At this year’s Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, held in Beijing from May 10 to 13, professor Demei Li from the University of Agriculture in Beijing presented an overview of production, imports and the market for wine in China.

Ranked amongst the ten most influential wine consultants in the world, professor Demei Li sought to allay fears of a massive influx of Chinese wine on the global market. “OIV statistics showing that China has the 2nd largest vineyard in the world are frightening but only 15% of vines are used for wine”, he explained. “Compared to the population, Chinese wine production is extremely small”. The primary reason for this is the climate: in summer the weather is hot but July and August are also the wettest months of the year, and the winter is so cold in many parts of the country that vines have to be buried. “Burying and unburying vines costs as much as an entire year in Europe”, he said, intimating that one of the major challenges for the Chinese wine industry is competitiveness. The mid- to top-end segments of the market would therefore seem to be the most viable choices, and this is the tack chosen by many firms, including Moët Hennessy, which spent 2 billion yuan in 2008 ascertaining the best region to establish a vineyard. “I advised them that Ningxia was best suited for a rapidly functional winery, with the added advantage of its proximity to Beijing and government support, but Shangri-La offers the finest terroir”. The iconic French firm has vineyards in both.

Chinese consumption due to overtake France by 2021

Helan Mountain and vineyard

The market for wine in China continues to grow, with imports (bulk and bottled) roughly on a par with domestic production (minus bulk imports). Bulk imports virtually doubled between 2014 and 2017, reaching 180,000 tonnes compared with 549,000 tonnes for bottled wines. China is forecast to become the world’s second largest consumer country by value by 2021, ahead of France, following a 40% increase expected between 2017 and 2021. For Demei Li, exporters to China must not lose sight of the fact that China is not a mono-market, but several individual markets with differing cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds, social activities and food preferences – “there is no unified Chinese palate!” Twenty million Chinese people, mostly in 1st and 2nd tier cities, now buy wine regularly and Demei Li believes that they must be allowed to drink wine they way they choose to, even if that includes the traditional ‘ganbei’. Internet sales are improving transparency in the marketplace, forcing exporters to think hard about pricing and product range: “Don’t make wine specifically for China” was his advice. As to the style of wine preferred by Chinese consumers, there is only one: “Good wine!”