New Chinese wine drinkers typically gravitate towards French imports, but rising sophistication is starting to buoy imports from other countries
Though domestic plonk still accounts for over two-thirds of China's booming wine market, valued at 75 billion yuan (roughly US$10 billion) in 2009, imports -- particularly of French reds -- saw a 60 percent surge in the first six months of 2011. As the always excellent Grape Wall of China blog reports this week, continuing its long-time dominance of the imported wine market in China, France raced ahead this year, sending 5.5 million cases of wine (a 71.2 percent increase year on year) to thirsty Chinese consumers. According to the blog, France currently accounts for 48.1 percent of market share in the Chinese imported wine market, but new figures suggest that the country shouldn't rest on its laurels, as imports from Spain, Italy and Chile have ballooned this year.
Spain, Italy, and Chile currently account for a combined 23.2 percent of import market share in China, only around half of that enjoyed by France, but the evolving tastes (and growing thirst) of China's young emerging middle class -- who are perhaps less resolutely fixated upon French wine than older, richer buyers -- is presenting opportunities for other European (or New World) wineries. Though Australian and American imports sagged to "only" around 22 percent growth in 1H 2011, Italy, Spain and Chile imports grew 78.8 percent, 88.5 percent, and 62.7 percent, respectively. This is interesting because unlike Italy and Spain, which are more readily associated with deep historical wine culture and have had a more long-term presence in the China market, Chile continues to power ahead.
In recent years, the presence of Chilean wine in China has been mostly restricted to bulk imports, often blended with domestic wine by Chinese producers, but now -- much like Australian and, to a lesser extent, American bottles -- it's moving up the value chain. According to China Customs, Australia ranks higher than France in terms of declared value per bottle, though the latter is catching up year by year.