Winemakers push China sales at top Asian wine fair

May 28, 2012
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A man tastes wine during an auction in Hong Kong/AFP
HONG KONG, May 28 – Some of the world’s top wine producers will attend Asia’s biggest wine fair in Hong Kong this week, eyeing new consumers in the booming but still relatively untapped Chinese market.

Organisers of the Vinexpo Asia-Pacific trade fair expect demand for imported wine to weather the slowdown in Chinese economic growth, forecast to reach 7.5 percent this year compared with 9.2 percent in 2011.

“If the economy reduces speed they will not drink less. They might drink a little cheaper, but they won’t stop now that they have discovered wine,” Vinexpo chief executive Robert Beynat told AFP.

China is the world’s biggest drinker of spirits, with 995 million cases guzzled in 2010 — almost double the volume consumed in 2006, according to Vinexpo.

But the growth of spirit consumption is expected to slow as wine — especially expensive French imports — becomes more popular as a gift and as the drink of choice at banquets.

The average mainland Chinese drinker still only consumes 1.3 litres (0.34 US gallons) of wine a year, compared with 2.4 litres in Japan and 50 litres in France.

“In terms of consumption volume in Asia, it’s grown 100 percent in the past five years. When you look at the per-capita consumption, there’s a bright future,” Beynat said.

French wines still rule the Chinese market, accounting for around 45 percent of imports in terms of value, double the share of second-placed Italy.

Beynat said the statistic was typical of an emerging wine market. Like the Americans decades before them, new wine drinkers in China want French wines — the more expensive the better — to show off to their friends, he added.

The next challenge for the wine industry as a whole is to boost sales of more affordable wines, including locally produced vintages.

“That’s the challenge for the future, to explain to the Asians that there is good wine at every price,” Beynat said.

“For the Chinese, an imported wine has to be expensive. As they don’t know wine, there’s an enormous effort in information and education. They are at the beginning.”

Acker Merrall & Condit, a specialist wine auction house, said its sale of rare vintages in Hong Kong on Friday and Saturday set 55 new world records including 12 for Chateau Latour.

More than 1,000 lots, including a 1905 Chateau Latour and a 1947 Cheval Blanc, fetched a total of $9 million from collectors around the world.

Around 1,000 exhibitors are expected to attend the three-day Vinexpo at Hong Kong’s harbourside convention centre from Tuesday, the organisers said.

Thomas Jullien, the Bordeaux Wine Council’s Asia representative, who is based in the city, said producers from his region in France will be strongly represented.

“After six years of steep growth, the China wine market has firmly positioned itself as the main export market for Bordeaux wines,” he said.

Mainland Chinese customers bought 58 million bottles of Bordeaux wines worth 334 million euros ($420 million) last year, a 91 percent increase over the year before, he added.

Australian and New Zealand producers are also coming to Vinexpo in force, with a government-backed Australian pavilion expected to be one of the highlights.

“Asia continues to be an outstanding region for Australian winemakers, now representing approximately 20 percent of total value of exports globally,” Wine Australia’s Asia director Lucy Anderson said.

China and Hong Kong represent the third-largest export market for Australian wine by value, at more than Aus$268 million (US$262 million), according to official figures.

Exports of Australian wine valued at more than Aus$10 per bottle to mainland China leapt 62 percent over the past 12 months to 3.65 million litres.

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