Italian wine makers see a big opportunity in the Chinese wine market as consumer tastes become more varied and shift toward mid-level wines.
Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in Shaanxi province recently released a study that found that China’s wine market has entered an era where value is becoming more important, which best suits mass-produced varieties of wine. Though China became the world’s fifth-largest wine market, and the top red wine market, last year with Chinese drinking 1.94 billion bottles, Italian wine makers have been late to the party.
Currently, Italy is the fifth largest exporter of wine to China behind France, Australia, Chile, and Spain, and has a 7 percent market share in the Chinese wine market, reports China Daily.
Chile and Australia benefit from tariff exemptions — Chile’s exemption begins this year, whereas Australia’s will phase in over the next three years due to free trade agreements between the countries.
Italian wine makers do have reasons for optimism. Sergio Maffettone, the Italian consul-general in Chongqing and the former news counselor of the Italian Embassy in China, commented, “Italian wine was less known to the United States 30 years ago, but now its quality has won it the largest share in the world’s biggest consumer market.”
Moffettone added, “Some Chinese have been choosing the most expensive ones to be sure of the quality, but once the consumers get to know the taste (of Italian wine), they find a new world opens.”
In many ways, China’s austerity push has actually benefited China’s wine market. Before, imported wine would rarely make it to the general public before being snatched up for government banquets and events. The general public had to make due with poor imitations of European wines from Chinese wine makers.
Now, the Chinese public has discovered a new world of variety that wasn’t present in China’s wine market before, and even mid-level wines have risen dramatically in quality as a result.
Italian vineyards also have another trick up their sleeves, their huge number of native-Italian grape varieties.
90 percent of French vineyards grow 15 varieties of grapes, whereas 90 percent of US vintners grow only 8 varieties.
In Italy, by comparison, 90 percent of Italian vineyards grow 65 grape varieties with 450 varieties of native-Italian grape varieties.
Simone Incontro, the head of Vinitaly International’s Shanghai bureau, said, “When people feel bored and want to taste something new and exciting, they can turn to a host of Italian wines.”
Vinitaly International has been holding exhibitions of Italian wine in China since 2006, beginning in Shanghai. After 3 years, the company moved its exhibitions to Hong Kong. With the rise of mainland China’s wine culture, however, Vinitaly has 8 events planned on the mainland this year, including events in Chengdu and Shanghai, where Italian wine growers, exporters, and experts will display their wines and educate Chinese wine drinkers.
Cavit, an Italian wine company that prides itself on high-quality, food-friendly wines, already has an office in Beijing. Cavit project manager in Beijing Fiorenzo Biscaglia commented, “We are optimistic that wine will become part of Chinese life, just as it is in Italy.”
image credit: cavit