingly positive.

"Many vintners reported finding potential importers during the show," she said.

"We are working hard to insure that wines from California are the imported wines of choice and in Chinese consumers' consideration sets when they select an imported wine," Gallagher added.

California accounts for nearly 90 percent of US wine production. Its exports to China totaled $74 million in 2012, up 18 percent from 2011. For the first six months of 2013, California wine exports to China totaled nearly $34 million, up 7 percent from the prior year.

As California wine exports to China continue to rise, Napa Valley-based Yao Family Wines, founded by former Chinese NBA star Yao Ming in 2011, has been along for the ride.

Tom Hinde, president and director of winemaking at Yao Family Wines, said they were happy with how their wines are selling in China. The label sells throughout the Chinese wine market, including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macao.

"The largest wine producing countries tend to also be the largest wine consuming countries," Hinde said. "China is going to be a leading consumer and a leading producer."

"We believe that the opportunity for Yao Family Wines is very good," he said. "As consumers learn more, we will be a nice addition to their domestic and imported options."

Some experts suggest that China's growing attraction to wine production may lead Chinese consumers to drink more made-in-China wines, rather than imports.

Mike Veseth, editor of the blog Wine Economist, said this could happen, especially in the lower cost basic wine category.

"In the premium and super-premium categories, on the other hand, a rising tide lifts all boats," Veseth said. "The good news for California wineries is that 'Brand California' is rising in China and this bodes well for the future."

Veseth said although he is not convinced that China can become the world's largest wine producer in the next five years, he would not be surprised if it were to surpass France and Italy at some point in the future.

"While the growth in the quantity of Chinese wine production is very noteworthy, I am more impressed with what I see as a rise in quality among the best producers," he said.

(China Daily USA 12/06/2013 page11)