They themselves drink cheap local brands and only recently has a niche, but expanding group began drinking for taste, says Jim Boyce, a Beijing-based wine expert who runs the blog Grape Wall of China.
As a result, local vintners have generally obliged by making low-cost wine, he adds.
“Instead of growing a nice amount of high-quality grapes, they just grow quantity, and don’t care much about them and pick them too early,” he says.
Greek winemaker Mihalis Boutaris found that out the hard way, producing a locally branded good-quality bottle in the western province of Gansu that sold poorly. He turned to importing Greek bottles instead and sidelined his 20-hectare Chinese vineyard.
“It made me realize there’s really no demand for premium local wine, or there is very little of it,” he says.
Hong Kong-based wine expert Jeannie Cho Lee says foreign firms could not only benefit themselves, but also lift the quality of wine made and enjoyed in China — if they can deliver.
“We have to be realistic and very careful, because we have no idea about the quality levels,” she says.
Still, anticipation for these prized brands is already high. Fake bottles claiming to come from the Shandong vineyard have already been seen on sale, Richaud says — “even before we started production.”