TOP OF THE GRAPEVINE

Zin­fan­del, a Cal­i­for­nia wine with a ro­bust fla­vor, is quickly grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in China — and it’s the young women pro­fes­sion­als who are driv­ing de­mand

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai

xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

As Asia Di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Wine In­sti­tute (CWI), a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps pro­mote the re­gional pro­duce, one of Christo­pher Beros’ big­gest chal­lenges in China these days is not the lack of peo­ple who ap­pre­ci­ate the al­co­holic bev­er­age.

Rather, it is a se­vere short­age of chairs, and it is a prob­lem he is more than happy to have.

The in­sti­tute’s mas­ter classes on Zin­fan­del wine in China’s ma­jor ci­ties have con­stantly been over­sub­scribed. Beros said that the class held last month in Bei­jing only had the ca­pac­ity for 80 par­tic­i­pants. The ses­sion was over­booked by 150 per­cent, and within just two hours.

Widely re­garded as the most Amer­i­can of grapes, Zin­fan­del — it is char­ac­ter­ized by a bold and dis­tinc­tive fruit-for­ward pro­file — has been grown pri­mar­ily in Cal­i­for­nia for the past two cen­turies.

In China, de­spite a rel­a­tively late in­tro­duc­tion in 2010, Zin­fan­del has be­come an in­stant hit es­pe­cially among young women pro­fes­sion­als from ma­jor ci­ties, the de­mo­graphic with the big­gest pur­chas­ing power.

Beros said that the sit­u­a­tion to­day is a stark con­trast to 2007 when he first started his wine im­port­ing busi­ness in Shang­hai. Then, sales of Zin­fan­del had lan­guished be­hind the likes of more con­ven­tional types like Caber­net and those orig­i­nat­ing from Bordeaux.

Fast for­ward seven years to 2014, the en­tre­pre­neur had found him­self sell­ing more Zin­fan­del wine in Shang­hai than all the other va­ri­eties from his home state of Cal­i­for­nia.

Ac­cord­ing to the CWI, China im­ported $56 mil­lion worth of Cal­i­for­nia wine in 2015, the fifth largest amount in the world after the European Union, Canada, Ja­pan and Hong Kong. Up to 90 per­cent of US wine be­ing ex­ported to other coun­tries is orig­i­nally from Cal­i­for­nia.

In the first half of this year, though over­all ex­ports of Cal­i­for­nia wine had dropped 4.47 per­cent, ex­ports to China ac­tu­ally grew by 53.72 per­cent year-on-year.

Beros pointed out that while ex­port val­ues and vol­ume don’t nec­es­sar­ily ma­jor shift in con­sump­tion pat­terns in China’s wine in­dus­try — the main con­sumers of wine in the coun­try are now cos­mopoli­tan women with con­sid­er­able spend­ing power, in­stead of mid­dle-aged busi­ness­men and govern­ment of­fi­cials. A re­port by CBN Data has shown that women aged be­tween 23 and 35 are the most fre­quent and curious wine drinkers in China.

“A notable fea­ture of Chi­nese wine drinkers to­day, in­clud­ing begin­ners, is that they are very open-minded and curious. In the past, they would al­ways ask for some­thing they have heard of. Now, they love en­ter­ing un­known ter­ri­tory and try­ing new va­ri­eties,” said Lu Mengxi, whose fam­ily owns a win­ery in Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gions.

De­bra Meiburg, di­rec­tor and founder of Meiburg Wine Me­dia in Hong Kong, be­lieves that Zin­fan­del’s fruity and ro­bust fla­vor, which goes well with spicy Sichuan cui­sine and hot pot, is an­other rea­son why the wine has won over the hearts of many Chi­nese drinkers.

“There are still sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ties for Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies to broaden their reach and pres­ence in China. We have seen in­creased fo­cus and ac­tiv­ity by Cal­i­for­nia wine rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Hong Kong and China re­cently. They are in­vest­ing sub­stan­tial time, ef­forts and re­sources into build­ing re­la­tion­ships with wine im­porters and lovers,” said Meiburg, a na­tive of Sonoma County, Cal­i­for­nia who is also an award-win­ning wine jour­nal­ist.

Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try in­sid­ers, many Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies are ex­pand­ing into China mainly to raise brand aware­ness in­stead of sales fig­ures as the de­mand for Cal­i­for­nia wine back in the US, the world largest con­sumer mar­ket of the bev­er­age, has al­ready out­stripped sup­ply.

How­ever, Ian Ford, co-founder of wine im­porter com­pany Sum­mer­gate in Shang­hai, is con­fi­dent that Chi­nese wine con­sumers won’t be left thirsty.

“It’s true that at the lux­ury end of the spec­trum, the Amer­i­can mar­ket would easily con­sume most or all of the fine wine made in Cal­i­for­nia. But Cal­i­for­nia’s vi­gnerons are keen to develop the China mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly those in the core ci­ties,” said Ford.

Beros shared the same sen­ti­ment, say­ing that winer­ies would not be in­vest­ing so much money and ef­fort in China if they weren’t con­fi­dent they could sup­ply the cov­eted bev­er­age to con­sumers here.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

In­dus­try ex­perts say that wine drinkers in China to­day are very ad­ven­tur­ous when it comes to try­ing new va­ri­eties.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Pro­mo­tional events for Cal­i­for­nia wines have been very well re­ceived in Shang­hai and even stars such as Yao Ming (right) have joined in the ac­tion. Yao owns his brand of Cal­i­for­nia wine called Yao Fam­ily Wines.

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