Australia – excuse an indirect kangaroo reference – is really hopping when it comes to the China wine scene.
First, the country has maintained a steady presence as the number two source of bottled wine by volume, taking 20 percent to 22 percent of the market the past five years, according to Customs. In the first six months of 2009, it trailed only France, the leader with a ~40 percent share, had twice as much volume as the United States, and about triple that of both Italy and Chile.
Second, Australia is striving to change its image from being a maker of good but relatively cheap wine to one with a diverse range of styles and premium wines. The Landmark Australia events I have intended in Beijing, including this one last year and another last week (details soon), have been top-notch. They blend: 1) entertaining speakers such as Paul Henry and Andrew Caillard; 2) wine distributors, consultants, writers, and other “gatekeepers” (and an occasional “fly on the wall” blogger), and; 3) impressive wines – from Henschke Hill of Grace to Penfold’s Grange to Bass Philip Premium Pinot Noir. This is in addition to Down Under efforts ranging from the Australia Landmark tutorial to a video conference with Wolf Blass.
Third, and more recently, in the first half of 2009, Australia ranked second as a source of imported bulk wine. While Chile (~15 million liters) represented half of the ~31.5 million liters entering China, Australia came second with a quarter share. They were followed by Argentina (last year’s number two, with a quarter share) and the United States (~6.5 percent each), Spain (~5 percent), and South Africa and France (just over 1 percent each).
This is quite a leap from the past four years, when Australia represented from 2 percent (2005) to 10.5 percent (2007). I would guess this is at least partly due to the oversupply of wine in Australia, where some producers are selling below cost, though this story in The Age has people talking about wine-for-visa deals. I lean (heavily) toward the former explanation: The big Chinese producers who blend imported bulk wine with their own wine are highly cost conscious. (This helps explain strong shifts in where they source bulk wine, whereas the numbers for imported bottled figures follow steadier paths for a given country.)
In any case, it is interesting to see Australia, which has firmly held its market share in the imported bottled wine sector, now making its presence felt at both the low and high ends.