Three-Year French Campaign To Educate China’s Wine Newbies

French Agriculture Ministry To Send 400 Types Of Wine From 12 Regions

Image: The Drinks Business

As if France’s dominance of the imported wine market in China wasn’t absolute enough, this week the French Agriculture Ministry announced plans to launch a three-year campaign aimed at introducing Chinese wine drinkers to 400 types of wine from 12 regions all over France. Though wine lovers at the high end are moving beyond their long-time fixation on Bordeaux and spending tens of thousands on rare bottles from Burgundy at auction in Hong Kong, China’s “greenhorn” drinkers often know (or can afford) little beyond domestic plonk or lower-end French reds. Through a series of events through 2015, including educational courses, wine tasting parties and French cuisine courses, France hopes Chinese drinkers will soon expand their knowledge of French wines, beyond simply Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne and including Alsace, Beaujolais, Corse, Jura and Savoie, Languedoc Roussillon, Provence, Sud-Ouest, the Loire Valley (Jing Daily coverage) and Cotes du Rhone.

Currently, China is the world’s fifth largest importer of French wine, in terms of both volume and value. Last year saw French wine imports in mainland China skyrocket 75.5 percent, while Hong Kong — the world’s top wine auction market — recorded an increase of 36.4 percent, though much of the French wine sold in Hong Kong was resold in the Mainland. Still, consumer education remains at the beginner stage, with much of the highest wine segment purchased more for collecting or gift-giving than personal consumption and the reputation of some top-tier French wines like Chateau Lafite heavily damaged by rampant counterfeiting. As Torsten Stocker wrote in his Jing Daily column earlier this week: “in spite of sustained double-digit growth, wine’s share of total alcohol consumption (3 percent in China vs. 18 percent globally) and per capita consumption (0.7L/yr vs. 3.5L/yr globally) remain low, and much of the wine consumed each year in China is during a limited number of occasions.”

Recognizing the opportunity presented by a growing Chinese middle class, as well as the challenges involved in educating consumers to look beyond the most famous “brand name” wines, explore different regions, and experiment more with white and sparkling wines, France’s wine organizations (and now its government) have been — and likely will continue to be — some of the most motivated in terms of proactively reaching out to interested drinkers in China. Now the question remains whether their efforts will be outdone by those of other wine-producing countries like Italy — whose Sommelier Association plans to establish wine schools in Beijing and Shanghai — or the US, which recorded a 42 percent increase in wine exports to China last year.

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