... hits the Chinese market in a big way. With a little help from Coca-cola.
Red is the most powerful of colours – fre, blood and the embodiment of life when one considers its use to visually represent the collective, beating heart. In Chinese culture it’s a symbol of luck, happiness, joy – equally important in rituals, ceremonies and celebrations. And red, the wine, is fast becoming the drink du jour of the country that on some measures has the world’s largest economy. While the want of the bulging, wealthy Red Dragon elite for Western luxury is well documented – particularly in regards to fashion, food and cars – wine, specifcally the grapes growing here, is the new desire. Little wonder, then, that acclaimed Australian label Penfolds chose Shanghai as the global launch for its 2015 collection and the anticipated 2011 Grange – the frst time in Penfolds’ deep history that it’s left Australian shores for such an unveiling. With GQ Australia among the 300 global guests in attendance, the evening saw the towering China Pavilion transformed into Penfolds Pavilion for an extravagant party. Guests, happily quaffng the new Penfolds collection, also caught a short flm, The Story of Grange, narrated by Russell Crowe with an original musical score by Australia’s David Hirschfelder, who led a live performance with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra. Over a few varietals, Penfolds’ chief winemaker, Peter Gago, explains that China’s current positioning, though not new, is still exciting and signifcant. “It’s been a strategic, long-term approach that’s recently ramped up,” says Gago, his words diluting what is a rapid and insatiable Chinese appetite for Australian drops. According to Wine Australia and The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian wine exports to Asia have increased signifcantly, especially the last fnancial year, with 72 million litres
AUSTRALIAN WINE EXPORTS TO CHINA INCREASED TO A STAGGERING 53.5 MILLION LITRES ($280m) LAST YEAR.
($476m) in 2013-14 lifting to 93.4 million litres ($600m) for 2014-15. Specifcally, Australian wine exports to China increased by a third, to a staggering 53.5 million litres ($280m) last year. And red wine is leading the way – the top 10 exported bottles headed by a strong trifecta of the scarlet drop. Shiraz and shiraz blends rose to 22.3 million litres last fnancial year – a leap of 41 per cent in 12 months. Over the same period cabernet sauvignon and cabernet sauvignon blends went up 29 per cent, and merlot and merlot blends were up 35 per cent. Despite such impressive successes, the Australian push into China has been a hard, elongated slog. As Gago points out, the Chinese weren’t even drinking red wine when the South Australian winery frst made inroads in the East two decades ago. “A lot of the early perceptions and interactions were with the military here,” he explains. “There were no English signs and it was a different China. And in those days it didn’t much matter if they liked red wine or not, it was a status thing.” It still is, but awareness is greater, as is availability – with several large-scale Australian producers also vigorously pushing into this lucrative market. As Gago sees it, the march of local fne wine is not so much ‘build it and they will come’, or, ‘we know better’ – rather, a degree of randomness cloaks the rise of Aussie reds dependent on the different tastes of China’s many varied regions. “Because we make 40-odd different wines, in that collection somewhere is a wine that will align with a Sichuan or a Beijing or a Shanghai palate.” And fnding what best works in each territory is ongoing – even though Penfolds and Gago know what’s sold to date. “‘Bin 707’ – gone. ‘389’, ‘407’ – wow, where did that go? That has to say there’s an element of a cabernet preference or blend, and maybe that links to their higher level and understanding of Bordeaux. Increasingly, there’s more interest in shiraz, too.” Grange, considered one of the world’s most influential reds, is also held as the Holy Grail by many Chinese enthusiasts. As for the 2011 – time will tell, with the drinking window 2018 to 2045. Still, on a cool Shanghai evening, glasses are flled, emptied and raised to China’s increasingly educated tastes and desire to sample Australia’s best. n penfolds.com