Italian Winemakers Challenge French Dominance In China Market

Italian Sommelier Association To Establish Wine Schools In Beijing & Shanghai

Tuscany winemakers launched the online shop TasteIt earlier this year

Tuscany winemakers launched the online shop TasteIt earlier this year

For years, the most distinguishing factor of the Chinese imported wine market has been its sheer French-ness. As the Grape Wall of China blog noted last month, French wine currently enjoys more than half of China’s imported wine market share, with imports from France rising nearly 74 percent last year to 117.9 million liters, far ahead of competitors like Australia, South Africa and Portugal. But in recent years, along with new-world producers from the US, Chile and elsewhere, winemakers from a very old-world country, Italy, have been looking to chip away at France’s dominance in the increasingly lucrative China market. Since 2009, Italian imports in China have skyrocketed, tripling from 6.3 million liters in 2009 to 18.9 million last year, rising 68.2 percent year-over-year in 2011. This ranks Italy fourth, behind Spain, among imported wines in China. Still, with China importing 117.9 million liters of French wine last year, Italian winemakers have their work cut out for them.

To take on French producers, Italian wine merchants and winemakers are aiming for the gut in China, literally. As Fabio Carlesi, general manager of an Italian wine store in the Xintiandi neighborhood of Shanghai, told CRI this week, his sales philosophy is to “blend Italian wine culture with Chinese dining habits,” introducing his wines to customers through food pairings. Via CRI:

“Chinese diners should not only drink Italian wine when they have Italian food. We want Italian wine to accompany authentic Chinese dishes. When mentioning Chinese food, people think of Peking roast duck, stewed pork with brown sauce and various fish dishes. Italian wines are perfect matches for all these Chinese foods.”

Thanks to such operational ideas and successful promotions, Carlesi has seen his sales this year climb to 93 million U.S. dollars from 25 million dollars in 2009. He says he plans to have 100 franchised wine stores in China by 2013.

Another strategy currently underway in China to promote Italian wines is the establishment of wine training schools. Last month, the Italian Sommelier Association and University of Siena signed an agreement to launch two dedicated Italian wine schools in Beijing and Shanghai, which will award recognized sommelier diplomas. As these schools (and Italian winemakers) hope, graduates of these programs should become valuable advocates of Italian wine in China in the years ahead. As the wine merchant Carlesi noted, “At this moment, there are already 750 Chinese students studying Italian wine culture at the University of Siena. They, along with graduates from the two schools, will be future ambassadors spreading Italian culture in China. ”

Italian wineries have also turned to China’s burgeoning e-commerce market to reach new customers. Earlier this year, 18 winemakers from Tuscany set up a cooperative Chinese-language website, to educate consumers on the region and sell their products online.



Market Analysis, Tech