Feb 15, 2011

China enering the wine world in a big way

The wine industry in China is changing—fast!

In 2006, China was not even included (and never had been) among the world’s Top 10 winemaking nations. But according to a recent study from London-based International Wine and Spirits Research, by 2014 China is expected to produce 128 million cases...more wine than Australia.

But for American and other winemakers, there’s no cause for alarm…yet. For one thing, with a few exceptions China’s wine really isn’t very good at this point. For another, most Chinese wine currently made is sold and drunk within China.

But, experts say, China’s climate and terrain are capable of producing excellent wine (and lots of it). In fact, some people think they’re already producing decent wines—and have been doing so for a while. Writing in the Atlantic in 2007, James Fallows cited two wines he felt were “good” (one is Suntime, shown above; it's from the Xinjiang region). Granted, good ain't great, but with time it may become so.

In an article in The Independent (London), a representative of Britain’s oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros., said: "With the right soil, low labor costs and soaring domestic demand, China is set to take the world of wine by storm." The spokesperson predicted that by 2058 China will be the world’s biggest wine producer.

The country’s grape varieties are mostly derived from wild species, but foreign investors have planted western red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet franc.

China’s increasingly affluent society is demanding more and better wines, and for the moment such wines are being imported. In fact, Hong Kong is now the world’s third-largest wine auction center (after New York and London).

There appears to be something of "tulipmania" frenzy vis-a-vis wine in that part of the world, with long-time experts describing auction prices as "crazy." For example, at a recent Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, Asian bidders paid nearly $70,000 for two cases of 2009 Lafite (pre-auction estimates were between $10-15,000).To learn more, read an article about the auction that appeared in Decanter.

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