California to lead wine education in emerging economies
As newly affluent Chinese have become consumers of vintage wines, California vineyards are not only eager to tap into that demand, they’re also eager to get a foothold in the fine wine market in China.
Family Wine makers of California, a trade association of more than 500 family-owned wineries, and Stonebridge Research Group, a major research firm for the wine industry, have been awarded a $369,292 grant from the US Department of Agriculture to help sell California fine wines in China.
“Most of the wine producers in California are small, family-owned producers of handcrafted, fine wines some of the finest wines in the world,” said Barbara Insel, president of Stonebridge. “Many wine consumers in China are not aware of these wines, of their history, exceptional quality or the people who have devoted their lives to making them. That’s what we’re trying to change.”
She added that Stonebridge wants to “help Chinese wine consumers, and those who import and sell wine, to learn about experience and appreciate the fine wines from our family producers.”
As leader of the project, Insel recently spent four weeks traveling across China. “We have completed our draft assessment and are awaiting approval by the USDA to proceed with specific plans for the next phase of the project, to be executed in the winter,” she said.
The initiative is part of the Emerging Markets Program, which was launched by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and “helps US organizations promote exports of US agricultural products to countries that have or are developing market-oriented economies and have the potential to be viable commercial markets,” said Ellen Dougherty, deputy director of public affairs at the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
Total US wine exports 90 percent of which come from California reached a record $1.43 billion last year, up 2.6 percent year-on-year.
On the Chinese mainland last year, sales of US wine totaled $74 million, up 18 percent from the previous year, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. The Chinese mainland is the fifth-largest export market for California wines.
But even though the quantity is there, Golden State vintners are hoping the quality of their wines can be more appreciated in the country. To achieve that goal, one key component of the project is to develop a curriculum.
“Unlike many other producing countries, we have not had a large formal wine education program in China,” Insel explained, adding that she and her team have asked the Culinary Institute of America to adapt its three-day intensive course on California wines into a multi-level certification program tailored for China.
“We are particularly interested in training wine educators who will then deliver the classes across China themselves, so we can reach many more people,” Insel said.
The Chinese market is extremely pricesensitive, but Insel believes that Golden State wine should be sold at fine wine prices because of its high quality.
“Industry experts in China described the tiers of wine in China as: up to $50, from $50 to $130 and $130 and above. Today, the market expects most California wines to sell in the lowest tier,” Insel said.
Although the mid-tier $50 to $130 is the least active segment of China’s market, Insel noted it is a price segment that is economically reasonable for many of their wines.
“The only way we know how to win a wine customer’s heart is to tell them the stories about handcrafted world class wines, about the people who make them, the places and the history and its intimate connection to the soil, the people and the place,” she said.