Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Australian winemakers tempt Chinese palates

By Victoria Thieberger  /  Reuters, MELBOURNE

A woman drinks white wine during the Chateau Haut Brion wine-tasting event in Beijing, China, on April 18, 2007.

Photo: Reuters

Australian winemakers are setting up replica cellar doors in China and running wine clubs and tastings as they intensify efforts to win Chinese buyers in a bid to offset shrinking demand in their traditional British and US markets.

The wealthy Chinese consumer, with a growing appetite for luxury brands, is the main target for premium winemakers such as Penfolds, which next month will launch a new wine, Special Bin 620, in Shanghai.

“We have never done a global launch like this outside of Australia before,” said Penfolds’ global brand manager, Sandy Mayo.

Bin 620 will sell in the same price range as Penfolds Grange Hermitage, widely considered Australia’s best wine, at more than A$550 (US$548) per bottle.

China has become the biggest market for Australian wine priced at more than A$10 a liter, a remarkable shift as Chinese tastes for imported wines grow. China imported more than US$1 billion worth of wine last year, up 61 percent from the year before.

Chinese imports in the A$10-plus range almost equaled those of the US and UK markets combined, according to data from government agency Wine Australia, selling in restaurants, hotels and gourmet supermarkets.

Australia’s bottled exports to China grew 32 percent to A$190 million last year, while exports to the US fell 20 percent and to the UK slumped 33 percent, hurt by a robust Australian dollar.

“Australian wines are gaining more and more popularity as they are mostly full of fruit and soft flavors and there is a lot of ‘flavor for your money’ as we say,” said Espen Harbitz, who runs the Australian--owned restaurant Capital M in Beijing.

However, the latest figures also show Australia has lost significant market share to France, which has long been the dominant player in Chinese bottled wine imports after pioneering efforts in the 1980s.

France supplies nearly half of China’s wine imports, while Australia’s share dropped to 16 percent last year from 20 percent, according to Chinese customs data.

To help boost sales, the French estates of Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton Rothschild have incorporated Chinese characters and designs into their labels, while Burgundy wine growers are running tours and wine tastings in China.

“As far as brands go, there is a clear dominance of French Bordeaux. But the reality is that most people cannot afford premium Bordeaux and will try a variety of other options,” Harbitz said.

The drop in share has prompted a broad new marketing push by Australian winemakers, from the world’s second-largest wine company, Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Penfolds, to boutique wineries nestled in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia.

Exports are critical to the Australian industry, which produced 1.1 billion liters of wine last year. Sales are down and another larger-than-expected harvest will add to oversupply.

One family-owned winery, Bird in Hand, has opened two stores in northeast China that replicate its Woodside Winery cellar door in the Adelaide Hills and include tasting rooms complete with original vines transported from Adelaide.

The first, which opened in Dalian in May, is located next door to a Ferrari showroom. It was followed in July by another cellar door in the coastal city of Yingkou, in the same northeastern province of Liaoning.

“Cellar doors are a new concept in those areas. China is the fastest-growing market for ultra-premium wine and it has got some terrific trends in growing consumption,” Bird in Hand global sales director Justin Nugent said.

This story has been viewed 4209 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top