Wine: China et al

Emerging sales markets were identified as: Singapore, Czech Republic, Taiwan and United Arab Emirates, ahead of Vietnam, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.

New World producers from Australia, US and South Africa ranked India as their number one emerging market, almost certainly because of their British Commonwealth connections and English-speaking populations.

Loose told the conference delegates that the most sought-after wine origins to expand retailer portfolios were: Portugal, South Africa and Argentina.

Speaking at the conference, Castle Li, deputy general manager of COFCO Wines & Spirits Investment, the second largest producer in China after Changyu, the number one importer of wine and owner of the Greatwall Chinese wine brand, pronounces: “The Chinese market is most challenging with no dominant brand.”

He says matching wine with Chinese food is the “biggest opportunity”, but warns that much Chinese food is spicy and salty.

He lists his own Greatwall brand, along with rival Changyu, Château Lafite, Australia’s McGuigan and Chile’s Santa Rita as brands that are doing well in China. He adds: “For the past four years, Penfolds has been very successful.”

He points out that 90% of Chinese people regard wine as a luxury product, but he adds: “The Chinese learn quickly.”

He says 87% of Chinese wine drinking is dry red, followed by white (6%), sparkling (4.6%), champagne (1.6%) and rosé – “very small, very limited” – at 0.5%.

He says the keys to success with getting the Chinese to drink wine, are:

∙ western-style eating and consumption in the major cities, particularly the likes of Shanghai and Hong Kong

∙ being different

∙ a sense of the wine brands

∙ a willingness to learn about and understand tone

∙ culture

In going into his company speech, Li said COFCO’s Greatwall brand comes in five tiers to suit differing tastes and price bands. He said: “Consumption is already upgrading and starting to segment, simultaneously” and the company was working closely with “strategic customers and international hotels”.

His list for success is: a good product, precise positioning and a good distribution/sales channel.

Robert Joseph, the well-known wine writer, commentator and now winemaker (Languedoc – Le Grand Noir), opened the Prowine business summit and acted as moderator. His opening remarks were: “The Chinese are incredibly ahead, way ahead of many other countries.” He warned would-be suppliers that “too few people go into wine shops and people’s homes to see what they are doing and what they are drinking”. Easier said than done in the latter case.

A wine iconoclast, Jospeh went on to question the wine trade’s concentration on – or some might say obsession with – provenance, terroir and authenticity, many of the traditional cues for selling wine. He stressed the importance of labelling and branding in the first instance, then said if the liquid inside the bottle does not stand up to the branding, do not expect a second purchase.

Joseph related the story of Dave Phinney, who created a wine brand called Prisoner with a Goya print on the label. The actual wine and where it came from was incidental to consumers. The Prisoner Wine Company was sold for US$285m.