By Jim Boyce | Why isn’t China a top-five wine producer when it is second only to Spain for vineyard coverage? This question usually leads to one source: the OIV, or International Organisation of Vine and Wine, which needs to work on its press releases.
The OIV’s global update in April did rank China as the runner-up in terms of vineyards:
Spain remains a clear leader in terms of the cultivated surface area with nearly 1 mha [1 million hectares], ahead of China (0.87 mha) and France (0.79 mha).
So why isn’t China among the leaders for production, along with Italy (4.3 billion liters), France (3.7), Spain (3.2), the United States (23.3) and Australia (13.7)?
Because not all vineyards are equal. The OIV numbers combine grapes meant for eating, either fresh or dried, and for drinking. Or both unpressed and pressed grapes. Unfortunately, you only discover that by reading the footnotes of a press release that is otherwise entirely focused on wine. No wonder the trade and media, and in turn consumers, get confused.
Anyway, China is easily the world’s top producer of grapes meant for eating. A recent USDA report predicts world production of fresh table grapes at 24.3 million tonnes for the current marketing year, with China expected to produce 11.2 million tons, or nearly 50 percent. The next nearest competitors: India and Turkey, at 3 million and 2.1 million each
Wine grapes pale in comparison. I haven’t had time to check recent vineyard stats but it’s safe to say that, at most, only 15 percent in China are dedicated to wine. For perspective, Ningxia, which has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, has about 40,000 hectares of wine grapes.
I wrote about this topic in 2015 when BBC, after an OIV press release, posted that China had become the second biggest wine-growing country, a statement that, to its credit, it corrected. The numbers have popped up numerous times since, including a recent story in South China Morning Post. The best solution to avoid confusion is for OIV to make as clear as the most translucent Vinho Verde just what their numbers represent.